NCAA Football

College Football Rankings 2014: Week 9 AP and Amway Standings Revealed

After another wild week of college football, fans of the sport are already looking ahead to Week 9 and the latest Top 25 polls and rankings.

With top teams like Florida State and Alabama winning and other elite programs like Baylor and Oklahoma taking losses, the turnover in the polls once again has become a staple of the season. This has been one of the wildest years in recent memory.

Here are the full Amway coaches, Associated Press and Bleacher Report Top 25 polls and a breakdown of Week 8 of the college football season.

 

 

Breaking Down Week 8

Mississippi State was lucky to have a bye in Week 8 as the madness of the college football regular season continued with a schedule full of interesting matchups and stunning losses.

The biggest game of the weekend was the ranked battle between the Florida State Seminoles and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. FSU took the hard-fought victory over Notre Dame, 31-27, and leaned heavily on Jameis Winston. With 273 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception, Winston and the Seminoles are starting to find their offensive rhythm.

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher told Jared Shanker of ESPN.com what the win means:

That's extremely satisfying. It's what you play for. That's what you strive to get your program to all the time, to be able to persevere and play in games like this and win those games. That's what I love about our team. They have a lot of pride and know how to win.

For the Fighting Irish, a strong performance against the defending national champions is a great building block moving forward. The loss will be tough to swallow, but if Notre Dame stays undefeated for the remainder of the season, the team will be playoff contenders.

The most lopsided game of the week was the Alabama Crimson Tide’s beat down of Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon, 59-0. There were questions about Alabama’s validity as championship contenders, but victory over the Aggies proved the Crimson Tide are still very much a threat.

Just like Texas A&M, several other top programs fell in Week 8. There was conversation about the Baylor Bears being one of the best teams in college football, but a stunning loss to West Virginia has hurt Baylor’s chances of finishing in the top four.

Another former championship contender that fell Saturday was Oklahoma. Kansas State stunned the Sooners with a 31-30 loss, and Oklahoma continues its slow fall down the rankings. Oklahoma State also lost to TCU in Week 8, and it is clear the wide open Big 12 will be one of the most interesting conferences coming down the regular-season stretch.

Several teams did manage to win in lopsided fashion and put in their best effort to climb the top 25 polls. Programs like Ole Miss, Michigan State, Oregon and Ohio State were victorious and continue to build resumes for the college football playoffs.

With another incredible week of action scheduled for Week 9, college football fans have come to expect several upsets and plenty of intense action. If you enjoy conference rivalries, next week will be right up your alley.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to AP and Amway Week 9 Polls

A week after dropping to No. 2 in part due to a lack of schedule strength, Florida State finally got its signature win in a thriller over Notre Dame. It still wasn't good enough to pass the ascendant Mississippi State, though.

Idle after battling through a three-game gauntlet of Top 10 opponents, the Bulldogs managed to hold onto the top spot in the Amway Coaches and Associated Press polls. Assuming they win next week's road tilt at Kentucky, Dak Prescott and Co. are expected to stay atop the only rankings that matter—the College Football Playoff poll—when it is released for the first time next week.    

After nearly being knocked back to No. 3, Florida State's triumph over Notre Dame at least created some more space between the Seminoles and Ole Miss. The Rebels easily dispatched of Tennessee to remain one of three undefeated Power Five conference teams. The most notable changes come directly after the inert Top Three, as Alabama, Michigan State and Auburn have re-entered the playoff chase.

Here's a look at how the polls played out, including a look at the B/R Top 25:

Glaringly missing from its former perch is Baylor, which drops to No. 13 in the Coaches Poll and No. 12 in the AP after losing to West Virginia. The Mountaineers stifled the Baylor passing game by putting constant pressure on Bryce Petty and jamming receivers at the line. Petty, who is more than likely out of the Heisman race, finished 16-of-36 for 223 yards and two touchdowns.    

ESPN Stats & Info made the point that Baylor's loss will help create chaos in the playoff race:

One of those teams that could create chaos is Notre Dame, which certainly looked like a playoff-worthy team in Tallahassee. The Irish never trailed until 7:39 remaining in the fourth quarter and appeared to score the game-winning touchdown until a controversial penalty called it back. Everett Golson hit Corey Robinson from three yards out with 13 seconds to play, but officials called offensive pass interference on the pick play to wipe the score off the board.

"We execute that play every day," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kellytold reporters. "And we do it legally and that's the way we coach it. We don't coach illegal plays."

While Kelly was unhappy with the call, his team's performance bought some favor. Kyle Rowland of the Journal Gazette was one of many to say a one-loss Irish team deserves a playoff spot:

The one-loss team all but guaranteed a berth is Alabama. Frustrated with criticism after last week's 14-13 win over Arkansas, Nick Saban's squad unleashed a two-way thrashing of Texas A&M in a 59-0 blowout. As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, the victory tied for the fourth-largest margin in history over an AP Top 25 team:

Blake Sims threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns, while T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry combined for 184 yards and three scores on their 23 attempts. The Crimson Tide also held Texas A&M's high-powered offense to just 172 total yards, coasting down the stretch after opening up a 45-0 lead at halftime. The Aggies have lost three straight SEC games after opening with five straight wins.

Even former Aggies star Johnny Manziel couldn't help but laugh at the blowout in a now-deleted tweet:

In all, though, the battle of one-loss teams is far from settled. There are currently 14 one-loss teams in Power Five conferences—15 if you include Notre Dame.

Oregon, which already has a signature win over Michigan State this season, beat Washington, 45-20, for its second straight impressive Pac-12 victory. Georgia continues trucking along despite being without star Todd Gurley, opening up a 38-6 halftime lead over Arkansas en route to an easy victory. The Bulldogs have a Nov. 15 game against Auburn that may decide the fate of both teams.

It's an impossible process of separating those teams from the likes of TCU, Kansas State, Ohio State and others, all hanging around and one win away from entering the top-four conversation. Bob Wischusen of ESPN points out perhaps even some two-loss teams could still enter the conversation:

But the team perhaps in the best position to blow up the playoff if Marshall, which continues its quiet rise up the rankings. The Thundering Herd, led by Heisman dark horse Rakeem Cato, have scored 40-plus points in all seven of their wins and haven't allowed a team to come closer than 15 points. Their 45-13 romp over Florida International this week was their sixth straight win of 25 or more points.

Cato, who threw for 214 yards and four touchdowns, set an NCAA record with his 39th straight game with a touchdown pass. He and running back Devon Johnson have become one of the nation's most prolific backfields, sitting second in points (47.4) and yards (575) per game. 

"How about Cato?" Marshall coach Doc Holliday asked reporters after the game. "I mean, it's a record that may never be broken. That's a heck of a record. If anyone deserves it, that young man does. And to be able to come down here to Miami and do that in front of his family, 15 minutes from where he grew up, that was huge."

Count Josh Graham of Scout.com among those on the Cato-for-Heisman bandwagon:

Draft writer Shane P. Hallam said Marshall deserves a playoff spot if it goes undefeated:

Marshall's greatest obstacle is its strength of schedule. The Herd do not have a power conference team on their 2014 schedule, let alone another Top 25 outfit. With the selection committee emphasizing schedule difficulty, it would be hard to justify allowing Marshall into the playoff—even over a two-loss team out of the SEC West gauntlet.

A trip to one of the high-profile bowl games not related to the four-team playoff seems possible. But if Marshall keeps winning, the inaugural season of the new system may already have a controversy on its hands.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AP College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 9 Rankings Released

Another week, another set of brilliant matchups, thrilling finishes and newly minted debates forged in college football. The destination in college football this season might be the new four-team playoff, but boy, oh boy, has the journey been fun.         

With several top teams facing off, this week's Associated Press rankings were sure to look a whole lot different than they did coming in to the weekend. Let's take a look at how the AP voters view the college football landscape now. Also, make sure to check out Bleacher Report's official Top 25 and review the week that was.     

 

Rankings

 

Analysis

Last week, Mississippi State and Ole Miss made their case for why they deserved consideration as the top team in the nation. On Saturday, Florida State followed suit.

In a thrilling, nail-biting 31-27 win over Notre Dame, the defending champs served notice that they shouldn't be so easily disregarded in the national championship conversation. Despite being outplayed in the first half and needing an offensive pass interference penalty at the end of the game to help preserve the victory, the Seminoles once again found a way to prevail.

Afterward, head coach Jimbo Fisher talked about his team's ability to win the close ones, via Paul Myerberg of USA Today:

You can say whatever you want. This team is dominant. Is it this, is it not as spectacular? I'll tell you what, I wouldn't trade it for any team in America.

I'll grow with this team. I'm proud of them, proud to be coaching them. The team has tremendous what I call 'adversity tolerance.' It doesn't flinch. It can deal with anything. It can deal with pressure moments, pressure situations. And that's what we did tonight.

Florida State's road to the playoff seems to be without any major detours at this point. Louisville is perhaps the team's biggest regular-season threat looming—Miami and Florida simply aren't the Miami and Florida of years past this season—while at the moment it appears as though Duke will await the Seminoles in the ACC title game.

In other words, if Jameis Winston and Co. somehow fail to reach the playoff, it will be because they couldn't overcome their biggest remaining adversary: themselves. 

As for Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish still can play themselves into the College Football Playoff. It's hard to see the playoff committee dinging them too much for losing on the road to last year's champions. Wins over Arizona State, Louisville and USC should complete a resume that leaves them as one of the more appealing one-loss teams in the nation by the time the regular season draws to a close.

While Notre Dame is a one-loss team with plenty of room for optimism, Baylor's season took a turn for the worse Saturday after losing to West Virginia. It was not a timely loss, as the Bears still have to face Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State this season.

Of course, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, per this tidbit from ESPN Stats & Info:

The SEC West possesses four playoff contenders in Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama and Auburn. And let's not sleep on one-loss Georgia, which could head into the SEC title game as a one-loss team and play its way into the playoff with a victory.

With Florida State looking like a lock for the playoff, Notre Dame potentially having a very impressive one-loss resume and schools like Oregon, Michigan State and Ohio State still clawing their way back to favor with the voters and committee alike, Baylor's chances of reaching the playoff took a major blow Saturday. 

All the Bears can do now is win out. And even that might not be enough.  

The Big 12 saw a lot of moving and shaking amongst the ranks Saturday. TCU's vital win over Oklahoma State and Kansas State's victory over Oklahoma leave those two teams in the running with Baylor as the most likely Big 12 squads to reach the playoff. Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports thinks TCU will be able to make a strong case:

With the voters not terribly high on the Big 12 contenders, however, it seems a long shot that the conference will have a playoff participant this season. But there's a lot of football left to be played.

Every team in the nation is acutely aware of that fact. The postseason may have doubled by two teams, but that has only served to double the intrigue of this season.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jameis Winston Reportedly Expected to Declare for 2015 NFL Draft

Jameis Winston has no plans on returning to Florida State for his junior season, but he's not about to run from his off-the-field troubles, either.

According to a report from CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, Winston unsurprisingly plans to enter the 2015 NFL draft. While that in and of itself is not noteworthy—most have projected the reigning Heisman winner as a top-10 pick—what's interesting is that Winston is currently planning on finishing out his third academic year in Tallahassee.   

As La Canfora notes, there were rumblings indicating Winston would drop out for the second semester in order to avoid any more off-the-field distractions. Florida State is currently in the process of scheduling a student judiciary hearing for Winston regarding a 2012 sexual assault allegation, and the university is also investigating reports he may have received impermissible benefits in exchange for his autograph.

ESPN.com's Darren Rovell reported roughly 2,000 items bearing Winston's signature were authenticated by James Spence Authentication. There was some talk that Winston would be held out of Saturday's 31-27 win over Notre Dame, but university athletic director Stan Wilcox issued a statement saying the star quarterback would be allowed to play.

"We have no information indicating that he accepted payment for items reported to bear his signature, thereby compromising his athletics eligibility," Wilcox said, per Sean Rossman of the Tallahassee Democrat. "The fact that items appear on an Internet site bearing the signature of a student-athlete does not singularly determine a violation of NCAA rules."

Winston completed 15 of 16 passes in the second half of the Seminoles' comeback win, at times single-handedly carrying the offense down the field.

A redshirt sophomore, Winston has thrown for 1,878 yards and 13 touchdowns against six interceptions this season. His numbers are down in nearly every major statistical category with the exception of completion percentage, though that's in part thanks to his passes traveling a shorter distance in 2014. After averaging a jaw-dropping 10.57 yards per attempt as a freshman, he's dropped to a closer-to-pedestrian (but still very good) 8.90 yards per attempt.

In 2013, Winston became the second freshman Heisman Trophy winner in history. He and Oregon's Marcus Mariota are widely considered the two best quarterback prospects in the 2015 class, though Winston's off-the-field transgressions have dropped his stock.

After opening the season as the No. 1 overall player on his big board, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) has dropped Winston to No. 16. There is no telling where Winston will stand next April, but it's interesting he appears adamant about clearing his name.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

ESPN 'College GameDay' Headed to Baton Rouge for Ole Miss vs. LSU in Week 9

ESPN's College GameDay will head to the Bayou to watch LSU host Ole Miss next weekend.

After getting drilled at Auburn and struggling to beat Florida, the Tigers finally looked like themselves again in Week 8, beating Kentucky 41-3. If it plays like it did against the Wildcats, Les Miles' team has a chance to end Ole Miss' dream season, which the Rebels kept alive with a 34-3 blowout over Tennessee in Week 8.

GameDay's official Twitter account confirmed the location Sunday:

Ole Miss upset LSU in Oxford last season, doing so when the Tigers were ranked No. 6 in the country. Bo Wallace completed 30 of 39 passes for 346 yards, leading the Rebels 61 yards in 13 plays to set up the game-winning 41-yard field goal by Andrew Ritter.

"I'm really not surprised at all that we won this game," said All-American safety Cody Prewitt, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "I feel like it's the first time this season we played for 60 true minutes."

But that was then, and this is now; and now is a season in which Ole Miss has been playing for 60 true minutes. Hugh Freeze's team is 7-0 and on course for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

This time, it is LSU's turn to play spoiler.

The Tigers are normally money in home night games, but Ole Miss' in-state rival, Mississippi State, knocked them off in Tiger Stadium earlier this season—a win that began the Bulldogs' ascent to No. 1 in the polls.

What can Miles do to avoid a repeat of that performance? Who on LSU's defense will step up? How will quarterback Anthony Jennings—whose play has been uneven, to put it kindly—fare against a "Landsharks" defense that Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee called without a doubt "the best in the nation?"

Only one good way to find out.

Get up, Baton Rouge. It's GameDay.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Florida State a Lock to Finish Undefeated?

If the goal of the 2014 college football season is to be one of the final four teams for the playoff, then the regular season has been March Madness. Florida State specifically has been a team that has survived and advanced. 

The Seminoles did it in overtime against Clemson without starting quarterback Jameis Winston and defensive end Mario Edwards on September 20. They did it again the following week in a come-from-behind win against North Carolina State.

And they did it again in a 31-27 win over Notre Dame on Saturday, going toe-to-toe with the Irish before taking their first lead midway through the fourth quarter. 

Then, Florida State hung on—with a little help from an offensive pass-interference call. 

Good call? Bad call? It doesn't matter now. Just survive and advance. 

Of course, to say that Florida State is merely surviving and advancing indicates the Seminoles aren't very good when nothing could be further from the truth. The Noles have three wins over Top 25 teams, a reigning Heisman winner in Winston and NFL-caliber talent both on the field and waiting in the wings. There's a weekly debate about whether Florida State should be the No. 1 team in the country. 

However, it doesn't matter how much talent a team has or how good the coaching staff is. It's hard to win every game in a season, let alone 23 in a row like Florida State has dating back to 2012. It's no secret that the Seminoles aren't as dominant as they were in 2013, nor is it an insult to say they've received some breaks along the way. 

Will Florida State keep its undefeated streak going through the rest of the season? There's no way to definitively answer that, but let's put it this way: It wouldn't be surprising if the answer is no. 

Look around the rest of the landscape. Kansas State (5-1, 3-0) is leading the Big 12 standings. Minnesota (6-1, 3-0) is the Big Ten West leader. Ole Miss (7-0, 4-0) and Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0) are tied for first in the SEC West and are two of the three best teams in the country.

Little has gone according to plan, which is a big reason why this particular season has been so entertaining. The fact that Florida State leads the ACC Atlantic, like it was projected to do, is almost an anomaly compared to the rest of college football. 

As Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports tweets, the playoff has not diminished the value of the regular season. On the contrary, it's as strong as it's ever been. 

The possibility of more chaos is almost a guarantee. There are three undefeated power teams remaining: Florida State, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. At most, only two of those teams will be undefeated by season's end. 

Florida State will undoubtedly be favored in all of its remaining games: At Louisville (Oct. 30), Virginia (Nov. 8), at Miami (Nov. 15), Boston College (Nov. 22) and Florida (Nov. 29). Does that mean the Seminoles will finish undefeated? If this season has taught us anything, it's that there are no truly dominant teams; everyone is vulnerable in some form or fashion. 

A road trip at Louisville on a Thursday night seems like a prime formula for an upset, but a rivalry game at Miami could be tricky as well. There's no way to know in this sport when things are going to be turned upside down. That's part of the appeal, and part of why coaches lose their hair so quickly. 

But know this: If Florida State does finish undefeated, it is a lock for the playoff as either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. 

"Hopefully, we can get that No. 1 spot back," Florida State linebacker Terrance Smith told Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated. "They took it from us, so we had to win this game."

Being No. 1 in the Associated Press and/or Amway coaches polls doesn't matter since those polls technically aren't taken into account with the selection committee. Being No. 1 in the committee's eyes is the only thing that matters for geographical purposes since the semifinal sites are at the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl. 

Even then, games are all about matchups. A No. 1 vs. No. 4 game doesn't automatically favor the top-seeded team. 

The way this season has gone, a one-loss team shouldn't be taken out of the playoff conversation. In that vein, a one-loss Florida State wouldn't necessarily be out of the final four.

But Florida State controls its destiny. That's a great place to be considering the number of upsets 2014 has produced. What the Seminoles undoubtedly know, however, is that no game is a sure thing. Every win going forward is a good one. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Adjustments Aggies Must Make During the Bye Week

The Texas A&M football team is 5-3 and riding a three-game losing streak. It needs to make some major adjustments during the bye week in order to salvage the rest of the season. 

The Aggies have lost three consecutive games to three top-10 teams in embarrassing fashion. They failed to even show up during a 59-0 loss at Alabama. 

Head coach Kevin Sumlin needs to reassess every aspect of the program, as nothing is beyond reproach at this point. Some changes in the coaching staff may be in order. 

This is a look at some adjustments the Aggies have to make during their bye week. 

 

Begin Slideshow

Amway College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 9 Rankings Released

Another week, another huge shakeup at the top of the Amway Coaches Poll.

Just a week after Notre Dame remained in the Top Five, the Irish fell after losing to Florida State. Baylor also dropped in the rankings following a 14-point loss to West Virginia.      

Several programs jumped up in the polls, with one familiar team making it back inside the Top Five. Alabama throttled Texas A&M, 59-0, to send the Aggies out of the Amway Poll and the Crimson Tide back into the College Football Playoff conversation.

Here's a look at the Amway Coaches and Bleacher Report Top 25 rankings.

 

Reaction

The premier matchup on Saturday led to some of the most interesting responses from around college football.

Florida State has routed opponents in the past two seasons, but it finally faced a stiff test against Notre Dame. Contests with Oklahoma State, Clemson and even NC State were trying for the Seminoles, but none of those opponents was even in the Top 20 at the time they played.

Not only did the win in Tallahassee convince voters that this Florida State team truly belongs, but it's also a huge boost for the team's confidence. Bryan Fischer of NFL.com notes what the victory did for the national perception of the Noles:

FSU comes away with a much-needed signature win, but Notre Dame was convincing even in the loss. A pass interference call at the end of the game gashed any hopes of a win for the Irish after having Florida State against the ropes all night.

Dropping the game may hurt their chances of making the College Football Playoff, but the Irish can still boast a moral victory after Saturday night. If Notre Dame can run the table the rest of the way, Kyle Rowland of the Journal Gazette believes it should be playing for a title:

Needless to say, Notre Dame isn't out of the playoff picture. However, several SEC teams have the upper hand after Week 8.

Mississippi State and Ole Miss remain in the Top Three of the Amway Poll, with the Rebels serving as the only Mississippi team playing on Saturday. Ole Miss responded to its high ranking with a rousing victory against Tennessee to move 7-0.

Offensive excellence was evident for Ole Miss, but it was the defense that stole the show with four turnovers and allowing just 191 total yards—zero of which came on the ground. College GameDay provides a look at the statistics for the Rebels against the Volunteers:

Ole Miss wasn't the only SEC team making waves, as Alabama made a huge statement on Saturday. The Tide rolled over the Aggies at home with a 59-0 victory behind Blake Sims' 322 total yards and four total touchdowns.

ESPN Stats & Info notes just how lopsided the victory was in a historical sense for the Tide:

So much for questioning Bama's dominance this season. It appears Sims is just fine under center and even has his bravado back after the victory, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com.

"It was very big for us," Sims said. "I think we grew a lot of confidence back and we're just happy with the way we performed today."

Though the Tide and several other programs are exuberant after Week 8, the season is far from over. Several games remain for the top teams, including a huge showdown between Mississippi State and Alabama on Nov. 15.

Changes to the rankings are on the horizon yet again, but there's no telling how the playoff picture will look in a few weeks. Expect plenty of fireworks and even more excitement moving forward as the polls continue to shift each week.  

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Georgia Stacks Up with SEC West Powerhouses

Coming into Week 8, the SEC West had not lost to a team outside of the division. Georgia ended that streak with authority in Little Rock on Saturday afternoon, topping the Razorbacks 45-32 in a game that wasn't as close as the score suggests.

With the win, Georgia improved to 6-1 (4-1 SEC), and has taken control of the SEC East.

Is there more in the future for head coach Mark Richt's Bulldogs?

There could be.

While Mississippi State and Ole Miss have burst onto the scene and become the darlings of the college football world, Georgia has quietly kept winning—even without star running back Todd Gurley over the last two weekends—and put itself in position to not only win the SEC East, but control its own destiny in the race for the College Football Playoff.

If Georgia wins out, that would include a win over Auburn and whoever emerges from the SEC West in Atlanta. Not only would that resume be enough to earn a playoff spot, but it'd likely be enough for the Bulldogs to be, at worst, the No. 2 team in the country.

How good are they, though?

Very good, but still not up to par with the SEC West's powerhouses.

Not only did Georgia survive road trips to Missouri and Arkansas without Gurley, it looked great doing it. Nick Chubb has rushed for 345 yards and three touchdowns in Gurley's stead, quarterback Hutson Mason has thrown three touchdowns without throwing a pick and the secondary—which has been a sore spot for going on a half-decade—has forced six interceptions over the last two games.

Georgia is certainly playing the part of a true College Football Playoff contender, and as the SEC Network's Tony Barnhart notes, teams falling around the country is certainly helping in Georgia's push for a playoff spot.

It is, however, still too early to buy the Bulldogs for real.

Is the secondary really fixed? Will Mason's consistent play continue? Can they survive long-term if Gurley's suspension isn't lifted? What will happen if a good defense takes Chubb away and puts the game in Mason's hands?

None of those questions can be answered yet.

Meanwhile, they've all been answered by the two Mississippi schools.

Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace has become more consistent this year, posting the SEC's third-best passer rating (162.97) and hasn't thrown a pick in SEC play. When Ole Miss needed him to win a game, he did against then-No. 3 Alabama, with two touchdowns in the final quarter to spring the 23-17 upset. The Rebel defense has been lights-out all season long and has proven that it's not only consistent, but capable of scoring on its own.

Mississippi State has produced a consistent front seven and an offense that score in a variety of ways under Heisman contender Dak Prescott. Head coach Dan Mullen's crew can play ground-and-pound football with Prescott and running back Josh Robinson, or open things up with De'Runnya Wilson outside and a variety of receiving options in the slot.

Georgia isn't as complete of a football team quite yet, but it has looked like one over the last two weeks.

At this point, that's all that matters in the grand scheme of things.

Richt's crew has survived to a point where it does control its own destiny, and with two weeks to prepare for a reeling Florida team and then a trip to Kentucky the week prior to hosting Auburn, as long as the momentum keeps going up until that Nov. 15 showdown with the Tigers, that's all that matters.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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NCAA Football Playoff 2014: Latest Predictions After Week 8 Standings

Another week of college football is in the books, and another big shift among the nation's Top Four teams looms large. The College Football Playoff picture continues to get murkier, as many one-loss teams are now fully in the mix following Saturday's action.

The No. 4 Baylor Bears were upset by the West Virginia Mountaineers, generating the first surprise among the top of the country's pecking order. Later, a very close game between the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles and No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish resulted in a win for the second-ranked team.

Adding to the interesting twists and turns, No. 6 Auburn was inactive in Week 8; however, No. 7 Alabama routed No. 21 Texas A&M 59-0. With losses by both Baylor and Notre Dame, determining which of those teams truly deserves the new No. 4 spot is difficult.

That said, no matter which teams reside in the Top Four heading into Week 9, those same squads may not be in the mix when the season reaches its conclusion. Based on current trends and remaining schedules, let's predict the four representatives to the first-ever College Football Playoff.

 

1. Mississippi State

Now more than ever, Mississippi State looks like the nation's true No. 1 team. The Bulldogs may have been inactive on Saturday, but after watching the performances of Florida State and Ole Miss, Mississippi State appears far superior.

Thanks to three straight wins against ranked opponents, Mississippi State moved up the standings faster than any previous team, according to College Football 24/7:

This is due to a well-rounded team featuring dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott, bruising running back Josh Robinson and formidable receiver De'Runnya Wilson, who together help this team average 41.8 points per game. Not only is this team full of offensive playmakers, but it is solid on the defensive side of the ball as well, allowing an average of just 20 points per game.

Considering the high grade of opponents the Bulldogs have faced, those are some impressive numbers.

This team remains as one of the few unbeaten squads in college football, and with just two ranked opponents—Alabama and Ole Miss—remaining on its schedule, Mississippi State has a great opportunity to finish the year with an unblemished record.

 

2. Florida State

The Seminoles successfully knocked off Notre Dame on Saturday, and while the Irish nearly took the victory, Jameis Winston and Co. will remain as the nation's second-ranked team for at least another week.

This team isn't quite as dominant as its 2013 version—the lack of a running game and a porous defense are evident weaknesses. However, without any ranked opponents remaining on the Seminoles' schedule, it would take quite an upset to knock this team out of the Top Four.

It doesn't appear likely this record will receive a blemish any time soon, via SportsCenter:

As long a Winston is under center and Rashad Greene is catching passes, Florida State will continue to defeat inferior competition throughout the remainder of the season. This team is bound for the College Football Playoff.

 

3. Michigan State

Watch out—Sparty is back. This selection may come with some disdain from Ole Miss, Auburn and Alabama fans, but the fact of the matter is this: Michigan State will win out, and those teams will not. It's really that simple.

Michigan State's toughest opponent remaining is Ohio State. While Urban Meyer's team is improving, the Spartan defense is too tough, and surging quarterback Connor Cook leads a potent offensive attack. After all, it's hard to bet against an offense that can do this, via ESPN:

Meanwhile, Ole Miss wasn't impressive on Saturday and may not beat Auburn and Mississippi State. Auburn must face Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. The Crimson Tide still have yet to play Mississippi State and Auburn. It's a case of good SEC teams knocking one another out of contention.

The Spartans are already set to jump up in the rankings following Week 8, and they will continue to climb into the Top Four before the season is over.

 

4. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish may fall down the rankings following their last-second loss to the Seminoles, but it's only a matter of time before they climb right back into the Top Four and earn a berth in the College Football Playoff.

Notre Dame's biggest opposition for this spot will be the Oregon Ducks. Like the Irish, the Ducks are also a one-loss team; however, that loss came to Arizona, which won't sit with voters quite as well as Notre Dame's loss at the hands of the nation's No. 2 team.

On Saturday, the Fighting Irish proved they can hang with the best in the nation—their previous winning streak was no fluke. Despite losing, it was already wildly apparent they wouldn't be counted out of playoff contention. The Playoff Guru tweeted his thoughts even before the game took place:

With just two ranked opponents remaining on Notre Dame's schedule—Arizona State and USC—the team has a great shot at winning out. If that's the case, expect to see the Fighting Irish squeeze into the Top Four as the second one-loss team.

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Texas Football: Tyrone Swoopes' Improved Play Reviving Longhorns Bowl Game Hopes

Texas Longhorns fans have gone out of their way to do a play on words off of the 1994 Tag Team song "Whoomp! (There it is)" by changing it to "Swoopes there it is."

Saturday night showed that the fans could be on to something.

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes led the Longhorns in a late fourth-quarter drive to give Texas its third win of the season.

And he did it in dramatic fashion.

The Texas Longhorns and Iowa State Cyclones were tied 45-45 with 20 seconds left on the game clock. Head coach Charlie Strong was going to let the game go into overtime, but a 28-yard kick return by Roderick Bernard changed Strong's decision.

"Actually I was going to send the game into overtime," Strong said. "I said, 'Hey, let's wait and see how many yards we get on this kickoff return.' Then Hot Rod (Bernard) was able to get the ball out, and I thought, 'Hey, let's go for one.'"

The coach made the correct decision.

Swoopes completed a 39-yard pass to Jaxon Shipley and followed it up with 29-yard completion to John Harris to set up a Nick Rose field goal and give the Longhorns the W.

But Swoopes showed something more than being able to complete passes in crunch-time. His performance proved he can lead the team and may have revived the Longhorns' dwindling bowl chances.

"I go back to spring practice and the spring game and was like, 'Wow, can he play quarterback?' I was going to tell him to move to another position," Strong joked following Saturday's loss. "It's really great and it's great to see that happen for our offense." 

The more the sophomore progresses, the better the chances are that Texas makes it to the postseason.

And Saturday night's performance was a big step in the right direction.

"I had a candid conversation with him at the end of spring," quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said of Swoopes. "He invested himself this summer, and in training camp he invested himself, and when his opportunity came along, he's grown with us and grown with the team. He's becoming something special right now." 

For the second consecutive week, Swoopes has grown right in the middle of the public eye. He has led his team in a manner that could make Texas fans believe the Swoopes era has officially begun.

And with every step forward, the Longhorns' bowl future looks brighter and brighter.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 9 Standings for College's Top 25 Teams

It took a late decisive penalty to tilt things in their favor, but the Florida State Seminoles overcame the test of all tests from Notre Dame Saturday in the nightcap of what was another incredible week of college football. 

The Fighting Irish threw what looked to be a game-winning touchdown with seconds left on 4th-and-goal, but it was called back for offensive pass interference. Everett Golson threw the next ball through the end zone, and the victory was secured, as NCAA Football shows:

Although there is plenty of football left to be played, Saturday's game was for a College Football Playoff spot—at least for now—and the gameplay reflected that in a back-and-forth thriller. If they put 60 more minutes on the clock, it wouldn't be surprising to see these two go down to the wire again—but thankfully for Florida State, that won't be happening. 

Top-ranked Mississippi State wasn't in action, with a much-deserved bye after three straight Top 10 victories, but Ole Miss took care of business for the state and continued its hot streak with a 34-3 drubbing of Tennessee, as the Rebels' team Twitter recounted:

The Rebels didn't start out hot, as the Volunteers took a 3-0 lead in the second quarter, but the big plays inevitably came from Bo Wallace and Co. After two late first-half touchdowns, the Rebels cruised late thanks to a dominant defensive effort.

Not all teams in the Top Five were so fortunate Saturday against lesser conference competition—like fourth-ranked Baylor, who fell on the road at West Virginia, 41-27.

But when one falls, another rises. Kansas State and TCU both picked up big-time victories in Top 15 conference showdowns to threaten Baylor atop the Big 12 for what could be an outside College Football Playoff spot. 

A few teams on the outskirts of the Top 10 made statements as well, with Oregon and Georgia leading the way. The Ducks ousted Washington at home, 45-20, while the Bulldogs overcame Arkansas in a 45-32 victory.

With so many big-time matchups on tap, there were many Top 25 teams that fell throughout Saturday's slate, and it will have a far-reaching impact on the rankings. Here's how the Top 25 did throughout the weekend.

The Associated Press Top 25 poll can be found here. 

 

CFP Outlook After Week 8

With Mississippi State and Ole Miss emerging as the two heavyweights from the SEC early this season, Saturday's Week 8 slate figured to show us just who the real CFP contenders were behind them.

Florida State's win over Notre Dame will keep the Seminoles in the four-team group atop college football, and the quality of victory should keep the team at No. 2. Here's a look at how the current Top Four should look when Sunday's standings are released:

Spectacularly enough, the SEC is set to assume three of the Top Four spots in the rankings. And it could very well be four of five, with Alabama's 59-0 drubbing of Texas A&M allowing the Crimson Tide to re-enter the discussion.

But the conference can thank No. 4 Baylor for opening up that spot. The Bears' 41-27 loss at West Virginia on Saturday should see Art Briles' team plummet out of the Top Four, as College GameDay recounted:

Ole Miss just kept rolling against Tennessee, showing that it can come out sluggish and still dominate a decent team—a must for any serious championship contender to get through the season unscathed.

As for that last spot, it looks to be a duel between Auburn and Alabama that won't truly be decided until the Iron Bowl at the end of the season. But for now, Auburn's road defeat of Kansas State—who just beat Oklahoma—looks awfully good, as Fox Sports' Clay Travis noted:

Should both the Tigers and Tide go without a second loss until the Iron Bowl, that could be a play-in game for the SEC championship as well as the CFP.

But for now, despite both teams from Alabama remaining very alive in the hunt for the national title, the spotlight remains focused on the state of Mississippi. While the Iron Bowl hasn't lost its luster, the Egg Bowl is looking to be much more of a national title-impacting affair at the moment. 

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College Football's 4-Team Playoff Is Already Looking Outdated

Everyone who cares about college football seems to be in agreement that this season’s four-team playoff is a good thing. A great thing, actually.

But guess what? It’s already outdated, and it’s only a matter of time before the clamoring for a six- or eight-team playoff begins. The widespread upsets of the last two weeks guarantee it.

College football can’t match the NFL for parity, but it’s getting closer and closer. And as it does, it gets tougher and tougher to distinguish between the growing flock of once-beaten teams.

There are 15 of them from the power-five conferences right now, all stuck in a pack behind unbeatens Mississippi State, Florida State and Ole Miss.

Yes, there’s a lot of football left to be played, and many of those once-beaten teams will get kicked to the curb shortly.

But some of them will hang around. And I’ll predict that when the 13-member committee announces the final four teams on Dec. 7, the howls of protest are going to be every bit as loud as they were under the old Bowl Championship Series format. Even louder, probably.

The first problem is that at least one of the power-five conferences is guaranteed to get left out of the big show, and that league no doubt will argue vehemently about a lack of equal representation.

A six-team playoff could solve that problem. The top two seeds would get a bye, the big conferences would all be in and Notre Dame would have a convenient slot available to fill.

The second problem is that the Southeastern Conference might have the nation’s two best teams in Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but Georgia, Alabama and Auburn look like they aren’t too far behind. At times, the Bulldogs have seemed even more impressive since losing Heisman front-runner Todd Gurley to a suspension

If the SEC, having won seven of the last eight national championships, doesn’t get two spots this season, the South is certain to rise up in anger. And if it does get two spots that means there will be two power-five conferences grumbling instead of just one.

This season, it’s looking like the SEC West Division alone will have four playoff-worthy teams. The two Mississippi schools have already passed acid tests, Alabama shut up its doubters with its 59-0 thumping of Texas A&M and Auburn is also clinging to a once-beaten record.

Meantime:

Florida State has a clear path to another undefeated regular season after escaping against Notre Dame.

In the Big Ten the winner of the Nov. 8 Ohio State-Michigan State showdown will be able to make a strong case for the playoffs.

Out west, Oregon appears to have rebounded nicely after getting upset by Arizona.

Confounding the situation is the Big 12, which doesn’t have a conference championship game. TCU can claim that losing a 61-58 shootout at Baylor was a much more honorable defeat than the 41-27 clobbering Baylor just suffered at West Virginia. And what if once-beaten Kansas State splits its games with TCU and Baylor?

Confusion will reign, and Big 12 advocates will be quick to remind everyone that last season, Oklahoma dismantled Alabama by the count of 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl, so maybe the SEC isn’t quite as great as many think.

Notre Dame creates another problem. The Fighting Irish are television-ratings gold, and with ESPN paying nearly $500 million a year for playoff rights, it won’t be happy if Notre Dame keeps winding up on the playoff bubble.

Despite the Notre Dame loss to Florida State on Saturday night, I think the Irish remain very alive in the playoff conversation. The nation saw them lose in prime time when a controversial call negated what would have been the winning touchdown, and it was a road game for the Irish.

Likewise, eight teams from power-five conferences can point out that their lone defeat came on the road: Alabama, Auburn, Baylor, Duke, Georgia, Michigan State, Nebraska and Texas Christian.

There are dozens of arguments to be made, only four playoff spots to be awarded and no way to settle all of the disputes without expanding the postseason.

Also hanging around are 5-1 East Carolina and the 7-0 Marshall Thundering Herd, which has yet to be held under 42 points. It’s easy to write off those two teams since they dwell respectively in the American Athletic Conference and Conference-USA. But hey, in basketball, didn’t little Butler make it all the way to the Final Four championship in 2010 and lose by two points, and then show up again in the 2011 title game?

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is one more problem for football’s four-team playoff. Every year it provides evidence of schools that belong right alongside the big boys even though they were disregarded by the rankings. Fans are going to argue that surely there’s room for an eight-team football playoff if March Madness can handle 68.

And the ones that will scream loudest will be from the inevitable collection of schools that believe they got robbed this season.

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

 

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Latest Playoff Projections After Week 8

There has been little rhyme or reason to the 2014 college football season, making the task of crafting bowl predictions in the nascent College Football Playoff era an admittedly dicey proposition.

Every single week, a hot new contender takes hold in the minds of college football fans. Perhaps it's a result of the fact that every single week, one of the top teams takes a loss.

No. 4-ranked Baylor's 41-27 loss in Week 8 to unranked West Virginia drops the team's stock dramatically, although a strong finish and a Big 12 title could put the Bears back in the hunt if the SEC West contenders eat each other alive.

After eight weeks of college football action that's seen more than its fair share of upsets, it's clear there is no such thing as a sure thing in FBS play. Still, one can make a reasonable prediction for the College Football Playoff by looking at the best teams' remaining schedules and deciphering which programs have the best chance of escaping the trap games and toppling the pushovers.

Let's take a look at some projections for the College Football Playoff.

 

Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: Florida State vs. Ole Miss

Rose Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State

Championship Bowl: Alabama vs. Ole Miss

National Champion: Ole Miss

 

Florida State's Path to the Playoff

After defeating Notre Dame 31-27 in Week 8, the Seminoles should make it through the rest of their schedule unscathed. They have one truly tough opponent remaining in ACC-rival Louisville, a 6-2 team with a stifling defense and a mediocre offense.

The Cardinals have given up just 5.12 passing yards per attempt this season, per NCAA.com. Teams are converting just 21.5 percent of their third downs against Louisville's D, the lowest rate in the FBS.

WDRB's Eric Crawford noted in Week 7 how it seems the defense only relents and gives up a touchdown when luck dons the opposing team's colors:

Louisville has the ability to smother Jameis Winston's options and force him into making throws on the run, a scenario which led to an early pick in the 'Noles' win over the Fighting Irish.

Still, Florida State's own defense—which has held four opponents to 20 points or fewer this year—should be strong enough to stifle the Cardinals' attack and eke out a victory.

After that, it's a slate of games that includes the likes of Virginia, Florida and Boston College, none of whom have impressed up to this point in the season.

There is still a chance that one of these opponents will rise to the occasion and trip up Florida State, but it would be highly unlikely after a confidence-boosting win over the Cardinals.

At this point, even a late-season loss for the 'Noles—so long as it's close—might not be enough to derail a chance at a second consecutive national championship.

 

Alabama's Path to the Playoff

Alabama crushed No. 21-ranked Texas A&M by a score of 59-0 in Week 8 and once again, the college football world is on notice. The resounding victory and head coach Nick Saban's insatiable quest for perfection should have the remaining teams on the schedule fearful of getting swept away by the Crimson Tide. 

"I think this is as close as we can get to the Alabama football that we want to try to get from our players in terms of effort, toughness, emotional excitement and execution that we got throughout the game," Saban said, via the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).

Alabama has to remain perfect the rest of the way to advance to the playoffs, which means defeating Mississippi State on Nov. 15. Fortunately, 'Bama has the home-field advantage in that game, and the crowd should be especially lively knowing that a spot in the playoffs will likely be on the line.

The Bulldogs have forced 16 turnovers this season, but Saban has his team whipped back into shape after disjointed performances against Arkansas and Ole Miss. 

Quarterback Blake Sims will have to play like he did against the Aggies for the Crimson Tide to overcome Dak Prescott and company. Sims tossed three touchdowns against Texas A&M and picked up another score with his legs.

LSU is a possible trap game for the Crimson Tide, but Alabama's defense should be able to slowly squeeze the life out of the Tigers' middling passing attack, forcing Leonard Fournette and Kenny Hilliard to outperform the likes of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.

A rational being would take the latter two backs—and by extension, Alabama—in that situation.

 

Michigan State's Path to the Playoff

The Spartans dominated Indiana in Week 8, rolling to a 56-17 win behind three scoring passes from quarterback Connor Cook and three rushing touchdowns from running back Jeremy Langford. With the offense performing well, Michigan State is looking mighty dangerous on both sides of the ball at just the right time of year.

The Spartans' defense, led by defensive end Shilique Calhoun (five sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss) and linebacker Ed Davis (six sacks, eight TFL), has been absolutely monstrous this season, save for a down performance against the high-powered Oregon offense.

The unit as a whole should be able to stymie the rushing attacks of its future opponents and provide the offense with a big cushion in most games.

The Spartans still have their doubters, though. NFL.com's Bryan Fischer isn't looking forward to seeing them (possibly) inch up the polls after Week 8:

The emergence of Langford and running back Nick Hill as a dynamic tandem out of the backfield should provide Cook with plenty of support and allow him to take advantage of weary defenses down the stretch. He's been reliable all season long, tossing 16 touchdowns against just five interceptions.

Oregon is perhaps the biggest threat to take the Spartans' spot, followed by a Georgia squad that continues to make strides—with most of them coming from freshman tailback Nick Chubb—despite losing the sensational Todd Gurley to an indefinite suspension

It's tough to imagine the Ducks' offensive line protecting Marcus Mariota well enough to pull off victories over Stanford and Utah in back-to-back weeks, let alone win the Pac-12 title outright.

The Big 10 has lost some of its luster in recent seasons, but it will send a surprise representative to the College Football Playoff when the remaining fringe contenders stumble.

 

Ole Miss' Path to the Playoff

This spot could just as easily go to Mississippi State, but Ole Miss should have the edge in the Egg Bowl, especially if the Bulldogs' psyche is shot after a loss to an Alabama team that was nearly left for dead in the SEC West.

That being said, Ole Miss can't gaze ahead to the end of the season; it must first get past SEC-rival Auburn on Nov. 1.

Quarterback Nick Marshall is the kind of dual-threat quarterback that can give any defense fits, and running back Cameron Artis-Payne is exceedingly tough to bring down, averaging 5.3 yards per carry on the season.

The momentum from wins over Tennessee and (potentially) LSU should carry the Rebels through this contest, leaving the aforementioned rivalry showdown on Nov. 29 against Mississippi State as the biggest roadblock to a playoff spot. 

Quarterback Bo Wallace has pretty much been money after a three-interception game against Boise State to start the season. His ability to limit mistakes and hold onto the ball should give Ole Miss ample opportunities to win the remainder of its games.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 8

Week 8 was highlighted by a Top Five matchup between Notre Dame and Florida State that lived up to its billing and was probably the best game of the season.

Based on that alone, the week was a success.

The rest of the schedule featured a disproportionate amount of blowouts, but enough important things happened that FSU-Notre Dame did not have to do the entirety of the lifting. Especially in the Big 12, where both of the (heavy, heavy) preseason favorites went down, chaos ruled the day once again.

But how will the wreckage be sorted when the Week 9 Associated Press poll is released Sunday afternoon?

Let's take a shot in the dark:

Note: Rankings reflect a prediction of the Week 9 AP poll—not how the author would rank the teams himself. 

 

Biggest Risers

West Virginia

West Virginia finally got over the hump after close losses against Alabama and Oklahoma, beating Baylor in Morgantown, 41-27.

The Mountaineers defense has been slowly improving all season and played perhaps its best game of the Dana Holgorsen era Saturday, holding Baylor to 27 points and 318 yards of offense one week after it scored 61 points and gained 782 yards of offense against TCU.

Receiver Kevin White continued to play like an All-American, catching eight passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns was a ridiculous one-handed grab in the fourth quarter that would prove to be the game-winning score.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, White joined Michael Crabtree in 2007 and Justin Blackmon in 2010 as the third receiver in the last 15 years to post 100 receiving yards in his team's first seven games. Crabtree and Blackmon both won the Biletnikoff Award that season.

White could make it three in a row. 

 

Alabama

Alabama beat the stuffing out of Texas A&M, outgaining the Aggies 560 yards to 50 before taking its foot off the gas in a 59-0 win.

Nick Saban and Kirby Smart adjusted well after getting torched by A&M's offense last season, proving once and (one would think) for all that they are not allergic to defending the high-tempo spread. Kevin Sumlin had never before this game been shut out as a head coach.

Now he needs to start a new streak.

But the Crimson Tide offense was every bit as impressive as their defense. Blake Sims, T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper all played well, and the offensive line had its best overall showing of the year.

After losing at Ole Miss and barely edging past Arkansas, Alabama righted the ship in a big way. It once again looks like a favorite to make and win the College Football Playoff. 

 

Biggest Fallers

Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State played Florida State close in Week 1 but hadn't proved much of anything in the subsequent five games. It sort of just rose up the rankings to No. 15 as other teams around it lost. It got exposed, though, in a brutally lopsided 42-9 loss at TCU in which it was outgained by more than 400 yards. In hindsight, the Cowboys barely beating Kansas last week makes a lot more sense.

"We just got our butts kicked. There's really not anything else I can say," admitted head coach Mike Gundy, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We gave up two big plays in the first quarter. Offensively, we couldn't make plays. ... We never could get out of a jam after we got behind."

Gundy's team will try to rebound—and to avenge what happened in 2013—against West Virginia next weekend.

 

Oklahoma

It was not a good week for the Sooner State.

Just like its rivals from Stillwater, Oklahoma lost Saturday. Unlike its rivals from Stillwater, it lost on its home field.

That is a rare occurrence for the Sooners under head coach Bob Stoops, who is normally a sure thing in Norman. But Stoops' former mentor, Bill Snyder, had Kansas State ready to play with a smart game plan and a bye the week before to prepare.

Oklahoma is 5-2 but came dangerously close to losing against Texas last weekend—a game in which it was outgained by 250 yards and needed a pair of non-offensive touchdowns to win. If not for those non-offensive touchdowns, the Sooners would be riding a three-game losing streak.

(At least I got something right during the preseason.)

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Florida State's Defense Proves It Still Has Championship Clutch Factor

Florida State's defense is a far cry from the 2013 group. The Seminoles have bent, not dominated. They have given up an average of 23 points per game, and a few times put the team on the brink of a loss.

But, just when the doubts arise again, the defense turns in its best football. With the Seminoles on the ropes in the final seconds on Saturday night, the defense came through with a goal-line stand, proving they still have the championship clutch factor that won them the 2013 national championship. 

It wasn't the dominating performance of old, but the bottom line is the Seminoles defense refused to lose.  The Irish made it very interesting, as they ran 13 plays on FSU's side of the 50 in the closing minutes of the game. But the Seminoles kept making stops, getting new life after a penalty nullified a touchdown, and sealed the win with an interception in the end zone with six seconds to go.

"That fourth-down stop was big-time," FSU linebacker Terrance Smith said. "As long as you find ways to win, that's what this game is all about."

Technically, Notre Dame found the end zone with 13 seconds to go. Quarterback Everett Golson connected with Corey Robinson, who was wide open and walked into the end zone. But the referees called another Notre Dame receiver, C.J. Prosise, for offensive pass interference.

P.J. Williams was supposed to cover Robinson on the play.

"It was a long 20 seconds man," Williams said.  "I saw him catch the ball, my head went down a little bit. After I saw the flag, I knew we were good and everything was going to be alright."

Pretty it is not. But FSU's defense simply has a clutch gene in 2014.  

In the opener against Oklahoma State, Williams forced quarterback J.W. Walsh to fumble in the fourth quarter. Two weeks later, FSU stopped Clemson in the fourth quarter, halting a drive deep into Seminoles territory, and also stuffed the Tigers on four downs in overtime. Then there was the win over North Carolina State despite allowing a school-record 24 points in the first quarter (FSU held the Wolfpack to 17 points in the final three quarters). And against Syracuse last week, FSU held the Orange to just six points on four red-zone trips in the first half.

"It's just a testament to who we are on defense," defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell said. "We wouldn't want it any other way."

FSU simply shut offenses down in 2013. The Seminoles had future NFL players like Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith, Christian Jones, Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks. This year's defense has had to fight—not just to win games but to keep key players healthy. Tackle Eddie Goldman battled an ankle injury earlier this year. End Mario Edwards Jr. missed a game with a concussion. Williams and corner Ronald Darby have been slowed by hamstring injuries.

However, through it all they have been able to do enough to keep the Noles' unbeaten streak alive. Great defenses don't have to dominate all the time, but they always get stops when they need them.  The 2014 Noles have proved time and again that they can do just that. 

"We got people accustomed to us blowing people out last year," Smith said. "When we win in the ways we do this year, people are never really satisfied. Wins don't come easy but we find a way to keep getting them."

With the win, FSU may have made enough of an argument to retake the No. 1 spot in the polls. FSU's resume looks very good with a win over a Top Five team (Notre Dame) as well as a pair of Top 25 teams (Oklahoma State and Clemson).

"Hopefully we can get that No. 1 spot back," Mitchell said. "I feel like they took it from us and we had to go out there and win that game."

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats courtesy of seminoles.com.

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Florida State vs. Notre Dame Was College Football's Game of the Year

​Florida State against Notre Dame on Saturday night was more than a matchup of Top Five teams. Much more.

This was a game that matched two storied teams that are operating under dark clouds. Two programs with Everest-like profiles that, by virtue of colliding on the field, also brought more attention and hype to each other’s flaws.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is under scrutiny regarding whether he was paid for autographing more than 2,000 items that showed up for sale on a website. And also for the rape accusation that was leveled against him last year, with no charges filed. And the memory is still fresh of the profanity-laced rant in public on campus that got him suspended for one game.

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is back in the Fighting Irish huddle this season after sitting out last year because of academic fraud. That’s the same misdeed that that led to the suspension of several Notre Dame players this season while an investigation continues.

Both teams entered undefeated but also were perceived to be battling some on-field flaws, too.

Florida State already had trailed at halftime in two games, indicating a big drop in talent by the defending national champions. And it would trail at halftime again.

With a schedule that has the toughest games backloaded, Notre Dame had yet to be overly impressive. It needed a last-minute touchdown to beat Stanford, and its reputation for defense was seriously harmed last week after giving up 43 points to North Carolina.

So yes, the No. 2 Seminoles and the No. 5 Fighting Irish really needed a game Saturday night that put the emphasis back on how their football teams perform on the field.

They got it and then some during the 31-27 Florida State victory that gave the Seminoles their 23rd consecutive win.

This one came down to the final minute. It will be remembered as a duel between two quarterbacks who, despite their issues, still could finish 1-2 in the Heisman voting.

Notre Dame’s final march had luck of the Irish written all over it, but that script was undone by an offensive pass interference call that negated what would have been the winning touchdown.

Even so, a game-changing call by the refs didn’t undo all the drama that these two teams built for 60 minutes.

Notre Dame’s final drive included Golson improvising with a mad scramble and clutch completion to convert on 4th-and-18 to stay alive.

Winston thrust himself back into the Heisman conversation with a near-perfect second half in which he was 15-for-16 for 181 yards while leading three touchdown drives.

The sophomore spent all night dragging his team out of the ditch as Notre Dame grabbed leads on four occasions, only to see Winston rally FSU to tie three times before taking ultimate control in the fourth quarter.

Having already lost its No. 1 perch in the polls, FSU was in danger of tumbling out of the College Football Playoff picture. It doesn’t wipe away Winston’s autograph controversy, but it does give the kid a signature victory.

Golson also may have seen his brand rise nationally, even if his desperate final toss of the night ended up in Seminole hands.

On a final drive that began with 2:53 left, he took his team inside the FSU 10 with 46 seconds remaining. The hope-killing penalty was called with 11 seconds left, but Golson still had reason to leave with his head held high.

He finished with 313 passing yards to Winston’s 273 and took an upstart team that was expected to be overwhelmed to the threshold of a major upset.

Both quarterbacks faced their share of adversity.

Winston ended the game thriving, but he spent most of the first half just surviving amid constant breakdowns by the FSU offensive line. The Irish blitzed from every direction and clearly had the FSU offense confused.

Trailing 17-10 at the half, the Seminoles had rushed for a mere 19 yards, and their final total of 50 wasn’t much better.

Yet they overcame a 470-323 deficit in total yards because of Winston’s pinpoint passing in the second half.

Golson disappeared into the locker room during the third quarter, no doubt stressing Irish fans to the maximum. But he soon came sprinting back and fought off leg cramps the rest of the way.

Notre Dame now joins the ever-growing ranks of elite but once-beaten teams, but it may have seen its stature grow by taking FSU down to the wire, on the road.

The nation also got a prime-time introduction to Corey Robinson, son of NBA great David Robinson. The younger Robinson hauled in a pair of touchdown catches and also was on the receiving end of that 4th-and-18 conversion.

The final bit of drama came when FSU coach Jimbo Fisher embraced Winston amid the celebration and turned quarterback whisperer while softly telling his player, "Don't give them that over-exuberant look. Act very passive right here and get people back on your side. You understand what I'm telling you? Humble. Humble pie.” 

We’ll see if that advice sinks in.

Meantime, like a great showdown between heavyweights, this one instantly begs for a rematch. It’s not unthinkable that could happen in the playoffs, given the way top teams have been falling the last two weeks.

And if it does, just imagine the hype we’ll have the next time around.


Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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College Football Rankings Week 9: B/R's Official Top 25

And then there were three. And we don't just mean undefeated teams from the power conferences, but also schools fighting for the top spot in the Bleacher Report rankings after another great weekend of action.

Week 8 saw two more perfect teams go down, including Notre Dame after falling 31-27 at defending national champion Florida State in a thrilling game in Tallahassee. Great results across the country led to yet another week of movement in our rankings, with three new teams moving into the top 25.

The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 19 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Sean McManus and Max Rausch.

Each voter submits his or her ballot based on observations made during the just-completed week's games. Teams receive 25 points for a first-place vote, all the way down to one point for being ranked 25th. And then the top 25 vote-getters are ranked in order of their point totals.

Check out Bleacher Report's Week 9 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Stanford vs. ASU: Score and Twitter Reaction

The legend of Mike Bercovici grows. The disparity between ASU leader Taylor Kelly and his backup becomes increasingly small with each major victory.

The junior quarterback, who stepped in for an injured Kelly in a 62-27 loss to UCLA on Sept. 25, picked up his second victory in a row and ASU's fifth win of the year, with the 17th-ranked Sun Devils knocking off the No. 23 Stanford Cardinal, 26-10, at home on Saturday night.

"Going into the UCLA game, a lot of guys hadn't really seen me," Bercovici said before the game, per Evan Webeck of The State Press. "They'd seen me in practice but not really underneath the lights. More than ever, now, I feel like I'm getting a lot of respect."

He didn't post the video game-like numbers that he had against the Bruins and USC Trojans, but he was efficient with his throws and moved the ball against a talented Cardinal defense, which is no easy feat. Coming into the game, Stanford ranked fourth in pass defense (138.2 YPG) and second in total defense (238 YPG).

Bercovici ended up 23-of-33 for 245 yards and a touchdown. Doug Haller of AZCentral.com was impressed with how even-keeled the signal-caller remained:

Junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong was Bercovici's favorite target, catching eight passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.

The running back combo of Deantre Lewis and D.J. Foster wasn't prolific, but the two combined to rush for 105 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries to take some pressure off Bercovici and the passing game. Foster also added seven receptions and 92 yards receiving.

The story of Stanford's season is that its somewhat pedestrian offense has held back its outstanding defense. The Cardinal were 81st in total offense (389.3 YPG) and tied for 86th in scoring (26.3 PPG) before Saturday's game.

Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan had a particularly rough day, going 19-of-39 for 212 yards. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News thought ASU head coach Todd Graham and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson did a great job of mixing up the Sun Devils' defensive looks:

Hogan didn't receive much help from the running game, with Stanford amassing 288 yards as a team.

Sports On Earth's Matt Brown alluded to the fact that a defense that was ripped apart by UCLA was completely shutting down the Cardinal:

Defense hasn't exactly been a calling card for Arizona State, so if the Sun Devils can carry this kind of performance into what is a brutal stretch of games to come, they could position themselves as the cream of the crop in the wide open Pac-12 South.

With the way that Bercovici has the offense playing, ASU will be in every game it has left.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Sun Devils took a 7-0 lead with 8:28 left in the first half following a 13-play, 81-yard drive that ate nearly five minutes off the clock. Foster ran it in from a yard out to cap off the impressive march.

Bercovici doubled the lead with a three-yard touchdown pass to Strong (via Pac-12 Networks):

Arizona State only needed to move the ball 12 yards in order to go ahead 14-0 after Stanford return man Ty Montgomery fumbled a punt. Rob Schumacher of The Arizona Republic caught the moment when the ball bounced out of Montgomery's grasp:

The turnover was an uncharacteristic mistake from the senior wideout/return man. He'd previously been a thorn in Arizona State's side, recording nine receptions for 131 yards and three touchdowns in addition to 140 kick-return yards on five attempts.

Stanford was forced to wait until the second half before getting its first points of the game. Jordan Williamson knocked home a 40-yard field goal to on the first drive of the third quarter to cut Arizona State's lead to 11 points, 14-3.

However, Zane Gonzalez answered back with two field goals of his own, connecting first from 25 yards and then 47 yards out to put ASU ahead 20-3 with 12:50 to play.

Fullback Patrick Skov handed the Cardinal their first touchdown of the game after a one-yard run with 11:23 left in the game:

His TD was quickly negated by two more field goals from Gonzalez in the fourth quarter to put ASU ahead by 16 points, 26-10, with 3:29 left, which put the game out of reach for Stanford.

The Cardinal will look to recover against the Oregon State Beavers next Saturday. After that, they play No. 9 Oregon and No. 20 Utah, so the road doesn't get any easier.

Arizona State goes on the road next week to play Washington, and then it's the Utes followed by No. 5 Notre Dame. Those latter two games will whether the last two weeks have been an aberration for the Sun Devils or a sign that they're truly for real.

 

Note: All team stats are courtesy of NCAA.com.

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College Football Scores 2014: Week 8 Results and Top Stars for Top 25 Teams

The wild and wacky world of college football added another chapter on Saturday as more playoff hopefuls suffered crushing defeats. At this rate, it's hard to know which four teams will wind up with a chance to win it all in the gridiron's version of the final four.

Here's a look at the highlights of Week 8's calamity.

 

The Noles Survive

Critics can say what they want about Jameis Winston and the Florida State program, but this team has heart. It came back from a 17-10 halftime deficit to win a thriller 31-27 over the No. 5-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Despite a spirited effort from Notre Dame's Everett Golson, the Noles simply outplayed their opponents in the second half. The Fighting Irish had a chance to win late, and it looked as if they scored the game-winning touchdown, but Golson's bootleg pass to Corey Robinson in the end zone was called back because of a blatant offensive pass interference.

Pushed back to the 17-yard line, Golson's desperation heave was picked off.

Jameis Winston was sharp as a tack in the second half. He completed 15 of 16 pass attempts and threw for a score to lead the comeback. Florida State's defense deserves a ton of credit for the win as well. 

They got consistent pressure on Golson and forced him into two interceptions on the night. The second one ended the game on the definitive 4th-and-goal play. 

 

Baylor Upset by West Virginia

Some losses are too big to recover from. That may be the theme for the Baylor Bears' 41-27 setback on Saturday against the West Virginia Mountaineers. It's tough enough when the No. 4 team in the country loses to an unranked opponent, but when the favorite's Heisman Trophy candidate is outplayed by his counterpart, it makes things all the more embarrassing.

Former Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett has found a home with West Virginia. He completely outshone the more celebrated Bryce Petty in leading the Mountaineers to the big win.

Trickett threw for 322 yards and three scores in a game that came down to the production from the signal-callers. Neither team averaged as much as three yards per carry on the ground, so the fact that Petty only threw for 223 yards in a losing effort stands out.

Somehow, the Mountaineers overcame a minus-3 in the turnover differential to win. Third-down efficiency is one major stat to look to for an explanation. The Bears converted just three of 16 attempts on third down.

It's hard to win that way, even when the other team turns it over three times. Fair or not, much of the blame for the lack of execution will fall on Petty's shoulders. This loss will drop Baylor significantly in the polls, and push Petty just about out of the running for the Heisman Trophy.

 

Kansas State Nips Oklahoma

Oklahoma Sooners kicker Michael Hunnicutt had a rough day. He had an extra point blocked that would have tied the game in the fourth quarter, and then missed a 19-yarder that would have given his team the lead with 5:39 remaining.

The senior would surely have better days than this moving forward.

You can't call the No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners' 31-30 loss to the No. 14 Kansas State Wildcats a major upset because they are ranked so closely. However, because the win came on the road, it's a significant result for both teams.

The loss likely kills the Sooners' realistic chances of reaching the College Football Playoff.

With two losses, it seems near impossible the Sooners will find themselves in the final four come season's end. In the next rankings, they may very well switch places with Kansas State. The Wildcats have established themselves as sleepers for a playoff spot with the win.

They have just one loss, and it was a respectable defeat at the hands of the Auburn Tigers in Week 3. There's still a tough road ahead with games against Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU and West Virginia, but if they were to run the table, the Wildcats would deserve a chance to play for the national championship. 

Now let's look at how all of the Top 25 teams did this week.

 

Top Stars from Top 25 Teams

J.T. Barrett Explodes on Rutgers

Anytime a player accounts for 368 total yards and five touchdowns, he deserves to be acknowledged as a top star. J.T. Barrett did everything for the Ohio State Buckeyes on offense on Saturday, and the defense stifled the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Barrett needed just seven carries to reach 107 yards on the ground. He had scoring runs of 33 and seven yards. The freshman didn't turn the ball over all game, and he was the biggest key in the game.

 

Chubb Rock

Not many people expected Nick Chubb to play a major role for the Georgia Bulldogs offense, but thanks to the suspension of Todd Gurley, the freshman has become "The One." The young man's performance was enough to inspire references to good old-school hip-hop.

On Saturday, Chubb blasted through Arkansas for 222 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-32 win. He now has 345 yards on the ground in the last two games.

It can't be overstated how big Chubb's production has been. For a freshman to play this way in the midst of the SEC is beyond impressive. 

 

Doctsons Are Really Fast

Something tells me TCU Horned Frogs wide receiver Josh Doctson has drastically improved his draft stock over the last two games. A week after having the play of the day with a sparkling one-handed touchdown catch, Doctson put up 227 yards and two more receiving touchdowns.

In the first quarter, Doctson had touchdown receptions of 84 and 77 yards to help the TCU blast Oklahoma State 42-9.

At 6'4" 190 pounds with obvious speed and leaping gifts, Doctson looks the part of an NFL receiver.

 

Watch My Feet

The Alabama Crimson Tide destroyed Texas A&M in every facet during its 59-0 win. T.J. Yeldon used the game to show off his power and amazing feet in traffic. 

On several plays, Yeldon's footwork and ability to change direction to elude tacklers was quite impressive. He only had 13 rushes, but he finished with 114 yards on the ground and two scores. He may not have the stats, but when his Bama career is over, he might be the most-skilled back to come from the school during the Nick Saban era.

 

Seven Up 

Cody Kessler didn't throw for a ton of yards, but he had the Midas touch when it came to touchdown passes. The junior quarterback had seven touchdown scores in USC's 56-28 win over Colorado on Saturday. He had four in the first quarter. His performance set a single-game record for the program.

Three of the scores went to Kessler's favorite target, Nelson Agholor. For the day, Kessler threw for 319 yards on just 19 completions. It's hard to be more efficient than that.

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