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Path: /college-football/how-usc-and-stanford-changed-way-pac-12-championship-game-2017
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Temperatures inside the visiting team media tent within the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tunnel get sweltering; especially on a late summer night. Despite this, and a 42-24 loss to Pac-12 rival USC, Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips was not sweating.

 

"We have a lot to improve on, and a lot of weeks to get there," Phillips said. "So, we'll see who's a better team at the end of the season."

 

Phillips' statement looks more like a prognostication now that the Cardinal are in their fourth Pac-12 Championship Game in the past six seasons. Stanford has the opportunity to stack up with USC again, head-to-head, with a conference championship at stake.

 

Two much different teams face off Friday night at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara compared to the squads that took the field at the Coliseum in early September. How much different may well determine the outcome of this championship clash in a budding rivalry.

 

Stanford's need for improvements were evident from that early juncture. USC ran the ball at will against a typically stout Cardinal defense, with running backs Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr both going over 100 yards. Conversely, after a 75-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, Stanford's potent rushing attack was held in check.

 

"Honestly, this could be the best thing that happens to us," said safety Justin Reid, who had an interception in the September meeting. "Because it gives us a chance to lock in on some details. All the preseason hype, it lets us know exactly where we are, and be critical of ourselves."

 

Some more opportunity for internal reflection followed with a loss in the final minutes the next week at San Diego State, dropping Stanford to an uncharacteristic 1-2. The program that, along with Oregon, replaced USC as the conference standard bearer in the 2010s fell from the Top 25 by Week 4 and spent a good portion of the regular season as an afterthought.

 

But then, come November, Stanford landed right back where it typically resides at this time of year under head coach David Shaw: in the hunt for the Pac-12 title. So what changed?

 

"I love saying this: We have a better sense of who we are; what we can do, and what we probably shouldn't do, because it isn't just results oriented," Shaw said. "At the beginning of the year, we were still figuring it out. Some guys were playing in new spots. Now we have a better handle of who we are and what we are."

 

What Stanford is coming into the Pac-12 Championship Game is a team that won eight of nine, including a dominant fourth-quarter performance to rout Notre Dame. In that win, perhaps the most obvious change central to Stanford's turnaround became evident; that being the play of quarterback K.J. Costello.

 

Keller Chryst started in the first half of the season, but an injury forced Costello (right) into the lineup. Leaning heavily on the nation's leading rusher, Bryce Love, Costello eased into the job. He was ready in big moments against top 10-ranked opponents in two of the last three weeks, passing for 211 yards against Washington's stellar defense, spreading the Huskies to open rushing lanes for Love in a win critical to Stanford winning the Pac-12 North.

 

In the romp against Notre Dame, Costello threw four touchdown passes, including a few impressive darts under pressure.

 

"Our wide receivers have made plays, our tight ends have made plays and our quarterback has made plays, which takes a lot of the pressure off the offensive line," Shaw said.

 

The Notre Dame win marked a high point for the Cardinal's season, the exact opposite of an encounter with Notre Dame in October for USC. The 49-14 loss on Oct. 21 was a decided low point for the Trojans not just in the 2017 season, but since Sept. 30, 2016, when Sam Darnold stepped in as the starting quarterback.

 

USC is undefeated since, rolling off three wins by double digits, and playing its best football since... well, since beating Stanford on Sept. 9.

 

"In the last few weeks, they're getting back to running it with Ronald [Jones]," Shaw said. "The quarterback's back to being what we know he could be, which is an unbelievably accurate, competitive quarterback [who] almost plays better when he's in crunch time."

 

Indeed, Darnold has come alive down the stretch. He's thrown just three interceptions from Oct. 14 on, and played with an air of confidence resembling the record-setting show he put on at last January's Rose Bowl Game — or against Stanford earlier this season.

 

Darnold threw four touchdown passes against the Cardinal, and his mobility in the pocket extended the type of plays that typically result in a patented Stanford #PartyInTheBackfield.

 

"They had a lot of slides dialed up to eliminate the stunts we wanted to run. That kind of goes to Sam Darnold," Phillips said. "We got home a lot of times, but he was able to make plays with his feet, as well as his hands."

 

As good as Darnold looked that night, he has even more weapons around him now. Redshirt freshman Tyler Vaughns has stepped up as a consistent No. 2 target behind Deontay Burnett, catching 48 passes for 664 yards with four touchdowns. In the final four games, sophomore Michael Pittman became a regular in the passing attack, as well, making 10 of his 13 grabs down the stretch. He also caught his first career touchdown pass in the South division-sealing win Nov. 11 at Colorado.

 

For USC head coach Clay Helton, the emergence of this diverse and talented receiving corps is the greatest development of the Trojans' 2017 season.

 

"The most in the offensive skill [positions]," Helton said. "I see our young wideouts really performing over the second half of the season — the development of Tyler Vaughns, the development of a Michael Pittman on the outside, to get Daniel Imatorbhebhe back to complement Tyler Petite, getting Steven Mitchell back healthy — the most growth we've had is in the outside skill position."

 

New stars in new roles on both sides of the ball should make for a new game in this championship installment of USC vs. Stanford. Will the outcome differ this time around?

 

As Harrison Phillips said in early September, we'll see who the better team is at the end of the season.

 

— 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:
How USC and Stanford Changed on the Way to the Pac-12 Championship Game
Post date: Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/sec-championship-game-preview-and-prediction-auburn-vs-georgia-2017
Body:

For the second time this season, Auburn and Georgia are set to meet on the gridiron, but the stakes and implications of Saturday’s matchup in the 26th SEC Championship Game are significantly higher than the first contest between these two teams. In this week’s release of the CFB Playoff rankings, Auburn ranked No. 2 and Georgia checked in at No. 6. While a lot of games and scenarios are in play for Championship Saturday, there’s no doubt the winner of this SEC Championship showdown is in the CFB Playoff.

 

Auburn dominated Georgia in the first meeting between these two teams, and coach Gus Malzahn’s squad hopes to ride the momentum for one more victory and its first trip to the CFB Playoff. The Tigers crushed the Bulldogs 40-17 on Nov. 11 and beat Alabama 26-14 in the Iron Bowl to claim the SEC West title last Saturday. Since a 27-23 loss at LSU on Oct. 14, Malzahn’s team has been playing at a different level. The Tigers have scored at least 40 points in four out of their last five games and have not allowed an opponent to eclipse more than 20 points in that span. Considering the margin of victory against Georgia and Alabama, Malzahn’s team might be playing the best football of any team in the nation.

 

In addition to the conference title and CFB Playoff berth, Georgia is out for revenge on Saturday. The Bulldogs played their worst game of the year against Auburn on Nov. 11, as the offense generated only 46 rushing yards, and the defense gave up 40 points (the most this group has allowed in 2017). Coach Kirby Smart clearly has this program on the right path (and probably ahead of schedule) in his second year at the helm. And a win over Auburn and berth in the CFB Playoff would only add to the overall trajectory of this program. With a loss on Saturday, Georgia isn't likely to fall out of the top 10 in the final rankings and would be in line for a berth in a New Year's Six bowl. 

 

Georgia holds a 57-56-8 series edge over Auburn. The Bulldogs have won five out of the last seven in this series.

 

Auburn vs. Georgia (Atlanta – SEC Championship)

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 2 at 4 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Auburn -2.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Georgia’s Rushing Attack

Whether or not Georgia wins on Saturday is likely to rest on how well its rushing attack performs. In the first meeting between these two teams, the Bulldogs only managed 46 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. Running back Nick Chubb was held to 27 yards, while Sony Michel only managed 21 yards on nine carries. The 46 overall yards and production by Chubb and Michel was a significant drop off from Georgia’s usual totals. The Bulldogs average 265.7 yards a game and have scored 35 times on the ground this season.

 

Simply, less than 100 rushing yards isn’t going to get it done for Georgia on Saturday afternoon. In 12 regular season games, the Bulldogs were held to less than 200 rushing yards in just two contests.

 

Can the Georgia offensive line and ground attack find a way to churn out yardage on first downs against an Auburn defense limiting opponents to just 125.9 yards a game? In last week’s win over Alabama, the Tigers gave up 211 yards and a score on 38 carries. Alabama’s offensive line is a better overall group than Georgia’s front five, which certainly helped the Crimson Tide find running lanes against coordinator Kevin Steele’s defense. However, last week's performance should give the Bulldogs some confidence about their ground game and establishing it on early downs after struggling in the first matchup. 

 

Considering the firepower on the other sideline, establishing the run and keeping Auburn’s offense off the field is essential. The Bulldogs can’t afford to get into long-yardage situations all night and ask quarterback Jake Fromm to win this one through the air.

 

Which side wins out? Is it the one-two punch of Chubb and Michel? Or will Auburn’s defense dominate once again in the trenches?

 

Related: Predictions for Every College Football Game in Week 14

 

2. The Quarterbacks

In the first meeting between these two teams, it was a one-sided affair in terms of quarterback play. Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham connected on 16 of 23 throws for 214 yards and three touchdowns and added a score on the ground. Georgia’s Jake Fromm was hindered by a few dropped passes but completed 13 of 28 throws for 184 yards and a touchdown.

 

Even though Fromm has been the starter for nearly all of 2017, Georgia isn’t equipped to win high-scoring games. Instead, this offense needs to establish the run and allow Fromm to attempt 20-25 passes, with some play-action mixed in on favorable downs. The story is a little different on the other sideline, as Stidham is making a run at first-team All-SEC honors. The Baylor transfer has posted a strong first season on the Plains, throwing for 2,682 yards and 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Additionally, he’s connected on 17 passes of 40 or more yards in 2017. Stidham is surrounded by a solid group of receivers – including Ryan Davis (69 catches) and Darius Slayton (25.5 ypc) – which figure to test a Georgia secondary ranked fourth in the SEC in pass efficiency defense. The Bulldogs haven't played a tough slate of quarterbacks, but Missouri and Auburn - the top passing teams on the schedule - both eclipsed 250 yards against this secondary. If Auburn's line can protect, there are plays to be made downfield.

 

As mentioned in the previous section, Georgia has to do a better job of running the ball in this matchup. But Fromm could alleviate some of the pressure on the ground attack by hitting on some early throws to loosen up the front seven of Auburn. Will Fromm perform better against this defense after struggling in the first matchup? And when Stidham has the ball, can he continue to connect on a few deep passes a game, limit the mistakes and distribute the ball to playmakers on the outside? Stidham's play in recent weeks could be especially important due to...

 

3. Auburn’s Ground Game

The biggest uncertainty surrounding Saturday afternoon’s game is the health of Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson. In last week’s win over Alabama, Johnson left the game due to a shoulder injury and is questionable to play on Saturday. The junior has rushed for 1,276 yards and 17 touchdowns this year and posted more than 100 yards in each of his last four games. In the first meeting against Georgia, Johnson gashed the Bulldogs for 167 on the ground and caught two passes for 66 yards and a touchdown.

 

If Johnson is sidelined, sophomore Kam Martin (409 yards and two touchdowns) will get the call as the starter. And even if Johnson is able to go, he could be limited in terms of overall volume he can handle.

 

Regardless of Johnson’s status, Georgia has to do a better job against the run than it did in the first matchup on Nov. 11. The Bulldogs’ rush defense ranks second in the SEC by limiting opponents to just 112.5 yards per game on the ground. In last week’s win over Alabama, Auburn’s offense converted 9 of 18 third-down attempts. Can Georgia find a way to stop Johnson, Martin and the read plays by Stidham to get the Tigers into third-and-long situations? If so, that’s a win for the Bulldogs.

 

Final Analysis

 

It’s never easy defeating an opponent two times in a season. Adding to Auburn’s challenge was a physical contest against Alabama last week, along with the emotions that come with a rivalry matchup. Despite those factors working against coach Gus Malzahn’s team, the Tigers are still the team to beat in this game. Even if Johnson is limited, Stidham and the passing attack won’t be easy for Georgia to contain, and Martin is a capable fill-in at running back. The Bulldogs have to establish the run and win the battle up front on defense in order to have a shot. Georgia keeps it closer this time, but Stidham continues his strong late-season play by hitting a couple of key passes in the second half to earn the victory.

 

Prediction: Auburn 27, Georgia 20
Teaser:
SEC Championship Game Preview and Prediction: Auburn vs. Georgia
Post date: Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/five-reasons-why-wisconsin-will-win-big-ten-championship-game-2017
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The No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers enter the Big Ten Championship Game as nearly a touchdown underdog to the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes. Pay no attention to that spread, as it falls in line with the disrespect Wisconsin has had to deal with every step of the way this season. College football fans don't respect the Badgers. The College Football Playoff selection committee waited until last night to include them in the top four and they've been receiving the "Iowa treatment" from Colin Cowherd. In the face of all that, they just keep winning. On Saturday against the Buckeyes, the Badgers will have their sights set on remaining the last unbeaten Power 5 team.

 

5 Reasons Why Wisconsin Will Win the Big Ten Championship Game

 

1. The coaching staff knows exactly who it is

Paul Chryst (above, right) is a coach's son. He knows the game. He knows Wisconsin. He's from there, he's played there and he knows what works there. He's built a staff — highlighted by defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard — that also knows what it takes for this team to win games each week. They have limitations. They have talent. They have a plan and they execute it to perfection week after week, never straying from it. The players see this and never get flustered or anxious in close games or even when playing from behind. There's nothing Ohio State can do to make this staff flinch.

 

2. The dominant offensive line

I don't know if there's another unit at any other program in the country as consistent as Wisconsin's offensive line. The Badgers lose star players to the NFL draft every year. They plug new faces in and keep on rolling. Lather, rinse and repeat. There's probably less star-power on the 2017 unit than there has been in recent years. No matter. All they've done this season is open holes in the run game to the tune of 5.3 yards per carry. That sort of consistency and efficiency wears down even the best of opponents.

 

3. Jonathan Taylor

The holes that the Badgers' offensive line make can be massive, but you still need a difference-maker running through them to make them count. Taylor is exactly that. The freshman has burst onto the college football scene with an elite combination of power, speed and vision. There may not be a better pure runner in the country, and combined with Wisconsin's offensive line — he makes the Badgers' always-solid rushing attack downright lethal.

 

4. Underrated playmakers at receiver and tight end

A lot of teams who rely as heavily on the run as the Badgers do often lack any real playmaking threats in the passing attack. Not Wisconsin. The constant threat of a big play through the air only adds to the degree of difficulty that comes with trying to stop Taylor and the run game. A.J. Taylor is a shifty wideout with game-breaking speed that Wisconsin moves all over the field. Danny Davis III is a sure-handed, crisp route-runner who has stepped up his game since the injury to Quintez Cephus. Tight end Troy Fumagalli is simply one of the best in the country at his position and a name you'll hear for years to come on Sundays. If Ohio State decides to stack the box against Taylor, Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook has no shortage of targets to deliver the ball to downfield.

 

5. Suffocating defense

The Badgers only give up 12 points per game. If you find the end zone against them more than once, it's a badge of honor. No team in the country is better than Wisconsin at stopping the run, and that's the key to everything. If you can't run, you can't set up the pass. You can't set up the pass because Wisconsin isn't even worried about a team running on it, thanks largely to its elite defensive front.

 

Defensive tackle Olive Sagapolu is a space-eating monster in the middle who plugs holes and forces traffic outside. He'll do just that to the Buckeyes all day, and a speedy corps of linebacker will be right there to clean up the mess he created.

 

Outside linebacker Garret Dooley is one of the nation's most dominant edge rushers. He led the Big Ten in sacks with eight, and he'll likely add to that total when Sagapolu forces J.T. Barrett his way. And don't forget the quarterback of the defense, free safety D'Cota Dixon. He's one of the best safeties in the nation — an enforcer over the middle against the pass and an asset against the run. Not many college football teams can claim to have a surefire future NFL player on all three levels of defense. The Badgers can, and the Buckeyes will find that out the hard way on Saturday.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also covers the Big Ten for Black Heart Gold Pants, Iowa's SB Nation blog. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
5 Reasons Why Wisconsin Will Win the Big Ten Championship Game
Post date: Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/outrageous-college-football-predictions-championship-week-2017
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Championship Week is upon us, and we have an incredible slate of games that simply WILL decide who punches a ticket to the College Football Playoff.

 

There have been a lot of narratives leading up to this weekend. The lobbying has already begun — including some by teams who aren't playing for a conference title. Now, however, all that matters is what happens on the playing fields this Friday and Saturday. 

 

Do you think you know who is in? You better read these OUTRAGEOUS* predictions first.

 

Outrageous College Football Predictions for Championship Week

 

Wisconsin holds Ohio State under 10 points

The Badgers have been doubted and disrespected all season, but all they've done is win — and they've done so the old-fashioned way. They run the ball, beat you up and play stingy defense. It's a simple formula and they've perfected it. Ohio State had a hard time scoring early last weekend against Michigan. That will be the case again against Wisconsin — a team with a better overall defense than what the Wolverines field. While the Buckeyes' offense struggles to move the ball, Urban Meyer's defense will be getting punched in the mouth repeatedly by the Badger ground game. Expect Wisconsin to do what it has done all season — pull away from an exhausted opponent in the second half and cruise to an easy win.

 

Stanford blows out USC

As usual, David Shaw has his Cardinal rolling at the end of the year. They are healthy and firing on all cylinders — and they are ready to bulldoze a much less physical Trojan squad. USC is not equipped defensively to stand up against the Stanford rushing attack. On the other side of the ball, look for Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips to set up shop in Sam Darnold's pocket all game long, throwing off the timing of the Trojans' passing attack. It'll be a long Friday night for USC on both sides of the ball.

 

Georgia gets its revenge

The Bulldogs were flat-out embarrassed a couple of weeks ago against Auburn. Now the Tigers are coming off the high of beating their rival and may not be focused enough for a neutral-site tilt with what was the best team in the land for most of the season. You learn more from losses than you do from wins. Look for Georgia to take what it learned the first time around against Auburn and ride a couple of trick plays to a close win over the Tigers.

 

Alabama gets into the playoff

The winner of Miami and Clemson will get in. Wisconsin will get in with a win. Georgia will get in with a win. That leaves one spot that would go to Oklahoma if the Sooners beat TCU. The problem is, Oklahoma is not going to beat TCU. Horned Frogs quarterback Kenny Hill is going to win a shootout against Baker Mayfield, beat the Sooners, knock them out of playoff contention and open the door wide open for the committee to do what they've wanted to do since the first poll: write in the Alabama Crimson Tide with a Sharpie.

 

*Remember, "outrageous" can be defined as “wildly exaggerated or improbable,” and “very bold, unusual, and startling.” These are "outrageous" predictions and should be treated as such.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also covers the Big Ten for Black Heart Gold Pants, Iowa's SB Nation blog. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
Outrageous College Football Predictions for Championship Week
Post date: Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/fcs-football-second-round-playoff-games-and-predictions-2017
Body:

FCS Power Poll RankingsThe big boys come out in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Each pounds its chest over having a seed, is rested from a first-round bye and gets started with a home game.

 

Ah, enjoy the calm feeling until kickoff.

 

Don’t be mistaken, the first-round winners who are on the road this week aren’t quite the little brothers set to fall in line. In the first four years since the playoffs increased to 24 teams in 2013, 10 unseeded road teams have rolled through town to post victories.

 

Saturday’s second round (aka the Round of 16) is hotly contested, including four games matching teams from the same conference.

 

The FCS second-round playoff games:

 

Note: All times ET; All games on ESPN3

 

Saturday, Dec. 2

 

Stony Brook (10-2) at No. 1 seed James Madison (11-0), 2 p.m.

The top two finishers in CAA Football, although they haven’t met in the 12-team conference’s schedule rotation since 2015, will flex their defensive muscles. No unit has been better in the FCS than defending national champion James Madison, which leads the nation in scoring defense (9.0 ppg) and total defense (228.2 ypg), and has gotten after quarterbacks with 43 sacks. The Dukes, who have won 23 straight games, have the distraction of head coach Mike Houston’s name being mentioned for FBS openings, but is that enough to knock them off the "Road to Frisco"? Probably not. The winner will play Weber State or No. 8 seed Southern Utah in the national quarterfinals on Dec. 8 or 9.

Pick: James Madison

 

Furman (8-4) at No. 7 seed Wofford (9-2), 2 p.m.

The Deep South’s oldest rivalry, which dates to 1889, reaches its 92nd meeting, and the first in the playoffs. Wofford won 24-23 on Sept. 2 after Furman failed on a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute. The score tells the closeness of these two Southern Conference teams, just like the 37-mile separation of their campuses. Both teams seek to establish the run game, so the play at the line of scrimmage is crucial. The difference could come from Wofford’s stout defensive line and the Terriers’ ability to win close games. The winner will play San Diego or No. 2 seed North Dakota State in the national quarterfinals on Dec. 8 or 9.

Pick: Wofford

 

Kennesaw State (11-1) at No. 3 seed Jacksonville State (10-1), 2 p.m.

Having signed on to meet next November in the first college football game at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, Big South champ Kennesaw State and Ohio Valley Conference kingpin Jacksonville State get their new series started early. Kennesaw’s third-year program leads the FCS in rushing behind option quarterback Chandler Burks, but the Owls have to solve the Gamecocks’ ferocious defense, anchored by senior end Darius Jackson, the conference’s two-time defensive player of the year. Incredibly, the Gamecocks’ offensive line that opened holes for offensive player of the year Roc Thomas placed four members on the All-OVC first team for the third straight season. The winner will play South Dakota or No. 6 seed Sam Houston State in the national quarterfinals on Dec. 8 or 9.

Pick: Jacksonville State

 

Northern Iowa (8-4) at No. 5 seed South Dakota State (9-2), 3 p.m.

As South Dakota State opens its sixth straight playoff appearance, it always seems the Missouri Valley Football Conference power has the nation’s toughest draw. In this year’s Round of 16, it’s faced with reversing a 20-point loss to Northern Iowa on Oct. 14. Granted, the Jackrabbits’ offensive firepower is top-notch with quarterback Taryn Christion, tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke, but the Panthers will pound, pound and pound away with the run, as they did with running back Marcus Weymiller’s 42 carries on Oct. 14, when a streak of six wins in seven games began. The winner will play New Hampshire or No. 4 seed Central Arkansas in the national quarterfinals on Dec. 8 or 9.

Pick: Northern Iowa

 

New Hampshire (8-4) at No. 4 seed Central Arkansas (10-1), 3 p.m.

Central Arkansas doesn’t garner the national attention that it deserves, so the Bears hope to use the playoffs as a coming-out party. Head coach Steve Campbell’s team’s team placed a whopping 20 players on the All-Southland team, including 10 first-teamers, and had the overall player of the year (quarterback Hayden Hildebrand), defensive player of the year (linebacker George Odum) and freshman of the year (running back Kierre Crossley). The visiting Wildcats struggled in the first round to put away a Central Connecticut State squad without its starting quarterback, so they need to lift their play quickly. The winner will play Northern Iowa or No. 5 seed South Dakota State in the national quarterfinals on Dec. 8 or 9.

Pick: Central Arkansas

 

South Dakota (8-4) at No. 6 seed Sam Houston State (10-1), 3 p.m.

If you like 7-3 defensive struggles, watch this game for about the first five minutes. Sam Houston leads the FCS in points per game (45.9) and yards per game (544.6), while South Dakota, which outgunned another Southland team, Nicholls, in the first round, is second in yards per game (514.2) and fifth in points per game (37.8). As seniors, dual-threat Chris Streveler (USD) and pocket passer Jeremiah Briscoe (Sam Houston) have been the most productive quarterbacks in the FCS. Whoever has the ball last might be the one to survive and advance. The winner will play Kennesaw State or No. 3 seed Jacksonville State in the national quarterfinals on Dec. 8 or 9.

Pick: Sam Houston State

 

San Diego (10-2) at No. 2 seed North Dakota State (10-1), 3:30 p.m.

The best thing San Diego did in the first round was blow out Northern Arizona, 41-10, to advance to a meeting with North Dakota State for the second consecutive year. The worst thing San Diego did in the first round was get the Bison’s attention – unlike last year when the Toreros were coming off the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League’s first-ever playoff win. USD quarterback Anthony Lawrence has a ridiculous line of 33 touchdown passes against two interceptions, but the Bison have, well, the Bison defense, led by senior linebacker Nick DeLuca, one of the grittiest players in the FCS. The winner will play Furman or No. 7 seed Wofford in the national quarterfinals on Dec. 8 or 9.

Pick: North Dakota State

 

Weber State (10-2) at No. 8 seed Southern Utah (9-2), 8 p.m.

These Beehive State rivals grab the prime-time spotlight, and that’s what they were in the Big Sky while sharing this year’s title. However, there was a decided difference in their regular-season meeting when Southern Utah rolled 32-16 at Weber State, whose starting quarterback, Stefan Cantwell, was knocked from the game early in the second quarter under concussion protocol. Weber’s defense has surged since the loss, keying six straight wins, but Southern Utah has gone one better with seven straight wins under 32-year-old coach Demario Warren. The Thunderbirds are favored, but the rematch should be close. The winner will play Stony Brook or No. 1 seed James Madison in the national quarterfinals on Dec. 8 or 9.

Pick: Weber State

 

— 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.

 

(Photo courtesy of Weber State Athletics)

Teaser:
FCS Football: Second-Round Playoff Games and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Super Survivor
Path: /super-survivor/colorectal-cancer-prevention
Body:

Colon and rectal cancer combined are the third most-common cancer in the United States. To put it in perspective, about one in 21 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Even more serious, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death. But there are preventative measures that can be taken. Here are a few tips from the Cleveland Clinic’s Jeremy Lipman, M.D., regarding colorectal cancer prevention:

 

Stop Smoking

Like most cancers, the most important thing you can do to lower your risk is stop smoking. This is really hard, but you doctor has lots of tools available to help you. Get help and stop. Today.  

 

Improve Diet

Eating a lot of red meat like beef increases your risk. And having more than one alcoholic drink per day can increase your chances. You could reduce your risk by eating a lot of fiber, as well as fruits and vegetables.

 

Exercise Daily

If you’re overweight or don’t engage in a lot of activity each day, your likelihood of getting cancer is much higher than people who are active. If you can do 20 minutes of medium-level exercise daily — a brisk walk, a slow bike ride or even gardening — you can reduce your risk as much as 25 to 50 percent.

 

Get Screened

There are a number of ways to get screened for colorectal cancer, but a colonoscopy is the only one that can help prevent cancer from even starting. Colorectal cancer doesn’t just appear suddenly. It starts as a small growth on your colon called a polyp that rarely causes symptoms. If left alone over many years, polyps can grow into cancer. The only way to know it’s there is to look.

 

The good news is that if a polyp is detected during a colonoscopy, it can usually be removed. Once it’s removed, it can’t hurt you anymore. If you’re 50 years old, it’s time to get a colonoscopy. If everything looks good and you have no polyps, you won’t need another one for 10 years.

 

Up to 85 percent of colorectal cancers could be prevented or successfully treated if everyone who is eligible for a colonoscopy got screened.

Teaser:
Cleveland Clinic tips for minimizing the risk of colorectal cancer
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 19:46
All taxonomy terms: Super Survivor
Path: /super-survivor/melanoma-prevention-and-monitoring
Body:

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, resulting in the majority of skin cancer deaths each year. But with the proper precautionary steps, the risk of a melanoma diagnosis can be dramatically reduced.

 

“To prevent skin cancer, there’s a number of things people can do and change in your own lifestyle,” says Ragini Kudchadkar, M.D. “It’s not just not being outside. Certainly no one wants to just stay inside all day.”

 

Using the proper SPF (Sun Protection Factor) sunscreen is key, as is the application and reapplication of sunscreen. In addition to the sunscreen method, there are additional barrier methods like sun shirts and sun hats that can be helpful. Here are a few tips from the American Cancer Society to help prevent melanoma and other skin cancers:

 

Teaser:
American Cancer Society tips to help prevent melanoma and other skin cancers
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 17:59
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/podcast-championship-week-preview-listen-now-2017
Body:

In the latest Cover 2 podcast, Braden Gall and Mitch Light dive into the latest College Football Playoff Rankings and preview what should be a great championship weekend.

 

Other topics discussed:

 

• Braden makes the case that USC is underrated. Mitch counters that TCU is better.

 

• If Alabama is “better” than Wisconsin, should Alabama be ranked ahead of Wisconsin — even if the Badgers beat Ohio State.

 

• Where should UCF be ranked?

 

• Mitch shares his daughter’s scorching hot take on the Arizona State coaching search.

 

Send ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall@AthlonMitch or email [email protected].

 

The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com/podcast, iTunesStitcher and our podcast RSS feed.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 13:52
Path: /fantasy/flex-rankings-week-13-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

Todd Gurley: Flex Rankings Week 13

For many fantasy football owners, Week 13 is the final week of the regular season. Win and you’re in your playoffs or are you already eliminated and relegated to playing spoiler? If you’re in the latter category, don’t forget there’s always DFS.

 

But if you are in the former or your league’s playoffs have already started (and you aren’t on a bye), then the goal is simple — survive and advance. To that end, I hope these flex rankings will help you put together the best possible lineup to accomplish this goal.

 

Things are always subject to change, but for now the top five will include both Steeler studs, Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley. Hopefully by this point your lineups are pretty set, barring injuries, since there are no byes, but for those tough decisions or when it comes to determining who will fill your flex spot, these rankings are here to help.

 

For example, if you are really torn on who to start and tempted to go with Kenyan Drake over Kareem Hunt, I wouldn’t overthink things, unless you have nothing to lose. 

 

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 13
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/kicker-rankings-week-13-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

The top fantasy kicker for Week 12 was Greg Zuerlein. He's the top kicker in terms of fantasy points on the season as well. It should be no surprise that the's the top-ranked kicker for Week 13. He faces the Arizona Cardinals, which means weather is not a concern for this week.

 

Many fantasy owners are dropping Harrison Butker, ranked No. 11 this week. The Kansas City Chiefs' offense is struggling, which means the kicker doesn't get as many opportunities. He's been great on the season — he's missed one field goal (in Week 1) all season and he hasn't missed any extra points. However, in the past three weeks, he's only attempted five field goals and three extra points.

 

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.

 

(Harrison Butker photo courtesy of www.chiefs.com)

Teaser:
Kicker Rankings Week 13
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/defense-special-teams-rankings-week-13-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

Telvin Smith/Jacksonville Jaguars: Defense/Special Teams (DST) Rankings Week 12

As teams are entering the last weeks of their fantasy regular season, the team with the Jacksonville Jaguars defense/special teams (DST) is in great shape heading into Week 13. The Jaguars are the top-ranked DST not only for Week 13, but also for the season. They have the most fantasy points out of all DSTs (in most scoring formats). This week, they face the Indianapolis Colts. Jacoby Brissett struggled against the Tennessee Titans (he was sacked eight times!); just imagine how he'll fare against the Jaguars.

 

For those looking to stream DSTs, the Los Angeles Chargers (just under 40 percent owned) face the Cleveland Browns. The winless Browns have been are a team to target when it comes to opposing DSTs. They allowed double-digit fantasy points (depending on scoring) to the Cincinnati Bengals last week. The Chargers actually have a really great schedule heading into the fantasy playoffs, so they may be a multi-week streaming option.

 

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 13
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/tight-end-rankings-week-13-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

Zach Ertz: Tight End Rankings Week 13

In Week 13, the final week of the regular season for many fantasy leagues, it’s scary to think that making the playoffs could come down to which tight end you choose to start.

 

After all, not every owner is fortunate to have Rob Gronkowski or Zach Ertz to plug in at TE. Even if you have Travis Kelce, can you trust him this week? And what about guys like Jack Doyle, Evan Engram or Hunter Henry, who is turning into the textbook boom-or-bust option?

 

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

 

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

 

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

 

— 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 13
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/wide-receiver-rankings-week-13-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

Antonio Brown: Wide Receiver Rankings Week 13

Believe it or not, but Week 13 of the fantasy football season is upon us. Just like that the fantasy playoffs are right around the corner as owners are either making their last push for to get in or looking to solidify their roster and chase that coveted league title.

 

Besides flying by, the season also has seen plenty of changes over the past 12 weeks. For example, bac in Week 4, Kareem Hunt was the must-have player that people were putting in the same category as Le’Veon Bell while Alvin Kamara was just a flashy, third-down back with upside. Fast-forward to the present and Hunt owners are scratching their heads while Kamara owners are rightfully giddy.

 

The Giants’ season has been in a tailspin once they lost Odell Beckham Jr., but now with the news of Eli Manning getting benched it seems New York truly has hit rock bottom. Manning’s numbers certainly weren’t great, but a switch to Geno Smith or Davis Webb won’t make any of the Giants’ weapons must-starts.

 

Last week, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Keenan Allen put on clinics as to what elite wide receivers can do. The difference is Brown does it literally every week while Jones has been consistent, but not dominant like he was in Week 12. As for this week, Allen has best matchup which is why he’s ranked above Jones, who is facing the Vikings’ stout secondary.

 

Again, for most leagues this is the final week of the regular season and for some the playoffs have already started. Either way, it’s crunch time as every game from here out truly matters.

 

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 13
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/running-back-rankings-week-13-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

Samaje Perine: Running Back Rankings Week 13

With this being Week 13 and the final week of the regular season for most leagues, some fantasy owners may have tough decisions when it comes to your running backs. Like should you start Kareem Hunt or Samaje Perine? Or can you really start Ameer Abdullah, Isaiah Crowell or DeMarco Murray this week if you need to win?

 

With all of the changes that have transpired at this position whether due to injury or performance-related, the pecking order is not what it was at the start of the season. So outside of the your trusted RB1s like Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley, who can you trust this week?

 

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

 

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

 

— 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.

 

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
Running Back Rankings Week 13
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/quarterback-rankings-week-13-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

Case Keenum: Quarterback Rankings Week 13

In the past three weeks, Tom Brady has thrown for 10 touchdowns, which is fantasy gold for his owners. He's showing no signs of slowing down, despite his age. Even with a tough matchup against the Buffalo Bills on the slate for Week 13, Brady is the top-ranked quarterback. He's scored the third-most fantasy points out of all quarterbacks so far this season. Besides Week 1, Brady's "worst" game, in terms of fantasy points, was Week 5 (at Tampa Bay) in a game where he had 303 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception. He's an elite QB that will lead fantasy teams into the playoffs.

 

In most leagues, no one is streaming quarterbacks. However, for those that don't like the matchup their quarterback has for Week 13 (or perhaps are concerned with Matthew Stafford's ankle), the best option that may be available on waivers is Case Keenum. Granted, he may be benched at any point for Teddy Bridgewater, but he's been playing so well, it's hard to fathom that will come mid-game this week.

 

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 13
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 13:30
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, CFB, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, college football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Denver Broncos, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, Eastern Washington Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida A&M Rattlers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, James Madison Dukes, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami (OH) RedHawks, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, Montana State Bobcats, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Dakota Fighting Hawks, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northern Iowa Panthers, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Oakland Raiders, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Pac-12, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Portland State Vikings, Purdue Boilermakers, ranking, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Troy University, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, uniforms, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/college-football-picks-expert-predictions-every-game-week-14-2017
Body:

Week 14 of the 2017 college football season is the final weekend of action and several key matchups are on tap for Championship Saturday. The action starts on Friday night with the Pac-12 Championship and a rematch from earlier this year, as USC and Stanford meet at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. Saturday's slate features a couple of intriguing matchups in the first wave of games, including the American Athletic Conference Championship with UCF hosting Memphis. Additionally, Toledo meets Akron in the MAC Championship Game, while Lane Kiffin's FAU Owls look to claim the Conference USA title against North Texas. The top matchup in the first window of games takes place in Arlington, as TCU and Oklahoma square off in the Big 12 Championship. The SEC Championship between Georgia and Auburn highlights the afternoon window, with the winner of this game expected to secure a spot in the CFB Playoff. The night slate features two showdowns in conference title games. Miami takes on Clemson in the ACC Championship, with Wisconsin and Ohio State meeting in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title. 

 

Each week, Athlon Sports’ editors will pick every game in the FBS ranks. Follow us on Twitter: (@AthlonSports)

 

Predictions for Every College Football Game in Week 14
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Bryan

Fischer

USC vs.

Stanford

(Friday)

Akron vs. 

Toledo

(Detroit)

Georgia Southern at

Coastal Carolina

Idaho at

Georgia State

UMass at

FIU

South Alabama at

New Mexico State

Troy at

Arkansas State

Louisiana at

Appalachian State

ULM at

Florida State

North Texas vs.

FAU

Memphis vs.

UCF

Oklahoma vs.

TCU

(Arlington)

Fresno State at

Boise State

Wisconsin vs. 

Ohio State

(Indianapolis)

Clemson vs. 

Miami

(Charlotte)

Georgia vs. 

Auburn

(Atlanta)

 

Teaser:
College Football Picks: Expert Predictions for Every Game in Week 14 2017
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: AAC, ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC
Path: /college-football/10-head-coaching-moves-college-football-programs-would-forget
Body:

With the end of college football’s regular season comes numerous coaching vacancies. Some programs, like Florida and UCLA, have found their guy. Others — um, Tennessee — have made national news, but still don’t have a coach to show for it.  

 

A good coaching hire can revitalize a program. A bad one can cause years of damage. Everything looks easy from a distance, but here are 10 that stand out for various reasons.

 

10. Auburn 1975: Doug Barfield Replaces Shug Jordan

Ralph “Shug” Jordan was a legend at Auburn. Heck, the school’s stadium is even named after him. When he decided to retire in 1975, the university replaced him with offensive coordinator Doug Barfield. From 1976-80, Barfield went 29-25-1 and two of those victories were due to forfeitures by Mississippi State thanks to NCAA probation. Barfield was fired in 1980 and has been a fixture in Alabama high school football since then.  While his record at Auburn was not bad, it pales in comparison to his predecessor and successors.

 

9. Kansas 2011: Charlie Weis Replaces Turner Gill

The Jayhawks brought in Turner Gill from Buffalo after the 2009 season to replace Mark Mangino, who had resigned amid accusations of abusive coaching practices. Kansas gave Gill a five-year, $10 million contract and he proceeded to go 5-19 in his two seasons. Gill was fired at the end of the 2011 season, but his contract stipulated that he had to receive the remaining $6 million within 120 days of being fired. Kansas reached out to its top boosters to help cover that cost and then turned around and hired Charlie Weis to replace him. The ex-Notre Dame head coach went 6-22 and was fired after four games into the 2014 season. Kansas would have been better off just letting Gill finish out his contract.

 

8. Michigan State 1999: Bobby Williams Replaces Nick Saban

Nick Saban guided the Spartans to their best season in three decades before departing for LSU.  Then he had second thoughts. How likely it was that he would have stayed and how hard athletic director Clarence Underwood tried to keep him is the subject of debate, but in the end Saban went to Baton Rouge. Underwood replaced him with running backs coach Bobby Williams, who coached the team to victory in the Citrus Bowl.  Williams then went on to have one winning season in three years as head coach and his team was 3-6 in 2002 when he was fired.

 

7. Notre Dame 1980: Gerry Faust Replaces Dan Devine

Some would call this a terrible coaching move. Others, including Notre Dame athletic officials, called it “The Bold Experiment.” After Notre Dame head coach Dan Devine retired at the end of the 1980 season, he was replaced by Gerry Faust, who had coached for 19 seasons at Archbishop Moeller High School in the Cincinnati area and won five of the last six Ohio State Championships. Notre Dame officials knew it was a gamble, but Faust had an amazing record and had sent a lot of great players to Notre Dame, including Bob Crable and Tony Hunter (He also coached former Speaker of the House John Boehner.). Faust also was a devout Roman Catholic and Notre Dame was his dream job. The experiment ultimately failed. Faust went 5-6 in his first season and never matched the success of Devine. He resigned in 1985 in the midst of another 5-6 season and his final game was a nasty 58-7 blowout by Miami. Faust coached at Akron for the next nine seasons and – class act that he is – still attends Notre Dame games. While great coaches often get their start in high school, none since have ever gone straight from high school to leading a major program.

 

6. Arkansas 1989: Jack Crowe Replaces Ken Hatfield

Razorback head coach Ken Hatfield had won the Southwest Conference (SWC) in 1988 and ‘89, but had a tense relationship with AD Frank Broyles. When Hatfield bolted for Clemson after the 1989 season, Broyles asked Hatfield’s offensive coordinator, Jack Crowe, to stay and lead the program. Crowe went 9-14 in Arkansas’ last two seasons in the SWC. Then in 1992, the Razorbacks opened their first SEC season with a loss to The Citadel. Crowe was fired and defensive coordinator Joe Kines coached the team for the remainder of the season.

 

5. Alabama 2002: Mike Price Replaces Dennis Franchione

After Dennis Franchione surprised Alabama by leaving for Texas A&M at the end of a 10-3 season in 2002, AD Mal Moore then surprised fans by hiring Mike Price. In his 14 seasons at Washington State, Price had made the Rose Bowl twice. He also enjoyed the nightlife a little more than the Alabama officials preferred. His five months in Tuscaloosa included a reprimand for being seen out drinking into the early morning hours, but everything came to a head in April 2003. Price went to Pensacola for a golf tournament where he was seen at a strip club that ultimately resulted in a bawdy Sports Illustrated story (Price later sued SI and the lawsuit was settled.). Alabama President Robert Witt, who had promised to clean up the Crimson Tide’s image after NCAA sanctions, rescinded Price’s contract and hired Mike Shula. Price went to UTEP, where he and his family were beloved, and coached for nine seasons. Looking back, his actions seem pretty tame when compared to some of the coaching scandals that have occurred since then. 

 

4. Tennessee 2008: Lane Kiffin Replaces Phillip Fulmer

After firing Phillip Fulmer in 2008, AD Mike Hamilton hired Lane Kiffin, the former offensive coordinator at USC and the recently fired head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Hamilton gave Kiffin full control of the program and he proceeded to fire the entire staff, including graduate assistants and secretaries. After leading the team to a 7-6 record, he bolted in January 2010 to return to the Trojans as their head coach, leaving the Volunteers with no other options than Derek Dooley to lead their program. It has taken Tennessee years to recover, and the program is looking to start over yet again following the firing of Butch Jones.

 

3. SMU 1981: Bobby Collins Replaces Ron Meyer

When head coach Ron Meyer left to coach the New England Patriots, SMU hired Bobby Collins, who had an impressive seven-year run as head coach of Southern Miss. Collins put together a 43-14-1 record and two Southwestern Conference championships while at SMU, but his tenure resulted in the program being given the “Death Penalty” in 1987. Many are to blame for this and Collins inherited a program that was already violating NCAA rules, but he still bears a lot of the responsibility as head coach. As the NCAA report on SMU’s probation noted, Collins had told the NCAA that, “all known violations had been disclosed and that every effort would be made to avoid violations in the future. Both assurances turned out to be false.” SMU has never fully rebounded from the severe NCAA sanctions.

 

2. Nebraska 2003: Bill Callahan Replaces Frank Solich

After an eight-win season and six straight bowl appearances, Nebraska AD Steve Pederson fired head coach Frank Solich. Granted, Solich’s success had not mirrored that of his predecessor Tom Osborne, whose final four years had included three national championships. The Huskers’ vaunted option offense also was losing its effectiveness. So in addition to firing Solich, Pederson decided to scrap it and bring in head coach Bill Callahan to install the West Coast offense. The decision did not work out and both Pederson and Callahan were fired in 2007.

 

1. Ole Miss 2004: Ed Orgeron Replaces David Cutcliffe

The success of USC under Pete Carroll caused ADs across the country to reevaluate the way they managed their football programs. It also caused some to lose their minds, the most egregious example being Ole Miss’ Pete Boone. After taking the reins in 1998, David Cutcliffe led the Rebels to five straight winning seasons, something no coach in Oxford had done since Johnny Vaught. After losing many key starters at the end of the 2003 season, including quarterback Eli Manning, Ole Miss went 4-7 in ‘04. Boone fired Cutcliffe and replaced him with Ed Orgeron, the assistant head coach and recruiting director for USC. It became apparent quickly that Boone should have stayed with Cutcliffe. Orgeron won 10 games in three seasons and was fired in 2007. Cutcliffe is now at Duke, where he poised to take the Blue Devils to their fifth bowl in 10 years. And he is the last Ole Miss head coach to have five straight winning seasons.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

Teaser:
10 Head Coaching Moves College Football Programs Would Like to Forget
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/when-conference-championship-games-cause-chaos
Body:

Ever since Antonio Langham returned an interception for a touchdown in the first SEC Championship Game 25 years ago, one truth has remained: no college football team is safe on conference championship weekend.

 

Since that groundbreaking night in 1992, more conference championships have been created and they add to the excitement of the season. However, they can also wreak havoc on the national title picture (or in the current landscape, the College Football Playoff) depending on the results. Here is a history of how upsets in conference championships have impacted the national championship outcome.

 

1994

Most college football fans remember that the 1994 Penn State team may be the best team to not win a national title. The undefeated Nittany Lions finished second to unbeaten Nebraska as voters were moved to give Tom Osborne his first national title. Few remember that Alabama also was 11-0 going into the SEC Championship Game, the only such contest at the time, but the Crimson Tide lost 24-23 to a 10-1 Florida team. In this instance, the loss eliminated some of the chaos, allowing voters to only make one unpleasant decision instead of two.

 

1996

Nebraska went 60-3 and won three national titles in Tom Osborne’s final five seasons. A loss to Florida State in the 1994 Orange Bowl cost the Cornhuskers a fourth title and an upset by Texas in the 1996 inaugural Big 12 Championship Game prevented them from playing for a fifth. The third-ranked Huskers were beaten 37-27 by a 7-4 Longhorn team. Had they won, they would have met top-ranked Florida State in the Sugar Bowl and since No. 2 Arizona State lost the Rose Bowl, the game would have been for the national championship. Instead, Florida moved into Nebraska’s spot and beat the Seminoles in a rematch to win the school’s first national title.

 

1998

Tennessee, Kansas State and UCLA were undefeated going into conference championship week and there was great controversy over who would play in the first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national title game. By the end of the day, there was still controversy, but in a different form. UCLA played first, meeting Miami in the Orange Bowl in a game that had been postponed earlier in the season because of Hurricane Georges. The Bruins blew a 38-21 lead with 1:28 left in the third quarter and the resurging Hurricanes upset them 49-45. When the upset was announced over the loud speaker at St. Louis’ Trans World Dome, Kansas State fans had little time to cheer because their team was in the middle of a dogfight with Texas A&M for the Big 12 title. Instead of closing the deal, the Wildcats imploded, giving up 15 points in the fourth quarter to allow the Aggies to tie the game. Texas A&M then scored a touchdown in the second overtime to end Kansas State’s national championship hopes. Tennessee nearly followed suit, as the Vols were down 14-10 to Mississippi State in the fourth quarter but they scored two touchdowns to win the SEC Championship Game 24-14. The controversy over which one-loss team would face Tennessee was now mostly a moot point. Florida State got the nod, and the Volunteers beat the Seminoles in the Fiesta Bowl to claim the national title.

 

2001

The chaos actually started Thanksgiving weekend, when Colorado beat top-ranked and undefeated Nebraska 62-36. The loss knocked Nebraska out of the Big 12 Championship Game, as the Buffaloes represented the North Division instead. The next week, the Buffaloes upset third-ranked Texas in the conference championship game. The SEC Championship Game was delayed until the next week because of 9/11, but No. 2 Tennessee was upset by LSU. The upsets left voters and the BCS computer rankings to determine whether 9-2 Colorado, 10-1 Oregon or 11-1 Nebraska should face No. 1 Miami in the Rose Bowl. In the end, the Huskers became the first team to play for a national title without winning its conference or division and they were blown out 37-14 by the Hurricanes.

 

2003

Top-ranked Oklahoma had blown out virtually all of its regular season opponents, but suffered an embarrassing 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game. The loss knocked the Sooners down to No. 3 and moved USC and LSU into the respective top spots in the AP poll, but somehow the BCS rankings kept OU at No. 1 and moved USC to third. Second-ranked LSU beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and the Trojans won the Rose Bowl resulting in the only split national championship of the BCS era.

 

2007

The final week of one of the wackiest seasons in college football history began with Missouri and West Virginia holding the top two spots. The Tigers faced Oklahoma in a rematch in the Big 12 title game, and as was the case with the regular season, the Sooners won. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the Backyard Brawl. The upsets resulted in LSU being the only two-loss team to play for a national title, and the Tigers beat Ohio State 38-24 in the BCS National Championship Game.

 

2013

Ohio State was No. 2 and riding a 24-game winning streak. A victory in the Big Ten Championship Game would pit the Buckeyes against undefeated Florida State in the final BCS title game, but they had to beat an 11-1 Michigan State team. Ohio State led 24-20 going into the fourth quarter, but the Spartans scored two touchdowns to secure the 34-24 win and end the Buckeyes’ national championship hopes. Because of the loss, SEC champion Auburn (12-1) went on to face Florida State (13-0) for the national championship, which the Seminoles won after beating the Tigers 34-31 in thrilling fashion.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

 

(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
When Conference Championship Games Cause Chaos
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/big-12-championship-game-preview-and-prediction-tcu-horned-frogs-vs-oklahoma-sooners-2017
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Seven years have passed since what was thought to be the final Big 12 Championship Game took place. The 2010 edition ended the same way as many of its predecessors: Big 12 South champ Oklahoma vanquished the Big 12 North representative (Nebraska, in this case).

 

The title game is back, and so are the Sooners. Standing between them and another conference championship is TCU, a program that wasn’t even a member of the Big 12 the last time the game was held.

 

OU is also gunning for a bid to the College Football Playoff, which is a certainty with a win over the Horned Frogs. TCU and irascible head coach Gary Patterson, meanwhile, would love to play spoiler in a rematch of the game the Sooners dominated earlier this year.

 

Big 12 Championship: TCU vs. Oklahoma

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 2 at 12:30 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Oklahoma -7

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Keeping composure

TCU head coach Gary Patterson made it clear this week that he still harbors some ill will over pregame shenanigans from the last time these teams played. That game also saw Horned Frogs senior defensive lineman Mat Boesen get tossed for kicking an OU player.

 

Last week, a brawl erupted on the sidelines during TCU’s matchup with Baylor, and as a result Horned Frogs starting safety Nick Orr, the team’s third-leading tackler, was suspended by the Big 12 for the first half of Saturday’s game. The Sooners have engaged in their own share of scuffles lately, including offensive lineman Dru Samia’s ejection last week for punching a West Virginia defender.

 

Bottom line: These teams have been feisty as of late. Don’t be surprised if tensions are running high on Saturday.

 

2. Containing Rodney Anderson

Star quarterback Baker Mayfield makes the OU offense go, but Anderson’s emergence at running back has proved vital to the team’s offensive explosion in the second half of the season. He had his best performance of the year against TCU, posting nearly 300 yards from scrimmage (151 rushing, 139 receiving) and scoring four total touchdowns.

 

The Horned Frogs should start with trying to limit Anderson’s effectiveness on the ground Saturday and work up from there.

 

3. Sonny’s disposition

What did TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie take away from the previous meeting with the Sooners? The Horned Frogs broke a few big plays early in the game, signaling a classic Big 12 shootout was in store. Eventually, however, the Sooners settled in on D and did just enough to prevent TCU from keeping pace with OU’s run-and-gun offense.

 

In crafting his game plan, Cumbie needs to figure out what really worked and what didn’t against OU in round one. Then, do that. A good place to start would be for Horned Frogs quarterback Kenny Hill (above, right) to complete at least half of his pass attempts, something he did not do against the Sooners (13-for-28, 270 yds., TD) the first time.

 

Final Analysis

 

Oklahoma won handily the first time these two teams played this season. Would anything suggest the result might be different in their second meeting?

 

The Sooners won’t have home-field advantage. TCU will (presumably) have starting defensive lineman Mat Boesen on the field for the entire contest.

 

On the other hand, little about game one indicates the 38-20 result was fluky. Notably, there were no turnovers on either side or controversial plays. It came off mainly like a top-to-bottom beating by the Sooners.

 

That shouldn’t rule out an upset. Gary Patterson is a masterful tactician, and his teams often seem to feed off the multitude of grudges that he holds near and dear to his heart. The Horned Frogs defend well enough to fluster the country’s most prolific offense and capitalize on the mistakes.

 

Still, nothing about the first game offered any indication that TCU has enough firepower to hang with OU for four quarters. The Horned Frogs might put a scare into the Sooners, but this appears to be shaping up as another comfortable OU win.

 

Prediction: Oklahoma 38, TCU 30

 

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.

Teaser:
Big 12 Championship Game Preview and Prediction: TCU Horned Frogs vs. Oklahoma Sooners
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/conference-usa-championship-game-north-texas-mean-green-vs-florida-atlantic-owls-preview-and-prediction-2017
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Time to cash in big if you predicted before the season that North Texas and Florida Atlantic would meet in the Conference USA Championship Game in 2017.

 

The Mean Green (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) overcame a 1-2 start to begin the season and won eight out of their last nine games; a four-game improvement over last year. Second-year head coach Seth Littrell has done a masterful job in his short stint at North Texas, drastically improving an offense that ranked dead last in C-USA prior to him landing the gig. North Texas finished the 2017 season ranked second in the conference in scoring offense, averaging nearly 38 points per game.

 

The improvements made by Florida Atlantic (9-3, 8-0) in 2017 have been much more publicized thanks to first-year head coach Lane Kiffin who is never shy about being in the limelight. Don’t let that fool you though — this team has taken equally impressive strides this season including leading the conference in scoring and rushing offense.

 

Safe to say we should expect the scoreboard to light up early and often on Saturday.

 

Conference USA Championship: North Texas at Florida Atlantic


Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 2 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Florida Atlantic -10.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. No lost step
No Jeffery Wilson, no problem for North Texas. The senior running back was likely lost for the season after suffering a foot injury the week prior against Army, and will go down as one of the better running backs in North Texas history with more than 3,200 rushing yards in his career. Wilson finished the 2017 season with 1,215 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. Filling in for Wilson last week in the win over Rice was redshirt freshman Nic Smith, who wound up running for 178 yards with a score and averaged close to seven yards a carry in his first career start. With Wilson’s season and collegiate career likely over, it will be Smith’s show the rest of the way.

 

2. You left the Motor running

Most of the country is likely not familiar with Devin "Motor" Singletary but be prepared to get know him on Saturday. After just six carries for 26 yards in the opener against Navy, Singletary went on an absolute tear the rest of the way. The sophomore running back finished the regular season with 26 rushing touchdowns, including at least one in every game but the opener. Singletary also had 10 games in which he scored multiple times, including a five-game stretch in which he had 16 TDs. After just 68 yards against Wisconsin in Week 2, Singletary would post triple digits the rest of the way, recording 10 straight 100-yard games. If those are not Heisman-worthy numbers, I don’t know what is.

 

3. We meet again

It was not pretty for North Texas the last time these two teams met in late October. Florida Atlantic rolled up a Conference USA-record 804 total yards in the 69-31 win, including three rushing touchdowns from Singletary. It wasn’t all Singletary that day either, as four other Owls scored that way, giving the team nearly 450 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground alone. Saturday will actually mark a first for FAU head coach Lane Kiffin as this will be the first time during his collegiate career that he will face a team twice during a season. “I have not experienced that,” Kiffin said this week to reporters regarding a rematch. “What can you say? It’s always hard. I don’t know if it’s harder or easier. I think you’ve just got to erase it period, and pretend you never played them before.”

 

Final Analysis

 

With both offenses on a roll heading into Saturday, it will come down to which defense comes up with more stops down the stretch. These teams finished ninth and 10th in the conference in terms of total defense so there's very little edge there in that respect. With small differences statistically between the two, give me the team with the best player and the one who is playing at home. Advantage Florida Atlantic.

 

Prediction: Florida Atlantic 45, North Texas 31

 

— 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:
Conference USA Championship Game Preview and Prediction: North Texas Mean Green vs. Florida Atlantic Owls
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 11:20
Path: /college-football/mac-championship-game-preview-and-prediction-akron-zips-vs-toledo-rockets-2017
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A conference championship drought of at least 12 years will end on Saturday when Akron and Toledo square off at Ford Field in Detroit for the Marathon MAC Football Championship Game. Toledo's last MAC title came in 2004, the first year the game was played in the Motor City. Akron’s only appearance in the conference championship — which it won —came just a year later, so both sides haven't been on this stage for more than a decade. This marks the first MAC Championship Game with both teams from the same state (Ohio) since Toledo beat Miami (Ohio) 35-27 in 2004.

 

Toledo (10-2, 7-1 MAC) claimed the West crown by a game over Central Michigan. Seven of the Rockets' wins have been by at least 13 points, with an average margin of victory of nearly 21 points overall. A 38-10 loss at Ohio in Week 11 was the only blemish on the Rockets’ otherwise-perfect conference slate. The Bobcats could not defeat Akron (7-5, 6-2) on the road a week later, however, losing 37-34 as the Zips capitalized on three Ohio turnovers. That game would prove to be the difference in the East division: Ohio finished its MAC schedule at 5-3, a single game behind Akron.

 

The head-to-head record is close over the history of this series, though it has been characterized by a tale of two runs. From 1923-47, Akron won six of eight matchups against Toledo. When the series picked back up in 1992, Akron came out on top for what would be the last time until 2008, as Toledo went on its own six-game winning streak from 1994-2006. Toledo has since won three of the five most recent matchups entering Saturday, including a 48-21 win at home in October.

 

MAC Championship: Akron vs. Toledo


Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 2 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Ford Field (Detroit)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Toledo -21

 

Three Things to Watch


1. Akron’s ball-hawk defense 
The relative strength of the Zips on the defensive side of the ball is their success against the pass, which bodes well against an electric quarterback like Toledo’s Logan Woodside. Akron has given up a fair amount of yards through the air — nearly 422 per game — but has still managed to limit opponents to 24.8 points per game. That mark is tied for fourth in the MAC and 50th in the FBS. The biggest reason for this? The Zips enter this game with 17 interceptions, second in the conference (Central Michigan) and tied for seventh nationally. Woodside hasn't made many mistakes, throwing just three interceptions compared to 24 touchown passes in 345 attempts, but one of those picks was against Akron in the first meeting (in which he also threw for 304 yards and five TDs). But 10 different Zips have intercepted at least one pass this season and they no doubt would love to add to their total on Saturday.

 

2. Toledo’s offense clicking on all cylinders
Entering its final two regular-season games, Toledo’s offense was averaging nearly 500 yards per game — certainly a lofty figure to achieve in one game, let alone for an entire season. In those last two games, the Rockets totaled 1092 yards, including 637 against Bowling Green two weeks ago. The offense now is up to 506 yards per game offensively, including 288 through the air by quarterback Logan Woodside. The senior signal-caller has quite the arsenal of weapons around him, which takes a lot of the pressure off and allows Woodside to distribute to any one of them at any given time. Freshman Shakif Seymour and senior Terry Swanson each have rushed for 12 touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Diontae Jefferson’s 11 receiving touchdowns and 95 receiving yards per game are both second-best in the MAC while placing him seventh and 13th, respectively, in the FBS.

 

3. Revenge factor
The only time that two teams from the same conference would meet more than once is in the case of their conference championship (or, now, the College Football Playoff). Rarely do teams get to see each other a second time in the same season, but when they do the rematch tends to be a little closer the second time around. These teams have seen what the other will bring to the table, both from the personnel and gameplan aspects. Granted, there will surely be some wrinkles thrown in that were not present in the regular season, but for the most part the familiarity between the two sides will aid in preparation for Saturday’s championship game. Toledo’s offense nearly doubled Akron’s in that October win — 626 yards to Akron’s 333 — so with this game at a neutral site and home-field advantage not as much of a factor, don’t expect the Zips to give in easily on Saturday.

 

Final Analysis

 

While the regular-season matchup between Toledo and Akron might have appeared one-sided, it was a first-quarter eruption that put the Rockets ahead 21-0 13 minutes into the game and Toledo was off to the races. From that point on, however, the Rockets only outscored the Zips by six points over the final three quarters, so Akron to its credit kept pace with Toledo’s potent offense the rest of the way. Toledo has shown no signs of slowing down in the latter stages of the season, but Akron is playing some of its best football at just the right time. Sitting at 4-4 after losing to Toledo and needing to win two games to be bowl-eligible, Akron rattled off three wins in its final four games, including the division-clinching win over Ohio. It’s not unreasonable to expect similar firepower to these teams’ regular-season meeting, but don’t be surprised if Akron keeps it close on a neutral field.

 

Prediction: Toledo 45, Akron 31

 

— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Associate Editor of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.

Teaser:
MAC Championship Game Preview and Prediction: Akron Zips vs. Toledo Rockets
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 11:10
Path: /college-football/aac-championship-game-preview-and-prediction-memphis-tigers-vs-ucf-knights-2017
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For the third time this season, Memphis and UCF are scheduled to tee it up against each other.

 

The first matchup was slated for Sept. 8 but Hurricane Irma forced that game to be postponed. Then, the two programs settled on a date of Sept. 30, when the Knights put a 40-13 hurting on the Tigers. Since then No. 14 UCF has continued what has been an unlikely unbeaten season, made even more remarkable when you consider this team was winless just two years ago. (Now you see why Scott Frost is such hot property for that flailing Nebraska program.)

 

Meanwhile, after getting shut down by the Knights’ defense on that September evening, the Tigers have gone hay-wire crazy offensively, scoring 70, 30, 42, 56, 41, 66 and 70 points in their seven-game winning streak. Riley Ferguson is seventh nationally in passing yards per game and game-breaking wideout Anthony Miller also is seventh in receiving yards per game. Those two are complemented by 1,000-yard rusher Darrell Henderson, making No. 20 Memphis a well-oiled machine.

 

That leads us to our third matchup of these two, which is this weekend in the AAC Football Championship. The winner gets a big trophy, a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game and the head coach gets either a bump in pay or the glory of a new, higher-paying gig at a Power 5 school.

 

AAC Football Championship: Memphis at UCF

 

Kickoff: Saturday Dec. 2 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ABC

Spread: UCF -7

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Those underrated quarterbacks

It is not a bold statement to say that Memphis’ Riley Ferguson and UCF’s McKenzie Milton (right) are two of the most underrated players in the country. Ferguson has thrown 31 TDs and just eight interceptions and Milton has tossed 30 TDs and six INTs. But the big key in their first matchup was the fact that Ferguson was pressured into throwing three picks and lost a fumble, while Milton threw one pick but there were no other turnovers. Watch the go-to guys on each side as Ferguson has Anthony Miller at his disposal, who is second in the nation with 14 TD catches and 78 catches overall. Just behind him at No. 7 nationally is the Knights’ Tre’Quan Smith, who has 11 touchdowns, to go along with his 48 catches overall. Have an oxygen tank handy, just watching these guys in this game is going cause hyperventilation

 

2. Many happy returns

Both teams not only have record-setting quarterbacks, but keep a discernible eye on the special teams as both possess a game-changing return specialist. Memphis features Tony Pollard, who is tops in the country at 44 yards per return including four of them for touchdowns. UCF counters with Mike Hughes, who is third in the FBS with 35 yards per return and two touchdowns. It was his 95-yard zip to pay dirt in the final minute that was the difference in the seven-point win over archrival USF last weekend. Conversely, pressure will be on the kickers and their ability to nail kickoffs through the end zone. Anything that is returnable, even a boot that is five or six yards deep, is asking for a kick-six from these two burners.

 

3. Defense will be a mere suggestion

If recent history is accurate, this title game should be a raging score-fest. Going into this one, the Memphis offense ranks fifth nationally, averaging 529 yards per game and UCF is at No. 6 averaging 523 yards per game. The Tigers are ninth in passing at 327 yards per game and the Knights are 11th with 325. Dear scoreboard operator, have some replacement LED lights available, this one could be a track meet. Yet still, make no mistake, the Knights have the better defense, as they led the AAC in total defense going into last week’s game with USF. But then Quinton Flowers torched the Knights for 500 yards through the air and 102 yards on the ground, so who knows which D will show up to stop Memphis’ attack? The one constant is that the Tigers’ defense is really toothless, allowing 453 yards per game, which is 111th in the FBS. Give the (slight) advantage to the Knights.

 

Final Analysis

 

You always hear coaches say that it’s difficult to beat a good team twice in a season, especially in college. Well Memphis has that going for them. This game won’t be anything like that first one, which was a Knights’ blowout party. This one will more closely resemble last week’s USF-UCF light show, which was possibly the best game of the entire 2017 FBS season.

 

Expect the offenses to dominate as both have playmakers galore, are very balanced and seem to be hitting their stride going into this showdown. But another old football adage is “defense wins championships.” Not that either D is going to be the Great Wall of China here, but the Knights have been known to put the clamps on opponents a wee-bit better than the Tigers do, as witnessed by the first matchup.

 

It won’t be another 40-13 rout, but I could see the Knights putting up a key stop or two to make the difference here.

 

Prediction: UCF 55, Memphis 45

 

— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.

Teaser:
AAC Championship Game Preview and Prediction: Memphis Tigers vs. UCF Knights
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/louisiana-monroe-warhawks-vs-florida-state-seminoles-preview-and-prediction-2017
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After consecutive victories over Delaware State and rival Florida, Florida State is one win away from becoming bowl eligible for a 36th straight season. The Seminoles will wrap up their slate on Saturday against a Louisiana Monroe team that they were supposed to play in their home opener.

 

The contest was originally scheduled for Sept. 9 at Doak Campbell Stadium, but Hurricane Irma canceled a slew of games, including this one. The two schools decided this one would be made up in mid-November. FSU correctly saw it necessary toward becoming bowl eligible.

 

Last week, FSU defeated Florida 38-22 in Gainesville in a contest where both teams had fewer than 300 yards of offense. ULM lost 67-50 to Arkansas State in a game that saw plenty of offense. Saturday’s contest in Tallahassee will be just the second between the schools. FSU won the first meeting to open the 2011 season, 34-0.

 

ULM at Florida State

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 2 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ACC Network Extra

Spread: Florida State -27

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. FSU freshman backfield

For a pair of true freshmen starting in the backfield for Florida State, Saturday could be a big day. Quarterback James Blackman has played very well the last couple weeks, although his numbers didn’t reflect it last week as a result of drops. Blackman will be facing a ULM defense that ranks 127th in the FBS in pass defense, yielding more than 308 yards per game through the air. This should offer Blackman the opportunity to have a nice day, build confidence and get FSU to a bowl game.

 

For running back Cam Akers, the task also seems far from tall. Akers will be facing a rush defense for the Warhawks that ranks 119th and gives up more than 226 yards per game on the ground. Akers has become the feature back in FSU’s offense, although Jacques Patrick gets plenty of carries. Akers is 187 yards away from joining Dalvin Cook as just the second FSU freshman to run for 1,000 yards in a season. If the touches are plentiful, he could get there on Saturday.

 

2. Caleb Evans vs. the FSU defense

ULM may be a healthy underdog on Saturday, but it has a quarterback that can entertain if nothing else. Evans is a sophomore dual-threat quarterback with more than 3,100 total yards to his name this season and 29 total touchdowns. Evans is coming off a performance against Arkansas State where he tossed for a career-high 454 yards and four touchdowns, although three of his six interceptions for the year came in that contest. Evans also is the team’s second-leading rusher and has a nice trio of receivers in Marcus Green, RJ Turner and Brian Williams.

 

Evans will be facing an FSU defense that seems to be getting better by the week. That unit has played inspired over the last two weeks, scoring three defensive touchdowns with what should have been another. That side of the ball is led by All-ACC safety Derwin James (above, right), who could be used as a spy in certain situations against Evans. Levonta Taylor, a sophomore cornerback, has had an outstanding season and is coming off a contest where he recorded two interceptions and returned one for a score. The Seminoles' defensive end trio of Josh Sweat, Brian Burns and Joshua Kaindoh also has been relentless in recent weeks.

 

3. ULM's Marcus Green

Florida State may be loaded with talented skill players, but ULM also has one that should not be ignored in Green. Green, a speedster, not only leads the Warhawks in receiving with 723 yards and five touchdowns, but he's also explosive as a rusher and a returner. Green is averaging 15.1 yards per rush on 12 touches this season and is tied for the FBS lead with four kickoff returns for a touchdown. If the Warhawks are able to keep this one interesting on Saturday, Green will be a big reason why.

 

Final Analysis

 

With Florida State looking to become bowl eligible and ULM playing its final game, there are questions about how motivated the Warhawks will be as already healthy underdogs. The latest rumors regarding FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher potentially leaving for Texas A&M could be a distraction as well. When all is said and done however, there is a talent gap between the schools that should be significant enough to offset anything else.

 

Prediction: Florida State 48, ULM 20

 

— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the editor of The Daily Nole. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook and follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.

Teaser:
ULM Warhawks vs. Florida State Seminoles Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 10:50
Path: /college-football/umass-minutemen-vs-fiu-panthers-preview-and-prediction-2017
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Due to Hurricane Irma and a pair of early-season game cancellations, the UMass Minutemen and Florida International Panthers will face off for a third consecutive season in a matchup that wasn’t even on the schedule to start.

 

Mark Whipple’s Minutemen (4-7) will attempt to secure their first five-win season at the FBS level by knocking off FIU for the third year in a row on Saturday. Despite an 0-6 start, UMass has been in top form of late, winning four of its last five contests. And the Minutemen’s only loss during that stretch was arguably their most impressive performance of 2017, giving nationally ranked Mississippi State a serious run for its money in Starkville.

 

Butch Davis has already worked wonders for a struggling FIU program in just his first year as head coach. Davis has led the Panthers to a 7-4 overall record, a second-place finish in Conference USA’s Eastern Division, and a likely bowl berth for the first time since 2011. They capped off their conference schedule last week by scoring 28 unanswered points to beat defending C-USA champion Western Kentucky by a score of 41-17. The Panthers will now look to exact a little revenge at home against a UMass team that has gotten the better of them in each of the previous two seasons.

 

UMass at FIU

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 2 at 12 p.m. ET

Spread: FIU -1.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Alex McGough

FIU's quarterback didn’t look much like a four-year starter in the first half of the season, tossing more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (5) through the first six games. But he has looked the part of one of the nation’s most experienced signal-callers in the latter half of his senior campaign. Over the last five weeks, McGough (above, right) has thrown nine touchdown passes with just one interception, completing an impressive 69 percent of his pass attempts for an average of 232 passing yards per game.

 

McGough will look to keep that momentum going on Saturday in his final home game for the Panthers. But it could be a challenge against a solid UMass pass defense that is giving up just 199 yards per game (No. 33 in the FBS) through the air. Adding to the difficulty, McGough must once again overcome the loss of FIU’s top weapon on offense. Senior wide receiver Thomas Owens is expected to miss his third consecutive game on Saturday with a knee injury. Despite missing the last two games, Owens still leads the Panthers in yards from scrimmage (887), touchdowns (6) and receptions (59). It serves as a big blow to FIU’s passing attack. However, McGough has managed to make due utilizing a wide variety of targets in the last two games.

 

2. UMass’ “Big 3” on offense

The FIU defense will certainly have its hands full against three of the best offensive weapons it has faced all season. UMass junior quarterback Andrew Ford is the catalyst for one of the nation’s top passing attacks (No. 23 in the FBS). Despite missing the better part of three games this season, Ford has thrown for 2,575 yards with an exceptional 18:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

 

Ford’s go-to target, wide receiver Andy Isabella, is another big reason for UMass’ success through the air. Isabella has already accumulated 1,043 yards from scrimmage to go along with 10 touchdowns during his junior season. He’s racked up 22 catches for 394 yards and five touchdowns in his last three games alone.

 

While running the football isn’t UMass’ strong suit, the Minutemen do have a capable weapon at running back in Marquis Young. The versatile junior has amassed 1,093 yards from scrimmage (857 rushing yards with a 5.2 ypc), making nine trips to the end zone on the year. Young is just as dangerous as a pass catcher (28 receptions) as he is running the football.

 

3. UMass kryptonite?

If there is a weakness in the Minutemen’s high-powered passing attack, it is the offensive line. UMass has allowed a ridiculous 45 sacks in 11 games, the second most of any team in the FBS. And while FIU doesn’t exactly have the most explosive pass rush, compiling just 21 sacks on the season, the Panthers have a pair of capable pass rushers that should be able to exploit UMass’ leaky O-line.

 

Junior defensive end Fermin Silva is a high-motor guy that leads the Panthers with six sacks and ranks third in Conference USA with 14.5 tackles for a loss. Fellow junior defensive lineman, Anthony Johnson, has 4.5 sacks in the last three contests alone. Look for FIU to unleash this duo at every opportunity. It will be crucial to get pressure on Ford if the Panthers are going to find success on defense in this matchup.

 

Final Analysis

 

FIU has undergone a remarkable turnaround in its first season under Butch Davis. And when this game was scheduled back in September, the Panthers probably felt confident that they would be able to cruise to an easy victory over the Minutemen and get a little payback in the process. However, UMass has enjoyed a pretty remarkable turnaround of its own since the mid-point of the season and FIU probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to face the Minutemen. It should be a hard-fought matchup, but UMass will ride the wave of momentum provided by its red-hot passing attack and pull off the upset in Miami.

 

Prediction: UMass 31, FIU 27

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

Teaser:
UMass Minutemen vs. FIU Panthers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 10:40
All taxonomy terms: syndicated, NFL
Path: /nfl/predictions-every-nfl-game-week-13-2017
Body:

NFL Picks: Carson Wentz

Week 13 of the NFL season means teams are getting ready to enter the home stretch of their schedule. With five games left to play, only six teams have truly been eliminated from playoff contention while several divisions are still very much up for grabs. And don’t even try and figure out the wild-card pictures right now.

 

This week may offer a little more clarity, however, as seven divisional matchups are on tap. The biggest being Carolina taking on New Orleans with first place on the NFC South on the line. The Saints got the better of the Panthers on the road back in Week 3 (34-13), but are coming off a loss in Los Angeles to the Rams.

 

Other big games on tap include the 10-1 Eagles, winners of nine in a row, in Seattle against a Seahawks team that has managed to stay within a game of the NFC West-leading Rams despite all of the injuries. Another strong performance by Carson Wentz (above, right) on the road against a still formidable Seattle defense could go a long ways towards bolstering his MVP campaign.

 

Last year’s MVP, Matt Ryan, and his Falcons will look to build off of last week’s offensive explosion as Atlanta hosts NFC North leader Minnesota. The Vikings have won seven in a row and lead the Lions by three in the division, while the Falcons would like to stay close in the NFC South by picking up another key conference win.

 

Elsewhere, wild-card contenders Detroit and Baltimore will face off and Week 13 begins (Washington vs. Dallas) and ends (Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati) with two of the league’s most established divisional rivalries.

 

So which teams will come out on top in every NFL game in Week 13? 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 13 Predictions

 

 

Rob

Doster

Bryan
Fischer

John

Gworek

Washington at

Dallas (TNF)

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

Minnesota at

Atlanta

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

New England at

Buffalo

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

San Francisco at

Chicago

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

Tampa Bay at

Green Bay

NFL Picks: Packers NFL Picks: Packers NFL Picks: Buccaneers

Houston at

Tennessee

NFL Picks: Titans NFL Picks: Titans NFL Picks: Titans

Denver at

Miami

NFL Picks: Dolphins NFL Picks: Dolphins NFL Picks: Broncos

Kansas City at

New York Jets

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

Indianapolis at

Jacksonville

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

Detroit at

Baltimore

NFL Picks: Ravens NFL Picks: Ravens

Cleveland at

Los Angeles Chargers

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

New York Giants at

Oakland

NFL Picks: Raiders NFL Picks: Raiders NFL Picks: Raiders

Carolina at

New Orleans

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

Los Angeles Rams at

Arizona

NFL Picks: Rams NFL Picks: Rams NFL Picks: Rams
Philadelphia at

Seattle (SNF)

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

Pittsburgh at

Cincinnati (MNF)

NFL Picks: Steelers NFL Picks: Steelers NFL Picks: Steelers
Week 12 12-4 12-4 12-4
Season 112-64 109-67 112-64

 

Teaser:
Predictions for Every NFL Game in Week 13
Post date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 10:30

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