There's desperation in the air. Illinois running back Mikel LeShoure is suddenly a hot commodity. Our reader questions contain more capital letters and exclamation points than usual. And fantasy teams that once appeared locks for the playoffs are now staring at collapses that would make the Detroit Tigers proud. And it's not even November yet.
By the time we turn back the clocks early Sunday morning we'll have nine weeks down in the college fantasy football season of 2009. And I can't remember a fantasy season that has been more of a battle royale than this one. Suspensions and injuries to some of the nation's most dynamic offensive performers have made this campaign a war of attrition. Some years it seems you can draft a squad, put it on autopilot and enjoy the ride. This year turning on autopilot will leave you 150 miles past the runway and on the outside looking in.
With all of the top-flight talent that has missed considerable time this season: Blount, Gronkowski, Gresham, Bryant, Bradford, Floyd and others, it's been a race to the waiver wire. And as mentioned about 150 words ago...it's not even November yet.
So with ever-thinning rosters in mind, each position this week will include a start that could be deemed a longshot special. After all, owners are rolling out some pretty creative lineups to make it through these trying times. I know some of you are starting guys that weren't even on your radar on that warm August evening when the boys gathered to build their juggernauts.
It's the unpredictability that initially led to my college fantasy football depravity. And this year I'm just a little more depraved than usual.
A wee bit of redemption last week. The starts at each position outscored the sits at each, highlighted by nice performances from Terrelle Pryor, Shane Vereen and Antonio Brown. Admittedly I predicted off weeks for Jerrod Johnson and Jacquizz Rodgers, and both performed well.
However I'm still calling it a full-blown comeback.
I've escaped from the prison that was weekly poor start and sit selections.
Rusty Smith, Florida Atlantic vs. Middle Tennessee State
Middle Tennessee State isn't horrible defensively, ranking 42nd against the pass and 69th in total defense. But this isn't about MTSU; this is about Rusty Smith baby!
In the last two weeks Rusty has thrown for seven touchdowns and not one pick. Hell, he's even run one in while posting 38 and 39 points in back-to-back weeks. With this recent run I've moved the Florida Atlantic quarterback up to third on my rankings of all-time Rusty's, behind only Rusty Wallace and former ballplayer Rusty Greer. He's moved past Rusty Griswold.
There's no way he's slowing down now.
Landry Jones, Oklahoma vs. Kansas State
Jones and the Sooners return home after two games played outside of Norman, and they welcome the surprising Kansas State Wildcats to town. K-State is 74th against the pass, and they've won three of their first four conference games. It's time for a little reality check.
Jones is getting more comfortable each time out, and he's ready to feast a little bit.
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa vs. Indiana
Buoyed by his game-winning pass in East Lansing last Saturday night, I'm looking for Mr. Stanzi to puff out his chest a little bit against the Hoosiers, a team that currently ranks 101st against the pass. The Iowa running game is hurting after that bone-crunching outing against the Spartans, and the Hawkeyes will want to get those upset thoughts out of Indiana's head right away.
Longshot Specials: Cody Green, Nebraska at Baylor and Jeff Tuel, Washington State vs. Notre Dame
The Huskers just lost at home to Iowa State by a score of 9-7. Do they have much to lose by giving their quarterback of the future a shot?
And for as bad as the Cougars are against the pass, the Irish aren't much better. Washington State is traveling to San Antonio to play against Notre Dame on national television on Saturday night. What have they got to lose? Wing it and wing it some more.
Josh Nesbitt, Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt
Would you believe that Nesbitt has more 2009 fantasy points than Jimmy Clausen, Tim Tebow, Ryan Mallett and Zac Robinson? Well believe it buddy.
However he slows down this week. While Vandy hasn't been very impressive against the run, they are ranked 34th nationally in total defense. And they've played their fair share of physical teams. Granted they haven't seen an offense comparable to the Yellow Jackets, but they'll get it done. Or at least slow Nesbitt down.
Zac Robinson, Oklahoma State vs. Texas
Robinson has been very impressive as he's kept the Cowboys' season alive without his top two playmakers in the lineup. And yep, you can bet that Boone Pickens Stadium will be rocking something fierce on Saturday night. But the Longhorn defense will know how to handle a raucous crowd...and an offensive unit that cannot possibly continue to get the job done without the likes of Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant.
Joey Elliott, Purdue at Wisconsin
Elliott has exceeded all expectations this season. He's scored 17 touchdowns on the year, and he's led his Boilers to consecutive wins, with one over the Buckeyes. However now he ventures to Madison.
I was recently in Madison, and it's a nice town...as long as you're not wearing the opponents' colors. Midway through the first quarter the students begin to arrive, the place gets loud, and the same old-timers that were buying you beers the night before suddenly begin screaming obscenities at your wife.
Eventually all hell breaks loose on the field, and the people in red head back to the bar.
Michael Smith, Arkansas vs. Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan's coming to town, so it's time to pick an opponent's player to go off. And today the wheel of good fantasy fortune stops on Mr. Smith. Thanks to injury woes Smith is usually as reliable as a campaign promise. But this is Eastern for goodness sakes. They played before a home crowd of 1,535 people last week.
Smith returned from injury last week, though he saw limited carries against Ole Miss. This week he's likely been doing back flips to prove he's healthy enough to run against this hapless bunch.
Lance Dunbar, North Texas vs. Western Kentucky
Guess who is just above Eastern Michigan in rush defense? Western Kentucky. And guess who has posted fantasy totals of 45, 42 and 38 over the last three weeks? Lance Dunbar.
This one is a little too easy.
Jacquise Terry , Kent State vs. Western Michigan
At one point this sophomore was expected to play wide receiver for the Golden Flashes. Now he's coming off a 31-carry outing against Ohio last week, and he'll be facing a Bronco defense that is allowing 185 yards on the ground per game.
Terry isn't Eugene Jarvis, but against Western Michigan he doesn't need to be.
Longshot Specials: Edwin Baker, Michigan State at Minnesota and Mikel LeShoure, Illinois vs. Michigan
Baker received his indoctrination to Big Ten football in last week's clash against Iowa, and he ran very well. At one point Baker was planning on redshirting, and then a key injury struck and now the freshie is expecting to play a big role. He and Larry Caper will lead the Spartan ground attack Saturday night, and owners desperate for a flyer at tailback can do much worse.
I'll credit my colleague Michael Turner with the LeShoure mention. He's emerging as the #1 back in Champaign, and Michigan is nothing special on the defensive side of the ball.
Jahvid Best, Cal at Arizona State
I've been burned plenty of times while advising owners to sit star tailbacks. However just like I still touch the fajita skillet despite the server's warnings, I am going to continue to advise sitting star backs when the chance for struggles presents itself.
Three factors at play:
1. Arizona State is a top defense against the run.
2. The game is on the road.
3. Cal can't keep Shane Vereen off the field.
Daniel Thomas, Kansas State at Oklahoma
Thomas has exceeded everyone's wildest expectations. The JUCO, who was recruited to play a little quarterback, has run for 814 yards and scored nine times from the tailback spot. And he's only two weeks removed from a Gettysburg performance (four score...get it?) against Texas A&M.
Alas, Oklahoma is not Texas A&M.
Look for the Sooners to smother Thomas and make Kansas State pass to win. And that won't be good.
Ralph Bolden, Purdue at Wisconsin
See Elliott, Joey.
Golden Tate, Notre Dame vs. Washington State
Golden Tate doesn't run in the open field. He gallivants through secondaries on his way to the endzone. He's gone for 52-847-8 though the air, and now he faces the worst pass defense among BCS schools. The only opponent whom he may match up better against would be his own team's secondary.
DeVier Posey, Ohio State vs. New Mexico State
I know you're thinking I'm a day late and a dollar short on this one. After all Posey blew up in last week's win over Minnesota. And it's hard to pin hopes on a Buckeye receiver having two great games in a row during the 2009 campaign. But with New Mexico State on tap before the stretch run, look for Sloopy to aim to keep Terrelle Pryor's confidence sky high.
After this weekend the Buckeyes travel to Penn State, welcome Iowa and then travel to play that school "to the north." And Pryor and Posey will be feeling pretty good heading into these final three games.
Chris Bonner, Florida Atlantic vs. Middle Tennessee State
Like Posey, I'm going to ride the hot hand with Bonner. The FAU senior has eight balls for 268 yards and three scores in the past two weeks. He's emerging as Rusty's favorite target, and he'll stay hot this weekend.
Longshot specials: Riley Cooper, Florida vs. Georgia and John Chiles, Texas at Oklahoma State
Both of these are hunches more than anything. The Gators will need to open it up to score against Georgia, and Tebow should look for his go-to guy early and often.
Chiles is coming off a touchdown against Missouri, and one would believe he's enjoying greater comfort as a receiver with each passing week.
Tandon Doss, Indiana at Iowa
Doss has been one of the surprise receivers of the Big Ten season. But this week he and Ben Chappell will face a passing game's worst nightmare: a defense that can get serious and consistent pressure on the quarterback without blitzing.
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina at Tennessee
Call this a Monte Kiffin play. Sure he's one of the greatest minds to ever coach defense, but he hadn't been a college coach since the early 80's, so I was a doubting Thomas. Consider me convinced.
Of course the interesting aspect about this matchup is the fact that Jeffery was the famous "gas-pumping" recruit whom Lane Kiffin said should avoid South Carolina. And this has received considerable play this week. Once the game starts all this talk just won't matter.
A.J. Green, Georgia vs. Florida
Georgia's inability to run the ball means that the Gators can devote considerable resources to stop the Bulldogs' only serious offensive weapon.
A few other gut feelings
Normally I mention a few tight ends and defensive units worth starting here. This week I'll just let allow the rankings to speak for themselves while getting in a few parting shots.
1. Colorado bounces back from the loss to Kansas State and smokes Missouri. Look for Rodney Stewart to have a nice week.
2. Colin Kaepernick's over/under on touchdowns against Hawaii this week is four. I'm liking the over.
3. Penn State will be in an ugly, low-scoring contest at Northwestern. They may even lose the game.