NCAA Football News

Is Big 12 Playing Itself out of the Playoff Picture?

At one point or another this season, half of the Big 12 has controlled its destiny to a conference title and likely a playoff berth.

So that begs the question: Will there be a best man standing come season's end, or will the Big 12 implode on itself enough to cost the league a spot in the coveted final four?

At this point in the 2014-15 campaign, there are six teams that, if they win out, would not only win the Big 12 but would finish the season with, at most, two losses and be in the conversation for a playoff berth. 

Those teams are Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia. 

Currently, the only undefeated team in conference play left is the Wildcats, who upended Oklahoma on Saturday. But the Bears, Cowboys, Horned Frogs and Mountaineers each have one loss—and each still have a matchup with K-State left on the docket. 

Five of those squads, the exception being the Cowboys, have at least one win over another team on that list, making the Big 12 impossible to prognosticate halfway through the year. 

Here's a breakdown of all the head-to-head matchups between these six teams from now until the regular season ends. 

Now let's take a look at all six teams' prognoses for the rest of the season. 

 

Baylor Bears

The Bears are hoping that a loss in Morgantown doesn't doom themselves like it did to the Cowboys last year, where an early-season loss to the Mountaineers ended up effectively costing Oklahoma State a Big 12 title.

Still, Saturday's upset loss is still the only black mark on their record, and it came to a team whose only losses are to Alabama and Oklahoma.

Baylor will also have plenty of chances to regroup at home, with Waco matchups against Oklahoma State and K-State. Plus, the Bears already have a win over TCU notched. 

The biggest question mark left on the schedule is a road trip to Norman on Nov. 8. The Sooners will be hungry to earn a marquis win to get back on track after a disastrous October, and the Bears could be the victims that Bob Stoops is looking for. 

 

Kansas State

Halfway through the season, it's the Wildcats that stand atop the Big 12 standings. All it'll take for them to represent the Big 12 as its champions in the playoffs is to win. 

But the schedule-makers didn't do Bill Snyder any favors. They still have to face the four teams in the conference with just one loss in league play, with only Oklahoma State being at home. 

So that creates a double-edged sword for K-State. Wins at Waco, Morgantown and Ft. Worth almost assure the Wildcats a conference championship, if not a playoff berth. But K-State could also very conceivably lose those three games and all but fall off the face of the college football map. 

 

Oklahoma

Until three weeks ago, nobody could get enough of the Oklahoma Sooners. They were the darlings of the Big 12, sitting undefeated and seemingly on a victory lap en route to the playoffs. 

But then TCU and K-State happened, and now the Sooners' playoff hopes are all but demolished. 

If the Sooners win out, they still won't be guaranteed a Big 12 title. But that'll give them wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State, which should look good on a resume. 

A two-loss team getting into the playoffs is a long shot, and in the Sooners' case, it'll take a miracle for them to get in. 

 

Oklahoma State

While the Cowboys are in the same boat as their Bedlam brothers with two losses, their prognosis is actually healthier for a Big 12 title and playoff berth because of who they've played, and who's still left. 

The only two losses for Oklahoma State are outside of Stillwater to Florida State and TCU. 

So the Cowboys still control their own destiny to a Big 12 title. Like K-State though, their toughest games are all on the road, as they travel to Manhattan, Norman and Waco. 

Also, next week's matchup against WVU will likely kill the conference-title and playoff hopes of the loser. 

 

TCU

Behind Baylor and K-State, TCU holds the most control over how their season will finish, and whether they make the playoffs. 

Saturday's drubbing of Oklahoma State could very well have righted the ship after last week's fourth-quarter collapse to Baylor. 

TCU also has arguably the easiest schedule left, with WVU and K-State being the only contenders left. And they get the Wildcats at home. 

The Horned Frogs survived far and away the hardest part of their schedule with just one loss. Now it's up to them to finish the job. 

 

WVU

West Virginia's situation is very much tantamount to Oklahoma State's, and sure enough, they play each other next week. 

The Mountaineers have two losses, but they came against Alabama and Oklahoma. So winning out their schedule would guarantee WVU, who just upset Baylor, a Big 12 title with wins over Oklahoma State, K-State and TCU. 

WVU's next two weeks will define them, as they travel to Stillwater then host TCU. 

If they somehow survive that, they get the privilege of getting to host the Wildcats. But the Mountaineers have to win out to even dream of a chance of making the playoffs.

 

Prediction

Although K-State is the last unscathed team in the Big 12, there's another squad who's road leads to the playoffs, and it's TCU. 

With the hardest chunk of their schedule out of the way, the Horned Frogs just have to knock off K-State at home to all but secure the inside track to the conference title and the playoffs. 

Baylor still has games against Oklahoma and K-State, and it's unlikely they won't suffer a loss in one of those games. 

The Wildcats also have a brutal schedule left, with road trips to Baylor, WVU and TCU. Again, unlikely they'll survive. 

That leaves TCU as the last team standing. It's no guarantee that a one-loss team, with plenty of SEC and ACC teams still battling it out, will make the playoffs out of the Big 12. But if the league champion ends up surviving one of the wildest years in league history with one loss, the committee will almost have no choice but to put them in. 

If the champion ends up having two losses, the committee's decision on the Big 12 winner will depend on its view of the Big 12 as a whole.

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 8

The king isn't dead. But neither are the Irish.

Florida State and Notre Dame played an epic midseason classic with the defending national champion barely squeezing out a victory as a costly penalty decided things late. But while the Seminoles' 31-27 win kept alive their hopes of making the playoff field, the Irish are far from dead even with the blemish of a loss.

Notre Dame's loss, along with Baylor's earlier in the day, left just three power-five conference teams undefeated. And since Ole Miss and Mississippi State must face each other in the Egg Bowl at the end of the regular season, that means at least half of the playoff field will be filled with teams with one loss or more.

This reality puts every one of the power-five conferences—as well as Notre Dame—in play for the playoff. As we noted earlier in the week, don't be surprised to see a two-loss team (or two) in the inaugural football final four.

 

Teams That Moved Up

SEC West

By Sunday, four of the Top Five teams in the AP Poll will be from this division. Even though both Mississippi State and Auburn were idle this week, losses by Baylor and Notre Dame will bunch these teams near the top of the rankings along with Florida State. It seems inevitable that one of those four teams (Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State) will end up in the playoff. The only question is whether two of them will.

Pac-12

The upset morning in the Big 12 probably benefited the Pac-12 the most. Losses by Baylor and Oklahoma left the Big 12 with no clear front-runner, and Oregon's recovery from its lone loss to Arizona should put it back on track for a playoff berth. The Pac-12 South is also very much in the mix, and what's making the difference right now are two Hail Mary passes—ASU's against USC and Arizona's against Cal. The winner of the Territorial Cup can play its way into the playoff field if it wins out, including the Pac-12 title game.

Georgia

While the battle of attrition goes on in the SEC West, the Bulldogs continue to cruise in the junior circuit that is the SEC East, even without the services of running back Todd Gurley. Should Georgia be able to handle Auburn and then end up winning the conference, it will force its way into the four-team playoff.

Kansas State

If it weren't for their own self-destruction against Auburn at home, the Wildcats would be looking at a Top Five ranking right now. As it is, they should be the highest-ranked Big 12 team in the next poll and control their own destiny in the conference race. If they run the table, it's hard to see the Wildcats not in the playoff field.

Michigan State/Ohio State

Both teams won by the identically dominant scores of 56-17 Saturday and will meet in two weeks in East Lansing, Michigan, to decide the winner of the Big Ten East. The winner of that game likely will end up winning the conference title with a 12-1 record. But the B1G champ might still need a little help from other conference winners and/or Notre Dame. 

 

Teams That Moved Down

Notre Dame

The Irish will drop in the polls, but not much. And due to how closely contested Saturday night's game was, Notre Dame is still in the playoff mix, but now it needs a bit of help. It still has high-profile games against a pair of Pac-12 teams (USC and Arizona State) to impress the selection committee. The loss to FSU just means the Irish will have to do a bit more scoreboard watching.

Big 12

Losses by Baylor and Oklahoma changed the conference's standing in the polls, as its leading team likely will be trailing the top teams in the other four power-five conferences. Because the Big 12 is the only FBS conference that plays a true round-robin, chances are that no dominant team will emerge, thus making the Big 12 the conference left out of the four-team playoff field.

 

Group-of-Five Team in the Best Position

East Carolina was idle this week but maintained its position as the leading team for the Group-of-Five berth. The Pirates' primary challengers remain Colorado State and Marshall. The Rams beat Utah State on a last-second field goal, while Marshall is just one of four unbeaten teams in the FBS. Boise State and UCF are two other teams still with an outside chance to steal this bid.

 

Projected Conference Championship Matchups

ACC: Florida State vs. Duke

Big Ten: Michigan State vs. Minnesota

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Arizona

SEC: Mississippi State vs. Georgia

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Jameis Winston vs. Notre Dame: Stat Line, Heisman Impact and Reaction

Jameis Winston has already proven he can take a beating off the field. Saturday night, Notre Dame found out he can take one on it just fine too.

The reigning Heisman winner threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns, helping catalyze a second-half comeback in Florida State's 31-27 win over Notre Dame. After an up-and-down first half, Winston completed 15 of his 16 passes in the second half to lead the Seminoles to three touchdowns on their five meaningful drives in the final 30 minutes.

Karlos Williams punched in two of those scores from one yard out, but make no mistake about it, Winston was running a one-man show. The running game, led by Williams and Dalvin Cook, combined for 45 yards on 20 carries. Third downs and high-priority situations were all left up to Winston, and time and again he prospered.

Perhaps his best play of the game came on a 15-yard dart he threw to Rashad Greene to set up Williams' game-winning score. Scrambling across his body and falling down, Winston uncorked a strike to Greene on the sideline down to the Notre Dame 3-yard line. Pressure was a constant all game long, as Notre Dame consistently got pressure in both four-man rushes and overload blitzes. 

In the first half, Winston threw what was perhaps the worst interception of his collegiate career in the second quarter, sending a dead-on-arrival floater into the hands of Joe Schmidt as pressure came barreling down. Four of the Seminoles' first five drives finished with either a three-and-out or a turnover.

But on-field perseverance is par for the Winston course. He did it amid a sexual assault investigation during his Heisman-winning campaign, came back strong after a tumultuous offseason and again on Saturday when an off-the-field investigation threatened his future. Winston was so good in the face of pressure that even some repeat talks sprung anew, such as this one from Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports:

Winston's Heisman chances remain shrouded in a cloud of uncertainty, if only because Winston's future is totally uncertain. Florida State is currently investigating whether the Heisman winner was paid for the more than 2,000 items bearing his signature that were authenticated by James Spence Authentication, per ESPN.com's Darren Rovell.

Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox released a statement Friday, indicating there was no evidence that Winston received payment.

"We have no information indicating that he accepted payment for items reported to bear his signature, thereby compromising his athletics eligibility," Wilcox said, per Sean Rossman of the Tallahassee Democrat. "The fact that items appear on an Internet site bearing the signature of a student-athlete does not singularly determine a violation of NCAA rules."

If he's eventually found guilty of wrongdoing, whatever chance Winston has of winning the Heisman obviously goes out the window—his college career might be out the window. Even if Winston is eventually cleared, the lingering stigma surrounding controversies like these often play a factor come postseason awards time.

Former Heisman winner Hershel Walker appeared on the Paul Finebaum Show Thursday and said he would not vote for Winston "until his act is cleaned up."

"I don't know Coach Fisher. He's probably ready to kick my butt, but I think he is enabling him right now," Walker said, via David Ching of ESPN.com. "Because remember he's putting his reputation—he's a fine coach—he's putting his reputation on Jameis Winston's words saying, 'I did not do that.' Well, he put his reputation when he said he can't be found guilty on these other things, which we know he's guilty of."

When factoring in Winston's other off-the-field transgressions—including notably missing the Seminoles' win over Clemson because of a suspension—the odds of a repeat remain decidedly low.

There is a sect of the Heisman-voting community who will not vote for Winston simply because they feel he does not fit the "excellence with integrity" requirement of the award. It's a treatment similar to the one given to Johnny Manziel by some enterprising writers last season.

Speaking bluntly, I'd bet the tuition of my first born on the field winning over Winston. His numbers are worse in every single major category than his freshman season, even though as Matt Hinton of Grantland pointed out, that's somewhat due to actual improvements he's made as a quarterback.

He is the most polarizing player in the sport—love him, hate him, whatever. Everyone has an opinion on Winston, and that's not the type of player who wins the Heisman.

Heisman winners are the feel-good sort. Manziel won when he was the smiling 21st-century Fran Tarkenton, the boy next door we called Johnny Football—not when he was the dude who hangs out with Drake.

Winston won as the leader of arguably the most dominant team of this century, as the smiling, unflappably confident kid who looked like a lock to be a No. 1 overall pick—not when he's yelling in student unions and being investigated due to an autograph scandal.

Jameis Winston is a spectacularly talented football player. Anyone who tries saying otherwise is deserving of whatever "hater" synonym you'd like to bestow. He might be the best player in college football, the best prospect of the 2015 NFL draft class and the most captivating personality in the sport. 

But if Winston wants another trophy before he takes his talents to Sundays, it'll probably have to be of the team sort. After Saturday, the Seminoles are well on their way.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Should Florida State Be No. 1 After Huge Win vs. Notre Dame?

The Florida State Seminoles handed the Notre Dame Fighting Irish their first loss of the season in one of the most exciting games of the 2014 college football season.

With the win, a case could be made that the Seminoles are the best team in the country.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder discusses Florida State's big win. 

Is Florida State the best team in the country?

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Missouri vs. Florida: Game Grades, Analysis for Tigers and Gators

Things weren’t pretty for either team, but ultimately turnovers and special teams helped the Missouri Tigers stun the Florida Gators 42-13. Missouri’s Marcus Murphy scored three touchdowns—including two on special teams—which helped cover up a night in which the Tigers totaled only 119 yards of total offense.

For the Gators, Saturday night could have been the last straw for quarterback Jeff Driskel. He threw for only 50 yards and tossed two interceptions, leading Florida head coach Will Muschamp to put true freshman Treon Harris into the game.

Harris finished the night 8-of-12 passing for 98 yards but received a lot of his stats after the game was well in hand.

Things have to be getting extremely frustrating for the Florida defense after holding Missouri to only seven first downs.

The beginning of the game appeared to be a contest of which quarterback could play the worst, but Maty Mauk wasn’t forced to make many big plays because of the way Missouri’s defense played. He finished 6-of-18 passing for 20 yards and threw one interception.

You can find the box score here, courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

Game Grades and Analysis for the Florida Gators

Passing Offense

The only reason the Gators don’t receive a failing grade here is because of what Harris was able to do late in the game. Driskel never looked comfortable out there, and Harris looked like a true freshman at times.

Florida has to find a way to get production through the air moving forward. If the Gators choose to stay with Harris at quarterback, pass protection and the running game will become even more important.

 

Rushing Offense

I thought the Gators should have run the ball more at times, but it wasn’t a bad effort from this group. As a whole, the Gators finished the night with 135 yards on the ground and received a couple of strong efforts from Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones. Those two backs didn’t carry it much, but each averaged over three yards per carry.

The Gators have to be excited for the future because of what Brandon Powell was able to do. On seven carries, the young back went for 37 yards late in the game.

 

Pass Defense

It’s surprising to see such a high grade after a blowout loss, but that was the story of the night. The Gators defense played exceptionally well in both categories, but their pass defense was near perfect.

Mauk was held to 20 yards through the air and only completed six passes.

 

Run Defense

The Tigers were able to get more going on the ground than through the air, but the Gators defense didn’t allow any big run plays.

Missouri finished with 99 total rushing yards, and Florida was in the backfield numerous times throughout this game.

 

Special Teams

If a category deserves to have a lower grade than passing offense, it would be special teams. The Gators allowed two long returns for touchdowns and were out of position on both of them. Murphy evaded at least six Gators on his punt return touchdown because of the inability to tackle in space.

 

Coaching

I didn’t understand what Muschamp was looking to accomplish by keeping Driskel in the game. The turnovers clearly took a toll on his confidence and Harris could have provided a spark. Yeah, the kid is a freshman, but it couldn’t have gotten any worse than Driskel, right?

The defensive coaching had a great game plan and found ways to limit the Tigers offense. Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper also made some questionable calls at times. When Driskel was struggling, the Gators continued to throw the ball down the field, only resulting in more mistakes.

 

Game Grades and Analysis for Missouri Tigers

Pass Offense

Like we have said, it was ugly for the Tigers offensively. Quite frankly, Mauk didn’t look much better than last week, but he didn’t have the opportunity to throw interceptions tonight. The Tigers scored most of their touchdowns on defense or special teams, so it was an easy night for the first-year starter.

 

Rushing Offense

Mauk gained 38 yards on the ground and was able to help sustain a couple of drives with timely scrambles. This was a decent effort from the Tigers on the ground, averaging 3.2 yards per carry. Murphy added 27 yards and a score, and Russell Hansbrough had 35 yards on 13 carries.

 

Pass Defense

Whether it was the product of bad play from Florida quarterbacks or excellent Missouri pass defense, the Tigers keep the credit here. This Tigers secondary came up with three important interceptions and returned one for a touchdown.

 

Run Defense

Florida was able to get some solid yards from its backs, but in the end Missouri held the Gators to 2.8 yards per carry. The Tigers were able to keep Florida’s rushing game from breaking out, and they forced the Gators into many passing downs.

 

Special Teams

Murphy returned his only kick return opportunity 96 yards for a touchdown and averaged 25.3 yards per return on punts. His punt return for a touchdown really seemed to be a momentum-shifter.

 

Coaching

Looking back at it, there’s a lot you can criticize about Missouri’s offense. What you can’t criticize is that Missouri found a way to win this game, despite struggles. This was an excellent coaching job, as they got the majority of their production through defense and special teams.

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Notre Dame vs. FSU: How the Seminoles' Win Reshapes Playoff Picture

While not necessarily looking its strongest, Florida State did the one thing it needed to on Saturday night to keep its playoff hopes alive: survive.

The No. 2 Seminoles nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory but remain unbeaten after a 31-27 win over No. 5 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish looked to have taken the lead with 13 seconds left, but a pass interference flag all but killed their comeback attempt.

CBSSports.com's Matt Norlander wouldn't mind getting a rematch in the playoff:

Everett Golson and Jameis Winston stole the show. Golson was 31-of-52 for 313 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, while the reigning Heisman Trophy winner went 23-of-31 for 273 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Saturday's game helped solidify exactly why Winston is one of the best players in the country. On a night when many of the Seminoles' flaws were exposed, Winston saved the day:

With the Fighting Irish out of the way, the Seminoles pretty much have a clear path to the playoff. They don't have another Top-25 school on the schedule the rest of the way, and neither Duke nor Georgia Tech strike much fear in the event FSU met the Blue Devils or Yellow Jackets in the ACC Championship.

As long as Florida State wins out, it will finish in the top four. The only question is whether it will end up with the No. 1 seed.

With Saturday's results so far and forecasting how the weeks ahead could unfold, the top four might shake out something like this:

This game had the feel of a playoff eliminator.

The Fighting Irish nearly had the win in the final seconds, but a loss is still a loss. The selection committee might feel that Notre Dame had its shot and blew it, whether that's fair or not. The same would've been said of Florida State if Corey Robinson's touchdown near the end of the game counts.

Notre Dame's saving grace could be its schedule, which has Arizona State and USC still to come. ESPN.com's Heather Dinich thinks that could be enough:

The Fighting Irish has to hope that the Pac-12 doesn't cannibalize itself, which could very well happen with the way the conference has unfolded so far. It's hard to say how much value beating the Sun Devils and Trojans could have by season's end. Look how quickly UCLA and Stanford have tumbled in the standings.

Before the game, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly remained defiant that a loss to the Seminoles wouldn't spell the end of his team's playoff push.

"We still have a rugged schedule in front of us," he said, per Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune. "So I don't look at this as a game that ends our quest for being in the playoffs."

Hine, on the other hand, was much more pessimistic after calling into question the Fighting Irish's less than daunting schedule in retrospect:

But the first half of the schedule will bring down the overall rating, and after Florida State, the Irish play only two other teams (Arizona State and USC) currently ranked in the "human polls." Humans will determine who gets in the playoffs. Perception matters.

That's why a win over Florida State is paramount. Even if the Irish drop a game later in the season, a victory over the Seminoles would prove they can hang with the big boys. It's a perception the Irish have been fighting since Alabama trounced them in the BCS championship game two seasons ago.

West Virginia's upset of Baylor opens the door, but the odds of Notre Dame getting back in the good graces of the selection committee are still looking somewhat slim. The team will need some help.

If you lock in Florida State and the SEC champion, the Fighting Irish would likely have to jump ahead of a one-loss Ohio State/Michigan State, one-loss Ole Miss/Mississippi State/Alabama/Auburn and a one-loss Oregon.

Losing the game as it did will certainly keep Notre Dame in the playoff discussion. But it may be on the outside looking in from here on out.

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Nebraska Football: Tommy Armstrong Must Sharpen Focus as Big Ten Stakes Rise

The Nebraska football team escaped Evanston, Illinois with a win. It wasn't just any win, either.

After three matchups decided by a total of seven points between the two programs, the Huskers secured a sizable 38-17 victory against Northwestern.

While there's a lot to celebrate, there's also a lot that needs to be addressed. One of those aspects is quarterback Tommy Armstrong. The sophomore was inconsistent on Saturday, and that must change as Big Ten play continues on.

Looking solely at the numbers, Armstrong didn't have a bad night. He ended with 221 passing yards, 55 rushing yards and one catch for 16 yards and a touchdown.

He also didn't throw any interceptions.

By the end of the game, he became the third player in Nebraska history to reach 2,000 yards of total offense in the first seven games of a season. The only two players to have done the same at Nebraska are Joe Ganz (2,081 yards) and Taylor Martinez (2,018 yards).

If the analysis ended there, it would seem everything is fine for Armstrong and the offense.

However, it doesn't end there. Instead, Armstrong will have to sharpen his focus in the coming weeks—especially with Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa on the horizon.

Armstrong and the offense struggled to find a groove until the third quarter. That wasn't a one-time deal, either. Against Michigan State, the Nebraska offense failed to find a rhythm until the fourth quarter.

"The first three quarters we struggled. Up front we struggled, out wide we struggled. Myself, I struggled," Armstrong told reporters after the Michigan State game. "We just couldn't get into the groove, couldn't execute and it came back to haunt us."

Against Northwestern, the Husker offense thankfully figured it out sooner. However, it could have easily become another game where early struggles haunted the team's outcome in the end.

Going forward, Armstrong will need to sharpen his focus early and find a groove sooner. Taking so much time to do so could make games against Wisconsin and Iowa much tougher.

It was also hard not to see Armstrong struggle with shorter passes, which is something he can put some focus on going forward.

Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald took note of that issue. "The shorter the throw, the worse Armstrong looks," Chatelain wrote. "He can take a lot of pressure off of himself by hitting a few more short throws."

Armstrong's numbers also don't show the passes that easily could have been intercepted. One issue Armstrong has is that he locks in on his receivers, which allows the defense to follow his eyes.

One example is when Armstrong completely missed an open De'Mornay Pierson-El and threw right toward a Northwestern defender. Had it not been for Lane Hovey breaking up the pass, it easily could have been an interception.

By finding focus, Armstrong can continue to lead and make big plays. After all, against Northwestern, he had two worth paying attention to.

The first came when Pierson-El took a reverse and threw to an open Armstrong in the end zone late in the first half.

Later in the game, Armstrong took it upon himself to hurdle a Northwestern defender into the end zone. While the touchdown was called back to the 1-yard line, the play itself showed a lot about Armstrong. It showed his potential and will to fight as a leader.

It's now about making that more consistent from start to finish.

No one expects Armstrong to hurdle defenders on every single play. However, what fans do expect is a quarterback who settles in much quicker than Armstrong has recently.

The Huskers now face Rutgers and Purdue, which should give Armstrong and the offense a chance to grow. After that, Nebraska has Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. All three games will require the Nebraska offense's focus to be sharper than ever.

It's all up to Armstrong to lead the way.

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Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston Embrace on Field After Win over Notre Dame

After a stunning finish on Saturday night that saw Florida State hold on for a 31-27 win over Notre Dame, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher embraced his quarterback Jameis Winston on the field. 

Fisher told the Heisman Trophy winner to "Calm down, be very passive here. Understand what I’m saying? Humble. Humble pie." 

The biggest play of the game came in the final seconds, as the Fighting Irish had a touchdown taken off the board thanks to an offensive pass interference penalty. 

No. 2 Florida State moves to 7-0 with the win, while No. 5 Notre Dame falls to 6-1. 

[YouTubeVine]


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Washington vs. Oregon: Game Grades, Analysis for the Ducks

The University of Oregon Ducks improved to 6-1 on the season with a 45-20 win over the University of Washington on Saturday night. 

Behind the arm of Marcus Mariota and the legs of freshman Royce Freeman, the Ducks piled up over 550 total yards against a very good Washington defense. 

Oregon's defense wasn't shabby, either, holding the Huskies to 317 total yards and forcing two turnovers. 

Now 3-1 in Pac-12 play, the Ducks head to the University of California next week before returning home in two weeks to host Stanford University in a game that will likely determine the Pac-12 North.

How did the Ducks fare across the board?

Here is a comprehensive look at each positional unit in Oregon's win over Washington. 

 

Oregon Ducks Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Despite shaky pass protection, Mariota was fabulous all night. He was 24-of-33 for 336 yards and two touchdowns. Mariota consistently made big plays on third down, using his legs to set up the pass. 

Run Offense: This was all about Freeman. The true freshman ran for 169 yards and four scores, and he had several big-time runs. Byron Marshall was second on the team with 30 yards rushing, and the Ducks ran for 218 yards as a team.

Pass Defense: Washington passed for only 184 yards, many of which came when the game was already decided. The Ducks picked off Cyler Miles for his first interception of the season. Oregon consistently had a good pass rush. 

Run Defense: Washington's 133 rushing yards is a very deceiving statistic. Wide receiver John Ross had 44 of those yards on reverses. The Huskies were never able to get a ground game going, especially when the game was close. 

Special Teams: The Ducks only punted one time, and it wasn't pretty. Oregon also missed a field goal. Other than that, the Ducks did a good job of shutting down Ross in the return game. 

Coaching: Mark Helfrich, like Chip Kelly before him, is not afraid to go for it on fourth down. He did that in the red zone twice, which resulted in touchdowns both times. Offensive coordinator Scott Frost called a good game with several offensive line injuries. 

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Notre Dame vs. FSU: Score and Twitter Reaction

All week folks inside the Florida State program praised Jameis Winston's ability to block out the off-the-field noise once the lights come on. Saturday night the Seminoles quarterback did it again.

Winston threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns to lead a second-half comeback, and Florida State's defense held on in the waning seconds as the Seminoles stayed undefeated with a 31-27 win over Notre Dame. The Seminoles' victory gives them an NCAA-high 23 straight and moves them to 7-0 on the season, though for the second time in 2014 it came down to the wire.

And down to the wire might be an understatement. It appeared as if Notre Dame won and lost the game at multiple points. Left for dead with a 4th-and-18 inside their own territory, Everett Golson scrambled around 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage before finding a wide-open Corey Robinson to keep the game alive.

With momentum on their side and 13 seconds remaining, Golson connected with Robinson again from three yards out for what would have been the game-winning score. Only an official noticed and called an obvious offensive pass interference on the pick play for Robinson, wiping the points off the board and forcing a last-second heave that fell into the arms of Florida State defensive back Jacob Pugh. 

The waning moments were an appropriate capper for what may be the best college football game of 2014. Golson and Winston both turned in performances that will put them in their school's respective record books, including Winston's excellence on a 10-play fourth-quarter drive that culminated with a Karlos Williams touchdown to give Florida State its first and only lead of the game.

The Seminoles came into Saturday night after a week of turmoil that left Winston's playing status in question. A report from ESPN.com's Darren Rovell uncovered the reigning Heisman winner had more than 2,000 signatures authenticated by James Spence Authentication, leading to an internal investigation from Florida State that is still ongoing.

University athletic director Stan Wilcox released a statement Friday indicating that Winston would be allowed to play because there is no evidence indicating he was paid for items.

"We have no information indicating that he accepted payment for items reported to bear his signature, thereby compromising his athletics eligibility," Wilcox said, per Sean Rossman of the Tallahassee Democrat. "The fact that items appear on an Internet site bearing the signature of a student-athlete does not singularly determine a violation of NCAA rules."

The first half was fraught with the type of frustration that would make one theorize that the Seminoles were playing distracted. Notre Dame's pass rush barreled into the pocket despite sending only four rushers on most plays, leading to a series of aborted drives. Four of the Seminoles' first five offensive drives resulted in either a three-and-out or turnover, highlighted by an ugly Winston interception that led to Notre Dame's second touchdown.

Golson connected with Robinson from nine yards out, their second touchdown connection of the game, to put Notre Dame up 14-7 early in the second quarter. Golson, who needed an IV at one point to curtail cramping, completed 31 of his 52 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Winston's interception came on the first play after one from Golson that wiped away a potential scoring drive. At certain points it was Golson who was embarking on his Heisman moment.

Starting with the final meaningful drive of the first half, though, things started to click for Florida State. The Noles embarked on a 10-play, 39-yard drive that resulted in a Roberto Aguayo field goal and then opened up the second half with consecutive touchdown drives. Winston hit Rashad Greene from 10 yards out on the half's opening drive to knot the score at 17, and then Williams plunged in from two yards out to tie it again at 24 after Golson threw his third touchdown of the game.

Williams' score was one of a select few positive moments for the Florida State ground game. Williams and Dalvin Cook combined for 45 yards on 20 carries, continuing a season-long trend of frustrating rushing results. Too often in obvious run situations the Seminoles put the ball in Winston's hands and crossed their fingers that he could make it happen.

Time after time down the stretch he came through. Falling away out of the pocket with pressure coming from both angles, Winston completed a 3rd-and-2 pass on a rope for 15 yards to Greene, helping set up Williams for his second touchdown of the game and finalizing the score.

Where the first-half pressure stifled the offense in the first half, Winston thrived with defenders in his face in the second. Notre Dame began dialing up blitzes with more intensity, forcing Winston to make quick, flawless reads at the line of scrimmage. He executed without problem. Very few of Winston's throws were downfield strikes. Most were shorter or intermediate tosses meant to move the chains and allow receivers to run after the catch.

"Offensively, skill-position wise, as balanced as an offense that I've seen in a long time," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of Florida State this week, per Chance Linton of 247Sports. "I think that's really their strength in terms of across the board, great balance on offense and a really, really good quarterback. (Jameis Winston) is really good—makes good decisions, is physical, can run the ball, can make all the throws."

While Kelly was complimentary of Florida State's balance, it was actually the Irish who excelled on the ground. Tarean Folston had 120 yards on 21 carries, and Golson extended drives at multiple points by using his legs to get outside. The hollow victory here for Notre Dame is that it proved without question it deserves to be high among the one-loss teams vying for a playoff spot.

Douglas Farmer of 247Sports provides Golson comments on falling short:

As for the Seminoles, this should be the biggest test of their season. Florida State does not have a game remaining on its schedule against a ranked opponent before a potential ACC Championship Game. With three of the five games at home, odds are an Oct. 30 tilt at Louisville is all that stands between the Noles and a potential repeat.

Well, at least as long as their leader can stay on the field.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter 

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Tennessee Football: Vols' Awful Offense Wasting Defensive Revival

Tennessee's defense played well enough to upset the third-ranked Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford on Saturday night. Unfortunately for the Vols, they had to play offense, too.

The end result was like hitting the repeat button from the Florida game two weeks ago. The Vols made things difficult on the Rebels offense but ultimately fell 34-3. 

Just like against the Gators, the Vols defense played extremely well for much of the game. Just like against the Gators, the offense put its teammates in precarious predicaments with its ineptitude time and time again.

Unlike against the Gators, Ole Miss eventually broke through and broke the game open in the fourth quarter. 

Coach Butch Jones emphasized the need to go back to the drawing board, despite a good defensive effort, per a Tennessee Football tweet:

The Vols continued to overachieve on defense, but they don't have the depth there yet to stay on the field as long as they did Saturday night and still perform at a high level.

A unit that was gassed in the fourth quarter ultimately allowed an ugly number on the scoreboard, but that doesn't tell the story. 

This loss is yet again on UT's offense. The way the Vols are playing on that side of the ball, the game was already over at halftime with the Rebels ahead 14-3. Dustin Dopirak of the Knoxville News Sentinel emphasized how the dismal performance by the Vols offense negated the work of a good defense:

That porous offensive front continued to regress, and it predictably wilted against one of the best defensive fronts in the country. With the "Landsharks" swirling around, UT quarterback Justin Worley had a difficult time.

He was sacked a ridiculous seven times and mustered just 191 passing yards.

Though the offensive line deserves most of the blame, Worley struggled once again in a big game. Even when he wasn't being hit, he threw the ball like he expected to be. 

After turning the football over three times against the Gators, he repeated that feat against the Rebels. 

Worley's turnovers put the Vols in a tough spot moving forward.

Even though Worley appears to be Tennessee's best option at quarterback, the Vols need to consider putting in Joshua Dobbs or Nathan Peterman because of their mobility.

Maybe a running quarterback could get away from the inevitable pressure and open up a running game that reached a new historic low against the Rebels. Rocky Top Insider highlighted the historical significance of UT's rushing performance against Ole Miss:

If the best way to generate yardage is moving the pocket and employing a read-option offense, Worley may not be the best option. At this point, however, it seems no quarterback in the country could perform behind this line.

The Vols may not have a choice but to make a move. During the fourth quarter, Worley hurt his shoulder on what seemed like the hundredth time he'd been hit and did not return.

No matter who is playing quarterback, right now offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian's unit looks unfixable—especially with a mighty Alabama team coming to Neyland Stadium next week fresh off a 59-0 win over Texas A&M.

The Vols need to at least examine a broken offensive line. Fifth-year senior Jacob Gilliam played much of the night after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the season opener. Redshirt freshman guard Austin Sanders got in the game, too, after starter Marcus Jackson sustained an injury.

The most frustrating thing about the Vols and their current 3-4 record is the fact that the only highlights the team is generating is on one side of the ball.

Defense may win championships, but it can't when it has to shut everybody out, since the offense is playing so poorly. Rocky Top Insider tweeted just how poorly UT's offense was playing on Saturday:

Defensive coordinator John Jancek's unit flew around throughout the first half, punishing Ole Miss runners and making things extremely difficult on Heisman-hopeful quarterback Bo Wallace. 

Later in the game, those fresh legs were gone.

Though the Rebels ran just 16 more plays than the Vols (78 to 62), UT's defenders were in such high-stress situations all night, it finally took its toll.

The Rebels tacked on a garbage touchdown within the final 10 seconds to make it look worse, but that didn't matter. By then, Tennessee's star defenders had long seen their strong games go for naught yet again.

The late lull didn't sit well with UT sophomore linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a sentiment echoed in his comments, courtesy of Tennessee Football:

Still, you can't pin the loss on the defense. That group is good enough to hang in games with most of the teams the Vols play, but the defenders simply can't do it by themselves. 

This year has been the exact opposite of the 2012 season under Derek Dooley, when the Vols trotted out a dynamic offense, but with a Sal Sunseri-led defense that was so poor it didn't matter.

Now, it's the offense's turn. On one hand, the Vols are extremely young and inexperienced. On the other, there has been no progress on the offensive line, and Worley is gone after this season. 

So, Tennessee has to take a long, hard look at its personnel and scheme, or the Vols will remain stuck in this endless rut it can't seem to get past. The team can take some pointers from A.J. Johnson. Vol Photos shared an on-field shot of Johnson and his tackles stat, while Tennessee Football tweeted Coach Jones' comments, highlighting his conversation with Johnson about the need for his leadership:

Though six wins seem so far away right now, the Vols can still get there. They've got winnable games against South Carolina, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky remaining on the schedule. 

But they've got to get the defense some help, or they'll be watching bowl season once again.

 

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

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

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Florida Football: Time for Will Muschamp to Panic About Midseason Firing

After losing eight games last season, Florida head coach Will Muschamp was on the hot seat.

After needing triple overtime to beat Kentucky, getting outgained by 445 yards at Alabama, barely edging past Tennessee and losing to LSU, he was on the really hot seat.

But after losing 42-14 to Missouri—a team one week removed from a 34-0 home loss to Georgia—Muschamp has somehow made his bleak job outlook even bleaker. The seat on which he currently sits makes last week's seat look frigid, like an Inuit La-Z-Boy.

He is no longer just on the hot seat. He's on the so-hot-his-home-crowd-chants-loudly-for-his-firing seat:

Florida's offense was a comedy of errors against Missouri—which is to say, business as usual.

Quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Treon Harris were both ineffectual in the first half, after which Florida trailed 20-0, combining for 33 passing yards on 13 attempts and turning the ball over thrice.

But things did not unravel in earnest until the third quarter, when Missouri running back Marcus Murphy returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown—his second return-for-score of the game—defensive end Markus Golden returned a Driskel fumble 21 yards for a touchdown and linebacker Darvin Ruise returned a Driskel interception 46 yards for a touchdown.

And that was just the first four possessions!

When the fusillade was over, Missouri led 42-0. Actually, to be precise: Missouri led 42-0 despite having gained just 97 yards of offense. That is one point for every 2.3 yards it had gained. 

"Some of our guys need to…look in the mirror," parried Muschamp in his postgame press conference, per David Jones of FloridaToday.com. "They need to play better."

They also need to be taught how to play.

Muschamp has failed egregiously to develop an offense since arriving in 2011—and that extends far past the quarterbacks. The running backs don't know how to run. The blockers don't know how to block. The receivers don't know how to receive.

The change of offensive coordinators from Brent Pease to Kurt Roper has done nothing. Roper was a Broyles Award finalist after helping Duke reach the ACC Championship Game last season, but even a man with a veritable miracle on his resume is no match for the deeply embedded mediocrity of this offensive depth chart.

Muschamp has allowed three classes of highly regarded prospects to become sloppy, soft, mistake-prone offensive players. He's a defensive guy, but all of this has happened on his watch.

For that, he's the one who will get blamed.

It is difficult to predict midseason firings.

Unreliable Internet persons with imaginary sources can attempt to spread reports, but the truth is that a team like Florida, which still has a chance to make a bowl game, might be better-served waiting until the end of the season to make a move.

But just last season, USC fired Lane Kiffin after a loss to Arizona State that resembled Florida's loss to Missouri in terms of ugliness. It replaced him with assistant coach Ed Orgeron, who quickly turned the Trojans' season around, salvaging a proud program's dignity.

Florida is just as proud as USC, although one could be forgiven for failing to remember that. Ron Zook was chased out of town with pitchforks for losing 14 of 37 games between 2002 and 2004.

Muschamp has lost 12 of his last 19 games.

All of this explains the fretful mood about the program, the feeling that something big might happen soon. It explains why experts such as Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports think Muschamp is about to be canned.

"I am really concerned about this football team," said Muschamp when asked about concerns for his job, per Florida reporter Morgan Moriarty.

If you're concerned about something, set it free.

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LenDale White Calls USC AD Pat Haden Coward After Being Removed from Coliseum

It's been an interesting couple of weeks for former USC Trojans running back LenDale White.

After the Trojans' close win against Arizona in Week 7, White took to Twitter criticizing USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (Warning: Tweet contains NSFW language):

Lame a-- prevent defense will do it to u eveytime [sic]. Justin Wilcox u stink. Ur play calling is absolutely f-----g horrible

On Saturday, White apparently had plans to go see the Trojans take on Colorado at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but his presence wasn't welcomed by athletic director Pat Haden. According to White's Twitter account, the AD had him escorted out of the stadium:

Inside USC tweeted the former running back's comments as he was being removed by police:

This led to yet another Twitter rant from White, as he singled out Haden:

Video has emerged of the incident: 

White's followers quickly began to respond, and one alluded to the notion that the former running back's Twitter account was hacked. It didn't take the frustrated White long to respond:

White wasn't finished expressing his disappointment with his alma mater:

It will be interesting to see where the saga goes from here.

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Washington vs. Oregon: Score and Twitter Reaction

The Oregon Ducks have been a second-half team all season long, but they changed that Saturday night with a dominant first half en route to a 45-20 thrashing of Washington at Autzen Stadium.

Ducks running back Royce Freeman paved the way, rushing for four touchdowns—three in the first half—on 29 carries for 169 yards. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was efficient, going 24-of-33 for 336 yards and two scores through the air.

SportsCenter tweeted the result:

Washington took the initial lead at 3-0, but it didn't last long. Oregon scored 28 unanswered points after the first quarter, and the Huskies' two touchdowns on the day didn't come until garbage time when the Ducks' victory was all but in the bag.

Here's the final scoreline:

Oregon extended its win streak over Washington to 11 games with the victory, and USA Today's Paul Myerberg noted the statistical difference in those contests:

Coming into this game, Oregon hoped to continue the success up front on offense it found a week before against UCLA—allowing no sacks. The return of left tackle Jake Fisher on Mariota's blind side was a big reason why.

"Jake, he’s the type of guy that there’s not a lot of communication that needs to be said," offensive lineman Hroniss Grasu told Daily Emerald's Justin Wise. “Not a lot of verbal communication needs to be done. We know what’s going to happen next. We always anticipate the next call and we’re always on the same page.”

That was evident very early on in Saturday's game.

The Huskies struck first on a 33-yard field goal from Cameron Van Winkle, but Oregon was quick to take the lead for good right after. A seven-play, 81-yard drive went 44 yards on the ground, 37 of which came on a Freeman touchdown run to make things 7-3.

Fisher's impact on the offense was obvious, as 750 The Game's Fletcher Johnson observed:

Washington continued to find success moving the ball on the very next drive, taking it down the field and kicking another field goal. But the Ducks were set on touchdowns, and they didn't mind going on long drives to get them.

A 17-play, 81-yard drive ended with Freeman breaking into the end zone on 4th-and-goal from three yards out, and after a Washington punt, the Ducks went down the field again. This time, it was a 12-play, 99-yard drive that started on their own 1-yard line.

But as ESPN's Kevin Pelton said, flipping the field position does little to stifle Oregon:

With a 21-6 lead achieved primarily through ground-and-pound success, Oregon's running dominance was on display early, as SB Nation's Dan Rubenstein noticed:

Although Oregon was taking control of the game at 21-6, ESPN's David Lombardi admitted it could have been an even bigger hole for Washington:

It indeed did get worse for the Huskies soon after. Taking a stranglehold of the game, Oregon intercepted a pass from Washington's Cyler Miles and scored on a 23-yard toss from Mariota to Byron Marshall two plays later.

The Huskies' deficit had grown to 22 points by the time the first-half bell sounded. But despite running the ball so well, Oregon's offensive line continued to get banged up as Hamani Stevens limped off.

Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval responded accordingly:

Without another key offensive lineman, Oregon's offense didn't seem to miss a beat. Freeman ran it on six of the Ducks' nine plays to open up the second half, putting Mariota in position to set up the highlight of the day in the passing game.

That came via an insane catch from Dwayne Stanford on a 16-yard touchdown that made it 35-6, and Sporting News captured Stanford high-pointing the ball:

It was like seeing Oregon's offense continue rolling in the second half woke up Washington's offense. Quieted for much of the contest, the Huskies drove down the field and made it 35-13 on a Miles touchdown pass to Deontae Cooper.

The Huskies would add a second touchdown in the fourth quarter before it was all said and done, but they stood no chance with the Ducks matching every touchdown they scored. Freeman scored his fourth touchdown of the day early in the fourth to make it 42-13, before Washington's Troy Williams ran it in from seven yards out with 5:22 left.

An Oregon chip-shot field goal with 1:20 remaining seemed to do nothing but add to the scoreline, but the fans receiving some free food won't complain, per The Seattle Times' Percy Allen:

After seeing its hopes of an undefeated season vanish against Arizona on Oct. 2, the Ducks have now looked solid in back-to-back weeks coming off a 42-30 victory over UCLA. What's more, only two ranked foes—No. 23 Stanford and No. 20 Utah—remain on the schedule.

Up next for Oregon is a week of short rest. A trip to face California on Friday looms, and the Ducks will be set on making sure they don't have a repeat performance of the Thursday night debacle against Arizona. 

Washington could have gotten into a tie for the top of the Pac-12 North with a win, but instead it drops to 1-2 in conference play and 5-2 on the year. A meeting against No. 17 Arizona State is coming next week, and another loss would mark the Huskies' third defeat in four games after starting 4-0.

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Who Will Emerge from the SEC West 'Group of Death'?

The SEC West continues to prove that it is the best conference in college football. With only four spots in the College Football Playoff, the question becomes how many teams will be able to make that playoff out of the toughest conference?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder offers his insights into how the SEC West will shake out.

Who emerges from the SEC West?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Winners and Losers from Week 8 of College Football

Just when you think you have it all figured out, college football comes in and shakes up all preconceived notions. 

That's what happens when a sport is played by 18-to-23-year-olds. You're never really sure what you're going to get each week. 

Week 8 started off with a bang with both Baylor and Oklahoma falling to West Virginia and Kansas State, respectively. 

From Alabama's shutout over Texas A&M to another embarrassing loss for Florida, we get you caught up on today's busy slate of games.  

As you can see, Winners and Losers is up before the day is over. Don't worry, as this post will be updated throughout the rest of the evening as events warrant. 

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

Begin Slideshow

USC QB Cody Kessler Takes Home CFB's Top Performer for Week 8

Cody Kessler, have yourself a day. The junior signal-caller dominated this week, throwing for seven touchdowns and 319 yards passing in the Trojans' 56-28 win over the Colorado Buffaloes, earning this week's Lexus Top Performer.

Can Kessler keep this up?

Watch the video and let us know!  

 

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Will Cody Kessler's Record-Setting Day Fuel Trojans' Pac-12 Title Hopes?

LOS ANGELES—USC head coach Steve Sarkisian challenged quarterback Cody Kessler to open up the No. 22-ranked Trojans’ passing attack heading into Saturday’s 56-28 win over Colorado at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Kessler responded resoundingly, throwing five of his program-record seven touchdowns in the first half.

"[Quarterbacks] coach [and offensive coordinator Clay] Helton and I coach this guy harder than any other guy on the team," Sarkisian said of Kessler. "He comes to work every day with a mindset to get better."

It doesn't get any better than throwing more touchdowns in a game than anyone in Trojans history, including Heisman Trophy winners like Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.

Kessler credited his former teammate and previous record-holder Matt Barkley both in the postgame press conference and via Twitter.

Barkley threw six touchdown passes four times in his career.   

As Kessler approached the mark in the third quarter, running back Javorius "Buck" Allen described an atmosphere like that of a baseball dugout when a pitcher is approaching a no-hitter.

"I didn't want to mess his groove up," Allen said. "I just wanted him to stay in the zone and do what [does]."

His teammates may not have chimed in, but Kessler said he "would be lying" if he claimed he didn't realize he was marching toward history.

Kessler surpassed past USC greats with his showing and, in the process, took a step toward matching another achievement predecessors like Palmer and Leinart reached: winning a conference championship.

The Trojans added to their Pac-12 South-leading tally in the win column, improving to 4-1 in the league. With the more balanced offense it demonstrated against Colorado, USC is better equipped to compete for its first league championship since 2008.

Efforts like the Trojans wide receivers put forth Saturday won't hurt in that pursuit, either.

Kessler's record-setter came on Steven Mitchell’s lay-out grab of a 24-yard laser beam Kessler fired on the move. However, the record-tying strike he threw to wide receiver Nelson Agholor earlier in the third quarter fulfilled a point of emphasis Sarkisian set for his team heading into the week: increasing explosive plays with more downfield passes.

It didn't get much more explosive than Kessler's 75-yard bomb to Agholor, the receiver's personal best third score of the afternoon.

Agholor scored on previous passes of 16 and 18 yards.

The chemistry brewing between the two continues to develop each week and will be a bedrock of the passing game for the remainder of the season.

But perhaps the more meaningful development for USC’s immediate future was Kessler’s connection with John “JuJu” Smith.

Smith set the tone for the day when he snagged a diving catch on USC's opening drive, the first of four catches for 104 yards all made in the first half. One was also his first career touchdown.

"It feels good, man," Smith said. "I was hoping to score this week."

With touchdown No. 1 under his belt, Smith looks ready to break out as a key contributor in the USC offense for the remaining Pac-12 push.  

The Trojans receiving corps has lacked a consistent No. 2 to complement Agholor thus far into the season, but Smith provided the combination attack USC needs to keep defenses back on their heels in the home stretch.

"JuJu's been battling a bad thumb. For him to make a one-handed catch with a bad hand...I think the team appreciates guys fighting through [injuries]," Sarkisian said.

Smith also emerged as the potential deep-ball threat USC has sought for much of the season. He averaged 26 yards on his four receptions, which was vital to Kessler making good on the explosive play pursuit.

With a key date in the Pac-12 South race looming—next week’s visit to No. 20 Utah—USC came out with the kind of focus it will need to take control of the division.

"We're getting better by each game," Smith said.

 

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

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Tennessee vs. Ole Miss: Score and Twitter Reaction

The Tennessee Volunteers made a game of it early, but in the end, No. 3 Ole Miss was simply too much to handle. The Rebels emerged victorious by a score of 34-3.

While Ole Miss came away with yet another win, the Volunteers' all-around effort should be commended.

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace didn't start out in a very efficient manner. His team went through the entire first quarter without putting a single point on the board, as all five drives ended abruptly with Will Gleeson punts.

Wallace's season has been a roller-coaster ride up to this point. Upon the conclusion of the first quarter, ESPN SEC tweeted the quarterback's poor numbers along with an ominous question:

Luckily for the home team, Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley was even more ineffective. He found himself under duress and was forced to scramble out of the pocket quite often. One instance in particular resulted in a very bad decision by Worley, which led to a Mike Hilton interception.

Bleacher Report's Tennessee Twitter account posted a video of the pick:

An uneventful first quarter ended without any points on the board. That changed rather quickly.

The second quarter began with three consecutive Worley completions. Due to a sack by Denzel Nkemdiche, those passes didn't net enough yards for a first down, and Tennessee had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Aaron Medley.

Despite the lack of a touchdown, the Volunteers suddenly found themselves on top of the nation's third-ranked team. Chris Low of ESPN.com tweeted his thoughts at this point in the game:

Wallace and Worley continued their inability to run their respective offenses, trading several punts until the Ole Miss signal-caller finally caught lightning in a bottle.

After a big 28-yard completion to Vince Sanders, Wallace hit his receiver once more by dropping an absolute dime for a 39-yard touchdown strike. Ole Miss Football tweeted the impressive pass:

It took quite a while, but Ole Miss finally earned its first lead of the game. On the ensuing drive, Worley helped the Rebels increase that lead, as he threw his second interception of the game. This time, Senquez Golson snagged the pass, which resulted in an impressive season statistic, via ESPN SEC:

The Rebels took advantage of the great field position following the pick, and Jaylen Walton found paydirt from seven yards out. College GameDay tweeted a video of the run:

Ole Miss tried to get three more points on the board before the half, but a 52-yard field-goal attempt by Gary Wunderlich didn't find its mark as time expired. Entering the break, the Rebels led the Volunteers 14-3 in a defensive struggle.

ESPN Stats & Info tweeted a telling stat regarding the Rebels' ineffective offense through two quarters:

Following the break, things didn't get much easier for either offense. Quarterback pressures continued to trend, as both Wallace and Worley were sacked, hit and hurried many times over the next several drives. One hurry had devastating results for Tennessee. Worley was flushed from the pocket, made another poor decision and was picked off by Golson for the second time on Saturday.

Ole Miss Football tweeted a video of the play:

That pick gave Golson seven on the season and extended his lead over the rest of the nation. Ole Miss reporter Kyle Cole tweeted his comical take on the defensive back:

Turnovers continued to plague the Volunteers later in the third quarter. Following a Wunderlich 34-yard field goal, the ensuing kickoff was fumbled by the Vols' Evan Berry and recovered by Marquis Haynes at the Tennessee 28-yard line.

As he's done so often this season, Wallace needed just one play to make another huge impact on the game. This time, he found Evan Engram in the corner of the end zone, and the wide receiver came down with a great catch to secure the touchdown.

Take a listen to the call, courtesy of play-by-play radio announcer David Kellum:

With a nice lead, Ole Miss began the fourth quarter looking to take some time off the clock. Wallace displayed his ability to create yards with his feet and his arm, completing two passes and rushing four times on the way to a field goal. The drive was 14 plays long and lasted just shy of seven minutes.

Worley returned to the field, but the Ole Miss pressure was relentless. This prompted Grantland's Holly Anderson to tweet her take on the punishment taken by the quarterback:

The Ole Miss offense returned to the field for one more drive and had every intention of running down the game clock. After four Jordan Wilkins carries and another three from DeVante Kincade, Mark Dodson punched in the final score of the game from eight yards out.

ESPN tweeted the game's final score along with Dodson's touchdown run:

The last-second touchdown run was met with some displeasure across social media sites, but according to Brandon Speck of the Daily Journal, coach Hugh Freeze didn't expect his team to score:

After 60 minutes of action, ESPN Stats & Info tweeted a great achievement for the Rebels and a not-so-great stat for the Volunteers:

Despite the loss, this young Tennessee team has plenty of positive takeaways from Saturday's game. The Volunteers defense put on an impressive showing against one of the nation's powerhouse teams. Worley certainly isn't the answer at quarterback, but young playmakers such as freshmen Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone will be around for quite some time.

Volunteers coach Butch Jones spoke about how this experience will improve his young team in the long run, via Danny Parker of Scout.com:

The coach also expressed his admiration for Tennessee's football program, via Volquest Staff:

Tennessee doesn't have the easiest schedule remaining this season. But following its Week 8 contest against Alabama, games against South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt provide a reasonable chance to claim bowl eligibility.

The Rebels didn't look as solid as they should have on Saturday—especially in a home contest. Yet despite some offensive struggles, the team remained in control of the game throughout. Even though it is a very good defensive team, Ole Miss will need more consistent production to continue its undefeated run this season.

A difficult schedule remains for the Rebels. Games against LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State loom large, and better play from Wallace will be essential to winning those contests. If the quarterback can find his consistency, this team could very well prove to be one of the best in the nation.

College Football Playoff aspirations are still alive and well for this Ole Miss team that should most certainly retain the No. 3 ranking for at least one more week.

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Ohio State Re-Establishing Itself as Big Ten's Best Team

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer wasn't ready to make a statement. At least not yet.

Asked if his team had made a statement with its fourth consecutive blowout victory in which it had scored at least 50 points, the Ohio State head coach declined to accept the premise. But that didn't prevent him from stating his belief that the Buckeyes are a Top 10 team or from setting the table for next week's prime-time showdown with Penn State.

"I think we are," Meyer answered when asked if Ohio State is a team deserving of a top 10 ranking following its 56-17 win over Rutgers on Saturday. "Next week we all know what's coming down the barrel, prime-time game, in a stadium with 110,000 people. That's going to be a great evaluator."

And while Meyer's right in believing that the Buckeyes have more credibility to gain by heading to Happy Valley and walking away with a win, what Ohio State has done in the six weeks since its Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech hasn't gone unnoticed.

With an offense that ranks as one of the best in the country and a defense that's vastly improved, the Buckeyes are firmly entrenched in the hunt for the first-ever College Football Playoff and appear to be the Big Ten's best heading into the second half of the season.

"Someone will blog it out and say, 'Here's Coach Meyer ranting and raving again.' I'm not. I don't really watch the other teams," Meyer said. "But I think we're playing at a pretty high level right now."

The numbers certainly back up the sentiment, with Ohio State averaging 56 points and 614 yards per game in its four contests since its defeat at the hands of the Hokies. Even if you throw out their 66-0 thrashing of Kent State on Sept. 13, the Buckeyes have still averaged 52.6 points 609.3 yards in their last three games, dominating outings that were each decided by the start of their respective fourth quarters.

Of course, a big part of Ohio State's resurgence has been the emergence of quarterback J.T. Barrett, an unlikely Heisman Trophy candidate who was thrust into the starting lineup two weeks prior to the start of the season. But in filling in for two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller, Barrett has blossomed, totaling 1,998 yards of total offense and 24 touchdowns through the first six games of his redshirt freshman campaign.

Even with Miller wearing a sling on the sideline, the Buckeyes have managed to possess the Big Ten's top quarterback, with Barrett leading the league in total offense and passing touchdowns despite Ohio State having already endured two bye weeks. His 9-of-29 outing against Virginia Tech remains a blemish on his debut season, but it can't be understated how vital Barrett's play has been in the Buckeyes bouncing back

"Back then, Week 2, it was just not being as prepared as I should have been," Barrett said "Now I'm just learning from that and just trying to get better."

Barrett has clearly done that, as evidenced by his 368-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Scarlet Knights on Saturday. Heisman hype once thought to be a fantasy is now turning into a reality, but the Wichita, Texas, native isn't letting his individual success get to his head.

"I don't talk about it," Barrett said. "Is it cool? Yeah. But I've got other things to focus on and that's this team and getting our offense ready to go each and every week so that we really play well against every team we play. Individual goals, I've never thought about that as far as Heisman or anything like that.

"My head coach back in high school was definitely big on that. He was like, 'If you take care of what the team does, your success individually will come along.' That's great, but my focus is definitely on the team and team wins."

With nine receivers catching balls from Barrett against Rutgers, the OSU offense managed to maintain its momentum through the Buckeyes' second bye in the past four weeks, as did a defense that's still finding its footing under new defensive coordinator Chris Ash.

Limiting quarterback Gary Nova to 192 passing yards and the Scarlet Knights to 345 total yards, the unit formerly known as the "Silver Bullets" continued on its upward trend, earning praise from Meyer in the process.

"You can take the first half and that's a credit to our defense," Meyer said. "They took a team that threw 400-plus yards against our rivals and really played well, creating turnovers once again and getting the ball to the offense rather quickly."

That's a pattern that the Buckeyes will need to continue to develop, especially as they appear to be on a collision course for a Nov. 8 matchup with Michigan State that should decide the Big Ten's East Division champion. And if Ohio State can win that, en route to securing the conference crown, a playoff spot could very well be waiting for a team that looks to be light years ahead of where it was six weeks ago.

"We kind of figured ourselves out," running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "We kind of have an identity now. The line play's gotten a lot better and everybody's clicking."

But while eyeballs in Columbus find themselves wandering toward a potential playoff appearance, Meyer maintains that his team is focused on the task at hand. Whether that's the truth or simply coach speak remains to be seen, but Ohio State's best football could still be ahead of the Buckeyes—which could make for bad news for the rest of the Big Ten.

"When you watch the film, we could actually have played a lot better in certain situations," Meyer said. "The good thing is that I don't feel like there's a complacent attitude. Complacency is awful in this business."

 

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

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