Remember this story line? Unranked, lightly regarded Southeastern team comes from out of the pack to contend for a national championship in football.
You shouldn't need too much time, at least not if you've been paying attention the last five years. It was only in January that Auburn emerged seemingly from nowhere to fall a mere four points shy of a national title. And in a 2010, it was Auburn again rising from the depths of the preseason rankings to be crowned the king of college football.
Could a third installment in the series, with a new cast, be in the works?
From behind Door No. 3, let us introduce...Mississippi State.
Don't look now, but another perfect storm scenario is brewing in the super-competitive, ultra-deep SEC that could put coach Dan Mullen's Bulldogs very much in the mix come early January.
Unranked heading into Saturday, Mississippi State went to Baton Rouge and beat No. 8 LSU 34-29 in a game more one-sided than the final score suggested; the Bulldogs led 34-10 entering the fourth quarter.
Sunday saw Mississippi State crack the AP top 25 for the first time in two seasons. That the Bulldogs' rise came off a defeat of a top-10 team is undoubtedly a surprise to many longtime SEC watchers.
Going into the LSU matchup, Mississippi State had lost every game it had played against a top-10 team since 2000. Over the past five years, the Bulldogs' combined record against the power elite of the SEC West—LSU, Auburn and Alabama—was 1-14, with the one win coming against Auburn two years ago when the Tigers finished 0-8 in conference play.
The link with Auburn is significant for Mississippi State since it could very well follow the historical footprint created by the Tigers in '10, when they jumped from being ranked No. 22 in the preseason AP poll to finish as the BCS national champion with a quarterback named Cam Newton.
That team climbed slowly in the rankings until a 35-27 win over No. 12 South Carolina in the fourth week of the season vaulted the Tigers from No. 17 in the AP to No. 10. The climb to No. 1, which culminated in a 22-19 win over Oregon in the BCS title game followed.
Last year's Auburn team, which went to the final seconds of the BCS title game before losing 34-31 to Florida State, was even more unheralded. The Tigers didn't receive a vote in any preseason Top 25 ballot and were picked to finish fifth in the SEC West. Led by quarterback Nick Marshall, Auburn won its first three games before losing a 35-21 decision at LSU. The Tigers didn't lose again until FSU beat them in the BCS title game.
Similarly, not much was expected of this year's Mississippi State team. But Mullen, who is in his sixth year in Starkville, gave an indication of what the future might bring when he told the SEC network that he felt might have his best team this season.
The win over LSU put the picture into a sharper focus.
"I probably aged seven to 10 years in the final three minutes of the game," Mullen told reporters after watching the LSU rally fall just short. "We are trying to build a program and I'll take it."
Certainly, there were indications of what could happen. A year ago, Mississippi State was plagued by injuries and inexperience but staggered to a 7-6 record by virtue of a pair of overtime wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss at the end of the regular season. The Bulldogs also finished fourth in the SEC in total defense.
And then there is the guy playing quarterback. Junior Dak Prescott was all over Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, passing for 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns while adding another 105 yards and a score on the ground. By the end of the night, LSU's defense, which was ranked third in the nation entering the game, had been shredded for 570 total yards, the worst in the Les Miles era.
Mullen has made comparisons of Prescott's potential to what Tim Tebow did at Florida, when Mullen was an assistant coach. And more than a few plays Prescott is running at Mississippi State are similar to the game plan Mullen, as Florida's offensive coordinator, put in for Tebow. With a few more performances like Saturday's, Prescott, who has accounted for 14 touchdowns (11 passing) in four games this season, could be joining Tebow and Newton in the Heisman winners' circle.
Indeed, it was Mississippi State that looked more like a prime time team than LSU, thanks not only to Prescott but also running back Josh Robinson, who ran for 197 yards and a touchdown.
There are other indicators that suggest the Bulldogs might be ready to make a run this season. They will have a week off to prepare for their next challenge, a beastly back-to-back against No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 5 Auburn. But both of those games are at home. Also working in their favor are SEC cross-over games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky instead of the South Carolina and Georgia combination Auburn must face.
After that, though, await road games at No. 3 Alabama and at No. 10 Ole Miss, a matchup that as of today sees both Mississippi and Mississippi State ranked concurrently for the first time since 1999.
But that story line is just one in an intriguing, unexpected drama Mississippi State is presenting week by week.
Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, The Dallas Morning News and The Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.
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The NCAA football rankings are beginning to crystallize, with a few top-tier teams proving week in and week out that they are a cut above the rest in the tumultuous college football landscape.
Florida State survived a scare against Clemson in Week 4 without star quarterback Jameis Winston, absent from the game due to a suspension. Redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire led the Seminoles to a 23-17 overtime victory and kept their undefeated record intact.
They don't have a signature blowout win yet on the season, and there are several teams below them in the rankings that appear to be more complete packages at this point, but no one can dispute a 19-game winning streak, the return of Winston and, of course, the 2013 national title.
Until they lose, expect to find them at the pinnacle of most polls.
Other teams with impressive showings include Texas A&M crushing SMU, Sony Michel and Georgia running wild against Troy, and Oklahoma handling a game West Virginia squad.
Here are the updated Amway and Associated Press Top 25 polls heading into Week 5.
Check out the full list of predictions for AP Top 25 teams next week, followed by the top game to tune in to for Week 5.
Game of the Week: UCLA at Arizona State
This titanic Pac-12 tilt is the only matchup between two AP-ranked teams in Week 5, and its late Thursday night time slot makes it a fine contest to whet fans' appetites for the mayhem and madness set to take place on Saturday.
These two programs have provided some excellent football action over the past couple of seasons, with ASU besting the Bruins by a score of 38-33 to win the Pac-12 South last season. The Bruins had their way in October 2012, when they beat the Sun Devils by a score of 45-43.
CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman pointed out that it's rare that the best college game is on a weeknight:
UCLA got an early break from the 2014 action in Week 4, a much-needed breather considering the uncertain status of star quarterback Brett Hundley, who left the Bruins' game against the Texas Longhorns with an elbow injury.
Jerry Neuheisel did a fine job stepping in for Hundley and pulling out the win for UCLA, but he can't overcome the talented Sun Devils in Arizona.
All of our players who are out, what we try to do is make the best decisions for them based upon the knowledge we have. We depend on our doctors to get us good information, and we got the best doctors in the nation in my opinion. If they clear him, and they say he can play, just like everyone else, then we’ll play him.
Foster did note that Hundley has been practicing and believes he is on track to play.
If he does take the field on Thursday, the Bruins have a definite edge since it appears Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly won't be suiting up for the game. He will miss the rivalry game with a right foot injury, per The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
Senior Mike Bercovici—who's completed all of 14 passes in his collegiate career—will take over quarterbacking duties, according to the AP, putting this game in doubt for the home squad.
Key players to watch include UCLA's Myles Jack, the linebacker-turned-instant folk hero with his part-time running back exploits, and Sun Devils running back D.J. Foster, who is averaging a staggering 9.4 yards per carry this season and will test the likes of Jack and fellow linebacker Eric Kendricks.
ESPNU kept track of his handiwork when the Sun Devils took on Colorado:
If Hundley, an Arizona native, doesn't suit up in his home state or his play is limited, this game could go either way. Expect him to play and keep UCLA's undefeated record intact with a critical Pac-12 South victory.
Prediction: Arizona State wins
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The nation's No. 1-rated player Josh Sweat suffered a knee injury on Friday night in his team's 56-14 win over Chesapeake (Va.) Western Branch. Per ESPN, Sweat is out indefinitely with a dislocated knee, but word out of Sweat's camp is the news isn't all bad. Evan G. Watkins of 247Sports shared an update:
I spoke with Sweat's mom via text message, and she updated me on his status. "All is well. No surgery yet, so keep your fingers crossed," replied Ms. Sweat. "His MRI is one day next week. He's in great spirits from the news he received so far. It's looking great."
The 5-star defensive end was scheduled to be in Blacksburg, Virginia, for the Hokies tilt with Georgia Tech. However, those plans will need to be rescheduled. As far as his October visits to Georgia and Florida State, the Sweats are still figuring out everything. When asked if his official-visit plans will be on hold? Sweat answered, "I will try. There is a lot on me right now."
Earlier this month he was in Columbus, Ohio, to see the Buckeyes take on Virginia Tech. His mom did not accompany him on that trip.
Hopefully, the injury doesn't derail his visit plans. It will be important for the aforementioned Bulldogs and Seminoles to get him on campus during the season. Oregon is set to receive an official visit in November and VT will welcome one at anytime. The priority for Sweat and his family is to get healthy. Recruiting will likely get pushed to the back burner.
Longhorns And Aggies Battling For 5-star Malik Jefferson
Standout linebacker Malik Jefferson of Mesquite (Texas) Poteet spent his bye week watching college football on the big screen. Last week he was in Arlington, Texas, for the Texas-UCLA thriller. The Longhorns fell in a closer-than-expected game, and Jefferson watched the action from a front-row spot in the stands. Jefferson shared a firsthand look:
"I was excited to see the game because I knew it was going to be a good one. The most impressive part is how well the Texas defense played. I didn't get a chance to speak with the coaches at the game, but my relationship with Texas is still good," remarked Jefferson.
This weekend, Jefferson will head back to Arlington to see Texas A&M against Arkansas in the Southwest Classic at AT&T Stadium.
"Right now they are the hot school in the state of Texas. I'm comfortable with them like I am with most of the schools recruiting. It's conference play, so you will get to see everyone's true colors. I like the way they play and the things they are doing," replied Jefferson.
So who will win on Saturday? Jefferson simply answered, "A&M."
The 5-star 'backer said the in-state Red Raiders have continued to make him a priority, despite not being listed in his top five.
"Texas Tech is coming after me pretty hard. They try to call me everyday. They feel the need to make me feel important, and they let me know that," added Jefferson.
Jefferson will take an official visit to Ohio State on Nov. 1. He will announce his commitment on Dec. 19 at his school, which will be his last day of high school before graduating early and enrolling in college in January.
5-star DE Byron Cowart Changes Announcement Date
Seffner (Fla.) Armwood defensive end Byron Cowart was set to announce his decision on Sunday, Sept. 28, on the NBC Sports Network in partnership with Rivals.com. However, Cowart made a decision to postpone his decision until further notice. Cowart recently visited College Park to check out the Terrapins.
"They have my major and everything. I'm going to do journalism. They have the Big Ten Network, and the school is between two big media areas in Baltimore and Washington," Cowart told Bleacher Report. "My host was Deon Long and Stefon Diggs. I hung out with those guys over the summer too. Me and the defensive line coach (Chad Wilt) are close. It was a good laid-back vibe. It was 8.5 out of 10."
Cowart is working to set up his other official visits. He knows he will be at the Florida-South Carolina game on Nov. 15, followed by the 'Noles-Gators game on Nov. 29. He is setting up a trip to Eugene, Oregon, to see either the Oregon-Stanford contest or Ducks-Washington tilt.
The 5-star defender has also been to Gainesville twice this fall on unofficial visits. He said each time gets better.
"When I first went up there, all I would see is the fieldhouse. The last time I got to see the Sports Broadcasting area in the journalism school. If I do go to Florida I would spend a lot of time there. I love that part about it, and it's so close to home.
"The scary thing about it is I'm really comfortable with Florida," explained Cowart. "The reason I say scary is the stability in the coaching staff. That's a reason I decided to change my announcement. I don't want to be in a position like Kyle Gibson last year with the Vanderbilt deal."
Cowart's teammate Gibson was committed to Vanderbilt, but when James Franklin left for Penn State, he ended up at UCF with the coaching change.
One thing that will be a primary factor in his recruitment is the ability for his mom to relocate to the school of his choice. Cowart's mom is a registered nurse, and she is willing to be close to Cowart at the next level.
"My mom and I were discussing that we've never really lived in the same place for more than five years. Wherever I go she is probably going to go with me. She said she wouldn't have a problem moving to a place like Oregon, so that gave me the green light to visit them and see what it's about," stated Cowart.
Cowart told me he decided to change his decision time because he wanted to stick to his original plan of committing at the Under Armour game in January. Right now it's shaping up to be a Florida, Florida State and Oregon battle.
4-star Damarkus Lodge Sets Up A Pair Of Official Visits Following A&M Decommitment
Last Thursday, 4-star Damarkus Lodge decided to decommit from Texas A&M in a surprise move. Lodge committed to the Aggies in late June over offers from Arkansas, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Texas among several others. The Aggies' torrid start on offense seemed like the ideal place for Lodge's big-play receiving talent. However, Lodge said his decision to back off his commitment had nothing to do with Texas A&M.
"When I made that decision, I was very, very young. I didn't look into the program or what was best for me. I was really going off the hype," Lodge told me directly. "I've matured a lot since I committed.
"Now I'm just looking at these other schools. I'm still very comfortable with A&M. I love Coach (David) Beaty. I can still see myself at Texas A&M, but I just want to take this time to make sure I do what's best for me and the next four years of my life."
Lodge has set up official visits to Ole Miss and USC in the coming weeks. First up is a trip to Los Angeles to see the Trojans take on Oregon State at Memorial Coliseum.
"I've never been out to LA. I think it's going to be pretty fun. I know what kind of program USC is. They are going to play 3 or 4 receivers, but they are going to have their main go-to guys. Plus they will run the ball down your throat," stated Lodge.
"I know the coaching staff is great, but I really don't have a relationship with them. A week after they offered me...I'm committed...they kind of backed off me. Since I decommitted, I've already talked to Coach (Peter) Sirmon."
The smooth pass-catcher will head to Oxford for the Ole Miss-Alabama game on Saturday, Oct. 4. What is he expecting to see when he heads to the heart of SEC country?
Lodge stated, "I'm trying to go down there and see what type of players they have. I want to see what kind of environment they have and what the coaches are like outside of recruiting. I want to build a bond with the players and see what kind of place Oxford is. With Ole Miss when I'm a freshman (Laquon) Treadwell will be a junior, so I could (see) myself as (an) impact player like him and taking over his role. "
LSU and Tennessee will likely get official visits as well. A dark horse that has Lodge's attention is Florida State. He doesn't have an offer from the team, but if the 'Noles contacted him he would be more than willing to listen.
"If they offered they would definitely be in my top five. I love what they are doing with their program. As Coach (Jimbo) Fisher said last night, they know how to win," added Lodge. "They play their receivers, and they have quarterbacks that know how to get them the ball. I want to reach out to the coaches in the next week to see if there is interest."
The Cedar Hill (Texas) prospect doesn't have a timetable for his decision. He said he will take his time and not rush into things again. It appears the next time will be the last for Lodge.
Notre Dame Making A Move With 4-Star DB Frank Buncom
San Diego (Calif.) St. Augustine defensive back Frank Buncom picked up a recent offer from Notre Dame. Buncom set up an official visit shortly after hearing the good news from the Irish.
"The ND offer is definitely nice to have because of the prestige that their university merits. It's at the upper echelon of the world of academia," chimed Buncom. "Concerning the visit (Oct. 4), I just want to experience the culture and atmosphere that is talked about so frequently."
Buncom's top five consists of Duke, Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA and Vanderbilt. His grandfather played at USC, and he lists the Trojans as his dream school. Stanford will get a chance to host him for an official visit after the season.
"My only other official set is in January to Stanford. Just recently, Notre Dame has ramped up on recruiting me. I'm going to make my decision after the football season," said Buncom. "Upon deciding I will access multiple factors because I can't say that one factor is more important than another."
The 4-star cover corner is trending up for the Cardinal in the 247Sports Crystal Ball. The estimated predictions have him as a 100 percent lock for Stanford.
4-star Joseph Wicker Happy With UCLA Offer
September has been a good month for 4-star recruit Joseph Wicker. Wicker added new offers from Texas Tech and UCLA with the latter being a big offer for the Los Angeles native.
"I was excited about it. It's close to home, so that's always cool. Some of my family want me to stay close to home, but others don't really push me either way," stated Wicker.
"I've been talking to the UCLA coaches since I was a sophomore. We talk regularly now. I have a good relationship with coach Angus McClure and Coach (Kennedy) Polamalu. I don't think I'm going to take an official visit to UCLA because I go to their games all the time."
Wicker has two official visits set up to Arizona State and Texas Tech. He is working to set up an official to Miami for its game against Florida State. The Long Beach (California) Poly standout is discussing dates to get to Notre Dame and Washington as well.
The 6'2", 265-pounder has family ties to each the Sun Devils and Red Raiders. "My cousin Jade Lewis runs track at Texas Tech. When they started hitting me up, I knew I wanted to check them out. When I started following football, I've always liked them," said Wicker.
Wicker is very familiar with the Sun Devils program as well. "They are on the rise. I can see myself in the same shoes as some guys in recent years like Will Sutton. I have family there too, and they have a lot of alumni there from my school, so it will be like home."
Schools are looking at Wicker at both defensive end and defensive tackle. Playing time and academics will be the primary factors in his decision. Wicker wants to major in sociology or nursing. He plans to announce on national signing day.
Unless otherwise noted all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
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The rain fell. And then it fell a bit harder. And then Michigan Stadium emptied as the skies opened, causing the football surface to look more pond than playing field.
For two hours and 24 minutes, Utah’s 26-10 lead over Brady Hoke’s Michigan Wolverines sat in the waiting room as water overtook the stadium. It was metaphoric—watching the grass slowly but surely give way to standing water—the kind of situation so strangely timed that it had to have been planned.
Status: ☔️ pic.twitter.com/oHM6bxgLEU— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) September 20, 2014
You knew that once play resumed, the outcome would not change. Utah would eventually win the game—and it did—and Mother Nature’s impressive bit of improv was simply postponing the inevitable. The game resumed with less than eight minutes remaining and Utah won 26-10. Just like you knew it would.
The inevitability won’t stop with Week 4, not when it comes to Hoke and his future at the program he still coaches. With this loss, the ones before it and the ones likely to follow, his fate is all but sealed.
Although it’s a cliched, cartoonish term, “on the hot seat” is actually a ruthless and unrelenting label that is rarely lifted. It is an unfair, unfortunate product of the lucrative business these coaches sign up for, and once you’re on it, you’re typically on it for good.
There are exceptions to the rule—look no further than Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, who just delivered his most impressive victory to date—although these moments are few and far between.
When it rains, it pours. And although the Michigan Stadium turf is no longer under water, the skies are still ominous. Inevitability has set in.
Let’s move to brighter skies—unless you’re a Clemson or Cal fan—and highlight the players, moments and important Steve Addazio Vines of the week.
Offensive Player of the Week: Amari Cooper, Alabama
Other players across the country—some of which will undoubtedly be mentioned in the text to follow—delivered more stat-crazed performances in Week 4. But in terms of overall impact and competition faced, no player was more impressive than Alabama wideout Amari Cooper.
The stats were still awfully good. Cooper finished with 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns while lining across from Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, arguably the conference’s top cover man.
Stats, however, won't do Cooper's recent run justice. It’s hard to put into words what he’s meant for a young quarterback, not just in this game but for the season. I know we don’t typically welcome wideouts into the Heisman conversation with open arms, but goodness does Cooper belong right now.
Dominant Defender: Zeek Bigger, ECU
ECU LB Zeek Bigger is named the Walter Camp Defensive Player-of-the-Week with 17 tackles and an interception TD. pic.twitter.com/vMyi0Z3gIk— InsideECUSports (@InsideECUSports) September 21, 2014
Before we celebrate a magnificent solo performance on the defensive side, let’s applaud this name. It’s as if the parents knew their son would play linebacker in college. (Oh, and he's rather good, too.)
Zeek Bigger, ECU linebacker, is a name built for a Hollywood football movie.
Bigger had himself a big day in ECU’s magnificent 70-41 beatdown of North Carolina, finishing with 17 tackles and a taking an interception back 46 yards for a touchdown. It was a score so lopsided you had to check it twice, and yep, it didn’t change. (Well, it did change. ECU's total kept going up.)
With Bigger’s performance, the junior now leads the nation in tackles (54). His name is also undefeated.
Video Game Box Score:
-Melvin Gordon fumbled. That might seem like a strange place to begin with video game box scores, although this fumble was special. More specifically, it was Gordon’s first-ever turnover at the college level and his first fumble lost in 322 carries. That’s impressive. Oh, and he ran for more than 250 yards and five touchdowns on just 13 carries. That's not bad, either.
-East Carolina is playing on novice, apparently. Or at least it seemed that way against North Carolina. The offense delivered 70 points, 789 (!!!) total yards and converted 12 of 17 third downs. Oh, and the Pirates also averaged 7.5 yards per rush on 46 carries. Goodness.
Anti-Video Game Box Score:
-Eastern Michigan finished the first half against Michigan State with one yard. That’s one less than two for those keeping track at home. Michigan State finished its first half with 320 yards (and 49 points) in the first. I hope you didn’t watch the second half and got some chores done instead.
-UConn ran a total of 36 plays against USF this week. This was not the first-half total; this was for the entire game. For perspective, Pittsburgh ran 18 plays on one drive against Iowa. Arizona ran 106 plays in its win against Cal. Running 36 plays—even in difficult weather—is ineptitude so unbelievable it should be given a parade.
Biggest Surprise: Jameis Winston Takes the Field
When Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher saw his suspended quarterback dressed in uniform before the team’s game against Clemson, he offered up the same glare you give your cable and Internet company when you are put on hold.
It was a hint of exhaustion, a dash of disbelief and a solid helping of nerves before a critical game, one he would be without the player standing directly in front of him, helmet, pads and all. It came as a surprise to us, yet this was likely a miscommunication more than anything else.
That doesn’t take away from Fisher’s outstanding reaction, though.
I suppose “best” depends on your rooting interest, although the Cal-Arizona ending was nothing short of spectacular. And it wasn’t just the very end, although we’ll get to that shortly.
The fourth quarter alone gave us 50 points. After being down the entire game, Arizona bounced back and scored 36 points in the final 15 minutes to get within a field goal of winning.
Out of range, however, the Wildcats had to settle for a Hail Mary. Then this happened.
College football remains awesome, heartbreaking and unmistakably weird.
For the Highlight Reel
No, Clemson did not beat Florida State. But the Tigers delivered your early “Best Catch of the Year Featuring a Wide Receiver Wearing Only One Shoe” moment thanks to Mike Williams, who somehow caught this.
Losing a shoe wasn’t even the most impressive part of this play. The catch itself—along with the early, soccer-like slide—had everyone wondering what exactly just happened.
This is a quality consolation prize, right? (I’m sorry.)
If the College Football Playoff Started Today... (or Why I Hate Your Team)
Keep in mind that these are not projections. This is how are College Football Playoff would look if the season ended today.
Our playoff would also be 64 teams and played over the course of three months in the Bahamas, but that’s another conversation entirely. With that out of the way, here's where we stand.
4. Texas A&M
Five Leftovers to Chew on
1. Style points are so incredibly overrated, at least at this point of the year. As we look for the appropriate responses to Florida State and Oregon—two national championship favorites that enjoyed close calls for very different reasons—keep in mind how difficult the week-to-week grind can be for teams made up of 18-to-22-year-old kids. Stay alive, move on. It's that simple.
2. Mississippi State, as we have quickly learned, needs our utmost attention. Yes, the game against LSU got close (and weird) late, although the Bulldogs dominated this game, particularly at the line of scrimmage, throughout. Dak Prescott is emerging as a legitimate Heisman candidate, and Mississippi State might just be a Top 10 team.
3. Blake Sims throws a beautiful football. The Alabama quarterback is by no means a finished product, but there were a handful of “wow” throws included in his impressive performance against Florida. It’s amazing how much clarity that position suddenly has after being blasted and critiqued the entire offseason.
4. Kudos to Bo Pelini and Nebraska. Now, beating Miami (and a true freshman at QB) won’t suddenly solve all woes, but there is much to be excited about with the way this team is going about its business. Running back Ameer Abdullah is rolling and the defense—particularly the front seven—looks active. This was the start Pelini needed.
5. Even in a loss, West Virginia is light years better than where it was last year. The Mountaineers were unable to withstand Oklahoma’s late surge Saturday, although there’s no shame in that. Clint Trickett has been fabulous under Dana Holgorsen, and the defense is playing much better than we could have ever imagined. Nothing is a given with so much football to be played, but it certainly feels like Holgo’s hot seat has cooled.
Large Man Play of the Week
On his Michigan bio, Willie Henry is listed at 293 pounds. It is not everyday that men near 300 pounds find the end zone, and thus, we must celebrate Henry’s interception return with a hefty round of applause.September 20, 2014
Although he didn’t have to run far—seven yards, to be exact—it does not matter. It’s a touchdown, and it should be celebrated. Large men doing large things never becomes tiresome.
Mascot Save of The Week
Reveille, Texas A&M's loveable pup, was enjoying the game from a distance that was thought to be comfortable and out of range. Without warning, however, SMU wideout Der'rikk Thompson came barreling in that direction after an overthrow. We could make a joke about the SMU offense here, but we will refrain.
With Reveille suddenly in jeopardy, a brave A&M cadet stepped in and delivered the most impressive block of the afternoon.
SMU WR nearly runs into Texas A&M's mascot, but an A&M cadet was there to avert the collision: http://t.co/YP3u5yJ169— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) September 20, 2014
That’s what matters most here, not the SMU jokes. Although they are tempting.
Horrendous Flop of the Week
Is this were the NBA, Army linebacker Stephen Ricciardi would be fielding a call from the league office and a fine the size of Toyota Corolla. Needless to say, his attempt to draw a personal foul flag...did not work.
Behold Week 4’s most amazing, unsuccessful acting job and a full football field trying to figure out what just happened.
This Week in Coffins That Are Actually Team-Centric Tailgating Fixtures
Sure, you could ignore that unused coffin. Or, you could paint it yellow, throw on a decal, paint some stripes and build the necessary inserts to make it a cooler for your LSU tailgates.September 20, 2014
Yes, someone did that. No backstory is necessary, really. Behold the tailgating champions of the universe.
(Also, can I have one or four of those?)
That One Time a Center Forgot What He Was Supposed to Do
In 25 years, perhaps ESPN will produce a 30 for 30 on Eastern Michigan center Dwayne Brown and his incredible non-snap against Michigan State. The commercial will start something like this:
“What if I told you that a center in a college football game forgot to snap the ball before being belted and flagged for illegal procedure shortly after.”
Then this clip would play, and you would sprint to your DVR.
This Week in Steve Spurrier Vines
South Carolina almost lost to Vanderbilt, which is something I did not expect to type at any point over the next few years. But it happened.
After falling behind 14-0, the Gamecocks eventually kicked it into gear and ended up winning by two touchdowns. It was not comfortable, and it really never looked all that easy.
After the game, an unhappy, sweaty Steve Spurrier delivered expected hilarity on the effort. This Vine sums his thoughts up quite nicely, and if you'll excuse me, I have to watch this for the next few hours.
If you have time, watch his entire press conference. You will not regret it.
This Week in Year-Old Vines From a Head Coach Who Loves Saying “Dudes”
More than a year ago, Boston College head coach Steve Addazio decided it was time to upload some Vines, promote the school, and talk about “dudes.” So he did, and he hasn’t uploaded a Vine since.
Before he vanished, however, he gave us quick-hitting masterpieces like this.
And especially this.
Given Boston College’s recent win against unbeaten USC, it’s time for the Internet’s great crusader to return to his comfort place, a place where dudes can be celebrated with six-second clips and mild Internet cheers.
Come back, coach. We need you.
From the Peanut Gallery (Best Tweets of the Weekend)
Pat Fitzgerald used three (!!!) timeouts to ice Western Illinois' kicker. This game is a steaming pile of crap.— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) September 20, 2014
Halftime of EMU-Sparty. You kids want to see a dead body? pic.twitter.com/wgrrliBn4K— Vico (@ourhonordefend) September 20, 2014
🐢>🍊— Maryland Athletics (@umterps) September 20, 2014
Bold defensive strategy by the Gators pic.twitter.com/vAuHwzDopq— Cork Gaines (@CorkGaines) September 20, 2014
Live shot of Michigan athletics director Dave Brandon... pic.twitter.com/BtRvxZW1iF— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) September 20, 2014
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The 2014 college football season is just four weeks old, yet the Big Ten is already down to its final two undefeated programs—Nebraska and Penn State. The Nittany Lions, fresh off of a win over Massachusetts and the NCAA's announcement that it is lifting their postseason ban, are suddenly thrust into a position where they not only control their own College Football Playoff destiny but perhaps also that of the Big Ten's.
We've heard plenty about how the Big Ten's rough non-conference record will keep the eventual conference champion out of the inaugural CFP come January. But will a 35-14 record really do that? Is it that much worse than the ACC's 33-10? Or the Big 12's 19-8?
Penn State is the true wild card in this situation. Perhaps the media has spent so long ignoring Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky scandal that it will provide the Nittany Lions an opportunity to fly in under the radar. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Nittany Lions, in the wake of an embarrassing and shameful chapter in their history, can become the saviors of the Big Ten's College Football Playoff hopes in 2014.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.
Ohio State is replacing loads of talent from last year's team, including leading rusher Carlos Hyde, top receiver Corey Brown and first-team All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier.
Three new players have helped Urban Meyer replace those lost stars.
Coming off an open week, the No. 22 Buckeyes are preparing for their last nonconference matchup of the season—a home game against Cincinnati under the lights.
But through three games, these players have been a pleasant surprise for Buckeyes fans.
Ohio State needed its receivers to step up in the wake of Braxton Miller's season-ending shoulder injury. With players such as Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson on the perimeter, new quarterback J.T. Barrett had plenty of playmakers to ease his transition into the offense.
Michael Thomas, though, has been Barrett's top pass-catcher through three games.
Thomas—the nephew of legendary receiver Keyshawn Johnson—leads the Buckeyes in receptions (11), receiving yards (214) and touchdown receptions (four). He has recorded a touchdown in each of the Buckeyes' three games, and two of his scores have gone for more than 50 yards.
With the bevy of playmakers in Columbus, Meyer likes to rotate his receivers frequently. That's why Thomas knows he needs to make the most of his time on the field.
“I just know when a play comes, I’ve got to make it,” Thomas said, according to John Kampf of The Morning Journal. “You may not get as many chances. I just want to take advantage of my opportunities.”
The Buckeyes needed a big boost at linebacker when Shazier opted out of his senior season in favor of the NFL draft. The unit was Meyer's top defensive concern a season ago, and without its best player, the group needed some young players to step up.
Redshirt freshman Darron Lee has answered the call.
The former 3-star prospect played quarterback and safety in high school, but he bulked up last year and surged in spring practice to lock down one of Ohio State's outside linebacker positions. And so far this season, he's playing inspired football.
Lee is fifth among Buckeyes with 17 tackles, but he's tied with Joey Bosa for the team lead in tackles for loss with five. His fumble recovery and 61-yard touchdown return against Navy sparked an Ohio State rally in the season opener, and his all-around play and energy have given the Buckeyes defense new life.
“He probably has one of the most fiery personalities on the team," fellow linebacker Joshua Perry said, according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch. "He’s really upbeat. He’s bouncing around all the time. He’s loud. He’s got a lot of juice and energy.
"He loves picking guys up and being a catalyst.”
Meyer is hoping Lee continues to surge alongside an improving defense.
Ezekiel Elliott appeared to be next in line with Hyde's departure—destined for big things as Ohio State's featured running back.
While that could still come to fruition, the Buckeyes have split carries to showcase their deep stable of ball-carriers. And so far, freshman Curtis Samuel has been the most productive.
Samuel and Elliott have the same number of carries (27), but the freshman is averaging a full yard more per carry. Both have rushed for two touchdowns and proved themselves as reliable pass-catchers.
Samuel has just looked better at times. He's leading the team with 171 rushing yards and has the long run of the season for the Buckeyes (26 yards). Meyer knows he's just scratching the surface.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Week 4 looked great on paper. It was even better on the field.
The fun started Thursday evening (Auburn's miraculous escape at Kansas State) and continued through the wee hours of Sunday morning (Arizona's really miraculous Hail Mary to beat Cal), and much of what happened in between was just as good. It was the best week of a season where none have been bad.
Predictably, a week with so many good games meant a number of striking individual performances. Constructing this list is never easy, but it is rarely as hard as it was for Week 4.
Ultimately—as always—the main criteria went beyond raw statistics. Big numbers matter, but they matter more against a good opponent than a bad one. They also matter more when they take place in clutch game situations, something that had a big effect on the Week 4 first-team defense (see: defensive tackle and cornerback).
Chime in below and let me know whom I missed.
In 2006, there was a debate over whether Michigan or Florida should play Ohio State in the BCS championship game, even though the Wolverines were just coming off a loss to the Buckeyes to end the season.
At the time, it sparked initial comments from then-Florida coach Urban Meyer and then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr about potentially starting a playoff to solve the conundrum:
As Florida padded its resume, second-year coach Meyer became very vocal about getting a chance to play Ohio State, especially when it appeared the Gators would be left out.
He called for a playoff and suggested the BCS should be imploded if the SEC champ again was left out of the championship game -- the way undefeated Auburn was in 2004.
"It's an imperfect system," Meyer said Sunday. "If you want a true national championship, the only way to do it is on the field.
Carr agreed: "I hope one day we have a system where all the issues are decided on the field."
How things have changed in eight years.
Now officially in the College Football Playoff era, neither Michigan nor Florida look ready to compete for a spot in the four-team field any time soon.
The Wolverines are coming off a 26-10 loss at home to Utah and have yet to score a touchdown against a Power Five opponent this season (h/t Nicole Auerbach, USA Today). Florida was no match for Alabama in a 42-21 loss. Both programs were simply outclassed.
So how did two perennial powers fall from the top of the college football mountain?
Nearly nine months after Florida surpassed Michigan for the chance to play the Buckeyes, the Wolverines again were surpassed on the field in the greatest college football stunner to date: a 34-32 season-opening loss to Appalachian State.
In addition to igniting the wackiest season in recent college football memory—check out this top 25 from midseason—it marked the final months of the Carr era in Ann Arbor.
An 8-4 regular season with yet another loss to Ohio State was the end, and Carr's final game came against Florida, of all teams, in a Capital One Bowl win.
As Michigan tried to fix its problems, however, it only prolonged them. The university hired Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia, an offensive mastermind with a history in the zone-read. Rodriguez didn't have ties to the program and never got off to a smooth start, as Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press chronicled.
From his perspective, Michigan suffered from an entitlement issue. Here's what Rodriguez said in 2013 in an interview with Matt Hayes of the Sporting News:
We had some guys committed at Michigan, but we had others that weren’t. Some guys felt a sense of entitlement. The name on the chest, and 'I’ve already arrived.' The Chad Hennes and the Jake Longs put the work in and succeeded before us, and guys behind them thought they were entitled to the same status but hadn’t proved anything.
Regardless, an NCAA inquiry into violations over practice time and poor on-field results put the heat on Rodriguez. He was never able to have a defense that matched his offense and was let go after a Gator Bowl loss to Mississippi State in 2011 with a 15-22 overall record in three seasons.
Michigan then hired San Diego State coach Brady Hoke, a former Wolverines assistant. Things appeared to be headed in the right direction when Michigan went 11-2, topped off with a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech, in Hoke's first year in 2011.
Things have gone downhill ever since.
Michigan hasn't won more than eight games in a season with Hoke at the helm, and it was announced in January that offensive coordinator Al Borges would not be back for the 2014 season.
In addition to coaching turnover, Michigan's inability to develop talent has been its biggest problem. The Wolverines haven't had more than three players taken in each NFL draft since 2008.
Amazingly, Michigan had two offensive linemen taken in the '14 draft—Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield—but ranked 104th nationally in rushing offense, per cfbstats.com.
The offense hasn't looked any better under first-year OC Doug Nussmeier. Now 2-2, Hoke is reaching near rock bottom, according to Nick Baumgardner of mlive.com.
How long it takes Hoke to get Michigan out of its hole, if he can at all, remains to be seen.
As Matt Hinton of Grantland writes, "When Hoke says 'This is Michigan' in 2014, the distance between the Michigan in his mind and the Michigan he’s selling to teenagers who were newborns when the Wolverines last wore the crown has never been greater."
Florida had success after the 2006 season. In fact, two years later, it won a national championship with Meyer. But two years after that, the Gators went 8-5 and Meyer stepped down from his position to spend more time with his family.
That decision came one year after Meyer retired, briefly before changing his mind, for health reasons.
Florida hired Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, considered to be a rising star in the business. But things have been troublesome for Muschamp since becoming the head coach.
Mainly, the Gators, previously an offensive juggernaut under Meyer, haven't finished in the top 70 in scoring offense since Muschamp's arrival, per cfbstats.com. Things hit a low point in 2013 during a disastrous 4-8 campaign in which Florida 113th in points scored.
Whereas Michigan had no problem scoring but couldn't stop anyone under Rodriguez, Florida has had the opposite problem with Muschamp.
Of course, there's been massive turnover at the offensive coordinator position. Former Notre Dame and current Kansas head coach Charlie Weis was the Gators' play caller for one year. Former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease never got things going in his two years (2012-13), either.
This past offseason, Muschamp hired Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to repair the damage. However, following a 42-21 loss to Alabama, it's clear Roper still has a lot of work to do, specifically with quarterback Jeff Driskel.
But, unlike Michigan as of late, getting NFL-caliber players through the program hasn't been as big of a problem.
In 2013, eight players were drafted into the pros. However, Muschamp has hinted that perhaps Meyer left the program in a bad situation, which Muschamp has had to build back up. From Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:
To Muschamp's credit, he never blamed Meyer for a roster that was bereft of experience, depth and discipline in Year 1, although he did hint that there were some issues. Meyer's disciplinary and player-arrest record at UF were abysmal, and Muschamp had to clean out some of the character problems. That left him a roster of only 71 scholarship players last season — 14 below the NCAA limit.
If Muschamp inherited a problem, he certainly hasn't found a solution yet. Muschamp's defense, normally solid, has allowed 818 pass yards over the last two games.
Is Muschamp on the hot seat? He's definitely going to have to get Florida back to a bowl game to even have a chance of eliminating that conversation.
For blue bloods like Michigan and Florida, the fall from the top rung to mediocrity has been surprising. Each took their separate routes, but share common problems: underdeveloped talent, poor coaching hires and/or turnover and the rise of surrounding programs.
Florida, for example, is now competing head-to-head with programs like South Carolina. Michigan, meanwhile, has lost five of its last six meetings with Michigan State. Not surprisingly, Steve Spurrier (South Carolina) and Mark Dantonio (Michigan State) are considered some of the best coaches in the business.
Michigan and Florida are getting out-coached and out-played. The instability surrounding each program plays a role, but in theory, both should be able to rebound quickly given their resources.
That's proving to be more difficult than it originally seemed.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
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The Texas A&M football team improved its record to 4-0 with a 58-6 victory over SMU. The Aggies will take on the 3-1 Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Aggies are ranked No. 7 in the coaches poll. Arkansas is out to prove that it is a better team than the 2013 version that lost all eight of its conference games after going 3-1 in non-conference play.
This game will showcase diverging theories on offense, with the Aggies' no-huddle spread versus the Razorbacks plodding rushing game. Texas A&M wants to run as many offensive plays as possible in order to wear a defense out.
Arkansas wants to grind out yardage with the running game, control the clock and wear the defense down by physically overpowering them.
The Aggies are looking to improve to 2-0 in the SEC and move into contention for the SEC title. The Razorbacks are trying to even their conference record and remind the world that this is not a repeat of 2013.
This is a look at how the Aggies and Razorbacks match up.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen struggled for a signature win throughout the first few years of his tenure as the Bulldogs' head coach. He entered Saturday night's matchup with LSU with a 2-22 record against ranked opponents, with both of those wins coming against teams that were average at best (Ole Miss 2009, Florida 2010).
That third win against ranked competition resonated like a clap of thunder that was a little too close for comfort.
The Bulldogs manhandled then-No. 8 LSU in a 34-29 victory in Death Valley on Saturday night, notching the biggest win of his Mississippi State career. If the previous wins over ranked opponents were considered "signature wins," this one was written in ink, paint and etched in stone.
Don't be fooled by the score. Mississippi State treated LSU like a cupcake in a paycheck game for the majority of the night, and then survived a late charge led mostly by LSU's backups.
This begs the question, what does the future hold for Mullen?
It should include more taxes being paid to the city of Starkville, Mississippi, because the Bulldogs and Mullen are a perfect fit.
I'll admit, I was wrong about Mullen.
Up until late last season, he had done a lot to raise the floor of the program but hadn't really done much to impact the ceiling. Sure, four straight bowl games was nice, but there wasn't much to indicate the possibility of upward mobility for the program.
There is now.
Mississippi State went into one of the most hostile environments in college football, played his brand of football and flat out whipped the typically-physical Tigers.
There have been suitors for Mullen in the past.
He was linked to the Penn State job in late 2011, according to Sports Illustrated, and Miami was turned off by Mullen before it hired Al Golden after the 2010 season, according to The Miami Herald (via SportsByBrooks.com).
What's done is done, though, and Mullen's future looks incredibly bright in Starkville.
Why does that matter?
If Mullen is going to be linked to any job after this season, it'll likely be Florida. He won two national championships as the offensive coordinator of the Gators in 2006 and 2008 and is familiar with the recruiting territory. Plus, Muschamp isn't doing his hot seat any favors by combining a suddenly putrid defense with a consistently woeful offense.
Would the Florida job really be worth leaving Starkville for? At this point, no.
The pay would be roughly the same, and if Florida started tossing cash at Mullen's front door, Mississippi State would have no problem matching it now that the SEC has what amounts to its own version of a mint known as the "SEC Network."
Sure, the immediate upside would be great. After all, Florida has a recruiting base that is second to none in college football. What Florida lacks, though, is job stability.
Mullen has now established that in Starkville, which is a rarity for the coaching profession.
Saturday night proved that while the journey takes a little while longer at a program like Mississippi State, the potential still exists to be great—even in the SEC West. Mullen already walked down that path, built the program the way he wanted to and proved that it works.
There's no reason to leave now. It's just getting good.
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.
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If you can believe it, we're approaching one month into the college football season.
And the B/R freshmen power rankings are chugging along, like a train of high ceilings, raw talent and untapped potential.
The freshmen on this list didn't technically have to start—as in, they didn't have to be the first player on the field at their respective position—but they did have to play at least a complementary or rotational role with at least one recordable stat.
These rankings are also subject to change from week to week depending on who shines.
So which freshmen stood out in Week 3? Which ones had the most jaw-dropping highlights? Which ones underwhelmed? The answers are in the list below.
Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine. With Keith Ford sidelined with an ankle injury, the freshman running back helped the Sooners grind out a 45-33 victory against West Virginia. Perine, unofficially known now as Optimus Perine, carried the ball 34 times for 242 yards and four touchdowns.
Of course, the Sooners did a tremendous job blocking up front, but opposing defenses shouldn't want anything to do with the 5'11", 243-pound freshman. He's a wrecking ball.
How do you not go with Anu Solomon's 47-yard Hail Mary to Austin Hill in Arizona's wild 49-45 come-from-behind stunner over Cal?
Solomon had a night he may never replicate again with 73 pass attempts for 520 yards and five touchdowns. Considering the Wildcats had to score 36 fourth-quarter points, it's no surprise Solomon had to throw the ball a ton.
Still, what an incredible play to cap off a wild Week 4.
Ohio linebacker Quentin Poling. Yeah, this is an off-the-radar pick, and the Bobcats have been so-so at best this year. But Poling is quietly starting to rack up some eye-catching stats.
The redshirt freshman had three interceptions in 36-24 win over Idaho, returning them for a total of 77 yards. He also leads the team in tackles with 34.
Poling won't get a lot of publicity because of the team he plays for, so might as well give him a little love while we can.
Technically, Leonard Fournette led LSU with seven carries for 38 yards in Saturday's 34-29 loss to Mississippi State. He had a long run of 20 yards, but he was otherwise quiet. Then again, LSU was playing from behind. Running the ball isn't really an option there.
Fournette is churning out a decent enough year with 200 yards through four games, but with SEC play underway, the Tigers have been a so-so rushing team. Fournette is quickly falling out of the spotlight.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.
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Four weeks are in the books, and the once-murky SEC quarterback picture has come into focus.
Remember when Texas A&M had a challenge replacing former quarterback Johnny Manziel? That seems like a decade ago.
Remember Alabama's "quarterback controversy?" Blake Sims ended that the moment he stepped foot off the bus at the Georgia Dome for the season opener.
Remember when Jeff Driskel was set to thrive in Kurt Roper's hurry-up, no-huddle offense? That hasn't really happened yet.
Stars have emerged, others have fallen off and several SEC veterans have elevated their play through the first four weeks. We re-rank the SEC starting quarterbacks in this slideshow.
After a weekend of close calls for top teams, one major upset and the usual unpredictability and excitement that college football brings, both the Amway coaches poll and Associated Press poll were released Sunday.
And, as always, there were plenty of strong opinions to follow.
But first, let's take a look at the polls. Here's the AP poll:
And here is the coaches poll:
The biggest storyline this week was arguably Mississippi State jumping into the rankings, as Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press noted:
And Knox Bardeen of Fox Sports South was happy to see the team also pop up in the coaches poll:
Meanwhile, Hugh Kellenberger of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger noted that a bit of history was made Sunday:
Of course, the SEC West had a pretty darn good day in both polls. Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports notes its big performance in the AP poll:
Meanwhile, former Alabama quarterback and current SEC Network broadcaster Greg McElroy noted its strong showing in the coaches poll:
But enough of the SEC West love. While there was never bound to be much movement near the top of the rankings outside of LSU, there were a few surprises nonetheless. John Coon of The Associated Press noted one:
And Jon Solomon of CBS Sports pointed out a few more:
The last tweet points out one of the stranger instances that always seem to pop up on a yearly basis: Team A beats Team B and each team has the same amount of losses, but Team B is ranked higher. Huh? How does that work?
Folks making the polls will claim it's a look at an overall resume. Perhaps. Or maybe teams are always punished that lose later in the season than teams that lose early. That has always felt closer to the truth.
The top of both sets of rankings seems likely to remain pretty much the same next week, barring a major upset. However, a few games—namely UCLA facing Arizona State and Missouri taking on South Carolina—could shake things up a little further down.
As always, it should be another fun week of action.
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Week 4 has come and gone, and we inch ever closer to the first College Football Playoff. There's still a long way to go in the season, but contenders are starting to take shape.
Florida State and Oregon survived and advanced against Clemson and Washington State, respectively. Auburn fended off Kansas State in one of the more intriguing nonconference matchups of the season. Alabama hosed Florida despite being bit by the turnover bug, and Oklahoma powered past West Virginia on the road.
Now, The Associated Press, USA Today and Bleacher Report have the difficult task of ranking the Top 25 teams. The Top 10 feels set for the most part, but how does the top half look? Do voters keep Florida State at No. 1 because it keeps winning? How much does a close win at Washington State hurt Oregon?
These are just some of the questions voters have to answer.
How did the polls look? Which teams are the hits and which are the misses? The answers are in the following slides.
For the second straight week, a college football Saturday that looked straightforward proved anything but. Top 10 teams went down in flames, the entire Top Five was scared to varying degrees and another potential monster in the SEC West emerged.
At the top, Florida State and Oregon were sweating bullets down to the final minutes. A key defensive stop and a 12-yard Karlos Williams run gave the Seminoles an overtime victory against Clemson, while not long later Oregon was going on a 3:34 drive to ice the final moments of a 38-31 win over Washington State.
That, of course, came a couple of days after Auburn had its own game-icing drive to take down Kansas State in Manhattan. Alabama and Oklahoma were both scared deep into the third quarter of their matchups with Florida and West Virginia, respectively, but were able to prevail by double digits.
What does this mean? Well, basically, all that excitement was for nothing. The top of college football's available polls remains the same, and the poll that actually matters is still weeks from being decided. The basic takeaway from Week 4 is that LSU will almost certainly not be making a College Football Playoff appearance.
Everything else? Still to be decided. With that in mind, let's run a postmortem on the day that was for the nation's top four teams.
No. 1 Florida State
Sometimes, Florida State makes games look too easy. The athletes overwhelm even the best competition, with defenders swarming to the point of attack and skill-position guys all looking like they run 1.2-second 40-yard dashes. It's then at times difficult to gauge the value of Jameis Winston—an undoubtedly talented quarterback who gets a ton of time to throw and has awesome running backs and wide receivers around him.
Saturday night may have been the best possible evidence of Jameis' on-field awesomeness. Playing without the Heisman winner, who was suspended for Saturday's game after making lewd comments on campus, the Florida State offense sputtered.
Backup Sean Maguire was wildly inaccurate in the first half and wildly dangerous in the second, highlighted by two fourth-quarter interceptions. A good chunk of Maguire's 305 yards came on a 74-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Greene, who had the benefit of not having a defender within five yards of him. Strip away that play, and Maguire barely averaged more than six yards per attempt.
Greene's touchdown and two missed field goals by Clemson's Ammon Lakip wound up being the Seminoles' savior. Afraid Lakip would miss another kick, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney went for a 4th-and-short in overtime and failed. Two plays later, Karlos Williams was running in from 12 yards out to give Florida State the 23-17 win.
Meeting Williams in the end zone was Winston, who bum-rushed the field the second his running back hit paydirt.
"(Winston) told me he's proud of me," Williams told reporters after the game. "He's a great leader. He did something you really don't see in a lot of starting quarterbacks, which is rally behind the backup."
With Winston back in the lineup, the Seminoles shouldn't have many problems for the next month. They go on the road to North Carolina State next week before taking on Wake Forest and Syracuse. The Wolfpack are 4-0 but have spent the early part of their schedule on a cupcake-mashing spree. Pollsters might be turned off a bit by Winston's actions, but there's no reason to worry until Oct. 18's matchup with Notre Dame.
No. 2 Oregon
Marcus Mariota is probably your Heisman trophy favorite through the first four weeks. The Oregon signal-caller was essentially solely responsible for Saturday night's close win in Pullman, completing 21 of 25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns. Despite being sacked seven times (sacks count as negative rushing yards), Mariota also added 58 yards on the ground.
Like his sophomore campaign, Mariota's most impressive feat remains his decision-making. He is yet to throw an interception in 95 attempts. Add in the whole 1,135 yards, 11 touchdowns and 74 percent completion rate thing, and you have an inhuman life form sent from another planet to embarrass us mere mortals.
"He did a great job of rattling the defense in the second half," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters. "The guy is special."
The special guy was nearly undone by a defense that allowed 436 yards and four touchdowns to Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday. The Cougars were never behind by more than a touchdown and might have won the game had it not been for two lost fumbles.
As the schedule difficulty ratchets up, Oregon might have issues in its secondary. Halliday's performance gave Ducks fans deja vu from Connor Cook's first half in the Ducks' win over Michigan State.
Hmm, come to think of it, maybe Oregon just can't defend the pass against people named Connor. Just saying, Arizona; maybe it's time for the Connor Brewer era to begin under center. Anu Solomon is great and all but is he REALLY good enough to overcome the droves of evidence we have indicating a #ConnorCurse? [Kanye shrug]
(Psst, Oregon will be fine. Mariota is awesome.)
No. 3 Alabama
It took Blake Sims five years to get his chance in Tuscaloosa. He's sure taking advantage of it. The Alabama quarterback was sensational Saturday, throwing for 445 yards and four touchdowns as the Crimson Tide scored the final 21 points of their 42-21 win over Florida.
Save for a brief injury reprieve, in which backup Jake Coker threw a touchdown to Amari Cooper, Sims was the best player on the field. His gaudy yardage total came on a somewhat reserved 33 attempts, and the senior showed off his legs on multiple occasions.
"I didn't think it was possible," Sims told reporters of passing for 400 yards at Alabama. "I just try to take what I take and what the defense gives me, and just try to trust my guys that they're going to be there."
Saturday's game may have been the clearest sign yet that this is not a typical Nick Saban Alabama team. Under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, the Tide have noticeably had more success through the air this season. Sims has thrown for 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns against only two interceptions, completing nearly three quarters of his passes.
Cooper, should he stay healthy, looks to be headed for the Biletnikoff Award. His 43 receptions are nearly four times more than any other Alabama receiver. DeAndrew White, who has caught 12 passes, and Christion Jones, who has 10, are the only other players even in double digits.
The Tide haven't had a real defensive test this season outside West Virginia—all three Florida touchdowns came as the result of Alabama turnovers; don't get it twisted—so it'll be interesting to see how they handle a road trip to Ole Miss in two weeks. The Rebels are eighth nationally in passing yards per game and have the defensive talent to match up with Alabama's athletes defensively.
Given Clint Trickett's success against the Tide in August, Bo Wallace may just find enough holes to help Ole Miss pull off the shocker. Then again, a two-week break for Nick Saban is typically a death sentence for his opponent.
No. 4 Oklahoma
Speaking of Mr. Trickett, he had quite the game against Oklahoma's secondary Saturday night. The West Virginia quarterback threw for 376 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions both came in Oklahoma territory and wound up leading to Samaje Perine touchdown runs. Trickett's second pick came immediately after one from Travis Knight that gave West Virginia a short field with a chance to take the lead.
In the end, the Sooners wound up stretching their lead to 45-27 before a meaningless late touchdown finalized the score at 45-33. Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns on his 34 carries, perhaps giving himself an edge for a workhorse load the remainder of the season.
"You know about how powerful and strong he is, but he has great vision," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told reporters. "He has great stamina and is a very conditioned athlete. He works hard at his conditioning."
Perine had been sharing carries with Keith Ford and Alex Ross. Ford sat out Saturday, and his status for the next couple weeks is uncertain due to a fracture in his right leg. A true freshman, Perine was the less touted of Stoops' 2014 recruits. Joe Mixon was widely viewed as one of the two best high school running backs in the country with Leonard Fournette, but Mixon's season-long suspension after assaulting a woman opened the door for Perine to shine.
Oklahoma's biggest concerns remain at quarterback. Trevor Knight is slightly improved from his freshman season form but still battles with accuracy issues and poor decision-making. Knight, at this point, does not look like a steady enough quarterback to lead an undefeated team into the playoff.
We're going to get a good idea of the makeup for this Oklahoma team soon. The Sooners travel to TCU in two weeks in what should be a closer-than-advertised contest and then have games against Texas and Kansas State before their next bye. If they get through all three games unscathed, then maybe this is a title contender after all.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter
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Week 4 of the 2014 college football season may have been better described as Survival Saturday. Each of the nation's Top Five teams were in action and extended their respective unbeaten streaks. Very few (if any) of them can feel too great about how they played, though.
Florida State, Oregon and Auburn escaped with one-touchdown victories. Alabama and Oklahoma stretched their wins to the double digits but were sweating bullets deep into the second half.
With none of the nation's best separating themselves, The Associated Press rankings for Week 5 remain in an inert state. The Seminoles remain atop the rankings after their overtime win against Clemson, followed by Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma and Auburn, respectively.
Here's a look at how the rest of the Top 25 played out, along with Bleacher Report's official Top 25:
Despite escaping the fierce fight against Clemson, Florida State's near-loss was by far the most talked-about game of the day. The Seminoles were forced to play without Heisman winner Jameis Winston, who was suspended for Saturday's game after shouting obscenities in the student union.
Backup Sean Maguire struggled for most of the game, battling accuracy issues and looking overwhelmed by the big stage. It wasn't until Florida State's back was planted firmly against the wall that he finally came through with a crucial play. Maguire's 74-yard strike to Rashad Greene tied the game at 17-17 with six minutes remaining and eventually became the score that forced overtime.
After Clemson, which saw kicker Ammon Lakip miss two critical field goals, went for it on fourth down and failed in the extra session, Karlos Williams did the rest of the work. A 13-yard gain on first down was followed by a 12-yard scamper that extended the Seminoles' winning streak to 19. Winston was one of the first people to rush the field in celebration.
"(Winston) told me he's proud of me," Williams told reporters after the game, per the Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "He's a great leader. He did something you really don't see in a lot of starting quarterbacks, which is rally behind the backup."
As Florida State was escaping, Oregon was experiencing quite a scare, too. Washington State was able to keep up with the Ducks' high-powered offense with a banner outing of its own, led by 436 yards and four touchdowns from quarterback Connor Halliday. The Cougars held a lead early and were never down more than a touchdown.
Oregon forced a fourth-down stop deep inside its own territory and then ran out the final 3:34 with an eight-play drive to earn the 38-31 win. Heisman contender Marcus Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns, adding 58 yards on the ground.
"He did a great job of rattling the defense in the second half," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters, per the Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "The guy is special."
The divergent evenings of Mariota and Winston, expected to be the top two quarterbacks off the board in next year's draft, are no doubt being talked about in NFL front offices. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) dropped Winston from third to 25th on his most recent big board; Mariota is now alone at the top.
Also trending in opposite directions are SEC rivals Alabama and LSU, with one able to escape a scare from a conference foe and the other not so much. Alabama's 42-21 win over Florida was much closer than the score indicates. The Gators tied the score at 21-21 early in the third quarter; the Tide didn't take their final lead of the game until there were a little over 20 minutes remaining.
But Derrick Henry's three-yard touchdown began a 21-0 run that looked like the game most expected. Amari Cooper scored the final two touchdowns as part of a 10-catch, 201-yard day. Quarterback Blake Sims threw for 445 yards and four touchdowns.
Likewise, LSU managed some rapid second-half scoring against Mississippi State. Unfortunately for the Tigers, it came as part of a failed comeback bid. The Tigers, down 34-10 early in the fourth, reeled off three straight touchdowns but couldn't convert the necessary two-point conversions. Their last drive stalled with a Will Redmond interception of Brandon Harris' Hail Mary attempt as time expired.
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott had 373 total yards (268 passing, 105 rushing) and three touchdowns, including two plays of 50-plus yards in the second quarter. Running back Josh Robinson needed only 16 carries to gain his 197 yards.
The win was Mississippi State's first in Baton Rouge in nearly a quarter-century.
"It's not necessarily just the players. I'm putting first of all the responsibility on me," LSU head coach Les Milestold reporters, per the Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "I know our guys on our team expect more from themselves...They're stung and it's not something that they enjoyed."
Miles' team moves down from No. 8 to No. 17. Mississippi State, meanwhile, moves into the rankings at No. 14 as it prepares for Texas A&M in two weeks. The Bulldogs then host Auburn on Oct. 11, rounding out a three-game gauntlet featuring Top 10 opponents—all from the SEC West.
The only other Top 25 team to fall to an unranked opponent also came from the SEC. Missouri's hot offensive start against also-rans proved to be a bit of fool's gold, as Indiana rushed for 241 yards in a 31-27 upset in Columbia. D'Angelo Roberts scampered in for the game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds remaining.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the win was only Indiana's fourth in program history against a nonconference AP Top 25 team on the road. This same Hoosiers team lost on the road in Bowling Green last week—not a great sign for a Missouri squad that begins its SEC schedule in South Carolina next Saturday.
The Tigers are one of two teams to drop out of the rankings, the other being Clemson. Replacing them are Mississippi State and East Carolina, which found its latest upset victim Saturday in North Carolina. Led by quarterback Shane Carden, the Pirates have had three consecutive strong showings against Big Five schools. They look like a favorite in the American Athletic Conference.
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After another wild week of the 2014 college football regular season, fans of the sport have already turned their attention to the Week 5 rankings and where the schools they support stand.
It was not a good week to be a ranked program. Florida State and several other teams came close to losing, and other schools like LSU, Missouri, Clemson and Kansas State were defeated and will slide down the ratings.
There will be plenty of turnover in this week’s college football rankings.
Breaking Down the College Football Landscape
It was a tough week to be one of the top teams in the nation. For those ranked teams who managed not to lose, there were several close calls that had top programs sweating a possible loss on Saturday.
Many college football fans believed powerhouses like LSU, Missouri, Clemson and Kansas State would make a serious splash in the new playoff system, but each was handed a loss this week.
Kansas State and Clemson lost to college football juggernauts Auburn and a Jameis Winston-less Florida State respectively, but those defeats will not hurt as much as those suffered by SEC programs LSU and Missouri.
LSU was handed a defeat by the unranked and undefeated Mississippi State in a 34-29 thriller, and Missouri lost to a less-talented Indiana program in an even closer game, 31-27. If you are a fan of either team, it was a long Saturday filled with frustration and sadness.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen told The Associated Press, via ESPN.com, about the victory and the toll it took on him, “I probably aged seven to 10 years in the final three minutes of the game. We are trying to build a program and I'll take it. I guess everybody can now write how I have beaten LSU and Alabama once during my career.”
For other fans, close calls were the name of the game. Several ranked teams came close to losing, but none were closer than Florida State. With Winston suspended for his actions off the field over the last week, the Seminoles faced a tough test against Clemson and managed to pull out the 23-17 win in overtime. FSU proved it had the talent to win without Winston, but the team is clearly better with the former Heisman Trophy winner under center.
The official Twitter of SportsCenter talked about how Winston was still making bad choices Saturday:
Florida State wasn’t the only school involved in a game that was closer than many anticipated. With Oregon beating Washington State, 38-31, and Oklahoma holding off West Virginia, 45-33, supporters of each program were forced to bite their nails as the teams were unable to mount a sizable advantage on Saturday.
The talk has been about the teams that struggled this week, but there were several other top programs that dominated and likely earned even more respect from voters as the teams begin posturing for the postseason.
The biggest winners in Week 4 were Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia and Wisconsin.
Alabama managed to dominate a tough Florida team on Saturday, but it wasn’t a traditional Crimson Tide victory. Instead of running the ball down Florida’s throat, Alabama leaned on quarterback Blake Sims and his 445 yards and four touchdowns.
Another SEC team that thrived was Texas A&M. SMU never stood a chance, but few saw the 58-6 beatdown coming. The Aggies could have scored even more if they hadn’t taken their foot off the throttle. Staying in the SEC, Georgia was another huge winner, knocking off Troy in spectacular fashion, 66-0. You read that right, folks, Georgia scored 66 on offense and managed to hold Troy to 216 total yards and zero points.
If you’re looking for a winner not getting the credit it deserves, look no further than Wisconsin. The Week 1 loss to LSU is tough to swallow after the Tigers lost on Saturday, but the Badgers destroyed Bowling Green, 68-17. Wisconsin is one of the few highlights for the lackluster Big Ten.
Hopefully, the rest of the season will be as wild as the first four weeks. College football fans certainly hope so.
*Stats via ESPN.com.
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The California Golden Bears led the Arizona Wildcats 31-13 heading into the fourth quarter of their Saturday night Pac-12 showdown. By all accounts, the game was over.
You think you've seen it all.
Arizona scored 36 fourth-quarter points and ultimately won the game on an incredible Hail Mary.
Apparently, the Cal marketing department had gotten a little impatient, sending out a promo email to its subscriber base to celebrate the victory before the game was over. Oops.September 21, 2014
Here's a look at the final play with no time remaining:
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ESPN's College GameDay is making its first trip of the season to SEC country, where it will watch South Carolina host Missouri in Week 5.
Even after the Gamecocks' Week 1 loss against Texas A&M and the Tigers' Week 4 loss against Indiana, Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and the rest of the crew will be in Columbia, South Carolina, to watch a rematch of one of last year's craziest games.
The show's official Twitter account confirmed the news Sunday:
Last season—when this game was played in the other Columbia—Missouri took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter. It shut down Gamecocks' quarterback Dylan Thompson, who was playing for an injured Connor Shaw, and looked to be on track to remain undefeated.
But then, in a shocking twist of fate, Shaw entered the game on a sprained knee and led South Carolina to 17 fourth-quarter points. Tied at 17, the game went to overtime, and tied at 24, it went to double overtime. But after a South Carolina field goal in that second frame, Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett missed a 24-yard field goal off the left upright, sealing the Gamecocks' victory, 27-24.
Both of last year's starting quarterbacks—Thompson and Missouri's Maty Mauk—were playing in place of an injured senior starter. Both were regarded among the best backup QBs in college football last season, and both are regarded among the top half of SEC QBs in 2014.
Mauk completed only 10-of-25 passes in last year's game, but those 10 completions went for 249 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "I think he did some really, really good things and a lot of little things he needs to do to get better," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said after the game, according to quotes released by the school. "Overall he battled and we will improve and I think he will be a really good player."
Since both of these teams have suffered an embarrassing defeat on their home field this season, one might think this an odd choice for a GameDay location.
However, that might actually raise the stakes.
Whichever team wins this game will advance to 4-1 and control its own fate in the SEC East. Whichever team loses will fall to 3-2 and be pinned against a wall.
Considering these teams combined to go 23-4 in 2013, watching either fall to 3-2 on the season would be a minor shock.
Other big games next week include UCLA at Arizona State—which could not be a GameDay site because it's being played on Thursday—Tennessee at Georgia and Stanford at Washington. But the crew has already seen Stanford play once this season, having traveled to Palo Alto, Calif., when the Cardinal lost to USC in Week 2.
Given the options, this feels like the correct choice.
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Almost every top team faced a tough challenge in Week 4 of the college football season, causing plenty of voters to reconsider their rankings heading into Week 5.
While LSU was the only Top 10 team to lose, there were upset scares involving Florida State, Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma and Auburn.
When adding this to a few other interesting results throughout the weekend, it creates more confusion surrounding the possibilities for the College Football Playoff. Until then, we can take a look at the latest Amway Coaches Poll from USA Today, along with Bleacher Report's Top 25.
Coming into Saturday, all eyes were on the battle between Florida State and Clemson. Starting quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was suspended for the game due to inappropriate conduct, leaving the No. 1 team in the country in the hands of backup Sean Maguire.
After a rough start, Florida State was able to make big plays when needed to force overtime. Clemson was then stopped on fourth down in overtime, allowing the Seminoles to seal the win on a Karlos Williams touchdown.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher discussed the work that went into preparing Maguire for his first career start, via Dan Wolken of USA Today:
It was a lot of work we had to do late, late Friday night and early Saturday all day. A lot of things that had to get done, but life gives you turnips all the time. You have to adjust and move on.
I couldn't be prouder of Sean Maguire tonight, what he did for our team and the resolve he had.
Winston will return next week as Florida State looks to remain undefeated and a top contender for the national championship. However, the Seminoles survived one of the toughest matchups on the schedule and should now have even more confidence going forward.
Meanwhile, Oregon had just as much trouble in a road game at Washington State, barely coming through with a 38-31 win.
Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee explains the Ducks' shortcomings:
Injuries along the offensive line caused quarterback Marcus Mariota to be under pressure all game long, but he still responded with 329 passing yards and five touchdowns to go with 58 rushing yards in the win.
With UCLA, Stanford and others still looming on the schedule, though, Oregon better figure out how to solve these problems if it wants to stay in the playoff picture.
Oklahoma and Alabama had similar stories from their games as both needed strong individual efforts to pull away late.
The Sooners were tied with West Virginia on the road at halftime until running back Samaje Perine came alive, finishing with 242 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The Crimson Tide were also tied in the second half against Florida, although for them it was Amari Cooper who came through with 10 catches for 201 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
This exciting slate on Saturday almost caused us to overlook a great Thursday night game between Auburn and Kansas State, which the Tigers pulled out thanks to some late mistakes by the home team.
Bleacher Report's Michael Felder was impressed by the win:
The only Top 10 school to lose was LSU, which went down 34-10 at home against Mississippi State before almost completing a comeback. Still, a failed Hail Mary attempt clinched the team's fate in a 34-29 loss. ESPN Stats & Info notes the rarity with this result:
On the other hand, Tim Brando of Fox Sports gives credit to the Bulldogs in what should be an exciting SEC season:
It seems likely that whoever wins the SEC West will get an automatic ticket to the College Football Playoff. Then again, a lot can happen over the next few months as upsets threaten to shake up the rankings.
Week 5 features mostly one-sided battles on paper, although this is usually when the biggest surprises occur. With an intriguing Pac-12 matchup between UCLA and Arizona State taking place on Thursday, there is always something to watch in college football.
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