NCAA Football News

ESPN College GameDay Headed to Columbia, S.C., for South Carolina vs. Missouri

ESPN's College GameDay is making its first trip of the season to SEC country, where it will watch South Carolina host Missouri in Week 5.

Even after the Gamecocks' Week 1 loss against Texas A&M and the Tigers' Week 4 loss against Indiana, Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and the rest of the crew will be in Columbia, South Carolina, to watch a rematch of one of last year's craziest games.

The show's official Twitter account confirmed the news Sunday:

Last season—when this game was played in the other Columbia—Missouri took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter. It shut down Gamecocks' quarterback Dylan Thompson, who was playing for an injured Connor Shaw, and looked to be on track to remain undefeated.

But then, in a shocking twist of fate, Shaw entered the game on a sprained knee and led South Carolina to 17 fourth-quarter points. Tied at 17, the game went to overtime, and tied at 24, it went to double overtime. But after a South Carolina field goal in that second frame, Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett missed a 24-yard field goal off the left upright, sealing the Gamecocks' victory, 27-24.

Both of last year's starting quarterbacks—Thompson and Missouri's Maty Mauk—were playing in place of an injured senior starter. Both were regarded among the best backup QBs in college football last season, and both are regarded among the top half of SEC QBs in 2014.

Mauk completed only 10-of-25 passes in last year's game, but those 10 completions went for 249 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "I think he did some really, really good things and a lot of little things he needs to do to get better," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said after the game, according to quotes released by the school. "Overall he battled and we will improve and I think he will be a really good player."

Since both of these teams have suffered an embarrassing defeat on their home field this season, one might think this an odd choice for a GameDay location.

However, that might actually raise the stakes.

Whichever team wins this game will advance to 4-1 and control its own fate in the SEC East. Whichever team loses will fall to 3-2 and be pinned against a wall.

Considering these teams combined to go 23-4 in 2013, watching either fall to 3-2 on the season would be a minor shock.

Other big games next week include UCLA at Arizona State—which could not be a GameDay site because it's being played on Thursday—Tennessee at Georgia and Stanford at Washington. But the crew has already seen Stanford play once this season, having traveled to Palo Alto, Calif., when the Cardinal lost to USC in Week 2. 

Given the options, this feels like the correct choice.

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Amway College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 5 Rankings Released

Almost every top team faced a tough challenge in Week 4 of the college football season, causing plenty of voters to reconsider their rankings heading into Week 5.   

While LSU was the only Top 10 team to lose, there were upset scares involving Florida State, Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma and Auburn.     

When adding this to a few other interesting results throughout the weekend, it creates more confusion surrounding the possibilities for the College Football Playoff. Until then, we can take a look at the latest Amway Coaches Poll from USA Today, along with Bleacher Report's Top 25.

Coming into Saturday, all eyes were on the battle between Florida State and Clemson. Starting quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was suspended for the game due to inappropriate conduct, leaving the No. 1 team in the country in the hands of backup Sean Maguire.   

After a rough start, Florida State was able to make big plays when needed to force overtime. Clemson was then stopped on fourth down in overtime, allowing the Seminoles to seal the win on a Karlos Williams touchdown.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher discussed the work that went into preparing Maguire for his first career start, via Dan Wolken of USA Today:

It was a lot of work we had to do late, late Friday night and early Saturday all day. A lot of things that had to get done, but life gives you turnips all the time. You have to adjust and move on.

I couldn't be prouder of Sean Maguire tonight, what he did for our team and the resolve he had.

Winston will return next week as Florida State looks to remain undefeated and a top contender for the national championship. However, the Seminoles survived one of the toughest matchups on the schedule and should now have even more confidence going forward.

Meanwhile, Oregon had just as much trouble in a road game at Washington State, barely coming through with a 38-31 win.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee explains the Ducks' shortcomings:

Injuries along the offensive line caused quarterback Marcus Mariota to be under pressure all game long, but he still responded with 329 passing yards and five touchdowns to go with 58 rushing yards in the win.

With UCLA, Stanford and others still looming on the schedule, though, Oregon better figure out how to solve these problems if it wants to stay in the playoff picture.

Oklahoma and Alabama had similar stories from their games as both needed strong individual efforts to pull away late.

The Sooners were tied with West Virginia on the road at halftime until running back Samaje Perine came alive, finishing with 242 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The Crimson Tide were also tied in the second half against Florida, although for them it was Amari Cooper who came through with 10 catches for 201 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

This exciting slate on Saturday almost caused us to overlook a great Thursday night game between Auburn and Kansas State, which the Tigers pulled out thanks to some late mistakes by the home team.

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder was impressed by the win:

The only Top 10 school to lose was LSU, which went down 34-10 at home against Mississippi State before almost completing a comeback. Still, a failed Hail Mary attempt clinched the team's fate in a 34-29 loss. ESPN Stats & Info notes the rarity with this result:

On the other hand, Tim Brando of Fox Sports gives credit to the Bulldogs in what should be an exciting SEC season:

It seems likely that whoever wins the SEC West will get an automatic ticket to the College Football Playoff. Then again, a lot can happen over the next few months as upsets threaten to shake up the rankings.

Week 5 features mostly one-sided battles on paper, although this is usually when the biggest surprises occur. With an intriguing Pac-12 matchup between UCLA and Arizona State taking place on Thursday, there is always something to watch in college football. 

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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UNC at ECU: Potential NFL Prospects and Their Performances

The East Carolina Pirates routed the North Carolina Tar Heels 70-41 on Saturday.

Though the game wasn't all that close, there were some potential NFL players in action for both teams.

While one team clearly shined more than the other, we will look at the long-term NFL prospects for a few players from both teams, in addition to their performances on Saturday.

 

All stats from GoHeels.comECUPirates.com and www.sports-reference.com/cfb/

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College Football Playoff 2014: Latest Predictions After Week 4 Standings

Another week of college football in the books, another step toward the inaugural College Football Playoff.

There were statement games. Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide went ahead and silenced any doubters with a major win over Florida thanks to the play of one electric quarterback. Texas A&M did much of the same to stay in the hunt, not that any critics were out there as the Kevin Sumlin machine continues to roll along.

There were upsets, too. Mississippi State took down LSU at home. Indiana upended Missouri. Clemson even took Florida State to overtime.

The result is a necessary refresher as to which teams are in the driver's seat in regards to the playoff.

Below, let's take an updated look at playoff projections based on recent results and a peek into the future.

 

Florida State

No Jameis Winston, no problem. 

All right, that may be a lie, but Florida State remains on top after a nail-biting overtime finish against Clemson. College GameDay puts the win into image form:

The Seminoles defense allowed 407 total yards and quarterback Sean Maguire threw two picks, but Florida State proved game in the face of adversity.

The hero? Wideout Rashad Greene, who brought in nine receptions for 135 yards and a score.

While the game speaks to the true value of Winston, it is only a matter of time before he is back under center. It helps that the coming schedule is rather straightforward until a visit from Notre Dame in the middle of October.

All things equal, the Seminoles remain on the fast track to win the ACC, especially considering the winner of Florida State-Clemson has gone on to do so in each of the past three seasons.

 

Oregon

The Oregon Ducks are a lock at this point, barring an epic collapse.

Of course, that almost happened Saturday night, but adversity on the road against Washington State is admirable, at least in a way.

Saturday was a ho-hum affair for the explosive offense, with Heisman contender Marcus Mariota throwing for 329 yards and five scores with all of four incompletions in a 38-31 win.

More impressive, of course, was the season-defining win two weeks ago, when the defensive perennial powerhouse that was then-ranked No. 7 Michigan State came to town and suffered a 46-27 loss behind 318 passing yards and three touchdowns from Mariota.

Given UCLA's consistently iffy form to date, the only real landmine on the schedule that sticks out at this point is the usual date with Stanford. But this year the contest is at home, and the Cardinal is very similar to the Spartans in most ways, meaning should the Ducks stay true to this form then even that contest looks like a win.

The defense and offensive line have questions to answer, but Mariota is a man on a mission. Until further notice, he can will his team to the Playoff.

 

Alabama

Remember when quarterback was an issue that could have doomed the Crimson Tide, effectively ending the school's reign of dominance?

Crickets.

Blake Sims is the real deal, folks. He beat out Florida State transfer Jake Coker for the starting gig for good reason, and on Saturday against the Florida Gators he wrote his way into the record books with 445 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Previously, only one other player had thrown for more than 400 yards in school history (Scott Hunter, 484 yards against Auburn in 1969).

Of course, Sims is not alone. As ESPN Stats & Information notes, the Crimson Tide's jaw-dropping 645 total yards is the No. 2 overall output under Saban, with the highest performance coming against Duke.

Florida is no Duke. Derrick Henry contributed on the ground with 111 yards and a score on 20 totes. Amari Cooper continued to look like arguably the best wideout in the nation with 10 receptions for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

On the flip side, the Crimson Tide limited the Gators to 200 yards of total offense and allowed just two third-down conversions on 13 attempts.

Alabama is here to stay as long as Sims can continue to utilize the talent around him to great success. Hurdles such as games against Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn will be tough, but there is absolutely nothing to suggest the Crimson Tide will not be in the running come Playoff time.

 

Baylor

It is entirely too easy to overlook Baylor, especially as Week 4 was a bye for Art Briles' team.

That in no way eliminates the Bears from consideration.

The Bears once again tout an elite offense behind the hot arm of Heisman contender Bryce Petty. A 45-0 win over SMU was nice. A 70-6 win over Northwestern State was expected. A 63-21 triumph on the road over Buffalo is the most impressive of all to this point.

While the biggest tests are yet to come for Petty and Co., it is abundantly clear that the team continues to fire on all cylinders thanks to continuity at a number of key positions. In just two games, Petty has not skipped a beat en route to 577 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.

He is also once again supported by an elite stable of backs, as the numbers show:

Perhaps scariest of all is that the Bears keep rolling in the face of injury.

"Everyone I started out the summer with isn't on the field right now," Petty said, referring to his depleted group of receivers, per The Associated Press (h/t FoxSports.com). "It's kind of weird. But I thought those guys did a great job of just stepping up."

While contests against Oklahoma State and Kansas State loom large near the end of the season, the game that may very well determine the Bears' playoff candidacy outright comes against the Oklahoma Sooners near the beginning of November.

Considering the Sooners had their fair share of struggles Saturday against West Virginia, what Petty and his offense can do to that defense will be quite interesting indeed.

 

AP poll via The Associated Press. Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 5 Standings for College's Top 25 Teams

Week 4 of the college football season was supposed to be a fairly easy one on the ranked teams that were in action. As it turned out, quite a few were pushed and some were even bitten by the upset bug.

No. 1 Florida State needed overtime to knock off No. 22 Clemson without the suspended Jameis Winston. The No. 2 Oregon Ducks needed its Heisman front-runner to show why most consider him the best player in the nation.

Marcus Mariota almost single-handedly saved the Ducks from an embarrassing loss to the Washington State Cougars in the latest game on the day's schedule.

This trend actually began on Thursday when the No. 5 Auburn Tigers narrowly escaped No. 20 Kansas State Wildcats 20-14. Perhaps we should've sensed there would be tight games on Saturday.

Here's a look at how all of the ranked teams in action fared.

 

The Upsets

Indiana Shocks Missouri at Home

The Missouri Tigers hadn't lost all season, and they hadn't lost at home to a nonconference opponent since 2012. Both of those things happened on Saturday.

On the strength of a late touchdown drive and a run game that tallied 241 yards, the Indiana Hoosiers handed the Tigers a 31-27 loss. Tevin Coleman ran for 132 of those yards.

With most teams below them holding serve, or having the day off, the Tigers could plummet out of the Top 25.

 

Mississippi State Holds off LSU

The LSU Tigers started horribly, but it finished strong. Unfortunately, the start was too dank to recover from. Mississippi State ran for 302 yards and quarterback Dak Prescott combined for 373 total yards and three total touchdowns.

LSU trailed 31-10 after three quarters, but behind Brandon Harris, who relieved Anthony Jennings, the Tigers outscored Mississippi State 19-3 in the fourth quarter.

Harris' desperation heave was intercepted, and the Bulldogs had earned a 34-29 victory over LSU in Baton Rouge. The win ended a 14-year losing streak against LSU.

 

The Close Calls

BYU Rallies to Hold off Virginia

In Week 3, the Virginia Cavaliers upset the Louisville Cardinals and knocked them from the Top 25. The BYU Cougars were intent upon avoiding the same fate against the Cavs.

The Cougars were outplayed in almost every aspect, but somehow they came away with the 41-33 win. Virginia outgained the Cougars 519-332, and BYU committed 12 penalties for 133 yards. The Cavs also had the ball for over 40 minutes to just over 19 for BYU.

The Cougars' saving grace was its bend-but-don't-break defense. It forced Virginia to settle for four Ian Frye field goals. None of them was longer 46 yards.

A win is a win, but BYU wasn't exactly impressive.

 

Winston-less Seminoles Survive Clemson

Without their reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Florida State struggled to score against the stout Clemson defense. The Seminoles converted just four of 15 third-down attempts, and Sean Maguire threw two interceptions as Winston's replacement.

The game went into overtime, where Karlos Williams clinched the win for the Noles with a 12-yard touchdown run.

While Florida State will gladly take the win, this close call caps off a week the program would like to put behind them as soon as possible.

 

Mariota to the Rescue

Connor Halliday and the Washington State Cougars came to play on Saturday. Halliday threw for 436 yards and four touchdowns, but it wasn't enough as Mariota played like a front-runner for the Heisman in leading his team to victory.

Despite being sacked seven times, Mariota completed 21 of 25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns. Dealing with a makeshift offensive line because of various injuries, Mariota was under pressure all game.

The defense also struggled to get a handle on Halliday and Co.

Oregon as a team was not at its best, but Mariota couldn't have played better under the circumstances.

 

The Blowouts 

Spartans Smite the Eagles

Perhaps the Michigan State Spartans needed to let out their frustrations after losing 46-27 to Oregon in Week 3. 

The Eastern Michigan Eagles were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The score of the game was 49-0 at halftime, and the 73-14 final tally capped off one of the most lopsided games you'll ever see, hear or read about.

 

The Badgers Like to Run

It's safe to say, if a team racks up a Big-Ten record 644 rushing yards, there's a pretty good chance it'll win. The Wisconsin Badgers demolished Bowling Green 68-17.

It truly looked as if Wisconsin was running the football against a high-level high school squad.

It averaged a whopping 10.7 yards per carry and had three players top 100 yards on the day. Chief among them was Melvin Gordon. He ran for 253 yards and a ridiculous five touchdowns.

 

Georgia Silences Men of Troy

Another team still smarting from a tough loss was the Georgia Bulldogs. On Saturday, Georgia allowed just 216 total yards, but most importantly, it gave up zero points against Troy.

This was supposed to be a blowout, and it was.

 

Texas A&M Rolls over SMU

The Texas A&M Aggies offense is downright scary. By now, we all have all heard of Kenny "Trill" Hill, but the Aggies' attack is even deeper than its talented young quarterback.

In Saturday's 58-6 demolition of SMU, the Aggies had 663 yards of total offense, and it only had the ball for 23:53. It's clear that it doesn't take long for this explosive bunch to do major damage.

Arkansas is next as the team heads into the heart of its SEC schedule.

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Despite Win over Washington State, Oregon Not Playoff-Ready

Oregon may have escaped with a road win over Washington State; however, the Ducks are nowhere near ready to compete for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

If it hadn’t been for the performance of Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, who finished the night with more touchdown passes than incompletions, Oregon would have lost to the Cougars.

Mariota didn’t just lead the Ducks to victory; he tied the team to his back and dragged it to a win. 

Let’s start with the obvious reason as to why Oregon struggled so mightily against a Washington State team that had previously lost to Rutgers and Nevada—the offensive line. The Ducks offensive line played their worst 60 minutes of football in the Mariota era, which dates back to 2012.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t just the new Ducks tackles—true freshman left tackle Tyrell Crosby and right tackle Matt Pierson—that struggled against Washington State. Center Hroniss Grasu and guard Hamani Stevens had troubles of their own against a team that came in with four sacks on the season, according to Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com.

The Ducks offensive line allowed seven sacks of Mariota, by the far the most he has even been sacked in his career. Coming into Saturday, the highest number of sacks he had faced in one game was three. The Cougars sacked him five times in the first half alone. 

The number of sacks only illuminates how well Mariota played. On the night he was 21-of-25 for 329 yards and five touchdowns. He also had 13 carries for 58 yards. However, when you account for the sacks, he ran for almost 100 yards overall.

When asked about Mariota's performance tonight, head coach Mark Helfrich could only say he was ''ridiculous", according to Nicholas Geranios of The Associated Press (h/t Yahoo).

While Oregon’s pass blocking was suspect at best, the run blocking from the offensive line wasn’t much better. The Ducks, one of the best running teams in the nation, carried the ball 42 times for a grand total of 172 yards—an average of 4.1 yards per carry. Coming into the game, the Cougars ranked No. 94 in the nation against the rush.

Oregon’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries, and creating a makeshift line on the fly isn’t the easiest task in the world. Losing left tackle Tyler Johnstone before the season got started was a big blow to the line, as were the subsequent losses of right tackle Andre Yruretagoyena and left tackle Jake Fisher. However, Mark Helfrich has preached that the next man up, regardless of your class, is expected to play at a high level.

“We're at the point now where there's not freshmen and sophomores and juniors and seniors.” Helfrich told Andrew Greif of The Oregonian. “If you're in there you're our No. 1 guy period. We expect those guys to play like it and play great if they've been here for three games or three years.”

The Ducks offensive line didn't play anywhere near the vicinity of a high level. It’s one of the reasons why, despite Oregon’s victory over Washington State, that the Ducks are nowhere near ready to compete in the College Football Playoff.

However, it is certainly not the only reason.

Yes, the Ducks offense struggled at times on Saturday, mostly due to the spotty play from the offensive line. But they did score 38 points, largely thanks to the heroics of Mariota and the solid play of the wide receivers—specifically Keanon Lowe and Devon Allen who both scored two touchdowns. In all reality, it was the Ducks defense that failed to shine on the national stage, leading many to question if this was the defense of a second-ranked team in the nation. 

The Ducks defense conceded 499 yards and 31 points to quarterback Connor Halliday and company. While Halliday “only” threw the ball 63 times, 26 less attempts than last year, he completed 43 of those passes for 436 yards and four touchdowns. More importantly, Halliday committed no turnovers—something he did four times in last year’s matchup.

Washington State only committed one turnover on the night—a fumble recovered by the Ducks in the third quarter. That turnover directly led to an Oregon touchdown, but only after Mariota scrambled 28 yards along the sideline on 4th-and-10.

Oregon’s defense failed to put pressure on Halliday all night, and the secondary—specifically All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu—was consistently beaten by Cougar wide receivers—notably River Cracraft and Dom Williams.

Ekpre-Olomu—Oregon’s most high-profile defender—likely had his worst performance as a Duck on Saturday night. In the first quarter alone he was beaten twice by Williams for a touchdown. 

While the statistics may compare favorably to last season's matchup against the Cougars where the Ducks defense allowed 38 points and 557 yards through the air, the reality is that Oregon struggled once again against a high-profile passing attack. If there’s one thing that Pac-12 offenses do very well, it's throw the ball.

It’s disconcerting for Oregon that Halliday is the second quarterback to throw for over 300 yards against them this season, the other being Michigan State’s Connor Cook. Worse yet, the Ducks have only played four games so far. 

There were other mistakes made by players and coaches alike that led to Oregon’s narrow victory over the Cougars. Oregon kicker Matt Wogan missed a short 32-yard field goal on the first drive after halftime that would have given the Ducks a bit of a cushion.

Defensive coordinator Don Pellum failed to make adjustments to Halliday and the “Air-Raid” offense. The Ducks played in zone coverage for most of the night while rushing only three players at Halliday. It’s tough to stop the Washington State passing attack when he has all the time in the world to gun down his receivers.

When the Ducks brought the pressure, they were successful, including on their last two defensive plays of the night, the last of which resulted in Oregon’s only sack by linebacker Tony Washington.

The Ducks also committed an egregious number of penalties. Oregon had 10 penalties called against it for a total of 86 yards.

When asked about the victory, Helfrich would only say that road wins are tough in the Pac-12 conference and there was a ton of adversity facing the Ducks.

''A road win in this conference is hard,'' Helfrich said, according to Geranios. ''We are 4-0 and we got a big win on the road. There was a ton of adversity.”

The Ducks have a long way to go if they want to be considered as one of the four teams worthy of selection into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

If Saturday is any indication of the Ducks' future, it doesn’t look bright. However, if this was just a bump in the road and the Ducks are conscientious of the fact that they cannot continue to let Marcus Mariota bail them out of difficult situations, then maybe this was a necessary bruise.

They survived. They advanced. Now where do the Ducks go from here?

That is the question everyone will be asking come Monday morning.

 

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter@TheSportsGuy33.

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Week of Survival Shows There Are No Dominant College Football Teams in 2014

The main message from this week’s college football games is that while a whole bunch of teams have admirable survival skills, there isn't a dominant one among the contenders. And no one has shown it is entitled to take up the “We’re No. 1” chant any time soon.

Defending national champion Florida State leads that pack. The Seminoles will again occupy the top spot when the polls come out, but their place atop the sport is iffy at best.

They're there because Clemson helped Florida State stick around for an overtime victory with two missed field goals and a wild snap that took them out of scoring range.

And the Seminoles shouldn't assume all will be right when Jameis Winston rejoins the huddle. Last season’s Heisman winner has an NFL arm and Kentucky Derby legs. But he also has the capacity for foolishness that could remove him from FSU’s roster at any moment, as last week’s suspension-causing aria of profanity made obvious.

Coming out on the field for warm-ups in full pads indicates he either doesn’t understand the meaning of “suspended” or is in some serious denial about misdeeds having consequences.

And as the 23-17 overtime squeaker against Clemson demonstrated, Florida State’s offense can be expected to leak more oil if continued Winston follies lead to more starts for Sean Maguire. The backup threw for 305 yards but was rocky and inconsistent throughout. He also was fortunate to throw only two interceptions. 

So, who’s ready to seize the front-runner role?

Not No. 2 Oregon, which had trouble getting off the ropes against a Washington State team that opened the season 0-2. The Ducks yielded 31 points, suggesting the old criticisms about a soft defense are relevant again.

Not No. 3 Alabama, whose four turnovers against Florida had Nick Sabanspewing verbal venom in the face of Blake Sims on the sidelines, even though the quarterback eventually threw for a whopping 445 yards. The Crimson Tide won big, 42-21, but with fumbles and a porous defense, they took their sweet time in finding second gear against the unranked Gators.

Not No. 4 Oklahoma, which found itself firing a few blanks before taking control to win a shootout with West Virginia by the count of 45-33. Samaje Perine ran for a beastly 242 yards, but Trevor Knight’s 16-of-29 passing and early accuracy problems showed the Sooners aren’t built to come from behind.

Not No. 5 Auburn, which should be counting itself lucky to have escaped Kansas State 20-14 on Thursday night. If the Tigers had been facing a sure-footed kicker, they easily could have been removed from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Maybe No. 6 Texas A&M, but only for those who are willing to invest a leap of faith in a 58-6 win over a Southern Methodist team that already has seen its coach resign.

No. 7 Baylor and No. 9 Notre Dame had Saturday off, and No. 8 LSU played as if it thought it had the night off. The Tigers were beaten at home much worse than the 34-29 score against unranked Mississippi State indicated, as Dak Prescott showed he's the best dual-threat quarterback in the SEC, with 268 passing yards and another 105 on the ground. 

At this point no team out there has a clear and easy path to one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff, which is fine. Tension, drama and uncertainty give coaches migraines and ulcers, but they make Saturdays thrive in the fall.

The cloudy picture also validates the decision to have the panel that will vote on the College Football Playoff wait until Oct. 28 to release its first poll.

The current pecking order of The Associated Press poll is based more on theory than factual results. No one in the Top 10 looks unbeatable, and there’s a good chance once-beaten teams can keep their playoff hopes alive, because there figures to be several of them.

We'll also see plenty of key games before the first playoff poll starts bringing the postseason into soft focus.

Notre Dame will take on Florida State and Stanford before then. Alabama will get tested by Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Oklahoma will face Kansas State and engage in the always-emotional Texas rivalry. Auburn and LSU will help shake out the always hypercompetitive SEC West race.

Even traditionally disregarded Mississippi State suddenly looks formidable, but I want to see what the Bulldogs do against Texas A&M and Auburn before believing they’re for real.

Right now, not a single one of those potentially pivotal confrontations has an overwhelming favorite. And the number of undefeated teams from major conferences is still in double digits.

So thank you, Florida State, for looking so vulnerable on Saturday night.

You just sprinkled hope and optimism all across the college football landscape.

And that’s a good thing.

 

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

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Florida State Would Have No Shot at Playoffs Without Jameis Winston

It became clear, somewhere smack-dab in the middle of the second half, just how valuable Jameis Winston is to Florida State.

Perhaps such value should have been recognized well before we got to witness this doomsday scenario. After all, Winston won a Heisman Trophy and he did so posting video game numbers as a redshirt freshman. In accomplishing these individual goals, his team also won a national championship.

Without him in 2013, the stakes and scenario would have been drastically different. And without him this year—as we witnessed with our own eyes on Saturday night—Florida State's national title hopes are all but lost.

As the Seminoles closed out a suspenseful, ugly and mistake-aided 23-17-win in overtime over Clemson, Winston’s value was amplified. The quarterback will ultimately define just how close Florida State can come to duplicating last season’s success and cracking the first-ever College Football Playoff.

But given recent events, nothing should be assumed. 

Winston's situation is well-known by now, at least to a degree. He said vulgar things in a public setting, prompting the school to suspend him for a half. Late Friday night—when most of the football world was sound asleep, preparing for the day ahead—the university announced that Winston would miss the entire game. 

The late news has yet to truly be defined outside of a cryptic release. Regardless of why this punishment was doubled, it came as a surprise on the eve of one of the biggest ACC games all year. The loss was, unquestionably, significant.

And yet even with the news, I expected to write a much different column once his absence became official. I expected to write about the Florida State defense, and how it proved that the Seminoles were much more than just a QB. In some ways, this group did showcase that, although it was not without its moments of distress.

I expected to write about the best offensive line in the country, and how it kept Clemson's feisty and aggressive front seven in check. Off that same talking point, it was assumed that the Seminoles’ array of intriguing skill position players would take control of this matchup and assert themselves in unique ways. These moments eventually came, although it was the natural addition we assumed. Moving the football was by no means easy for much of the night.

And finally, I expected backup quarterback Sean Maguire to ease in slow but steer this magnificent ship without taking it off course. It was assumed there would be a drop-off of some kind—he was replacing a Heisman winner, after all—but Maguire, given the pieces around him, seemed poise to handle the moment just fine.

Although Maguire deserves the utmost credit for the adjustments (and improvements) he made in the second half after struggling, the differences were far greater than we could have imagined.

His interception late in the fourth quarter could have—and perhaps should have—doomed the team and its playoff hopes. A Clemson fumble made the throw moot, however, and Maguire led his team to victory in overtime. 

All of this is good news. Style points, particularly for a team coming off a national championship, are by no means a requirement. A win is a win, and without Winston, this victory should be appreciated despite the rocky path that it took to get there.

But bigger picture, even on a night when FSU took out one of its main ACC rivals, we were reminded of just how much Florida State needs its quarterback. Without him—and with difficult games still on the horizon, including a matchup with surging Notre Dame—it will likely eventually come undone.

Following the game, head coach Jimbo Fisher made it abundantly clear that Winston would be welcomed back next week with open arms. There was no reason to assume anything different, but again, recent events have not exactly followed this most linear path.

Jimbo: Jameis will be our quarterback on Monday

— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) September 21, 2014

If that is the indeed the case—and twists moving forward are kept at a minimum—the Seminoles should be considered a national title contender, if not the favorite. There are reasons to be concerned with this team, some of which were on display Saturday night, although there’s also plenty to be excited about. And that begins with Winston. 

Although the severity of this punishment will continue to be discussed and debated, it makes no difference now. The hope is that Winston can learn from his latest off-field debacle, something he has been unable to do up until this point. 

If it was obvious for us on Saturday night just how valuable he has become, and hopefully he had a similar (and more impactful) takeaway while assessing it all from a much different, more impactful viewpoint. 

Bigger yet, hopefully one of the sport’s most exciting and exceptional talents can take the attention back toward his craft and away from the stupidity that put his team in this position in the first place. 

He’s losing out, we’re losing out and Florida State, as we saw on Saturday night, will eventually lose out if its star player is absent any longer.

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

It wasn't easy, but the No. 2 Oregon Ducks managed to escape Pullman, Washington, with a 38-31 victory over Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars. 

Marcus Mariota proved to everyone yet again why he's potentially the best player in the country. The signal-caller went 21-of-25 for 329 yards. He only threw one incompletion in the entire second half. 

The offensive line does need a bit of work. Mariota was sacked seven times on the day. Heading into Saturday's game, Oregon had only relinquished three sacks. 

A mark of a good team is winning on the road in adverse conditions. The Ducks were able to do just that. 

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

Check out the first-half grades and final grades for the Ducks. Additional analysis for different position units will also be addressed.

 

Pass Offense

Mariota was nearly flawless on the evening. Despite being under constant pressure, the quarterback kept his eyes up and found Devon Allen and Keanon Lowe (among others) down the field for huge gains. 

His poise in the face of adversity was simply exquisite. Having only one incompletion after halftime (and despite being sacked seven times on the evening) is extremely impressive. Mariota finished 21-of-25 for 329 yards and five touchdowns. 

 

Pass Defense

The pass defense did have its troubles, especially in the first half. The secondary in general did not tackle well in space. Many times, WSU receivers were able to break tackles and rack up yards after the catch. 

As is the case with any defense facing a Mike Leach offense, Oregon gave up passing yards. WSU quarterback Connor Halliday threw for 436 yards and four touchdowns. In addition, Oregon's secondary was unable to create any turnovers. The soft zone also allowed WSU to pick up good production over the middle of the field. 

 

Run Offense

Oregon's vaunted zone-read rushing attack was bottled up for the most part in the first half. Credit the Cougars defensive line for getting off blocks and making plays. In the second half, the ground game got going a bit. 

Oregon finished the first half with only 45 yards on the ground (most of which came from Mariota scrambles). The Ducks did ultimately finish with 172 yards rushing. While it wasn't the usual amount of production rushing the football, it was effective enough. 

 

Run Defense

Washington State came into this game averaging 40.0 yards per game on the ground. This was good for 126th in the country. 

Oregon did allow 63 yards on the ground. In the second half especially, the defensive line closed running lanes and tackled with more effectiveness. WSU's Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow did slash the unit at times. However, for the most part, Oregon put forth an effective effort. 

 

Special Teams

On a special teams error by Washington State, the Ducks were able to recover a muffed punt. A Matt Wogan 32-yard chip-shot miss ultimately lowered the special teams grade down into the "B" range. He did convert later from 34 yards out. 

 

Coaching

In the first half, Mark Helfrich didn't really account for Washington State's pressure up front. Mariota was sacked five times and often was restricted to the pocket. In the second half, Oregon opted for quicker throws and opportunities in which Mariota was rolled out to either side of the field. This was a nice adjustment. 

Defensively, Oregon rarely attacked Halliday with blitzes. He was able to stand comfortably in the pocket and throw the ball down the field without facing much pressure. 

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Arizona Wildcats Cap Amazing Comeback with Last-Second Hail Mary

Arizona mounted a huge comeback Saturday, scoring 36 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Cal Bears 49-45.

The Wildcats won the game on a last-second, 47-yard heave from quarterback Anu Solomon that was pulled in by Austin Hill in the end zone.

Was this the best play of a crazy day in college football? Let us know in the comments.

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College Football Playoff Projections After Survival Saturday

Week 4 saw another slate of wild football as the nation's top two teams survived some scares but ultimately prevailed. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer predicts who he thinks will be in the four-team playoff following their performances this week. 

Who do you think should be in?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings for Week 4

College Football's Week 4 saw many great individual performances with the top players in the country making their case for the Heisman Trophy

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee breaks down his rankings for the Heisman Trophy. 

Who do you think is the front-runner for the award?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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College Football Rankings Week 4: B/R's Official Top 25

No team is safe.

On a week where nearly every top team in college football trailed at some point during their games, some of them ultimately losing, the overall result was utter chaos to the Bleacher Report's Top 25 poll. Hardly any teams remain in the same place they were a week ago, and the claim to the top spot is almost as muddied as any other place in the rankings.

How crazy is it? Four different schools garnered first-place votes after Week 4's action, and the difference between first and third place in the ranking was a mere nine points.

This week's Bleacher Report Top 25 was voted on by 17 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen and Marc Torrence, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

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

Check out Bleacher Report's Week 4 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 4

The 2014 college football season has occurred on a gradual incline, starting strong in Week 1 and getting better and better each weekend.

Week 4 did not deviate from that trend, beginning with a wild all-ranked affair between Kansas State and Auburn on Thursday and ending with a Hail Mary by Arizona to beat Cal in the desert. Everything that happened between constituted the best slate of games we've seen so far this season.

Reigning No. 1 Florida State held on to beat Clemson without Jameis Winston, but will that be enough to retain the top spot? Does it matter that, per to Dan Wolken of USA TodayJimbo Fisher confirmed Winston would "be [the team's] quarterback on Monday"?

Here's a stab at predicting the Week 5 Associated Press rankings:

Fun Facts

•If Alabama indeed climbs to No. 1 in the poll—which is, of course, not certain—this would be the seventh consecutive season where the Crimson Tide have held that spot for at least one week.

•By contrast, East Carolina, which is projected to enter the AP top 25, would be doing so for the first time since 2008, when it started the year with wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia. The Pirates have only been ranked in three seasons between 1984-2013.

 

Teams Rising

Mississippi State

Dak Prescott announced himself to the college football world last season.

He announced himself to the sporting world at large Saturday evening.

The built-like-a-tight-end quarterback played like a Heisman contender in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, leading Mississippi State to a 34-29 win over LSU. Head coach Dan Mullen orchestrated a masterpiece of playcalling, hitting LSU where it was weakest (up the middle) and mixing in some well-timed chances down the field. 

A near-collapse in the fourth quarter is not enough to discredit that.

 

East Carolina

The Pirates' win at Virginia Tech looks a little worse now that the Hokies lost to Georgia Tech on the same field.

However, Ruffin McNeil's team took its ranking fate into its own hands, beating North Carolina 70-41. The Tar Heels were antsy for revenge after what they thought was an embarrassing margin of defeat—55-31—in 2013, but instead, they found even worse humiliation.

Like Central Florida last season, ECU lost a close road game at South Carolina but appears to be the best group-of-five team in the country. Marshall is neck-and-neck with it for that title, but the Thundering Herd are docked points for not having played anybody. 

 

Nebraska

Nebraska wasn't perfect against Miami, but it was good enough to beat a viable opponent, which is all that matters in September.

Running back Ameer Abdullah put the Huskers on his back for the umpteenth time, rushing for 229 yards against an improved Hurricanes run defense. Alex Donno of 560 WQAM summed it up nicely, saying it "could be Abdullah's Heisman game."

As long as Nebraska has the active FBS yardage leader, it will always have a chance to win its game. In a down year for the Big Ten, that could mean a surprising run for Bo Pelini's team.

(It might even lose less than four games.)

 

Teams Falling

Missouri

Indiana beat Missouri on Missouri's home field, 31-27. A few hours earlier, Wisconsin beat Bowling Green, 68-17. Last weekend, Bowling Green beat Indiana, 48-45.

Do with that information what you please.

Missouri lost to a Hoosiers team that isn't altogether bad but definitely isn't good. It's excusable for a ranked team to struggle defending running back Tevin Coleman—it won't be long until a bunch of NFL defenses do the same—but it's not excusable for a ranked team to score 27 points against Indiana's putrid defense. It's just not.

Missouri has a lot of proving to do before it gets back into the poll.

 

LSU

Personnel attrition finally caught up to LSU, which got beat up and down the field—its home field—by Mississippi State.

The Tigers were dominated at the point of attack and had no answer for Prescott, who beat them with his arm and his legs equally. The defensive tackles did not look like they belonged in the SEC, and quarterback Anthony Jennings reverted to his Outback Bowl form.

LSU is a team with no passing offense or run defense, which does not seem to bode well in a stacked SEC West. It's more likely to play spoiler for one of its rivals than it is to compete for a spot in the CFP.

And no, that is not an overreaction.

 

Florida State

The fall won't be huge, but don't be surprised if Florida State checks in at No. 2 behind Alabama Monday morning.

Part of that has nothing to do with the Seminoles. It has to do with a dominant-looking Alabama team that outgained Florida by 400 in the first three quarters of a three-touchdown win. It overcame a trio of turnovers and thoroughly beat a viable team.

Florida State, meanwhile, somehow salvaged victory with Winston on the bench against Clemson. Its form can be forgiven (for not having the reigning Heisman Trophy winner), but the turmoil and distraction of Winston's situation might cede votes. That it's offensive line appears to have forgotten how to block doesn't help.

The Seminoles have not looked like the best team through four weeks.

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Oregon vs. Washington State: Score and Twitter Reaction

Hours after the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles survived a major scare, the No. 2 Oregon Ducks followed suit, getting all they could handle from a Washington State Cougars squad on the road in a 38-31 victory.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was 21-of-25 passing in the victory, throwing for 329 yards and five touchdowns. He added 58 rushing yards on 13 carries. Former Ducks running back LaMichael James believes the star quarterback proved why he's the most outstanding player in the country:

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday matched Mariota stride for stride, finishing with 436 yards in the air and four touchdowns on 43-of-63 passing. His performance was a stark contrast to last year, when he attempted 89 passes and threw four interceptions in a 62-38 loss in Eugene, Oregon.

Washington State head coach Mike Leach approached this game with a completely different mindset. He is considered a mad scientist for his constant tinkering and experimenting on the offensive side of the ball, and he used a unique strategy to keep the Oregon defense on its toes.

At times, the Cougars lined up with seven offensive linemen. By loading up the interior of the field, they forced the Ducks to react accordingly, leaving the defensive backs exposed at times on the outside. You couldn't have imagined a strategy more counter to how Leach built his reputation at Texas Tech:

That formation kept the Oregon coaching staff guessing and in part allowed Wazzu to carve up the Ducks for 499 total yards.

Oregon has one of the most explosive offenses in the country, but that group was missing in action in the first half. While the Ducks were tied with the Cougars going into halftime, that was largely thanks to Mariota rather than the whole of the team. He had 165 yards through the air and three touchdowns at the half.

One of the constants through the first two quarters was how little protection the offensive line was providing Mariota. He was sacked five times despite only attempting 10 passes.

According to Andy McNamara, the assistant athletic director for communications at Oregon, Mariota had never been sacked more than three times in one game:

NFL.com's Bryan Fischer labeled the O-line Oregon's biggest weakness:

Ducks running backs weren't faring much better. Between Byron Marshall, Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner, the trio had 21 yards on the ground, per Smart Football's Chris B. Brown:

Keep in mind that was against a Washington State team giving up on average 174 rushing yards a game, 83rd in the nation.

The Ducks secondary had no answer for Halliday, who went for 261 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone:

CBSSports' Jerry Palm surely wasn't the only person looking at Oregon and wanting more:

Oregon grabbed a 28-21 lead in the third quarter after Mariota hit tight end Pharaoh Brown in the end zone from eight yards out. Mariota set up the score with a 28-yard run on a 4th-and-10 a play earlier.

The two teams exchanged field goals, allowing Oregon to maintain its seven-point lead, 31-24, with 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

Leach's seven-linemen offensive set continued to befuddle the Oregon defense, and Halliday was beating the secondary over the top.

A five-yard touchdown reception from Cougars wideout River Cracraft tied the game with 8:57 to play:

Oregon responded with the only way it knew how: Mariota. He and Lowe connected in the end zone for the second time on the night, giving the Ducks a 38-31 lead. Mariota completed all four of his passes on the nine-play, 79-yard drive.

The Oregon defense got a huge stop on the next drive, forcing a turnover on downs. Ducks linebacker Tony Washington sacked Halliday on a 4th-and-13 with 3:34 to play, all but sealing the victory.

Although they walk out of Pullman, Washington, with the win, the Ducks might slip behind Alabama in The Associated Press Poll as a result of the underwhelming nature of the performance. The Crimson Tide looked great in the second half against Florida earlier in the day, exhibiting the kind of second-half surge some might have expected from Oregon.

The Ducks' playoff hopes don't look to be in any danger, though. Oregon still looks like one of the best teams in the country. One close win against a conference rival on the road doesn't change that.

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Marcus Mariota vs. Washington State: Stat Line, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

The No. 2 Oregon Ducks have a ton of talent, but even they fall into the trap of leaning on their star player. On Saturday night against the Washington State Cougars, they squeezed every ounce out of Marcus Mariota they could.

In the end, it was just enough as the Ducks escaped Martin Stadium with a 38-31 victory to remain undefeated.

Even though Mariota completed 21-of-25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns, he was sacked seven times. He shook off some poor play from his teammates and a spirited performance from the Cougars to guide his team to victory.

In the first half, Mariota was getting little to no support from his offensive line, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman:

CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm joked that the Oregon offense had a somewhat repetitive nature:

The running game was also doing little to help the junior star. Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman combined to rush for 21 yards.

Despite that, Mariota finished the first half 7-of-10 passing for 165 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 24 yards rushing, which is all the more impressive when you consider he was sacked five times. Twice Mariota tied the game with touchdown passes, first Devon Allen for 80 yards to make it 7-7 in the first quarter and then connecting with Keanon Lowe in the second to knot it up at 14-14.

Entering Saturday, Mariota sat atop ESPN's Heisman Watch. At the very least, he did little to cede his position.

Although Mariota's numbers weren't as gaudy as his counterpart Connor Halliday (43-of-63 463 yards and four touchdowns), Oregon's win arguably increased his Heisman Trophy stock.

His strong play in a less-than ideal situation speaks volumes about the player he is. Calling the Ducks a one-man show wouldn't be entirely accurate, but the extent to which the team's fate is tied to Mariota was laid bare against the Cougars.

Needing a steady hand to right the ship in the second half, Oregon looked toward its quarterback.

In the last 30 minutes, Mariota completed 14-of-15 passes and tossed two touchdowns. The last one came on a slant route to Keanon Lowe with 5:33 remaining.

The Ducks' defense finally stepped up and they were the beneficiary of a missed pass-interference call after the score, but that shouldn't detract from what Mariota did.

His poise and accuracy in the face of a potentially catastrophic upset was impressive. With every passing game, Mariota is proving that he's not only the top Heisman candidate, he's also the best NFL prospect in the nation.

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

Without star quarterback Jameis Winston, the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles found a way to preserve the nation's longest winning streak and stay in the national title hunt, holding off the No. 22 Clemson Tigers 23-17 in overtime Saturday night.

It was a sloppy game in Tallahassee, Florida, that featured three total turnovers and multiple missed opportunities from both teams.

How did the two teams grade out?

 

Clemson Tigers Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Clemson had success moving the ball through the air against Florida State. Cole Stoudt got things going early, completing three of his first five passes for 40 yards. Then Deshaun Watson took over on Clemson's third drive and never relinquished control, completing 19 of 28 passes for 266 yards. Neither quarterback threw an interception, but the Tigers also failed to throw a touchdown pass. Stoudt missed a wide-open tight end at the goal line on the game's second drive.

Run Offense: The Tigers had things going early, rushing for 85 yards in the first half. The running lanes got much smaller for Clemson in the second half, though, as the team finished with 101 yards on the ground. C.J. Davidson had a nice night, accounting for 54 yards on just 12 carries. But Clemson's inability to pick up one yard on fourth down in overtime proved to be the difference in the game.

Pass Defense: Florida State's offensive line had all kinds of trouble blocking Clemson's active defensive front. The Tigers notched five sacks, picked off two passes and pressured the quarterback consistently all night. The Seminoles found a bit of a groove in the second half, which sparked the rally.

Run Defense: The Tigers completely shut down Florida State’s rushing attack Saturday night. The Seminoles managed just 13 yards on 27 carries, averaging less than 0.5 yard per carry. Vic Beasley was nearly uncontainable, which forced the Seminoles to run away from his side of the field for much of the night. But in overtime, Clemson's stout run defense collapsed as Florida State waltzed 25 yards on two carries. 

Special Teams: Special teams was a disaster for Dabo Swinney Saturday night. Punter Bradley Pinion had a solid night, and the coverage units did a good job of containing Kermit Whitfield and a dangerous group of returners. But kicker Ammon Lakip missed two of his three field-goal attempts. In a game that ended up in overtime, the Tigers will be wondering what could have been if Lakip had connected on his three tries.

Coaching: Swinney and the Clemson coaching staff called a brilliant game for much of the night, but some puzzling calls down the stretch soured a solid outing. Specifically, needing just one yard on fourth down in overtime, the Tigers ran the ball out of the shotgun formation. Florida State got penetration easily, notching a tackle for loss and a turnover on downs. That decision ultimately cost Clemson the game.

 

Florida State Seminoles Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Florida State found out just how valuable Jameis Winston is to this offense. The Seminoles struggled with Sean Maguire at the helm, as the redshirt sophomore completed just 21 of his 39 pass attempts Saturday night. He threw two costly interceptions, but a familiar hero in Rashad Greene emerged late when he broke free behind the Clemson secondary for the game-tying 74-yard touchdown. 

Run Offense: The Seminoles running game was shut down almost entirely by the Clemson defense. Florida State’s offensive line had trouble opening up lanes for the running backs as Karlos Williams and Mario Pender rushed for just 60 yards on 18 carries. Back-to-back runs of 13 and 12 yards from Williams in overtime won the game for Florida State, though, so the Seminoles delivered when it mattered.

Pass Defense: Florida State's defense came up with a number of huge plays throughout the game, but Clemson's quarterbacks moved the ball regularly against what was the nation's top defense last year. The Seminoles surrendered 306 yards through the air—266 of which came from true freshman Watson—while failing to produce a single turnover.

Run Defense: Clemson had some momentum on the ground early, but Florida State shut the running game down in the second half. That was big for the Seminoles, who lost one of the country's best defenders when defensive lineman Mario Edwards was forced to the sideline with a concussion. After giving up 85 rushing yards in the first half, the Seminoles surrendered just 16 in the second half and overtime.

Special Teams: Special teams was the only area where Florida State had a clear advantage. The punting and return games between both teams were essentially a scratch, but kicker Roberto Aguayo was a noticeable advantage for the Seminoles. He drilled his only field-goal attempt of the night—a 50-yard boot in the first quarter.

Coaching: The Seminoles were outcoached and outplayed by Clemson for most of the night, but when the game hung in the balance down the stretch, Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles came through. Florida State had the ball with 96 seconds to go in regulation, but knowing he had a big advantage in the kicking game, Fisher opted to play for overtime. That decision worked out perfectly as the Tigers shot themselves in the foot on their final drive, which gave Florida State the opportunity to steal the game.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 4

Survive and advance.

That's what Florida State did after the 11th-hour edict (well, it came down at 11 p.m. ET Friday) that kept Jameis Winston out of Saturday night's ACC showdown against Clemson. Despite the shaky play of first-time starting quarterback Sean Maguire, the Seminoles took advantage of a plethora of Tigers mistakes to pull out a 23-17 victory in overtime.

By winning its 19th consecutive game, FSU kept alive its quest of making the first College Football Playoff and repeating as national champions. The close escape will not harm the Seminoles' chances of making it to the playoff field as long as they keep winning.

Since they have only a single game against a ranked opponent remaining in the regular season—versus Notre Dame at home Oct. 18—their biggest challenge ahead might be to make sure Winston stays out of trouble.

But FSU was hardly the only playoff contender encountering problems this weekend; each of the Top Five teams in the AP poll took a good while before putting away pesky opponents. Auburn stole (maybe not literally) a victory at Kansas State on Thursday, and Oregon stayed up late before finally dispatching Washington State. 

At the end, we have more or less status quo, as No. 7 LSU was the only team in the Top 15 that actually lost. That doesn't mean there isn't any movement at the top. Here's a quick look at what's transpired in Week 4:

 

Teams That Moved Up

Michigan State

The Spartans routed Eastern Michigan, as expected, but what really buoyed them was what the rest of the Big Ten did. 

Much maligned after the first three weeks of the season, the B1G went 12-1 this weekend and 4-1 against Big Five power-conference foes. Indiana's upset of the SEC's Missouri was the highlight.

As the highest-ranked Big Ten team, MSU will try to crawl back into the playoff picture.

 

Mississippi State

Will all seven SEC West teams be ranked in the Top 25 at some point this season? That's looking very likely after the Bulldogs pulled off the day's biggest upset, a 34-29 win in Death Valley over LSU.

MSU has no breathing room, just like any other team in this division. After a bye week, the Bulldogs get Texas A&M and Auburn back-to-back.

 

Oklahoma

West Virginia proved to be pesky, but Oklahoma used a big second half to put the game away.

The Sooners can rightfully claim that their 12-point win over WVU is more impressive than Alabama's 10-point victory since they played in Morgantown whereas 'Bama had a quasi-home game at the Georgia Dome.

 

Alabama

The Tide labored for a while before dismissing Florida. But even with four turnovers, Alabama pulled away thanks to 445 passing yards by Blake Sims and 645 yards of total offense.

So far, Nick Saban's hiring of the lightning rod Lane Kiffin as the offensive coordinator has not been a bust, especially since his former OC, Doug Nussmeier, isn't exactly lighting it up at Michigan.

 

Duke

With the ACC Coastal again looking like the conference's redheaded stepchild, it certainly seems possible, even likely, that Duke might win the division again.

The Blue Devils are one of only two unbeaten teams in the division (Georgia Tech is the other), and their high-octane offense is coming off back-to-back blowouts of Kansas and Tulane.

 

Teams That Moved Down

BYU

After their impressive rout of Texas, the Cougars again labored to put away a team they should handle comfortably at home. As an independent, BYU is in desperate need of style points, as it's guaranteed nothing in the CFP structure.

It didn't get enough in Saturday's 41-33 win over Virginia.

 

LSU 

The Tigers were given a pass after rallying to defeat Wisconsin in the season opener, but they won't get one from the voters after losing to Mississippi State.

They get most of their tough SEC West games late in the season, but by then the Tigers might be out of it.

 

SEC East

Whereas the SEC West is rightfully viewed as the toughest division, the East is anything but. Every team has already lost at least once, and no team has done much to distinguish itself.

Is it too late for the SEC to let two West teams play for the conference title?

 

Oregon

The Ducks blew a chance to cement their claim for No. 1 when they couldn't pull away from a Washington State team that lost to Rutgers and Nevada.

Just like it did for three quarters against Michigan State, Oregon's defense is showing all kinds of signs of being very ordinary.

 

Northern Illinois

After vexing the BCS for the last two years, the playoff committee can relax, as the Huskies will no longer be worthy of any sort of discussion for anything after a blowout loss at Arkansas. 

 

"Group of 5" Team in the Best Position

East Carolina

A week after upsetting Virginia Tech, the Pirates hung 70 points on North Carolina.

While Marshall and Cincinnati are the only teams from "Group of 5" conferences without a loss, ECU has easily the most impressive resume. So impressive, in fact, that if it wins the American Athletic in its inaugural season, it should be a lock for a New Year's Six bowl.

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Sean Maguire Overcomes Shaky Start to Help Save Florida State's Season

"I can't put it into words," Sean Maguire said. "It's the greatest feeling of my life so far, that's for sure. To get this win for our team, it's just awesome."

In the first half it was painfully obvious that it was the Florida State's quarterback's first start as Maguire was beaten, battered and inaccurate for the first 30 minutes of play. But, the redshirt sophomore shook off his 6-of-17 start to complete 15 of 22 passes for 199 yards and a critical touchdown bomb to Rashad Greene in the second stanza.  It is not a stretch to say Maguire's second half saved the Seminole's season. 

"I can't be prouder of Sean Maguire tonight, all he did for our team, the resolve he had," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.

"I saw a guy determined to lead his team to a victory," Greene said. "To give it all he had for us. I just tip my hat off to that guy the way he stepped up and the way he prepared for that game in two days."

Maguire's turnaround started on the Noles first drive of the second half. Playing more frequently in the shotgun, Maguire looked comfortable. He led FSU on a nine-play, 68-yard drive to open the third quarter. Mario Pender's 1-yard touchdown run tied the game at 10 with 11:05 left in the third quarter.

"Coming out of the second half, that first drive, we were like, 'Alright, we got this. We got to go. We got to start driving the ball and scoring some points,' " Maguire said.

The Seminoles have now won 19 straight games and kept their chances of reaching the College Football Playoff alive. They will now enjoy a quick respite in the schedule before an Oct. 18 showdown at home against No. 9 Notre Dame.

The Noles ACC Title game chances also skyrocketed with the win.  FSU (3-0, 1-0 ACC) now enjoys a leg up on Clemson (1-2, 0-1) in the Atlantic Division battle. The FSU-Clemson winner has won the Atlantic Division each season since 2009.

Despite serving as Maguire's clipboard guy for much of the game the suspended Jameis Winston still found a way to impact his team both positively and negatively. 

Winston started as a distraction as he warmed up with the Seminoles an hour before game time, taking snaps and throwing passes while in a full uniform. But he then after a heated chat with Jimbo Fisher went to the locker room and returned with his garnet No. 5 jersey, black warm-up pants and a garnet FSU hat.

However, according to Maguire, Winston's impact on the game itself was unquestionably positive.

"He's been my biggest supporter since I found out I was starting," Maguire said. "He stayed in that room with me until 10, 10:30 at night, watching film. He was telling me what he was seeing, I was telling him what I was seeing. He was awesome."

Winston spent the game on the sideline, effusively cheering on his teammates while helping Maguire following each offensive drive.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats are courtesy of seminoles.com.

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Houston Cougars Offense Finally Shows Promise in 47-14 Beatdown of UNLV

Houston, we have an offense.

The Coogs rolled up and down the field against UNLV on Saturday night at TDECU Stadium, finally exhibiting some of the firepower Houston fans expected to see when the season began.

The Cougars evened their overall record at 2-2 with a 47-14 beatdown of UNLV. Houston heads into American Athletic Conference play a dark-horse contender for the conference crown.  

The offense was efficient and effective.

As a team, Houston rushed for 399 yards. Sophomore running back Ryan Jackson ran for 147 yards on 13 carries, and junior running back Kenneth Farrow totaled 113 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Houston finally looked like it had an offense that could pile up both yards and points.

Things didn’t start that way.

Early in the game, Houston appeared to be continuing its season-long struggle to find some consistency on offense, something head coach Tony Levine and offensive coordinator Travis Bush should still be concerned about as they prepare to host Central Florida on October 2 in a nationally televised conference opener for both teams.

Sophomore quarterback John O’Korn threw two interceptions in the first half, and the Coogs relied mostly on their ground game to build a 13-7 halftime lead.

But O’Korn and the offense found their rhythm in the third quarter. O’Korn tossed two touchdowns, one each to wide receiver Daniel Spencer and running back Jackson, and Houston seemed to find sustained success in its aerial attack.

It was an important step forward for Houston, whose fans remain hopeful Levine will win his first conference title as head coach this season.

For something like that to even be possible, Levine and his O-coordinator, Bush, must find sustainable success in the passing game going forward.

Houston’s recent history is littered with high-flying, video game-like offenses. From 2003-06, Kevin Kolb lit up opposing defenses under former coach Art Briles’ innovative hybrid Air Raid system.

Kolb passed for almost 13,000 yards during his career, totaling 85 passing touchdowns with a 61.6 completion percentage.

Case Keenum picked up right where Kolb left off. Under Briles as a freshman and Kevin Sumlin after, Keenum amassed an NCAA record for total yards, touchdowns and just about every other passing statistic possible.

Keenum threw for 19,217 yards and 155 touchdowns from 2007-11. His career completion percentage was a whopping 69.4.

But Houston’s vaunted passing offense has taken a giant leap backward since third-year coach Levine took over for Sumlin before the 2012 season.

Back then, Levine told the Houston Chronicle’s Sam Khan the Cougar offense would remain unchanged:

We've recruited successfully to this offense. We've got the players in place for this offense. To go out and to hire somebody to come in here and replace the best offense in the history of college football with a new scheme and a new system didn't make sense to me.

But things changed, and not for the better.

Levine has gone through three offensive coordinators since, and none of them have been able to imitate the revved-up offense Keenum and company ran under the previous regime.

Bush, who handled play-calling duties in Levine’s first year after Mike Nesbitt’s early-season resignation, was named offensive coordinator this season after last year’s play-caller, Doug Meacham, departed for TCU.

But things didn’t go as planned for Bush in his new gig. Houston was handled by UTSA 27-7 in its first-ever game at TDECU Stadium. O’Korn tossed four interceptions, and the offense looked absolutely abysmal.

Things improved against Grambling State. Houston rolled to a 47-0 win, but the talent disparity in the game—and O’Korn’s continued erratic play—left Houston fans wondering if things would ever start to click on offense under Bush.

But Houston seems to have settled in since its failed comeback against BYU in Provo last week. Down 23-0 in the second quarter, Houston stormed back to make a game of it.

The Coogs fell to BYU 33-25.

O'Korn threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns on 30-of-52 passing, and Houston’s offense showed real promise for the first time this season.

Against UNLV, O’Korn continued his season-long turnover parade, but he also appeared cool, calm and confident as the game moved past its early stages.

O’Korn finished the game with 135 yards passing on 12-of-27 passing, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for a score and appeared to be in control of the offense before he was pulled late when the score was out of hand.

Houston will need even more from O’Korn during conference play against the likes of Central Florida, Cincinnati and East Carolina.

For Houston to be considered serious contenders for the AAC title, the Cougars offense will have to continue its progression under Bush.

Gone are the days of 70 pass attempts, and perhaps 70 points in a game, too. But Houston’s multiple-set attack, one that relies on long passes and varied running schemes from players lined up all over the field, finally seems like something that could really work.

If O’Korn can cut down the turnovers, and if the bulk of Houston’s rushing game against UNLV wasn’t just a mirage brought to life by an overmatched defense, the Cougar faithful might have something to smile about after Levine’s third season at Houston’s helm.

If Houston has an offense, it’s as dangerous as any team in the AAC.

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