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Miami coach Al Golden entered 2015 on the hot seat, and the pressure hasn’t decreased on the fifth-year coach after a 3-1 start. While the Hurricanes have a winning record, the manner in which this program is winning games hasn’t been impressive. Miami was tied at 20 with FAU in the third quarter and blew a 33-10 second half lead against Nebraska. While the Hurricanes won both games, neither performance was enough to quiet Golden’s critics.
Additionally, Golden has been the target of banners flying over Sun Life Stadium and even in Cincinnati last Thursday, calling for the program to make a coaching change.
For a variety of reasons in recent seasons, Miami hasn’t been able to match the level of the success this program had from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s. However, after Thursday night’s loss to Cincinnati, it’s pretty clear Golden is looking at a critical four-game stretch that could define his tenure at Miami.
Related: 10 Coaches on the Rise
The Hurricanes host rival Florida State on Saturday. While the buzz surrounding this matchup isn’t quite what it was previously, this is still a critical game within the ACC and for bragging rights within the state of Florida. Here’s the key stat to remember for Miami: The Hurricanes have lost five straight to the Seminoles and two of Golden’s defeats in this series came by 13 points or more.
Let’s say Miami loses to Florida State. That drops the Hurricanes to 0-1 in the ACC and 3-2 overall. The road won’t get any easier in the next few weeks. After taking on the Seminoles, Miami hosts Virginia Tech and Clemson, followed by a road trip to Duke on Oct. 31. The Tigers are the best team out of that trio, but the Blue Devils won the last meeting in Durham (2013). The Hokies are struggling with a 2-3 start but won four out of the last six in this series.
The November slate isn’t drastically easier for Miami, especially with road trips to North Carolina and Pittsburgh, along with a home date against Georgia Tech.
Cleaning up some of the mental errors and mistakes could go a long ways for Miami over the last eight games of the season.
Behind quarterback Brad Kaaya, Miami’s offense ranks fourth in the ACC with an average of 37 points per game and second in the conference with 6.5 yards per play.
Both of those numbers are good enough to win a lot of games in 2015. However, it’s the small things hurting the Hurricanes’ offense. This unit is last in the ACC by converting just 24.5 percent of its third downs. And Miami is also committing nearly eight penalties a game (7.75).
Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio was the subject of criticism throughout last season by Miami’s fanbase and this unit has struggled once again in 2015. The Hurricanes have surrendered 29 points a game in three contests against FBS teams this season, rank 12th in the ACC in third-down defense, surrendered nine plays of 30 yards or more and give up 5.4 yards per play.
Related: 10 Stats to Know from Week 5
Football Outsiders’ advanced statistics only reiterate Miami’s troubles on defense. This unit is No. 53 in defense S&P and No. 95 in defensive efficiency.
It’s no secret Miami has yet to play for the conference championship or win a Coastal Division title since joining the ACC in 2004. Combine that historical note with seven players selected in the 2015 NFL Draft after a 6-7 record, and it’s easy to see why most consider this program to be an underachiever.
Al Golden has recruited well. Miami inked the No. 27 signing class nationally in the 247Sports rankings last season, but prior to 2015, Golden signed three consecutive top 15 classes. Over the last five seasons, the Hurricanes average a 19.2 finish nationally in team recruiting rankings. That’s No. 3 in the ACC. Yet, Miami is just 16-16 over the last four years in conference play.
Is time running out on Golden at Miami? The next four games have to be considered a make-or-break stretch for this coaching staff.
Week 5 is now in the books, and the college fantasy football season is kicking into high gear. Are you prepared?
Athlon has teamed up with college fantasy veterans CollegeFootballGeek.com to help you dominate in 2015! Over the course of the season, CFG will be providing insight into their weekly value plays, as well as helping you identify the top waiver wire candidates to bolster your lineups.
Whether you play daily or season-long college fantasy football, CollegeFootballGeek.com (@CFFGeek) prepares you to win with the best advice, tools and customer service in the industry — they've been doing it since 2008. Click here to learn how you can subscribe to CFG for FREE.
Below, you will find AthlonSports.com contributor and CFG writer Mike Bainbridge's five best waiver wire pickups for Week 6. To see the full in-depth article of over 50+ players, make sure to check out CollegeFootballGeek.com.
Mike Warren (RB, Iowa State)
An afterthought to begin the year, the Iowa State redshirt freshman running back now has 301 rushing yards the past two weeks, including a 175-yard performance against Kansas this past weekend. Warren opened the year as the backup to Tyler Brown, but the Iowa State rushing attack was ineffective with Brown as the lead back, gaining a combined 140 yards as a team. The past two weeks, Iowa State is averaging 225 yards rushing a game due in large part to the emergence of Warren. The Cyclones now get Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor in the next three games. Is there any doubt they will feed carries to Warren trying to keep those offenses off the field?
Chase Litton (QB, Marshall)
Since taking over for injured quarterback Michael Birdsong, all Chase Litton has done is lead the Thundering Herd to a 3-0 record while throwing eight touchdowns to just two interceptions. Not the Rakeem Cato-like numbers that we are used to seeing from a Marshall quarterback, but solid nonetheless for Litton's first three collegiate starts. Birdsong is reportedly getting close to 100 percent health, but if Marshall continues to win games with Litton under center, why disrupt the momentum? The freshman QB is a solid No. 2 option on your fantasy roster.
James Summers (QB, East Carolina)
Ruffin McNeil has a decision on his hands for which quarterback to go with this week against BYU, but in our minds, it is an easy one. The East Carolina head coach stated last week his intention on rotating both Summers and Blake Kemp moving forward, but for the second straight game, Summers came off the bench to lead the Pirates to another comeback in the win over SMU. The junior quarterback has seven touchdowns in the past two weeks, four of which have been on the ground, as Summers is a dynamic athlete in the pocket. It would be a major surprise if McNeil did not select Summers as his starter not only this week, but for the remainder of the year.
Trevon Brown (WR, East Carolina)
Brown was suspended for the first three games of the season due a violation of the school's student code. In the two weeks since his return to the lineup, Brown has caught eight passes for 129 yards and accounted for a touchdown in each game. The sophomore wideout is far and away the team’s biggest deep threat, as he averaged 19 yards per catch in 2014 before a knee injury cut his season short. Brown is off to a flying start once again this year and should see more passes in the upcoming weeks with some average AAC defenses on the horizon.
Donovan Harden (WR, Georgia State)
Harden returned to the lineup this week for Georgia State after missing the first month with a broken bone in his foot that he suffered during fall practice. There was no rust whatsoever for the senior wideout, as Harden had 179 yards and a touchdown in his first game back. Georgia State now ranks 12th in the country in passing offense, averaging 345 yards per game. The Panthers pass it a ton, as they are likely to be trailing in almost every matchup they play in, meaning plenty of targets coming in Harden’s direction. The hope is fellow managers in your league forgot about Harden due to the injury, so make sure to jump on him now if he is still available.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.
I am back with another Patience or Panic post. I did not write one last week because the players I mentioned in my initial post carried over into Week 4.
Last week I recommended cutting bait with Andre Johnson and Week 4 only validated the belief that Johnson is simply no longer an impact fantasy player. Definitely not one who should be rostered in leagues at this point.
This week I add some new names many are concerned about and help you distinguish whether you need to be patient or panic. I also added a new twist with a panic player, but who isn’t quite to the point of cutting yet.
Many of the players in Week 3’s post are still in the patience, but worrisome category. Players like C.J. Anderson plummeted even more after Week 4’s performance. He managed to get 7 fantasy points but there is clearly a time share, and Ronnie Hillman continues to make bigger plays.
Each week I will be naming some players who are struggling and whether fantasy owners should Panic or be Patient.
Related: Week 4 NFL Fantasy All-Dud Team
Good luck this week everyone, and be sure to keep checking AthlonSports.com for all the fantasy guidance, rankings, injury updates, DFS content and Start/Sit posts your little hearts desire.
Patience or Panic?
1. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Averaging 7.73 fantasy points per game)
Evans appeared to be on the upward trend in Week 3, hauling in seven passes for 101 yards. But along the lines of the goose egg he posted in his Week 2 season debut, he again plummeted back to disappointing levels in Week 4.
The question should not be whether Evans is a talented receiver as much as can he and quarterback Jameis Winston develop a special relationship in the passing game, and if Winston will continually improve over his rookie season.
The Verdict: Patience
If you drafted Evans you likely paid a steep price for him, or kept him as a keeper. As I mentioned above his talent should not be a question and he could just be off on a slow start because of his early injuries. You have to wait on him for two reasons, he can rebound in a big way, and most importantly you simply will not get a solid return for him at this point.
2. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington (7.43 FPPG)
Morris had a solid start in Week 1 with 121 yards on the ground, but then Matt Jones came in to the picture. Whether Morris' confidence was shook, or he simply isn’t playing with gusto he has been averaging a meager 5.9 fantasy points per week since the opener. Definitely not borderline RB1, or even RB2 numbers.
The Verdict: PANIC
This is definitely a panic situation, but not a cut bait-type of panic, at least yet. Morris does need to be benched, as it appears, barring an injury to Jones in the future, Morris is in a dreaded timeshare. Even worse he is not known for his pass-catching abilities so the likelihood of him playing on third downs is diminished as well.
Alfred Morris: 12 touches. Matt Jones: 6 touches. Chris Thompson: 6 touches. Good luck figuring this out, friends.— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) October 4, 2015
3. Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins (6.7 FPPG)
Jonas Gray has been eating in to Lamar Miller’s carries and overall touches, but the Dolphins also have been playing putrid football as of late. In fact their head coach was fired after another loss in Week 4, and many in the industry believe that will benefit Miller.
The Verdict: Patience
Miller showed what he can do as a feature back in 2014 and if given the opportunity again in 2015 he should be able to reproduce his numbers. He may not average the whopping five yards-plus a carry, but Miller seems to be a gameflow back. With opportunity comes production.
4. Golden Tate, WR, Detroit Lions (7.9 FPPG)
Tate hasn’t been terrible, but nowhere near the consistent double-digit-points fantasy asset he was last year. He has yet to record a touchdown in 2015, and needless to say he is bench-worthy at this point for most options. He also was drafted higher than he is producing, making him a wait-and-see player for now.
The Verdict: Patience
Tate is a reception fiend like his teammate Calvin Johnson. The Lions' offense may just be off to another slow start and should pick it up sooner than later. Tate had just three catches (on four targets) for 29 yards Monday night against Seattle, but hopefully better games are ahead. Keep in mind, however, that this week Detroit returns home to play Arizona, which has a very athletic and active secondary. The breakout Tate owners are looking for could still be another week or so away.
— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.
The NBA Draft, as usual, culled the freshman class of 2014.
The annual exodus of top prospects left only one of the top 10 and seven of the top 20 prospects from the 247Sports composite. The sophomore class, however, has its share of potential superstars.
Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis watched most of his teammates go to the draft, but he’ll still inherit the point guard position of a top team.
Maryland’s Melo Trimble didn’t arrive with the fanfare of other freshmen in 2014 — he ranked No. 31 in the class — but he may be the top candidate out of this class to be a National Player of the Year.
The following article and more can be found in the Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview magazine, available now.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
G Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
Kentucky’s best playmaker last season may have been coming off the bench. The 5-foot-9 Ulis managed to finish in the top 10 in the SEC in assists per game (3.6) despite averaging only 23.8 minutes.
G Melo Trimble, Maryland
Trimble is a big reason Maryland has its best team in more than a decade. He enters this season on a tear, averaging 18.2 points over the final 12 games last season.
G/F Daniel Hamilton, UConn
The talented wing should help UConn to a bounce-back season after averaging 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds as a freshman.
F Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga
The son of Arvydas Sabonis will threaten to average a double-double after recording 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds in 21.7 minutes last season.
C Jakob Poeltl, Utah
The 7-footer may have only scratched the surface of his potential at the end of last season. His return to school was one of the more surprising NBA Draft decisions.
G Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
G James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
G Grayson Allen, Duke
F Justin Jackson, North Carolina
F Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
The NFL is back, and the competition off the field is nearly as heated as the competition on game day.
The Athlon Sports Pro Football Experts Club presented by New Era gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.
Here are this week’s picks from Athlon Sports senior editor John Gworek:
Indianapolis at Houston
As if Thursday night games aren’t sloppy enough, these two teams have combined to turn the ball over 20 times in four weeks.
Gworek's Pick: Colts, 19-17.
Chicago at Kansas City
After a 1–3 start, the Bears hit the road for five of their next seven. The Chiefs need someone other than their kicker to score this week.
Gworek's Pick: Kansas City, 26–14.
Seattle at Cincinnati
The Bengals are averaging 30 points per game. Seattle’s defense has allowed three points in the last two games. Something has to give.
Gworek's Pick: Seattle, 20–16.
Washington at Atlanta
The Redskins are minus-4 in turnover differential. The Falcons are plus-6 and haven’t given the ball away since the season opener.
Gworek's Pick: Atlanta, 27–20.
Jacksonville at Tampa Bay
The three NFL teams in Florida are a combined 3–9 so far. Miami is off this week, but somebody has to win this one … right?
Gworek's Pick: Jacksonville, 16–14.
New Orleans at Philadelphia
The Saints saved their season with the OT win against Dallas last week. The winner of this one stays in the Wild Card race, the loser digs a big hole.
Gworek's Pick: New Orleans, 21–17.
Cleveland at Baltimore
For all the attention the Browns quarterback situation gets, the league’s worst defense is a bigger problem.
Gworek's Pick: Baltimore, 30–20.
St. Louis at Green Bay
The Packers are rolling but should beware: The Rams have played their best against the best, having beaten the Seahawks and Cardinals.
Gworek's Pick: Green Bay, 23–17.
Buffalo at Tennessee
Tennessee ranks in the top 10 in both offense and defense, but odds are Marcus Mariota will see some crazy things from Rex Ryan this week.
Gworek's Pick: Buffalo, 24–14.
Arizona at Detroit
The Lions can’t catch a break and now get the 3–1 Cardinals on a short week. Arizona plays three of its next four in the Eastern Time zone.
Gworek's Pick: Cardinals, 21–13.
New England at Dallas
The defense has let the Cowboys down since Tony Romo got hurt. It’s unlikely to get better against the rested Patriots this week.
Gworek's Pick: New England, 34–21.
Denver at Oakland
The Raiders were on the verge of a 3–1 start before blowing three separate leads in Chicago. The Broncos are doing it with defense.
Gworek's Pick: Denver, 27-10.
San Francisco at N.Y. Giants
About the only thing the 49ers have done well is run the ball. The Giants lead the NFL in rushing defense.
Gworek's Pick: N.Y. Giants, 20-14.
Pittsburgh at San Diego
The Steelers can blame Josh Scobee for the loss to Baltimore, but the offense has gone nowhere since Ben Roethlisberger went down.
Gworek's Pick: San Diego, 23-17.
Week 4 Record: 10–5
Overall Record: 41–22
Week 4 left fantasy owners with an encore performance from Devonta Freeman forcing himself into the front of the running back herd in literally two weeks. This week we start with a bang. There is a DFS scandal (If you want to call it that), which is shaking up the industry and causing online feuds, while seasonal fantasy players have more bye weeks to navigate.
Whether you have another injury to worry about, simply are giving up on a few players on your bench, or finding a bye week replacement, the waiver wire should once again be hot and active this week.
I will list as always a few more targets who are floating around in most leagues and who you should consider adding to your bench.
Good luck this week everyone. If you are having issues with who to drop, or hold from your fantasy teams, be on the lookout for my latest series called Patience or Panic where I will look at players who are under-performing and whether you need to cut bait or hold.
I will be here to guide you each and every week with some players who are owned less than 40 percent in ESPN.com leagues and could have an impact on your squad for this particular week or the rest of the season.
1. Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns (49.6 percent owned in ESPN.com leagues)
Kind of cheating again this week but this percentage is still too low in the desolate waiver wire of running backs. Johnson showed Sunday how unique of a weapon he is as a pass catcher (9 rec., 85 yds., TD), and his playing time will only improve. If he is still available take a flyer. He should be worth it.
2. Allen Hurns, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (11.6 percent owned)
Hurns has overshadowed Allen Robinson, who was supposed to be the focal point in the Jaguars' developing offense. Hurns is seeing plenty of targets and red-zone opportunities continue to fall his way too. Hurns is a surprising player so far, but there is no reason to see a decrease in production. Currently the 20th-ranked WR, this week will likely be your last chance to snag him.
3. Leonard Hankerson, WR, Atlanta (13.7 percent owned)
Hankerson had another fantastic showing in Week 4, in which, just like Week 2, he had a touchdown, six receptions and 75-plus yards. This is solid WR2, and most certainly flex-worthy production. The Falcons have a high-powered offense and with the meteoric rise of Devonta Freeman, opportunities should be there for Hankerson while secondaries try to contain Julio Jones. Roddy White is certainly the third option and no longer a threat to Hankerson. Get him while you can and enjoy your cheap production.
4. Boobie Dixon, RB, Buffalo Bills (1.1 percent owned)
Dixon has been a big name this morning when the news broke that Karlos Williams is dealing with a concussion. This elevates Dixon to a potential starter for Week 5, and even though the Bills signed former Colt Daniel Herron to provide depth, Dixon should see the lion's share of touches in Week 5. He is not explosive, but can do damage in the red-zone and can wear down defenses if needed.
5. Kamar Aiken, WR, Baltimore Ravens (0.8 percent owned)
Breshad Perriman was in my waiver wire post last week, but that was prior to the news coming out about him re-injuring his knee, which could keep him sidelined for the rest of the season. Steve Smith then injured his back on Thursday night, propelling the overlooked Aiken to the No. 1 status in Baltimore. Chris Givens was acquired via trade, and his speed could be utilized at some point, but Aiken is familiar with the offense and should be able to build a rapport with Joe Flacco. In Week 4 he ended up with a touchdown, and 77 yards receiving on five catches. Not too shabby.
DST Streamer(s) of the Week
I am a part of the streaming DST movement. I don’t typically waste a draft pick, unless I need to, in my drafts and instead cut someone and add a DST. Clearly the top defenses will be owned and not available, but streaming is always an option when it comes to DSTs. So each week I will be providing a DST that is owned in less than 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues and can be useful.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tampa Bay (0.8 percent owned in ESPN.com leagues)
The Jags face a turnover-plagued Tampa Bay team and I see no reason not to capitalize once again this week. A rookie quarterback who is coming off a four-interception performance and one that has already tossed seven picks is certainly appealing from a matchup standpoint. Like a shark sensing blood, you should be attacking this matchup in Week 5.
— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.
It's a shame that the Cubs and Pirates are only playing a one game, winner-take-all Wild Card matchup instead of the seven-game series this NL Central rivalry deserves. But make no mistake, this game is going to be must-watch television.
The Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs are simply the victims of being in the best division in baseball, probably ever. For the first time since divisions were created in 1969 the three best teams in MLB are all in the same division, the NL Central. Had the Pirates or Cubs been in any other division this season, each team would have bypassed the Wild Card game and held home-field advantage throughout the Division Series, at minimum. Alas, that is not the way the game is played in 2015, and sometimes baseball isn’t fair.
The Pirates' resurgence over the past three years has been something to behold. Pittsburgh went from being one of the worst franchises in sports over the past 20 years, to being a model for success the past several seasons. The Pirates have invested in their farm system and acquired reliable veterans to mix with their young core of talent and the results have been a fantastic baseball product. This marks the third straight year that the Pirates have hosted the NL Wild Card game. In 2013 they beat the Reds 6-2, and last year fell to Madison Bumgarner’s gem and the eventual World Series champions, the San Francisco Giants.
The Cubs are the darlings of the baseball world. New manager Joe Maddon came to Chicago with a winning attitude, claiming that he was managing a Cubs team that he expected to compete for a postseason bid. Maddon and the Cubs delivered, and then some. The young Cubs, highlighted by a youth movement like baseball hasn't seen before, ended the regular season with 97 wins and the third-best record in baseball. Like the Pirates, the Cubs built their core through their farm system and a series of moves to acquire reliable veteran players who have been productive. The Cubs haven’t been to the postseason since being swept by the Dodgers in the 2008 NLDS, which followed getting swept by the Diamondbacks in the '07 NLDS. The Cubs have not won a playoff game since... dare I say it, The Bartman Game in the 2003 NLCS.
Chicago at Pittsburgh
First Pitch: 8:08 p.m. ET (Wednesday)
Matchup: RH Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA) vs. RH Gerrit Cole (19-8, 2.60 ERA)
Three Things to Watch
1. Battles of the Aces
Don’t expect a lot of runs to be scored in this one. The Cubs’ Jake Arrieta very well could be this year’s NL Cy Young Award winner, and rightfully so. Arrieta leads baseball in wins (22), hits per nine innings (5.895 H/9) and batting average against (.188), and is second in ERA (1.77) and WHIP (0.86). Arrieta trails on Zack Greinke in the NL in WAR for pitchers (8.6, Baseball-Reference.com) and FIP (2.35). Arrieta has been essentially unhittable in the second half of the season, posting a 0.75 ERA since the All-Star break and a 0.39 ERA in the last month, which doesn't include his Aug. 30 no-hitter against the Dodgers. In five starts against the Pirates, Arrieta went 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA, along with a .151 batting average against and 33 strikeouts, while giving up just four runs over 36 innings. In his last start against the Bucs on Sept. 27, Arrieta threw a one-hit gem, with nine strikeouts, no walks and no runs over seven innings.
Taking the mound for the Pirates is their 25-year- old ace, Gerrit Cole. Had it not been for Arrieta, Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw, Cole would be the front-runner for NL Cy Young. This season Cole has posted 19 wins, a 2.60 ERA and a 1.091 WHIP, not bad for a guy in just his third season in The Show. Even though the Cubs have won 11 of of the 19 games against the Pirates this season, Cole has fared well against the North Siders, posting a 2-1 record and a .225 batting average against, with 32 strikeouts while surrendering only eight runs (6 ER) in four starts. Cole had one of his best outings of the season when he faced the Cubs on Sept. 25 when he gave up just one run and four hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings.
Wednesday night is shaping up to be a pitcher's duel for the ages.
2. Joe Maddon’s Lineup Card
Maddon has a good, but big problem. The good is that Maddon has probably the best lineup depth in all of baseball. The problem is, how does he use that depth in the do-or-die Wild Card game? Maddon’s young Cubs have been selfless when it comes to playing time and position changes this season. Cubs rookies and veterans alike have played all over the field.
Kris Bryant has played most of his time at third, but also has seen a fair amount of time in all three outfield positions, and he even started a game at first base. Kyle Schwarber has played 41 games in left field, four games in right field, and caught 21 games. Addison Russell started the first half of the season at second base before winning the everyday shortstop spot from struggling former All-Star Starlin Castro.
Castro could be the key to the Cubs' offensive success. The 25-year-old veteran is hitting .329/.368/.443 against the Pirates this season, better than any other Cub. After struggling mightily for most of the season, Castro has caught fire in the last two months. Since being removed as the everyday shortstop, Castro has taken his reduced role with great class and professionalism, and his play has improved dramatically. After hitting just .247/.288/.328 in the first half, Catro has hit .335/.362/.555 since Aug. 1 with 14 doubles, 25 RBIs, and an OPS of .917.
In addition to Castro, who will likely start at second with Russell at short, is how and when Maddon will use Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Schwarber. Soler started in right field most of the season while veteran Chris Coghlan started in left field for 87 games. Schwarber has seen most of his playing time come in the outfield. Once Soler went on the DL after the All-Star break, Schwarber started 36 games in left field and 15 as a catcher.
My guess is that Maddon will start with Baez, who can play any infield position well, and Soler on the bench, but use them situationally both offensively and defensively as the game progresses. Coghlan likely gets the start in right field with Schwarber in left, while Miguel Montero starts behind the plate, and Bryant at his regular position at third. But don’t be surprised if Maddon puts together a more abstract lineup to give opposing manager Clint Hurdle something to think about in this winner-take-all showdown.
3. Bullpen Poker
Since this is a one-game playoff, both managers must be willing to use their bullpens in unorthodox ways. Both teams will probably keep just one starter on the active roster, creating additional spots for bench players or additional arms. Each manager has to be expecting their respective starter to at least go seven innings in hopes that the back-end rotation guys can seal the deal. But if either team’s bats get hot early, do Maddon and Hurdle go to their traditional bullpen arms early, or do they call on their No. 2 starters in Jon Lester and Francisco Liriano?
The Cubs and Pirates have very similar bullpens, two of the best in the National League. But the Pirates have a slight edge when it comes to the back end with Tony Watson (1.91 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 41 holds) and closer Mark Melancon (2.23 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 51 saves). But the Cubs' bullpen, which was somewhat shaky early in the season, has become a strength for Maddon. Travis Wood and Justin Grimm have been as reliable as any middle relievers in the division this season, while Pedro Strop (2.91 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 28 holds) and Hector Rondon (1.67 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 30 saves) have been lights out in the second half.
With both starting pitchers being top-notch all season long and runs surely to be scarce, one swing of the bat could make the difference. The Cubs' offense is loaded from top to bottom with potential power threats, so pitching around any one player could prove costly.
Cole’s development as an ace has been a fantastic story this season, but Arrieta’s stuff right now is almost unfair to hitters, only giving up four earned runs since Aug. 1. As ESPN’s Buster Olney said, “It’s not a question if we can beat this pitcher, it literally is, can we score against this pitcher?”
Prediction: Cubs 3, Pirates 1
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
(Jake Arrieta photo courtesy of Getty Images)
I’ve been noticing a growing trend as of late that has only become more prominent since the inception of the College Football Playoff. Fans and media alike are beginning to grill college football players and coaches after games that those players and coaches win.
I suppose it’s always been that way to a certain extent, but this past weekend, I saw it spill over to the front page — especially in the Big Ten.
Penn State head coach James Franklin felt the need to defend himself and his team this past Saturday after a close win over Army. His frustration appeared to be directed at those who focused on betting lines and spreads. He talked about how he doesn’t pay attention to lines and doesn’t know any coach who does.
I believe him. If there is a coach who does, that’s a problem.
College Football Podcast: Week 5 Recap
Winning college football games is hard, especially at the FBS level. Yes, you have 128 teams, but all of those teams are loaded with scholarship athletes — the best amateur football players in the country. Some players are better than others, but when you are talking about a level of talent that allows you to go to school for free, the differences from player to player are, for the most part, negligible. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about the SEC or the MAC.
For this reason, it seems like we see less blowouts every year. If and when they happen, they are usually the results of better coaching and a dramatic difference in depth in terms of those elite players who do stand out from the rest.
Coaches and players never prepare for games hoping to win by a certain amount. They prepare to win. Sometimes wins are ugly, but a win is still a win — and it’s not a loss. The nature of college football at the FBS level — with its “figure skating” mentality of deciding who is the better team based on how they look while performing — doesn’t allow us to simply appreciate wins.
Think about this for a moment: Boise State and the games the Broncos win are often discounted on a national scale due to the caliber of competition they face. People assume that winning games against (former) WAC and Mountain West teams is easy. It’s not like they are playing Power 5 squads every week. They SHOULD beat those teams, right?
Now think about this: Over the last 25 seasons, only seven teams from the Group of 5 (mid-majors) have finished with undefeated seasons. That’s thousands of rosters of players, taking the field over two and a half decades, trying to win every game — and only seven did so. Why?
Because winning college football games is hard.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers are currently 2-3. They are, by all accounts, having a tough season. Injuries, coaching miscues and yes, a Hail Mary, have all come into play. Regardless of who or what is responsible, Nebraska fans aren’t happy. They are just a few months removed from firing a coach who fell out of bed and won nine games each season. Many said they didn’t fire him because of the games he won (which makes sense), but instead due to his attitude and the games he didn’t win.
As it stands, the Huskers have a soft-spoken, polite coach with a positive attitude at the helm of their program. He has already lost one less game this season than his predecessor averaged each entire season during the course of seven years.
Does this mean he is a bad coach? Does this mean Nebraska is a bad football team? No and No.
What it means is that winning college football games is hard.
Again, 128 teams in FBS. Only one team can win the national championship. The odds are extremely stacked against your team being the one that raises the trophy at the end of the year.
Be upset about the losses. Cheer for your team and hope they do well. Want them to win. But don’t ever expect them to win by a certain amount in a certain way and call it a failure when they don’t. That makes it hard on you, the players, the coaches and the other fans.
In what has become a theme over the past season and a half, Florida State beat an inferior opponent in a not-so-impressive manner. This time it was Wake Forest that the Noles defeated, surviving by a score of 24-16.
With their in-state conference rival coming to Tallahassee next week, Jimbo Fisher and his staff would have liked to have seen a complete performance against the Demon Deacons. They also would have liked to come out of the game injury-free. Unfortunately for FSU, it got neither.
College Football Podcast: Week 5 Recap
Here are my thoughts on the Seminoles after their fourth win of the season.
1. Dalvin Cook Better Get Healthy
With apologies to Reggie Jackson for stealing his famous line, Cook is definitely the straw that stirs the Florida State drink. First touch, 94 yards for a touchdown. But after Cook left the game, it was a different story. Jonathan Vickers had a couple nice runs, but the running game for the most part was bottled up by a pretty good Wake Forest defense. Cook is currently listed as questionable for Saturday’s game against Miami. Going forward, they need Cook back and at 100 percent because...
2. Where are the Offensive Playmakers?
Besides Cook, they seem to be lacking. Travis Rudolph, despite an early drop, had a nice game and is having a nice season. But at this point, FSU is looking for something a little more than nice. Jesus Wilson did have a 51-yard reception that could have been a score if quarterback Everett Golson had thrown it a bit further, but those have been few and far between. If the running game is stalled because of Cook’s absence, there need to be more big chunk plays in the passing game.
3. Again, Lack of Defensive Pressure
Fisher said in his halftime interview with ESPN that Wake Forest quarterback Kendall Hinton was too comfortable in the pocket. Indiana sacked Hinton six times last week and FSU only got him twice. The freshman also was very adept at running the spread option. So in both aspects of the game, Hinton was hardly uneasy. With the Hurricanes' Brad Kaaya up next week, the entire defensive unit must raise its level of play and the front must get make it harder on the quarterback.
4. The Other Injuries
Linebacker Terrance Smith and safety Nate Andrews were also injured in the first quarter of Saturday’s game. Neither injury appears to be too severe, but it was enough to keep them out of action for the rest of the game. Like Cook, their status for Saturday is uncertain. Despite the lack of a consistent pass rush, FSU has the nation’s No. 6 scoring defense. However, without Smith and Andrews, Wake Forest moved the ball better than expected. Getting Smith and Andrews back as soon as possible is important.
5. Eliminate the Mistakes
Both Rudolph and Wilson had a drop early, but it was the penalties that were most concerning. These were not a flurry of offsides and false start penalties either. Many were big defensive miscues that resulted in Wake Forest continuing drives. That is something that Fisher will want to clean up pronto.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
While Nebraska's Alex Lewis certainly doesn’t deserve captain status (let alone a spot on the team), a young man from Gretna, Neb., who the locals love most certainly does.
He’s been getting a lot of love ever since his breakout game against Southern Miss. It began during the press conference immediately after. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I speak of senior fullback Andy Janovich.
“He's just a good all-around player. He's obviously versatile. He can catch, he can run, he can run down on kicks and block on kick returns," said head coach Mike Riley of Janovich after the Huskers’ win over the Golden Eagles.
Riley isn’t the only one who recognizes his talent. Reggie Davis, his position coach, realizes he could very well be a major factor in getting the ground game on the right track.
“I think you want to do that anytime you find anyone who’s a playmaker: ‘How can we get this guy the ball?’ That would be true of Jano and anybody else on that side of the ball. Anytime you’ve got a playmaker, you want to get the ball in their hands.”
No one had the opportunity to talk to the man of the hour that day because he had slipped out of North Stadium, away from prying eyes, cameras and microphones.
He prefers to stay under the radar, he says.
Not only does Janovich play at a position cherished by Nebraska football fans but he is why Cornhusker fans love it. He shows up, does what is often a very thankless but necessary job and heads to the back grateful for the experience.
He’s humble, speaks confidently and is proud of what he stands for and those he stands with.
I can understand why he wasn’t selected a captain. He was the guy at the back of the room and ultimately, he didn’t care. It’s not about the limelight for Janovich, it’s about getting things done.
However, in light of the past five games for Nebraska, simply getting things done might be a fantastic rallying cry and he’d be the perfect guy to carry the banner.
When he started his career, he put time in on special teams. For two years, the fullback was essentially dismissed from offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s playbook so he blocked and blocked for sensational running back Ameer Abdullah.
It’s time for No. 35 to get his and he made a case why on Sept 26, 2015.
He is a leader, he is someone who will properly represent his teammates and stick up for the guys in the corner who keep their heads down just like him.
Janovich deserves to be a captain. Give him the “C.”
College football’s coaching carousel never stops, as programs are always looking for the next big thing or rising star when it comes to finding its head coach. All 128 coaches enter the season with the pressure to win at a high level, but there’s a hierarchy of jobs within each conference that set the level of expectations each season. And of course, there’s always some exterior factors than just the win and loss record that impacts a coach and his future with a particular program.
With the immense pressure on coaches to win every season, there’s always a handful of jobs open by December. Which coaches could athletic directors look to fill voids at the Power 5 level? Here’s a breakdown of the college football’s top 10 coaches on the rise, followed by the next tier and a few other names to watch in 2015.
College Football's Top 10 Coaches on the Rise in 2015
1. Justin Fuente, Memphis
2015 Record: 5-0
Career Record: 22-20 (4th season)
Fuente inherited a program that went 3-21 in two seasons (2010-11) under Larry Porter and has transformed Memphis into one of the American Athletic Conference’s top teams over the last two years. The Tigers are 15-3 since the start of 2014 and finished No. 25 in last year’s final Associated Press poll. Prior to taking over at Memphis, Fuente worked for five seasons as an assistant under Gary Patterson at TCU.
2. Tom Herman, Houston
2015 Record: 4-0
Career Record: 4-0 (First Season)
Herman was a key cog in Ohio State’s national championship run last season as the team’s play-caller and quarterback coach. And the California native is already turning plenty of heads in his first year as Houston’s head coach. The Cougars are 4-0 – which includes a win over Louisville in Week 2 – average 45.8 points per game and won three out of their four contests by at least 14 points.
3. Matt Wells, Utah State
2015 Record: 2-2
Career Record: 20-11 (3rd season)
Utah State didn’t miss a beat after Gary Anderson left for Wisconsin following the 2012 season. Wells was promoted to head coach and guided the Aggies to a 19-9 mark in his first two seasons at the helm. Despite numerous injuries at the quarterback position from 2013-14, Utah State played in the Mountain West title game in 2013 and won 10 games last year. The Aggies are 2-2 through four contests in 2015 and should be the biggest threat to Boise State in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division.
Related: 10 Stats to Know from Week 5
4. Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette
2015 Record: 1-3
Career Record: 103-39 (12th season)
UL Lafayette has become a consistent Sun Belt power under Hudspeth’s direction, finishing with a 9-4 record in each of the last four seasons. Additionally, the Ragin’ Cajuns have earned a bowl trip in all four of Hudspeth’s years on the sideline. Prior to taking over in Lafayette, Hudspeth was a successful coach at North Alabama and spent time as an assistant under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Hudspeth built a consistent winner at UL Lafayette and is ready for the opportunity to run a Power 5 program.
5. Matt Campbell, Toledo
2015 Record: 4-0
Career Record: 30-13 (4th season)
Campbell worked as an assistant at Toledo from 2009-11 and was promoted to head coach after Tim Beckman left for Illinois. The Ohio native and former Mount Union player has claimed 30 victories over the last four seasons, including a win over Air Force in 2011 in the Military Bowl in his first game as the head coach. Campbell has recorded a winning record in all three of his full seasons at the helm, including two nine-win marks in 2012 and 2014. Toledo already has a victory over Arkansas this year and ranks No. 24 in the latest Associated Press poll.
6. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
2015 Record: 4-1
Career Record: 23-8 (3rd season)
After Chris Petersen left Boise State for Washington, Harsin was the perfect choice as the program’s next coach. As a Boise native, a former quarterback for the Broncos and a full-time assistant with the program from 2002-10, Harsin knows what it takes to win at a high level at Boise State. The Broncos were the top Group of 5 program last season by reaching the Fiesta Bowl and defeating Arizona, and Harsin’s team is already off to a good start with a 4-1 mark through five games in 2015.
7. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan
2015 Record: 1-3
Career Record: 10-19 (3rd season)
Fleck’s tenure at Western Michigan got off to a rocky start with a 1-11 record, but the Broncos finished 8-5 last season and should push for a finish in the top three of the MAC West in 2015. Fleck played at Northern Illinois as a receiver from 1999-03 under Joe Novak and had a short stint in the NFL with the 49ers. Fleck quickly moved through the assistant ranks after a year as a graduate assistant with Ohio State in 2006, spending time at Northern Illinois (2007-09), Rutgers (2010-11) and in the NFL with the Buccaneers (2012). Fleck is known as an ace recruiter and isn’t short on enthusiasm. He should be a name to watch for Power 5 jobs over the next few seasons.
8. Matt Rhule, Temple
2015 Record: 4-0
Career Record: 12-16 (3rd season)
Temple has made steady improvement under Rhule’s direction, and the Owls are one of the frontrunners to win the American Athletic Conference title in 2015. Rhule is a former Penn State linebacker and was hired as Temple’s head coach after spending time as an assistant with Buffalo, UCLA, Western Carolina, Temple and the Giants from 1999-11. Rhule was brought back to Philadelphia after Steve Addazio left for Boston College and is 12-16 over the last three years. While Temple was 2-10 in 2013, the Owls lost seven of those games by 10 points or less. And over the last two seasons, Temple is 10-6 and has wins over Penn State and Cincinnati in 2015.
9. Dino Babers, Bowling Green
2015 Record: 3-2
Career Record: 30-15 (4th season)
Bowling Green has already made plenty of noise nationally this season, as the Falcons knocked off two Power 5 programs – Bowling Green and Maryland – and gave Tennessee plenty of headaches in the opener. Babers went 8-6 in his first season with Bowling Green and still managed to win the MAC East despite losing star quarterback Matt Johnson in the first game of the year due to a hip injury. With Johnson back under center, the “Falcon Fast” offense is firing on all cylinders. Prior to the last two years at Bowling Green, Babers spent two seasons as the Eastern Illinois’ head coach and also has a wealth of experience as an assistant from stops at Baylor, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M, Arizona and Purdue.
10. Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
2015 Record: 4-1
Career Record: 189-71-1 (22nd season)
Fritz was a successful coach at three previous jobs prior to taking over at Georgia Southern in 2014. And after 17 games with the Eagles, it’s clear Fritz has already emerged as one of the Sun Belt’s top coaches. Fritz is 13-4 since taking over in Statesboro and 10-0 in conference games. Expect Fritz to have the Eagles in a bowl and in contention for the Sun Belt title this season.
The Next Tier
Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
Anderson was Arkansas State’s fifth coach in five seasons in 2014 and is 9-9 through the first 18 games of his career in Jonesboro. The Red Wolves should be one of the favorites to win the Sun Belt in 2015.
Jeff Brohm, WKU
Brohm guided WKU to an 8-5 record in his first season, and the Hilltoppers are poised for even bigger things in 2015. WKU defeated Vanderbilt in the opener and barely lost to Indiana in Week 3. Brohm has the Hilltoppers positioned as the top team in Conference USA and a threat to win double-digit victories for the first time since joining the FBS ranks.
Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
Northern Illinois has been the MAC’s top program in recent years, and despite a slow start (2-3), Carey should get this team back in contention for the West Division title. Carey is 25-9 in three seasons with the Huskies.
Bill Clark, UAB
Even though UAB isn’t fielding a team until 2017, let’s not forget what Clark accomplished in 2014. After the Blazers went 5-19 from 2012-13 under Garrick McGee, Clark guided UAB to a 6-6 mark last season. He’s the right coach to rebuild this program.
Doc Holliday, Marshall
Holliday was known as an ace recruiter when he was hired at Marshall in 2010, but the West Virginia native is doing more than just assembling talent. The Thundering Herd is 27-6 since the beginning of the 2013 season.
Joey Jones, South Alabama
Jones was the first coach in South Alabama’s program history and guided the Jaguars to a successful transition to the FBS level. He’s 40-30 in seven seasons with South Alabama, including an appearance in the 2014 Camellia Bowl.
Lance Leipold, Buffalo
Leipold was one of the offseason’s best hires, and the former Wisconsin-Whitewater coach is already making a difference in Buffalo. The Bulls are 2-3 after five games but two losses came by six points or less, and this team gave Penn State a fight in Happy Valley before losing 27-14.
Pete Lembo, Ball State
Lembo has been a successful coach at three different stops (Lehigh, Elon and Ball State). He’s 32-23 in five seasons with the Cardinals and is looking for a rebound year after a 5-7 mark in 2014.
Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
Montgomery was hired away from Baylor after working under Art Briles in Waco from 2006-14. The Texas native has a strong track record on offense, and the Golden Hurricane is 2-2 through his first four games.
Chad Morris, SMU
SMU is only 1-4 this season, but the Mustangs have made improvement in Morris’ debut. The former Clemson assistant should rebuild SMU into a consistent bowl team over the next few seasons.
Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State
Satterfield has successfully transitioned Appalachian State from the FCS ranks to the FBS level. The Mountaineers went 4-8 in Satterfield’s debut, but finished 7-5 last season and is off to a 3-1 start in 2015. Appalachian State should be a factor in the Sun Belt title picture this year.
Three to Watch in 2015
Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)
Martin followed Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State and guided the program to a 74-7 mark through six seasons before joining Notre Dame’s staff in 2010. He was hired at Miami (Ohio) in 2014 and inherited a team that went 0-12 in 2013. The RedHawks showed progress in 2014 and are starting a handful of young players this season.
Todd Monken, Southern Miss
Southern Miss is finally back on track after suffering through an 0-12 season under Ellis Johnson in 2012 and a 4-20 mark in Monken’s first two years. The Golden Eagles are 3-2 after five games in 2015 and should make a push for a bowl this season.
Tony Sanchez, UNLV
Sanchez made the jump from high school coach to running a college program this offseason. So far, there are encouraging results in Las Vegas, as Sanchez has guided the Rebels to a 2-3 record, including a win over rival Nevada.
After three and half seasons and a career record of 24-28, the Miami Dolphins finally decided to fire head coach Joe Philbin on Monday morning.
The team entered the 2015 season with high expectations, as the team re-signed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a six-year, $96 million contract extension and gave defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh a $60 million signing bonus, but that hasn't translated into success this season. Miami has begun the season 1-3 and the team has suffered double-digit losses to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets each of the past two weeks.
Tight ends coach Dan Campbell will assume the role as interim head coach for the rest of the 2015 season, but not a lot of people expect him to keep the job permanently.
Now that the team has relieved Philbin of his head coaching duties, who could be some of the potential candidates to become the Dolphins' next head coach?
5. Dan Campbell (Interim Dolphins head coach)
Campbell didn’t exactly throw Philbin under the bus during his introductory press conference, but he did say the Dolphins needed a culture change.
“We have plenty of talent,” Campbell said. “We have the people in this building, we have the staff. There may be some things that need to be moved and shuffled, I have to sort those things out, but we have enough to win. We have to change the culture. I have to change the culture,”
Campbell has been with the Dolphins' organization ever since the 2010 season, but he doesn’t have any head coaching experience. What Campbell does have is experience playing in the NFL, something that Philbin did not.
The former tight end played for former head coach Bill Parcells and current New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, so he has played under coaches who know how to motivate their players. Campbell could provide the Dolphins with the fire the team needs to succeed.
4. Eric Mangini (San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator)
The San Francisco 49ers' defense isn’t exactly playing great this season. Their unit is currently ranked 24th in total defense, but the Dolphins still could hire Mangini, San Francisco's coordinator on that side of the ball, to be their next head coach.
Eric Mangini and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum have a history of working with each other. Tannenbaum and Mangini were both with the Jets from 2006-08. While they didn’t have much success in New York, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if Tannenbaum targeted Mangini to turn the Dolphins around.
3. Mike Shula (Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator)
Many Dolphin fans yearn for the old days of Don Shula. While Shula isn’t coming back to coach at 85 years old, his son Mike, who is the Carolina Panthers' offensive coordinator, could be an option for the Dolphins.
Despite the lack of weapons on offense, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is playing arguably the best football of his career. After four games, the former Heisman Trophy winner has thrown for 809 yards and seven touchdowns. The Panthers are 4-0 and Shula has played a big role in the team’s success.
2. Kyle Shanahan (Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator)
While Mike Shanahan is more a marquee name, his son Kyle has done an excellent job in his first season as offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. The team is currently fourth overall in total offense and quarterback Matt Ryan is second in the NFL in passing yards.
Shanahan has done well in his stops with the Houston Texans, Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns and now with the Falcons. If Atlanta continues to play well, expect to hear Shanahan’s name mentioned with the Dolphins and other any head coaching openings that become available around the league.
1. Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M Aggies head coach)
Tannenbaum has always liked to make the big headline moves no matter if it was with the Jets or now with the Dolphins. What bigger splash could he make than hiring one of the hottest college coaches in the nation in Sumlin?
In his time with Houston and now at Texas A&M, Sumlin has always had excellent offenses. This year, the Aggies are 5-0 and have the second-best offense in terms of yards per game in the SEC.
It will take a lot of convincing and a likely a ton of money for Sumlin to leave Texas A&M, but everyone knows Miami owner Stephen Ross has the resources to make that happen. If Sumlin has ever had thoughts about leaving College Station, this could be the time. Sumlin has the personality and charisma that both players and the South Florida media would enjoy.
Out of these five names, my pick would be Shanahan. He has worked with a number of quarterbacks at different stops and he could possibly help Tannehill achieve more success.
Shanahan also would improve the Dolphins' offense, which is currently 23rd in yards and 30th in points per game (16.3 ppg). Philbin was an offensive coordinator before before he came to Miami, but he didn’t call plays when he with Mike McCarthy at Green Bay. Shanahan is a play-caller and likes to run more of a balanced offense, something the Dolphins desperately need.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
Just like that, the fantasy football season is a quarter of the way over. It seems like it was just yesterday that we were still working on preseason content, talking up the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and more. And now, four weeks have been played and we have a much better idea of our teams, in both real life and fantasy.
Related: Week 4 NFL Fantasy All-Dud Team
This is the time of year that you should assess your team, find your strengths and weaknesses and try to trade to improve your team. Or, if you're lucky enough to be 4-0, sit back, relax and hope no one on your team gets injured. While you're relaxing, let's take a look back at some questions from Week 4.
What is the Chargers' offense going to look like in Week 5?
Philip Rivers looked great in Week 4, throwing for 358 yards and three touchdowns. He's connected with Keenan Allen as his top receiver this season, and he's been able to spread the ball around. However, things get interesting in Week 5.
For starters, Antonio Gates comes back from suspension, and will take over the No. 1 tight end role from Ladarius Green. In Week 4, two of Rivers' touchdowns went to tight ends. Will that just be Gates moving forward or will Green have a role? Based on the way Green has played, he should still have a role.
In the three games he's played, Green caught 14 out of 18 targets for 174 yards and two touchdowns. It is likely that the Chargers will employ some two-tight end sets, especially with all of the other injuries they have with their pass catchers.
In Week 4, Stevie Johnson left the game early with a hamstring injury. Malcom Floyd suffered a concussion. At this point, the only healthy receivers on the Chargers' depth chart are Allen and Donterelle Inman. In Week 5, the Chargers face the Steelers, and not only will Allen and Inman have a role, but also look for Danny Woodhead, Gates and Green to also play a big part in the offense. Melvin Gordon hasn't had the breakout game that we were all hoping for. While that still may happen, look for San Diego to continue to air out the ball and the pass catchers to still have fantasy value.
What will Pittsburgh's offense look like in Week 5?
After Ben Roethlisberger went down in Week 3, the biggest question was how would Michael Vick fare running the Steelers offense? Well, 124 yards and a touchdown is the answer to that question.
However, Vick did play on Thursday night without the benefit of much preparation time, and he did add 33 yards on the ground. In Week 5, the Steelers get wide receiver Martavis Bryant back, which should help Vick. He will continue to mostly manage the game, but will have bursts of what we remember Vick could do.
He had a pass that Antonio Brown should have caught in the end zone, which would have changed the way we viewed Vick's Week 4 performance. With a long week of practice and a matchup against a beatable San Diego defense, Vick should put up better numbers in Week 5.
Brown's fantasy owners may be nervous after Week 4, but trust that the Steelers - and Vick - know that he's the best player on the team. They will find a way to get him the ball. Le'Veon Bell will continue to be a clear-cut RB1 as the Steelers lean on him to move the ball forward both on the ground and on passing downs. Time will tell if Vick can find a way to get Bryant the ball, but fantasy owners of Steelers players should not be concerned. Yet.
Is C.J. Anderson's time as a starting running back over?
We can make all the excuses we want ("if you discount Hillman's 72-yard touchdown run…"), but the reality is Anderson has not been able to put it together this season. Sure, he was dealing with injuries, but at the end of the day, the Broncos have to look at who is moving the ball? Who is giving them a better chance to win?
This one is tough because Anderson was a first-round draft pick for many fantasy owners. He was promising as we thought he'd pick up where he left off at the end of last season. Couple that with Peyton Manning not throwing it as much and Denver focusing on running the ball, and it looked like Anderson would be great.
Until the season started. Through four games, Anderson has 117 rushing yards, seven receptions, 57 receiving yards and no touchdowns. Week 4 was, sadly, his best game of the season.
Ronnie Hillman has 191 rushing yards, two touchdowns, two receptions and eight receiving yards through the same span. Hillman has looked like the better back, although it's not like he's running away with the starting job.
The Broncos are likely going to use both backs in the near future, but don't be surprised if Hillman gets more opportunities than Anderson. Even though the matchup against Oakland in Week 5 is tempting, it may be time to keep Anderson on your bench. Hillman owners can start him as a RB2 in Week 5 and hope that the Broncos stick with the guy that has actually gotten the ball in the end zone the past two weeks.
Other burning questions:
Is Jameis Winston really this bad?
Is Ted Ginn Jr. really that good?
What happened to Tyrod Taylor?
Are kickers losing their value (or gaining it, a la Cairo Santos)?
Did you drop Andre Johnson yet?
Who would have thought that the next player after LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 to score three rushing touchdowns in back-to-back games would be Devonta Freeman?
Is Freeman killing the fantasy value of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones?
Did Alex Smith really throw for 358 yards (and the Chiefs still lost)?
How terrible is the 49ers' offense?
Will Todd Gurley be a fantasy difference-maker this year?
Did you start your tight end against Oakland?
Does Sam Bradford hate fantasy owners of his receivers?
Are the Dolphins going to be better now that Joe Philbin is gone?
Who cursed the Dallas Cowboys this season?
— Written 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.
Another week in the NFL has come and gone and as usual there were some pleasant surprises and of course, some guys who you were banking on carrying your fantasy team to glory this week, that instead completely sucked and crushed any hope you had of winning your weekly matchup.
That’s how the cookie crumbles in the world of fantasy football. If you’re lucky you didn’t have any of these duds in your starting lineup.
QB: Peyton Manning (10.32 fantasy points)
I really hope that A) you didn’t draft Peyton Manning in the second or third round thinking he was still the same player he was a couple of years ago, and B) that if you did draft Manning in the early rounds, that you also drafted a capable backup quarterback. It’s becoming more and more evident that Manning is no longer a "must start" every week. You are really going to have to look at his matchups on a week-to-week basis and see if starting Manning is worth the risk. The Vikings' defense is a solid unit, but with Manning’s weapons, he should have produced a better stat line then 213 passing yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
RB: Carlos Hyde (2.2 FP), Lamar Miller (3.6 FP)
Everyone was so excited after Week 1 when Hyde broke out with 30.20 fantasy points on 168 yards rushing and two touchdowns. We all thought the sky was the limit for Hyde. Well he sure has come crashing back down to earth over the past three weeks, hitting rock bottom Sunday against the Packers. Hyde had eight carries for a pathetic 20 yards vs. Green Bay. Of course having Colin Kaepernick stink it up sure doesn’t help Hyde’s production, but Hyde is becoming harder and harder to trust as an every-week RB2.
As for Miller – yikes! A popular breakout candidate to start the season because of the way he finished last season and he had all the support of his head coach Joe Philbin, who stated in the offseason that Miller was in for an increased work load. Unfortunately it appears that the exact opposite is happening. In Week 1 Miller got 13 carries, just 10 in Week 2, and the past two weeks he has totaled seven rushing attempts. It’s true that the Dolphins have been playing from behind basically all season, but Miller has become a complete non-factor in this offense and moving forward is only worth consideration as a flex play until the Dolphins figure out how to use him.
WR: Julio Jones (3.8 FP), Mike Evans (3.2 FP)
There were other receivers that actually scored fewer fantasy points than Jones and Evans this week. Guys like Steve Smith (2.4 fantasy points) and Brandin Cooks (2.5 fantasy points) but the former got hurt while the latter has been a non-factor all year. So Jones and Evans it is.
I really never thought I’d ever have to write Jones’ name in an all-dud post, but here he is. Mostly because he wasn’t needed in the Falcons' 48–21 blowout win over the Texans. Jones saw only six targets, catching four of them for a whopping 38 yards. This is obviously just an anomaly and Jones will more than likely never appear in this all-dud post ever again, but he has been carrying many fantasy teams so far this year, and when he doesn’t produce it hurts.
Evans is a really different story. He’s been up, like last week when he had an incredible 17 targets, managing to only catch seven of those, but he had 101 yards. But Evans also has been down a lot so far this season. He missed Week 1 with a hamstring injury, played in Week 2 and scored zero fantasy points and then this Sunday he was miserable, catching three balls on eight targets for 32 yards. It doesn’t help that Jameis Winston can’t seem to hit the broadside of a barn right now, but with the Buccaneers falling so far behind in games and being forced to throw the ball all the time, Evans’ numbers should be better, but he just can’t get on the same page as his quarterback. You never know what you are going to get week in and week out now with Evans, so be cautious.
TE: Greg Olsen (2.8 FP)
I also considered Jordan Cameron (1.9 fantasy points) and Travis Kelce (2.9 fantasy points), but no one was a bigger disappointment that Olsen in Week 4. Coming of a massive Week 3 where he caught eight balls for 134 yards and two touchdowns, Olsen came crashing back down to earth with two catches for a measly 28 yards. Olsen could have had a bigger day as he was over thrown by Cam Newton on a deep ball and failed to make a tough catch in the second half, but you don’t win at fantasy football with “should have or could have.” Olsen is obviously still a "must start" moving forward, but keep in mind that so far this season he hasn’t been very consistent and there are other tight ends out there who are averaging more points than Olsen is on a week-to-week basis.
DST: Arizona Cardinals (1 FP)
This really hurts for anyone who likes to stream DSTs and started the Cardinals in Week 4. Arizona's DST had been on fire, scoring 18 fantasy points in Week 2 and an awesome 28 fantasy points last week. You’d think that going up against Nick Foles and the Rams would bring another double-digit fantasy day. Apparently not. Foles threw for three touchdowns and rookie running back Todd Gurley ran all over the Cardinals for 146 yards on only 19 carries. I’m sure the Cardinals DST will bounce back this Sunday against Detroit, but that matters little to those who were burned last week.
— Written 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.
If Kansas is able to extend its streak of Big 12 championships to 12 titles, the key player may be one of the two point guards on the All-Junior team.
One is the Kansas point guard, Frank Mason. The other is the point guard of the team that won the last two Big 12 tournaments, Iowa State’s Monté Morris.
As the Athlon Sports “All-Class” teams look at the juniors, the Big 12 guards aren’t the only ones looking to make a little history. One forward is trying to get back to the Final Four for the third time. Another is trying to get there for the first team. The top junior center is just trying to get to the NCAA Tournament.
The following article and more can be found in the Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview magazine, available now.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
G Kris Dunn, Providence
Dunn was arguably the most underrated player in the country last season, finishing first nationally in assist rate and fifth in steal rate on KenPom. Dunn averaged 15.6 points, 7.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game.
*Dunn, a redshirt junior, was erroneously listed on the All-Senior Team in an original version of this post. He has been moved from the All-Senior team to the All-Junior team.
G Frank Mason, Kansas
The speedy Mason solidified Kansas’ point guard position last season, averaging 12.6 points and 3.9 assists per game. Mason also improved his 3-point shooting by more than 10 percentage points to 42.9.
G Monté Morris, Iowa State
Morris is the leader of the up-tempo Iowa State attack, averaging 4.7 assists per turnover in his career. He took a leap as a scorer last season from 6.8 points to 11.9 points per game.
F Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
The breakout star of the NCAA Tournament — at least personality-wise — returns as the clear leader of the Badgers. The athletic forward is poised for a career year after averaging 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds last season.
F Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
Meeks transformed his physique as a sophomore and became a force on the offensive glass, averaging 2.6 offensive boards per game. In all, the 6'9", 265-pound Tar Heel averaged 11.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
C Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
Jones could have made a run at SEC Player of the Year if Vanderbilt had been an NCAA Tournament team. He averaged 14.5 points per game and shot 56.2 percent from the floor in a breakout season.
G Bryce Alford, UCLA
G Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame
G E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
F Jamel Artis, Pittsburgh
F Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
Everything is bigger in Texas, even the controversy.
As a result of the blowout delivered at the hands of TCU, 50-7, things aren't going so well for the Longhorns. Freshman corner Kris Boyd was discovered to have retweeted a tweet about transferring to Texas A&M. He would later apologize but like everything on the internet, it was here to stay.
College Football Podcast: Week 5 Recap
People on the social media network then began calling for Charlie Strong's job. To make matters worse, the Texas Rangers even got in on the act. The tweeting didn't stop there as the team is 1-4 with a matchup with Oklahoma on the horizon. It's safe to say the Longhorns may be a little on edge.
They reached out to Lil' B The Based God to lift a curse if he has one on the team. He's been known to curse Kevin Durant and James Harden, and it's important to note that neither have won a championship.
@brycecottrell27 love you and Longhorns - Lil B— Lil B THE BASEDGOD (@LILBTHEBASEDGOD) October 5, 2015
DeAndre McNeal, a freshman Longhorn, took to Twitter about the team bashing each other.
Even the upperclassmen seemed fed up with some of the situations surrounding the team.
Dylan Haines - "Some of the freshmen guys just want to go out there and just play. This is not HS where you don't watch film and still win."— Sean Adams (@thatsean) October 5, 2015
With all that's going on in Texas, are Strong's days numbered? However many days he has left, he should spend them talking to players about their on and off the field game plan.
SEC fans are a special breed. They're passionate, rowdy, and no matter how bad their team is, they never give up on them.
This guy puts all of those feelings in one video. From the "roll tide!" Alabama fans say, to the "as long as we beat Bama" things that Auburn fans say. It's all a part of SEC football.
The college football season is just getting interesting, and the competition off the field is nearly as heated as the competition on game day.
The Athlon Sports College Football Experts Club presented by Nexium & Advil gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.
Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:
College Football Podcast: Week 5 Recap
Maryland at Ohio State
The Buckeyes will go from playing the top-ranked total offense in the Big Ten on the road (Indiana) to playing No. 13 at home (Maryland). Ohio State has hardly looked the part of a No. 1 team, but the Terrapins are struggling mightily on offense with six points in the last two games.
Fox’s prediction: Ohio State 31–7
Illinois at Iowa
Who could have expected this to be a meaningful Big Ten West game? Iowa and Illinois knocked off preseason favorites Wisconsin and Nebraska last week. Illinois lost big in its only road trip of the season to North Carolina, and Iowa has a stout defense with six interceptions in the last three games.
Fox’s prediction: Iowa 28–17
Florida at Missouri
Both teams are strong in the defensive front seven — the Gators and Tigers are both in the top seven in tackles for a loss per game. Florida, though, is finding answers on offense while Missouri is playing it safe with freshman Drew Lock. Gators quarterback Will Grier will need to continue his hot streak on the road.
Fox’s prediction: Florida 24–14
Baylor at Kansas
This … this is going to be ugly. Baylor has defeated Kansas by 46 and 45 points in the last two meetings. The Bears might top that this time.
Fox’s prediction: Baylor 63–10
Georgia at Tennessee
Georgia has won five in a row over Tennessee, but the last two have come by a field goal each. Georgia is coming off its worst performance of the season on both sides of the ball, but Tennessee hasn’t put together a complete performance against an FBS team all season.
Fox’s prediction: Georgia 31–20
Wisconsin at Nebraska
What was supposed to be a showdown of the top two teams in the Big Ten West is a must-win game of sorts for both teams to bounce back from losses. Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong is completing 47 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions in the Huskers’ three losses to “name” teams this season. Wisconsin has allowed 3.7 yards per play in the last four games, albeit all at home.
Fox’s prediction: Wisconsin 24–20
TCU at Kansas State
This game will be closer than you expect because it’s Kansas State and the game is in Manhattan. The Wildcats have been stout against the run, but Trevone Boykin has been averaging better than nine yards per attempt in each of his last four games.
Fox’s prediction: TCU 38–28
Miami at Florida State
Florida State is still seeking its signature moment of the season after playing close games with Wake Forest, Boston College and USF. Everett Golson has been turnover-free, but he’s hardly been an explosive quarterback. The Seminoles will need more out of him if Dalvin Cook continues to be hampered by a hamstring injury. Miami has struggled, but the Hurricanes lead the ACC in turnover margin at plus-nine.
Fox’s prediction: Florida State 41–21
Cal at Utah
Jared Goff, a 70-percent passer, runs into a defense that’s held its last two opponents to under 50-percent passing. Cal has quietly improved a defense that leads the Pac-12 in takeaways (18) and sacks (18).
Fox’s prediction: Cal 35–28
Arkansas at Alabama
Georgia was the first team to crack 100 rushing yards and three yards per carry against the Alabama defense — and Nick Chubb had to rush for an 83-yard touchdown to do it. Arkansas is getting better, but probably not good enough to upset the Tide in Tuscaloosa.
Fox’s prediction: Alabama 28–10
Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas)
Texas is 1–4 and a mess on offense, defense and special teams. Oklahoma is 4–0 and as legitimate a playoff contender as any team in the Big 12. On paper, there’s no reason Texas should touch Oklahoma, but this rivalry does strange things.
Fox’s prediction: Oklahoma 42–21
LSU at South Carolina
South Carolina’s run defense has improved in the last two games, which is more of a function of facing UCF and Missouri than anything else. LSU’s passing game is suspect, but Leonard Fournette has been able to bail out the Tigers in any situation.
Fox’s prediction: LSU 35–10
Oklahoma State at West Virginia
It’s strange times in the Big 12 when Oklahoma State and West Virginia rank Nos. 1-2 in total defense and middle of the pack in total offense. Oklahoma State can prove it belongs in the Big 12 title discussion. The Mountaineers have to prove their pass defense isn’t as vulnerable as it looked against Oklahoma.
Fox’s prediction: Oklahoma State 31–27
Colorado at Arizona State
Colorado’s rushing offense ranks third in the Pac-12, but that’s a bit of a mirage based on games against UMass and Nicholls State. Meanwhile, Arizona State’s attacking defense has held USC and UCLA to fewer than 100 yards rushing (USC, it’s worth noting, passed for 379 yards and five touchdowns against the Sun Devils).
Fox’s prediction: Arizona State 37–14
Georgia Tech at Clemson
The Yellow Jackets are averaging an uncharacteristic 3.9 yards per carry during their three-game losing streak. The run game has put more of the responsibility on Justin Thomas to win games with his arm, which is not a good place for a quarterback who should be running the option. Meanwhile, Clemson’s defense is doing just fine despite losing the bulk of its talent from last season.
Fox’s prediction: Clemson 38–20
Virginia at Pittsburgh
Without James Conner and a stable quarterback situation, Pittsburgh’s offense is below average at best. Virginia’s defense is worse, allowing 6.9 yards per play against teams not named William & Mary.
Fox’s prediction: Pittsburgh 24–10
Navy at Notre Dame
The Midshipmen are undefeated and have one of the nation’s most productive quarterbacks in Keenan Reynolds, who should set the career touchdowns record this season. Facing the Navy option probably isn’t ideal for a shorthanded Notre Dame team.
Fox’s prediction: Notre Dame 27–14
Northwestern at Michigan
Which defense will give first in a matchup between the top two teams in the Big Ten in total D? Northwestern’s offense is getting better, but Michigan’s run game is bulldozing opponents right now.
Fox’s prediction: Michigan 21–13
Boise State at Colorado State
Colorado State’s defense is sagging just as Boise State is starting to round into form. The Broncos have outgained their last three opponents by an average of 286 yards per game.
Fox’s prediction: Boise State 42–17
Michigan State at Rutgers
The Spartans are still seeking an easy win. Even Purdue made Michigan State sweat. The Spartans have had their share of injuries, but Rutgers has had its share of being Rutgers.
Fox’s prediction: Michigan State 37–20
Last week: 15–5
Season to date: 75–25
Nick Saban is not the biggest fan of the media. It just looks like he hates answering questions.
Granted some reporters' questions are stupid, but it's a part of the job of a college football coach is to grin and bear it. During a press conference, the Alabama head coach was asked how he helps his players deal with the constant media coverage and he got a little fired up.
Saban broke the tension with a joke and that seemed to lighten the mood. He's always good for a laugh.
College Football Podcast: Week 5 Recap
The 2015 MLB playoffs get started Tuesday night in the Bronx when the Houston Astros take on the New York Yankees in the American League Wild Card Game. The winner will face the Royals, the team with the best record in the AL, in Kansas City starting on Thursday.
For the Astros (86-76), this is their first playoff appearance since 2005, when they were still in the NL. This is a young team that surprised many by spending the majority of the season in first place in the AL West. In the end, Houston couldn’t hold off a surging Texas team, but no one in baseball is no longer underestimating the Astros’ talent level.
The Yankees (87-75) are certainly no stranger to the postseason, having won 27 World Series titles. But this is the first playoff appearance for New York since winning the AL East in 2012. A far more veteran (read: older) team than the Astros, the Yankees rode their offense and the back end of their bullpen to a wild card berth.
Houston won the season series against New York, taking four of the seven games, including two of three at Yankee Stadium.
Houston at New York
Time: 8 p.m. ET (Tuesday)
Matchup: LHP Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA) vs. RHP Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA)
Three Things to Watch
1. Youth vs. Experience
The Astros are one of the youngest teams in baseball, with an average age of 26.6 years, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Shortstop Carlos Correa, who is fifth on the team in home runs (22) and second in RBIs (68) even though he played in just 99 games, just turned 21 two weeks ago. Contrast that to the Yankees, who have an average age of 31.1, making them the oldest roster in MLB. The youngest everyday starter for New York is shortstop, Didi Gregorius, who is 25.
The age gap, if you will, doesn’t end there either. New York’s roster is full of guys with considerable playoff experience, including Alex Rodriguez (.263-13-41 in 75 career postseason games), Carlos Beltran (.333-16-40 in 51 games), and Jacoby Ellsbury (.301 in 38 games). The Astros’ lineup and most of their pitching staff is full of postseason rookies, as the most experienced playoff performer on the team is DH Evan Gattis, who batted .357 in 14 at-bats in the 2013 NLDS when was with the Braves. The difference is even more pronounced among the managers, as in one dugout you have Joe Girardi and his 21-17 record in four playoff appearances leading the Yankees, including a 2009 World Series title, while on the other you have A.J. Hinch, who is in just his third season as a manager and will be participating in his first playoff game as either a skipper or a player in his professional career.
2. Ace vs. Ace
Each team is sending its respective No. 1 starters to the mound for this survive-and-advance affair. Houston’s Dallas Keuchel led the AL in wins (20), innings (232) WHIP (1.02), was second in ERA (2.48) and fifth in strikeouts (216). The left hander started the All-Star Game in Cincinnati and is considered the leading contender for the AL Cy Young along with Toronto’s David Price. For New York, Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have the best of seasons, as injuries and stretches of ineffectiveness produced a 12-7 record and 3.51 ERA in only 24 starts. Still, his WHIP was impressive (0.99) and games like this are why the Yankees signed him to a seven-year, $155 million deal when he came over from Japan in December 2013.
Keuchel win 2-0 in two starts against New York this season, not allowing a run in 16 innings, while giving up just nine hits, one walk and striking out 21. Included in this was an Aug. 26 start at Yankee Stadium where he went seven scoreless frames. Tanaka faced the Astros just once, and it didn’t go well. On June 27, he gave up six runs on seven hits, including three home runs, in five innings. The good news is that game was at Minute Maid Park, but Tanaka’s results at home (3.71 ERA in 14 starts) haven’t been all that impressive either.
Whichever starter pitches more like an ace Tuesday night will probably set themselves up for at least one more start in the ALDS.
3. Home Runs or Nothing?
Offensively speaking, Houston and New York are similar teams. Both scored a bunch of runs and both rely on the long ball. The Yankees were (a distant) second to Toronto in both the majors and AL in runs (764), while the Astros were fifth (729) in their league and sixth overall. Houston was second only to Toronto in home runs (230), while New York was fourth (212) in baseball. If there’s one disparity when it comes to this swing-for-the-fences approach, it’s in the young Astros’ approach to come up empty. Houston was second only to another relatively inexperienced team (Cubs) in strikeouts with 1,392. The Yankees came in 21st in MLB with 1,227 whiffs. Seven different Astros racked up 100 or more strikeouts during the season, compared to just three Yankees.
Yankee Stadium is known for being a hitter-friendly park and the Astros have already had success there, scoring 21 runs in the three-game set in August. However, everything is magnified in the postseason, including the need to produce some sort of result at the plate. Can Tanaka take advantage of Houston’s aggressive approach at the plate and force the Astros to have to manufacture runs in some fashion rather than relying on the long ball? On the other side, even though the Yankee hitters can be viewed as more patient, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be successful against Keuchel. He has yet to give up a run to them in 16 innings and has struck out 21 over that span. Both teams are capable of scoring runs, but don’t be surprised if they are at a premium Tuesday night.
New York has the experience advantage pretty much in whichever area you look and it’s not close. Consider that many of Houston’s players weren’t even in the majors when the Yankees won their last World Series title in 2009. There are plenty of other similarities and just as many differences when it comes to these two teams, so the key is finding the biggest advantages for each. For Houston that appears to be in the form of Keuchel, who has held the Yankees scoreless this season, and the Astros’ team speed (121 SB, 3rd in MLB). The Bronx will no doubt be buzzing Tuesday night, but I think youth will be served in Yankee Stadium thanks to a filthy lefty and a bunch of athletic, talented players who are too young to realize they are supposed to be this good this soon.
Prediction: Houston 5, New York 2
Stephen A. Smith is not well-liked... and that seems to be the majority opinion.
When Smith mentioned last week that Kevin Durant would consider the Lakers as a possible landing spot when he enters free agency next year, the Oklahoma City star had a reply for him that quickly led to Twitter and other media outlets questioning Smith's reporting and character.
Kevin Durant on the Lakers rumors: "I don't talk to Stephen A Smith at all. No one in my family, my friends do. So he's lying."— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 2, 2015
Smith didn't let that slide, as he took to twitter later that day, and promised to address it on ESPN's "First Take."
Oh, BTW......don't think for one second I will avoid addressing this on @FirstTake on Monday morning. I can't wait!— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) October 2, 2015
No touchdown stood out more in Utah’s 62-20 victory over Oregon back on Sept. 26 than Boobie Hobbs’ 69-yard punt return for the Utes late in the third quarter. Hobbs had a clear path down the sideline to the end zone after Britain Covey drew most of the defenders to the other side of the field while pretending to field the punt. Covey’s acting skills were good enough to fool the Ducks, the fans in the Stadium and the FOX TV cameras following the action.
It offered a dramatic example of how Utah puts the special in special teams.
"We hold our special teams to a high standard,” said junior defensive back Cory Butler-Byrd, who returns kickoffs for the Utes. “You got to come out and you got to be aggressive every play because that's what Utah is."
Special teams have played a huge role in Utah’s rise in the Pac-12. It has been a game-changing element for the Utes since joining the league.
Utah boasts one of the nation’s best punters in Tom Hackett. The senior won the Ray Guy Award and was named a consensus All-American last season after leading the Pac-12 and ranking third in FBS in punt average (46.7 yards per punt). Hackett has picked up where he left off in 2014. He is averaging a Pac-12-best 47.8 yards per punt this season. Utah, as a team, ranks third in the nation in net punting (43.87 yards per punt).
Andy Phillips is a quality kicker for the Utes. Phillips, a junior, has made 45-of-55 (.819) field goal attempts in his career and is 105-of-106 in career PAT attempts. He set single-season school records in field goals attempted (28) and made (23) last season.
As good as Utah is at kicking and punting, the Utes are equally adept at turning punt returns and kickoff returns into big play opportunities. Utah is one of only three teams in the nation with two punt return touchdowns five weeks into the 2015 season. The Utes are ranked eighth in the nation and first in the Pac-12 in punt return average (21.80 yards per return). Utah also leads the Pac-12 and ranks ninth in the nation in kickoff return average (29.60 yards per return).
“Special teams here are a high priority,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “If you don't get it done on special teams, you won't be playing on offense or defense. Special teams are where it starts. Our guys understand that. They take a lot of pride in what they're doing and it's an honor to be on special teams. It isn't a second-class duty or anything like that. It is what we feel is the most important thing we do."
Participating on special teams is a badge of honor for the Utah players who do it. They are aware of the reputation created by past special teams units and do their best to live up to those expectations.
What are those expectations? It all starts with finding a way to make a play. Utah isn’t afraid to open up the playbook and dust off fake punts — or even fake punt returns — when the occasion calls for it.
“I feel like everyone in the crowd gets excited when you get an opportunity to return a punt or return a kick because we have a history of being great on special teams,” Covey said. “We execute it perfectly — our whole unit. I feel like we're going to be a dangerous unit."
As long as Utah remains dangerous on special teams, it will mean plenty more anxious moments for Pac-12 opponents this season.
— Written by John Coon,who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
After Baltimore's 23-20 come-from-behind, overtime victory Thursday night against Pittsburgh, is it time to consider the future of Mike Tomlin as the Steelers' head coach?
On first glance, such a statement would seem to be blasphemous. Tomlin's contract runs through 2018, and the Steelers have never fired a head coach with time remaining on their contract.
In fact, they haven't fired a coach head since 1968, when Bill Austin's contract was not renewed following a lackluster two-year stint.
To illustrate how long ago that was, Art Rooney Sr. was still running many of the day-to-day operations of the team, so Rocky Bleier, who was only the third-leading rusher on his college team, was selected because The Chief thought Bleier was Catholic.
Bleier was, in fact, Presbyterian.
So Tomlin is safe, right? Absolutely!
But should he be?
It's true Tomlin has never had a losing season as a head coach, but, in theory, if the Steelers' head coaching position became available it would seem unlikely it would not attract anything but the best candidates. Even when coaching vacancies become available from teams with suspect ownership (Irsays, Bidwells, Snyder), the top available coaching candidates always turn up. The Rooneys and Steelers brand would figure to attract not only the cream of the crop of potential up-and-coming assistants and winning college coaches, but also perhaps induce legends to come out of retirement (Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy), if so desired.
The case against Tomlin:
1. Poor strategist
Fans love aggressive coaches, but the nation called out Tomlin for his decision not to punt on the Steelers' first overtime possession and not give the ball to Le'Veon Bell on 4th-and-one from the Baltimore 33 on the second in the loss to the Ravens.
Sure, in overtime possession is imperative. So is field position. A punt from the 39-yard line likely pins the Ravens inside the 20. Even if it were to go for a touchback, the Steelers have gained 19 yards.
While it is something of a convenient assumption to believe play calling and defenses would be exactly the same if Baltimore took over from the 20 (or worse) than the 39, it isn't so hard to believe that the Ravens, who had only one drive longer than 45 yards in the entire game, wouldn't be driving the length of the field. Baltimore gained three yards in its first overtime possession. If that's duplicated, perhaps on the next drive Josh Scobee isn't looking at a 51-yard field goal nobody thinks he can make but instead is looking at a 32-yard chip shot he can redeem himself with.
And even if the Steelers don't score, they have gained enough field position an ensuing 32-yard drive by Baltimore means a punt instead of a field goal attempt.
One can say this is hindsight, but that would be inaccurate. Phil Simms was most critical of Tomlin's decision not to punt on the first overtime drive at the time of the decision, not after the play was run, and so were you.
After nearly a decade at the helm, any head coach is going to have strategic decisions that don't work out and some that do. Tomlin is no different.
But it seems like the strategic decisions that have worked out for Tomlin, such as the onsides kick against Green Bay in 2009 that ultimately led to the Steelers having just enough time to win the game on the final drive, have been outweighed by the ones that haven't.
What about the call for Antonio Brown to pass on the first drive of this season, which stalled what had been a productive drive and eventually led to a 28-21 loss to the Patriots?
Then's there's Tomlin's decision to go for two from the 12-yard line in the playoffs in 2007, which ultimately led to two failed conversions and a 2-point Jacksonville win (ironically on a Scobee field goal).
Speaking of 2-point conversions, what happened to them? An extra point after either of the Steelers' touchdowns Thursday could have won the game.
Not letting Charlie Batch throw on third down late in games against Kansas City in 2009 and Baltimore in '10, which meant instead of getting into field goal range in overtime against the Chiefs and running out the clock against the Ravens. Those two missteps resulted in giving the ball back to each team to produce the winning scores, the latter on a short field.
Tomlin's track record now suggests he is okay with letting Michael Vick attempt win games with his arm when the running game is successful but wasn't okay with letting Batch do the same when his running game was mediocre.
Speaking of Batch...
2. Lack of Loyalty
The backup quarterback is a popular figure on any team and Batch is no exception. What is more curious is why Tomlin tried to grease the skids for Batch so often for the likes of Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon and ultimately Bruce Gradkowski when Batch never did anything to merit losing the job and in fact played his way to a roster spot more often than not at the end of his career.
It seems as if Tomlin's greatest fear as a coach is he will keep a player too long, yet at least two players, James Harrison and Brent Keisel, were let go prematurely.
Yes, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown had surpassed Hines Ward in terms of productivity in 2011. But were you really happy the way Ward's career ended? Not since "Franco Who?" was a Steelers great given such a bum's rush.
Whatever happened to Willie Parker? Sure, Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor aren't the players they once were, but even though they have improved as the season has gone on, are you ready to say the likes of Cortez Allen, Brandon Boykin and Shamarko Thomas are better than the recently retired veterans?
This also applies to former longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Four weeks into the season the Steelers are ranked 14th in the NFL on defense. The Tennessee Titans, LeBeau's new team, are ranked sixth entering the Monday night game that will wrap up Week 4.
3. Character of Players Brought In
Touched upon in this piece when Michael Vick was signed. To be fair, Tomlin cannot be held responsible for Ben Roethlisberger's alleged off-field troubles when he did not draft him, and general manager Kevin Colbert is as much a part of overall roster construction as anyone.
Granted, it seems a bit of an oxymoron to expect people who earn a living being violent to be choir boys off the field. But it does not excuse them for being criminals.
Some may say this is just a product of modern times in the NFL. But it often seems like the Steelers almost try to seek out such players. LaGarrette Blount's character issues went back to college. Every other team in the NFL passed on Michael Adams when he used illegal drugs during the Combine. The 3-0 Atlanta Falcons, whose fan base would have treated Vick like a prodigal son returning home if he was signed to become Matt Ryan's backup, instead opted to give Rex Grossman- REX GROSSMAN!- a try.
It's always a subjective argument as to how much character and camaraderie play in a team's success. But it should be said the last time the Steelers had a losing record, 2003, Cowher continued to praise what he referred to as the "fiber" of the team in press conferences.
The Steelers went 15-1 the following season and won the Super Bowl the next.
For the Steelers to be elite, they must be able to get the ball downfield to Brown. Vick couldn't do that this past Thursday against the Ravens. Instead, when he went back to throw he appeared to have the same flaw that critics say prevents Tim Tebow from being successful; a long release.
Only Tebow had a better preseason than Vick a few months ago, with fewer sacks, more yards per pass, and more yards per carry.
It is said Tomlin is sympathetic to Vick because he is from the same Tidewater, Virginia, area Tomlin is. Linebacker Arthur Moats and Thomas are also from the area.
But if that's the case, then how is that any different from The Chief taking Bleier because he thought Rocky was Catholic?
The Bottom Line
Tomlin will take a lot of heat on the social media and talk show circuit this week and rightly so. Still, it would seem this season would have to become a total disaster for Tomlin to not return in 2016. It simply doesn't add up that after signing him to an extension this offseason the Steelers would fire him at the end of the season, especially since it would go against the organization's history.
And as bad as the loss against the Ravens was, it still leaves Pittsburgh at 2-2, and the Steelers can make up their current deficit in the AFC North by sweeping the Bengals.
What could lead to the eventual end of Tomlin as Steelers head coach would be if Pittsburgh lost its Oct. 18 game against Arizona. It would be very embarrassing for Tomlin to lose to Bruce Arians, an offensive coordinator the team let go after the 2011 season, especially when it is considered the Cardinals have four former Steelers assistants or players on their coaching staff as well as Pittsburgh sports legends Buddy Morris and Roger Kingdom.
Throw in the fact Carson Palmer is only 5-7 lifetime as a starter against the Steelers, and even if a potential loss only evened Pittsburgh's record to 3-3, the perception would be a mistake was made following the 2011 season.
Of course, a victory against the Cardinals would wipe all of the bad memories from the Baltimore game away, even if the Steelers lose to San Diego this Sunday.
The only way Tomlin would lose his job before his contract would end would be if the Steelers posted losing records this year and the next, which was enough to get Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe to resign following the 1999 season. There would be talk time is running out on Roethlisberger's career, Tomlin would resign but another team would scoop him up, and a more offensive-minded coach would be brought in to try and get Big Ben one last title and groom a successor.
Or, Tomlin could develop a little more loyalty for his veterans, be a little bit more sensible with his strategy, and put more emphasis on character when making personnel decisions.
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson began contributing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000. He has covered the Steelers, Pitt Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.
Alternate uniforms and unique designs are a staple of Oregon’s football program. The Ducks have used a few different designs for their games this season, but the program has unveiled an interesting alternate look for the Oct. 10 matchup against Washington State.
On Monday, Oregon unveiled its “Oregon Pioneers” football uniform, which emphasizes the state's history. The uniforms honor the Oregon Trail, Mt. Hood and the geography of the state, while the helmet features Lewis and Clark and a handshake logo on the front to commemorate the handshake found on the Thomas Jefferson Peace Medals given to Lewis and Clark.
Here’s a look at Oregon’s new alternate uniforms for Saturday’s game:
After making mistake after mistake, there was Notre Dame with seven seconds left and a chance to tie Clemson. But it wasn’t to be and for the second year in a row, the first Irish loss of the season was a kick in the gut in an ACC stadium.
Obviously, it was not a good night for Notre Dame. It’s difficult to come back from a 21-3 fourth-quarter deficit in Death Valley, but the Irish almost did. The negatives, though, certainly outweigh the positives and here is a little of both in my five thoughts on Notre Dame.
1. Hold onto the Football
It is shocking that Notre Dame mounted its late comeback despite turning the ball over four times in the second half. Beyond the three fumbles and interception, Notre Dame continuously dropped the ball. Will Fuller dropped a big pass. Torii Hunter dropped one too. Ditto Chris Brown. And Corey Robinson dropped a sure touchdown and missed a catchable ball on the first two-point conversion. It was simple. For all Notre Dame did wrong, if the Irish didn’t drop the ball they’d be 5-0 right now.
College Football Podcast: Week 5 Recap
2. The Offensive Line
Right from the start, C.J. Prosise had nowhere to run. While the pass protection improved as the game went on and some of the blame also falls on quarterback DeShone Kizer, Clemson did have four sacks. There were missed assignments and penalties, both forced and unforced. Clemson played very well up front on defense and Shaq Lawson is a monster. But it was not a good performance by an offensive line considered to be one of the best in America.
3. The Coaching Staff
While the majority of the blame should fall on the players, the coaching staff has to assume its share as well. The team was not prepared for the start of the game and seemed to be affected by the environment. While play calling is often a function of play execution, Brian Kelly seemed to stick with the run too long and it was when Kizer started throwing more that ND had success offensively. Many Irish fans did not agree with the play call on the final two-point try. The decision to go for two after the first touchdown could be justified by the score but it turned out to be a little early to chase points. Kelly must be credited with helping ND get back in the game by mixing things up late and defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder did set things right on his side of the ball. But the team not matching Clemson’s intensity out of the gate put them in a hole and some of that must fall on the staff.
4. The Irish Did Not Quit
There is a lot to be said for how this team hung in the game. Oftentimes in bad weather situations, one team gets up and the other team gives up. In some ways, Saturday’s game between Alabama and Georgia is a prime example. But Notre Dame didn’t quit, despite the weather, despite all of its mistakes. The game appeared over when Chris Brown fumbled at the Clemson two-yard line with 2:09 left. But the defense held, the offense got the ball back, and the Irish scored a touchdown. This resiliency could pay dividends later on because...
5. The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow
Notre Dame will now need some help to make the College Football Playoff. But there is still a chance and even if things don’t break right for a final four berth, a major bowl game is still well within reach. Last year, the Irish were sitting pretty until the last-second loss at Florida State. The season went south shortly thereafter, partly because of injuries and partly because of a bad downward spiral that couldn’t be stopped. Notre Dame still has a chance for a huge season and putting the Clemson loss behind it as quickly as possible is best for everyone.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.