This article is part of our Start vs. Sit series.
It's Week 10, there's a November chill in the air, and people are having conniption fits over the first College Football Playoff rankings. I love this time of year. Seriously, A&M at 4? Oh well, sorry Aggie Land. One thing we know is that the rankings landscape is going to be turned on its head in the coming weeks with upsets and meltdowns all across the country and I for one cannot wait. Let the chaos begin.
Oh, and for fantasy purposes, there are tons of great matchups to target this week and plenty to avoid. That's something that remains a constant, and that's why we have the Start/Sit article every week. Without further ado…you know the drill
PLAYERS TO START
Will Worth, QB, Navy (@ Notre Dame): Teams that go run-heavy have had plenty of success against Notre Dame's defense this season, and Navy is about as run-heavy an offense as you're going to see. With that, the Irish are going to be seeing a heavy dosage of Worth, who has accounted for 330 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in the last two weeks. He's even been able to tack on three passing touchdowns and 384 yards passing in that stretch, making him a certifiable yardage and touchdown machine. In fairness, Notre Dame has been having more success against the run of late since defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's firing, highlighted by last week's contest in which the Irish held Miami to 18 yards and made my Mark Walton pick look stupid in the process. If trying my luck against the Irish yet again after last week seems foolish, then so be it. Worth is the engine to the Midshipmen offense and he has shown an ability to move the ball through the air, which means Notre Dame won't be able to completely sell out against the run Saturday.
James Conner, RB, Pitt (@ Miami): Miami started the year with one of the scariest run defenses in the nation, allowing 1.70 yards per carry and one rushing touchdown in September to give the 'Canes some Cinderella buzz. However, when the calendar turned to October, the defense turned into a pumpkin, reminding many of the sloppy Al Golden era rather than a team on its way back to prominence. Miami allowed just under 200 yards per game (and a 4.7 YPC) over five October contests, highlighted by a 251-yard drubbing on the road at Virginia Tech. Well, here comes Conner, who is well-rested after carving up the Hokies for 141 yards and three scores on just 19 carries last Thursday. Pitt will continue to ride Conner and the run game in lieu of putting too much on quarterback Nathan Peterman's shoulders, and that will be the most effective way to attack a backsliding Miami defense. Look for Conner to push for upwards of 20 carries in what should be a highly productive day for the senior running back.
Shelton Gibson, WR, West Virginia (vs. Kansas): The Mountaineers know they're a long shot to make the playoff after last week's loss in Stillwater, but if they're going to try to make a push, they'll have to start by boat racing Kansas. Gibson, West Virginia's most explosive receiver with a 19.8 yards/catch, should be a big factor Saturday. Kansas has been extremely prone to the big play this season, giving up 45 plays of 20 or more yards (and 23 for at least 30 yards). It's not difficult to pick a player going against Kansas, but this is a case where it's feasible to expect a receiver like Gibson to get behind the defense for several huge gains.
Rodney Smith, RB, Minnesota (vs. Purdue): It's taken a while to convince me that Smith would be Minnesota's lead back over Shannon Brooks, but that looks to be the case as Smith has averaged 20 carries for 118.3 yards over the last three weeks while Brooks' workload took a nosedive to 12 carries a week ago. However, the beauty of the Minnesota backfield is that Brooks could push for 20 carries in a given week without affecting Smith's workload. Minnesota is built to run the ball and it has two highly capable backs. This week would be a prime week for both of them to feast against a Purdue run defense that's in the same neighborhood as Hawai'i and Rutgers when it comes to stopping the ball. Look for Smith to tear off several big runs and extend his 100-yard and touchdown streaks to four games Saturday. Bonus Pick: Michigan State is a train wreck, but L.J. Scott has been a workhorse lately with 42 carries for 267 yards and two scores in his last two games. Pick him up and start him this week against Illinois.
Allenzae Staggers, WR, Southern Miss (vs. Charlotte): Staggers is averaging a solid 4.5 receptions per game. Did I sell you on starting him yet? Wait, I meant to say he's up to 688 yards on the season, which averages out to a staggering 19.1 yards per reception. He has more than twice as many yards as Southern Miss' second-leading receiver, D.J. Thompson, on just five more catches. That's not a dig at Thompson so much as it's praise for Staggers, who looks to be the heir apparent to former Southern Miss stud receiver Mike Thomas. This week Staggers gets to tee off against a Charlotte defense that ranks near the bottom in nearly every relevant pass-defense metric. Deploy Staggers with confidence this week and don't be surprised if he's one of your bigger producers Saturday.
Dorian Brown, RB, Ohio (vs. Buffalo): I had to exclude four teams from my MAC player pool due to the Tuesday night MACtion that features Bowling Green, NIU, Western Michigan, and Ball State, but that's not to bemoan the midweek miracle that is MACtion. Brown is coming off of the biggest game of his career, ripping off 212 yards and a touchdown in a surprising win over Toledo last week. Unlike the other MAC running back I'll mention later, Brown draws an extremely favorable matchup this week. He'll be at home against Buffalo, which is one of a handful of teams that's allowing more than five yards per carry this season, and the Bulls have also given up a whopping 22 touchdowns on the ground. To me, this is one of the easier calls in the MAC this week, along with Kareem Hunt going against Akron.
Teriyon Gipson, RB, New Mexico (vs. Nevada): Although Gipson sees slightly less work out of the backfield compared to his counterpart, Tyrone Owens, he's still a threat to tear off the big play. He's averaging a whopping 10.7 yards per carry and he's coming off a game against Hawai'i in which he received a season-high 17 carries. Gipson generally sees closer to 11 carries per game, but he can do serious damage with that kind of workload Saturday against a porous Nevada defense. Nevada has one of the worst run defenses in the nation, allowing 5.5 yards per carry and giving up 19 touchdowns on the ground. Meanwhile, New Mexico ranks sixth in rushes per game. Nevada should be dreading this matchup, and Gipson and company should be licking their chops.
Sam Darnold, QB, USC (vs. Oregon): This isn't the most off-the-wall pick I've made, but have you SEEN Darnold play yet? Everyone, myself included, pretty much left USC for dead after Week 1. Since Darnold took over at QB, USC has lost just once, and that was in his first start on the road on a Friday night at Utah. In October, Darnold completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 1,176 yards with 16 touchdowns and just two picks over four games. He also ran for 96 yards and a score. Does Oregon's defense slow Darnold and the Trojans down in the Coliseum? Nah. For a more under-the-radar starting candidate, I'd go with Colorado RB Phillip Lindsay against UCLA.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (vs. Alabama): To me, Fournette vs. Bama is the ultimate start/sit conundrum. I've been looking forward to writing this blurb and watching this matchup for some time now. We saw what happened last year when Fournette's full-steam-ahead Heisman train was derailed in Tuscaloosa while Alabama's Derrick Henry blasted ahead by running for 210 yards and three scores in the same game. We saw what happened earlier this season when Fournette tried to fight through a high-ankle sprain and leg bruise only to struggle and ultimately miss a handful of games. However, we also saw what Fournette did to Ole Miss, when he shredded the Rebs for 284 yards and three scores on sixteen carries. To be clear, no one will ever do that to a Nick Saban-coached team, especially coming off a bye, but that Ole Miss game reminded the country that Fournette is back, and with Saturday's game being played in Death Valley, I think the good juju is in Fournette's favor as he gets one last chance at revenge on Alabama before he (presumably) bolts for the NFL. Again, he's not going to torch Bama for 300 yards, but Fournette should stick in your lineup this week because when he's at 100 percent, there might not be a more dangerous running back in the country.
Justice Hansen, QB, Arkansas State (@ Georgia State): Hansen is coming off his best game of the season, throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns and adding another score on the ground. Yes, that was against a lowly Louisiana-Monroe team, but let's face it, Georgia State isn't a whole lot better. The Panthers do have decent pass-defense numbers, but they're not quite intimidating enough to prevent you from starting Hansen, who is starting to find his rhythm as Arkansas State's quarterback.
PLAYERS TO SIT
Riley Ferguson, QB, Memphis (@ SMU): The Mustangs looked to be on their way to another disappointing season, but wins against Houston and Tulane in back-to-back weeks have given the Ponies some momentum. Part of that resurgence has come from the secondary, which has actually been a consistent force throughout the year. The hard-hitting and opportunistic SMU secondary has given up 13 touchdowns in eight games while picking off 14 passes. That sort of defense could give Ferguson fits Saturday, especially on the road, where he has a TD:INT ratio of 3:4. Ferguson has been able to throw for 300 yards in back-to-back games, but he is coming off a two-interception game against Tulsa and he's thrown eight interceptions through eight games this season. With Memphis starting to reel and the Mustangs picking up steam, this could be a long week on the road for Ferguson.
Taquan Mizzell, RB, Virginia (@ Wake Forest): Mizzell is one of the best pass-catching backs in the nation with 36 grabs for 255 yards and a touchdown this season, although he's well behind his 2015 pace (75 catches and 721 yards). He's been more effective as a runner this year though, bumping up his YPC over a full yard to 5.1. He draws a tough matchup Saturday against a stout Wake Forest defense that's been the backbone behind the Demon Deacons' 5-3 start to the year. Wake Forest is holding opposing runners to just 3.4 yards per carry and even held Dalvin Cook to a pedestrian day by his standards (25 carries for 115 yards). Mizzell will likely still see close to 20 touches Saturday, but Wake Forest should be able to hold him well under his season averages in terms of yardage and he is always a risk to get a touchdown vultured by goal-line back Albert Reid.
KaVontae Turpin, WR, TCU (@ Baylor): I hate to bench a guy like Turpin when the reasons behind the decision are beyond his control, but TCU is simply too big a mess to bother with right now. Turpin returned to action Saturday after missing four games with a PCL injury and it was supposed to be a favorable matchup for the Horned Frogs, but it turned into a slog for both offenses, which led to thousands of screenshots of the score flooding Twitter with writers adding their own shocked commentary. Turpin had a muted return, catching four passes for 39 yards and seeing just one carry out of the backfield. His primary role is as a receiver, and that's an issue at the moment as coach Gary Patterson seems to be having a crisis with his signal callers, stating Tuesday that he intends to play both Kenny Hill and Foster Sawyer against the Bears. TCU seems to be doing its damndest to be the Big 12 version of Michigan State (longtime QB leaves, supposedly good defense doesn't show up, etc.) this year, and that means you should steer clear if at all possible.
Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa (@ Penn State): Reports surfaced Tuesday that Iowa has been working Wadley out in the slot during the team's bye week and intends to use him there a bit Saturday. It makes sense in theory given that Iowa's passing game has been so terrible since Matt VandeBerg was lost for the season with a broken foot. Wadley is Iowa's most explosive playmaker, and using him at receiver to get him the ball in space is a totally logical move, but I'm just not convinced that it pays immediate dividends. Not after one week of prep. Not on the road. Not against Penn State. Plus, his move out to wideout negates any chance he had at getting a red-zone carry. As a major Wadley fan, I weep for his fantasy value.
Alex Gardner, RB, FIU (@ Western Kentucky): Gardner has been a more-than-serviceable lead back for the Golden Panthers this season, racking up 733 yards and averaging 4.9 yards/carry. However, this week he's going up against the stingiest run defense in the conference. The Hilltoppers are giving up 108.9 yards per game on the ground and holding opponents to 3.1 yards/carry. This spells trouble for Gardner, who does his best work close to the goal line (all four of his touchdowns have come in the red zone). Western Kentucky will likely be able to not only stop the run, but build a sizeable lead of its own, which will in turn make Gardner even less of a factor Saturday.
Jordan Johnson, RB, Buffalo (@ Ohio): Johnson is coming off an unbelievable game in Buffalo's upset over Akron, taking 24 carries for 282 yards and two scores, but there are some potential pitfalls here, however. Last week marked Johnson's highest workload of the season and it was just the third game in which he reached the end zone. He had bad outings against Army, Boston College, and Kent St. earlier in the season as well. Finally, Buffalo will be on the road against the best run defense in the MAC. The Bobcats are allowing just 3.3 yards per carry and they're one of two MAC teams to have allowed fewer than 10 rushing touchdowns. Johnson is a name to monitor as we reach the final stretch of the season, but this is a week he can be left on the bench despite last week's tremendous outing.
Marcus Kemp, WR, Hawai'i (@ San Diego State): Kemp is far and away Hawaii's best receiver, leading the team in every receiving category with 50 receptions for 876 yards and six touchdowns. He draws a matchup this week where Hawai'i could be forced to throw the ball plenty against a San Diego State team that'll almost assuredly jump out to a substantial lead. Unfortunately for Kemp, this matchup may be too tough, even against a conference opponent. The Aztecs' defense ranks 15th in the nation in QB rating and they have an impressive 12:12 TD:INT ratio. Kemp will surely see plenty of targets Saturday, but the Aztecs are going to focus on limiting his impact and force the Warriors to look towards John Ursua or Ammon Barker instead.
Brandon Dawkins, QB, Arizona (@ Washington State): Dawkins has been up and down as a passer this season, but he's been able to supplement his fantasy value with his excellent running ability. This week could prove to be an even bigger challenge than you might expect, however. Washington State's run defense was strong in October as the Cougars allowed a mere 120 yards per game on the ground while holding opposing runners under four yards per carry. The Cougars will key on Dawkins to force QB Anu Solomon to go to the air. Unfortunately for Solomon, WSU also ranks in the top 30 nationally in interceptions with nine through eight games. Dawkins was already a fringe starter in most formats, but this week is an especially daunting matchup for him on the road.
Austin Allen, QB, Arkansas (vs. Florida): Maybe I'm still shell-shocked from last week's beatdown in Jacksonville, but Florida's defense looks downright scary right now. Allen has been one of the best fantasy quarterbacks in the SEC this season, throwing multiple touchdowns in every game save for the Razorbacks' ghastly performance against Auburn on the road. Yes, it helps that this game will be at home, but Florida's defense is better than Auburn's. Even with Arkansas having a week to regroup after that beating from Auburn, it's probably not going to be enough for Allen and company to have much success against that Florida defense.
Elijah King, WR, Texas State (@ Appalachian State): King is the Bobcats' top receiver with 23 grabs for 359 yards, which averages out to a strong 15.6 yards/catch. However, a matchup against Appalachian State means a matchup against arguably the best defense in the Sun Belt. The Mountaineers have allowed just eight touchdowns through the air while racking up an absurd 15 interceptions. When you combine the strong pass defense with a pass rush that's collected 20 sacks this season, it spells out a long day for Texas State's offense through the air.