NCAA Football News

Tennessee Will Compete for SEC Title Soon After Earning First Bowl Since 2010

When Tennessee freshman running back Jalen Hurd is running over opponents and sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs is running past them next season, Saturday's struggle will be looked at as a catalyst. 

When the Volunteers add to the mix a stable of highly coveted defensive linemen in another top-shelf recruiting class compiled by coach Butch Jones, the ulcer-inducing, how-is-this-happening close call against Vanderbilt will be remembered fondly.

Yes, Tennessee had to go into ultimate survival mode with Hurd hurt just to squeak by the Commodores, 24-17, on Saturday night in Nashville. But the bottom line is the Vols did it.

Now, they're going to their first bowl game since 2010.

And it seems like they're standing on the top of that mountain they've tried so hard to get over through the forgettable Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley eras, staring directly at a future where they'll be an immediate contender in the SEC East race moving forward.

Sure, they looked far from championship-caliber on Saturday, but the Vols (most importantly) found a way. You may be disgruntled with the way the game went, but Jones sure wasn't.

Unlike Kiffin and Dooley, Jones is not only recruiting as well as anybody nationally, but players are developing, the team is competitive virtually every week and the Vols have broken through for some meaningful victories. Any team can say it buys in to what its coach is saying, but UT is backing it up on the field.

They did it again Saturday.

The Vols got timely quarterback pressure by defensive ends Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt. They got a dynamic, foot-dragging interception from freshman Todd Kelly Jr. that was parlayed into a touchdown.

With Marquez North out for the year and Josh Malone injured, they combated virtually no downfield passing game with Dobbs' dynamic feet. The sophomore quarterback struggled with passing, but he wound up with 183 total yards and a pair of touchdowns that were just enough.

When absolutely nothing else worked, UT rode Dobbs, and Dobbs came through.

Each of these players return next season, too.

With so many injuries, so much adversity and so little depth, Tennessee had to fight through the cruel present to break through into the daylight of the future. Now that the Vols have secured a bowl berth, that future is very, very bright.

It's easy to forget when a team is struggling to beat Vandy that the offense was decimated by the losses of North and Hurd, not to mention Malone and Jason Croom being limited.

The defense just two weeks ago lost its heart and soul in middle linebacker A.J. Johnson and starting cornerback Michael Williams, who are being investigated for a sexual assault.

But the team banded together, playing a lineup full of true freshmen to somehow get to six wins. Add another massive class of highly ranked prospects into the fold next year, get the playmakers healthy and UT is a team nobody wants to face.

Once Jones and crew inserted Dobbs two series into the Alabama game, the entire trajectory of the program changed.

UT trimmed a 27-point deficit against the Tide with Dobbs under center. Then, the season's turnaround came when the Vols came from two scores behind late to upset South Carolina in overtime on the road, followed by a blowout win over Kentucky.

When Dobbs came in, Hurd came alive. The Vols will add former Alabama running back and the nation's second-ranked JUCO runner, Alvin Kamara, into the fold next year, and that will not only provide depth but quality and talent to an offensive backfield needing it.

UT's victory parade was derailed by the SEC East champion Missouri Tigers last week, but it got back on track against Vanderbilt with UT trotting basically a M.A.S.H. unit out there.

The only real gaping hole heading into the future for UT is that porous offensive line that has been both injury-riddled and downright bad all season. But with that group losing only former walk-on tackle Jacob Gilliam and grooming redshirting JUCO transfer Dontavius Blair for the left tackle, the unit should be more talented and a year better.

Lines get better the longer they play together, so an offseason could work wonders.

Defensively, UT will return a pair of defensive centerpieces in Barnett and Cameron Sutton as well as its emotional leader in Maggitt, who'll be a senior. With those three and a group of star prospects coming in, the Vols should get even better on that side of the ball.

They enjoyed a massive turnaround this season under coordinator John Jancek.

While Tennessee would love to win a bowl game and exit the season with more positive momentum, just getting to one was the biggest deal. Securing 15 extra practices is massive for a program needing to develop depth and find answers for a future full of promise.

The Vols are now 6-6 with a chance to win a seventh game. With a more favorable schedule, 2015 could produce eight wins or maybe even nine. After that, the depth and talent will be back in place for the program to return to its rightful place: competing for championships.

Saturday was the hump, and the Vols finally got over it. It wasn't pretty, but don't deny that it was memorable.

Anybody who believes otherwise failed to see the joy, jubilation and the relief strewn all over the faces of everybody involved with UT's program on the Vanderbilt Stadium football field.

There were plenty of mistakes, and there's plenty of reason for Vols fans to be concerned about the ability to win a bowl game this season with all the injuries and all the holes. 

There are plenty of superstar youngsters around whom a championship-caliber team can be built.

Given the way the way the players already on campus are developing, the resounding response necessary to send this program to the next level was breaking through and getting to a bowl.

Now, that's happened, and it doesn't matter that the Vols didn't earn any style points Saturday in getting there.

It was an ugly game, but it was a beautiful win; for now and for the future.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered from UTSports.com and recruiting information gathered from 247Sports.com, unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame's Embarrassing Loss to USC Makes QB Controversy Very Real

LOS ANGELES — Brian Kelly walked into the Coliseum hoping his offense could win a shootout. He walked out with a quarterback controversy on his hands. 

That alone should give you an idea as to how ugly Saturday was for Notre Dame. The 49-14 loss was the worst of the Kelly era, transporting Irish fans back in time to a Trojan program reminiscent of the Pete Carroll era, when a visit to the Coliseum felt like a death sentence from the opening kickoff.

The patchwork defense the Irish brought to Los Angeles never really had a chance to stop Cody Kessler or the Trojan offense. And that was before six more members of the defense's two-deep went down. 

But the real story of the game is the the quarterback position. After a dreadful first half by Everett Golson, Kelly turned the keys to the offense over to sophomore Malik Zaire. And the sophomore provided a spark, providing a rare glimmer of hope and turning the next month of bowl preparation into a crossroads for the position.  

"Today we thought we had some things early on that we didn’t execute on," Kelly said after the game. "And that’s why we made a change at the QB position."

Golson's afternoon was a nightmare. Notre Dame punted on its first four possessions. And then it got worse. Golson threw an interception that went right through Corey Robinson's hands, leading to the Trojans' fourth touchdown.

Then Golson held on to the football too long looking for an open receiver and was stripped from behind by J.R. Tavai as the ball went right into the arms of Hayes Pullard. Seven plays later, another Kessler touchdown pass, and the rout was on. 

That ended Golson's afternoon, finishing his stat line at an abysmal seven of 18 for 75 yards, with the two turnovers running the tally up to 22 on the season. Golson barely completed more passes than Kessler threw touchdowns. 

From there, Zaire got his chance. And it didn't take long to see what the offense could look like. On his first throw, Zaire hit Chris Brown for a 49-yard gain. The next play he scampered off the right side on a zone-read keeper, capping off a three-play, 64-yard drive with a touchdown in just under a minute. 

After giving up 35 straight, the touchdown didn't mean much with the game essentially already over. But it showed the type of spark Zaire was capable of providing, something desperately needed for a team playing for pride at that point. 

"The only message I wanted to convey was that we need to play with a lot of heart and that we need to have a no-quit attitude," Zaire said after the game. "I felt like we were in the game until the clock hit zero. We cannot quit. And we need to play with a lot of heart even when the scoreboard says something different."

That's likely music to ears not just of Irish fans but Kelly as well. And after declaring "all jobs available" after the loss, Zaire's aggression as Golson continues to fade away has the Irish in a very interesting spot. 

Of course, putting Zaire's performance into proper context is important. With the Trojans able to score at will against the depleted Irish defense, Zaire wasn't facing the Trojans at their most tenacious. And his final stat line—nine of 20 for 170 yards, along with six rushes for 18 net yards—isn't necessarily a job stealer.

But there's no disputing that Zaire shook things up, to the point that Kelly wasn't able to make any statement about the quarterback position after the game.

"I really don’t have an answer for you," Kelly said. "We tried to get a spark offensively, and I think Malik gave us that spark."

That's all Zaire could ask for. And after only seeing the field in garbage time or in his adventures as a holder, postgame Zaire sounded like the type of confident football player who wants to take this chance and run with it.

"Everything in life is about getting an opportunity," Zaire said. "When the opportunity came I didn’t even look at it as this was a make-it-or-break-it point, but it was an opportunity for me to go out and help the team win a football game."

Notre Dame didn't win. And with the Irish defense as undermanned as it currently is, even the most modest of bowl games will be an uphill climb. 

But Zaire's ability to do something offensively turns the next month into an unlikely quarterback competition that seemed preposterous just a month ago. And that suits Zaire just fine. 

"Everyday’s a competition for me. Everyday’s a competition with myself to get better and to be a better leader for this team," Zaire said. "I just want to be a part of this team and be a great leader and help us win games."

That makes things quite interesting for Kelly. Because while Golson has been plagued by turnovers, he's also been productive. But against the 111th-best pass defense in the country, the veteran quarterback shrunk in the moment, a shell of the player we saw earlier this season.

So with just a bowl game before the Irish officially look to next season, the one position that looked settled in early October is now a battle.  

Not exactly the finish people saw coming. 

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Baylor vs. Texas Tech: Game Grades, Analysis for Bears and Red Raiders

The Baylor University Bears outlasted the pesky Texas Tech University Red Raiders 48-46 in Arlington, Texas, barely surviving the loss of Bryce Petty to avoid the back-breaking upset.

For now, the Bears remain in the College Football Playoff discussion thanks to Petty's two-plus quarters of work and the defense's four forced turnovers.

But there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about this team that gave up 707 yards of offense to an offense quarterbacked by a true freshman. Even if Petty gets right for next week's game against Kansas State University, this is a flawed team.

 

Game Grades for the Red Raiders

Passing Offense

Patrick Mahomes got knocked around a lot in the first half, but he stood tough and proceeded to shred the Baylor secondary for the rest of the game. He finished the game with 598 passing yards and six touchdowns, completing passes of 40-plus yards to five different targets.

As for the receivers, the numbers are impressive. But plenty of mistakes were made. Three different pass-catchers gave the ball away in Baylor territory, and that was the difference in this game.

Rushing Offense

The Red Raiders ran the ball 26 times, but it didn't feel like it since they were playing catch-up basically from the start. DeAndre Washington had some tough runs, and Mahomes pitched in for 27 yards. But this game was competitive because of the passing game.

Passing Defense

The Red Raiders secondary had no hope of covering the Baylor receivers, and the entire defense struggled to contain Petty. Once the latter was removed from the equation, Art Briles' offense became much more manageable.

Pete Robertson flashed in recording a sack and recovering a Petty fumble.

Rushing Defense

Shock Linwood did whatever he wanted in the first half with his 97 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with 158 yards on the day, while Johnny Jefferson added 47 yards and a touchdown of his own.

Once Petty left the game, these guys pinned their ears back a little bit and were able to force the Bears to lean on Seth Russell. That move allowed Mahomes to do his thing and make this a game.

Special Teams

The fake punt for the first down was nice, but an offsides on a field goal allowed the Bears to finish a drive with a touchdown. Add in the failed onside kick, and there just isn't much to get excited about here.

Coaching

As a play-caller, Kliff Kingsbury is as good as it gets. He refused to let the Baylor pass rush knock him off his game, and his management of Mahomes is the reason the Red Raiders almost pulled off the upset of the Big 12 season.

That said, the defense and the stupid mistakes are just embarrassing. Kingsbury has to bring both down to manageable levels before he can start winning games like this.

 

Game Grades for the Bears

Passing Offense

Basically, Petty gets an "A" and Russell gets a "D." The former needed just two-and-a-half quarters to put up 35 points while completing 72 percent of his attempts. Russell's only touchdown drive came as a result of Petty's work, and he averaged less than five yards per attempt.

Corey Coleman caught a touchdown for the eighth straight game, which is the longest streak in the nation.

Rushing Offense

We already discussed how good Linwood was in the first half and how there wasn't much room at all in the second. Credit the Red Raiders defense for figuring out how to take him away once Petty left the game, but it's no indictment of this offensive personnel.

Passing Defense

Other than getting some consistent pressure in the first half and forcing the turnovers, this unit was a total dumpster fire. The Red Raiders moved the ball at will through the air, getting big play after big play against poor coverage.

Shawn Oakman had a nice game against a very good left tackle in Le'Raven Clark, but he committed two dirty plays on the day, getting penalized on Texas Tech's final drive.

Rushing Defense

Tech never really challenged the Bears on the ground, instead electing to feast on their horrendous secondary. Other than a couple of nice runs by Washington, Andrew Billings and Oakman swallowed things up inside.

Special Teams

The Bears were had on the fake punt in the first half and committed some bad penalties. Other than that, their big test came on the onside kick attempt, and they were all over it.

Coaching

Baylor's final quarter-and-a-half showed off every pitfall of Briles and his offense. The Bears just couldn't protect a 25-point lead and almost blew their shot at making a playoff appearance. Up to that point, everything from Briles was excellent, but it was too close for comfort.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Cheerleader Gets Rocked by Player

Despite fighting a height mismatch of six inches, USC cornerback Jonathan Lockett (5'11") saw his opportunity to beat Notre Dame wide receiver Corey Robinson (6'5") for a potential interception during the Trojans' 49-14 home win Saturday.

Lockett chased the ball out of bounds but ultimately crushed a USC cheerleader. As irony would have it, she was holding up a sign that said "Stand Up" as she got sat down.

Fortunately, the cheerleader got up quickly and appeared to be relatively unharmed.

[Lost Lettermen]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State vs. Wisconsin: Date, Start Time, More for 2014 Big Ten Championship

Ohio State booked it's trip to the Big Ten Championship game well before the Week 14 action began and now they finally know just who will be lining up against them at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 6.

The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Minnesota Gophers 34-24 on Saturday to win the Big Ten West division outright.

Running back Melvin Gordon was the star of the show for the Badgers, just as he has been all season long. SportsCenter provided a look at the final score and Gordon's final stat line:

Gordon should be fit for the contest, but the same can't be said for the Buckeyes biggest star, quarterback J.T. Barrett.

The freshman pivot is out for the season after suffering a broken right ankle in Ohio State's 42-28 win over the rival Michigan Wolverines, per MLive.com's Brendan F. Quinn:

The Big Lead's Michael Shamburger provided a look at the unfortunate, season-ending play:

Sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones will take the reigns for the Buckeyes and all eyes will be on the untested signal-caller as he looks to keep his team's conference championship and College Football Playoff hopes alive.

Here is a look at the date, start time and viewing information for the championship tilt.



Date: Saturday, Dec. 6

Kickoff Time (ET):  8:17 p.m.

Location: 
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana

TV: FOX

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go



Game Preview

Ohio State came into Week 14 sixth in the College Football Playoff Rankings. A big win over Wisconsin (14th ranked entering Saturday) could go a long way toward opening the backdoor to the fourth and final playoff spot, as Oregon, Florida State and Alabama appear to have the top three spots locked down.

Mississippi State's 31-17 loss to rival Ole Miss could very well knock them out of the playoff hunt, while Baylor's 48-46 win over lowly Texas Tech was hardly convincing. With these results, it appears TCU is the biggest roadblock to Ohio State making the playoffs.

Still, it's an upward climb for the Buckeyes. ESPN.com's Dan Murphy believes the team's playoff stock could take a hit in Barrett's absence:

Ohio State remains in the playoff conversation, but its stock will likely decrease after Barrett's injury. Ohio State's offense clearly won't be the same if its Heisman candidate is unable to play. The committee will have to take that under consideration if it has to choose between the Buckeyes and a Big 12 team or a second SEC school.

Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee described what Barrett has meant to the team this season.

"J.T.'s been a warrior for us all year," he said, via Rusty Miller of The Associated Press (h/t ABCNews.com). "With all the scrutiny he's been under since the loss to (Virginia Tech), for him to rebound the way he did and for him to lead our offense it's been huge. Next man up when it comes to quarterbacks."

Replacing Barrett's production will likely be an impossible task for a quarterback as inexperienced as Jones, who will be thrusting into the starting role in what is likely the game of his life.

The sophomore's best performance came in a 55-14 win over Illinois earlier this season, when he complete five of nine passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns while showing off some incredible athleticism when carrying the football.

ESPN 850's Bruce Hooley can see Jones coming through for his team:

It's a tough situation for the Buckeyes to be in after working so hard all season long just to get to this point, but there is still hope for this squad. 

If Jones performs well and Ohio State can roll to a convincing win over Wisconsin, it could bolster the playoff committee's overall perception of the team as a cohesive unit that doesn't rely on any one player for success. On the other hand, a middling contest and a hamstrung offense could have the committee looking to the Horned Frogs to add a jolt to the College Football Playoff.

It's not all on Jones' shoulders, although it might seem that way. The Buckeyes will have to contend with Gordon, who is perhaps the best running back in college football.

Gordon is the nation's leading rusher, with 2,260 yards on the season. It's a staggering total, one that has the tailback joining some legendary company, per ESPN Stats & Info:

The Badgers offense is painfully one-dimensional and yet the sturdy back puts up fantastic numbers week in and week out. As a team, they put up 343.5 yards per game, thanks to a burly, bruising offensive line. Gordon was quick to give them credit after putting up a record 408 rushing yards against Nebraska.

"It showed Melvin Gordon and 408 yards," he said, via USA Today's Paul Myerberg, "but it should have everyone up there, all the offensive linemen, because they really made it easy for me today. They allowed me to have a lot of one-on-one matchups. It's kind of been like that all season. Those guys have really been looking out for me."

Contrast this with the Buckeyes, who are giving up nearly 150 rushing yards per contest. This matchup bodes well for the Badgers, who could be able to grind out a win if Jones proves to be ineffective. 

Badgers quarterback Joel Stave—who's thrown for more than 200 yards just twice in eight appearances this season—does little to instill fear in any collegiate defense, although he does do a fine job of taking care of the football. Stave's thrown just one interception in his last seven games.

He's no running threat, which should allow the Buckeyes to key in on Gordon—of course if it were that easy, every defense would have done it by now.

The Buckeyes have their own top-tier running back in Ezekiel Elliot, who just might have to carry the offense on Dec. 6. The Buckeyes should still come out with a win in the championship, but it should be a low-scoring affair. If that is the case, look for TCU to pip the Buckeyes for the final playoff spot, despite not playing a Big 12 championship game.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Can Heisman Contender Melvin Gordon Lead Wisconsin Past OSU for B1G Title?

Saturday afternoon, we learned the matchup for next week’s Big Ten Championship.

And it got even more intriguing than we could have imagined. The Big Ten’s top team, Ohio State, suffered what could be a season-defining injury, while Wisconsin took a hard-fought 34-24 victory over border-rival Minnesota to claim the West Division Championship.

With Heisman Trophy contender Melvin Gordon leading the way, the Badgers were clearly the best of the West but only the league’s third-best team overall (behind Ohio State and fellow East rival Michigan State). But with OSU freshman star quarterback J.T. Barrett suffering a season-ending broken right ankle against Michigan, the Badgers’ hopes of a league title improved significantly.

Can they topple the Buckeyes and take the Big Ten Championship? Absolutely. Matt Barnes of NBC4 noted Barrett's season-ending injury, which will provide the Badgers a significant advantage over the Buckeyes:

Ohio State has emerged as the league’s clear No. 1 team. The Buckeyes shook off an early home loss to Virginia Tech to win 10 consecutive games, capped off by Saturday’s 42-28 win over archrival Michigan. But that win came with a huge cost. Barrett, one of the nation’s breakout stars this fall, suffered a dislocated and broken right ankle, ending his season.

Now, the Buckeyes, still chasing a College Football Playoff spot, must do so with backup quarterback Cardale Jones. Once thought to be the successor to Braxton Miller, Jones was passed on the depth chart by Barrett after Miller’s season ended in August due to shoulder surgery.

Entering Saturday, Jones had attempted just 14 passes on the season, completing eight of them for 114 yards and two touchdowns. He completed two of three passes for seven yards following Barrett’s injury.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin has shown steady improvement following a 3-2 start that included losses to LSU and Northwestern. The Badgers have won seven consecutive games and are one of the nation’s hottest teams.

“We learned as we went through the season,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen told Big Ten Network reporter Lisa Byington following the game on the game broadcast. “They respect and love each other and fight and continually battled through practice. We had some tough losses, but we looked each other in the eye and said, ‘Keep on fighting.’” Coach Andersen emphasized his team's ultimate goal is to walk away with the win in the championship game (via Evan Flood of 247Sports):

They entered the day with the nation’s No. 3 rushing offense, averaging 343.5 yards per game. Gordon is one of the nation’s leading Heisman contenders. He rushed for 151 yards with two total touchdowns against Minnesota and has 2,260 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns this season.

He is within range of Barry Sanders' single-season rushing record of 2,628 yards. He's a big-play back, capable of scoring every time he touches the ball. BTN.com's Tom Dienhart provided Gordon's benchmark rushing-yardage total for the next two games in order for him to surpass Sanders' longstanding record:

Ohio State’s defense is solid: The Buckeyes have a talented defensive line keyed by end Joey Bosa and allow 147.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 42 nationally. They allow an average of 22.9 points per game, which ranks No. 22 nationally.

And Wisconsin does have a major liability at quarterback. Neither Joel Stave nor Tanner McEvoy has been impressive this season. They entered Saturday with a combined 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions between them. The Badgers entered the day averaging 141.7 passing yards per game, which ranks No. 121 nationally.

If the Buckeyes can make Wisconsin one-dimensional, they stand a much better chance of knocking off the Badgers.

Of course, that means controlling Gordon, something few have done this season. Save a 17-yard, 38-carry effort in a 37-3 blowout of FCS foe Western Illinois, Gordon has rushed for at least 122 yards and a touchdown in every game this season. Saturday was the first time he’d been held under 200 yards since a Nov. 1 win over Rutgers.

The game’s tale will really be told, however, by how well Jones can run Ohio State’s offense. Wisconsin has one of the nation’s best defenses. Entering Saturday, the Badgers were fifth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 16.8 points per game, fourth in rushing defense, allowing 97.1 yards per game and third nationally in pass defense, allowing 162.1 yards per game.

If Jones can perform efficiently and his offense can limit Gordon’s damage, the Buckeyes will have a legit shot at winning an elusive league title. If not, the Badgers’ amazing march will roll on.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will Florida State's Incredible Luck Ever Run Out?

Believe it or not, the Florida State Seminoles squeaked out yet another close victory, 24-19, over the Florida Gators, setting themselves up for another ACC Championship Game.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer discusses the fashion in which Florida State has been winning games this season.

Will their luck run out this season, or will the Seminoles be back-to-back national champions?

Check out the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC QB Cody Kessler Takes Home CFB's Top Performer for Week 14

Cody Kessler continued his amazing play with another stellar performance on Saturday. The Trojan quarterback went 32-of-40 for 372 yards and six touchdowns.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer explains why Cody Kessler is the recipient of our Lexus Top Performer for Week 14.

Was this the best performance of the day?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Losses to Ole Miss and Alabama Expose Mississippi State as Far from Elite

Mississippi State's College Football Playoff chances disappeared in Oxford on Saturday, as Ole Miss topped the fourth-ranked Bulldogs 31-17 in a game in which Ole Miss' defense rattled quarterback Dak Prescott and the potent Bulldog offense.

In a contest that featured two teams on the rise this season, only one—Ole Miss—looked like it had staying power.

It was the second time this month—the first being the loss to Alabama in Tuscaloosa—that the Bulldogs looked outmanned.

What made Mississippi State's 2014 run so special is that they did it with only one 5-star recruit on the roster. By contrast, Alabama had eight 5-star starters on its depth chart entering this season, according to Drew Champlin of AL.com. Scheming, coaching and heart can make up for a lot, but if you are going to be an elite team in the SEC, you need to have elite talent.

A Bulldog defense that was torched all season long by teams that could consistently stretch the field was lit up by Ole Miss on Saturday, as quarterback Bo Wallace hit big passes when they mattered to rack up 296 yards in the 31-17 win in Oxford.

This is a defense that came into the game with the worst pass defense in the conference (281.4 yards per game) and had been living off red-zone defense.

Ole Miss took red-zone defense out of the equation, though, scoring its final pair of touchdowns from outside the red zone to pull away from the Bulldogs in the second half.

This is with two defensive backs—Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love—who were 3-star prospects. This is with a safety—Jay Hughes—who was a 3-star prospect. Those players played great at times, but natural talent creates consistency, and that was what was lacking in Starkville this season.

Recruiting rankings don't matter all that much to Mullen.

"If you get caught up too much in trying to win national signing day and not getting the guys you need, you hurt your program," he said on the SEC coaches teleconference on Nov. 12.

Winning national signing day, though, gets you players like Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, defensive end C.J. Johnson, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon, wide receiver Amari Cooper and safety Landon Collins—all of whom have been instrumental in Mississippi State's only two losses of the season.

It's not just the X's and the O's, it's the Jimmys and the Joes.

Mullen is a tremendous play-caller, and his staff clearly knows how to coach his players up, but when he runs into some of the best coaches in the SEC, sometimes talent wins out.

Talent won out on Saturday, it won out in Tuscaloosa and it is the reason Mississippi State will be sitting at home during the College Football Playoff.

Mississippi State's average recruiting-class rank over the last five years is 30th. The six other SEC West teams combined have only posted recruiting classes lower than 30th five times over that same time span.

This was Mullen's window, as Bud Elliott of TomahawkNation.com points out:

The entire SEC West is bowl-eligible this season, but aside from Alabama, none of those teams are elite. The Bulldogs have 16 seniors on their current two-deep depth chart, and junior running back Josh Robinson and quarterback Dak Prescott will, at the very least, explore their NFL options after the season.

It was a great year for Mississippi State, but if it is going to become a trend and not an occasional blip on the radar, the recruiting is going to have to pick up. A prolonged stint in the national conversation will certainly help that become reality, but when you have Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and LSU recruiting their respective tails off on an annual basis, it has to happen consistently.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What to Make of ACC Crushing SEC on Rivalry Weekend

Rivalry Week 2014 became less about the teams and more about the conferences Saturday afternoon, when the SEC—the biggest, toughest, haughtiest league in college football—went 0-4 against the supposedly inferior ACC.

It started out at noon, when Louisville beat Kentucky, Clemson beat South Carolina and Georgia Tech beat Georgia, then culminated when Florida State fought off an upset bid from Florida.

The SEC is the undisputed king of college football, and it has been for close to a decade. Whether it deserves to be the king is up for debate—some would argue that the ACC dethroned it in January—but almost every neutral party agrees that it's the class of the sport.

In which case…what the heck are we supposed to make of Saturday?

Before we ring death knells for the SEC at large, it's important to note that all four of Saturday's losers came from the East division.

SEC fans have been ashamed of the East all season, casting it aside as the redheaded stepchild. Florida was so bad that its head coach "resigned" midseason. South Carolina has been an abject disaster since Week 1. Georgia lost to both of the aforementioned teams.

Missouri won the division after losing at home to Indiana.

"I told the guys, ‘6-6 might be what we are,’" South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier told reporters after Saturday's loss. "Clemson was better than us. They played better and they coached better. Give those guys credit, they are better than us."

He might as well have been talking about his entire division.

The West was the flag-bearer for the SEC all season, not the East. And nothing about that changed on Saturday. Results from the Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl will have bearing on the College Football Playoff. Nothing about the East has been CFP-relevant for weeks.

In that vein, then, the most important takeaway from Saturday's results has nothing to do with the SEC at all. Rather, the biggest thing we learned is that the ACC is better than we realized.

(Or, at least, that it's better than most of us realized. Others—shameless self-promotion alert!—saw this coming weeks ago.)

The ACC does not have any truly great teams (sorry, 'Noles), but it is loaded with very good ones.

Florida State is very good on a bad day. Clemson, Georgia Tech and Louisville are very good on most days. Boston College, Duke and Miami are very good on frequent days. Even Virginia Tech won at Ohio State!

On that note, Florida State might be the biggest winner of Week 14. It did not look overly impressive against Florida, which missed two field goals in a five-point loss, but the strength of its 12-0 record can no longer be disparaged for its conference.

Missouri is 10-2 and will be argued about as a playoff contender if it beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. It is a massive underdog to actually crack the Top Four, but by winning the nation's best conference, it would have a strong rhetorical case.

No longer, though, can 10-2 in the SEC East be argued as analogous to 12-0 in the ACC. No longer can anything be argued as analogous to 12-0 in the ACC. Florida State is the only undefeated team in the country, and that no longer comes with an asterisk.

#GoACC…but for real.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss: Game Grades, Analysis for the Dogs and Rebels

The Ole Miss Rebels got a big win on Saturday as they defeated No. 4 Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, 31-17. The final box score can be found here thanks to NCAA.com.

The Rebels got some big plays on offense and did the same on defense. Bo Wallace was on top of his game for Ole Miss, and the run game was at its best against the Bulldogs.

As for Mississippi State, it racked up the yards, but the points were not there because most of those yards came later in the game when it was trying to play catch-up with the Rebels. Now the Bulldogs have all but been eliminated from College Football Playoff contention.

Here are game grades and analysis for the Bulldogs and the Rebels.

Passing Offense: Dak Prescott threw the ball well against a good Ole Miss pass defense. His go-to-guy was De’Runnya Wilson, who caught eight passes for 117 yards and one touchdown. Prescott finished the game with 282 yards after only having 64 yards in the first half. That’s one of the things that did the Bulldogs in. The passing game was non-existent to start the game because Prescott was constantly pressured by the Ole Miss front seven.

Running Offense: It was not the best day for the Bulldogs in terms of running the football. Neither Prescott nor Josh Robinson rushed for more than 48 yards because the Ole Miss front seven read the spread option well and tackled effectively. That was a big reason the Bulldogs lost the game. The run game has to be on point if the Bulldogs are going to win.

Passing Defense: The Bulldogs gave up a ton of yards though the air, and Wallace took advantage of it. He threw for 296 yards and connected with Evan Engram often. Engram had 176 yards on five receptions, and once the game got going, Wallace looked more and more comfortable in his final home game of the year.

Running Defense: This is what killed the Bulldogs. Ole Miss does not have a dominant running back, but the Bulldogs made Jaylen Walton look like the second coming of Deuce McAllister. Walton rushed for 148 yards, and 91 of those yards came on one play. The Bulldogs did not keep contain and never really got off their blocks all game long. And because of that, the Rebels rushed for 205 yards.

Special Teams: Evan Sobiesk made a field goal in the second quarter but also missed one. Devon Bell was efficient with his punts, and the Bulldogs only had one return for 21 yards. It was not a bad effort by the special teams, but the coverage team gave up a few big plays and the return team never made any.

Coaching: The game plan by Dan Mullen was fine; the players just could not execute because the Rebels were playing like it was the last game of the year. Mullen kept the game tight to start the game, but after the second half, the Rebels made great adjustments, and Mullen’s team could not counter until it was too late. This game was a good learning experience for him and his players, just like the Alabama game.

Passing Offense: Wallace started off sluggish as he threw an interception in the end zone early in the contest. But he settled in as the game went on and made some very nice throws to guys like Engram and Cody Core. Wallace was the good version of himself in the Egg Bowl and showed the Ole Miss faithful why he is now the Rebels' all-time leader in passing yards.

Running Offense: This was one of the best showings of the run game all season. Walton was on fire with 148 rushing yards including a 91-yard touchdown run. Jordan Wilkins had 43 rushing yards, and Core also had a 20-yard run. Hugh Freeze committed to the ground game against State, and it worked because the Bulldogs were gashed by the run, especially in the second half.

Passing Defense: Despite giving up 282 passing yards, the defense did a good job of not letting Prescott get going. He was able to hit Wilson with a few big plays in the second half, but the Rebels sacked Prescott three times and tallied three hurries as well. The pass defense did a good enough job to contain Prescott, but that was only one of the reasons the Rebels won.

Running Defense: The Bulldogs' strength is the run game, and the Rebels took that away. The Bulldogs rushed for 163 yards and only had 3.5 yards per carry. One of the biggest reasons why the Bulldogs could not run the ball as well as they would have liked was defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche. He tallied seven total tackles with three solo and one tackle for loss. He was disruptive all game long and gave the Mississippi State offensive line fits.

Special Teams: The special teams had a good day. Gary Wunderlich made his lone field goal and had a nice punt as well. The one time the Bulldogs had a chance to return a punt they returned it for 20 yards. And the coverage teams did a great job of only allowing one return, which was a kick return that only went 20 yards. So that was another reason the Rebels won by two scores.

Coaching: Freeze did a great job with his game plan and getting his players ready for a very tough Mississippi State team. The Rebels ran the ball well and played good defense, plus the passing game came on when it needed to. The game was close in the first half, which benefited Freeze, who was able to take advantage of it in the second half. Other than the Alabama game, it was Freeze's best coaching performance this season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Irish Defense Has Hit Rock Bottom

After being yanked back and forth through a shredder, whittled down to the bone and whipped for 49 points in two-and-a-half quarters, Notre Dame’s defense has officially hit rock bottom.

The Irish surrendered 577 yards of total offense to the Trojans, who steamrolled the Irish, 49-14, on Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum in the regular-season finale.

"We have to remember where we are after today’s loss," Irish head coach Brian Kelly said to reporters after the loss. "It’s a red-letter day for our football players, coaches alike. Two years ago we were playing for a national championship. And today we got our butts beat. And it wasn’t as close as the score."

Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler picked apart Notre Dame’s secondary with apparent ease. Kessler finished 32-of-40 for 372 yards and six touchdown passes, the first player to ever toss a half-dozen touchdowns against the Irish.

He lobbed a beautiful 48-yard strike down the sideline to wide receiver George Farmer to get the scoring started, burned the Irish linebacker corps with a simple angle pattern to Adoree’ Jackson for the second score before finding Farmer again on the opposite side of the field.

Tick. Tack. Toe.

Three touchdowns in a span of six minutes, seven seconds, and Notre Dame finished the first quarter trailing, 21-0.

When the evisceration was finally over and the blood was mopped off the Coliseum grass, Notre Dame’s defense capped off a historically brutal stretch.

The Irish defense has done a complete 180 since the sterling start to the season in which Notre Dame kept the clamps on Rice, Michigan, Purdue, Syracuse and Stanford. But since then, the wheels have come off entirely. What seemed to be maybe anomalies against North Carolina and Navy and a product of turnovers against Arizona State was verified as deeply problematic in recent losses to Northwestern and the Trojans.

To be fair, the Notre Dame defense’s current status is out of its control, to an extent. Injuries have rocked the Irish through all levels of the defense.

Heading into the game, Notre Dame was already without top defensive lineman Sheldon Day, defensive quarterback Joe Schmidt, defensive lineman Jarron Jones, cornerback Cody Riggs and safety Drue Tranquill.

More bumps and bruises ravaged the Irish on Saturday, as safety Max Redfield (broken rib), safety Austin Collinsworth (separated shoulder), linebacker Greer Martini (quad) and defensive linemen Jay Hayes (ankle) and Jacob Matuska (stinger-like injury) all missed time. 

Say what you want about the program’s depth in the fifth year of the Brian Kelly era or the need for the “next man in” mentality, but how much more can Kelly and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder be expected to do with a unit so depleted?

Hayes had his redshirt ripped off of him last weekend to serve as a necessary body against Louisville. In a twisted turn of events, Hayes was banged up against the Trojans on Saturday. The Irish had to turn to the likes of senior Chase Hounshell along the interior of the defensive line. Asked earlier in the week about the injury-riddled Hounshell, Kelly said the senior is “just not big enough to play inside.”

But that’s exactly what the injuries have necessitated at this point.

"We knew we were shorthanded," Kelly said to reporters afterward. "We’ve lost a lot of players on defense over the last five weeks. It’s been a very difficult run for us with key players on defense, having to play so many young freshmen on defense. We just haven’t been able to stop anybody. It’s been a difficult run for us.

So all things considered, this is likely rock bottom for the Irish defense. There will be a few weeks off for healing and recovery, not to mention film study and practice, before Notre Dame takes part in its bowl game. The defensive performance will improve.

But, wow, Saturday was ugly.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona WR Samajie Grant Won't Start Pac-12 Championship After DUI Citation

Arizona wide receiver Samajie Grant will not start in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon on December 5 after being cited for a DUI. 

According to Daniel Berk of The Arizona Daily Star, Grant was pulled over by a Pima County Sheriff's Department early Saturday morning and failed a field sobriety test:

"Grant failed a field sobriety test, said Deputy Tom Peine, a spokesman for the Pima County Sheriff's Department. Grant cooperated with authorities and was cited and released at the scene, Peine said."

The report also says that the officer "smelled marijuana from the car" and asked Grant to exit the vehicle after he was identified as the driver. 

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez released a statement that's also included in The Arizona Daily Star's report, saying the athletic department had discussions with Grant and local law enforcement before arriving at an appropriate punishment:

After communicating with Samajie, local law enforcement and our athletics administration, we’ve decided that the appropriate form of action is to make sure Samajie receives counseling and takes part in community-service activities. 

We’re disappointed in Samajie’s decision-making, but we expect this to be an isolated incident and he won’t be starting in the Pac-12 Championship game.

Grant was Arizona's leading receiver in Friday's victory over Arizona State to secure a spot in the conference championship game. The sophomore had four catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns. On the season, he leads the Wildcats with 16.1 yards per reception and is second with five touchdowns. 

Rodriguez responded to the news swiftly, meeting with all the appropriate parties to determine how the reported incident would be handled before turning into a media spectacle.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Winners and Losers from Week 14 of College Football

Like rivalry games? How about not being able to predict how any game is going to go? Then Week 14 was for you. 

Rivalry week was filled with a lot of close calls, a few upsets and a side of chaos. From Marshall's stunning first loss of the season to Georgia Tech's wild win over Georgia, there's a lot to discuss. 

Yes, Winners and Losers is up before and while college football games are ongoing. Fear not, as this post will updated throughout the night as events warrant. 

Which teams and players came out of Week 14 as winners? Which ones didn't? The answers are in the following slides.

Begin Slideshow

Michigan's Loss to Ohio State is a Fitting End to The Brady Hoke Era

For three quarters, Michigan stood toe-to-toe with Ohio State and threatened to pull off a major upset in the 111th meeting between the two rivals. But just like Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan, things deteriorated after a brilliant beginning.

Ohio State’s eventual 42-28 victory not only eliminated Michigan’s bowl hopes but served as a microcosm of the Brady Hoke era.

While Hoke goes through the motions of planning for next season, this game almost certainly marks the end of his Michigan career.

“I believe this program is heading in the right direction,” said Hoke after the game while refusing to go into specific reasons that he should be retained. “I’m disappointed for the players.”

Michigan came out in the first half and quieted the crowd of 106,810—most of whom anticipated an easy victory for Ohio State. After falling behind, 7-0, the Wolverines stormed back with two touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead.

But reminiscent of other Michigan losses, the team surrendered a late second-quarter touchdown drive with Ohio State scoring with seven seconds left before halftime. The Ohio State offense continued rolling, scoring another touchdown on the first possession of the second half to take a 21-14 lead.

The two drives destroyed Michigan’s momentum.

Any hope that Michigan could match Ohio State’s scoring pace evaporated when running back Drake Johnson (15 carries for 74 yards and two touchdowns) left the game with a leg injury.

This game versus Michigan’s archrival mimics Hoke’s disappointing arc over his four years at the helm. Michigan went 11-2 in his first season, but the program has had declining win totals since. This year’s 5-7 finish represents a complete collapse for the winningest football program in NCAA history.

The same problems that Michigan exhibited in this game have dogged the program during Hoke’s tenure. The defense sagged at critical junctures. Devin Gardner threw an interception directly to a defensive player with no receiver in sight. He fumbled the ball (with one fumble being erased by an Ohio State penalty) and missed open receivers.

Ohio State stood in stark contrast to Michigan’s lack of quarterback depth. After quarterback J.T. Barrett was carted off with a severe ankle injury, Urban Meyer shuffled his backups, and his offense delivered the knockout punch. No matter how much Gardner struggled after the loss of Johnson, there was no one on the bench to relieve him.

This game is a prime example of why Hoke will soon be fired. Gardner has talent, but his decision-making in the passing game is fatally flawed. Hoke’s failure to develop Gardner as a quarterback (or a suitable replacement) overshadows everything else he’s done at Michigan.

Hoke can claim that his team is young and has many returning players, but his failure to deal with the quarterback position is coaching malpractice.

This rivalry game showed how good Michigan can be with competent quarterback play and why his dream of coaching at Michigan has become a nightmare.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand. All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

Follow @PSCallihan

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Ducks Football Players Get Custom Jordan XX9 PE

Oregon Ducks football players received yet another custom player-edition sneaker with these Jordan XX9 "Oregon Ducks" PE. 

The shoes feature what looks to be a "good" and "evil" Oregon Duck on the back of each shoe along with the Oregon "O" on the tongue and a duck feather pattern throughout.

What do you think of these?

[Black Sports Online]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze and Wife Get Gatorade Bath After Win

No. 19 Ole Miss took down No. 4 Mississippi State 31-17 in the Egg Bowl on Saturday, and Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze and his wife were treated to a rare couples Gatorade bath after the win. 

Not surprisingly, CBS announcer Verne Lundquist used a "freeze" pun.

[CJ Zero]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida vs. Florida State: Game Grades, Analysis for Gators and Seminoles

Florida State University has been a team of destiny this season.

Overcoming four turnovers, the Seminoles did just enough to extend their win streak to 28. This time around, the team survived an inspired University of Florida squad, 24-19.

Check out the final stats here, and take a look at first- and second-half game grades below.

 

Passing Offense

Quarterback Treon Harris had his fair share of open receivers but couldn’t do much in the first half, only tossing for 88 yards and a touchdown. He did make some costly mistakes though, tossing a pair of interceptions, including one that went 94 yards back for a touchdown.

Things didn’t get much better in the second half, as Harris finished with only 169 yards through the air.

 

Rushing Offense

On a day when the Gators really needed the rushing attack to step up, it fell short. The team only managed 44 yards on 16 carries in the first half.

Florida finished the game with 113 yards on the ground, but that was largely in part to Harris contributing 41 yards off scrambles. 

 

Passing Defense 

Many will remember those two, 10-play drives the Seminoles had, resulting in two passing touchdowns. However, on Saturday, the secondary was tremendous.


The unit troubled Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston all game long, forcing him into a season-low 125 passing yards and career-high four interceptions.

 

Rushing Defense

As good as the Gators were in stopping the pass, they were just as bad against the run.

Whenever the Seminoles needed a big play or first-down pickup, their running backs were up for the challenge. Florida State rushed for 181 yards on 41 carries, led by Dalvin Cook’s 144 yards.

 

Special Teams

It was a tale of two halves for Florida’s special teams units.

After Austin Hardin was perfect on field goals, going 4-of-4 to begin the game, the sophomore looked shaky in his final two attempts, going wide right on kicks of 52 and 42 yards. 

The unit did also step up with a key punt block late in the second half that set up the Gators’ lone touchdown of the game.

 

Coaching

In his final act as head coach for Florida, Will Muschamp left it all on the field.

He must be applauded for his defense’s effort on Saturday. However, the offense just couldn’t get into a rhythm and shot itself in the foot time after time with poor penalties.

 

Passing Offense

Aside from two second-quarter drives, Winston was off his game.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner looked anything but, throwing for just 125 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions on 12-of-24 passing. He did nothing but keep the Gators hanging around in this one.

 

Rushing Offense

On the other hand, the run game all but saved the Seminoles on Saturday.

If the team needed a play, Cook was there to answer. The freshman finished with 144 yards on 24 carries and was easily Florida State’s MVP of the game.

 

Passing Defense

After watching their quarterback put them in short fields with back-to-back-to-back interceptions, the Seminoles secondary stepped up to limit the Gators to just two field goals. 

Then following the third interception, Florida State responded by taking the next play 94 yards for an interception return touchdown. The unit was dominant all night.

 

Rushing Defense

Florida couldn’t do anything with its ground game.

The team constantly tried to get it going, but the Seminoles' front seven had the answer. The Gators couldn’t manage anything more than 113 yards on 33 carries.

 

Special Teams

This was probably the one area that Florida State struggled with the most.

The unit did poor in the return game, including nearly muffing the return. Then the Seminoles allowed Florida back in it by whiffing a punt that resulted in a Gators touchdown on the very next play.

This unit could have been better.

 

Coaching

Jimbo Fisher had a solid game.

He called a good game plan, really relying on the run game. The interceptions have to be blamed solely on Winston, who made poor decisions on those balls.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss: Score and Twitter Reaction from 2014 Egg Bowl

The 2014 Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and Mississippi turned out to be one that will have huge ramifications on the College Football Playoff. The Rebels were all over their in-state rivals from the opening kickoff, winning by a final score of 31-17.

While the victory is huge for Ole Miss, which was coming off an embarrassing 30-0 loss against Arkansas last week, the loss is crushing for Mississippi State. 

The Bulldogs entered the game as the No. 4 team in the College Football Playoff rankings. A win would likely have kept them in that spot for at least one more week, while they could have earned a spot in the SEC Championship Game depending on what happens in Saturday night's Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn. 

Now, with its second loss, Mississippi State is all but guaranteed to be out of the Top Four in the playoff rankings and has no chance for a conference title. 

The most surprising part of the outcome is how Mississippi did it. The Rebels are known for their defense, which came to play, but Hugh Freeze's team also gained over 500 yards of total offense. 

Even though Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace didn't have a fantastic day throwing the ball, completing 13 of his 30 attempts for 296 yards with no touchdowns and one interception, he did make history early in the game, per SportsCenter:

Wallace did have a legitimate excuse for the low completion percentage. He suffered a sprained ankle against Arkansas, though Freeze told Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger earlier in the week that there was no doubt Wallace would play:

"He's been limited some [in practice] but you would have to chain him down to keep him from going in this game," Freeze said. "He's getting better everyday, so I anticipate him being ready to go."

The difference for Mississippi in this game came on the ground. Junior running back Jaylen Walton did something no Ole Miss running back had been able to do all year, via ESPN Stats & Info:

The big play of the game came when Walton took a handoff from Mississippi's 9-yard line and went 91 yards to give the Rebels a 24-10 lead. The play initially looked like it would only be a short gain, as Bulldogs defenders swarmed Walton. But he wriggled free of the defense and took it to the house. Per ESPN Stats & Info, that was the team's longest play in 17 years:

You can see the wild run here:

This Ole Miss fan had the perfect reaction to Walton's touchdown run, via SEC Football:

In a losing effort, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott likely lost whatever shot he still had at the Heisman Trophy. The junior didn't have a bad day throwing the ball, completing 22 of his 37 passes for 282 yards, but Ole Miss kept him in the pocket and never let him break a big run. He finished with 48 yards on 24 carries. 

Prescott did make history in defeat, becoming the second player in Mississippi State history with at least 30 career rushing touchdowns, via Mississippi State assistant athletic director Bill Martin:

Mississippi State racked up 445 yards in the loss, but the running game wasn't as potent as it needed to be, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry. The Bulldogs also failed to score on four different drives when they got inside Mississippi's 40-yard line, including one missed field goal and a turnover on downs during their final drive. 

The loss by Mississippi State likely means there won't be two SEC teams in the College Football Playoff. The door is now wide open for teams like TCU, Ohio State and Baylor when the new rankings are released on Tuesday.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida vs. FSU: Score and Twitter Reaction from 2014 Florida Cup

The Florida State Seminoles overcame an early 9-0 deficit and three first-quarter interceptions from Jameis Winston to defeat in-state rival Florida, 24-19, in the 2014 Florida Cup at home in Doak Campbell Stadium.

Winston's performance was perhaps the worst of his career, as he completed just 12 of 24 passes for 125 yards, two touchdowns and four total picks. It's not often teams overcome a disastrous performance like the one Winston had on Saturday night, per ESPN Stats and Info:

True freshman running back Dalvin Cook did most of the dirty work on offense for the 'Noles, picking up 144 rushing yards on 24 carries. He took on the lead back role after Karlos Williams left the game with a concussion, per ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach:

The Gators stayed in the game thanks to cornerback Brian Poole, who picked off Winston twice, and kicker Austin Hardin, who made four of six field goals, although both of his two misfires prevented Florida from taking a late lead. 

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

This year's edition of the Florida Cup wasn't the titanic contest of seasons past. The Gators, playing with a lame-duck coach in Will Muschamp, have waded through a disappointing campaign that saw a competent defense get routinely undone by a fitful, error-prone offense.

The Seminoles once again played down to their competition—a nasty trend that should have some fans on edge heading into the ACC title game against Georgia Tech Dec. 6, which could very well be a must-win game for Florida State after a less-than-convincing run to the College Football Playoff. 

Winston was out of sorts right from the beginning. He threw his first interception on just the fourth play of the game from scrimmage. Florida safety Jabari Gorman jumped a slant route and made a tumbling catch to procure the turnover.

The Gators couldn't move the ball, but Hardin split the uprights for what would be his first of four made field goals on the night. 

Winston was just getting started with the charitable throws. He short-circuited the Seminoles' very next drive, with Quincy Wilson coming up with a stellar, bobbling interception, as shown by Bleacher Report:

The Gators managed just 26 yards on 10 plays and ended up with another Hardin field goal for an early 6-0 lead.

Florida State punted on its next possession, and Gators quarterback Treon Harris would finally get some offense going by hitting Brandon Powell for a 42-yard gain. However, the drive would stall out yet again and end in, say it with me now, a Hardin field goal.

Winston threw his third pick of the quarter on the ensuing possession, this one going to Poole. Gatorzone.com's Scott Carter encapsulated the quarterback's forgettable first quarter:

This time, however, the interception would lead directly to points for Florida State. Defensive back Terrance Smith picked off Harris on the very next play and returned it 94 yards for an interception. ESPN provided a look:

Winston got his act together in the second quarter. He tossed two touchdown passes to tight end Nick O'Leary in the frame, giving the Seminoles a 21-9 lead with just more than two minutes to go until the half.

Cook did well to get the running game going and provided Winston with a solid foundation from which he could run the offense and calm his own nerves. ESPN's Danny Kanell came up with an apt comparison for Cook's shifty moves:

Florida's offense found it tough to move the ball either through the air or on the ground in the second quarter. Harris' second interception of the night was sandwiched between Winston's two touchdown throws, and running back Matt Jones had little room to gallop.

The Gators would get a nice stroke of luck just before the half, as Seminoles punter Cason Beatty had to scramble on a punt play and coughed up the football. Harris would complete a 15-yard pass to Clay Burton to make the score 21-16 at the half.

Florida started off the second half with an 11-play, 44-yard drive that ended in a Hardin field goal, cutting the Seminoles' lead to just two points.

After an exchange of punts, Florida State found itself in good position to extend its lead after driving to midfield. Unfortunately, Winston fired a low, off-target pass right into Poole's path, giving a flash of hope to the Gators.

The Cauldron's Andy Glockner summed up Winston's erratic play perfectly:

Hardin, who had been so reliable up to this point in the game, would miss his field-goal chance just before the start of the fourth quarter. The Seminoles' next drive ended on a disastrous fake-punt call, which put the Gators in excellent field position on their opponent's 34-yard line.

Alas, the offense couldn't come up with a touchdown drive, and Hardin would miss once again, which drew a fist pump of relief from Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher.

The Seminoles would go on a 55-yard, clock-killing drive, capped off by a 37-yard Roberto Aguayo field goal for a 24-19 lead they would not relinquish.

Harris was off the mark on the Gators' last-ditch drive, missing on all six of his pass attempts. The Seminoles got the ball back with 1:42 remaining and ran out the clock on a Beatty punt at the death. CBS Sports' Damon Amendolara summed up Harris' incompetence:

The Seminoles have done little to inspire confidence in most observers this season, but their ability to stay composed late in games is one of the few things about this team that is not in question.

Of course, Coach Fisher doesn't understand the need for anyone to doubt his team's bona fides.

"We're undefeated. We finish every game. Everybody else in the country has not finished at least one game. We've finished every one of them. Isn't that the object?" he said prior to Saturday, via the Orlando Sentinel's Brendan Sonnone.

He has a point. As the only undefeated team from a Power Five conference, the Seminoles don't really have to answer to anyone, even if the shaky win over the Gators left plenty of questions surrounding this team unanswered. Like it or not, this team is playoff-bound with a win over Georgia Tech in the ACC title contest.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages