NCAA Football

College Football's Week of Carnage Is Every SEC Hater's Nightmare

Seldom has a day of college football been more rewarding and intriguing than the Saturday slate that just blew up the AP Top 25 rankings. But as the dust settles, there’s no mistaking that the wreckage has tilted the playoff picture in one distinct direction.

The Southeastern Conference will get two spots in the four-team College Football Playoff. Book it.

That thought no doubt sends the blood pressure soaring for SEC haters throughout the nation. But it’s time for acceptance. The SEC didn’t invent the importance of strength of schedule; it merely has perfected the art of capitalizing on it.

The SEC has never been deeper, as was proven by the remarkable outcomes in Mississippi on Saturday. Ole Miss and Mississippi State clearly have reinvented themselves as bona fide members of the game’s elite after respective wins against Alabama and Texas A&M.

Ole Miss can make the case that it has the nation’s best defense after holding Alabama to 17 points, and Dak Prescott’s five touchdowns against A&M is the biggest throwdown in the Heisman race so far.

With the two Mississippi schools remaining undefeated, it’s impossible to discuss potential playoff scenarios without the SEC West dominating the conversation.

Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss was just close enough to keep Nick Saban’s crew alive. And then there’s seemingly unstoppable Auburn, which pounded LSU for 566 total yards on Saturday while its defense yielded only seven points. The question isn’t whether the SEC West is the best division in 2014, but if it’s the best the college game has ever seen.

Yes, only one SEC West team has the chance to end the season undefeated, and that list will be narrowed this week when Auburn travels to Starkville. But a once-beaten team from the division will still stand above nearly any other team.

It’s true this season, and it was true last season, as Auburn coach Gus Malzahn reminded ESPN SportsCenter viewers during an appearance last week.

"Last year two teams from the West would have been in the Final Four," Malzahn said. "I look for the same thing. It’s the best conference, best division in college football.”

The best Big Ten nominee for the playoffs is Michigan State, which got its game back in gear by beating Nebraska. But the Spartans’ season-opening loss to Oregon looks even worse in the wake of the Ducks starting the snowball of Week 6 upsets Thursday with a loss at home to Arizona.

Florida State is clinging to the No. 1 spot with many poll voters, and the Seminoles’ Oct. 18 date with Notre Dame will eliminate another unbeaten. Baylor vs. Texas Christian this week will knock out another no-loss team.

The Pac-12’s hopes are on Arizona now after UCLA was stunned by Utah. But that conference’s profile has dipped with USC and Stanford both suffering their second losses of the season.

So, SEC haters, what's your ammunition against the nation’s perennially best football conference?

Yes, Florida's 10-9 win over Tennessee was a boring affair, and Vanderbilt is back to being a doormat. But check out Kentucky, 4-1 under Mark Stoops with its only loss coming in triple overtime. And if Todd Gurley doesn’t win the Heisman for Georgia it probably will only be because Prescott looks determined to bring it to Mississippi State for the first time. 

The cry of despair that’s most likely to be heard about having two SEC teams in the playoff is that it’s somehow unfair. Fans from elsewhere in the nation will stomp their feet, tear their hair and proclaim there’s no way two spots should go to the same conference.

OK, SEC haters, let’s pull away from college football for a second and take a closer look at that thought.

Do you like college basketball? How about the Final Four? Great event, right? Does it ever end with complaints about the wrong teams getting there?

Well, take a look at the record since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Having two teams from the same conference in the Final Four has been the rule, not the exception.

In the 30 Final Fours from 1984 on it has happened 19 times, yet no one complains.

The difference there is that the glory has been spread around. The Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Big East and Southeastern conferences all have sent a pair of teams to a Final Four two times apiece in this century alone. Yes, two times apiece, and no one whines about it.

The resistance to the same scenario playing out in college football is because of all the residual resentment from the SEC winning seven consecutive BCS championship games and darn near taking an eighth straight last January.

But chances are that those same SEC haters love players from that conference when their favorite NFL team wins on Sunday. Players with SEC roots once again dominated opening-day rosters of NFL teams.

LSU led the way with 38, followed by Southern California (37), Alabama, (36), Georgia (34), Florida (33) and Florida State (33).

That’s four of the top six spots. Yes, SEC personnel is that good.

So accept it, SEC haters. One loss in your conference is equal to two in the SEC. That’s just the way it is.

And if you don’t believe it you’ll have an opportunity to revisit that thought when the first College Football Playoff rolls around and the SEC has two spots.

 

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

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Reality Finally Catches Up with UCLA as Playoff Door Slams Shut

As the sun set in Los Angeles, fans who hadn't gotten their hearts ripped out by Jaelen Strong at the Coliseum saw opportunity in front of them. 

Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas A&M—and perhaps most importantly to the UCLA Bruins, Oregon—had all lost during a week of college football that saw the grim reaper take a victory lap through the polls. 

Not only could UCLA take a hold of the Pac-12 race, but they could've become overnight contenders for a berth into the first-ever College Football Playoff. 

Instead, a little-known assassin by the name of Kendal Thompson and the Utah Utes exposed the Bruins as frauds and shut the door at any hopes of making the playoffs. 

Wins over Virginia, Memphis, Texas and Arizona State had the Bruins rolling early. Memphis gave Ole Miss a run for its money, Virginia could very well end up in the ACC title game, Texas is still a tough team to beat with or without David Ash and Arizona State made it to the Pac-12 title game last year. 

So those four wins were impressive enough to move UCLA to the top 10 of the polls, and with Saturday's massacre of the elite, the Bruins were poised to move into the playoff conversation with a win over Utah, a squad that hadn't beaten a top-10 opponent on the road since 1961. 

But UCLA was a flawed top-10 team. And Utah proved it. 

The Bruins were giving up over 25 points per game heading into the week, including an embarrassing 35 points to Memphis. They had thrashed Arizona State and hung 62 on the board, but that was the first week the Sun Devils were without Taylor Kelly. 

One week later, you saw the difference in Arizona State as backup quarterback Mike Bercovici tossed for over 500 yards against USC. If UCLA were to face this team again, the narrative could drastically change. 

Brett Hundley, as good as he is and as much as UCLA fans want him to be a Heisman Trophy contender, simply hasn't lived up to expectations. In two games this year, he hasn't even thrown for a touchdown. He'd been sacked more times (11) than he found paydirt through the air (seven) heading into Saturday night. 

But how exactly did the Utes, a team that while it was 3-1, lost to lowly Washington State, expose UCLA? 

They pounded the ball and won the battle in the trenches. The Utes racked up 242 yards on the ground to UCLA's 147. Utah averaged 4.4 yards per rush. The Bruins? 2.7. 

Sure, Hundley had 269 yards through the air, a decent number. But 133 of those 269 yards—49 percent—came on two touchdown passes on busted coverage that almost any quarterback in America could've converted on. 

The rest of the game, Hundley was a shell of himself. His offensive line, another weakness for UCLA, allowed Hundley to be sacked a whopping 10 times. 

On the flip side, Thompson showed the nation why the Oklahoma Sooners—who lost to TCU on Saturday—may have very well made the wrong choice when it came to selecting Trevor Knight for the job in Norman. 

While only being asked to throw 13 passes, Thompson still completed 10 of them for 95 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for another 83 yards on 19 carries. 

In all, Thompson either ran or threw for seven of the team's 18 first downs in a game where the rushing attack dominated the tactical advantage Utah had. 

The Utes, a decent let still lower-tier Pac-12 team, never let UCLA, a team that was considered a playoff contender, get into a rhythm offensively. And they controlled the pace of the game on the ground. 

UCLA's playoff chances were a long shot even if they had won this game. They still have games slated with Oregon, Arizona, USC and Stanford. 

But all those games are at home, so a win against Utah on a night when college football was in a complete state of disarray would've set the stage for the Bruins to be on the inside track to represent the Pac-12—the Cinemax of college football—in the playoffs. 

Instead, Utah may very well have killed any hope of UCLA not only winning the Pac-12 and going to the playoffs, but also any chance of the conference having a team selected as one of the final four. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Reality Finally Catches Up with UCLA as Playoff Door Slams Shut

As the sun set in Los Angeles, fans who hadn't gotten their hearts ripped out by Jaelen Strong at the Coliseum saw opportunity in front of them...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Utah vs. UCLA: Game Grades for Bruins

On the legs of Devontae Booker and Kendal Thompson, the Utah Utes were able to upend the UCLA Bruins by a score of 30-28. 

The duo combined for over 200 yards rushing. Credit Kyle Whittingham for inserting Thompson into the game early. It was apparent UCLA did not prepare for the zone-read aspect of Utah's offense. 

On the other side of the coin, UCLA's protection of Brett Hundley was horrific. Hundley was sacked an eye-popping 10 times on the evening. To make matters worse, the play-calling by offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was bizarre and downright bad. 

A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com.

Check out first-half grades and final game grades for the Bruins. Additional analysis for positional units will also be addressed. 

 

UCLA Bruins Game Grades

Passing Offense

From a statistical standpoint, Hundley was solid. Going 16-of-21 for 269 yards and two touchdowns would normally be a decent night. When Hundley had time to throw the ball, he was effective. When inundated with pressure (as he often was), he had the tendency to drop his head and look at the pressure—as opposed to searching for his receivers down the field. 

Unfortunately, the horrid throw on a screen attempt led to a pick-six by safety Tevin Carter. The early score helped to give Utah immense momentum from the beginning of the contest. 

 

Pass Defense

The secondary wasn't really tested. Due to the success of the Utah ground game, there wasn't much of a need to throw the football down the field. Utah's two quarterbacks combined for only 100 yards passing the entire ballgame. 

However, Utah did capitalize on a deep throw to Dres Anderson for a 42-yard touchdown. UCLA's defense cheated up in hopes of stopping the run. Utah was able to exploit it and go over the top for the score. As former Bruin Flipper Anderson prophesied, his son did "wreck it" for UCLA. 

 

Rushing Offense

The running backs did a decent job. UCLA relied on Paul Perkins extensively in the second quarter for a scoring drive. He finished with 99 yards on 17 carries. Jordon James took over the majority of the carries in the second half and came away with a respectable 51 yards on 11 carries. 

The offensive line was a different story. Hundley was sacked 10 times on the evening. Yes, that's not a typo. Nate Orchard lived in the UCLA backfield for the duration of the contest. The UCLA tackles weren't quick enough to deal with Utah's speed rush, and the interior of UCLA's offensive line didn't obstruct the exotic blitzing schemes of the Utes' defense well enough. 

In short, it was both an embarrassing and shocking effort by the group.

 

Rush Defense

There were times UCLA did do a nice job of bottling up Booker. However, the threat of Thompson running the football made things difficult. The zone-read was an aspect of Utah's offense not extensively used coming into tonight. I'm sure UCLA did not think Thompson would play virtually the entire contest. 

Booker broke numerous tackles and ran extremely hard. On the night, Utah rushed for 242 yards on 55 carries. UCLA's biggest problem came on containment. The defensive ends crashed very hard on the zone-read option exchange. Thompson simply pulled the ball out of Booker's belly and ran on the edge when the ends committed. 

Utah killed UCLA on this multiple times. 

 

Special Teams

Credit Utah's supreme special teams unit for not kicking to Ishmael Adams. On the one kickoff return Adams had, he ran for 72 yards. Unfortunately for the Bruins, a holding call negated the big return. 

The missed field-goal attempts at the end of the game also were unfortunate. Ka'imi Fairbairn's second-attempt from 50 yards away just narrowly missed wide. It was a long kick, but one Fairbairn needs to make. Punting from Matt Mengel was solid on the night, kicking with a 45.5 yards-per-punt average. 

Although no points came from it, Utah's surprise onside kick recovery in the first half was a negative. The Utes have a famed special teams unit. UCLA needed to be prepared for anything and everything. 

 

Coaching

The defense didn't adjust well enough on the zone-read. I'll give Jeff Ulbrich a bit of a pass. No one expected the mobile quarterback Thompson to play as much as he did. I'm sure UCLA did not dedicate a ton of time to defending against this wrinkle. A ton of credit does go to Whittingham for integrating this aspect of the game.

Offensively, Mazzone's play-calling was abysmal and puzzling. Hundley was pressured all night long—as evidenced by the 10 times he was sacked. In order to combat against this pressure, one would assume Mazzone would opt to throw slants, screens, quick-throws, run draws or even roll Hundley out of the pocket. 

NONE of these things occurred. It was if the UCLA play-calling was subjugated to four or five plays. There was no imagination, no creativity and no adaptation. 

In a word, it was bizarre.

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Utah vs. UCLA: Game Grades for Bruins

On the legs of Devontae Booker and Kendal Thompson, the Utah Utes were able to upend the UCLA Bruins by a score of 30-28. The duo combined for over 200 yards rushing. Credit Kyle Whittingham for inserting Thompson into the game early...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Rankings Week 7: B/R's Official Top 25

The Purge isn't just a crazy sociological idea that was made into a pair of bad movies, it's also what we might as well call the just-completed weekend of college football.

Unbeaten and ranked teams got picked off like targets in a child's carnival game, with nearly every team in last week's top 25 facing major adversity over the past few days.

As a result, the Bleacher Report Top 25 got itself a makeover.

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

Check out Bleacher Report's Week 7 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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UCLA vs. Utah: How Utes' Win Reshapes Playoff Picture

With a 30-28 home defeat to the Utah Utes on Saturday night, the No. 8 UCLA Bruins didn't necessarily shut the door on their hopes of making the four-team playoff at the end of the year, but the door is barely ajar.

Bruins kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn had a chance to win the game with a 50-yard field-goal attempt, but his kick sailed wide right, bringing a close to what was one of the craziest college football Saturday's you're ever going to see.

Following such a frenzied day of action, Grantland's Matt Hinton believes any sort of playoff discussion is ultimately futile:

Of course, a ton can change between now and the end of the season, but it's still kinda fun to at least get a general idea of the playoff picture to this point in the year.

Had UCLA won, then it almost certainly would've climbed into the Top Four in the polls. Going by The Associated Press rankings, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 6 Texas A&M all lost this week, paving the way for the eighth-ranked Bruins to see a healthy rise up the standings.

Since that didn't happen, the biggest winners after the Bruins' defeat are Ole Miss and Mississippi State. The Rebels beat the Crimson Tide, while the Bulldogs toppled the Aggies. Both teams are already building strong playoff cases.

Ole Miss will likely vault into the top four, and the Bulldogs might, too, with so few teams standing out from the pack. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott called the win over A&M a "Mississippi State-ment," per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com.

Before the UCLA game, ESPN's Anish Shroff left out the Bruins altogether in his projected playoff in favor of Notre Dame, which beat No. 14 Stanford earlier in the day:

The Fighting Irish and Michigan State will also get a nice boost up the standings after Saturday night. They were No. 9 and No. 10 in the AP Poll, respectively.

With that said, those two will more than likely still be on the outside looking in on the playoff for now. It's hard seeing either vaulting that high up the standings, especially with Ole Miss' win.

When looking only at the Pac-12, the picture is getting fairly bleak already. USA Today's Dan Wolken doesn't see a team elevating itself into the Top Four after everything that's happened so far:

The Bruins' chances of making the four-team playoff aren't completely extinguished. Considering how many Top 25 teams lost on Saturday alone, it would be foolish to write any top team off.

The Pac-12 is even more of a grab bag after USC's loss to Arizona State earlier in the day. The only team in the entire conference that remains unbeaten is Arizona, and the Wildcats still have USC, UCLA, Utah and Arizona State to play, not to mention the Pac-12 Championship Game, should they get that far.

With the way the 2014 season has unfolded, would anybody be that surprised if Arizona ran the table and won the national championship?

Nothing is sacred anymore.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Utah vs. UCLA: Score and Twitter Reaction

The Utah Utes utilized a late field goal from Andy Phillips to notch a stunning 30-28 upset victory over the No. 8-ranked UCLA Bruins on Saturday night, capping off one of the craziest college football days in recent memory.

UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn had a chance to win it in the final seconds, but his 50-yard effort missed wide and gave the Utes the shocking win.

Here is a look at the quarter-by-quarter score from the contest:

The Bruins players came into the game secure in the knowledge that a composed win over the Utes could drastically improve  their rankings. Alabama, Oregon, Texas A&M and Oklahoma—all ranked ahead of UCLA in The Associated Press poll coming into Week 6—lost to lower-ranked opponents in a topsy-turvy weekend. It was a rare opportunity to vault up the rankings without having to beat another top-25 opponent to do so.

Unfortunately, the Bruins came out flat and looked like they would surely add to the chaos already at hand in college football.

Perhaps feeling the pressure to perform after so many upsets earlier in the day, the Bruins punted on their first two possessions and struggled to move the ball at all in the first quarter.

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, one of several dark-horse Heisman candidates at this point in the season, put his team in a quick 7-0 hole when Utah defensive back Tevin Carter picked off an ill-advised pass and returned it 27 yards for a shocking touchdown. 

Utah showed it wasn't going to play it safe and try to eke out a victory over the Bruins, nailing an early psychological blow by recovering an onside kick following the return touchdown. Quarterback Kendal Thompson was unable to do anything with the extra possession, however.

After another Bruins drive ended in a punt, the Utes held the ball into the second quarter and went up 14-0 soon after the restart on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Thompson to wide receiver Dres Anderson.

Head coach Jim Mora opted to give the ball to running back Paul Perkins early and often on the next possession, and he rewarded his team's faith with a four-yard touchdown run to cap a 10-play, 82-yard drive.

Both offenses stalled out after that point, extending drives but failing to push the ball into scoring range. The offensive line did little to protect Hundley. The Los Angeles Times' Eric Sondheimer gave his thoughts on Twitter:

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah noted that Hundley struggles with pressure at times and looks to scramble before going through his progressions:

The Utes managed to add a field goal just before the end of the first half to make the score 17-7 and really put pressure on UCLA to come up with an effective game plan to avoid the unthinkable.

The Bruins opted to ramp up the ground game in the third quarter to mostly positive results. They cut the Utes' lead to three on a one-yard plunge from sophomore defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, who briefly stole the spotlight from linebacker Myles Jack as a moonlighting ball-carrier.

Utah didn't blink and scored on the next possession. Running back Devontae Booker, who finished the game with 156 yards rushing, finished off a 12-play drive with a bruising six-yard touchdown run to give the Utes a 24-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News noted Booker benefited from some suspect Bruins tackling:

Hundley, in the midst of a sluggish, off-kilter performance, showed early in the final quarter why he could become a fine QB at the next level. Starting from his own 7-yard line, Hundley withstood the pressure in a collapsing pocket and floated a perfect pass to hit an in-stride Devin Fuller on a wheel route down the left sideline. Fuller outran everyone en route to a 93-yard touchdown that again cut the Utes' lead down to three.

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel summed up Hundley's cool under pressure:

Hundley narrowly avoided a safety on the Bruins' next possession. The offensive line, still leaking like a sieve at this point, allowed several Utes to collapse the pocket and force Hundley backward and toward his own goal line, but the Arizona native held tough and let UCLA escape the failed drive with a punt.

Utah then got another field goal from Phillips to take a 27-21 lead with just over six minutes remaining. Thompson was especially flashy carrying the ball in the second half, thrilling fans with a stunning spin move late in the game. Wang gave his thoughts on the play:

The Bruins, who hadn't enjoyed a lead throughout the entire game, finally broke through on a 40-yard touchdown strike from Hundley to unheralded freshman wideout Eldridge Massington.

The 28-27 mark on the scoreboard energized the crowd, but the Utes had plenty of time to make a final push of their own. They pushed through the Bruins defense with a steady mix of runs from Booker and Thompson, setting up Phillips for a field-goal try with 37 seconds remaining. The kick was, powerful straight and true and gave Utah a two-point lead with 34 seconds remaining.

This fan believed the Utes gave Hundley too much time to work with, despite the fact the Bruins had no timeouts remaining:

Hundley moved his team into field-goal range and set up Fairbairn with a chance to hit a 55-yarder for the win. His first attempt was well off, but the officials called a running-into-the-kicker penalty and gave him another chance, this time from 50 yards out. SportsCenter has the play:

Wide right, and a wide open race for the College Football Playoff.

Th disappointing result for the Bruins opens up not only the race for the playoff, but it turns the Pac-12 into an unknown commodity as well. Arizona State defeated USC just over a week after getting drubbed by the Bruins, while Notre Dame defeated Stanford on Saturday afternoon.

Combine these results with Oregon's Thursday loss to an undefeated Arizona, and the Pac-12 race is as wide open as it has been in years. If Oregon or UCLA can win the Pac-12 championship without accruing another loss, they could find themselves back in the hunt for the national championship title.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 6

Week 6 looked like the best week of the season on paper.

We didn't even know the half of it.

Four of the top six and five of the top eight teams in last week's Associated Press Poll went down in the span of three evenings, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. Upsets on Thursday, Friday and Saturday bled all the way into Sunday morning, and when finally the weekend was over, 11 of the top 19 teams in college football had lost.

So...what does that mean for next week's AP poll? Anarchy, mostly, to be honest. Predicting how it shapes up will not be easy, although Martin Rickman of SI.com gave it the old college try Saturday night:

Here is my own ill-fated attempt:

Rankings reflect a prediction of the Week 7 AP poll—not how the author would rank the teams himself.

 

Fun Fact 

You like entropy? Good. Because #TeamChaos was in full effect during Week 6. Per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, this was the first week since November 1990 that four of the top six teams in the AP poll have lost. The major shake-up above reflects that.

 

Biggest Risers

Arizona

Arizona's undefeated record looked fraudulent before the week. It struggled to beat UTSA and Nevada and needed a Hail Mary to beat Cal. There were reasons to believe it would regress to the mean.

It didn't.

Rich Rodriguez called a masterpiece of a game at Oregon Thursday night, kicking off the wild week with an upset of the No. 2 team in the country. His offense was efficient (if not underwhelming), and his defense took advantage of a beat-up line to play its best game of the year.

The latter point is of particular importance. Nobody will ever confuse the Wildcats with a defensive juggernaut, but they have just enough playmakers to make things happen. Inside linebacker Scooby Wright, who stripped quarterback Marcus Mariota in the fourth quarter to seal the win, stands out as an All-Pac-12-type talent.

 

TCU

TCU looked great on paper heading into Week 5, enough so that it crept into the back end of the AP poll. But its best opponent—by far—was Minnesota, which was decent cause for skepticism.

How good might this team really be?

We found out the answer on Saturday, when the Horned Frogs beat Oklahoma, 37-33, in a wild game on their home field. Gary Patterson's team had been knocking on the door of a huge win since joining the Big 12 two seasons ago but only now got over the hump.

"Finally, after two years, the football gods...we finally got a little luck," Patterson said after the game, per Jake Trotter of ESPN.com. But it wasn't just luck that got TCU into the winner's circle.

This revamped offense does not look like a fluke.

 

Mississippi State

Mississippi State made a big jump after beating LSU, going from unranked to the middle of the poll.

It took the next step Saturday night.

Dan Mullen's Bulldogs were even better against Texas A&M than they were in Baton Rouge, bouncing back from an early touchdown to score 48 of the next 58 points. Dak Prescott had another Heisman performance, and the defense stymied Kenny Hill and the Aggies offense. Especially up front, Mississippi State's defense looked legit.

The whole team did.

 

Biggest Fallers

BYU

BYU's playoff chances turned into a pumpkin when Taysom Hill fractured his leg against Utah State.

The home loss to the Aggies meant the Cougars dropped out of the AP rankings. The loss of Hill means they probably won't climb back in.

It's tough to say what might have happened had Hill not gone down in the late second quarter of Friday's game, but BYU was losing on its home field even with its star QB in the lineup. Hill or no Hill, a defense that allows Utah State, sans Chuckie Keeton, to score 24 first-half points never belonged in the College Football Playoff discussion to begin with.

 

Wisconsin

Wisconsin scored 14 points in a loss at Northwestern despite 259 rushing yards on 27 carries by running back Melvin Gordon.

How is that even possible?

The answer lies with the quarterback position. Tanner McEvoy was as bad as he's been all season, leading to a quick hook and the insertion of former starter Joel Stave. He...did not fare particularly well. Stave's three interceptions sunk the Badgers more than anything in Evanston.

At some point, one has to wonder if true freshman D.J. Gillins should burn his redshirt and step into the lineup. That seems like a Hail Mary—especially after Nebraska's loss at Michigan State preserved Wisconsin's good standing in the Big Ten West—but grooming a new quarterback is the most important thing this team can do for the future.

Gordon won't be around to bail it out for long.

 

LSU

Might LSU be the worst team in the SEC West?

(And if so, is hell starting to get chilly?)

Les Miles' Tigers were throttled for 60 minutes at Auburn, allowing 566 total yards in a 41-7 loss. It was as hapless as this team has looked since before the Nick Saban era, and that includes the similarly hapless showing against Mississippi State a few weeks ago.

Worse yet, the Tigers' one quality win this season looks a lot worse after Wisconsin lost to Northwestern (see above).

Stomaching a down year will be difficult for LSU fans, who have grown accustomed to a certain standard of dominance. But the future still looks bright. It's unreasonable to expect a national title contender from a program that has lost so much to the NFL the past two seasons and is starting so many true freshmen on offense.

LSU will be back, and it won't be long before it gets there.

But things are going to get worse before they get better.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 6

Some Saturday, huh?

Actually, the craziness of the first week of October started Thursday when Arizona took down No. 2 Oregon in Eugene, 31-24. And then three more teams ranked in the top six of the last AP poll went down Saturday.

There hasn't been this much attention paid to the state of Mississippi since Ulysses S. Grant laid siege to Vicksburg. But this time, its residents rejoiced.

Grant's doppelganger Richie Brown got things started with three interceptions in Mississippi State's 48-31 rout of No. 6 Texas A&M. A few hours later, Ole Miss capped off the Hotty Toddy party by upsetting No. 3 Alabama 23-17.

With No. 4 Oklahoma also losing to TCU 37-33, this made for quite a shakeup of the playoff picture.

By the end of the night, only 10 teams remained unbeaten. But because we're just getting started in the conference season, it's looking increasingly likely that multiple teams with at least one loss will make the four-team playoff field.

We're still three weeks away from the selection committee's first rankings. But for better or worse, these are the movers and shakers of the week:

 

Teams That Moved Up

SEC West

Considered (justly) the best division in college football, Saturday's results more or less served as confirmation.

Whichever team wins this division is just about assured a berth in the playoff—even with two losses—as long as it takes the SEC title. If any conference ends up with two entries in the four-team field, this would be the division to supply the second team.

 

TCU/Baylor

The Horned Frogs' upset of Oklahoma sets up this showdown next week in Waco, with the winning team staying unbeaten and staking a claim for a top-five ranking.

Baylor has not been tested at all this season thanks to an embarrassingly easy nonconference schedule. But a win over TCU will help the Bears to start building their resume.

 

Michigan State

Let the debate stop right here: Oregon's loss actually helps the Spartans. But here's the catch: Michigan State will need the Ducks to lose another game to crawl its way back into the playoff picture.

With the stronger conferences beginning their own fratricides, the Spartans have only Ohio State to contend with on their way to the Big Ten championship.

 

Notre Dame

With Everett Golson back at quarterback, Notre Dame is working on replicating its magical 2012 season.

Just like two years ago, the Irish found a way to squeak by Stanford, this time 17-14. Notre Dame will be just outside the top five with its showdown against Florida State looming in two weeks.

 

Florida State

The defending national champions blasted Wake Forest 43-3 while no doubt enjoying all of the carnage that befell many of their competitors.

The Seminoles will not encounter too many serious challengers on their schedule, so their game against the Irish—most likely one that pits two unbeaten teams—might be the only remaining obstacle between them and a trip to the playoff.

 

Teams That Moved Down

Texas A&M

Of all the teams upset Saturday, Texas A&M took the most damage. The Aggies already needed a late comeback to beat SEC West cellar-dweller Arkansas after downing three Texas-sized patsies.

The fact that they were blown out by Mississippi State will send them tumbling down the rankings more than any other top teams that lost this weekend.

 

Pac-12

Both Alabama and Oregon lost to undefeated teams this weekend by a touchdown, but expect the Ducks to fall much further than the Tide, thanks to the continued perception problem plaguing the Pac-12.

Ole Miss was ranked No. 11 last week while Arizona was unranked despite similar strength of schedules before pulling off their respective upsets.

The two Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 10 last week will head into next weekend's showdown coming off upset losses at home, as UCLA hosts Oregon after losing to Utah on a last-minute field goal, 30-28.

With Stanford and USC (38-34 versus Arizona State) losing after blowing late leads, there might not be a single Pac-12 team in the top 10 in the new AP poll.

 

Rest of the Big Ten

Michigan State hung on for dear life, 27-22, withstanding a late Nebraska rally to ensure that there's no more unbeaten teams in the Big Ten. Ohio State is now the only other conference team with a flickering hope of making the playoff field.

Thus the Nov. 8 OSU-MSU game will serve as the B1G's final elimination matchup, but the winner must run the table and still isn't guaranteed anything.

 

BYU

The Cougars suffered two devastating losses Friday, first losing quarterback Taysom Hill to a broken leg, then losing the game to Utah State, 35-20. Without Hill, BYU will not be the same team the rest of the season.

Even with the single loss to the Aggies, any hopes of landing a New Years' Six bowl bid is most likely gone as well. Without a conference championship to play for, BYU's quest for a big postseason payday is effectively over.

 

Group-of-Five Team in the Best Position

East Carolina

Despite a somewhat sloppy win over SMU, 45-24, the Pirates are still in the driver's seat, though they have emerging competition within their own conference. Memphis might start to build a case of its own as its only two losses came against top 10 teams in UCLA and Ole Miss on the road.

Since ECU and Memphis don't play each other, the American title may come down to a tiebreaker—whichever team is ranked the highest by the selection committee.

 

Projected Conference Championship Matchups

ACC: Florida State vs. Georgia Tech

Big Ten: Michigan State vs. Minnesota

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Arizona

SEC: Auburn vs. Georgia

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Defensive Meltdown May Doom USC's Chances to Win Pac-12

LOS ANGELES — A complete meltdown by the passing defense highlighted by a single play in the final seconds of No. 16 USC’s 38-34 loss Saturday to Arizona State will haunt the Trojans in their pursuit of the Pac-12 Championship.

In just his second career start, Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici capped a 510-yard, five-touchdown night with a 46-yard Hail Mary to wide receiver Jaelen Strong.

“It’s a game of inches,” said Strong, who finished with 202 receiving yards.

Arizona State needed every inch that went into Bercovici’s bomb, but the Sun Devils made the most of a few other big plays in the final stretch.

Head coach Todd Graham summarized it best: “It wasn’t just that one play.”

The Trojans’ miscues on Arizona State’s game-winner were the culmination of an overall defensive meltdown uncharacteristic of the team earlier in the night.

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said in his postgame press conference that he “would have liked to have seen more bodies around the ball” on Bercovici’s last-ditch effort.

One of the Trojans in the neighborhood was linebacker Hayes Pullard.

“It was great execution by the offense,” Pullard said. “[Strong] went up there and got the ball and got the job done.”

Pullard said he does not typically play deep—“just boxing out defenders,” usually—but Sarkisian said the linebacker’s presence was needed to aid the Trojans' secondary.

Arizona State was able to pick on cornerback Kevon Seymour some, including on Bercovici's 73-yard hook-up with wide receiver Cameron Smith for the Sun Devils' penultimate score.

That touchdown pass negated USC running back Javorius "Buck" Allen's 53-yard touchdown rush just moments earlier.

"Kevon went to knock the ball down to undercut the play and missed and there was nothing but green grass [ahead of Smith]," Sarkisian said.

Though big plays have come infrequently against the USC secondary, Oregon State's sole passing success a week ago also came at the expense of Seymour.

Arizona State was able to more consistently exploit those big plays, which in turn forced USC to be less aggressive with its pass rush.

“We were trying to help our secondary as best as we could,” Sarkisian said. “We like our guys rushing, [and] to their credit, [Bercovici] stepped up in the pocket a few times and made some throws.”

Bercovici was the X-factor well before the Hail Mary. USC contained the Arizona State run game, holding the Sun Devils to just 31 rushing yards on the evening. But as it became evident USC would not yield much on the ground, Bercovici successfully went to the air.

His two scoring strikes to Strong in the first half were the first passing touchdowns the USC defense surrendered all season.

The second set an ominous tone in hindsight: It was a 77-yard connection with Strong.

Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox seemingly ironed out the kinks after that score, as Arizona State went the next 33 minutes without crossing the goal line.

“In the end, it’s the old adage: That’s why you play 60 minutes,” Sarkisian said.

After giving up the first two touchdown passes it surrendered all season in the first half, the USC defense buckled down to keep Arizona State out of the end zone for the next 33 minutes.

But in just three minutes and 53 seconds, USC gave up three touchdowns. In less than four minutes, the Trojans went from looking at a 3-0 Pac-12 mark to an 0-1 start in the South Division.

The opposite was true for Arizona State. The reigning division champion Sun Devils were faced with falling behind 0-2 in the South after losing to UCLA last week, 62-27.

Down nine points on two separate occasions in the final minutes, that 0-2 start looked all but certain for the Sun Devils.

However, playing in front of a throng of family and friends, Bercovici—a product of nearby Taft High School—engineered drives of 98, 73 and 72 yards.

“They’re such an outstanding defense. I know a lot of their guys and they're so athletic. You have to be careful where you put the ball,” Bercovici said.

He did just that throughout the night, avoiding any interceptions after giving away two against UCLA.

“They took a different approach, playing more of a prevent defense,” Bercovici said of USC’s approach in the final minutes.

Bercovici exploited a coverage that's been proven time and again to be ineffective in late-game situations, and it cost the Trojans.

USC now heads into next week’s road contest against unbeaten Arizona in need of a victory to get its championship aspirations back on course.

“[The loss] leaves us with a stinging, with a sick feeling in our gut,” Sarkisian said. “It leaves us a chance to show who we are and our mettle and our resiliency.”

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of the USC athletic department.

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Defensive Meltdown May Doom USC's Chances to Win Pac-12

LOS ANGELES — A complete meltdown by the passing defense highlighted by a single play in the final seconds of No. 16 USC’s 38-34 loss Saturday to Arizona State will haunt the Trojans in their pursuit of the Pac -12 Championship...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Michigan Losing Streak Isn't Likely to End If Defense Surrenders Big Plays

Michigan might not win another game this season unless its defense can stop getting burned for big plays. While Devin Gardner’s struggles at quarterback have taken center stage the last few games, the 26-24 loss to Rutgers exposed defensive flaws with grave implications for this team’s ability to compete in the Big Ten.

Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova (22-of-39, 404 yards and three touchdowns) looked like a Heisman trophy candidate versus the Wolverines. He threw for more yards in the first half (282) than he was averaging per game (239), while leading his team to a 19-17 halftime lead. Kyle Bogenschutz of Scout.com provided Hoke's assessment of Nova:

In a stunning pattern the Michigan defense would hang tough for a few plays before getting scorched— usually on third down with Nova finding a receiver for a big play.

Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press summed up Nova’s third-down brilliance:

He threw an 80-yard touchdown pass on a broken coverage and marched his team 75 yards in just 1:21 for a pre-halftime score, a play marked by Frank Clark's missed sack.

That was just the latest of Rutgers' killer third downs, where they were 5-of-9, each one a dagger.

A 53-yard pass on a third and five, a 20-yard Nova rush – his career long – on third and 16, and a 23 yarder later on third and six.

For the second week in a row, the Michigan defense was ripped through the air.

Last week Minnesota, with the 121st-ranked passing offense in the nation (113 yards per game), erupted for 167 passing yards versus Michigan. Minnesota’s success through the air was particularly surprising since its offense had relied primarily on the running attack in prior games but passed with ease versus Michigan.

Rutgers, which entered the game ranked 63rd nationally in passing offense (240.6), surged for 402 passing yards against the Wolverines.

In both cases Michigan appeared to be unprepared or unable to shut down the passing attack.

And make no mistake, while Minnesota and Rutgers are good, the toughest teams on the schedule are still ahead for Michigan.

Rivals Michigan State (47th-ranked nationally, 263 passing yards per game) and Ohio State (37th-ranked nationally, 279.8 yards per game) have the capability and desire to hang over 50 points on Michigan— maybe by halftime. Michigan plays both teams on the road where it has struggled throughout Hoke’s tenure.

 

For a preview of coming attractions check out what Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com said about Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett:

A good way to tell whether Barrett is selling fakes and making good reads is how many times the TV cameramen are fooled. It happened on a few occasions. ... Barrett threw at least four touchdowns for the third consecutive game, so it seems as if he's really coming into his own.

But what was most impressive, more than just the number of touchdowns, were the passes he made, ones where only the receiver had a chance at it. 

The team also faces Maryland (48th-ranked nationally, 262.4 passing yards per game) for its final game of the season at Michigan Stadium.

The implication is clear—if Michigan is getting ripped by mediocre teams like Minnesota and Rutgers, elite teams such as Michigan State and Ohio State should have no problem dispatching the Wolverines. In fact, Minnesota has shown that even teams with anemic passing attacks can take advantage of the Wolverines.

As Brady Hoke enters his fourth season, Michigan is nowhere near being able to compete for the Big Ten title. It might not even win a Big Ten game this season. Angelique of The Detroit News shared a snapshot of the post-win, on-field celebration:

As Michigan and Rutgers met for first time, it was Michigan that wilted under the pressure and looked unprepared for Big Ten play.

Michigan fans will see a lot of big plays this season—but most will be by opponents.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

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Nebraska Still Controls Its Own Destiny for Big Ten Title, Despite Loss

Don't count out Nebraska just yet, Big Ten. Despite losing to Michigan State, the Huskers are still as much of a threat to win the conference championship as they were before.

That might not seem like the case, though. In fact, the Spartans exposed a few of Nebraska's weaknesses, such as their offensive line and secondary struggles. That's something future Big Ten opponents will use against the Huskers.

However, Nebraska wasn't lifeless against the Spartans. Instead, the Huskers fought from start-to-finish, as several people pointed out on Twitter.

The question is now whether or not the Huskers still control their own destiny for the Big Ten title. The answer is yes.

First and foremost, Michigan State is ranked No. 10 nationally and that's not a fluke. The Spartans are a powerful and tough Big Ten opponent who have been a favorite to win the conference since late-August. The title was originally projected to go to Ohio State, but after the Buckeyes lost quarterback Braxton Miller, Cleveland.com conducted a new poll of Big Ten sports writers. MSU came out as the new favorite that go-around.

Since then, the Spartans have shown their strength as a team. Their one loss to Oregon raised some flags in playoff talk, but it didn't change where they stood in the Big Ten. The Huskers knew that heading to East Lansing. Yet, Nebraska still underperformed.

People will point to this game to prove the Huskers don't have what it takes to win the Big Ten. It's not entirely unjustified, either. Looking at I-back Ameer Abdullah, the senior had a disappointing 45 net-yards on 24 carries. His two touchdowns in the fourth quarter helped, but he wasn't the Abdullah people had come to expect, especially when he fumbled in the second quarter.

It would be a mistake for future opponents to overlook Abdullah because of his production against Michigan State. The I-back already has three games with over 200 yards and another with over 100 for the season. He's racked up 10 touchdowns, guaranteeing at least one in every matchup to date.

A lot of Abdullah's troubles came from the Nebraska offensive line not holding strong. That's something that can be corrected, especially because the group has shown promise previously. In fact, Illinois' head coach Tim Beckman was the first to say how good the Huskers' offensive line was.

Illinois is a very different team than Michigan State, but the Nebraska offensive line has proven they can play well together. The group was allowing the offense to rush for 1,774 yards and 16 touchdowns on 256 carries prior to Michigan State. That's enough to show future opponents the offensive line can be a threat.

On the other side of the ball, the Nebraska defense showed up big against Michigan State. Senior linebacker Trevor Roach finished with a career-high 18 tackles. Junior defensive end Randy Gregory snagged his first interception of the season, while also helping contribute to Nebraska's three forced takeaways.

Ultimately, Nebraska is still as much in control of its destiny as ever. There are certain aspects that need to be improved upon, such as the offensive line and the secondary, but if the Huskers can figure it out, they could see Michigan State again in the Big Ten Championship.

Nebraska players believe they will. “Honestly, that’s not the last time [MSU] is going to see us. I can promise you that," Tommy Armstrong said. "We plan on going 11-1, making the Big Ten championship and playing Michigan State again, if they make it."

Abdullah feels the same. "Oh, we're going to respond," he said. "We're going to get to Indiana."

That attitude is telling, as the Huskers competed from start-to-finish. It may not have worked out in Nebraska's favor, but if this team can grow from the loss, there's no reason they can't win the West Division, or the whole conference for that matter.

It truly all lies in Nebraska's hands.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand via the Huskers post-game press conference, unless otherwise noted.

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Nebraska vs. Michigan State: Game Grades, Analysis for Cornhuskers and Spartans

Trae Waynes saved the day with a late interception deep in MSU territory as Nebraska was mounting an epic comeback attempt.  Michigan State, up 27-9 only minutes before, gave up three fourth-quarter touchdowns, allowing Nebraska to pull within five points.  The Huskers, with 1:07 on the clock and the ball, drove into MSU territory before the interception sealed the Spartans' 27-22 victory.

There's plenty to go over from both teams, so let's dive right in!

Box score via NCAA.com.

 

Nebraska Passing Offense

The evening didn't start off all that well for Tommy Armstrong and his receivers.  Kenny Bell went down early to a leg injury and did not return.  By halftime, Armstrong could only manage 72 yards on a 9-of-16 performance with one interception.

The second-half numbers look quite a bit better, thanks in large part to some big plays late in the comeback effort.  Armstrong finished with 273 yards on a 20-of-43 night, while backup Ryker Fyfe pitched in nine yards on one completion.

Still, the passing game's grade is held low because of the failure to find the end zone and the two costly interceptions.

 

Nebraska Rushing Offense

This is where we were really surprised.

Ameer Abdullah came into this game leading not just the Big Ten but the entire FBS in rushing yards.  He was averaging 166.6 yards per game.  We didn't expect quite that level of production against a defense like Michigan State's, but we certainly didn't expect 1.9 yards per carry on 24 attempts.

MSU did a fine job of containing Abdullah, and the Nebraska running attack failed its first real test of 2014.

 

Nebraska Pass Defense

Nebraska's secondary did a nice job of limiting open throwing lanes for Connor Cook, but he was so accurate that he was still able to post 234 yards and a touchdown on just 11 completions.

Nebraska did come up with an interception on the evening, just moments into the game.  Unfortunately, like so many of Nebraska's takeaways, the Huskers weren't able to convert that interception into points.

All in all, the pass defense put forth a solid performance.  It was just not quite good enough to get a stop when it was needed to stop the bleeding early on.

 

Nebraska Run Defense

Considering Nebraska's defenders see a back like Ameer Abdullah every day in practice, we somehow expect the Huskers to be great against the run.  On Saturday night, they weren't great.

Jeremy Langford gashed the Huskers for 111 yards on 29 attempts, and the Spartans were able to beat Nebraska on the edge most of the night.  All told, the Spartans had 188 yards and two touchdowns against the Nebraska ground defense.

 

Nebraska Special Teams

Drew Brown connected on his only field-goal attempt of the night, but the real highlight was the punt return for a touchdown from De'Mornay Pierson-El late in the fourth quarter that gave Nebraska an opportunity to win the game.

When so many other facets of the Nebraska performance were lacking, we have no complaints about the special teams, which is why that unit earns a team-leading "A-minus."

 

Nebraska Coaching

We have to admit Bo Pelini didn't do the greatest of jobs in the first half.  We get the weather was nasty.  If you've never experienced a cold, rainy, windy October night in Michigan, you might also not understand why Pelini chose punts instead of field-goal attempts early in the game.

Yet, had those punts—many of which resulted in small net gains, thanks to touchbacks—been converted into just a few more points via intermediate-range field-goal attempts, the end result may have been very different.

After halftime, however, Pelini didn't let his troops give up.  Nebraska clawed its way back into the game, and the coaching staff deserves as much credit as anyone for the dedication and belief Nebraska showed down the stretch. 

 

Michigan State Passing Offense

It's difficult to grade MSU's passing performance in this game.  On one hand, Cook found room for 234 yards and a touchdown.  On the other hand, he was just 11-of-29 with an interception.

Still, Cook was amazingly accurate when he needed to be, splitting the defense with his bullet-like passes right on the money.  The effort was good enough to win, and Cook did find six different receivers, including Tony Lippett three times for 104 yards and a score.

 

Michigan State Rushing Offense

If we were going to pick one team to win the ground game, it wasn't going to be Michigan State.  But with Jeremy Langford's 111 yards on 29 carries and the team's 188 total rushing yards, the Spartans completely eclipsed anything the Cornhuskers could do.

 

Michigan State Pass Defense

We were all set to give MSU high marks for a great effort against Nebraska's passing attack.  The Spartans held Armstrong to just 9-of-16 for 72 yards and an interception in the first half.  But with the late comeback attempt, Nebraska ended up with 282 total passing yards on the evening.

We will, however, hand out a little extra credit for the game-saving interception with just a few seconds left.

 

Michigan State Run Defense

Holy cow, what an effort.  Abdullah is one of the most dynamic rushers in the nation, and the Spartans utterly shut him down in East Lansing.

Abdullah was held to a paltry 45 yards on 24 carries.  He did get a pair of short touchdown runs in the second half, but MSU did a great job of limiting the big plays.  Abdullah's long on the night was just nine yards.

 

Michigan State Special Teams

Talk about nearly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory...

Michigan State's special teams nearly gave the game away late with a missed field goal and shoddy coverage on a punt that resulted in Pierson-El's touchdown return, which cut the MSU lead to five points.

Michigan State survived, but it wasn't thanks to the special teams.

 

Michigan State Coaching

Mark Dantonio managed to smile a little bit after the game, but it was likely a smile of relief, not one of genuine happiness.

When Nebraska was mounting its final drive with 1:07 to go and just five points down, it was easy to imagine Michigan State rolling over given the comeback that was staring the Spartans squarely in the face.

Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi came down from the press box to talk to his defense face-to-face, and Dantonio kept his team's head in the right place long enough to pull it out late.

 

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

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Why Auburn Is the New Team to Beat in the SEC

AUBURN, Ala. — Saturday was a day of carnage in the Top 10, and inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, it was no different.

But unlike the scenes at TCU and both Mississippi schools, the higher-ranked team was the one delivering the painful loss.

On a day when No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 6 Texas A&M all fell—and two days after No. 2 Oregon dropped a Thursday-night game to Arizona—No. 5 Auburn went above and beyond with a 41-7 blowout against rival LSU.

The win now puts Auburn in a three-way tie with Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the ultra-competitive SEC West.

"It has a lot of big-time teams," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "It is the best division in college football. I think it is pretty clear."

What is also pretty clear at this point is the top spot in the division belongs to Malzahn's team.

With two victories against Top 20 teams to Ole Miss' one as well as a blowout win against a team Mississippi State edged out, Auburn is now the SEC's new team to beat.

"I think this was the start of our statement wins," senior tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "It was the start of us being where we need to be...I think that's a testament to where we are as a team."

When the AP Top 25 and USA Today coaches polls are released Sunday, Auburn will have a legitimate claim to the top spot in the country, as fellow undefeated team Florida State has struggled against ranked foes this season.

But does Auburn think it deserves the No. 1 ranking?

"Deserving?" senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "I'm more on the side of we are going to keep on trucking and earn it. I'm not even going to lie to you, after last year, it's shown a lot that the rankings don't matter. Just play your butts off."

Auburn definitely "played its butts off" against LSU, which entered the game with high hopes after a dominant performance with true freshman quarterback Brandon Harris.

The new starter was only 3-for-14 through the air before being pulled in favor of Anthony Jennings, the player he replaced one week earlier against New Mexico State.

LSU finished the game 0-for-13 on third-down conversions, becoming the first team to not move the chains against Auburn since the infamous 3-2 game in 2008 at Mississippi State.

"One guy would make a play, then on the sideline before the next series we'd say that it's someone else's time, and another guy would go out and make the play," Wright said. "The execution was just really sound. Communication was better than expected tonight because the fans were as loud as they had ever been, in my eyes."

On offense, Auburn scorched the nation's No. 12 defense in total yards allowed per game for 566 yards and 41 points.

After struggling with slow starts in recent weeks, Auburn's offense racked up 247 yards against LSU in the first quarter—the most in any single quarter since Malzahn took over as head coach.

“We talked all week about getting off to a quick start," Malzahn said. "We really focused in on the offense and we were able to score points early, and it made things easier later in the game."

Areas that Auburn struggled with prior to Saturday night didn't slow the offense down, and a few players had breakout performances that fans had been waiting to see all season.

Sammie Coates, who finished No. 3 nationally in yards per catch last season, matched his season total in receiving yards with one catch against LSU—an incredible first-quarter touchdown grab in traffic.

The highlight-reel play sparked the Auburn attack and kick-started the impressive blowout against the Bayou Bengals.

"We get so amped up when we see stuff on [the video screen] sometimes, and to be able to see that catch that he had — that was insane," Uzomah said. "That kind of propelled us. The steamroll started going after that."

Auburn will hope to keep that momentum from the rout going on both sides of the ball as it turns to a Mississippi State team that recorded a similar rout against Texas A&M and its high-powered offense earlier on Saturday.

If there is any argument between the Tigers and the Bulldogs' claim to the top spot in the SEC, it will be settled one week from now in Starkville.

"We have to get together, watch film and see what they like to do," senior defensive back Trovon Reed said. "We just need to keep improving and build off this performance.”

Just minutes after the final whistle sounded in Auburn's first win against LSU since 2010, Malzahn's team was not concerned with celebration—it already had its sights set on the next game in a brutal stretch of SEC games.

"The LSU is over with," senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne said. "We've already turned the page. We're focused on Mississippi State."

 

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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Arizona State Stuns USC with Last-Second Hail Mary TD

Another week, another last-second Hail Mary win in the Pac-12. This week it's the Arizona State Sun Devils supplying the late-game heroics as they shocked the USC Trojans.

Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici dropped back with the final seconds ticking away and found wide receiver Jaelen Strong in the end zone for the 38-34 win.

Was this the best Hail Mary win of the season?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings for Week 6

There were some outstanding performances during Week 6 of the College Football season. Many of the top teams went down in action, while many of the top players proved once again why they are a cut above the rest. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives you his list of top five Hesiman contenders after Week 6. 

Who is in your top five?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Nebraska vs. Michigan State: Score and Twitter Reaction

No. 10-ranked Michigan State survived a late surge from No. 19 Nebraska to notch a vital 27-22 victory and stake their claim as the team to beat in the Big Ten.

The Spartans defense was the star of the show. They put constant pressure on the quarterback and held Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah to just 45 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.

Here is the quarter-by-quarter score from the Big Ten contest:

The Spartans front did well to bottle up Abdullah, an early Heisman Trophy candidate, in the first half. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun and linebacker Ed Davis were especially impressive, providing a formidable pass rush while still holding up their end of the bargain against the run.

Davis was particularly aggressive in the first half and made his presence known early with a vicious third-down sack. Calhoun notched a third-down sack of his own early on as well, prompting Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star to give his assessment of the Cornhuskers' offensive line:

Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. did the best he could behind the porous offensive line, but he wasn't immune from mistakes of his own. He threw a first-quarter interception to cornerback Trae Waynes, an early blemish in what would be a difficult game for the sophomore passer.

The Spartans' offense—second in the nation in scoring with 50.3 points per game entering Saturday—wasn't exactly spectacular, but it did just enough to support the monstrous effort from their defense. Quarterback Connor Cook provided a highlight play early on, completing a 55-yard touchdown pass to wideout Tony Lippett to open the scoring midway through the first quarter.

Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart called Lippett the best receiver in the conference:

Cook struggled to get in a rhythm after that play, but running back Jeremy Langford gave the offense a jolt with his 31-yard touchdown run, granting the Spartans a 14-0 advantage early in the second quarter.

Michigan State punt returner Macgarrett Kings Jr. gifted the Cornhuskers a golden scoring opportunity with nine minutes to go in the first half when he failed to corral Nebraska's punt and let the ball bounce off his fingertips and into the hands of his opponents.

The Cornhuskers opted to feed Abdullah the ball with paydirt a mere eight yards away, only to watch Davis make another huge play and punch the ball out of his hands and into the arms of Calhoun, preserving the two-touchdown differential in the process.

247sports.com's Chris Vannini was in awe of Davis' play:

The Spartans quickly moved the ball into scoring position, only to have the drive stall out on a steady supply of runs from halfback Nick Hill. Michigan State didn't finish the drive empty-handed, as Michael Geiger hit his first field goal of the day to give the Spartans a commanding 17-0 lead heading into the locker room.

Abdullah finished the first half with just 15 carries for 21 yards. Armstrong Jr. didn't fare well moving the ball through the air, completing just 50 percent of his passes for 60 yards and one interception.

The first-half performance from the Spartans defense was especially impressive considering Abdullah's penchant for ripping off huge chunks of yardage. College GameDay provides the key stat:

The second half continued in a manner similar to the first, with Armstrong Jr. unable to keep his team on the field and the Spartans slowly but surely building upon their already sizable advantage. 

Sports Radio 610's Sean Pendergast noted Armstrong's poor mechanics and blamed head coach Bo Pelini in the process:

 

Of course, the play of Michigan State's secondary certainly had much to do with his struggles. RealGM's Jeff Risdon noted Waynes smothered the Cornhuskers receivers throughout the game:

The two teams traded field goals midway through the third quarter to make the score 20-3, and the game was in serious doubt for the Cornhuskers with little momentum to carry them.

Cook may not have lit up the Nebraska secondary, but he did light up a defender with a crushing low block that sprung Lippett for a 32-yard touchdown run on a well-designed double reverse. Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton recapped the play:

Armstrong briefly left the game after taking a hard shot on a scramble up the middle; his absence would be felt when Nebraska finally showed signs of life in the final quarter.

Abdullah finally broke through for a two-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 18 points. That faint glimmer of hope was quickly snuffed out when quarterback Ryker Fyfe and Abdullah botched the handoff exchange and failed to score on a much-needed two-point conversion.

After three-plus quarters of mostly desultory play, Nebraska finally came to life. The Spartans offense failed to put the game away in the fourth quarter, and Abdullah took advantage, plunging in for a one-yard touchdown with just over four minutes remaining to make the score 27-16.

Armstrong looked much more confident after returning from injury and helped keep the ball moving for the Cornhuskers. The offensive line also did a much better job of protecting him in the late scramble.

The Cornhuskers forced Michigan State to punt on the ensuing drive, and wide receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El took the 43-yard boot all the way back for a 62-yard touchdown, cutting Michigan State's lead to 27-22.

The Spartans had the chance to go up by eight and force Nebraska into a difficult spot, but Geiger missed a 37-yard field goal, leaving Nebraska with one chance to notch a wild come-from-behind victory with just over a minute remaining.

They were able to move the ball into opposing territory, but Waynes corralled a desperate Armstrong pass for his second interception of the day, sealing the win for the Spartans. Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News noted the relief that swept over the stadium:

With Alabama, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oregon all losing in Week 6, Michigan State now has an outside shot at a College Football Playoff spot with the win over Nebraska. They will need the run the table in a diluted Big Ten conference, but they proved that their defense is among the best in the country and strong enough to take care of business when the offense falters.

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Arizona State vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for the Trojans

The USC Trojans had the game locked up Saturday. The score was 34-25 with 3:02 left in the game. 

But the football gods punished Steve Sarkisian for his "play not to lose" style, and Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici found his favorite target in the world, Jaelen Strong, for the game-winning 38-34 score.

Here's the full box score of the game from NCAA.com

With that, let's check out the game grades and analysis of each positional unit for the Trojans, who are surely hurting after that heartbreaking loss. 

Pass Offense: Cody Kessler actually had a decent game, and nothing should be taken from him. He completed 28 of 45 passes for 273 yards and didn't have any turnovers. He didn't throw for any touchdowns either, but when Buck Allen is having a great game, you don't have to. Thirteen of the team's 31 first downs also came through the air. 

Rush Offense: Like Kessler, the Trojans running backs had a stellar game as well. They were led by Allen, who racked up 143 yards and two touchdowns on just 29 carries. Justin Davis complemented him with 67 yards on 14 touches. The only criticism was that USC didn't convert the first down in the final minute of the game, which gave the Sun Devils the ball back. 

Pass Defense: When you give up the game-winning Hail Mary, your secondary failed for the game, regardless of what happened before that. When your secondary gives up 510 yards and five touchdowns to Bercovici—Taylor Kelly's backup, at home of all places—you definitely fail the game. Bercovici found his stride all game, and it was his heave to Strong that gave the Sun Devils the impromptu, shocking win over the Trojans. 

Rush Defense: As awful as the Trojans pass defense was, the rush defense was lights out. The Sun Devils totaled just 30 yards on the ground on 22 attempts. They forced Bercovici, a backup replacing the injured Kelly, to loft the ball in what should have been a winning game plan for the Trojans. But the poor effort by the secondary allowed Bercovici to get comfortable and pick apart the Trojans. 

Special Teams: Nobody likes Kessler punting, and Sarkisian needs to seriously consider giving up that method. It was Kessler's poor punt in the last minute that traveled just 16 yards which gave the Sun Devils breathing room to operate on the final, fateful drive that ended in the Hail Mary. Still, Andre Heidari connected on both field goals to salvage drives that had fizzled out. 

Coaching: When you coach not to lose instead of to win, Hail Marys happen. That's what Sarkisian did at the end by not giving Kessler a chance to pick up the first down through the air with his team clinging to a two-point lead and instead willingly giving the ball back to Arizona State. His choice to have Kessler punting on squib punts instead of just having the regular punter do what he's best at is also suspect. 

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