NCAA Football

College Football Rankings Week 10: B/R's Official Top 25

With another unbeaten biting the dust, we are down to two power-conference teams without a loss. As a result, figuring out the top two teams in the Bleacher Report Top 25 wasn't hard to accomplish. 

It's much tougher to sift through the growing list of quality one-loss teams to determine who should be third, fourth and beyond. And with the College Football Playoff selection committee releasing its first rankings Tuesday, this was the last chance to make an impression on those decision-makers.

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, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

Each voter submits their ballots 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 10 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 9

Week 9 of the college football season was highlighted by LSU's 10-7 upset over Ole Miss but otherwise pretty sedate.

Ole Miss and USC were the only two teams in the Top 25 to lose. USC, like Ole Miss, lost to a team, Utah, that was also ranked in the poll. We entered the week guaranteed to see at least two ranked teams go down, and that's exactly how many we saw.  

The effect such a chalky week will have on the Associated Press Poll is likely to be minimal. Near-upsets such as Penn State-Ohio State will inform the rankings and might lead to subtle deviations, but for the most part, things should look close to the same.

Here is one man's (always ill-fated) projection: 

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

 

Teams Rising

LSU

LSU got revenge on the state of Mississippi, ending Ole Miss' undefeated season roughly a month after getting drilled by Mississippi State.

The formula by which Les Miles' team pulled the upset was a return to the SEC of yore: defense, running the ball and more defense. Never was that more true than on LSU's game-winning touchdown drive, a 13-play masterpiece that included 12 runs to just the one pass (which, of course, was how LSU scored its touchdown).

Anthony Jennings threw a pair of interceptions, and Leonard Fournette fumbled on the goal line, but the offense was propped up by an offensive line that finally performed as well as it was billed in the preseason. The ballyhooed Landsharks defense didn't just not intimidate the Tigers; it actively emboldened them to improve.

LSU might not be dead just yet.

 

Utah

Travis Wilson led Utah to a comeback win over USC, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay with eight seconds left to play.

The Utes are now 6-1 with wins over legacy programs such as Michigan, UCLA and USC. If not for a loss to Washington State, we would be talking about them as a legit playoff contender.

If they win out, that might still be what they are.

Unfortunately, winning out will be highly improbable given who the Utes still have to play. Their next four games are at Arizona State, vs. Oregon, at Stanford and vs. Arizona. (Good luck with that.)

But at least for one night, Utah can sleep easy and feel like its on top of the world. It has qualified for a bowl game for the first time since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. Even if it loses the rest of its games from here, it has earned its way into the postseason from a power conference.

Good on you, Kyle Whittingham.

 

Teams Falling

Ole Miss

Ole Miss lost a close game that easily could have been a not-so-close game at LSU, falling 10-7 despite four LSU turnovers (including one goal-line fumble) and a missed field goal from 28 yards out.

Quarterback Bo Wallace had been unusually mistake-free the previous few weeks but made one of the most curious decisions you'll ever see on the last possession of the game, heaving an interception into double coverage instead of playing it safe so Ole Miss could kick a field goal that might have sent the game to overtime.

"I thought we were pretty clear we would take that flat throw or throw it out of bounds," said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, per TJ Werre of of WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi. "[I] wish I could do it over."

 

USC

Poor, USC.

The Trojans have lost two Pac-12 games this season: one on a Hail Mary against Arizona State and now one on what might as well have been a Hail Mary against Utah. If Steve Sarkisian's team knew how to close games, it would be right in the thick of the playoff discussion. Instead, it is dropping out of the poll.

"This USC team is basically just every Sark team ever, yes?" asked Luke Zimmerman of SB Nation. The answer? A resounding and distressing, "uh-huh." Seven-win Steve has made his way to Hollywood.

It's the most depressing script that city has ever seen.

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Chaos Reigns in College Football; Good Luck, Playoff Committee

It has sat idle, waiting for the appropriate time to surface. The College Football Playoff, after plenty of debate, dissection and discussion is suddenly at our doorstep.

On Tuesday, a room of 12 human beings who have been deemed selection committee-worthy will sift through the carnage to reveal their first Top 25 ranking to the world. Only the top four matter when it comes to the playoff, although this group will also influence marquee bowl games. Plus, at this moment in time, teams well beyond the top four are still integral to the process.

Given everything that’s transpired already this season—and the madness that is certain to follow in the coming weeks—this is not a position to envy. And it never was. The College Football Playoff committee already had an impossible task. Given the results of Week 9 and quirks of this particular CFB chapter, however, the intensity has amplified. The predictable outrage to follow, as a result, will be boisterous and unruly.

With the weeks on the schedule hitting double digits and the committee preparing for its debut, there are certain items of note of as you prep for a new age in college football. Let the real madness begin.

 

What to do with Ole Miss and Others Like It

Following its 10-7 loss to LSU in Week 9, Ole Miss presents a fascinating early predicament for the selection committee. The Rebels, even with a blemish in the loss column, won’t stray too far from the top of the rankings. There’s no shame in losing a game at LSU at night, even when this Tigers team isn't as dominant as usual.

The big question surrounding Ole Miss is quite simple: Will Hugh Freeze’s team be ranked above or below Alabama, a team it beat with a tremendous second half a few short weeks ago?

Both teams have one loss, although the head-to-head matchup should serve as a rather convincing tiebreaker, especially given our still limited sample size. But timing, as it was with the BCS, can often be a critical part of this equation, which is why the Crimson Tide could very well be ranked above the Rebels. In fact, don't be shocked if/when it happens.

This is not just an Ole Miss problem. The same could be said about plenty of other teams, and the issue will only become more glaring as the matchups mount. As we try to understand how the committee works, however, we’ll have a very early look into what exactly they’re seeking—the best team or the most deserving—based on where it ranks two quality playoff contenders that have already played.

 

Where Did We Come From? And How Will This Factor?

With computers and formulas out of the equation, it has been assumed preseason polls no longer matter. We’re about to find out if this is indeed the case.

How much have things changed in nine weeks? Here’s what the AP Top 10 looked like before the season began and what it looked like before Saturdays results. You will notice some familiar faces still very much in the mix and teams that have long departed. 

For Mississippi State, which struggled (at times) with Kentucky in Week 9 before winning 45-31, being ranked outside of the Top 25 was no issue. It beat quality opponents in LSU and Auburn while operating in the nation’s best conference, which was enough to put it on the map and then some.

For a team like Arizona, however, that might not be the case. The Wildcats destroyed Washington State on the road on Saturday, continuing a rather impressive and unexpected regular-season campaign. Having started the season outside the Top 25, Arizona is the lone team to beat Oregon—on the road and off a bye no less—and lost to USC by just two points.

The same could be said about TCU. The Horned Frogs, having dropped a cool 82 points on Texas Tech this week, were 11 minutes away from an unbeaten record. Baylor had other plans. 

While you can't simply ignore TCU’s meltdown against the Bears or Arizona's loss, one has to wonder if expectations before the season began will seep into the selection process with the committee? Stay tuned.

 

The Jake Fisher and J.T. Barrett Effect 

The great unknown when it comes to the selection committee—beyond all strength-of-schedule debates and analytical assessments—is how it plans to deal with injuries, absences and rapid player development. 

Since Jake Fisher returned to Oregon’s offensive line three weeks ago, it has been a different team. This was evident in the Ducks’ 59-41 win over Cal on Friday night, along with wins over UCLA and Washington after Oregon’s only loss against Arizona.

Had Fisher played against the Wildcats, the result could have (and likely would have) been much different. We almost had a similar situation—albeit under very different circumstances—with Florida State and Jameis Winston when he was suspended for the Clemson game. Unlike Oregon, however, the Seminoles squeaked by unbeaten.

How will such losses and near losses be viewed? And will the committee give Oregon an added boost now that it is at full strength?

Ohio State’s sudden playoff life could undergo a much different assessment. At the time of the Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech, quarterback J.T. Barrett was unseasoned and remarkably raw. Although he’s by no means a finished product—as we saw at times in Ohio State’s double-overtime win over Penn State in Week 9—he also flashed moments of brilliance, much like he has done over the past month.

As Virginia Tech—the lone team to beat OSU—continues to crumble, the Buckeyes continue to move up in the ranks thanks in large part to their emerging quarterback. Assessing what feels like ancient history will be another tall order for the committee when it comes to Ohio State and other extreme makeovers.

 

This is Just the Beginning

When the selection committee unveils its initial Top 25 in a few short days, it will do so knowing, thankfully, it still has so much left to learn. Weaknesses will be exposed, teams will develop—some more rapidly than others—and marquee matchups still on the docket will make the committee's task of narrowing an enormous batch of teams down to just four much easier. 

After nine weeks of chaos, there is still plenty brewing on the horizon. Here are the games that will likely have a direct impact on how the committee reacts, although as we’ve seen, it should by no means be limited to just a handful.

Chaos works in mysterious ways.

Auburn at Ole Miss (November 1): There is no time to time to sulk; Ole Miss has the opportunity to boost its playoff resume next week, while Auburn hopes to stay the course.

Stanford at Oregon (November 1): You know the history well. Stanford has the opportunity to once again derail the Ducks’ playoff hopes next weekend.

Ohio State at Michigan State (November 8): The winner will be in the driver’s seat for a Big Ten Championship and will have a relatively clear path to finish out the season with one loss.

Mississippi State at Alabama (November 15): Depending on what happens with Florida State, the winner of this game could vault to the nation’s No. 1.

Mississippi State at Ole Miss (November 29): The Rebels, even with a loss, are very much in the College Football Playoff conversation. The Egg Bowl, depending on how things play out, could serve as an early elimination game. 

Auburn at Alabama (November 29): The Iron Bowl’s importance requires no further justifying. Both teams still have significant matchups before the bitter rivals meet, although this matchup at the back end of the schedule looms. 

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Did LSU Ruin the SEC's Chances at Sending Two Teams to CFB Playoffs?

The LSU Tigers took it to the Ole Miss Rebels in a showdown to the end. This battle in Baton Rouge left many wondering which SEC teams will end up fighting in the CFB playoffs. Bleacher Report's College Football analyst Michael Felder discusses if there is still a possibility for two SEC teams to make the playoffs.

Which SEC programs do you think have a chance to make the playoffs?

Watch the video and let us know!

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USC vs. Utah: Score and Twitter Reaction

Travis Wilson and the No. 19 Utah Utes came up with a thrilling last-second 24-21 victory over No. 20 USC in Salt Lake City on Saturday night. After stifling USC on a fourth-down conversion that would have put the game away with just over two minutes remaining, Wilson led the Utes down the field and to the game-winning touchdown with just eight seconds left in the game.

It looked as if the Utes were out of this one as the Trojans seemed to be running the clock out, but the key fourth-down stop gave Utah a chance.

A huge 18-yard scramble by Wilson to the one-yard line put the Utes on the brink. Wilson again came through with a one-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay that gave Utah the win.

For the game, Wilson completed 18 of 32 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers won't jump out at you, but the way he commanded the offense and showed poise down the stretch was exactly what Utah needed from its quarterback.

The team had been employing a dual-quarterback system with Wilson and Kendal Thompson. On Saturday, Wilson was who Utah needed to get by USC.

Slightly overshadowed by Wilson's exciting finish was the play of running back Devontae Booker. He continues to show consistency as he ran for 102 yards and a score. It was his fourth-straight game with 100 or more yards rushing.

The decision that Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian made to go for it on fourth down will undoubtedly be discussed all week. He didn't have confidence in kicker Andre Heidari's ability to make a 44-yard field goal. Thus on a fourth and two, Sarkisian elected to go with a pitch to Nelson Agholor.

The junior wide receiver appeared to get the first down, but he had stepped out of bounds just beyond the line of scrimmage and USC turned it over on downs. 

The win pushed Utah to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Pac 12. USC fell to 5-3 and 4-2 in the conference. 

The Trojans wasted a strong performance from Javorious Allen. The junior running back had 101 yards on the ground. It was his seventh 100-yard game of the season.

The Trojans will attempt to rebound next week when they visit the Washington State Cougars in another Pac-12 showdown. The Utes have a major test on the road against the Arizona State Sun Devils.

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Ohio State vs. Penn State: Game Grades, Analysis for Buckeyes and Nittany Lions

Urban Meyer and No. 13 Ohio State (6-1) needed two overtimes to get the job done, but J.T. Barrett stepped up and led the way in a wild 31-24 victory over Penn State (4-3) in Happy Valley Saturday night.

The Buckeyes' Big Ten title hopes—and by extension, their College Football Playoff aspirations—remain intact with the seven-point victory. Another close loss for the Nittany Lions won't be easy to swallow, but head coach James Franklin has his team trending in the right direction.

How did Ohio State and Penn State grade out from their double-overtime thriller?

Ohio State Buckeyes Grade Analysis

Pass Offense

Barrett came into the game on an absolute tear, completing 71.7 percent of his passes while throwing 17 touchdowns against one interception in the last four games. But Meyer kept things conservative early as Barrett hit just seven of nine passes for 52 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

Things went downhill in the second half, though, as the redshirt freshman signal-caller threw two costly interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown, while the other was cashed in for seven points by the Penn State offense. 

 

Run Offense

If not for Ohio State's run offense, the Buckeyes would have likely suffered their second loss of the season. Ezekiel Elliott paced Ohio State early before finishing with 109 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Barrett was a non-factor after a big first quarter until he broke out in overtime, carrying the ball four times for 32 yards and accounting for both of the Buckeyes' touchdowns down the stretch. 

 

Pass Defense

Facing one of the Big Ten's most dangerous passers, Ohio State's secondary shut down Christian Hackenberg. The Buckeyes surrendered just 224 passing yards to the Nittany Lions and came away with two interceptions. One of those picks, which came in the first quarter via Vonn Bell, should have been reversed, though. But a glitchy review system gave the Buckeyes the turnover, and the offense cashed that in on the ensuing drive with a touchdown run from Elliott.

Joey Bosa fueled an inspired defensive effort, registering 2.5 sacks, one of which ended the game in double overtime. 

 

Run Defense

The Buckeyes completely shut down the Penn State run game, forcing the Nittany Lions offense into a one-dimensional attack. After gaining just 11 rushing yards in the first half, things got no easier for Penn State in the second half and overtime as the team finished with just 16 rushing yards. That came from 16 carries—meaning the Buckeyes surrendered just 0.5 yards per rush attempt Saturday night.

 

Special Teams

It was an up-and-down night for Ohio State's special teams. Jalin Marshall made a number of boneheaded decisions as a punt returner, but Cameron Johnson had a nice night, averaging 45 yards on six punts. Freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger connected on a 49-yard field goal in the second quarter and missed a 41-yard attempt in the third.

With the importance Meyer places on special teams, it's safe to assume he'll be hounding his specialists this week in practice. 

 

Coaching

Defensively, Ohio State's staff called a brilliant game. The unit bogged down a bit in the fourth quarter, but on the whole, the Buckeyes were playing fast and fundamental defense because the scheme and play-calling encouraged that. The offense, however, didn't have its best game. Tom Herman is going to have to find better ways to keep the chains moving when opposing defenses take away what Ohio State wants to do. If the Buckeyes fail to adjust like they did against Penn State in the future, it'll be hard to come away with another victory. 

Penn State Nittany Lions Grade Analysis

Pass Offense

Hackenberg had a rough night against the Buckeyes, throwing for just 224 yards despite tossing 49 passes. He was picked off twice, and one of his top targets in Geno Lewis hauled in just one pass for 11 yards. DaeSean Hamilton had a big night, bringing in 14 catches for 126 yards, but the offense failed to connect on a pass of more than 25 yards. 

 

Run Offense

Penn State's beleaguered offensive line failed to open any consistent holes for the running backs as the run offense crumpled against Ohio State. Akeel Lynch was the most productive runner, gaining 38 yards on 13 carries. Bill Belton struggled, turning eight carries into nine yards, but he did score Penn State's only rushing touchdown out of the Wildcat formation in overtime. 

The running back's marginal production was negated by Hackenberg and Hamilton, who combined for minus-30 yards rushing. 

 

Pass Defense

The Nittany Lions secondary was the team's best unit on Saturday night, limiting the high-flying Buckeyes to a season-low 74 passing yards. Penn State came away with two interceptions (both of which were definitely interceptions), and the front seven created constant pressure whenever Barrett dropped back.

 

Run Defense

Penn State came into the game with the nation's top run defense, but the unit was gashed by the Buckeyes. Ohio State's offensive line paved the way for Elliott, who consistently found holes between the tackles. In overtime, the Nittany Lions were confounded by Barrett, who kept the ball on most zone-read situations with great success. Despite allowing an average of 60.8 rushing yards per game coming in, the Nittany Lions gave up 219 to the Buckeyes. 

 

Special Teams

Much like Ohio State, Penn State had an uneven showing from its special teams. Sam Ficken was clutch in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, drilling a 31-yard field goal to force overtime. But punters Chris Gulla and Daniel Pasquariello had a rough night, combining to average just 34.5 yards per attempt while only pinning the Buckeyes inside the 20 once. 

 

Coaching

Penn State came into the game as 15-point underdogs, according to Odds Shark, and it certainly looked the part in the first half. But Franklin turned things around in the second half and overtime, as his team scored 17 unanswered points in the second half to force overtime and the first seven to put the pressure on Ohio State.

But the Nittany Lions were outplayed in the overtime session as the Buckeyes just steamrolled their way to victory on the ground. That's not a coaching issue—it's a personnel disadvantage. Once the Nittany Lions regain their depth, Franklin will build a monster in Happy Valley. 

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Legend of Les Miles Grows as LSU Somehow Reenters Playoff Conversation

BATON ROUGE, La.—Les Miles has done it again. 

Miles' Tigers defeated No. 3 Ole Miss in the most Miles way — a low-scoring backyard brawl with his Tigers edging it out late. 

And Miles watched all of this take place with a heavy heart. 

Miles' mother, Martha, passed away on Friday night. Despite the tragic loss, he attended the team meeting the same evening and participated in all the activities on Saturday. 

"After the game, I can't tell you the number of young men that threw arms around me to tell me that they loved me. It was touching as anything I've had happen," said Miles. 

The players said they felt Miles' emotion.

"We wanted to win this one for him," said LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette. 

Miles responded with one of the best coaching efforts in his illustrious LSU career. 

The Tigers were the better team on Saturday night. They outgained the unbeaten Rebels by almost 100 yards and had the ball for nearly 11 more minutes. All of this after Miles admitted he cost his team the game against the Rebels last season, per The Daily Reveille

LSU enforced its will against Ole Miss in the trenches, which is vintage Miles. The Rebels' No. 1 scoring defense allowed only 97 rushing yards per game coming into Saturday. The Tigers bludgeoned them with 264 yards on the ground. 

"They just wore us down and kept the ball from us," said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze after the game. "That offensive line is really solid, and their backs are really good. That's the first time we've faced an offense quite like that."

Despite the Tigers' prolific performance, they still needed some Miles magic late to win. 

The Tigers were backed up on their own 5-yard line, trailing 7-3 in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Anthony Jennings struggled getting anything going through the air, so Miles trusted his ground game to pull LSU through. 

Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would call 12 rushes that moved the ball 92 yards. Then on 2nd-and-goal from Ole Miss' 3-yard line, tight end Logan Stokes caught an open play-action pass from Jennings for the game-winning score.

The drive featured gaping holes from the much-improved LSU offensive line and broken tackles by running backs Fournette and Kenny Hilliard. Stokes said he saw the Rebels begin to break.

"I did feel them start to wear down," said Stokes. 

LSU's performance on Saturday night showed that the Tigers can beat Alabama in two weeks. The Crimson Tide and the Tigers both will be coming off bye weeks and three-game winning streaks. 

LSU's defense will have the challenge of defending Alabama's Heisman hopeful Amari Cooper and a powerful Crimson Tide running game. But the Bayou Bengals have the hottest defense in the conference, as it has allowed its last two opponents to score only a combined 10 points.

All LSU needs to do it is keep it close and give themselves a chance. There are few coaches with better results than Miles in close games.

LSU is 24-23 under Les Miles when trailing in the 4th quarter, the only FBS team with a record over .500 in that scenario since 2005.

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 26, 2014

LSU will also be at home, which will certainly play a factor. The fans were raucous against the Rebels after Miles pleaded with them during the week to stay for the entire game. The Tiger faithful was rewarded by being allowed to storm the field after the victory. 

Earlier shot of #LSU fans rushing the field I couldn't tweet out because of stupid @DeadlineMonkey: pic.twitter.com/ci907xmYKI

— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) October 26, 2014

Miles knows his own habitat is a special place. 

"One thing about these Tigers: If you put them in Tiger Stadium, and give us a little time to fix things, we are going to be very special," said Miles. 

If the Tigers defeat the Crimson Tide in the Death Valley, they would be back in playoff contention. LSU would need plenty of help, but anything can happen in college football.

All it takes is for the College Football Playoff Committee to think the Tigers are amongst the four best teams in the country. It is not out of the question for two SEC West teams to make the final four.

And no coach in the country is better at winning national championships with two losses than Miles. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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Gus Malzahn Saves Auburn's Season by Opening Up the Playbook

AUBURN, Ala. — Two of the SEC's greatest offensive minds collided Saturday night in a battle of wits, explosive offenses and trademark visors.

In a game that featured 77 points and 1,086 yards of total offense, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn emerged victorious against his counterpart and good friend, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, by pulling out all the creative stops in a wild 42-35 victory.

"Their coach is one of the better coaches to walk the sideline," Malzahn said. "Everybody saw that tonight. They did a lot of good things, but, at the end of the day, our guys found a way to win it."

Spurrier went back to his Florida Fun 'n' Gun ways with a devastating passing attack that featured 10 different receivers and a no-punt attitude with five fourth-down conversions.

"They went for everything," Malzahn said. "That was the hard thing. They executed when they had to, and they did it time and time again. That is the reason it was a close game and the reason it went down to the very end."

Malzahn countered with a steady diet of read-option runs between quarterback Nick Marshall and primary running back Cameron Artis-Payne, but the second-year head coach didn't stop there.

Auburn had five different rushers record a carry, with three of them finding the end zone.

The Tigers handed the ball off to wide receiver Ricardo Louis—a former running back in his high school days—three times for 102 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown in the third quarter. ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf shared Louis' "one-play" drive:

"[A balanced rushing attack] just helps us get the offense going, get the team going and get us some momentum," Louis said. "Everybody is good at different things, and when you're giving the ball to different types of people...it helps us out a lot moving forward."

Auburn also featured true freshman running back Roc Thomas early in the game, even using him in dual-back formations with fellow speedster Corey Grant.

Thomas helped the Tigers move the ball downfield by showcasing his burst into the second level.

"We have a great backfield, and we've also got great coaches," Thomas said. "That leads us to a lot of success."

The creative uses of Louis, Thomas and Grant against South Carolina opened up more opportunities for Marshall and Artis-Payne by keeping the Gamecocks off balance.

Their performances helped Artis-Payne set a career high of 167 rushing yards on 25 carries, while Marshall carried the ball for three touchdowns for the first time in his tenure on the Plains.

"That's great for the whole team," Artis-Payne said. "We've got a lot of different guys who bring a lot of different things to the table. We've got a lot of great runners when they've got the ball in their hands. You've got to get everybody in the mix who can help your team."

Auburn's 395 yards on the ground off an expanded playbook and supporting cast put less pressure on the athletic Marshall to make most of his plays through the air.

After struggling with his accuracy two weeks ago against Mississippi State, the senior was able to thrive in a run-first role, but his passing also received a boost:

Marshall's completion percentage against South Carolina was his best since the 2013 Arkansas game, when he completed seven of eight passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. His 85.7 percent mark on Saturday night was a career-best in games in which he threw double-digit passes.

"It feels great to have that, because we got back to playing Auburn football," Marshall said. "During the bye week, we went back to the basics and focused on getting back our edge on offense."

Keeping with the creative theme of Saturday night's shootout with South Carolina, Marshall's lone touchdown pass was to a surprise target—Brandon Fulse.

The senior H-back had only recorded five career catches before Saturday, and his short touchdown grab late in the first quarter put Auburn on the scoreboard and his name into the scoring books for the first time. SEC Network highlighted the Marshall-Fulse play, which resulted in a touchdown:

"Brandon has been a factor up to this point," Malzahn said. "That's what they were giving us...we saw that he was open, so we came back and checked that. He had a good touchdown."

One of the best days of Marshall's career also featured a rare catch.

Late in the second quarter, Auburn sent in third-string quarterback Jonathan Wallace and lined him up on the outside. Marshall took the snap and tossed it to the former starter, who looked deep down the field before tossing it back to Marshall on a throw-back screen.

Marshall was able to show off his open-field abilities after the catch and fought his way for an important first down. Four plays later, he tied the game up with a rushing touchdown.

"They were playing man-to-man," Malzahn said. "That's a play we've had up and running for the last month, and we've repped it 50 times, so we felt pretty confident. That was a big third-down play for us."

In a game that the Tigers offense needed to keep pace with a legendary offensive head coach who was playing like he had nothing to lose, Malzahn was able to stay a step ahead of Spurrier.

The Tigers used the off week to work on a few special plays while improving across the board on offense.

"Each moment you play, you have to strategically figure out the best plan," Malzahn said. "We felt like we needed to get in those situations with second downs and 3rd-and-shorts. That was part of the plan."

Continuing that theme of creativity and control will be important in the next few weeks for the Tigers, who will face a stingy Ole Miss defense next week in Oxford.

If Auburn can clear that hurdle, then it will be closer to capturing that important spot in the inaugural playoff—a spot that was in jeopardy Saturday night against Spurrier and Co.

"You can't get down on yourself when a team comes to play," Artis-Payne said. "We knew that they were going to be coming in here ready for us, prepared for us. It's just about execution at that point."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Ohio State, J.T. Barrett​ Not Ready for Michigan State

Following his successful call to score a touchdown when a knee to run out the clock would have sufficed in Michigan State's 35-11 win over Michigan on Saturday, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio admitted that he was attempting to make a statement.

"I just felt like we needed to put a stake in them at that point," Dantonio said, via Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press, via ABC News.

And why not? After all, Saturday's battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy was Michigan State's last chance to make an exclamation point before a bye week precedes its Nov. 8 showdown with Ohio State.

But if this weekend was about punctuation marks, then the Buckeyes' 31-24 double-overtime win over Penn State could best be described as an ellipsis. Because, while Ohio State will likely head to East Lansing with a 7-1 record in tow, its latest effort made it clear that there's still much to be determined about this Buckeyes team.

Sure, Ohio State managed to head into one of the most hostile environments in the country and beat one of the nation's highest-ranked defenses with an injured freshman quarterback leading the way. But for much of the game, the Buckeyes looked less like the team that scored an average of 56 points in its previous four games, and more like the one that suffered a now-embarrassing loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6.

"We've got a lot of work to do as we continue this journey," OSU head coach Urban Meyer put it to ESPN's Holly Rowe after the game.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett reverted from being one of the hottest players in the country to looking like an overwhelmed freshman, throwing two crucial interceptions, including a pick-six to Nittany Lions defensive lineman Anthony Zettel to start the second half. If you were upset you didn't get in on Barrett's 50-1 Heisman Trophy odds before they shrunk to 20-1 this past week, don't worry, they should be back in the value-bet range very soon.

Although he certainly played a big part in it, Barrett wasn't the only one who contributed to the underwhelming nature of Ohio State's most recent win. Facing the best defensive line they've seen since their defeat at the hands of the Hokies, the Buckeyes' offensive line struggled with consistency after pushing around undermanned fronts from Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers in the past month.

"J.T. had a tough day," Meyer said. "But we also had a tough day protecting him against a real good D-line."

Ohio State's play-calling also left much to be desired, although that may have been due to a sprained knee suffered by Barrett heading into halftime. Nevertheless, Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman appeared to be coaching inside of a shared shell, attempting 57 rushes compared to just 19 passes.

"We wanted to drop back and throw," Meyer admitted. "We had some issues upfront. We gotta get that cleaned up."

Regardless of the reason why, play-calling that appeared conservative in the first half only got safer in the second, allowing Penn State to climb back into the game and ultimately force overtime. Multiple 3rd-and-1 attempts by both Barrett and running back Ezekiel Elliott were stuffed up the middle, as if the Nittany Lions knew what was coming before the ball was even snapped.

"I didn't like the way we went about business in the second half," Meyer said. "We have to re-evaluate some things."

That's something to keep an eye on moving forward, as the Buckeyes' play-calling also clammed up in last season's Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan State. Speaking of the Spartans, while they enjoy a week off, Ohio State will host 4-4 Illinois in a game that the rest of the nation will surely see as a mere warm-up to the biggest game on the Buckeyes' schedule.

Ever since last season's conference title game ended, all roads from Columbus have led to East Lansing and what appears to still be a de facto Big Ten East championship game on Nov. 8. Week 2 hiccups from both Ohio State and Michigan State threatened that notion, but both appear to be back on track, despite the Buckeyes' close call in Happy Valley.

That leaves Ohio State with two weeks and one game to get ready for the Spartans, with Barrett's health being Meyer's top concern and improving his offense line being priority 1B.

That's not to say that there weren't positives for the Buckeyes to take away from their most recent win—defensive end Joey Bosa has almost single-handedly improved the Ohio State defense, and Elliott rushed for 109 yards against the nation's top run defense—but this hardly looked like a team ready for its season-defining game.

And that's OK for the Buckeyes—at least for now.

Maybe lessons learned in State College will carry over to their meeting with Michigan State. Maybe momentum regained against the Fighting Illini will carry over into the following week. Maybe after four straight blowouts, Ohio State was just due for one bad game.

We don't know, and we won't know until the Buckeyes board their plane back to Columbus from Spartan Stadium. But what we do know is that even after Saturday, Ohio State remains in the hunt for the first-ever College Football Playoff but will need to improve in the next two weeks in order to stay there.

"The objective has been from Day 1 has been to compete for a championship in November," Meyer said. "Check off another one and get ready to go next Saturday."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Is Hugh Freeze's Final Play Call to Blame If Ole Miss Doesn't Make CFB Playoffs?

Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze made some questionable play calls during the final drive of the Rebels' disappointing 10-7 loss to LSU on Saturday. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer debate whether Freeze made the right decision.

Do you think he called the right plays on their final drive?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Playoff Projections After Week 9

With Ole Miss losing to LSU, the College Football Playoff got a Saturday night shakeup. The other top teams continue to look dominant, but now the debate of the one-loss teams begins to heat up. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer gives you his teams in and teams out. 

Who are your four teams in the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

 

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 9

The College Football Playoff committee will have its first in-season meeting Sunday before releasing its first rankings. When these rankings are unveiled Tuesday night (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET), they will obliterate the polls and all other ratings systems in terms of relevance.

And that's not necessarily a good thing.

Because of that, the rest of the season will be played out in a horse race fashion. Instead of shifting the paradigm on how teams should be evaluated as the CFP so loftily promised, we're back to business as usual. Instead of the polls and the now-defunct BCS standings, we'll have a new rankings system fashioned by not hundreds, but 12 individuals.

Maybe the committee will surprise us with rankings radically different from the polls. But the hunch here is that they won't be. We will find out for sure Tuesday night.

 

Teams That Moved Up

Mississippi State

How does the No. 1-ranked team move up? Simple, at this point, we don't know who's really No. 1, at least in the eyes of the committee. The Bulldogs survived a spirited challenge by Kentucky and will be further buoyed by the loss suffered by in-state rival Ole Miss. By any reasonable measure, Mississippi State should be No. 1 in the inaugural CFP rankings.

 

Michigan State

The other MSU also had a good day, thanks to a severe beatdown the Spartans administered to its own in-state rival. Mark Dantonio scored an oh-by-the-way touchdown late in the game just to make a point (or seven) about how tired he was of the "little brother" nonsense. The Spartans are clearly the class of the Big Ten, and they're making a serious push for a playoff spot.

 

Oregon

Will the committee remember that Oregon actually beat Michigan State by 19? We'll find out Tuesday. The Ducks have recovered from their own hiccup—a loss against then-unbeaten Arizona—and are rolling through the Pac-12, averaging nearly 49 points per game in their last three victories. They represent the conference's best shot of making the playoff but are certainly not the only one with a chance.

 

TCU

If it weren't for the meltdown in the last 11 minutes of their game against Baylor, the Horned Frogs would be near the top of any rankings. As it is, TCU likely will be the top Big 12 team ranked by the committee. Since the Big 12 does not have a championship game, the Horned Frogs can claim a piece of the conference title by winning out—and they'd be best positioned to earn a playoff spot.

 

Teams That Moved Down

Ole Miss

While the gut-wrenching defeat in Death Valley doesn't necessarily snuff out the Rebels' playoff chances, they'll have lots of catching up to do. The loss to LSU was just a major blown opportunity, as Ole Miss will get both Auburn and Mississippi State at home. The silver lining is that the Rebels can still take the SEC West simply by winning out.

 

East Carolina

The Pirates labored to beat a 1-6 UConn team at home in a nationally televised Thursday game, and that's not good for the optics. And their big wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina earlier in the season are losing their luster as both teams have struggled lately and are just 4-4. ECU is still on track to win the American, but it does not have a firm grip on the Group-of-Five spot.

 

ACC

Florida State, as one of just two unbeaten power-five teams, is a lock for a playoff spot if it wins out. But should the Seminoles stumble anywhere the rest of the way, then it's game-over for the ACC. The only other conference team with fewer than two losses is Duke, and no team other than FSU is remotely in the conversation for a playoff spot.

Good thing the ACC has a guaranteed Orange Bowl berth.

 

AP Poll

The most venerable poll in college football survived a challenge from the BCS standings, now it must contend with the committee rankings. Starting Tuesday, it will be rendered irrelevant for the rest of the season—unless it crowns a different champion from the one that wins the four-team playoff. That's happened just once in the 16-year BCS era and is highly improbable in the CFP era.

 

Group-of-Five Team in the Best Position

Marshall, as one of only three unbeaten FBS teams, might be edging ahead of East Carolina in the group-of-five dogfight. Although the Herd have not faced any team in the power-five conferences, their smallest margin of victory in their seven wins was by 15, in the season opener against Miami of Ohio.

The team with the best resume so far is Colorado State, with wins over Boston College and Colorado, but the Rams need help to even win their division, as their loss to Boise State now stands as the tiebreaker. The two-loss Broncos are still in the mix, as is Central Florida, which will face ECU in the regular-season finale to perhaps decide the American title.

 

Projected Conference Championship Matchups

ACC: Florida State vs. Duke

Big Ten: Michigan State vs. Wisconsin

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Arizona

SEC: Mississippi State vs. Georgia

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Is Alabama the Best Team in the Country?

Alabama won convincingly over Tennessee on Saturday by a 34-20 score. The Crimson Tide have been on a roll since losing to Ole Miss earlier in the season, and they are looking like one of the best teams, if not the best team in the country. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss whether Alabama has returned to the peak of college football.

Who is the best team in college football right now?

Watch the video and let us know!

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JT Barrett Injury: Updates on Ohio St. Star's Knee and Recovery

Many wondered how No. 13 Ohio State squandered a 17-0 halftime lead in the Buckeyes' 31-24 double-overtime win over the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday. Head coach Urban Meyer may have provided at least a partial reason.

According to Matt Brown of Sports on Earth, OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett sprained his knee as the second quarter wound down:

Barrett finished the game 12-of-19 for 74 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He added 75 yards and two TDs on the ground. Former Buckeye Dustin Fox thought that the freshman didn't perform well but that playing in Happy Valley provided invaluable experience going forward:

Meyer and the Buckeyes will obviously hope that Barrett's injury is only minor. The team is already down a quarterback after Braxton Miller was ruled out for the entire season back in August.

Ohio State plays No. 8 Michigan State on Nov. 8 in a matchup that will likely decide the winner of the Big Ten East. The Bucks will want to have their starting QB on the field for such a crucial game.

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'Bad Bo' Wallace Finally Costs Ole Miss vs. LSU, Are Playoff Hopes Still Alive?

Dr. Bo giveth, and Dr. Bo taketh away.

The latter happened to Ole Miss Saturday night at LSU, when capricious quarterback Bo Wallace completed 14 of 33 passes for 176 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 10-7 loss that dropped the Rebels to 7-1 and crippled their chances of making the College Football Playoff.

Trailing 10-7 with 1:19 left in the game, Ole Miss got the ball back on its 25-yard line with no timeouts. Wallace drove the offense 50 yards in 70 seconds, looking sharper than he had all night to set up a 42-yard field goal with nine seconds left on the clock.

But the Rebels fell asleep at the wheel, incurring a five-yard delay-of-game penalty before they could get off the snap. Now looking at a 47-yard field goal, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze called true freshman kicker Gary Wunderlich to the sideline and sent Wallace and the offense back onto the field, ostensibly directing them to run a quick play toward the sideline and gain back some of the lost yardage.

And that is when things got…well, here, have a look for yourself:

In the span of one minute of real time, the Rebels went from lining up for a plausible field goal to send the game into overtime to hurling a downfield pass into double coverage and losing the game.

But who, out of Wallace and Freeze, was at fault?

Did Freeze dial up a misdirection, a play designed to beat LSU over the top if it bit on the quick-out to the sideline? Or did Wallace go rogue—something he is sometimes wont to do—and disobey the play call for the sake of what can only be described as "hero ball"?

The face Freeze made after the play says it all:

"I thought we were pretty clear we would take that flat throw or throw it out of bounds," Freeze said after the game, per TJ Werre of WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi. "[I] wish I could do it over."

The "Good Bo, Bad Bo" dichotomy has been used to describe Wallace's lapses in judgement—the type of decision he made on the last play of the game. But the grubby little secret about Saturday is that "Bad Bo" showed up long before the final nine seconds. He didn't throw an interception, but he was just as "Bad" as ever.

Only this time, it was wildly more mundane.

Ole Miss punted on seven consecutive possessions after its only touchdown, at one point gaining minus-30 yards and punting thrice in the span of nine plays. Its defense looked semi-vulnerable for the first time all season, but even an average performance from the Rebels offense might have been enough to survive.

Instead, the performance it got was decidedly below average. Not all of that was on Wallace, who at times was the victim of an outmuscled offensive line, but Wallace deserves more blame than the rest.

If the quarterback is revered when his team is playing well—see: the ridiculous fact that Wallace entered Saturday the No. 8 favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, per Odds Shark—he must also be willing to shoulder the blame when his offense turns to muck.

So…where does Ole Miss go from here?

Technically, the Rebels still control their own fate in the SEC West, the SEC and (in all likelihood) the race to make the CFP. If they win the rest of their games—a feat which would include beating Mississippi State in Oxford Nov. 29—they could do no worse than forcing a three-way tie with the Bulldogs and Alabama atop the division.

If either—not both—of those teams lost a second game, Ole Miss would win the West by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker.

No matter what happens in the other power conferences and with Notre Dame, a one-loss SEC champion will not be excluded from the playoff. It just won't be. The best team from the best conference will have a spot in the national semifinals. Yes, that is basically a fact.

Mathematically, that means Ole Miss' playoff hopes are more than just alive, but healthy. If it wins the rest of the games on its schedule, its chances of missing the CFP are remote. No matter where it lands in the polls tomorrow, the only thing that has changed for the Rebels is the thinness of their margin for error.

Well…that and their faith in their quarterback.

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Tennessee Is in Better Hands with Joshua Dobbs Under Center

With a massive hole in its injury-riddled offense, Tennessee found the perfect puzzle piece for its scheme Saturday night in third-string quarterback Joshua Dobbs.

Now, regardless of starting signal-caller Justin Worley's future health status, it's going to be difficult taking Dobbs out of the lineup.

The Vols lost yet another game to hated rival Alabama, but they may have found their quarterback of the present and future.

Head coach Butch Jones burned Dobbs' redshirt after two ineffective series by Nathan Peterman in UT's 34-20 loss to the Crimson Tide. The 6'3", 216-pound sophomore responded with a quality performance that was meaningful beyond his 267 total yards. 

Jones agreed, according to Rocky Top Insider:

An offense that had grown stagnant with Worley at the helm was rejuvenated.

The threat of Dobbs keeping the football on the read-option opened up Tennessee's rushing game and, ultimately, its entire offense. Suddenly, receivers were breaking open downfield, linemen were blocking better and UT was moving the ball and scoring points.

All of it was because of Dobbs.

On one occasion, he threaded a pass to Marquez North through the outstretched arms of a defender for a crucial first down at the end of the first half. Another time, he broke two tackles and outran several other defenders for a 30-yard gain on a designed run.

He added another dimension to UT's offense all night.

Now, hope resides where it didn't before—especially during a first half that saw Alabama jump ahead 27-0. Tennessee roared back behind Dobbs, who willed UT down the field at times with his legs, arm and leadership.

Even when UT was down by multiple touchdowns, Dobbs was getting in the ears of his teammates and rallying them on the sideline, actions normally reserved for wily upperclassmen or long-time starters.

At this point, the Vols are sick of moral victories, but with four winnable games on the horizon against South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, UT needed some sort of spark with injuries claiming Vols left and right.

Dobbs provided, and the numbers are the only evidence necessary. A Vols rushing attack that was sixth-worst in the country amassed 181 yards on the ground against the nation's second-ranked rush defense. Dobbs had 75 of those yards.

Tennessee's official Twitter account noted the significance of Dobbs' ground performance:

When he finally got another shot to lead UT's offense, the sophomore aeronautical engineering major took off. Now, maybe Dobbs is on his way to being known for his play on the field as well as his academic prowess off it.

For the night, Dobbs finished 19-of-34 for 192 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. 

Dobbs' out-of-nowhere performance has happened before.

After struggling for much of the spring, he came out in the Orange and White Game and put on a show, looking like the best quarterback on the roster.

Saturday night produced a similar showing. The Alpharetta, Georgia, native hadn't taken a single snap all season entering the Alabama game and didn't even start the game against the Tide. But once he got on the field, he shined.

His showing was so impressive, it calls into question why Dobbs is just now getting a chance to display his skills. But considering he was never really a factor to challenge Worley for the starting job, this was surprising to everybody, including the coaches.

Maybe, Dobbs is just a gamer.

His arm strength has improved, and his release was quicker than at any point during his action last season. Though there were questions about his decision-making skills coming into the game, Dobbs was decisive in key moments. 

Even though the Vols must endure an eighth consecutive loss to Alabama, the rest of the season and the program rebuild don't seem as dire as it did. With a dual-threat weapon behind center, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has the breathing room to actually call a balanced game.

The Vols were consistently strong offensively after their shell-shocked start. UT finished 11-of-19 in third-down conversions, held a time-of-possession advantage and wound up with 21 first downs.

That's impressive against anybody. Against Alabama, it's really strong, which furthers the idea that Dobbs should get a lengthy look as UT's quarterback.

Not only did the offense look better than it has since the Georgia game with him under center, the players believe in him. 

But now Dobbs must build off this impressive, unexpected performance and gain confidence and consistency.

No matter how good he looked at times against the Tide, Dobbs was far from perfect. He missed on a few passes in which his receivers had a step on the defender, including to a wide open North for a would-be touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Trying to do too much with UT down big early, Dobbs fumbled after a big hit by Reggie Ragland, and UA turned that into a touchdown.

Then, after 'Bama responded to UT's furious comeback and extended the lead to 34-17, Tennessee's offense sputtered to a three-and-out that all but ended the game. Dobbs threw his only interception into double coverage on the next possession.

Despite brief flashes of the inconsistency that had kept him from being the field this season, Dobbs was dynamic against Alabama. This was a solid next step in his progression.

Last year, he was thrust into action as a true freshman against Alabama and really struggled down the stretch as UT lost to everybody else on the schedule besides Kentucky. The real clunker came against Vanderbilt, losing to the Commodoresx with a bowl berth on the line.

The rest of this season is a redemption opportunity.

With Worley's status uncertain, this is Dobbs' team, and UT must beat three of its four remaining opponents to go to its first bowl game since 2009.

Dobbs looked like the clear-cut answer against Alabama, and he's really the only fit on this roster for Bajakian's offense. 

Tennessee needs for Dobbs to play like he did Saturday night the rest of the season. If he does, the Vols are his team, and UT's murky future quarterback situation just became a whole lot clearer.

 

All stats taken from UTSports.com, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Ohio State vs. Penn State: Score and Twitter Reaction

In the midst of a whiteout in Beaver Stadium, the Penn State Nittany Lions showed a great deal of resilience through a full 60 minutes and then some against the No. 13 Ohio State Buckeyes.

However, the home team came up just short and fell in double overtime to the Buckeyes by a score of 31-24 in Saturday's Big Ten clash.

The game started in rather ominous fashion for Penn State. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed a pair of quick passes on an opening drive that started deep in his own territory. However, all momentum was quickly halted, as Vonn Bell came up with an interception at the Nittany Lions' 39-yard line—or did he?

There appeared to be an issue with the replay system, as the ball clearly struck the ground, but the call was upheld. Officiating guru Mike Pereira tweeted his confusion over the situation:

After the game, the referee was asked about the situation via Ben Jones of statecollege.com:

Regardless, the play stood, and it didn't take long for the Buckeyes to capitalize.

The ensuing seven-play, 39-yard drive was almost all running back Ezekiel Elliott, as he gained 21 of those yards and capped off the short drive with a 10-yard touchdown scamper. Eye on College Football tweeted its take on the running back's score:

With Ohio State leading 7-0, both defenses began to clamp down. Neither team manufactured a drive lasting more than seven plays or 37 yards, as the teams traded punts until time expired in the first quarter.

The Buckeyes found some momentum near the end of the first quarter and into the beginning of the second, chipping away at the Penn State defense on a long, methodical drive that featured plenty of scrambling from quarterback J.T. Barrett.

After 14 plays and 59 yards, all the Buckeyes could manage was a Sean Nuernberger 49-yard field goal. The Buckeyes' official Twitter account relayed its jubilation as a result of the long field-goal attempt:

Two drives later, Penn State was forced to punt once again. However, punter Chris Gulla had to kick from the back of his end zone and didn't quite catch the ball cleanly. The kick traveled just 35 yards, so Ohio State was given great field position at the Nittany Lions' 39-yard line. This was the Buckeyes' second drive of the day, beginning at that spot on the field, and for the second time, they capitalized.

After a solid ground game between Barrett and Elliott moved Ohio State to the Penn State 1-yard line, a touchdown pass to Jeff Heuerman gave the Buckeyes a 17-point lead and seemingly blew the game wide open.

Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch tweeted the play's design:

Following another Penn State punt, the first half came to a close with Ohio State leading by a clear margin. Richard Scarcella of the Reading Eagle tweeted the home team's unfavorable stat line in this defensive struggle:

Speaking of a defensive struggle, Penn State defensive lineman Anthony Zettel took matters into his own hands. He dropped into coverage and picked off Barrett's pass just three plays into the third quarter. The big man showed some nice speed down the sideline and beat the quarterback to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.

ESPN's Desmond Howard had something to say about that play:

The game's defensive trend continued the remainder of the quarter. Ohio State did march into field-goal range, but this time a Nuernberger 41-yard attempt sailed wide. On the following possession, Penn State entered Buckeyes territory, but an ill-advised throw by Hackenberg was picked off by Tyvis Powell.

The quarter ended with Ohio State in control and the score at 17-7.

The Nittany Lions showed a great deal of resilience in the fourth quarter. Hackenberg continued to chip away at the Ohio State defense, moving his team down the field with short completions. Facing a 3rd-and-6 at the Buckeyes' 24-yard line, the quarterback finally let one rip and hit Saeed Blacknall in the end zone to get Penn State within three.

Beaver Stadium simply erupted following the huge score, via Penn State Football:

The offenses traded punts on the following drives, giving Hackenberg and the Penn State offense one last chance. The game's final drive started at the Nittany Lions' own 9-yard line with just 2:58 remaining.

Hackenberg was pressured frequently on the drive, but he circumvented the Buckeyes' pass rush with some short, high-percentage passes. The offense wore the Ohio State defense down, converting three pivotal third downs along the way.

The Nittany Lions caught a big break once the drive reached the 50-yard line, as Curtis Grant was called for roughing the passer after Hackenberg completed a seven-yard pass to DaeSean Hamilton. Four plays later, Sam Ficken was called upon to attempt a game-tying 31-yard field goal.

The kicker's attempt was true and capped off an astounding 19-play, 77-yard drive to force overtime. Bleacher Report tweeted the news of free football:

Penn State elected to begin overtime on offense in an effort to continue its late-game momentum. Two big-time Hackenberg completions to Hamilton quickly saw the Nittany Lions move to the 2-yard line. The receptions earned the wide receiver a new school record, according to Frank Bodani of the York Daily Record:

Bill Belton took advantage thereafter, plunging into the end zone for the score. The touchdown marked 24 unanswered points for Penn State.

Fox Sports Ohio tweeted exactly what the Buckeyes needed to answer with:

Unfazed, Barrett responded promptly. He followed up a 17-yard scamper with a five-yard touchdown run to even the game back up at 24. The Buckeyes offense moved back to the 25-yard line to go at it again, and the end result was similar. Eye on College Football tweeted Barrett's second overtime rushing touchdown:

Unfortunately for Penn State, another touchdown wasn't in the cards. Joey Bosa knifed through the Nittany Lions' offensive line on fourth down to sack Hackenberg and close out the game.

Penn State coach James Franklin wasn't too pleased about every aspect of the game. Here's what he had to say during a press conference, via Josh Moyer of ESPN.com:

Despite the loss, the Nittany Lions must be proud of their performance. Beaver Stadium was electric due to the never-say-die attitude of this football team. Penn State is under a new regime and is chock-full of young, talented and hungry players.

With four wins on the season, the Nittany Lions still have a great chance to reach bowl eligibility with five games remaining on their schedule. Penn State may not have come away with the win on Saturday night, but the future looks bright in Happy Valley.

Ohio State notched a win against a good opponent in the face of adversity. While it wasn't an overwhelmingly impressive showing from the team's offense, Barrett and Co. flourished when under great duress. This team will only get better as this young quarterback continues to develop.

Head coach Urban Meyer praised his young quarterback for playing though an injury suffered during the game, via Lori Schmidt of 97.1 The Fan:

At 6-1 on the season, the Buckeyes are already bowl eligible. Winning out will be difficult with the Michigan State Spartans remaining on the team's schedule. However, if Ohio State's defense can continue performing to the level we witnessed against Penn State, that feat isn't definitely possible.

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Ole Miss vs. LSU: Game Grades, Analysis for the Rebels and Tigers

The only way to describe this game is a good, old-fashioned slugfest between to rivals from the SEC West.  Ole Miss, sporting its best record in nearly half a century and a No. 3 ranking, strolled into Death Valley as a team on a mission to prove to everyone that it belonged in the conversation.  LSU, on the other hand, was looking to prove that its newly rediscovered Top 25 ranking was legitimate.

Both teams showed how good they can be, but LSU edged past Ole Miss, 10-7.

Without further ado, let's dive right into all the analysis and grades for both the Rebels and Tigers.

Box score via NCAA.com

 

 

Ole Miss Pass Offense

Bo Wallace, still struggling against the "Good Bo, Bad Bo" duality of his passing game, came out firing.  He wasn't particularly accurate in the first half, finishing 5-of-16, but he had 105 yards and a touchdown to put his Rebels on top.

In the second half, his accuracy improved slightly, but his decision-making abilities seemed to take a nosedive.

LSU's pass rush was able to keep Wallace off-balance, and he even managed to pick up an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty along the way.  In the end, Wallace finished 14-of-34 for 177 with one touchdown, but it was his costly interception in the game's waning seconds on a bizarre pass decision on an even more bizarre play call from head coach Hugh Freeze that ended up costing Ole Miss the game.

 

Ole Miss Run Offense

We knew LSU's run defense would be playing at their best against Ole Miss, but we didn't expect a defense that ranked 10th in the SEC against the run coming into the night to hold Ole Miss completely in check all game long.

The Rebels never cracked the end zone with the run game, and only managed a measly 36 yards on the ground in the second half.

Bo Wallace led his team with just 40 yards on 12 carries.

We were prepared to hand out some nice grades after the Rebels' 101-yard performance in the first half, but with the Tigers locking things down after halftime, the Rebels are lucky to get out of Baton Rouge with a passing mark.

 

Ole Miss Pass Defense

LSU isn't a passing team, so tonight wasn't a great test of Ole Miss' pass defense.  We weren't even able to give any sort of grade after the first half, considering the Tigers attempted just eight passes.  Things didn't get much better in the second half, as LSU's Anthony Jennings threw just eight more, but the Rebels did have a pair of interceptions (by Senquez Golson and Mike Hilton) after the break, so that's worth noting.

Also worth noting is the fact that the Rebels passing defense gave up the game-winning touchdown through the air after LSU had run 12 straight run plays.

Can we really blame Ole Miss for selling out against the run at that point?

 

Ole Miss Run Defense

As students, we often figured that handing out grades was easy for teachers.  But trying to sift through the plethora of information we received from the LSU running game is no easy task.  The Rebels "limited" the run-heavy LSU offense to 147 yards on the ground in the first half, but also forced two fumbles—one of which came in the end zone, saving six points.

After halftime, however, the Ole Miss front seven was gradually worn down by an unrelenting Tigers rushing attack.  LSU finished with 264 yards on the evening.

Still, Ole Miss managed to do something most teams can't: The Rebels held the LSU running game to zero points.

 

Ole Miss Special Teams

The Ole Miss special teams unit did what it came to do: not screw up too badly.

Ole Miss didn't attempt a field goal (although the Rebels probably should have, more on that later), and the punting game was pretty impressive (downing five punts inside the 20, including a couple inside the five).  The two kick returns by Jaylan Walton both went for 18 yards apiece, and Markell Pack's lone punt return gained a single yard thanks to some great coverage by LSU.

We do have to mention, however, one negative: the field-goal unit suffered a delay-of-game penalty in the game's final seconds, pushing what would have been a 42-yard field-goal attempt to 47 yards—and, boy, did that affect the outcome of the game.

Still, no overwhelming complaints here (since the field goal wasn't attempted in the end), and the punting game was solid enough to flip the field a few times, so we'll send the Rebels out with a healthy "B+."

 

Ole Miss Coaching

Now let's talk about that "should have" field-goal attempt.

It's perfectly valid to have concerns about a kicker from long distance in a big game on the road at a place like LSU.  It's even more understandable when that kicker is a freshman like Gary Wunderlich.

But with just a few seconds remaining in the game, and down by three points, isn't a 47-yard field goal attempt at least worth trying?

We're not prepared to fail Hugh Freeze and his staff, but his decision-making process will likely be questioned by Ole Miss faithful for years to come—especially if the Rebels are left out of the College Football Playoff due to this loss.

 

 

LSU Pass Offense

When you have a passing game like LSU's, usually the best you can hope for is not screwing things up too badly.  The Tigers are all about the run, and that fact is evidenced by Anthony Jennings attempting just 16 passes on the evening.

True to form this season, Jennings completed exactly 50 percent of his throws.  In fact, Jennings was 4-of-8 in both halves tonight, finishing 8-of-16 for 142.

His two interceptions were poor throws, and there's no ignoring those glaring failures on the night.  Still, when you have a passing game that just barely gets by as legitimate, it's impressive to see Jennings able to hit an almost too-wide-open receiver in Logan Stokes (who?) for the game-winning touchdown.

Speaking of Stokes, what a time for his first-ever reception!  The three-yard catch, standing all alone in the end zone, came after LSU had run 12 consecutive run plays on a 95-yard drive that chewed up nearly six minutes of the fourth quarter.

We won't ignore the two picks in the final-grade consideration, but that touchdown was such a thing of beauty (again, considering LSU's general lack of passing proficiency) that we're willing to hand out a very generous "B."

 

LSU Run Offense

If you were hoping to see a power LSU running game tonight, you probably went home satisfied.

The Tigers ran around, over and through Ole Miss all night to the tune of 264 yards on 55 carries.  Leonard Fournette led the way with 113 yards on 23 carries, including some late runs shaking off would-be tacklers and picking up some crucial first downs.

Terrence Magee also got in on the action, putting up 74 yards while Kenny Hilliard added 63.

Ole Miss was able to hold the ground game scoreless, however, and the two first-half fumbles are definitely a cause for concern moving forward.  This game would have likely been over a lot sooner had LSU's ground game been able to finish its early first-half drives.

Still, a win is a win, and 264 yards is nothing to sneeze at.

 

LSU Pass Defense

Holding a quarterback to 177 yards on 14-of 34 passing isn't a bad night, but we're not sure exactly how much of that had to do with LSU's pass defense and how much had to do with Bo Wallace's questionable decision-making.

It could have been much worse for Wallace and the Rebels had LSU been able to hang on to the two dropped interceptions in the first half or the third in the second half, but we do know that Wallace is capable of putting up some big numbers.

Just not against LSU's secondary.

We're also heaping some recognition on Ronald Martin for his game-saving interception in the game's final seconds when Bo Wallace jacked up what we can only describe as a wishful pass on fourth down.

 

LSU Run Defense

You'd think that with LSU loving the run game, the run defense gets quite a lot of practice against solid running backs during the week.

You'd probably be right, too.  The Tigers held Ole Miss to 137 yards on 37 rush attempts, and no Rebel had more than 40 yards on the ground.  The Tigers also kept the Rebels out of the end zone on the ground, and the lack of production in the run game played right into the lack of success available to the Ole Miss passing attack.

 

LSU Special Teams

There wasn't anything spectacular in the special teams game for LSU, other than a spectacularly missed short field-goal attempt in the first half.

It didn't cost LSU the game, but it made things a little more interesting early on.  Colby Delahoussaye made up for his earlier error by nailing a 51-yarder in the second quarter, but we're still a bit puzzled by his miss from 28 yards early in the first quarter.  He's just so reliable, usually...

 

LSU Coaching

The Hat does it again.  Another fourth-quarter comeback for Les Miles, and another big win in a prime-time game for LSU at home against a ranked opponent.

Miles did absolutely everything he needed to do to keep his team in the game despite some early setbacks.  The Tigers were never allowed to get down on themselves, and Miles engineered some great drives in the second half to not only come up with the winning score, but bleed quite a bit of clock.

Speaking of that winning score: Only Les Miles would run the ball 12 straight times from LSU's five to the Ole Miss three and then dial up a play-action pass for the game-winning touchdown.

That's either genius or crazy.  Either way, it worked.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter!

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Lane Kiffin Shows Vols Fans What They Missed out on in Return to Tennessee

It’s not often that an assistant coach is the focal point of a college football game, but that’s what Lane Kiffin was on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium.

Kiffin’s sudden, dead-of-night departure from Knoxville in early 2010 left Tennessee fans stunned after what has been the Volunteers’ only winning season since 2008. Like Alabama coach Nick Saban noted earlier in the season, fans only hate a coach who leaves if he was good.

And this is a rivalry that had become especially stale, with Alabama winning the last seven in the series coming into the game and both teams still on very different ends of the college football spectrum.

So the booing and hissing from Tennessee fans was very much expected.

But once the game got started and the attention turned to the field, Alabama’s offensive coordinator showed just why he was, at one point, a highly in-demand coach. Kiffin called one of his best games of the year in the Tide's 34-20 win over Tennessee, and those Vols fans that gave him hell for the better part of the week and the beginning of the day got an up-close view of what they were missing out on.

The Crimson Tide offense put up 469 yards and featured its best offensive player to put together its most complete road performance of the season.

He couldn’t have scripted the start any better.

On the first offensive play of the game for Alabama, quarterback Blake Sims ran a play-action bootleg that got just about the entire offense moving left. Wide receiver Amari Cooper, lined up on the left side, slipped the other way and after a short toss from Sims outran the rest of the Tennessee defense for a touchdown.

Kiffin was feeling it early.

Alabama jumped out to a 20-0 lead thanks to near-flawless execution from the offense and play calls that seemed to be just a step ahead of the Tennessee defense, which was in the upper half of the SEC for yards allowed entering the game.

After those three drives to open the game, the offense sputtered into halftime. It scored one more time late in the first half after recovering a fumble deep in Tennessee territory but gained just 15 yards on its other two drives.

Following another three-and-out to start the second half, Kiffin turned to a more ball-control approach. The offense went on a 13-play, 76-yard drive that ended with a score that put Alabama up by 17 points, which Tennessee couldn’t overcome.

Fifty-seven of those 76 yards were on the ground, including a 28-yarder from Derrick Henry that capped the drive. It settled Alabama down and got Sims involved in the game. Kiffin had the QB roll out on most of the passing plays and make plays with his arm and feet when he needed to.

This offense is at its best when it goes through Amari Cooper, and Kiffin definitely made sure that happened tonight.

That opening play was only a sign of things to come, as Cooper finished the night with two touchdowns and 224 receiving yards—a single-game Alabama record. Cooper accounted for nearly half of Alabama’s total offense on the night, thanks to Kiffin giving him a featured role on the night.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough for Tennessee fans, consider this: Sims, who threw for 286 yards and two scores, was heavily recruited by Kiffin at Tennessee.

“I was pretty close,” Sims said earlier this week. “If he didn't go to USC, that's where I would have went.”

Kiffin and Sims could have been the duo that took the field on the opposite sideline of Neyland Stadium on Saturday night. Instead, the pair terrorized Tennessee and led yet another Alabama win in one of the longest winning streaks in the rivalry's storied history.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings for Week 9

This week in college football was filled with record-breaking performances and nail-biting finishes. The top players in CFB are proving to everyone why they belong in the Heisman discussion. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder tells you who he has for his top five Heisman Trophy candidates.

Who is your favorite to win the Heisman Trophy?

Watch the video and let us know!

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