The Big Ten has 10 teams in bowl games. That’s good! Take that, all you haters who said the league was down this year.
But, um, all 10 of the teams are underdogs. Yes, that’s right. None of them are favored in the betting line to win. They’re all somewhere between 3 and 13.5 point underdogs.
Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette breaks it down here, and notes that, “This is kind of incredible.” He does, though, predict four Big Ten bowl victories. He is correct in noting that 8 of the 10 spreads are less than a touchdown, so it’s not as though blowouts are predicted.
That said, not a single favorite? That hurts. The Gophers, by the way, are 6-point underdogs against Missouri of the SEC.
There had been some chatter in recent days that the Twins were interested in bringing back Francisco Liriano in an attempt to bolster their pitching staff. Liriano, of course, had some good times (and bad times) in Minnesota but won 23 games with a 3.20 ERA in two seasons with the Pirates and found himself to be a commodity in free agency this year.
But according to this report, Liriano is returning to the Pirates on a three-year, $39 million deal.
Speculation from LEN3 was that Liriano was seeking and would get a deal worth between $10 million and $12 million per season, so he clearly did well with that contract with Pittsburgh. And it was probably more money and a longer term than the Twins were interested in giving him.
But still: cross him off the list.
Teddy Bridgewater is up for his second straight NFL Rookie of the Week award.
The Vikings quarterback completed 19 of his 27 attempts for 309 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s win against the Jets. His performance was highlighted by his 87-yard game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Jarius Wright in overtime.
Bridgewater is one of the five rookies who are nominated for the weekly award. The others are Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, Giants running back Andre Williams, Panthers cornerback Bene Benwikere and Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
You can vote for Bridgewater here.
Bridgewater won the award last week for tossing a pair of touchdown passes in a win against the Panthers. He was also named the NFL’s top rookie after beating the Falcons back in Week 4.
Bridgewater and the Vikings are also up for another award for their overtime heroics. They have been nominated for the Never Say Never Moment of the Week award. So there’s that, too.
Another week, another Gophers men’s basketball player is off the team. At this rate, coach Richard Pitino is going to have to put out a help wanted ad (or tweet) by the start of the Big Ten season — or inquire to see if he, himself, has any eligibility left.
On Monday, freshman Josh Martin abruptly announced he was leaving the team, effective immediately. Having met Martin only once — during the team’s media day — we found him to be engaging and confident, which when you don’t play much can translate into impulsiveness.
As Amelia Rayno wrote, the Gophers are now short four players (three who could have played this season) from what they thought they would have:
The drama started just before the start of the regular season, when Illinois State transfer Zach Lofton — who would have redshirted this year — was kicked off the team for failing to meet its “expectations and obligations.” Then, two weeks ago, sophomore guard Daquein McNeil was arrested on two counts of felony assault and subsequently suspended. Counting the absence of international freshman big Gaston Diedhiou — who was denied admission in late August — the Gophers are short four expected teammates.
Gophers players are saying all the right things at this point, which is at least one good sign. DeAndre Mathieu said the Gophers are going to “stick together and continue to fight.” Joey King said, “We’re fired up about who we have in this locker room.”
King noted, though, that the outside perception might be that there are problems. That perception, along with a simple numbers crunch with just nine active scholarship players on the roster, will combine to give Pitino the toughest test of his brief Minnesota tenure.
He came in with modest expectations a year ago and worked to positive reviews by leading the Gophers within a win or two of an NCAA berth and eventually to an NIT title. Expectations this year were higher. Teams who win the NIT and return two talented senior guards (Mathieu and Andre Hollins) are generally positioned to not just reach the NCAA tournament but perhaps also make some noise once they get there.
That helps recruiting. That helps build a program for the long run. When you lose players in the manner the Gophers have lost them, however, it can harm long-term growth in two ways. First, the chance for immediate success is diminished. Second, the outside perception of the team can hurt recruiting. Opposing coaches use it as fodder against you. A fan base — fair or not, regardless of circumstances — starts to wonder what kinds of players are in the program if problems keep cropping up.
That doesn’t have to happen, of course. Pitino’s Gophers haven’t lost an irreplaceable player — yet. They still have plenty of talent and character to make the NCAA tournament and keep building the program. But Pitino and his players will have to battle depth and perception issues to make it happen, and how they pull through could have a hand in how the future plays out.
Each week, beat guy Matt Vensel will highlight five Vikings stats that really mean something.
158.3 — quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s passer rating when not pressured Sunday.
Bridgewater was pressured on 15 of his 32 dropbacks Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus. But when the Vikings were able to give him time in the pocket, he picked apart the Jets. Bridgewater completed 14 of his 16 attempts when he wasn’t pressured for 225 yards and two touchdowns. That gave him a perfect passer rating on those plays. Of course, his numbers were inflated by the quick-hitting, game-winning screen play to wide receiver Jarius Wright in overtime, but those numbers provide more proof — if you need such a thing — about the importance of pass protection.
eight — the most yards running back Matt Asiata has gained on a run since Week 7.
This season, 45 running backs have gotten at least 70 carries. But Asiata is the only one of the group who has not had a run of 15-plus yards. He hasn’t run for a gain of more than 10 yards since the Week 7 loss to the Bills. Asiata has averaged just 2.75 yards per carry since Jerick McKinnon took over the starting job in Week 6, but the Vikings have still given him 33 carries the past two weeks. Head coach Mike Zimmer said yesterday he would like to see more of Ben Tate and Joe Banyard, and that makes sense, as Asiata’s lack of explosiveness may be holding the offense back.
349 — yards in coverage allowed by cornerback Josh Robinson since the bye week.
Robinson played pretty well for the Vikings before the bye week, but that rough game against the Bears in Week 11 seems to have put his season in a downward spiral. In that game, Robinson allowed 11 receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. In the following three weeks, he has allowed 13 catches for 210 yards and two more touchdowns. That includes five receptions against the Jets for 94 yards and that long Percy Harvin touchdown. Since the Vikings’ bye week, opposing quarterbacks have a 130.6 passer rating when targeting Robinson.
three– sacks for safety Harrison Smith, tied for the most among NFL defensive backs.
Smith had another sack Sunday, blitzing off the edge to bring down Jets quarterback Geno Smith in the first quarter. With three sacks on the season, Harrison Smith is tied for the NFL lead among defensive backs. And one more sack will tie him with Robert Griffith for the single-season franchise mark (Griffith had four sacks in 1999). Smith ranks fourth among NFL defensive backs with nine total quarterback pressures this season in just 30 snaps as a blitzer, according to PFF.
four — comeback victories for Bridgewater this season after Sunday’s OT thriller.
While Sunday’s comeback win wasn’t as impressive as his others — the so-called comeback came in the first quarter, after the Vikings fell behind, 9-7 — it was Bridgewater’s fourth of 2014, putting him in with some pretty impressive company. Bridgewater is now tied for the single-season team record with four, even with Daunte Culpepper (twice), Tommy Kramer (twice), Brad Johnson (twice), Warren Moon and Jeff George. The rookie has three weeks to claim the record for himself.