Start vs. Sit: Who to Play, Who to Bench for Championship Week

Start vs. Sit: Who to Play, Who to Bench for Championship Week

This article is part of our Start vs. Sit series.

Welcome to the final Start vs. Sit of the 2019 season. It's been a pleasure to write this column for the fourth season in a row, and I hope you've enjoyed reading along. And, fingers crossed, I hope you weren't led astray with your lineup decisions too often. While this is it for this column in 2019, we'll have a ton of bowl content and DFS content to carry us into 2020 that I think you'll enjoy. 

Let's shift our focus back to this week, championship week. It's a loaded slate with high stakes games and classic rivalries at every turn, and that always adds another layer to lineup decisions. The Iron Bowl doesn't have as much juice as it usually does but The Game in Ann Arbor promises to be one of the best matchups of the year and the battle for Paul Bunyan's Ax has plenty of intrigue, too. Let's dive into the toughest lineup decisions for this week's slate and, again, thank you all for reading.

AAC

START

Brady White, QB, Memphis vs. Cincinnati

Kudos to the AAC schedule-makers for saving the best game for last as we have a matchup of 10-1 teams squaring off in Memphis. It won't be an easy matchup for White here, but he'll still be worth keeping in your lineups. 

White ranks fifth in the conference in fantasy points per game (25.6) and has been dominant lately, completing 62.9 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns, 913 yards and a

Welcome to the final Start vs. Sit of the 2019 season. It's been a pleasure to write this column for the fourth season in a row, and I hope you've enjoyed reading along. And, fingers crossed, I hope you weren't led astray with your lineup decisions too often. While this is it for this column in 2019, we'll have a ton of bowl content and DFS content to carry us into 2020 that I think you'll enjoy. 

Let's shift our focus back to this week, championship week. It's a loaded slate with high stakes games and classic rivalries at every turn, and that always adds another layer to lineup decisions. The Iron Bowl doesn't have as much juice as it usually does but The Game in Ann Arbor promises to be one of the best matchups of the year and the battle for Paul Bunyan's Ax has plenty of intrigue, too. Let's dive into the toughest lineup decisions for this week's slate and, again, thank you all for reading.

AAC

START

Brady White, QB, Memphis vs. Cincinnati

Kudos to the AAC schedule-makers for saving the best game for last as we have a matchup of 10-1 teams squaring off in Memphis. It won't be an easy matchup for White here, but he'll still be worth keeping in your lineups. 

White ranks fifth in the conference in fantasy points per game (25.6) and has been dominant lately, completing 62.9 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns, 913 yards and a 9.7 YPA his last three outings. Cincinnati, meanwhile, leads the conference in fantasy points allowed per game to quarterbacks (17.7) and has intercepted more passes (14) than it has allowed touchdowns (13). So while this is arguably White's toughest test of the year, his track record all season along with this game being at home is enough to make him a viable starter. 

SIT

Darnell Mooney, WR, Tulane at SMU

This isn't a daunting matchup on paper, but it's tough to trust the Tulsa passing game. SMU is giving up an AAC- high 37.9 fantasy points per game to receivers and has been gashed for 23 passing touchdowns by wideouts. Tulane, at least lately, is not built to take advantage of that. The Green Wave put up just 165 passing yards per game in November, and that has sapped Mooney's production as well. Mooney is sitting at just 6.0 YPT over his last three games with no touchdowns, either. Mooney's recent drop-off along with Tulane regressing as whole in the passing game make him a no-go on championship weekend.

ACC

START

Micale Cunningham, QB, Louisville at Kentucky

There aren't many quarterbacks who are playing at a higher level than Cunningham. He ranks 15th among quarterbacks since Week 9 in fantasy points per game (30.8). And that production is coming on the ground and through the air. In that span, Cunningham is averaging 12.1 YPA and has a 12:2 TD:INT while also adding three rushing scores. Kentucky may be the home favorite in this matchup, but that's not enough to steer me away from Cunningham.

SIT

Cam Akers, RB, Florida State at Florida

Akers has totally reshaped his draft stock this year after a rocky 2018 and actually ranks second in the ACC in fantasy points per game (23.1) behind only Clemson's Travis Etienne. A matchup with Florida in The Swamp is daunting, though, and it might require you to explore other options at running back. 

Florida ranks ninth in defensive S&P+ and has been especially tough at home, allowing an FBS-low 3.2 points per game there. So we're dealing with a projection where Florida State will A) have trouble moving the ball and B) score double-digit points. And with Florida State lacking an intimidating passing offense, the Gators will be able to key in to stop Akers. 

BIG TEN

START

Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska vs. Iowa

It might be time to buy back in on Martinez, who has upped his game since returning from a knee injury. One reason behind that, at least from a fantasy perspective, has been his increased usage as a runner due to injuries to Nebraska's running backs. Martinez has 38 rushing attempts for 241 yards and four scores in his last three games and that level of usage should continue if Wan'Dale Robinson remains sidelined for Saturday.

As for the matchup, it's going to be tough facing an Iowa defense that gives up 14.7 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and 191 passing yards per game. But Martinez's ability as a rusher will be enough to put him over the top and keep him in start-worthy territory. 

SIT

Rodney Smith, RB, Minnesota vs. Wisconsin

Smith has slowed since the Week 10 bye, rushing for a grand total of 174 yards and one touchdown on 3.7 YPC. That's the type of trend that is a major red flag heading into this weekend, especially with Wisconsin coming to Minneapolis. Wisconsin holds opponents to just 3.41 YPC and has surrendered seven rushing scores all season. Even if Smith sees his normal carry volume, there's little to suggest he'll have much success against the Wisconsin front seven considering how he's struggled down the stretch. 

BIG 12

START

R.J. Turner, WR, Texas Tech at Texas

Texas' struggles against the pass this year are well-documented; the Longhorns cough up the most fantasy points to receivers of any team in the Big 12. They have allowed 20 passing touchdowns to wideouts and wideouts are averaging a whopping 9.6 yards per target. With Texas Tech going to the air more than 40 times per game, Turner will be getting plenty of cracks at this Longhorn secondary. Turner, a transfer from UL-Monroe, has come on strong down the stretch with 311 yards and three touchdowns on 21 targets in his last three games. With a reliable role in place, Turner will be featured against this leaky secondary and is now start worthy. 

SIT

James Gilbert, RB, Kansas State vs. Iowa State

Gilbert has reclaimed the lead role in the Kansas State backfield since returning from injury, taking 25 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown in his last two games. Despite having that role, this is a week to look elsewhere for your flex or RB2. Iowa State is strong against the run, allowing just 3.7 YPC to opponents. And another potential pitfall with Gilbert is the presence of quarterback Skylar Thompson, who is a talented runner and a threat to vulture a touchdown at the goal line. There's enough working against Gilbert here to leave him on the bench here in the regular-season finale.

CONFERENCE USA

START

Jimmy Marshall, WR, Middle Tennessee at Western Kentucky

Marshall is quietly making a name for himself down the stretch with five touchdowns in his last four games, establishing himself as a legitimate threat opposite the dynamic Ty Lee. He faces a tough Western Kentucky squad on the road Saturday with the Hilltoppers allowing the least points per game to receivers this season. Marshall, though, can be a matchup problem for the Hilltoppers. At 6-foot-5, Marshall is Middle Tennessee's top red-zone option and has earned the trust of quarterback Asher O'Hara. Marshall will be a featured part of the Blue Raiders offense, and with Western Kentucky favored by over a touchdown, it would not be surprising to see Middle Tennessee lean on the pass more than usual in this clash. 

SIT

Mason Fine, QB, North Texas vs. UAB

It's tough to fully explain why Fine has struggled to this extent down the stretch, but it's undeniable any way you slice it. If not for a rushing touchdown, Fine would've had less than five fantasy points last weekend against Rice. Rice! He also struggled mightily against Louisiana Tech in his previous game and now has to take on a UAB defense that is arguably the best in the conference. UAB allows the fifth-least passing yards per game in FBS at just 169.3. The Blazers have also given up just nine passing scores in seven conference games. Fine's decline lately, along with the brutal matchup, make him tough to trust with a league championship on the line.

MAC

START

Kevin Marks, RB, Buffalo vs. Bowling Green

Buffalo has the highest run play rate of any non-option offense at 67 percent, so there are more than enough carries to go around beyond just starter Jarret Patterson. Marks has seen 15 or more carries in each game since the opener, and while his YPC of 4.4 is mediocre, he also has seven rushing scores. Now he gets to face Bowling Green, which has one of the worst defenses in the nation. The Falcons surrender 223.5 rushing yards per game on 5.46 YPC. Getting 15-plus touches against that defense will be more than enough to make Marks a sneaky-good start this weekend.

SIT

Brett Gabbert, QB, Miami (OH) at Ball State

Miami has enough talent to win this matchup but I wouldn't bet on Gabbert factoring much into that equation. Gabbert was abysmal last week ... against Akron. On top of that, Gabbert has just two multi-touchdown efforts on the year and one of those was against the aforementioned Bowling Green defense. Going on the road to face a decent Ball State defense is enough to justify benching Gabbert on Friday.

MOUNTAIN WEST

START

Charles Williams, RB, UNLV at Nevada

Williams got back on track last week against San Jose State and is positioned for success in the season finale against Nevada. He torched SJSU for 186 yards and three touchdowns, marking his first 100-yard outing since Week 9 against San Diego State. Now he faces in-state rival Nevada, which allows just 133.8 rushing yards per game. For context, that's just three yards more than Alabama. So while it's a tough matchup, we've seen Williams look like one of the top fantasy running backs in the Mountain West at several points this season and it looks like he's rounded back into form just in time for the end of the regular season. 

SIT

Zane Pope, WR, Fresno State at San Jose State

The strength of San Jose State's defense is in its secondary, as the Spartans surrender less passing yards per game (216) than rushing yards (236). So while this projects to be another big game for running back Ronnie Rivers, the passing game could struggle. 

Pope sees a healthy number of targets at 6.1 per game, but he only converts that into 7.5 YPT and he's not much in the way of a red-zone threat despite being 6-2 as he has just one touchdown. Unless you need production in a deep PPR league, Pope can be left off the radar this week. 

PAC-12

START

Anthony Gordon, QB, Washington State at Washington

I've noticed this is one of the more pressing start/sit questions out there on the Twittersphere this week, so I figured I'd toss in my two cents. Much has been made about Washington State's continued struggles in the Apple Cup, and rightly so. Washington has won six consecutive meetings and nine of the last 10 while making the Washington State offense look pedestrian along the way. Not even Gardner Minshew could get it going against the Huskies, though that was in a snow storm.

But going back to Gordon, he has completed more than 69 percent of his passes for 3,596 yards and 33 touchdowns against Pac-12 competition. And regarding Washington, the defense is not quite at the standard the Huskies have set in recent years when it was a top-5 defense in S&P+. The Huskies aren't bad defensively, but they aren't elite anymore as they rank 28th in defensive S&P+. As long as the weather cooperates, Gordon will be start-worthy in the Apple Cup.

SIT

Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State at Oregon

Speaking of lopsided rivalries, we have the Civil War, of which Oregon has won 10 of the last 11. Oregon State has turned a corner this year to be clear, but this does not set up well for the Beavers offense heading into Eugene with the Ducks coming off a loss. Oregon ranks 19th in defensive S&P+ and has allowed just three rushing touchdowns all year. 

With Oregon favored by 19.5 points, the run game could get away from Oregon State in this one, thus limiting Jefferson's rushing volume upside. And the aforementioned efficiency could be an issue against a defense of this caliber. This isn't to say that Jefferson would be an awful play, but there's a decent probability that there's a better option on your bench or even on your waiver wire. 

SEC

START

Jhamon Ausbon, WR, Texas A&M at LSU

Ausbon has been consistent and explosive all season as he's tied for fifth in receptions in the SEC (63) while also ranking sixth in the conference in YPT among receivers with at least 50 targets. This week he'll face LSU in Death Valley in a matchup with the highest over/under in SEC country at 64.0. Sure, A&M is 17.5-point dogs, but the Aggies still sport a decent implied total against a unit that ranks just 42nd in scoring defense. 

The Aggies have been chucking it of late, too, with Kellen Mond attempting 75 passes in the last two weeks. With Ausbon seeing a team-high 22.8 percent target share, he should be in line for plenty of looks against a good-not-great secondary. 

SIT

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama at Auburn

There's a difference between starting against Arkansas or helping in mop-up duty against Mississippi State and leading a team to victory at Auburn against this year's defense. Auburn ranks third in defensive S&P+, eighth in yards per play allowed and 10th in points per game allowed. 

Vegas doesn't expect this to be much of an offensive showcase, either. Alabama is just a 3.5-point favorite with an implied total of 26.75. This isn't a slight to Jones or what he's done since taking over for the injured Tua Tagovailoa — he averages 13.4 YPA with six touchdowns on 45 attempts. It's just that no defense he's faced is in the same stratosphere as Auburn's, and Alabama has to go to Jordan-Hare. Quarterback is deep and there's almost certainly one on your bench that has a far easier matchup Saturday. 

SUN BELT

START

Caleb Evans, QB, Louisiana Monroe at Louisiana-Lafayette

The Ragin' Cajuns have arguably the best defense in the Sun Belt and they're at home this week, so this is a tough spot for Evans. However, Evans has shown he can have success in any situation. He has at least three touchdowns in each of the last four games, including a five-touchdown outing against Arkansas State. Evans has a rushing touchdown in each of those games as well. He's the best fantasy quarterback in the Sun Belt and should not be benched against any conference opponent.

SIT

Khalil McClain, WR, Troy vs. Appalachian State

If there's a defense on Louisiana's level in the Sun Belt, it's App State's. The Mountaineers are especially good in the back end, allowing four points less per game than any other Sun Belt team to receivers. That spells trouble for the Troy passing game. While Kaylon Geiger has a high enough floor thanks to his target volume, McClain has some concerns because he's so touchdown dependent with seven on 61 targets.  Meanwhile, Appalachian State has surrendered just eight touchdowns to receivers on 209 targets. Something's gotta give, and I'll side with Appalachian State continuing to play lockdown defense against McClain. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John McKechnie
John is the 2016 and 2021 FSWA College Writer of the Year winner. He is a Maryland native and graduate of the University of Georgia. He's been writing for RotoWire since 2014.
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