Mountain Lions are ranked 17th by d2football.com and 19th by the AFCA ... it’s the third-straight week they’ve been ranked in both polls ... RB Calvinaugh Jones is the only player in the MEC to have 100 yards in every single game this season ... Jones needs just 126 to reach 1,000 for this year ... he is averaging 7.1 yards per carry ... CU leads the country in points per game with 51.9 ... the Mountain Lions have scored 40 points or more in all but one game this season ... Mike Carey and Derrick Johnson lead the team with four interceptions apiece ... nearly half of Ryan Stewart’s catches this year have been for touchdowns (10 of his 21 catches) ... QB Brian Novak has thrown for 500 more yards and 12 more touchdowns than he did a season ago.
The Fighting Falcons were idle last week ... QB Cooper Hibbs is just the seventh player in school history to throw for over 3,000 yards ... the sophomore also ranks seventh in school history ... RB Daniel Monroe ranks seventh in school history in career rushing yards with 2,329 ... WR Fabian Guerra has more receptions (43) than the four next closest players combined (40) ... the Falcons have just eight sacks in six games.
After an 0-3 start, the Pioneers have won three of their last four ... RB Rahmann Lee needs just 73 yards to go over 1,000 for the season ... he is also the team’s second-leading receiver with 28 catches for 347 yards ... he is ninth in the country in all-purpose yards per game with 183.29 ... he leads the league in scoring with 10.9 points per game ... Gary Henderson is tied for the MEC lead with 7.5 sacks ... GSC has 11 passing touchdowns in the red zone this year compared to six on the ground.
The Falcons became the first MEC team to register a win over a ranked opponent with its victory over No.8 Shepherd ... QB Ray Russ has thrown for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns in his last two games. ... he’s the first MEC quarterback to have back-to-back passing games of 400 yards or more ... Russ has thrown at least two touchdown passes in every game this season and has 24 on the year ... he ranks fourth in the nation in that category ... WR Mitchel Shegos has over 100 yards receiving in each of his last four games and has a league-best five this season ... NDC is 0-2 in games it commits more turnovers than its opponent ... the Falcons have given up 607 yards on the ground in the last two games ... NDC leads the MEC in sacks with 26 in seven games—six more than the next closest team.
The Rams are dropped to 19th in the AFCA poll and 20th in the D2Football.com poll ... last week’s loss was the first ever for Shepherd in the MEC ... SU rushed for 300 yards in the loss, but were -2 in turnovers ... the average scoring play for Notre Dame against the Rams defense was 46.4 yards ... Shepherd is the only team in the country to not throw an interception this season (164 pass attempts) ... the Rams still lead the country in first downs allowed, rushing defense and total defense ... RB Allen Cross’ 132 yards last week were a season-high ... DE Shaneil Jenkins is tied for the league lead with 7.5 sacks.
The Blue Knights are in the midst of a six-game losing streak ... UU is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry ... the team is fourth in the league in passing, though, averaging 273.1 yards per game ... Kelly Carter leads the league in kick return average with 29.0 yards per return ... D’Gary Wallace is averaging an MEC-best 10.4 tackles per game ... Kevin Chapple is second in the league with 1.71 tackles for a loss per game.
LB Zack Blair continues to lead the league in tackles for a loss with 18 (2.57 per game) ... he has had three or more TFLs in each of the last three games ... RB Von Purvis had a season-high 70 yards rushing and a touchdown last week vs.Glenville State ... the Cavs have not managed more than 15 points in a game this season.
The Hilltoppers have had an offensive resurgence with 83 points in its last two games ... WLU is +9 in turnover margin in the last two games, leading to a 32-0 advantage in points off of turnovers in those games ... QB Dakota Conwell has thrown for 484 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception in the last two games ... WLU is averaging 37.0 points in its four wins and 16.6 in its three losses ... S Alec Wood has forced three fumbles on the year ... he also leads the team with 6.0 tackles for a loss.
WEST VIRGINIA STATE
WR Quinton Gray is fifth in the league with 4.57 catches per game ... the Yellow Jackets are fourth in the league in scoring defense at 28.1 points per game, and is giving up just 22.5 points in its last three games ... the Yellow Jackets have converted just 14-of-24 attempts in the red zone (58.3 percent) ... after 51 carries two weeks ago, Tevin Brown had just three carries last week vs. UC ... WVSU is out-scoring opponents 33-30 in the fourth quarter of games this year.
WEST VIRGINIA WESLEYAN
After starting just 1-3, WVWC has won two of its last three games ... the Bobcats have been without starting QB Jeremy Musselman the last two games ... last week vs. Concord, WVWC had just 98 yards passing ... the Bobcats have had a lead in all seven games they’ve played this year ... WVWC is 3-0 in games it does not turn the ball over.
► Trickett Named Co-Quarterback of the Week
West Virginia’s Clint Trickett and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson will share Davey O’Brien Quarterback of the Week honors for week eight of the college football season, the Davey O’Brien Foundation announced. It is the second time this season that Trickett has earned the award, while Golson is a first-time winner in 2014.
Trickett, who previously shared the honor on September 16, led the Mountaineers to a 41-27 victory over then top-5 ranked Baylor on Saturday. The senior was 23 of 35 for 322 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his scores came in the fourth quarter, turning a 27-27 tie into a two-touchdown win.
On the year, Trickett is 197-for-289 (68.2 percent) for 2,525 yards with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. He ranks third in the nation in passing yards, sixth in total offense (352.7), 11th in completion percentage and 17th in passing efficiency (155.2).
Meanwhile, Golson threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns against No. 2 Florida State, nearly leading the Irish past the Seminoles on the road in the weekend’s premier matchup. The senior was 31-for-52 and also rushed for 33 yards.
Golson finds himself among the country’s leaders in several statistical categories. He is sixth in points responsible for (140), seventh in passing touchdowns (19), 14th in passing yards (1,996) and 16th in total offense (319.3).
All 128 FBS quarterbacks are eligible for the weekly honor, which is determined by a subset of the Davey O’Brien National Selection Committee. The final weekly award will be issued on October 27 prior to the paring down to 16 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award on November 03.
Week 8 Honorable Mention:
Mike Bercovici (Arizona State) – 23-for-33 for 245 yards and a TD in win over top-25 Stanford
Trevone Boykin (TCU) – 26-for-39 for 410 yards and 3 TDs in 42-9 rout of No. 15 Oklahoma State
Cody Kessler (USC) – School-record 7 TD passes on 19 of 26 throwing for 319 yards vs. Colorado
Marcus Mariota (Oregon) – 336 yards passing and 2 TDs (24-for-33) in victory over Washington
Blake Sims (Alabama) – 268 pass yards, 3 TDs and 54 rush yards, 1 TD in 59-0 blanking of No. 21 Texas A&M
Jake Waters (Kansas State) – 3 total TDs (1 rush) and 278 yards (51 rush) in road win at No. 11 Oklahoma
Marquise Williams (North Carolina) – School-record 38 completions (390 yards, 4 TDs) & 73 rush yards (1 TD)
Jameis Winston (Florida State) – 23-for-31 for 273 yards and 2 scores in win over No. 5 Notre Dame
2014 Week-by-Week Winners:
September 09 – Marcus Mariota (Oregon)
September 16 – Shane Carden (East Carolina) & Clint Trickett (West Virginia)
September 23 – Dak Prescott (Mississippi State)
September 30 – Deshaun Watson (Clemson)
October 07 – Dak Prescott (Mississippi State)
October 14 – Bryce Petty (Baylor)
October 21 – Everett Golson (Notre Dame) & Clint Trickett (West Virginia)
About the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award® & Fan Vote
The Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award is presented annually to the nation’s best college quarterback and is the oldest and most prestigious national quarterback award. The Davey O’Brien Award honors candidates who exemplify Davey O’Brien’s enduring character while exhibiting teamwork, sportsmanship and leadership in both academics and athletics. The award is overseen by the Davey O’Brien Foundation, which is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, and has given away more than $900,000 in scholarships and university grants to help high school and college athletes transform leadership on the field into leadership in life. For more information, visit www.DaveyOBrien.org.
Fans are invited to cast their vote for the nation’s best college quarterback as often as once daily at www.VoteOBrien.org. The Fan Vote counts as five percent during each round of the voting process, and is combined with the results from the Davey O’Brien National Selection Committee, which is comprised of journalists, broadcasters, commentators and former winners. The 2014 Davey O’Brien winner will be announced on The Home Depot College Football Awards airing December 11 on ESPN, and will be honored at the 38th Annual Davey O’Brien Awards Dinner on February 16, 2015, in Fort Worth.
► Dad’s heart attack flipped Trickett’s postgame emotions
The euphoria from West Virginia’s victory over Baylor was minutes old Saturday afternoon when Clint Trickett’s mom revealed the news she had been suppressing all day.
“That first time you hear that your dad had a heart attack, you’re like ‘What?’” Trickett said. “That’s tough.”
Rick Trickett, the former WVU offensive line coach now in his eighth season at Florida State, was admitted to a Tallahassee hospital Saturday morning. Because his condition quickly stabilized, the family decided to let Clint play with a clear head in what turned out to be the Mountaineers’ first win over a top-five team in 11 seasons.
The senior quarterback, already weakened and dehydrated by a 24-hour pregame illness, played much of the second half with a swollen right hand after hitting a blitzer’s face mask on a follow-through. Trickett still passed for 322 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-27 upset that springboarded West Virginia into contention for the Big 12 title.
He wasn’t sure how the game would have transpired had he known of his dad’s situation.
“When you first hear it, it’s an emotional event,” Trickett said. “It opens your eyes. That’s the first time I’ve had that happen with a parent.”
Trickett bypassed postgame interviews to call his dad, who sounded most disappointed about having to miss Florida State’s prime-time game against Notre Dame.
“When he was upset about not coaching, I was like, ‘Just retire. Come watch me play in Canada next year,’” Trickett said. “I love my dad. I want him to live forever.”
The scare made Trickett even more grateful for the three seasons he spent at FSU. Despite appearing in only a handful of games, the quarterback appreciated the chance to share memories and bond with his father, whose demanding schedule rarely allowed him to see Trickett play in high school.
“I wouldn’t trade that time for anything,” Clint said.
Late Saturday night, as the Seminoles staved off Notre Dame in one of the season’s most controversial finishes, Rick Trickett reportedly gave his heart quite a test by watching, yelling and cheering from his hospital room. On Sunday, he was released.
“Back to his old normal self,” said Clint, who returned to his life as a student-athlete amid an outpouring of get-well wishers. “I’ve received so much support from everyone—teammates, coaches, fans, even fake Twitters of me.”
Notre Dame penalty? As a former FSU player, Clint Trickett saluted the offensive pass interference flag that cost Notre Dame the upset. As a quarterback, he was less enthused.
“That call never gets made, but (Notre Dame’s inside receiver) tackled the guy, so you have to call it,” Trickett said.
“If just keeps his feet moving and doesn’t put his hands on him, it’s a touchdown and the end of the game. But the guy went in there and sumo wrestled him.” ~~ Alan Taylor ~~
► Wellman among dozens cited in riots
West Virginia University fullback Elijah Wellman was among the more than 24 people cited in connection with Saturday’s late-night riots that followed the Mountaineers’ upset of Baylor, according to Morgantown police.
A redshirt freshman from Huntington, the 20-year-old Wellman received a citation for disorderly conduct.
Morgantown police said West Virginia fullback Elijah Wellman (28) was among the people cited during Saturday’s late-night riots.
In addition to those cited, eight people were arrested after crowds set more than 30 fires across the the city, pushed down lightposts on High Street and hurled rocks, beer bottles and other objects at public safety personnel and their vehicles. Police said several construction sites were breached after the crowds destroyed fencing.
The arrest list could get longer.
On Wednesday morning, Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said 20 others had been identified through social media posts and tips from the public as possibly being involved in criminal activities.
“We’re not just going to charge somebody just because somebody said it happened. We’ve still got to be able to prove it,” Preston said. “That’s the process that we’re going through right now is being able to prove those charges.”
Those arrested during the fracas:
• Sean Flynn, 18: Underage Consumption, Littering, Throwing Missiles and Assault on a Police Officer
• David Levendakes, 21: Malicious Burning, Disorderly Conduct and Public Intoxication
• Dylan Delury, 19: Disorderly Conduct, Public Intoxication
• Dustin Johnson, 21: Destruction of Property, Possession of Marijuana and Obstructing/Fleeing
• Casey Knox, 26: Public Intoxication, Disorderly Conduct and Obstructing
• Jae Parks, 20: Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer (Deputy), Obstructing, Underage Consumption, Disorderly Conduct and Public Intoxication
• Peter Davey, 19: Obstructing, Underage Possession/Consumption, Disorderly Conduct and Public Intoxication
• Jason Thomas, 18: Underage Consumption, Public Intoxication and Disorderly Conduct
In a statement Tuesday, WVU president Gordon Gee said administrators were examining arrest records, surveillance videos and social media posts to identify students involved.
“For those identified as participating in criminal activities, we will take swift and immediate disciplinary action—and for many, that will result in expulsion from this institution,” Gee said.
Citations were issued to the following people among others:
• Alexander Gamm, 18: Malicious Burning
• Thomas Stankevicz, 18: Underage Consumption
• Brian Quinn, 18: Possession of a Controlled Substance
• Robin Markonsky, 20: Underage Consumption
• Daniel Kennedy, 20: Underage Consumption
• Caroline Foreback, 18: Underage Consumption
• Brigid Suckel, 20: Underage Consumption and Possession of a False Identification
• Carly Kane, 19: Underage Consumption
• Chirara Pulice, 19: Underage Consumption
• Elijah Wellman, 20: Disorderly Conduct
West Virginia University officials confirmed Wednesday that 14 of the 18 people the Morgantown Police Department have identified for arrests or citations are WVU students.
According to emergency records, some 114 emergency 911 calls were reported at the Monongalia County emergency management agency along with 135 non-emergency calls and 126 incidents requiring public safety responses.
The list of damages included three Morgantown police cruisers, two Morgantown fire marshal vehicles and one fire engine, and three WVU patrol cars, one Monongalia County patrol car and one Westover police patrol car.
“Folks are fed up,” Chief Preston said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“Students are fed up, faculty is fed up, the residents of Morgantown and residents of Monongalia County are fed up, the citizens of West Virginia are fed up. They’re tired of this recurring problem and they demand that people be held responsible for their actions.”
► Mountaineers head west to tangle with Cowboys
A pair of Big 12 Conference teams riding different emotional waves square off on Saturday afternoon, as the 22nd-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers come calling on the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
West Virginia is fresh off its biggest win of the season, as coach Dana Holgorsen’s squad took down the high-octane Baylor Bears last weekend in Morgantown, 41-27. It was the third straight win for the Mountaineers, who are making their first appearance of the season in the AP Top-25 this week. Following this contest, WVU also has tough tests against TCU, Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State on the docket.
At the other end of the spectrum, Oklahoma State was embarrassed last week at TCU, losing to the powerful Horned Frogs in a 42-9 final. The Cowboys got all their scoring thanks to three Ben Grogan field goals, failing to score a touchdown for the first time since a 27-0 loss to Oklahoma in the 2009 regular-season finale. The loss also put an end to the Cowboys’ five-game win streak, and it was also their most lopsided setback since losing to Texas Tech, 56-20, back in 2008.
West Virginia leads the all-time series with Oklahoma State, 3-2, and the teams are 1-1 since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12. WVU came out on top in last year’s clash at home, 30-21.
Clint Trickett has been a man possessed for West Virginia this season, as the former Florida State Seminole leads the Big 12 in passing with 2,525 yards. He is completing a league-best 68.2 percent of his throws, and has 15 TDs against only five INTs. Last week against Baylor, the senior signal caller hit the mark on 25-of-35 pass attempts for 322 yards and three scores, while his counterpart, BU’s Bryce Petty, went just 16-of-36 for 223 yards and two TDs. Kevin White, who leads the league with 9.86 receptions per contest, caught eight balls for 132 yards and two scores for the Mountaineers, who also got at least 60 yards rushing from both Wendell Smallwood and Dreamius Smith, the latter also scoring once.
The WVU defense stood tall in the face of serious adversity last week, as it faced a Baylor offense that is among the best in the nation. The Bears generated just 318 yards on 79 plays (4.0 ypp), as the Mountaineers rallied around each other in the wake of both starting cornerbacks (Daryl Worley, Terrell Chestnut) being out of action due to injury. Also aiding in the effort was four sacks, three being credited to Shaq Riddick, and the fact that Baylor was penalized a Big 12-record 18 times for a loss of 215 yards. WVU, which was flagged 14 times for a loss of 138 yards, held the Bears to only 95 net rushing yards.
West Virginia ranks first in the Big 12 in passing offense (361.7 ypg), second in total offense (538.4 ypg), and fifth in scoring offense (37.3 ppg). On the other side of the ball, the Mountaineers are tied for sixth in scoring defense (27.1 ppg), while checking in third against the pass (215.0 ypg). Nick Kwiatkoski paces the defense with 55 tackles, which includes nine TFL, while Riddick leads the way with five sacks. WVU is among the worst teams in the country when it comes to forcing turnovers, having done so only four times (all interceptions).
Rightfully so, Holgorsen praised his team for the outstanding effort it put forth against a formidable Baylor squad.
“I’m proud of our mentality. Our guys were ready to play. I can’t say enough about how they went out there and played hard. We’ve been in the situation with some pretty good teams and haven’t been able to finish.“
Oklahoma State failed to establish any kind of offensive rhythm in last week’s blowout loss at TCU, tallying a mere 258 yards compared to a whopping 676 for the Horned Frogs. Daxx Garman completed only 10-of-25 passes for 132 yards, and he threw two INTs while being sacked twice. Desmond Roland accounted for 84 yards on 23 carries, but the Pokes were stymied at nearly every turn.
Coach Mike Gundy’s defense was battered and bruised in yielding 261 yards on the ground and 415 through the air. Ryan Simmons led the Pokes with 11 tackles, nine of which were solo efforts, while Emmanuel Ogbah took down the opposing quarterback behind the line twice to maintain his place atop the Big 12 sacks list (7.0).
Last week’s outing certainly skewed the team’s season averages a bit, with the Cowboys now scoring 33.1 ppg while permitting 27.1 ppg. As evidenced against the Frogs, the squad has had difficulty all season long defending the pass, as it ranks last in the league with 288.4 ypg and 13 TDs allowed.
Garman is hitting the mark on only 55.4 percent of his pass attempts for just shy of 250 ypg with 10 TDs and seven INTs. David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd are both over 300 yards receiving, but they only have a combined three TDs. Roland is running for 79.2 ypg, and he has found the end zone seven times, the team tallying a dozen rushing scores on the year.
With his troops still reeling a bit, Gundy knows they need to put the TCU game behind them as they prepare for another tough test this week.
“We’re facing another team that’s playing well right now. They have a quarterback who has matured and is playing with confidence. He’s considerably better than what he was eight or 10 games ago in my opinion. They’ve got a great receiver who is going to play the game for a long time in my opinion. Defense is playing with an attitude and a lot of confidence. We’ll have our hands full.“
► Wildcats set to pounce on visiting Longhorns
The only team without a Big 12 Conference loss takes center stage on Saturday, as the 11th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats entertain the Texas Longhorns.
Charlie Strong’s inaugural season at Texas hasn’t gone quite the way he had hoped, as the Longhorns are 3-4 overall and 2-2 in conference. The team did manage to put the brakes on a two-game slide by posting a 48-45 win versus visiting Iowa State last weekend. That victory came on the heels of a near- upset of Oklahoma the week prior, as the ‘Horns fell just short in their annual clash with the Sooners, 31-26.
Save for a narrow home loss to Auburn (20-14) in mid-September, Kansas State would be perfect on the year. As it is, the Wildcats come in to this contest at 5-1, 3-0 in conference, and are in the driver’s seat with regard to winning the Big 12 title. Coach Bill Snyder’s club still has several tough games, including this week, and against Oklahoma State, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor.
Kansas State owns an 8-6 lead in the all-time series with Texas, but the Longhorns snapped a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats with last year’s 31-21 triumph in Austin.
Last week’s 48-point, 512-yard outburst aside, the Texas offense hasn’t been the force many had hoped when Strong was handed the reins. The Longhorns rank near the bottom of the Big 12 in scoring offense (23.7 ppg), rushing offense (144.4 ypg), passing offense (225.6 ypg) and total offense (370.0 ypg), and getting consistent quarterback play needs to be a priority if the team is going to wind up on the plus-side of the ledger at season’s end.
Tyrone Swoopes has completed 61 percent of his passes for nearly 1,400 yards, but he has thrown only eight scoring strikes while being intercepted five times. John Harris has been the most productive wideout, hauling in 40 balls for 607 and six TDs, while Jaxon Shipley leads the way with 44 grabs for 452 yards and no TDs. Malcolm Brown spearheads the UT rushing attack with 396 yards and four scores, while Johnathan Gray has rumbled his way for 345 yards and a pair of TDs. Swoopes has scored three times on the ground.
Swoopes threw for 321 yards and a TD last week, hitting Harris nine times for 147 yards and Shipley six times for 97 yards. The athletic signal caller was also the team’s top ground gainer, accounting for 95 yards and a TD on 14 carries, while Brown finished with 72 yards and two scores on 19 totes.
The Texas defense has had some issues this season, particularly when it comes to stopping the enemy on the ground (182.4 ypg). Where the ‘Horns have excelled however, is against the pass. Foes are averaging just 163.9 ypg through the air, which is the lowest yield of any team in the Big 12, and as a result Strong’s crew ranks second in the league in total defense (346.3 ypg). While the secondary gets a ton of credit for the effort in the passing game, the front seven has been superb in logging a league-leading 24 sacks—actually tied with Baylor.
Jordan Hicks is almost at 100 tackles for the season (98), Malcolm Brown has 10 TFL and 4.5 sacks, and Duke Thomas three of the team’s 11 interceptions.
While it’s true the Longhorns have performed well against the pass, they had trouble with Iowa State’s aerial attack last week, allowing 345 yards and three TDs. They did manage to come up with a pair of picks and sacked ISU quarterback Sam B. Richardson three times, but they permitted nearly six yards per offensive play and were unsuccessful in stopping the Cyclones on any one of their six trips to the red zone. Hicks was all over the field for UT, logging 18 tackles, while three others also finished in double figures. Dylan Haines scored on a 74-yard interception return near the end of the first half.
While happy to come away with a win, Strong took both some positives and negatives from the Iowa State game.
“Wow, I didn’t know it would end like that, wow. You look at our offense, and you watch ‘em grow up, and you watch Tyrone [Swoopes] get better and better every game.“
He then turned his attention to the other side of the ball.
“Not very pleased with our defense, thought we could have played better than we did, but it’s always a good test when you can wake guys up.“
Kansas State has one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Big 12 in Jake Waters. A 65.1 percent passer who has thrown for 1,431 yards, nine TDs and only three INTs, Waters does just enough to keep his team on course as it navigates its way to the top of the conference standings. Waters also does his best to keep defenses honest by using his legs, as he is the Wildcats’ leading rusher with 371 yards, scoring seven TDs along the way. Charles Jones has found the end zone eight times, logging 339 yards on 69 totes, while DeMarcus Robinson has tallied 274 yards and three scores.
Collectively, K-State is averaging 39.2 points and 434.2 yards per contest, and the ‘Cats lead the Big 12 in third-down conversions (.500), as well as with the fewest penalties (22) and in time of possession (32:12). They also possess one of the best special teams units in the league, leading the way in punt return average, as well as kickoff coverage.
KSU is among the top defensive teams in the conference as well, yielding just 22.5 ppg. The ‘Cats are especially stout against the run, permitting a league- low 100.8 ypg. The pass (251.2 ypg) is another story, but that’s due in large part to the fact that most opponents have had to abandon the run in an attempt to battle from behind. K-State ranks No. 1 in the conference in red zone defense (.778).
Jonathan Truman continues to pace the defense with his 60 tackles, while Morgan Burns has three of the unit’s eight INTs. A lack of impact plays has been an issue though, as the unit has only been credited with nine total takeaways and a league-low seven sacks.
Oklahoma appeared to be on the way to tying the game last week when it scored a touchdown less than five minutes into the fourth quarter, but the extra point was blocked and that proved to be the margin of victory for Kansas State as it held on in the 31-30 decision. The Wildcats were badly outgained, 533-385, but got 225 yards and two TDs passing and another 51 yards and a score on the ground from Waters. Curry Sexton and Tyler Lockett were the primary targets for Waters in the aerial game, combining for 14 catches, 163 yards and a score.
Truman was a man possessed for the ‘Cats, logging 17 tackles, and Dante Barnett tacked on 11. A pair of INTs helped the Wildcats’ cause, as did the fact that the Sooners only scored on half of their six trips to the red zone.
Costly mistakes played an important role in last week’s game, and Snyder is happy that his team made fewer of them.
“Turnovers, those are significant. In all reality, that is the difference in the ball game. We get a turnover and get seven points out of it and we don’t turn the ball over.“
► Red Raiders hoping to shoot down 10th-ranked Horned Frogs
Hoping to keep pace in the race for the Big 12 Conference crown, the 10th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs will play a home game this Saturday against the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Texas Tech opened the season with a pair of victories, but then went on to lose four in a row, including its first three conference games. The Red Raiders were able to stop the bleeding last week as they topped visiting Kansas, 34-21. Kliff Kingsbury’s club needs three more wins to become bowl eligible, but the road is difficult as bouts with TCU, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Baylor remain.
TCU also kicked off the campaign with favorable results, claiming victory in each of first four games. A wild 61-58 loss to Baylor put the team at 1-1 in conference, but it bounced back to rout visiting Oklahoma State last weekend, 42-9. Coach Gary Patterson has his squad poised to make a run at the Big 12 title, but tough tilts with West Virginia, Kansas State and Texas are still to come.
Texas Tech leads the all-time series with TCU, 30-23-3, and the Red Raiders have won the last two meetings.
Texas Tech leading receiver Jakeem Grant (50 receptions, 629 yards, five TDs) was injured in an apparent shooting in Lubbock last Sunday morning, but his injuries weren’t deemed overly serious and he could even play in this game. Grant caught six passes in last week’s win over Kansas, helping the Red Raiders roll up more than 500 yards of total offense, compared to only 363 for the Jayhawks.
Davis Webb went 28-of-44 for 288 yards, three TDs and one INT, hitting three different receivers (Grant, Brad Marquez and Ian Sadler) for at least 68 yards. DeAndre Washington was highly productive in rushing for a career-best 164 yards on 23 carries.
Defensively, the Red Raiders surrendered 235 yards and a pair of scores through the air, but got solid individual performances from Pete Robertson and Austin Stewart with nine tackles apiece. Robertson was credited with two of the team’s four sacks.
For the season, Texas Tech scores 30.9 ppg, doing so behind 488.3 ypg. Webb ranks second in the conference in averaging 319.9 ypg, and he has thrown a league-best 22 TD passes, but has been picked off a league-high 12 times. Grant is second in the Big 12 with 7.14 receptions per game, and Marquez sits seventh with 5.86. Washington ranks third with 88.9 rushing ypg, but he has found the end zone only once.
Texas Tech ranks last in the league in scoring defense (36.9 ppg), and foes have hammered the Red Raiders on the ground, leading to 239.0 ypg—also placing the club last. The Red Raiders have only come up with three INTs and a mere eight takeaways in all. Robertson paces the unit with 54 tackles, which includes seven of the team’s 13 sacks.
Kingsbury tries to keep an even keel, even as his team fought to put an end to its four-game skid.
“Yeah, wins are hard to come by in college football, so anytime you get one you have to be pleased with it. I try to stay pretty level.“
TCU is one of the most productive offensive teams in the country, as it puts up 45.2 ppg behind typical outputs of 197.5 ypg rushing and 340.2 ypg passing. Trevone Boykin has been effective in both modes of attack, throwing for nearly 1,900 yards with 14 TDs and only three INTs, while running for 346 yards and three scores. B.J. Catalon leads the way on the ground with 370 yards and eight TDs, while Josh Dotson (31 rec., 497 yards, five TDs) heads a list of six players with double-digit receptions.
When the opposition has the ball, the Horned Frogs are equally proficient, as they allow a league-low 20.7 ppg. They permit 222 ypg through the air, and foes have scored only eight aerial TDs, while tossing 11 picks—the latter tying TCU for the league lead. Paul Dawson paces the unit with 68 stops, and he is one of four players with multiple interceptions on the season. TCU is among the league leaders in sacks with 21, while being No. 1 in opponents’ third down conversion percentage (.267).
TCU dominated Oklahoma State last week in every aspect of the game, with Boykin throwing for a career-high 410 yards and three TDs. Dotson also put forth a monster effort in hauling down seven balls for 225 yards and two scores. Catalon generated 102 yards and two TDs on only 10 carries, helping the Frogs amass 261 yards on the ground.
Dawson more than doubled his closest teammate by logging 13 stops, and the Horned Frogs came up with a pair of INTs, two sacks and seven TFL, in holding the Cowboys to a paltry 258 yards of total offense (126 rushing, 132 passing).
Rather than think of what the future may hold with regard to competing for the Big 12 title, Patterson is trying to keep his team focused on the task at hand.
“I’m not even thinking about it. I didn’t think about it before. Two weeks ago I had Oklahoma, then I had Baylor, then Oklahoma State and now I have Texas Tech. My advice to anybody would be to try to win the game that you’re playing and not to worry about anything else.“
► Marshall puts streak on the line against FAU
The Marshall Thundering Herd moved up two spots in the AP Top-25 Poll to No. 23 in the nation, and will try to remain perfect this weekend as they play host to the FAU Owls in a Conference USA clash at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
FAU has won two of its last three games, including a 45-38 edging of Western Kentucky last weekend in Boca Raton. The Owls are 3-4 on the season, and haven’t had back-to-back wins all year long. This will be the third time this season the Owls have taken on a nationally ranked opponent.
Marshall trailed for the first time all season last weekend, when FIU quarterback Alex McGough kept the ball and carried it into the end zone for a 7-0 Panthers lead. That didn’t phase the Herd much, who came back to defeat FIU in the contest, 45-13. The team has scored at least 42 points in all seven games this season.
These two programs have only met once before on the field, which occurred last season. The Thundering Herd walked away with a 24-23 escape victory in mid- October.
FAU made a nice comeback effort against Western Kentucky last weekend when the Owls trailed the Hilltoppers, 31-14, at the half. FAU limited WKU to just one second-half touchdown while the Owls scored five times - four touchdowns and one field goal. Quarterback Jaquez Johnson was sensational for the Owls by completing 23-of-34 passing for 325 yards and three touchdowns. He added 95 yards and two touchdowns on the ground for a total of five scores in the win.
The Owls are averaging 24.6 ppg through their first seven contests, largely thanks to the efforts of Johnson under center. The quarterback has passed for 1,323 yards and 10 touchdowns against just one interception, and has rushed in a team-high five touchdowns on the ground. Johnson has found top wideout Lucky Whitehead44 times this season for a team-best 436 yards and four touchdowns, which includes Whitehead’s 125-yard, two-touchdown effort against WKU.
Take away Johnson from the running game, and the Owls have had some trouble. Jay Warren leads the team with 83 carries for 435 yards, but the starting running back has scored just one touchdown. In fact, Johnson is the only player for FAU that has scored multiple touchdowns on the ground. The team is rushing for 153.9 ypg, and has scored eight times all season via the ground attack.
There has been a struggle defensively for the Owls this season, as the team currently gives up 35.7 ppg and 465.7 offensive ypg to opponents. In five of the team’s seven games played, the Owls have surrendered at least 37 points to their challengers. That certainly doesn’t look good going up against one of the nation’s best and most potent offenses, especially on its home turf.
FAU has allowed teams to score 20 times on the ground this season, so stopping the Marshall run game will be the key (but don’t forget to stop Rakeem Cato). Damian Parms (58 tackles) will be extremely busy trying to slow Cato, the Herd’s dominant quarterback, while Andrae Kirk (52 tackles, four tackles for loss) will likely focus on the run game. The Owls will need to put constant pressure on the Marshall backfield if they want to be at all successful in this game.
Marshall started slowly against FIU, trailing for the first time all season and then going into the half with only a 14-7 lead. But the Thundering Herd turned it up in the second half, and Cato became a national record holder in the process. With a first-quarter touchdown pass, Cato broke the all-time NCAA record for most consecutive career games with a touchdown completion. The senior has completed one touchdown toss in 39 consecutive games, passing Russell Wilson’s old mark of 38 from 2009-11.
Later in the game, Cato moved passed Chad Pennington for first place in Marshall history with 120 career touchdowns responsible for, breaking Pennington’s record of 119. Cato now has 19 touchdown passes this season and 1,912 passing yards for an offense that averages 47.4 ppg (second in the FBS behind Baylor) and 574.9 offensive ypg (also second in the nation behind Baylor).
“The coaches don’t need to say a whole lot at this point. (The team) understands they want to be a great football team, understand what’s at stake,“ Marshall coach Doc Holliday said following the win against FIU. “The bottom line is seeing how your team responds to be able to overcome the adversity. There was no panic. I thought our kids came out, worked in the second half, and played like they have been playing.“
It’s not just Marshall’s passing game that is damaging. The run game averages 284.7 ypg, and has scored 23 touchdowns through seven games led by Devon Johnson’s 11 touchdowns and 931 rushing yards. Cato contributes to the cause too, having scored five rushing touchdowns himself.
Don’t forget the team’s stifling defense. Johnson and the Owls will find it extremely hard to reach the end zone considering the Herd are holding opponents to a 16.6 ppg clip. Only twice this season has Marshall surrendered more than 17 points to an opponent, and only 15 offensive touchdowns have been scored on the Herd in those seven games.
Linebacker Neville Hewitt leads the team with 44 tackles on the season, adding in a team-best seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. A.J. Leggett has three interceptions, while Taj Letman has recorded two. They’ll be looking to force Johnson, who has only one thrown interception this season, into making more mistakes. Hewitt and D.J. Hunter (5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) will try to collapse the pocket against Johnson to get him on the move. And to not let the Owls have much hope in the first half, like FIU did last weekend.
“Games like (that) - it was tough at first - that brings us together and it definitely will help us down the road,“ Hewitt said after the FIU game. “We haven’t had a game this close all season (in the first half), really, and so this is going to help us honestly see where we are as a team.“
► Rodgers highlights NFC Players of the Week
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers claimed the NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award for Week 7.
In a 38-17 victory over Carolina, Rodgers completed 19-of-22 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns for a 154.5 passer rating. Rodgers has recorded six consecutive games without an interception (minimum 15 attempts), tying Pro Football Hall of Famer Bart Starr’s franchise record set in 1964, bringing his streak of consecutive pass attempts without an interception to 192.
The game also marked Rodgers’ fourth straight with at least three TD passes and no interceptions, joining Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (2007) as the only players in league history to accomplish the feat.
Washington linebacker Keenan Robinson took home the defensive award after he recorded a career-high 14 tackles in the Redskins’ 19-17 win over Tennessee. In his first year as a starter, Robinson leads the team with 57 tackles.
St. Louis Rams punt returner Stedman Bailey won the special teams award after taking a punt 90 yards for a touchdown in the Rams’ 28-26 win over Seattle. The Seahawks chased Tavon Austin on the wrong side of the field while Bailey ran down the right side for the longest punt-return touchdown in the NFL this season.
► Manning among AFC’s top players for Week 7
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning highlighted the AFC’s top players for Week 7 of the NFL season.
Jacksonville linebacker Telvin Smith and Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones also were honored for their efforts.
Manning was named the top offensive player after his record-setting performance in Sunday night’s 42-17 win over San Francisco. He surpassed Brett Favre’s record of 508 career touchdown passes and now has 510 after throwing for four scores while completing 22-of-26 throws for 318 yards.
In addition, he extended NFL career records with his 87th 300-yard game and 33rd four-TD effort. It was his 27th career weekly award, the most of any player since it was instituted in 1984.
Smith picked up the defensive award thanks to four tackles, an interception and a sack-fumble in Jacksonville’s first win of the season, a 24-6 triumph over the Cleveland Browns. His sack-fumble led to a field and goal and his first interception set up a touchdown.
Jones was given the special teams nod after his block of a 58-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game allowed the Patriots to complete a 27-25 win over the New York Jets.
Other offensive candidates included Jacksonville running back Denard Robinson, who ran for 127 yards with a touchdown in the win over the Browns; Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who completed his first 14 passes en route to a 25-of-32 performance for 277 yards with two scores in a 27-14 win over Chicago; and Buffalo receiver Sammy Watkins, who had nine catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-16 victory over Minnesota.
Defensive consideration went to Baltimore linebacker Daryl Smith, who had 13 tackles in a 29-7 win over Atlanta; and Denver’s DeMarcus Ware, who had four tackles and three sacks in the victory over San Francisco.
Kansas City kicker Cairo Santos was also nominated for the special teams award after connecting on all three of his field goal attempts, including a 48-yard kick with 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter that lifted the Chiefs to a 23-20 win over San Diego.
► Patriots acquire LB Ayers from Titans
The New England Patriots have acquired linebacker Akeem Ayers from the Tennessee Titans to help fill the void created when Jerod Mayo was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Compensation terms were not disclosed, but NFL.com has reported that the Patriots will also acquire a seventh-round draft pick from the Titans and will send Tennessee a sixth-round draft pick.
Ayers started 44 of the 50 games he played for the Titans, who selected him in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He has compiled 254 total tackles with nine sacks and two interceptions.
The 25-year-old UCLA product led all Tennessee linebackers with 88 tackles as a rookie in 2011 and led the Titans with 110 tackles in 2012. However, he struggled with knee injuries last year and this year had appeared in just two of Tennessee’s seven games.
New England also released linebacker Ja’Gared Davis, who joined the active roster from the practice squad on October 04.
► Extra Points: Closing the door on Cutler
Many are missing the point when trying to analyze what’s going on with the Chicago Bears.
Brandon Marshall’s emotional outburst after last Sunday’s ugly 27-14 home loss to the Miami Dolphins has placed the focus on whether the enigmatic receiver’s relationship with quarterback Jay Cutler is strained.
What should be spotlighted is that the Bears are 3-4 and looking up at both Green Bay and Detroit in the NFC North.
Those searching for drama put a lot of emphasis on the fact Marshall was heard ranting about all the talent the team has on the offensive side of the football without mentioning Cutler before adding that the “same mistakes” regarding protecting the football are holding the team back, perceived as a direct salvo across Cutler’s bow.
The mouthy Marshall has tried to back off in the ensuing days.
“Listen, I have a really nice condo. And guess what? Jay Cutler built that condo,“ Marshall said on Showtime’s “Inside The NFL” on Tuesday. “We’re great, we’re great. But you know, we’re like brothers. I think coach (Marc) Trestman said it the best, you know, but if I have a problem with Jay Cutler, I’m gonna go to Jay Cutler. If Jay Cutler has a problem with me, he’s going to come to me. We have that type of relationship.“
Great, except when Marshall had a problem with Cutler, he didn’t go to the quarterback ... he aired his grievances in public like it was Festivus.
Marshall also has been trying to have his cake and eat it, too, claiming he doesn’t regret a word he said to his teammates, but wished that the doors were closed and the media assembled didn’t here his version of a reality check.
“Oh, absolutely my voice was heard,“ the star receiver said. “The only thing I regret is that the door wasn’t closed, you know, but I wouldn’t change any of my reaction because it came from my heart, and that’s how I felt, that’s how I still feel.
“I think that we have all the coaches we need, I think we have all the players that we need to get that job done. And 3-4 is unacceptable, but we have everything that we need to turn this ship right now.“
Part of all of this is that Marshall and a lot of the Bears think they are a lot better than they really are.
“We have too much talent on this team for one, to have the record that we have, and two, to not be producing the way we should,“ injured Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs said on his weekly Comcast SportsNet show. “For me, it’s hard to fathom.“
It shouldn’t be.
The Bears were 10-6 in Lovie Smith’s last season as coach and fell back to 8-8 in Trestman’s first try. In the five seasons before that, there was one playoff appearance. They never beat Aaron Rodgers and the Lions have certainly lapped Chicago in the talent department.
Just maybe the Bears are what they have looked like under Trestman, a mediocre team which is 11-12 during the coach’s watch.
And a major part of that pedestrian reality is Cutler.
In a position that almost demands leadership by its very nature, the 31-year- old veteran has always been a pass-the-buck guy whose on-field antics and sideline pouting sessions when things are going bad are always front-page news in the Second City.
Cutler is definitely a guy with prodigious talent, most notably the arm strength to keep the football dry when throwing it through a car wash, and the athleticism to surprise even the most athletic of front-seven defenders in this league.
Those positives, however, are often diluted by a shoddy attention to detail, especially when it comes to the fundamentals and mechanics of playing the position.
Yet everyone tip-toes around all of that.
Trestman was sure to point out that Marshall’s words were directed more generally, as if he had the ability to understand what a hot-head is thinking after the spigots have been turned on.
Briggs, meanwhile, actually admitted he left the locker room during the tirade.
“I just left because I could see where things were kinda going,“ he said. “And I knew that when you get emotional, there are moments when, you get in an argument and both people are emotional, you’re not going to get anywhere.“
And now Marshall himself is backpedaling with the skill of Deion Sanders in his prime.
“At the end I said Jay Cutler’s our leader, he’s our guy, he’s a gunslinger,“ Marshall said. “Jay Cutler makes this thing go. This guy, he’s the first one there, he puts in the work. What he knows and what he does for us is unbelievable.“
What you say when you’re at your most emotional may end up being right or wrong with the benefit of hindsight. What it unquestionably is, however, is what you believe.
And Marshall was pointing at his quarterback and calling him out for inconsistent play. Those who think anything differently can’t see the forest for the trees.
It’s not time to close on the door on those listening in Chicago, it’s time to start thinking about closing it on Cutler.
WEEK 8 (All Times Eastern)
San Diego (5-2) at Denver (5-1) (-7 1/2), Thursday, 8:30 PM - Peyton Manning didn’t have much time to savor his latest NFL record. The reigning and five- time NFL MVP, who broke Brett Favre’s record for most career touchdown passes against the San Francisco 49ers this past Sunday, and his Broncos will kick off Week 8 when they try to keep their penthouse view atop the AFC West against Philip Rivers and the Chargers.
Manning leads the league in passer rating with a 118.2 mark and Rivers is third at 113.0 Both QBs have generally excelled on short weeks. Manning will enter this matchup with a 9-2 record as a starter on Thursday, and is the all-time leader in passing yards (3,305) and touchdown passes (35) with less preparation time. Conversely Rivers, who is currently ranked second in the AFC with 1,961 passing yards and third with 17 TD passes, has compiled a 4-1 record on Thursday, including a 27-20 victory over Denver last season.
Broncos 31, Chargers 23
Detroit (5-2) (-3 1/2) vs. Atlanta (2-5) at London’s Wembley Stadium, Sunday, 9:30 AM - The Lions and Falcons will meet in Wembley in the first regular- season game outside of North America for both teams. Both are headed in opposite directions, though. Detroit has won four of five and is tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North, while Atlanta has dropped four straight games. Falcons QB Matt Ryan, though, has never lost a game to the Lions (3-0).
Lions 28, Falcons 17
Seattle (3-3) (-4 1/2) at Carolina (3-3-1), Sunday, 1 PM - Two teams coming off bad losses square off in the Queen City. The reigning Super Bowl champs were done in by the special teams’ prowess of the Rams in Week 7, while the Panthers were mauled by Aaron Rodgers. Seahawks signal caller Russell Wilson has won both of his career starts against Carolina, throwing for 320 yards with a 115.7 passer rating in the last meeting. His counterpart in this game, Cam Newton, has won nine of his past 10 home starts.
Seahawks 24, Panthers 20
Baltimore (5-2) at Cincinnati (3-2-1) (-1 1/2), Sunday, 1 PM - The Bengals have not won in over a calendar month after a 3-0 start but are 11-0-1 in their last 12 regular-season home games, the last of which was a 37-37 tie with Carolina in Week 6. The Ravens, on the other hand, have won two straight and five of six to seize control of the AFC North.
Bengals 27, Ravens 21
Miami (3-3) (-5 1/2) at Jacksonville (1-6), Sunday, 1 PM - Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill will try to build on a win in Chicago in which he became just the third player in NFL history with 275-plus passing yards (277), a 78-or-above completion percentage (78.1) and 45-or-more rushing yards (48). The Jags will try to keep their momentum after rookie QB Blake Bortles earned his first win as an NFL starter over Cleveland and running back Denard Robinson rushed for a career-high 127 yards.
Dolphins 21, Jaguars 13
St. Louis (2-4) at Kansas City (3-3) (-6 1/2), Sunday, 1 PM - Show Me State bragging rights are on the line in Kansas City. Both Missouri clubs come in off an upset with the Chiefs winning in San Diego behind Jamaal Charles’ 95 rushing yards, a number which gives him 6,113 for his career, besting Priest Holmes (6,070) for the franchise record. The Rams stunned the Super Bowl champion Seahawks thanks to their nifty special teams work and a riverboat mentality from embattled coach Jeff Fisher.
Chiefs 27, Rams 16
Chicago (3-4) at New England (5-2) (-6), Sunday, 1 PM - The Patriots will be shooting for their 13th consecutive win at home behind the red-hot Tom Brady, who has thrown for 914 yards with nine TDs and no interceptions in his last three games. Bears QB Jay Cutler has won nine of his past 12 starts against AFC foes.
Patriots 23, Bears 20
Buffalo (4-3) at New York Jets (1-6) (-3), Sunday, 1 PM - The Jets hope the newly acquired Percy Harvin can give their moribund offense a lift while Buffalo will try to build on a last-second win over Minnesota despite injuries to running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
Jets 20, Bills 14
Minnesota (2-5) at Tampa Bay (1-5) (-3), Sunday, 1 PM - The Bucs will be searching for their seventh straight win over Minnesota, which has never won in Raymond James Stadium.
Buccaneers 23, Vikings 16
Houston (3-4) (-1) at Tennessee (2-5), Sunday, 1 PM - Houston starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick returns to Nashville, where he played in 11 games with nine starts for the Titans in 2013, passing for 2,454 yards and 14 TDs. Tennessee is hoping to get back oft-injured starter Jake Locker from a thumb sprain.
Titans 17, Texans 16
Philadelphia (5-1) at Arizona (5-1) (-2 1/2), Sunday, 4:05 PM - Two of the four remaining one-loss teams meet Sunday afternoon in the desert. The first- place Cardinals improved to 5-1 with a 24-13 win at Oakland last weekend, while the Eagles are fresh off their bye week, averaging an NFC-best 30.5 points per game. Arizona QB Carson Palmer has won 10 of his last 12 starts and Philadelphia is 12-3 over its last 15 contests.
Eagles 26, Cardinals 20
Oakland (0-6) at Cleveland (3-3) (-7), Sunday, 4:25 PM - The Raiders are the NFL’s only winless team as they continue to grow with rookie QB Derek Carr, who leads all first-year signal callers with 1,189 passing yards and eight TD passes. The Browns, meanwhile, gave previously winless Jacksonville its first win in Week 7.
Browns 21, Raiders 13
Indianapolis (5-2) (-3) at Pittsburgh (4-3), Sunday, 4:25 PM - The Steelers come in after their record 16th straight “Monday Night Football” home win, while Indy posted its largest shutout win since 1997 (a 27-0 whitewash of Cincinnati), the 500th total victory in franchise history. Colts QB Andrew Luck has passed for 300-or-more yards in five consecutive games, tied with Peyton Manning (2009) for the longest streak in team history.
Colts 27, Steelers 20
Green Bay (5-2) at New Orleans (2-4) (- 1 1/2), Sunday 8:30 PM - The struggling Saints are banking on a return to the Superdome to get them back on track. New Orleans is 2-0 at home this season and has won 10 straight overall but is 0-4 on the road. The Packers have won four straight after a rocky start behind MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers, who has 13 TD passes with no picks and a stunning 137.9 passer rating over that span. A-Rod also generally excels indoors, having started 23 games under a roof with 56 TD passes versus only eight interceptions in those games.
Saints 37, Packers 33
Washington (2-5) at Dallas (6-1) (-9), Monday, 8:30 PM - The Redskins will turn to their third starting QB this season as Colt McCoy replaces the struggling Kirk Cousins. In his first action of the season in Week 7, McCoy completed 11-of-12 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, orchestrating a 10- play, 76-yard drive that culminated with Kai Forbath’s game-winning kick in a 19-17 win over Tennessee. The Cowboys improved to an NFL-best 6-1 with a 31-21 home win over the New York Giants in Week 7 behind MVP candidate DeMarco Murray (128 rushing yards, one touchdown), who has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the team’s seven games, surpassing Jim Brown (six games in 1958) for the longest such streak in NFL history to begin a season.
Cowboys 33, Redskins 16
~~ John McMullen ~~
► First-place Broncos shift focus to Rivers, Chargers
Peyton Manning didn’t have much time to savor his latest NFL record.
The reigning and five-time NFL MVP and his Denver Broncos will kick off Week 8 of the NFL season when they try to keep their penthouse view atop the AFC West against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers on “Thursday Night Football.“
The contest comes just four days after Manning broke Brett Favre’s record for most career touchdown passes against the San Francisco 49ers and it will feature two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks going head to head.
Manning currently leads the league in passer rating with a 118.2 mark and Rivers is third at 113.0
The Broncos will take their home field searching for their fourth consecutive victory following a 42-17 drubbing over the Niners on Sunday Night in a game in which Manning accounted for 318 yards, four touchdowns and a nearly perfect 157.2 rating.
The veteran tossed for scores on three of his first four drives, connecting with DeMaryius Thomas for his third touchdown of the game at the 3:09 mark of the second quarter, the 509th TD pass of his brilliant career, surpassing Favre for the most in NFL history.
“It was a special night,“ Manning said. “It’s one I’ll always remember.“
Following the score, the Broncos receivers along with tight end Julius Thomas played a game of keepaway with Manning, not letting him have the ball before finally delivering it to the future Hall of Famer.
The Broncos then played a brief tribute on the big screen, which included messages from Favre, John Elway and several of Manning’s teammates.
Favre congratulated Manning on Twitter shortly thereafter.
“Well deserved Peyton, Congratulations on breaking my record. #Onto600,“ he wrote.
DeMaryius Thomas caught eight passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns for the Broncos while Ronnie Hillman carried the ball 14 times for 74 yards and two scores, and added four receptions for 29 yards in the triumph.
“I’m very humbled and very honored,“ Manning said when discussing the record afterward. “I certainly think about how grateful I am for all the teammates and coaches that I’ve played with and played for throughout my career, not only here in Denver—in Indianapolis—and all the people that have helped me along the way. We have the Thursday night game this week, so there’s not much of a celebration right now.“
San Diego comes in aiming to rebound from a 23-20 home loss to Kansas City suffered when Chiefs rookie kicker Cairo Santos booted the game-winning 48- yard field goal, his third of the game, with just 21 seconds left.
Rivers, who came in with an NFL record five straight games with a passer rating above 120.0, cooled off a bit, finishing 17-of-31 for 205 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Chargers, who lost for the first time since dropping their opening game of the season at Arizona.
Rookie running back Branden Oliver carried it 15 times for 67 yards while Keenan Allen has six receptions for 58 yards.
“We didn’t make enough plays. No excuses at all,“ Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said. “We have to do our job.“
The Broncos lead the all-time series by a 58-49-1 margin but things have been very tight over the previous five years. Denver and San Diego have met 10 times during the regular season since 2009, splitting the series with five wins apiece.
On Thursdays the Chargers are 7-6-1 while the Broncos are under water at 8-10.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Both Manning and Rivers have generally excelled on short weeks.
Manning will enter this matchup with a 9-2 record as a starter on Thursday, and is the all-time leader in passing yards (3,305) and touchdown passes (35) with less preparation time.
Conversely Rivers, who is currently ranked second in the AFC with 1,961 passing yards and third with 17 TD passes, has compiled a 4-1 record on Thursday, including a 27-20 victory over Denver last season.
Manning had been 3-0 against San Diego with the Broncos before that loss and has thrown at least one TD pass in all 11 career meetings he has had against the Chargers.
“We don’t live in the past,“ Broncos head coach John Fox said of the loss last season. “I’ve mentioned many times, you spend too much time looking in the rear view mirror, you crash, not looking ahead.“
Making things easier for Manning this time could be the potential absence of San Diego cornerback Brandon Flowers, who will likely sit out after suffering a concussion against hid old team, the Chiefs. Meanwhile, rookie corner Jason Verrett was a limited participant in practice on Tuesday after missing the loss against Kansas City with a shoulder injury.
“We’re playing a great team in the Chargers, a team we’re very familiar with, as they are with us,“ Manning said. “They beat us last year, so we got to get ready on this short week.“
For his career, Rivers is 10-6 as a starter against Denver, and is 20 games over .500 (35-15) when starting against AFC West competition. In fact, since 2006, Rivers has the second-most passing yards (12,251) and third-most touchdowns (81) of any player in the AFC against his own division.
“He’s a tremendous competitor,“ Fox said. “We go way back. When I was in the Carolinas, he played at N.C. State, so I had a chance to watch him perform. I know a lot about him as a competitor.“
One of the key components to beating Denver last season, running back Ryan Mathews, is sidelined with a sprained MCL, though. Mathews piled up 127 yards and a TD on 29 carries in the Thursday win last season, spearheading a rushing attack that outgained the Broncos on the ground by a significant 177-18 margin.
That would be hard to duplicate under any circumstance but with Oliver now leading the way in the backfield, it’s probably safe to assume that more of the responsibility with be placed on Rivers’ shoulders.
Oliver has been solid, however, amassing 316 yards—tops for all rookies—and two touchdowns in three games. However, he will be up against a much- improved Broncos defense which is third in the NFL, allowing only 74.3 rushing yards per game, nearly 30 yards better than last year’s unit.
Jack Del Rio’s defense is allowing 242.5 passing yards a game, though, good for just 18th in football.
There are two things you can kind of count on when talking about Thursday games, sloppy play and the fact that the short week of preparation heavily favors the home team which at least doesn’t have to uproot its operation.
The one thing that can neutralize that advantage is the presence of a veteran quarterback but each team possesses one of them here so the trend remains in Denver’s favor.
“The big thing about all this is that it is a short week so we don’t have time to feel sorry about ourselves,“ said Charges pass rusher Dwight Freeney. “I know Denver doesn’t care about last week. We just have to focus on Denver this Thursday night.“
Predicted outcome: Broncos 31, Chargers 23
► Chargers CB Flowers out vs. Broncos
San Diego Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers will miss Thursday night’s game against the Denver Broncos.
Flowers suffered a concussion in last Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. He was held out of practice this week.
The 28-year-old Flowers has 23 tackles and two interceptions in six games—all starts—this season.
Fellow cornerbacks Jason Verrett (shoulder) and Steve Williams (groin) are listed as questionable. If neither can go, the Chargers will be down to Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall and Chris Davis at the position.
Running backs Ryan Mathews (knee) and Donald Brown (concussion) and linebacker Manti Te’o (foot) have also been ruled out. Linebacker Jerry Attaochu is doubtful with a hamstring injury.
► Polian, Wolf named Pro Football HOF finalists
Former NFL general managers Bill Polian and Ron Wolf have been selected as finalists for the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame class under the newly-created contributors category.
The two Super Bowl-winning executives will have their candidacies reviewed by the Hall of Fame’s Contributor Selection Committee on January 31. They will need to receive 80% of votes cast to receive enshrinement.
Polian was the architect of the AFC powerhouse Buffalo Bills teams of the early 1990s that went to four straight Super Bowls, then later helped the Indianapolis Colts to a pair of conference titles and a victory in Super Bowl XLI during a 15-year run as GM and team president from 1997-2011.
In between, he served as the first GM as the expansion Carolina Panthers in 1994 and quickly assembled a team that reached the NFC Championship Game in its second season of existence.
“It’s an incredible honor that I never envisioned ever happening,“ said Polian when he learned of becoming a finalist.
Wolf is best known for reestablishing the Green Bay Packers back to prominence in the 1990s, an era highlighted by back-to-back Super Bowl appearances during the 1997 and 1998 seasons that included a win over New England in Super Bowl XXXI. The Packers compiled a 92-52 record during Wolf’s nine-year term as GM from 1992-2000 and went to the playoffs six straight times during that period.
Prior to joining Green Bay, Wolf worked two stints in the Raiders’ front office beginning in 1963 and was a part of another Super Bowl title during the 1983 season.
“I realize that none of this would be possible without an awful lot of support from a lot of other people,“ said Wolf in a statement.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced in August it would be adding a contributor category that would be separate from the candidate list of ex- players and coaches. The decision was made to address the lack of Hall of Fame members that were former commissioners, owners and general managers.
Over the HOF’s last 49 years of voting, only nine people who fall under the contributor label have received induction.
The Hall of Fame announced a preliminary list of 113 nominees for its 2015 class in September, with that group to be reduced to 25 semifinalists in November before 15 finalists will be voted upon in January.
► Nothin’ but Net: 2014-15 Season Preview Part 1
We are just days away from the start of yet another NBA campaign.
In one week, everyone starts off equal. It won’t take long for the herd to be thinned and the Sixers and Spurs to veer off in opposite directions.
It is now time for tradition. Let’s rank the top 30 teams, starting with - spoiler alert - the 76ers, and work our way to No. 1 (hint: it may not be San Antonio).
To further the drama, we shall spread the league over two days. First up, the non-playoff teams, although these do not represent the 14 worst teams in the league.
The Eastern Conference is once again top-heavy, but a little stronger overall than last season. The Western Conference is a clown car with 11 legitimate playoff contenders.
And away we go ...
30. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
When general manager Sam Hinkie started the rebuild plan, people looked at this season as a turning point. Nerlens Noel would be back after missing the entire 2013-14 campaign. Plus, they’d have two first-round picks coming in to bolster the roster. That would basically amount to three lottery picks arriving at the same time. Philly fans could get on board with that.
Joel Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick, will be sidelined most likely for the season with a broken foot. Dario Saric, acquired in a pretty shrewd draft- night trade, which also brought back the team’s first-round pick it gave away for Andrew Bynum, has two years at minimum left on a contract overseas.
So, to sum up, the Sixers will have nothing but second-round picks contributing this season with Noel and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, who, did I forget to mention, had shoulder surgery in May and will miss the start of the season.
The starting lineup opening night could be: Noel, Tony Wroten, Hollis Thompson, Luc Mbah a Mute and maybe Alexey Shved.
That’s right, this season’s Sixers will be worse than the one a season ago, a team so bad and embarrassing to the league the board of governors is going to change how the lottery works to avoid such obvious displays of tanking.
(I totally understand the board of governors going to these lengths. I also understand the Sixers being upset this change will occur in the middle of their rebuilding plan.)
At least last season’s Sixers featured three professionals in Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young. All are gone, replaced by barely serviceable NBA players.
This Sixers team will finish with the worst record in the league. Is the 1973 team’s 9-73 mark, the worst single-season NBA record of all time, in jeopardy? Probably not, but it’s almost impossible seeing them top last season’s 19 wins.
29. UTAH JAZZ
The Jazz also are in a rebuilding situation, but they have infinitely more talent than the Sixers. Their foundation consists of decent youngsters like Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Trey Burke and Derrick Favors. Throw in a pair of strong first-round prospects like Dante Exum and Rodney Hood, and the Jazz have the preliminary ingredients of a solid stew.
But those ingredients need to slow-cook in the Crock-Pot. Serve it too early, and you’ll give everyone food poisoning. This is not to say the Jazz will make you throw up this season, but they aren’t ready for serious consumption.
Quin Snyder is the new coach, but Utah is a ways away from anything meaningful.
Exum will have the largest spotlight shone on him among this crew. Not many knew much about his game other than Youtube highlights. I’m a fan, but it might be rough riding for the Aussie early. Hood is a good shooter. They should compete for solid minutes this season and the five other above- mentioned talents are a good starting point. However, this team doesn’t have a can’t-miss guy unless Exum flourishes early. It’s possible, but slow and steady Jazz fans.
28. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
It’s easy to forget that through all of the tanking debate last season, the Bucks finished with the worst record. Forget the Sixers, the Bucks were the largest dumpster fire in the NBA last season, so things changed in Milwaukee.
Jason Kidd was hired to be the head coach and I should have saved the phrase “dumpster fire” to describe his departure from the Brooklyn Nets and hiring by the Bucks.
Kidd staged a power play for more control in personnel in Brooklyn. Mikhail Prokhorov said “do svidaniya,“ so Kidd is now in charge of the Bucks.
But Larry Drew was already the coach of the Bucks, so Kidd took a job with a team that already had a coach. That would be two no-no’s Kidd committed in terms of being an employee and a member of the coaching fraternity.
Kidd started as a joke leading the Nets, then got better at the job. The situation is astronomically different in Milwaukee. Prokhorov spent billions to make the Nets contenders. The Bucks, who sold for half a billion less than a year ago, are working their way to respectability. The pressure will be lighter on Kidd.
The Bucks nabbed Jabari Parker with the second overall pick and have the most NBA-ready prospect from the draft. The favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year should score plenty, but will he get any help?
Giannis Antetokounmpo grew two inches and was playing some point. Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova can’t be worse than last season. This group could be fun to watch at least. Parker and Giannis (I’m not re-typing Antetokounmpo every time, grammar be damned) are an extraordinarily versatile set of building blocks.
27. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
One year ago at this time, I had the Wolves making the postseason. One year later, Kevin Love is a Cleveland Cavalier, Rick Adelman is retired and the Wolves are lottery-bound.
Minny made the correct move in flipping Love for Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the last two No. 1 overall picks. Love wasn’t staying in town, so Flip Saunders and Co. got a strong haul for him.
Jettisoning a top-seven player in the league will obviously set the team back. Wiggins and Bennett may not revitalize the Timberwolves immediately, but Wiggins will in time.
What makes the Wolves moderately interesting is that there is big-time scoring talent in the Land of Lakes (not the butter). Nikola Pekovic is an above- average center, Kevin Martin will score close to 20 points per game, Corey Brewer is still a capable wing and Ricky Rubio is ... flashy.
Wiggins’ development will take center stage, but this is a gigantic season for Rubio. He’s due a contract, wants a max one, should never get a max one, but probably will get a max one. Rubio took steps back last season and looked downright terrified to shoot the ball. He needs to display some more skills than solid defense and showy passes.
The Wolves have decent talent, but if they couldn’t make the postseason with Love, how will they without him in the loaded Western Conference? They won’t.
26. ORLANDO MAGIC
This group confuses me some.
There is a lot of quality young talent on this roster, some you know (Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo) and some you don’t (Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson, Moe Harkless).
The ones you don’t know are capable scorers, but Payton is different. The Magic gave the first-round pick the team got in the Bynum trade back to Philly to get this guy. They love him and they should. He’s going to be a relentless defender in the NBA even if he doesn’t score a point until Christmas. Pairing him in the backcourt with another great, athletic guard in Oladipo could make for some nightmares for the opposition.
Vucevic is a double-double machine. Harris’ career has flourished since leaving Milwaukee. Gordon is going to put on some shows of athletic insanity and his shooting has looked good in the preseason. Everyone else can be competent bench players.
Problem is, no one is an alpha dog and NBA teams need one. Payton might be that. He’s a great dark horse NBA Rookie of the Year candidate. Gordon could grow into it, but neither feels to me like the type of reliable star a team needs to thrive.
There’s a lot to like with the Magic, but not enough to get really excited. They need that mega-watt star.
25. SACRAMENTO KINGS
Trivia question: What was the only team in the NBA last season that had three players average at least 20 points per game? Obviously, since the header for this portion reads SACRAMENTO KINGS, it would be those eternally lottery-bound Kings.
That stat does not help this group one bit considering one of those three is now the backup point guard for the Phoenix Suns - Isaiah Thomas.
Another was Rudy Gay, the poster boy of hatred for the analytic crew.
The third was DeMarcus Cousins. He’s still there and I’m advocating a push to make him the starting center for the Western Conference All-Star team. He puts up gigantic numbers and I truly believe his experience with Coach K and Team USA this summer at the FIBA World Cup will do him wonders. He’s going to mature.
However, when a team essentially swaps Thomas for Darren Collison, who is, under no circumstances a starting point guard in this league, things decline.
Sacramento, for that simple reason, took steps backward in the offseason and that’s terrible when the team was terrible last season. Ben McLemore underwhelmed in his rookie season. Nik Stauskas was brought in to possibly replace him already.
Head coach Mike Malone appeared exasperated one day into training camp last season. He constantly threw his players under the bus to the media and can’t get them to play defense. The Kings finished in the bottom-third in the league last season in both opponents’ scoring and opponents’ field-goal percentage.
Throw in the fact that Gay is still going to chuck, they massive downgraded the point guard position and there isn’t a ton of talent anywhere else, the Kings might actually be worse than last season.
24. BOSTON CELTICS
There are a lot of great pieces in Beantown. Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Evan Turner, Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller are decent NBA players.
There is even quality balance to the C’s roster. Sullinger, Olynyk, Bass and Zeller comprise a nice interior nucleus. Turner, Bradley, Green and Gerald Wallace make for a handy wing group.
The point guard position is where things get interesting.
Rajon Rondo will start the season in street clothes and a sling after falling in the shower. When he returns, is he going to stay in Boston? He’s a free agent at the end of the season and trade rumors never die with Rondo. He has a reasonable deal and it would just be a rental since he’s free this summer.
Do the Celtics want to keep Rondo long-term? He’ll be 29 in February, but has injury history. Boston wants a huge haul in return for Rondo, which might be tough to get since it would be a rental, but Rondo does have value to a contender. Problem is, most of the best teams in the NBA have stud point guards.
Further compounding the drama around Rondo is that the Celtics drafted Marcus Smart in the first round. He’s going to be sensational and a great two-way player. Smart and Bradley could be one of the best defensive backcourts in the league.
Danny Ainge has a lot of decisions on his plate when it comes to Rondo. He’s done well stashing some quality young bigs. Smart and even James Young were nice draft choices. It’ll come down to what to do with Rondo.
23. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Kobe Bryant will be back. He’s going to score a lot again because he’s going to have a chip on his shoulder bigger than the Hollywood sign. ESPN ranked him as the 40th-best player in the league. No one has faith in the Lakers. Kobe is angry and will be determined.
It won’t matter. The Lakers are bad, especially on defense. There isn’t one player currently on the Lakers’ roster whom you could even generously describe as adequate defensively.
Byron Scott was brought in as head coach. He’s done a decent job in various stops but hasn’t had significant success in a long time. Plus, he’s more old school than beta max, which may not translate well into today’s game.
Mike D’Antoni led this team to the lottery and L.A. lost Pau Gasol to the Chicago Bulls. The new additions were Carlos Boozer (amnestied by those same Bulls and at the end of the rope), Jeremy Lin (still a decent playmaker and shooter), Ed Davis (big fan, actually) and Julius Randle (also, a big fan).
The rest of the roster is populated by Steve Nash, who, if Boozer is at the end, Nash is so far past the end he can’t see the end, and a hodge podge of journeymen who all had career seasons playing for D’Antoni. His offensive system along with an indifference to defense means he could get 10 points per game out of a ketchup bottle.
The Lakers will get a handful of wins thanks to Kobe’s sheer force of will, but this will probably be Bryant’s worst Lakers’ team.
22. INDIANA PACERS
The 2014-15 Indiana Pacers - from the penthouse to the outhouse. Print that on the season tickets.
Paul George’s freak leg injury and Lance Stephenson’s free-agent departure means this Pacers team is going to miss the postseason. Losing both of your best players, and, the only true playmakers on a team that struggled badly offensively means it’s lottery city in May.
The Pacers plan to play hard and not “tank.“ That’s fine and with veterans like David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill, a wonderful defensive-minded head coach in Frank Vogel and some interesting youngsters we haven’t seen much, so Indiana will show full commitment every game.
But the talent isn’t there to make any series noise. Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles were brought in to replace Stephenson collectively, now they have to replace both Stephenson and George. Not happening.
In fact, I’m a believer that this Pacers group as we know it is done being contenders. Therefore, I’m advocating trading West. He’s a proven winner and leader who is still effective at both ends of the floor. He should be mildly attractive to a contender.
If the Pacers can find fair value for Hibbert, they should explore that as well. Who knows who Hibbert is anymore. He looked great early in the regular season, but when the Pacers started to circle the drain in April, Hibbert’s game collapsed like a Jenga tower.
The offense, which was problematic under the best of circumstances last season, will now go through Hibbert and West, and that does nothing to soothe concerns.
Indy will be a team no one really wants to play with the defense and size, but talent is what wins and the Pacers have very little this season.
21. DETROIT PISTONS
This squad burned me badly in the past.
Two seasons ago, I named them the best bad team in basketball and last season, I picked them for the playoffs. The Pistons have not made the postseason in either of those instances, so I’m backing off the Detroit train.
The three-man big combo of Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond stunk. They can’t play together and it’s so obvious new head coach and franchise grand poobah Stan Van Gundy is toying with bringing Monroe off the bench.
That’s just a sample of the problems the Pistons face this season.
Monroe signed about 25 minutes ago. He gambled on himself, signing a one-year contract that will send him into unrestricted free agency in the summer.
There were rumblings from Grantland’s Zach Lowe that Monroe doesn’t want to be with the Pistons if Smith is there. Monroe denied and good thing because Smith’s contract makes him virtually untradable unless the Kings lose their minds once again like they did with Gay.
Brandon Jennings is a shoot-first point guard, so there will be clashes with that. Jodie Meeks was signed as a free agent and his back is broken. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who could really emerge in his second season, is also hurt. There is almost depth up front if Van Gundy keeps that big-man trio together.
But there is some reason for optimism in Motown. Drummond is turning into one of the game’s elite centers and his time in Barcelona with Team USA will help. Like Cousins, Drummond should’ve learned something about winning and professionalism with the game’s best this summer.
Drummond is great on the interior, but Van Gundy needs to find the best lineup for this team to win some games. If that’s Smith at the power forward and Monroe on the bench, so be it.
Van Gundy is a great coach. He’s feather-ruffler so making the tough call on Monroe or Smith will be easy for him. (It also might be easy because Monroe seemingly has no, nor does he want, a future in Detroit.) The Pistons will be better, but not playoff better.
20. NEW YORK KNICKS
Phil Jackson’s offseason was hard to describe.
There was good. Getting Carmelo Anthony locked into a long-term max contract before the salary cap explodes in two summers was good. Acquiring Jose Calderon was good. Drafting Cleanthony Early was good. Quincy Acy has been good.
There was bad. Jackson was publicly spurned by his first coaching choice, Steve Kerr. He settled on Derek Fisher, but at least the triangle is back en vogue (not the R&B female trio).
The Knicks should be in the mix for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but this team has some of the same flaws it exhibited in missing the postseason in 2013-14.
Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith are the primary big men in the rotation. That’s not great, but the best news about the 2014-15 Knicks is what lies ahead.
Assuming the team doesn’t bring back Stoudemire or Bargnani, that’s a ton of cash available this summer. Do any free agents want to sign long term in the summer of 2015 if the cap goes up to $80-$90 million in the summer of 2016? Maybe not, but the Knicks will be flush with cash. It’s still a desirable location. It’s New York City for goodness sake. The Zen Master is there. Melo, too.
If everything broke well, the Knicks could secure the eighth playoff spot in the East. If not, no biggie, there’s a lot to look forward to in Madison Square Garden.
19. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Last season, the Pelicans made the moves to make the playoffs. Trades, signings, you name it, they tried.
Their best group - Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis - played a combined 259 games of a possible 410. That’s where the Pelicans’ season went down.
All are expected back. Holiday and Anderson missed the most time. Anderson was having a great season, averaging almost 20 points per game until he severely injured his back/neck.
Is that fivesome playoff-worthy? Probably not in the Western Conference, but definitely in the Eastern Conference. This all comes with the caveat that everyone must stay healthy.
The Pelicans had one more big move in them this summer - the acquisition of Omer Asik. Once Dwight Howard landed in Houston, the Rockets couldn’t make the two fit, so Asik will man the center spot, which moves Davis to the power forward. That will be better for the Unibrow in the long run, avoiding some of the battle scars of banging with bigger, stronger pivot men.
And this season will be a huge one for Davis. He was, at times, amazing in the World Cup. Most believe Davis will improve on last season when he made his first All-Star team and averaged 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots per game, the latter which led the league.
Holiday is one season removed from an All-Star berth. Anderson was unconscious before getting hurt. Davis will probably get some MVP votes this season. That leaves it up to Gordon and Evans. That should scare Pelicans’ brass some. Also, there’s not a ton of depth in New Orleans, so any injury will derail the playoff push once again.
18. DENVER NUGGETS
Here is my pick for team with the biggest win improvement total from last season. In Brian Shaw’s first season at the helm, the Nuggets went 36-46. Shaw fought with Andre Miller, JaVale McGee got hurt early, same goes for Nate Robinson and the campaign hit the skids quick.
Also, Danilo Gallinari missed the entire season with a knee injury. During the 2012-13 season, where George Karl guided the team to a third seed in the West, Gallinari averaged 16.2 points per game, which was second on the team.
The team brought back Arron Afflalo after two seasons in Orlando. They only gave up Evan Fournier and got back an 18.2-point scorer last season with the Magic.
Then, there’s Kenneth Faried. He should’ve been the MVP of the World Cup for Team USA. He’s armed with a new contract and should be overflowing with confidence.
Denver even had a nice draft night getting
And we save the bombshell for last ...Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic. This roster is deep. If the two rookies get minutes, Shaw could go 12 deep. And, Shaw, like the ratings for “Cheers,“ will be better in season two.
The Nuggets would be a playoff team out East, but the West is just too strong.
17. HOUSTON ROCKETS
The Rockets won a lot of regular-season games last season, but never clicked. They got bounced quickly from the playoffs despite home-court advantage and things didn’t get better in Houston in the offseason.
Once LeBron James signed with the Cavaliers, most thought Chris Bosh would head to the Rockets to be the stretch four they desperately needed. He stayed with Miami for crazy money.
Then Chandler Parsons scooted across the state to the Dallas Mavericks. Hard to say the Rockets erred in not matching Parsons’ offer sheet from the Mavs, but either way, he’s gone.
The Rockets have two mega-stars in Dwight Howard and James Harden. Trevor Ariza was a nice replacement for Parsons. He actually plays defense. So, too, does Patrick Beverley, the starting point guard in Houston. Terrence Jones is the other starter.
That’s not a wonderful group surrounding the stars. I’m pro-Ariza in a big way, but the real issue in Houston is the lack of depth. They acquired Jason Terry, who hasn’t had a good season since 2011-12 and, at 37, improvement doesn’t always come with age.
And there seems to be a disconnect between Harden and Howard. It worked last season, but the scoring won’t be the same without Harden, Lin and Asik. Defense should improve in Houston, but I worry about this team.
Only eight squads a conference make the playoffs. There are 11 contenders in the West and for most of the offseason, I had the same eight that made it last season. I do feel like the Rockets will take a step backward and in the ultra-competitve Western Conference, that means missing the playoffs. Kevin McHale is on the hottest seat in the league.
The Rockets don’t work for me.
Until Wednesday, when the 16 playoff teams are ranked. Again, it’s not the best 16 teams in the NBA, but it’s who is going to the postseason. ~~ Jim Brighters ~~
► Bulls G Butler has sprained thumb
Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler has a sprained thumb and will miss Friday’s preseason finale against Minnesota, the team said Tuesday.
Butler suffered the left thumb injury on Sunday against Charlotte and sat out Monday’s game against Cleveland.
The 2011 first-round pick will be re-evaluated after Friday’s game.
The Bulls open the regular season on October 29 in New York.
|THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2014|
|National Football League|
|San Diego at Denver, 8:25 PM - CBS, NFL Network|
|Major League Baseball - World Series|
|No games scheduled|
|National Hockey League|
|NY Islanders at Boston, 7:00 PM - MSG+, NESN, DSS|
|Pittsburgh at Detroit, 7:30 PM - ROOT-Pittsburgh, FS-Detroit, DSS|
|Arizona at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - FS-Arizona, North, DSS|
|Vancouver at St. Louis, 8:00 PM - SN-Vancouver, FS-Midwest, NHL Network, DSS|
|Chicago at Nashville, 8:00 PM - CSN-Chicago, FS-Tennessee, DSS|
|Carolina at Calgary, 9:00 PM - SportSouth, SNET-Flames, DSS|
|Columbus at San Jose, 10:30 PM - FS-Ohio, CSN-California, DSS|
|Buffalo at Los Angeles, 10:30 PM - MSG-Buffalo, FS-West, DSS|
|Connecticut at East Carolina, 7:00 PM - ESPN U|
|Miami-Florida at Virginia Tech, 8:00 PM - ESPN|
|Lille vs. Everton, 1:00 PM - FS1|
|Tottenham vs. Asteras Tripolis, 3:00 PM - FS1|
|PGA - McGladrey Classic, 2:00 PM - Golf Channel|
|AMATEUR - Asia-Pacific Amateur, 11:30 PM - ESPN 2|
|LPGA - Blue Bay LPGA, 11:30 PM - Golf Channel|