NCAA Football

SEC Football: Best Performances from Week 7

Week 7 was billed as "Separation Saturday" thanks to a loaded slate of games.

It didn't disappoint.

Alabama topped Texas A&M 41-23 in College Station, Memphis stunned 13th-ranked Ole Miss 37-24 at the Liberty Bowl, and LSU ended Florida's hopes of a perfect season in Death Valley.

Who were the key players this week?

The best individual performances in the SEC based on production and importance to the team are in this slideshow.

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Bowl Predictions 2015: Projecting College Football Playoff Field After Week 7

With five matchups between teams ranked in the AP Top 25, college football had a lot of hype to live up to this weekend. Fortunately for those watching, the sport delivered and then some.

The ending to Michigan-Michigan State was one of the greatest plays in college football history, Alabama and Iowa both secured big victories against ranked opponents and moved closer to a possible spot in the New Year’s Six and LSU handed Florida its first loss of the season.

It has already been one of the most entertaining college football seasons in memory, with no team safe from an unexpected upset and no clear favorite for the title. As the season heads into the second half things don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

Let’s take a look at the projections for the New Year’s Six Bowls and the teams that will make it to the this season’s College Football Playoff:

 

Notable Performances

Memphis

For those really plugged into college football, Saturday wasn’t too unexpected, but for the more casual fan Memphis taking down Ole Miss in comfortable fashion was unheard of. The Rebels were ranked No. 13 heading into the game and had taken down Alabama a few weeks ago but were now losing at a team from the American.

But Memphis is a part of the new era of the American—which itself is a young conference that used to be the Big East—and Saturday’s result was anything but a fluke.

Scoring 31 consecutive points after falling behind 14-0 at home, the Tigers managed to hold on as Ole Miss battled back into the game late, likely securing a debut in the AP Top 25 poll this coming week. With the highest ranked non-Power 5 team earning a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl, Memphis looks to be in pole position, but it is a long road ahead.

The Tigers have the strongest non-conference win of any of the teams vying for the top spot, but with both Houston and Temple undefeated in the AAC, as well as Toledo running unchecked through the MAC, Memphis still has plenty of work left to do to if it wants to secure a spot in one of the big bowls.

But for now the Tigers should celebrate. They were the better team against Ole Miss and have come a long way from the program that won just five combined games over a three-year span from 2009 to 2011.

 

Iowa

For the first time this season, it feels like Iowa might actually be capable of pulling off one of the most surprising runs to a New Year’s Six bowl in recent memory. Typically a good not great team, the Hawkeyes dominated No. 20 Northwestern to move to 7-0 on the year and look to have a relatively easy path to an undefeated regular season.

Of the remaining teams none should have Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes truly scared, although a road matchup with Nebraska at the end of the year with a lot on the line could be a dangerous outing for an unprepared squad.

There is no guarantee that this is legitimate yet and Iowa losing out for the rest of the year wouldn’t be the most surprising development, but without Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State on its schedule, Iowa has a pretty good shot at heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game with an unblemished record.

Even if the title game turns into a blowout similar to last season when the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 59-0, it would be nearly impossible for a 12-1 Hawkeye squad with a loss to a top 10 team to fall far enough that it misses out on the New Year’s Six entirely.

Despite some tiring of Ferentz and his approach in the past few seasons, Iowa is only five years removed from an Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech and could be on the cusp of reaching another big-time bowl this season.

 

Alabama

Last season it was a 59-0 walloping of then-No. 21 Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa, Ala., that got Alabama back on track after some early-season issues. This season in College Station, Texas, the Crimson Tide were much kinder to the Aggies, only winning 41-23.

The Aggies fought back as hard as they could after falling into a big hole, but the turnovers were too much to overcome as Alabama picked off both quarterbacks—taking three back for touchdowns—to beat Texas A&M for the second consecutive year.

Derrick Henry continues to impress as arguably the most underappreciated running back in the country. While all eyes are on Baton Rouge, La., and Leonard Fournette, the Alabama running back has been having a huge season of his own, scoring in every game and going for a career-high 211 yards against the Aggies.

There are clearly some issues on special teams that coach Nick Saban will not be pleased with. But were it not for a five-turnover game against Ole Miss, Alabama would be undefeated and very much in the discussion for the No. 1 spot in the polls.

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NCAA Football Rankings: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 7

One of the biggest Saturdays of the 2015 college football season definitely lived up to the hype with several dramatic showdowns between ranked foes. 

A weekend like this one was already expected to cause some major shakeups in the Associated Press Top 25, but the way these clashes turned out will make for a lot of intrigue when Week 8's poll comes out Sunday. (Looking at you, Ann Arbor.)

A couple of ranked teams suffered surprise upset losses in Week 7, including a program that was once considered a strong playoff contender just a few weeks ago.

Some new blood is set to move into the coveted Top 25 now as the race for the Group of Five's top-flight bowl bid continues to heat up.

Like we do at this time each week, here is the projected Top 25 following this weekend's action along with the most notable rises and falls. The top seven stays secure with victories across the board, but the rest of the spots are in for some big-time changes.

 

Moving up

Iowa

Don't look now, but Kirk Ferentz has the Hawkeyes knocking on the door of a Top-10 spot as they start to pull away in the Big Ten West.

Iowa improved to 7-0 on Saturday by throttling Northwestern, 40-10, away from home. With star running back Jordan Canzeri going down with injury one week after his record-breaking performance, Akrum Wadley stepped up and posted 204 rushing yards and four touchdowns against the once-proud Wildcats defense.

"We’re not really thinking about the broader picture, about what kind of message we’re sending other teams," quarterback C.J. Beathard said, per Chad Leistikow of HawkCentral.com. "We just know we wanted to come out and get after Northwestern."

Iowa definitely sent a message to the rest of the Big Ten on Saturday, and that should resonate with AP voters. The Hawkeyes gain an extra spot in this projection—over idle Oklahoma State—and slide right behind a red-hot Stanford team heading into a bye week.

 

Memphis

In a Saturday filled with high-profile matchups between ranked teams, Memphis took a good chunk of the spotlight early with a 13-point victory over Ole Miss at home.

Quarterback Paxton Lynch was excellent throughout for the Tigers, who scored 31 unanswered points between the end of the first quarter and the early portion of the third quarter. Memphis then held on to the huge upset win by shutting out Ole Miss in the fourth.

Now Memphis is sporting a 6-0 record and a stronger resume in the race for the coveted New Year's Six bowl bid among the Group of Five teams. The Tigers also routed power-conference doormat Kansas away from home this season and edged the high-powered offenses of Bowling Green and Cincinnati in Weeks 3 and 4.

A move from unranked to No. 18 seems like a lot for Memphis, but don't underestimate the power of having the headline-making upset of the day. The Tigers jump over idle California, Duke and a host of other one- and two-loss teams here.

 

Temple and Mississippi State

Temple entered Week 7 with more votes in the AP poll than Memphis, but the Owls have two factors working against them this week—none of their wins are as big as an upset over a ranked team like Ole Miss, and they also needed a fourth-quarter rally to put away winless UCF on Saturday.

"You couldn’t have had a faster start," Temple head coach Matt Rhule said, per the Temple News. "But that being said really at the end of the day it’s penalties, fumbling the ball, dropping the ball. It’s not really anything else. It can be a little bit frustrating."

Mississippi State's inclusion in the Top 25 might cause quite a stir, and for good reason. The Bulldogs haven't had a big win this season, although their two losses came against two ranked opponents in the SEC West.

However, remember that these projections are what I expect the pollsters to do and not how I think things should be voted. And, like it or not, Mississippi State had the fourth-most votes outside the Top 25 in Week 7 behind Memphis, Temple and an Arizona State team that lost its third game of the season. Whether or not it's the right choice, normal poll movement says Mississippi State will most likely be in the Top 25 again.

 

Moving down

Florida and Texas A&M

The Gators and the Aggies, which were right beside each other in the Week 7 poll, both took tough losses Saturday in conference play.

Florida hung tough with LSU in Death Valley despite falling behind by two touchdowns in the second quarter and playing without suspended quarterback Will Grier. The Gators tied things up in the third before a fourth-quarter fake field goal gave LSU a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Texas A&M's loss at home against Alabama, however, was a lot uglier. The Aggies threw three pick-sixes against the Crimson Tide, which never trailed in the contest. Texas A&M had only 32 rushing yards on 25 attempts as Alabama's Derrick Henry rushed for 236 yards.

The two SEC teams will have similar-sized falls in the polls after their first losses of the season. Florida drops to a spot just ahead of Oklahoma, which blew the doors off a Kansas State team that TCU and Oklahoma State struggled with this season. The Aggies, though, slide under the hard-to-figure-out Sooners.

 

Michigan

Well, well—what to make of the Michigan Wolverines after one of the most heartbreaking losses in college football history?

The Wolverines never trailed undefeated rival Michigan State at home until the final play of the game, when a fumbled snap on what was supposed to be a game-ending punt turned into an improbable touchdown for the visiting Spartans. The loss, quite simply, was unlike anything else.

Now comes the hard part of ranking the Wolverines, who were destined to break into the Top 10 before that final mishap. Their only two losses this season were decided by one possession, and they came against currently undefeated, Top-10 teams.

I believe the pollsters will have some sympathy for Jim Harbaugh's team after its second loss of the season. Undefeated Houston and Temple don't have any recent high-quality wins, and Michigan blasted a Northwestern team Duke lost against earlier this year. Even with the two defeats, UM stays ahead of those programs here.

 

Ole Miss

Times are quite tough for the Rebels, which once had the best-looking win of the college football season—a wild home victory against Alabama.

But now Ole Miss has lost two of its last three matchups, with Saturday's loss against Memphis coming after the Rebels opened up a 14-0 lead on the road. Ole Miss converted just four of its 13 third-down attempts, which turned out to be a huge difference against a much more efficient Memphis team, especially after the injury to Rebels star Robert Nkemdiche.

"On our end, very disappointing," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said, per Neal McCready of Rivals. "I've been on the other side of a couple of these wins, and I know what that feels like. But it's crushing to be on the other side. We did not play particularly well."

Fortunately for Ole Miss, several lower-ranked teams also fell this weekend, including UCLA and Northwestern. Without several can't-miss replacements lined up in the "Also Receiving Votes" category to replace those teams, don't be surprised at all if the Rebels stay in the Top 25 this week. 

 

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 7

Week 7 lived up to its billing. Has there been a better week all season?

It started with Stanford's rout of UCLA on Thursday. That led to Utah State's demolition of Boise State on Friday. And that led to a Saturday featuring three top-15 matchups including one—an in-state state rivalry that doubled as ESPN's College GameDay matchup—with the craziest finish of the year and arguably the decade.

That game and others sharpened the focus on the College Football Playoff picture. The first batch of rankings is due November 3, and from there the field will be set before we know it.

Here are three major takeaways from Week 7.

 

Michigan State Won't Die

You could take Spencer Hall's famous game story from Auburn's "Kick Six" two years ago, rework a couple key pronouns and use it to recap Michigan State's Week 7 win.

"You should be dead, MSU, because we saw you die. And here you are, breathing in the flesh, able to say you made the Michigan Wolverines fumble-punt the winning touchdown for you."

Despite outgaining Michigan by 156 yards, MSU appeared to have lost after turning the ball over on downs. The Wolverines ran the clock down to 10 seconds, at which point all they needed was to punt the ball away, avoid unthinkable catastrophe and celebrate.

But then the unthinkable happened, catastrophically:

"I couldn't believe it," Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio told ESPN's Todd McShay. "I thought we were gonna fall on [the fumble], maybe have a chance for a kick...[but] we scooped it."

The win advances Sparty to 7-0 and keeps it alive in the playoff race. It just earned a quality road win against its biggest rival—a team that should finish in the Top 25 or 20—and will likely be favored in four of its remaining five games.

That one game where it won't be favored, November 21 at Ohio State, is in some ways like playing with house money. If MSU pulls the upset, it will vault to No. 1 in the polls and stay there as long as it remains undefeated. But even if it loses, it would stand a strong chance of going 11-1 with its only loss on the road against the defending national champion.

The Spartans are significantly flawed—last year's Cotton Bowl champion and 2013's Rose Bowl champion would both probably beat it if they played—but they have star power to answer for lacking depth, and they appear to have destiny on their side.

Never mess with the team aligned with destiny.

 

Long Live the SEC Doomsday Scenario

It's hard to fathom a scenario by which the SEC, college football's Golden Conference, does not get a team into the playoff.

But there is one. It's unlikely, but it exists. And on Saturday, the first major domino fell.

Namely, Ole Miss lost at Memphis, 37-24. The Tigers are undefeated, but they're still in the AAC. That's not a game a playoff contender loses.

But because that loss came out of conference, Ole Miss still controls its SEC fate. It beat what appears to be the best team in the conference, Alabama, earlier this season, so it owns the division tiebreaker. If it wins out, it makes the SEC title game.

And therein lies the SEC's nightmare: Ole Miss wins out and claims the SEC championship but still has a blowout loss at Florida and a convincing loss at Memphis on its resume. How could the committee put the Rebels into the playoff?

At the same time, how could it put Alabama, which lost to the Rebels in Tuscaloosa, into the playoff over them? Even if the Tide finish 11-1.

At the same time, how could it put either of those teams into the playoff over Memphis, which could well finish the year undefeated. It doesn't want to add an AAC team over the SEC Champion, but if the AAC team has a 13-0 record, the SEC Champion has an 11-2 record and the former beat the latter head-to-head?

What other option would it have?

 

Either Utah, Stanford or Notre Dame Will Make the Playoff

Too declarative? So what. The way Week 7 unfolded, combined with how the schedule shapes from here, greatly increased the chance that either Utah, Stanford or Notre Dame will crack the final four.

The thread that binds them together is Stanford, which on Thursday destroyed UCLA, 56-35. The Cardinal host Notre Dame in the regular-season finale, and between that their only road games come at Washington State and Colorado. They could well reach that game with one loss, as could the Irish, who beat USC in Week 7 and play no ranked teams until the Cardinal.

If Notre Dame wins that game—assuming it avoids reasonable upset bids at Temple and Pittsburgh—it will land at 11-1 with its only loss a close one in the rain at Clemson. That's a playoff resume.

If Stanford wins that game—assuming it holds home field against Washington, Oregon and Cal—it will land at 11-1 and enter the Pac-12 Championship Game, needing just one more win for a playoff resume.

There it will almost definitely meet Utah, which outscored Arizona State 20-0 in the fourth quarter of a 34-18 win Saturday. The Utes hold a one-game lead and tiebreaker over the Sun Devils and a two-game lead over the rest of the Pac-12 South. Even if they drop one game along the way, they will be one win over (likely) Stanford away from being a one-loss Pac-12 champ. That's a playoff resume.

The Cardinal, Irish and Utes cleared hurdles this week against UCLA, USC and Arizona State, respectively. None of those teams is amazing, but all three pose reasonable tests. At this point, barring something unforeseen, one of these three will crash the national semis.

Which one do you think it will be?

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Everything You Need to Know About College Football Week 7 in 60 Seconds

Week 7 kept fans on their toes, so we're going to recap the big games for anyone who might have missed even a second of an awesome play.

How did the undefeateds fare? And who pulled off a stunning victory?

Find out in the above video as Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder delivers this week's recap. 

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Arizona State vs. Utah: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The No. 4 Utah Utes tallied 20 points in the fourth quarter to secure a come-from-behind 34-18 win at home against the Arizona State Sun Devils in Week 7.

Utah quarterback Travis Wilson finished with a season-high 297 yards and two touchdowns as well as a 159.9 rating after completing 26 of 36 passes Saturday. Running back Devontae Booker churned out 118 yards on 21 attempts and scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth, including the go-ahead score.

Utah's official Twitter account shared the replay:

Despite a strong finish, the Utes—who entered the game ranked third in the Pac-12 in rushing—were limited mightily on the ground for most of the game.

Utah finished with 72 rushing yards Saturday. The minus-46 yards that Wilson accrued played a major role in that total, and at one point in the second half, the Utes were at minus-27 rushing yards as a team. Arizona State also contained Booker for the bulk of the night, aside from the two scores on breakaway runs that went for a combined 87 yards.

The Sun Devils, who fell to 4-3, didn’t do much better. Utah held running back Kalen Ballage to 49 yards on 18 attempts, with a long of 15. Quarterback Mike Bercovici completed 20 of 41 passes for 242 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Wide receiver Devin Lucien accounted for 118 of those yards on six catches.

The teams traded the lead five times, but the most bizarre exchange came early in the fourth quarter, when return specialist Britain Covey threw an illegal forward pass in the end zone, resulting in a safety and giving Arizona State a 15-14 advantage. Given the Utes' limited offense to that point, the play looked like it would be a major factor in the outcome.

Dr. Saturday shared the replay, and Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee shared his thoughts:

Though in gruff fashion, Utah did what it needed to, surviving and advancing. The Utes maintained their perch in the Pac-12 but will play six straight conference games to close out the season. As great as Booker has been, the team’s fate rests with Wilson, who entered Saturday ranked 10th among Pac-12 quarterbacks in passing yards.

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College Football Rankings: Bleacher Report's Week 8 Top 25

The best slate of games of the 2015 college football season lived up to its billing and then some. We got major upsets, convincing victories and a few thrilling finishes, one of which ended in a way we've never seen before.

As a result, we've gotten some significant movement in the Bleacher Report Top 25.

Eighteen of our college football staff voted in this week's Top 25: writers Greg Couch, Ed Feng, Justin Ferguson, Bryan Fischer, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Mike Monaco, Brian Pedersen, David Regimbal, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Greg Wallace and Christopher Walsh; video expert Michael Felder; and editors Eric Bowman and Eric Yates.

First-place votes were worth 25 points, with each subsequent rank worth one fewer point, all the way down to one for 25th place. The 25 highest vote-getters made our list, with the rest falling into the "others receiving votes" category.

See where everyone falls after seven weeks, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Ed Feng's Week 8 College Football Playoff Standings Predictions

How would the College Football Playoff committee rank teams this week? Which four schools would make the playoff?

We use analytics to make an educated guess on the committee rankings. The Associated Press poll provides a baseline for the Top 25 teams before the committee releases its first poll. My algorithm then adjusts teams based on the most recent opponent and margin of victory.

Teams that win keep their place unless they need overtime to beat Jacksonville State. Teams that lose drop, but not as much if they lose to a Top-10 team. You get the idea.

Let's look at the three most interesting movers from a wild Week 7.

 

Michigan State moving on up after stunning rivalry win

Michigan State stunned Michigan by returning a fumbled snap for a touchdown in the final seconds of the game.  You might never again see one play change a team's win probability from almost one to zero.

Despite the late-game good fortune, Michigan State actually deserved to win the game as they gained 386 yards to Michigan's 230.  QB Connor Cook made enough plays downfield to keep the Spartans in the game, and the defensive line held Michigan to 3.0 yards per carry (excluding the sacks in typical rushing statistics).

Was there any way to see Michigan State's performance coming?  The Spartans struggled to wins against Purdue and Rutgers and traveled to Ann Arbor as a 7.5-point underdog.

We could have learned something from preseason polls, which are remarkable predictors of team strength. The higher-ranked team in the preseason coaches' poll has won 60 percent of bowl games since 2005, not much worse than the markets.   A crowd of coaches is good at evaluating talent in the preseason.

Michigan State started the season seventh in the coaches' poll, while Michigan didn't make the Top 25 despite the arrival of new coach Jim Harbaugh.  Michigan State has a talented team, and perhaps we all made too much out of their poor performance in a small sample size of six games.

With the win over Michigan, Michigan State moves back up to fifth in the committee rankings.

 

LSU shows it's more than just Leonard Fournette

LSU passed its first big test of the season with a 35-28 win over previously unbeaten Florida.  The Tigers are now 6-0 and move up to fourth in the committee rankings.

Leonard Fournette pounded the Florida defense for 180 yards on 5.8 yards per carry.  His physicality makes you wonder how anyone tackled him in high school.

However, LSU had other bright spots besides Fournette.  QB Brandon Harris completed 13 of 19 passes for 202 yards, although he did get sacked five times.  The LSU offense gets much better with a solid Harris since defenses can't focus on Fournette.

In addition, LSU has their typical Top-10 defense under Les Miles.  By my numbers that take yards per play and adjust for strength of schedule, LSU ranks ninth.  This unit held Florida to 5.2 yards per play and came up big in the final minute to seal the victory.

In three weeks, LSU faces Alabama in a pivotal SEC West showdown.  The winner looks like the favorite for both the SEC Championship Game and College Football Playoff.

 

Iowa shoots up rankings with destruction of Northwestern

Iowa dominated Northwestern 40-10 in a key Big Ten West matchup and moves up to 13th in the committee rankings.  Akrum Wadley ran for 204 yards on 7.8 yards per carry after coming into the game with a total of 35 yards for the season.

With a 3-0 record in conference, Iowa looks like the front-runner to win the Big Ten West.  They already have a win over Wisconsin, which gives the Hawkeyes a tiebreaker should the two teams end the season with the same record.

However, Iowa's playoff chances most likely end in the Big Ten Championship Game.  My numbers make the Hawkeyes an underdog to Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State. 

 

Ed Feng has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford and runs the sports analytics site The Power Rank. You can find him on Twitter @thepowerrank.

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