NCAA Football News

Texas A&M vs. Alabama Complete Game Preview

The Texas A&M football team will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Saturday. The Aggies have to beat the Tide if they want to remain in the race for the SEC West title. 

Texas A&M is 5-2 with a 2-2 conference record and ranked No. 21 in the latest Associated Press poll. Alabama is 5-1 with a 3-1 record in the SEC and ranked No. 7. This will be the Aggies' third straight game against a Top 10 opponent in three weeks. 

The Aggies are coming off a 35-20 defeat to Ole Miss at home. Alabama traveled to Arkansas and got a 14-13 victory over the Hogs. 

Texas A&M has looked unprepared to play in two consecutive games. The Aggies are suffering from a bit of an identity crisis and appear tentative on the field, especially on offense. They need to return to their attacking ways on offense if they want to get back into the SEC race. 

This is a look at how Texas A&M and Alabama match up with each other. 

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Midseason Power Rankings for SEC Quarterbacks

It's hard to believe we have reached the midway point of the season, but here we are with Mississippi State and Ole Miss in the top five—just as we all planned.

What? We didn't plan on that?

Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott and Rebels signal-caller Bo Wallace have set the college football world on fire, leading their respective teams to unblemished records and joining the Heisman conversation in full force.

Elsewhere, there are quarterbacks struggling.

Georgia has had issues replacing Aaron Murray with Hutson Mason, LSU has played musical quarterbacks with Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris and Vanderbilt's quarterback situation is a hot mess.

With half the season in the books, we'll re-rack the quarterback rankings in this slideshow.

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Is It Fair for Mississippi State to Leap Florida State for the No. 1 Spot?

In a season of surprises, the biggest one of all has been the rise of both Mississippi State and Ole Miss to the top of the polls. 

Anyone who predicted the Bulldogs and Rebels would be No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the latest Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls might also have next week's winning lotto numbers. 

As David Brandt of the AP tweets, the Bulldogs' rise to the top of the polls has been the quickest in history. 

That leads to a point of debate: Is it fair that the Bulldogs have leapfrogged fellow undefeated team Florida State to claim the No. 1 spot? The Seminoles were the preseason No. 1 team in both polls and remained there through the first five weeks of the season. 

The results between the two are close, with Mississippi State leading Florida State by just one point in the coaches poll. In fact, the Seminoles still have more first-place votes—31 to 26—in that poll. The AP poll results tilt more heavily in favor of Mississippi State in both points (1,480 to 1,415) and first-place votes (45 to 12). 

The first thing that should be noted is that what happened last year doesn't matter. Yes, given that undefeated teams go down every week, it's nothing short of impressive that Florida State has won 22 straight games dating back to 2012. There wasn't any question that the Seminoles were the most dominant team in 2013 (more on that later). 

That being said, the only thing voters can go off of (and likely are) is what the Noles do this season. For the first time since USC in 2012, AP voters felt a win—in this case, Florida State's 38-20 victory over Syracuse—wasn't good enough for a No. 1 team to keep its spot. 

Florida State's resume looks solid, though, which is a flip of the script from a year ago when they were steamrolling opponents regularly. FSU already has two wins against Top 25 teams: Oklahoma State and Clemson. The win over the Cowboys, now ranked at 5-1, to open the season looks more impressive now than it did at the time. The victory over Clemson came without quarterback Jameis Winston, who was serving a suspension, and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who had a concussion.

There's a case to be made that Clemson should have won that game in Tallahassee, but it didn't and Florida State rolled on. 

Now, compare those wins to Mississippi State's resume. The Bulldogs have won three straight games against opponents who were ranked in the Top 10 at the time they met: LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn.

LSU is no longer ranked, and there's an argument that the same thing should be said for the Aggies. Put another way, the Bulldogs' best win to date, by a landslide, came Saturday against Auburn. 

Resumes and the so-called "eye tests" are two factors playing a role in deciding which team should be No. 1. Through seven weeks, Mississippi State looks like one of the most dominant teams in the sport, if not the most dominant. 

The Bulldogs have done a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage on offense and defense. With a balancedoffense and a top-tier defense, Mississippi State has done pretty much whatever it wanted against every team it's played. 

Florida State has been statistically strong too, though the running game is only recently coming along and the defense isn't as stout as it was a year ago. 

Which brings up a theory: Is Florida State being punished, if you will, for not replicating last year's team?

Again, what happened a year ago isn't supposed to matter, but is it possible voters are (unknowingly?) comparing Florida State in 2014 to Florida State in 2013?

Another unspoken item that's likely being taken into account is perceived strength of not only a conference but of a division. 

The SEC West is generally considered the best division in college football. It wouldn't be surprising if Mississippi State got an edge, at least in part, because it plays in that division. The West, for example, is getting publicity as a division that could field two playoff teams. 

"I think there's going to be good chance there will be two teams from the [SEC] West, or at least two teams from the SEC, to make the Final Four," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Thursday on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike.

The odds of that happening seem low. A lot of teams around the country would have to lose multiple times for it to be a legitimate discussion point. Still, which other division is being discussed in the same light? 

Furthermore, all the attention that the SEC West has garnered can make it easy to ignore the fact that the SEC East has been mediocre.  

Eventually, SEC West teams will separate as well. Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Alabama—they all have plenty of games against one another. It'll all get sorted out in time. Hopefully. 

Is it fair that Mississippi State leapfrogged Florida State? Fair doesn't play into anything; voters simply decide which team is better. After Week 7, the Bulldogs have proven themselves worthy of a No. 1 ranking. They'll have more opportunities to validate that ranking at Alabama (Nov. 15) and at Ole Miss (Nov. 29). In Week 8, Florida State hosts undefeated Notre Dame. 

So, is it a runaway vote? 

It doesn't feel that way, but if we're lucky, we'll find out on the field in January. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. 

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4-Star WR Alex Stump Flips from SEC to Ohio State: What It Means for Buckeyes

Ohio State landed a commitment from 4-star wide receiver Alex Stump Sunday afternoon, flipping the local prospect from Lakewood, Ohio, who was previously committed to play at Kentucky.

According to Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriorsthe Buckeyes offered Stump a scholarship in late September, and the 6'3" wide receiver needed less than a month to make his decision. Stump explained the nuance of his choice to Birmingham:

I actually really started to talk to Coach (Urban) Meyer in the early part of the season, after our opener against Gilman. They'd wanted me to come visit for a while, but we always play on Saturdays, so I couldn't make it. (Meyer) talked to me about how I played that game, and that they wanted me to call them later in the week. An offer from Ohio State would have always made things interesting, and about a month ago I thought it might be coming.

Ohio State wanted me to come camp all summer, and if I wasn't committed to Kentucky, I would have. I didn't feel right going there and essentially campaigning for an offer from another school. I'd hoped that if they wanted to offer me, seeing me in person and during a game would show what I could do.

Stump is the No. 310 overall player and No. 38 wide receiver in the 2015 class, per the 247Sports composite rankings. He is the 17th commitment in OSU's class, which ranks No. 14 in the country and second behind Penn State in the Big Ten.

More importantly, Stump is only the second receiver in the Buckeyes' 2015 class, joining 3-star prospect A.J. Alexander, a 6'4" possession receiver from Burke, Virginia. Although he is listed at 6'3" by 247Sports, Stump is actually listed at 6'5" by ESPN.com. Together, he and Alexander form an imposing pair of young pass-catchers.

That is particularly important after the Buckeyes' 2014 recruiting class, which despite a high ranking (and decent early returns) did not possess height at the skill positions. The only three receivers in the class—Johnnie Dixon, Paris Campbell and Terry McLaurin—are all listed at 6'0" or smaller. They are speed instead of outside-the-numbers threats.

But both of those things are important for Urban Meyer's offense, which is famous for its utilization of Percy Harvin-types (speed players) but equally reliant on Riley Cooper-types (outside players).

Stump projects as a good version of the latter.

"[Stump is] a run and catch guy that may not provide as many big plays after the catch, but is sure to make his fair share of plays downfield especially when challenged," wrote ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required). "He fits the mold of what people want in today's receiver on the outside."

Ohio State's best receiver this season has been 6'3" sophomore Michael Thomas, who leads the team with 17 catches for 322 yards and five touchdowns. He will be a junior when Stump arrives on campus and is a good person for Stump to learn the position under.

The next three leading receivers on Ohio State's current roster are Devin Smith, Corey Smith and Evan Spencer—a senior, a junior and a senior, respectively. There will be copious opportunities for an underclassman to see the field in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Stump will have a difficult time challenging for playing time next season—a result of the foot injury he suffered earlier this month that will require surgery and stunt his development—but he is a name to keep an eye on the following two seasons.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to AP and Amway Week 8 Polls

A week after some of the most monumental upsets of the season, several teams proved they are here to stay on the national stage.

Week 7 wasn't quite as strange as the previous weekend, but several teams still shifted around in the polls. Though the polls at this point mean little for the College Football Playoff, fans are still eagerly anticipating the release to see how a win or loss impacts their team's standing.

Programs such as Mississippi State and Ole Miss each had another season-defining victory and jostled the rankings yet again. Meanwhile, the teams they knocked off plummeted in the polls even after strong starts to the season.

On the heels of another wild weekend in college football, here's a look at the Associated PressAmway Coaches and Bleacher Report Top 25 rankings.

 

Reaction

If the nation hadn't already welcomed the two Mississippi programs into the playoff discussion, the polls prove they are for real so far. The Bulldogs pulled off another huge upset and rose to the top of both rankings after Week 7.

Prior to the polls being released, SEC communications director Chuck Dunlap made his case for the Bulldogs:

SportsCenter noted just how historic of an achievement it was for the Bulldogs:

Mississippi State fans knew they would be moving up in the rankings but had to wait slightly longer than normal to find out. The Amway poll, which typically is released at noon on Sundays, came out an hour later than normal.

Joe Fleming of USA Today jokingly speculated on why the poll was taking slightly longer this week:

Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal offered his take:

When the first poll was finally released, it was Mississippi State that was at the top. Florida State was knocked down a spot despite being undefeated and claiming a win by 18 points against Syracuse.

But after MSU dismantled Auburn, both Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs were propelled even more into the national spotlight. Mississippi State is at No. 1 in both polls, and Prescott is now viewed as a Heisman favorite, per Patrick Magee of the Sun Herald.

Prescott was humbled by the talks but noted that it means nothing at this point, via Magee:

It really doesn't mean much. I didn't play a great game at all. People can talk and say I played a great game, but to me it's one of my worst this season. It really doesn't mean much. I want to continue to make this team better and keep winning.

It's a blessing. That's a dream. I think every little brother that plays the game dreams about it. I'll think about it when the trophy is given out. Right now, I just want to win the next game.

Along with Mississippi State, Ole Miss also saw a slight jump in the rankings. Thanks to two straight victories over notable opponents in Alabama and Texas A&M, the Rebels jumped over Baylor in the Coaches Poll.

The recent string of success is a first for the program, as College GameDay notes:

Ole Miss hosts Tennessee this coming weekend while Mississippi State gets a weekend off. Rebels fans likely believe they should be closer to the top with the Bulldogs, but they'll have to keep proving doubters wrong, while the Seminoles face a stiff test against Notre Dame.

Meanwhile, Auburn slid down in the polls due to the 15-point loss to Mississippi State. Even with the loss, Dan Wolken of USA Today offered his thoughts on the Tigers:

One important note to remember in Wolken's tweets is that the polls mean relatively little toward the actual playoff. The rankings might weigh slightly on the decisions for the committee, but neither the AP nor Amway polls will matter.

Half of the season still remains for most teams, so there is still time for any program to rise or fall in the rankings.

As the fans in Mississippi rejoice over their place in the polls at this point, a tough slate in the SEC West lies ahead. The Bulldogs and Rebels also have the Egg Bowl on Nov. 29, which might be setting up as the most important battle ever in the rivalry.

Outside of Mississippi, several other programs are holding out hope of making the College Football Playoff. Florida State and Notre Dame should see their spots in the rankings fluctuate after their crucial matchup.

Needless to say, there is still a lot of football to be played, and the polls mean very little for right now. But through the midway point, there's no question that two of the best teams in the country are in Mississippi this season.  

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Hits and Misses from Week 7

Week 7 of the college football season is in the books. It wasn't as utterly chaotic as Week 6, but a few top teams had statement wins. Meanwhile, the list of unbeaten teams was whittled down just a little bit more. 

There's still a long way to go, but it's beginning to feel like a separation is forming in the playoff race. Once again, the state of Mississippi remains at the center of the college football universe.

These are amazing times, indeed. 

As is customary every Sunday, The Associated Press and USA Today released their new Top 25 polls. You can also check out the latest Bleacher Report Top 25 for comparison.

Which teams were appropriately ranked in the latest Top 25 polls? Which ones weren't? The answers are in the following slides.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Week 8 AP and Amway Standings Revealed

A week of shootouts and close calls has once again shaken up the college football rankings.

Nothing could match the array of upsets that plagued the top schools in Week 6, but several notable teams found themselves at the brink of defeat on Saturday. Baylor, Notre Dame, Alabama and Oklahoma held on for dear life, while Arizona suffered a setback after vaulting up the ranks.

Then there was the monumental SEC showdown between Auburn and Mississippi State, the latter of which defeated its third premier conference opponent in as many weeks in convincing fashion. The Bulldogs' victory forced everyone to think long and hard about whether they or the Florida State Seminoles deserve the No. 1 spot.

After another chaotic Saturday, the updated polls are now out. Let's take a look at how the Top 25 were ordered in the Associated Press Poll and Amway Coaches Poll, along with Bleacher Report's weekly outlook.

 

Week 7 Breakdown

There's a new sheriff in town. Mississippi State is the new consensus No. 1 team after registering an impressive victory over Auburn.

Mississippi State's last three opponents each entered its Bulldogs matchup ranked inside the Top 10. The underdog every time, the Bulldogs rattled off three victories by a combined 37 points. Their latest statement came during Saturday's 38-23 stomping of Auburn, who dropped from No. 2 after the defeat.

In his worst passing game of the season, Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott still finished with 367 total yards and three touchdowns. 

After surviving their gauntlet schedule so far, the Bulldogs are one of six undefeated teams left standing, per College GameDay:

If it wasn't there already, Mississippi State now has a huge target on its back. Wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson discussed the new circumstances with USA Today's Dan Wolken.

"We have great leadership," Wilson said. "I knew we’d come out and win. I had that feeling. If we’re No. 1 we’re just going to have to work harder because each and every week it only gets tougher in the SEC, and we’re just going to work harder and try to stay No. 1."

Given their pulverizing level of opposition, Mississippi State usurps Florida State, who allowed 412 total yards during a 38-20 victory over 2-4 Syracuse. The offense has scored at least 37 points in every game started by Jameis Winston, but the shaky defense and friendly schedule can't be ignored.

The Seminoles can change all that by claiming a signature victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who displayed another side to themselves during an unconventional 50-43 win over North Carolina. Per ESPN Stats & Info, they have never overcome such a poor defensive outing:

Notre Dame shockingly allowed 510 total yards during a shootout, but the defensive-minded program edged out a victory on the strength of Everett Golson's arm. The senior tossed 300 passing yards and three touchdowns in an unusual victory for a team that allowed 60 combined points in the previous five games.

It's safe to say FSU vs. Notre Dame is Week 8's game of the week. The winner will challenge the Bulldogs for the No. 1 spot, while the loser will join a long list of fallen juggernauts looking to avenge a loss and still make the playoffs.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AP College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 8 Rankings Released

How crazy has this season been?

On Saturday, the madness was ratcheted up another notch. One state in particular continued to dominate college football. Several teams needed insane offensive outbursts to survive. A slew of teams either made another strong case for their playoff worthiness or dropped out of the conversation.    

It's almost hard to keep up with all the craziness. But with the Week 8 Associated Press poll below alongside Bleacher Report's Top 25, as well as a recap of the week that was and what comes next, you'll be in the loop.
 

Rankings

 

Analysis

Once again, college football was left orbiting around the state of Mississippi on Saturday. 

For the third week in a row, Mississippi State knocked off a Top 10 team, this time downing Auburn 38-23. Quarterback Dak Prescott (246 passing yards, 121 rushing yards, three total touchdowns) and the Mississippi State defense (four forced turnovers) were the heroes in this one. 

“It shows we can win against anybody,” Prescott told Ray Glier of The New York Times after the game. Given their last three wins, the Bulldogs have certainly proven that much to be true.

Of course, Ole Miss wasn't to be outdone, as the Rebels handled Texas A&M in College Station, winning 35-20. Once again, the defense was the star of the show. SportsCenter on Twitter passed along one of the defense's highlights from the huge win:

On Nov. 29, Ole Miss hosts Mississippi State with a place in the SEC Championship potentially on the line and huge implications at stake for the College Football Playoff. It will be interesting to see how the Top Four teams play out, but at the moment you would have to say that the two Mississippi schools have as good a chance as any team in the country to reach it.    

Of course, we'll learn a lot more about two more teams next week, as Florida State and Notre Dame will meet in a matchup of programs with serious playoff aspirations. Notre Dame was surprisingly tested by North Carolina this weekend, eventually winning 50-43, so Florida State will be the favorite heading into that contest.

Notre Dame also set a bit of history in its tight victory, per ESPN Stats & Info:

What a fascinating game Notre Dame vs. Florida State should be. Of course, while all of the talk at the moment is about Mississippi State ascending to the top of the rankings, the Seminoles might appreciate the nation's gaze deviating from them for the moment, as Max Bretos of ESPN tweeted:

And then there's Baylor, which survived in one of the craziest games you'll ever see, beating TCU by a 61-58 margin. Yes, you read that score correctly. The Bears now absolutely control their own destiny when it comes to reaching the College Football Playoff, though major tests in Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State still remain on the schedule. 

But at the moment, it doesn't appear as though many—if any—teams can keep pace with Baylor's electrifying offense. It's hard to win a national championship without a great defense—its defense has generally been pretty good, but nobody is going to mistake it for being great on that side of the ball anytime soon—but it sure will be fun watching the Bears try. 

At the moment, it appears the winner of the Florida State vs. Notre Dame game next week, Baylor and either Ole Miss or Mississippi State—depending on how the rest of the season shakes out—are the front-runners for the playoff. 

So which team will slide into that fourth slot? Will we see a true contender emerge from the deep Pac-12? Will Michigan State or Ohio State make a strong bid out of the Big Ten? Will a second SEC team simply make too strong of a case to be denied? 

A new format, but the same old intrigue and speculation. God bless college football. 

 

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ESPN College GameDay Headed to Tallahassee for Notre Dame vs. Florida State

ESPN's College GameDay will be in Tallahassee next week to watch the reigning national champion, Florida State, host the 2012 national runner-up, Notre Dame.

The Seminoles and the Fighting Irish are both undefeated on the season, making this the third consecutive GameDay game between undefeated teams. Before this, it was Ole Miss vs. Alabama in Week 6 and Mississippi State vs. Auburn in Week 7.

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

Notre Dame is playing Florida State as part of its partial-ACC membership. It beat Syracuse is Week 5 and North Carolina in Week 7, starting its pseudo-ACC season with a 2-0 record, but it didn't look especially impressive in either of those wins.

Florida State, meanwhile, hasn't looked especially impressive in any of its games this season. After a year in which it dominated most opponents, it has struggled to beat Oklahoma State on a neutral field—another game GameDay was in attendance for—Clemson in Tallahassee and North Carolina State in Raleigh.

The Clemson game went to overtime and is best known as the game Jameis Winston missed during his one-game suspension for screaming obscenities on campus. The sophomore quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner has since been reinstated to the team but is now dealing with a school-imposed disciplinary hearing that concerns the sexual assault investigation that took place last season.

In light of this most recent development, sports law expert Michael McCann wrote a fascinating piece for SI.com, suggesting that Winston's best recourse might be dropping out of school. But Winston does not want to talk about anything other than the season at hand.

"It's not about distractions," he told reporters after Saturday's 38-20 win at Syracuse, per Mike Huguenin of NFL.com. "It's about Florida State football."

Notre Dame counters Winston with its own Heisman-contending quarterback, Everett Golson. And like Winston, Golson is no stranger to off-field imbroglios. After leading Notre Dame to the national title game as a redshirt freshman in 2012, he missed all of last season with a university-imposed suspension for academic impropriety.

Golson has struggled with turnovers the past few games, but he has made the necessary plays to keep Notre Dame undefeated, most notably a game-winning fourth-down touchdown pass to tight end Ben Koyack in the final minute against Stanford two weeks ago.

Neither Golson nor Winston has ever lost a regular-season game as a college quarterback.

That is guaranteed to change in Week 8.

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Amway College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 8 Rankings Released

Week 7 of the 2014 college football season was not as wild as the previous weekend’s action, but there were still several ranked programs that fell in heated matchups.

With Mississippi State beating Auburn, Ole Miss handing Texas A&M another loss and Baylor holding on against TCU, the latest college football polls have been shifted once again as the cream continues rising to the top.

Here are the full Amway Coaches and Bleacher Report Top 25 polls and a breakdown of Week 7.

 

Breaking Down Week 7 

While there has been turnover at the top of the polls on several different occasions this season, one of the only consistencies has been the undefeated play of the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles.

Still, that wasn't enough to keep the Seminoles at the top spot.

There is no doubt that quarterback Jameis Winston hasn't been as dangerous as he was when he won the Heisman Trophy last year, but the team is still winning games consistently. Add in the team’s favorable schedule, and Florida State should easily make the College Football Playoff.

The toughest remaining game comes next Saturday against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. After watching Notre Dame barely pull out a win over North Carolina in Week 7, the Seminoles should be victorious and maintain their position as viable championship contenders.

Despite several off-field distractions, Winston has found solace playing on Saturdays, telling Josh Moyer of ESPN.com about what football has meant to him during this period of his career:

It's not about distractions -- it's about playing Florida State football. It's about going out there every day in practice, doing our school work, making sure we're being a great student-athlete. And like I said, being on the field, it's a sanctuary. You get between those lines, all the cameras are on you, and we're out there playing football.

The biggest news of the weekend was Mississippi State beating Auburn. The Tigers were ranked second in the Amway Poll last week and the Bulldogs were sixth overall, but it was Mississippi State that looked far superior in this matchup. The Bulldogs scored the first three touchdowns of the game and won by a score of 38-23.

Mississippi State is now No. 1 overall in the latest rankings.   

It was a good day to be a college football fan from Mississippi, as Ole Miss also managed to beat its ranked opponent on Saturday. Texas A&M was coming off a loss to Mississippi State, and the Rebels only made the situation worse for the Aggies by scoring early and taking the victory on the road.

Former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard talked about the state of Mississippi dominating Week 7:

The most thrilling game of the weekend was the Big 12 battle between Baylor and TCU. After entering the fourth quarter trailing by 14, the Bears managed to score 24 points in the final 15 minutes of the game and beat the Horned Frogs, 61-58. The high-scoring game proved that both programs have the offensive firepower and tenacity to be top teams in the nation.

As great as the wins for Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Baylor were, the wheels are starting to come off for several other top programs. After losing to the Rebels last Saturday, the Alabama Crimson Tide bounced back with a lackluster 14-13 win over Arkansas. If the Crimson Tide want to return to prominence, they will have to develop chemistry on offense as soon as possible.

Alabama wasn’t the only team that disappointed, though, as the Arizona Wildcats failed to capitalize on the momentum from a victory over Oregon and were defeated by USC. The Ducks may have beaten the UCLA Bruins in Week 7, but Arizona’s loss further discounts Oregon's championship hopes. 

Other teams like Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were involved in games that were much closer than fans expected (all managed to win), but programs like Georgia and East Carolina continued playing well.

The 2014 college football season was expected to be a wild ride leading into the inaugural four-team playoff, but few experts predicted this kind of turnover in the polls from week to week.

It’s an exciting time to be a fan of the sport.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

 

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Ranking the Top 10 Coaches with Which to Start a College Football Program

It is a very difficult task to rank the best college football coaches, so I'm going to try to do it with this question in mind:

If you were starting a college football program from scratch, who would you want to coach the team?

I will take into account win-loss records, past experience resurrecting a program, recruiting ability and innovation into this ranking.

It was nearly impossible to trim the list down to 10, but I would feel pretty confident with any one of these coaches pacing the sideline for my team.

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The Best Big Ten Team Nobody Knows Anything About

The Big Ten game of the year still appears on the surface to be the Nov. 8 meeting between Ohio State and Michigan State in East Lansing. The conference's playoff hopes may very well be influenced by its outcome. 

But quietly—as under-the-radar teams in forgotten conferences tend to do—Minnesota has a potentially meaningful game the same day with Iowa with Big Ten West implications. 

The Golden Gophers have put together a 5-1 record and lead the West Division. The only loss: 30-7 to TCU in Week 3, which, in hindsight, isn't the worst loss a team could suffer. The Frogs were unable to hold on to a lead in a shootout Saturday against Baylor but remain a formidable team in the Big 12.

Of course, leading the Big Ten West isn't the same statement as leading, say, the SEC West. There aren't many quality wins in that part of the Big Ten. Still, the Gophers have steadily improved under fourth-year head coach Jerry Kill. Minnesota's win total under Kill has gone up each year, but this is his best start to date in Minneapolis through six games. 

As Tom Dienhart of BTN.com explains, 2014 has a history-making feel for Minnesota: 

But know this: Minnesota is 2-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 2004 and just the third time since 1990. And there’s a good chance the Gophers could push that to 4-0 with games coming up vs. Purdue and at Illinois to close October. Then, the lifting gets heavy in November. In fact, no Big Ten school may have a more difficult closing month: Iowa; Ohio State; at Nebraska; at Wisconsin.

The amazing thing about this 5-1 team is that there's only a little bit of star power. Tight end Maxx Williams (12 receptions, 225 yards, three touchdowns) is the most well-known face on this team. 

The only other player who's receiving any kind of national recognition is running back David Cobb, who ranks eighth nationally with 136.5 rushing yards per game, per cfbstats.com. But he's still overshadowed by two other running backs in the Big Ten: Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. 

(Another Big Ten back, Indiana's Tevin Coleman, is being overlooked as well. But that's a different subject for a different day.) 

Of course, quarterback turnover hasn't helped offensive production. From MarQueis Gray to Max Shortell to Philip Nelson and now Mitch Leidner, there hasn't been a consistent guy under center for a couple of years. 

But the heart and soul of Minnesota under Kill has been the defense. From giving up 32 points a game in Kill's first season in 2011 to being a top-four scoring defense in the Big Ten in 2013, the Gophers have steadily improved on that side of the ball while the offense has tried to catch up. 

Two players off of the 2013 defense, safety Brock Vereen and defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, became the first Gophers to be drafted since 2010. 

Minnesota has been opportunistic in other ways, however, scoring three touchdowns on kick returns since Kill's arrival, including one yesterday in a 24-17 win over Northwestern. 

Looking ahead, everything Minnesota has built could come down to a crucial stretch in November. In addition to playing host to the Hawkeyes on Nov. 8, Minnesota gets Ohio State at home the following week before heading to Nebraska and Wisconsin. 

Against some of the best players in the Big Ten—Abdullah, Gordon and Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett—Minnesota will have more than enough opportunities to prove its worth. 

For a team that was scarcely represented on preseason Big Ten superlative lists, winning the Big Ten West would be a major accomplishment. But given Kill's history of building programs at Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois, it's not out of the realm of possibility. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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NCAA Football Playoff 2014: Latest Predictions After Week 7 Standings

Although Week 7 of the college football season couldn't possibly have matched Week 6's unpredictability and excitement, it did help bring into focus the four teams best positioned for the final playoff at the moment.

Of course, last week is evidence of how quickly things can change across the college football landscape, so expecting the most recent playoff projections to hold until the end of the season would be a fool's errand.

That doesn't mean it isn't fun to imagine how the top four would shake out if the season ended right now. The cream is certainly rising to the top already.

 

The King Stays the King

Simply put, Florida State entered the week ranked No. 1 overall in both The Associated Press and USA Today Polls, and it should stay there. The Seminoles beat Syracuse 38-20 and never really looked threatened.

They're the defending national champion and one of the few teams continuing to consistently look like a great team with few flaws.

The 'Noles are also riding a 22-game winning streak, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Florida State hasn't really done anything to not be ranked No. 1. FSU left it late against Oklahoma State and Clemson. The Cowboys are 5-1 and ranked 16th in the country, while the Tigers' two losses have come against Top 25 opponents, not to mention that Jameis Winston was suspended for that game.

Beating those two teams close isn't really a knock on the 'Noles.

You could make strong cases for both Ole Miss and Mississippi State to be the top teams in the country, but at least for now, FSU continues to hold on to its ranking.

 

Mississippi Becomes the Epicenter of College Football

It's a shame that Ole Miss and Mississippi State don't play one another until Nov. 29. That's the kind of gigantic battle college football fans want to see right now in order to determine whether the Rebels or the Bulldogs are the better team.

The Bulldogs are coming off a 38-23 win over No. 2 Auburn. Quarterback Dak Prescott amassed 367 total yards and three total touchdowns, and the defense forced four turnovers. The Tigers got to within eight points on two occasions in the second half, but the Bulldogs answered the call and secured the victory.

"Every time we needed to make a play, a guy stepped up and made a play," said Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen after the game, per The AP, via ESPN.com. "We always wondered how to take the next step in this league ... that's it."

You can't find too many holes in the Bulldogs. They have a dynamic QB in Prescott who possesses enough offensive weapons to beat anybody, and the defense is opportunistic enough to force turnovers and change the game.

With all of that said, Ole Miss gets the slight edge for one reason: defense. The Rebels look to have the best defense in the country, even better than Mississippi State's.

Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is establishing himself as one of the premier players in the country at any position. ESPN.com's Travis Haney is already broaching the idea of Nkemdiche entering the Heisman Trophy discussion:

The Ole Miss defense accounted for two touchdowns in the 35-20 win over Texas A&M and held a Kevin Sumlin-coached team scoreless in the first half for the first time in his career, per Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi:

What should encourage Ole Miss fans is the fact that Bo Wallace looked good for the second week in a row. He threw for only 178 yards and a touchdown, but his decision-making was good and he didn't have the kind of mental mistakes that have plagued his performances in the past.

As long as Wallace doesn't shoot himself in the foot, the Rebels defense is good enough to take the team to the promised land.

 

Baylor Distances Itself from Competition

With a 61-58 win over No. 9 TCU, Baylor demonstrated that it's deserving of the fourth and final playoff spot. The fifth-ranked Bears came back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter to upend the Horned Frogs on a last-second field goal.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Baylor had a 1.9-percent chance of winning after going down 58-37 with 11:38 to play:

Quarterback Bryce Petty threw for a career-high 510 yards and six touchdowns. He said after the game that the win proved the Bears are for real, per Baylor Football:

This game not only established the Bears as the team to beat in the Big 12, but it also decidedly elevated them ahead of Notre Dame and Michigan State, both of whom could've laid a claim on the fourth spot last week.

The Spartans already have a loss to their name, while the Fighting Irish's best win came in the final minutes over a poor Stanford team.

Notre Dame can climb into the top four with a win over Florida State next week.

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Notre Dame Issues Exposed by UNC Must Be Fixed Before Showdown vs. FSU

As the points piled up, so too did the collective uneasiness of Notre Dame football fans Saturday during the shootout between the Irish and the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Notre Dame prevailed in the 50-43 victory at Notre Dame Stadium, but the Irish weren’t overly convincing ahead of next week’s tilt with No. 1 Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium.

“Lots of points, lots of penalties, lots of turnovers, lots of things to correct,” Irish head coach Brian Kellysaid to reporters after the win.

The Irish will be looking for quick fixes in various areas before facing the Seminoles.

 

Communication

Notre Dame appeared to struggle with communication in a slew of areas Saturday. On multiple occasions, the defense was still shuffling players onto the field or setting up its positioning when North Carolina’s uptempo offense was ready to begin.

Kick returners Cam McDaniel and Amir Carlisle miscommunicated in deciding whether Carlisle should bring a third-quarter kickoff out of the end zone.

In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame sent multiple men in motion across the formation at the same time, and the ball was snapped while they were still moving.

And, of course, the Irish committed two false-start penalties on consecutive plays while preparing to punt on fourth down. Notre Dame had three false starts on the drive.

Taken individually, these aren’t major issues. Taken collectively, however, it’s evident the Irish have plenty to fix here before squaring off with the Seminoles—when the margin for error will be remarkably slim.

 

Turnovers

Notre Dame fans were left scratching their heads again at Everett Golson’s up-and-down performance. On the third play from scrimmage, Golson fumbled in Notre Dame territory, setting up North Carolina’s first touchdown. After a three-and-out, Golson tossed an interception on the second play of Notre Dame’s third possession.

“I got in his face a little bit about the first interception,” Kelly said. “He's above that interception. That's a stick route that he's seen a million times.”

After handing the Tar Heels 14 early points, Golson did settle down—only to fumble again in the third quarter, again deep in Notre Dame’s end of the field. And, again, North Carolina turned the miscue into points.

So what needs to change? Kelly and Golson both said this week how Golson has been working with the running backs on ball security.

“We will just continue to ask him to commit himself during the week,” Kelly said.

Maybe more so than any one week, Golson will need to be committed to taking care of the football with Florida State ready to pounce.

 

Tackling

After a solid week of wrap-up tackling against Stanford, Notre Dame tackled “poorly” against North Carolina, Kelly said.

Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams and running back Elijah Hood, in particular, made Irish tacklers miss and helped North Carolina move the ball. In total, the Tar Heels piled up 510 yards of total offense on 84 plays—good for 6.1 yards per play.

Asked if he believes Notre Dame loses confidence after tackling poorly and turning the ball over, Kelly said no.

“You're going to have some of these games. You shake it off,” Kelly said. “They will be ready to play their very best against Florida State. But the nice part about it is we got great film and great teaching off of another win.”

 

Quarterback Contain

Williams impressed against the Irish defense. He completed 24-of-41 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 132 rushing yards and a score on 18 carries.

On a few different plays, Williams took off right up the middle and gashed the Notre Dame defense. The junior quarterback had rushes of 41, 28 and 11 (twice) yards.

Asked what went wrong defending Williams, Kelly credited the dual-threat signal-caller, who came in as North Carolina’s leading rusher.

“Nothing went wrong, he's pretty good,” Kelly said. “He's difficult to defend. Great runner, threw the ball effectively, we couldn't tackle him. We had him two or three times where we couldn't get him down, missed tackles.”

Kelly said there isn’t a whole lot Notre Dame can take from facing Williams into its preparation for Florida State quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

“The offense is a totally different situation for us in terms of defending it,” Kelly said. “We tackled poorly. We executed poorly. We got to coach better. We just got to do a better job all the way around.”

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 8 Standings for College's Top 25 Teams

What's in the water in the state of Mississippi? In case you weren't sure, the Mississippi State Bulldogs are the real deal—and so are the Ole Miss Rebels.

On Saturday, Dan Mullen's team defended its home turf with a 38-23 win over the No. 2 Auburn Tigers. The Bulldogs defense bailed out Dak Prescott and the offense on this day. The Bulldogs turned the ball over four times, but the defense forced four takeaways to help hold off the Tigers.

The fact that the Bulldogs won having played their B-game on offense is all the more impressive. 

Ole Miss was no less dominant. They came into College Station and stymied a powerful Texas A&M Aggies attack en route to a 35-20 win. Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace was efficient, and he played smart. 

He didn't turn the ball over once, and he accounted for three of his team's touchdowns. How's an all-Mississippi national championship game sound? It's looking pretty feasible. Both teams still have some substantial stumbling blocks left on their schedules—including a head-to-head meeting in the regular-season finale.

But don't be shocked to see them in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the College Football Playoff. Then again, the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles may have something to say about that.

Jameis Winston and the defending champions rolled to a 38-20 win over the Syracuse Orange on Saturday. It wasn't a major test, but with every team in the nation chasing them, the Noles did what they had to—win.

Here's a look at how the top 25 teams in the nation did this week.

 

Who's No. 1?

Based on what we've seen thus far this season, here's the way the top four teams should be ranked.

  1. Ole Miss
  2. Mississippi State
  3. Florida State
  4. Baylor

How can the Rebels leapfrog the Bulldogs after the latter just beat the No. 2 team in the nation? Moreover, how can either jump past the Noles considering the champions have yet to lose?

Ole Miss' body of work at this point is a little more impressive. Having defeated Alabama at home and Texas A&M on the road is downright eye-popping. Yes, the Bulldogs' wins over LSU and Auburn are certainly noteworthy, but Ole Miss deserves the slight edge over their in-state rivals for right now.

Florida State will have a major test ahead of it in Week 8 against Notre Dame, but quite honestly, the champions haven't looked like world beaters this year, and their schedule pales in comparison to Ole Miss' and Mississippi State's.

Up to now, Florida State has played just one ranked team. It beat then No. 22-ranked Clemson in overtime without the suspended Winston available. While the team has technically passed every test put in front of it up to this point, Ole Miss and Mississippi State deserve to have their excellent seasons recognized.

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Deshaun Watson Injury: Updates on Clemson QB's Finger and Return

The Deshaun Watson era has taken a detour this season, as the freshman is set to miss a month of action due to injury.  

Jared Shanker of ESPN has more:

Kerry Capps of Independentmail.com provided a statement from Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney discussing Watson's injury:

Freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson will be out 'several weeks' after breaking a bone in his right hand in the second quarter of Clemson's 23-17 victory over Louisville on Saturday.

'It's above one of his fingers, in his hand,' coach Dabo Swinney said, pointing to spot between his knuckles. 'It's his throwing hand, so he'll be out. If he was a lineman or a linebacker, he'd probably play this week.'

Watson won Clemson's staring gig earlier this season and has thrown for 1,176 yards, 12 touchdowns, two interceptions and completed 67 percent of his passes. Cole Stoudt took over the starting role against Louisville after Watson injured his finger, however, and guided the Tigers to a 23-17 victory. 

It will be interesting to see how Clemson handles their quarterback situation if Stoudt—previously Tajh Boyd's backup—plays well and Clemson continues to win with him under center. There's no doubt that Watson is the future of this program, but Stoudt now has the opportunity to prove he's a worthy starter once again.

 

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Is Anybody Scared of Alabama Anymore?

As darkness fell during Alabama’s narrow escape at Arkansas on Saturday, so too did the curtain come down on a Crimson Tide dynasty that once felt like it might last forever.

Yes, Nick Saban’s teams once struck fear if not outright terror in the hearts of opponents while claiming three national championships in four years from 2009-20012.

But those days are gone. Having Alabama on a team’s upcoming schedule no longer is cause for panic. These days it means opportunity.

The more Alabama struggled to nail down a one-point victory against a so-so opponent, the more apparent that became. 

The Razorbacks were in the process of losing a 15th consecutive Southeastern Conference game. Fifteen. And two of the game’s most fortuitous moments had swung in the Crimson Tide’s favor.

The first came early in the opening quarter when Arkansas’ Kody Walker was hit and fumbled just before entering the end zone. What had looked like a certain touchdown vaporized when the ball rolled out of the end zone for a touchback.

The second came when Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen deflected the extra point on Arkansas’ first touchdown, in the second quarter. That ultimately left the final tally at 14-13 and denied the Razorbacks a chance in overtime. It also should leave Alabama's fans feeling very lucky that their team is 5-1 and still in the AP poll's top 10.

Pronouncing the Alabama dynasty over or at least rapidly crumbling isn’t an overreaction to one game. With a 5-3 record in its last eight games, even the most ardent Bama fan can't contend the Tide has been rolling. 

All three defeats were to ranked teams, the kind Alabama once built its reputation against: Auburn in last year’s Iron Bowl, Oklahoma in last season’s Sugar Bowl and Ole Miss in last week’s wake-up call that college football in Oxford is a monster on the rise.

Against Arkansas, Alabama did manage to avoid what would have been Saban’s first back-to-back SEC losses since 2007. But if Alabama is still among the nation’s genuinely elite teams, the Tide should have responded to the Ole Miss loss with something substantially better than a one-point squeaker against an opponent they stomped with identical 52-0 drubbings in 2012 and 2013.

Saban contended otherwise afterward, telling reporters that: ''Obviously, our team was very disappointed and responded well, I think, to what happened a week ago. It's tough on the road in this league, and our division is really, really difficult. There's no easy games.''

Saban got it right about the SEC West, where Alabama appears to be losing ground across the board. But let’s not hear any chatter about Alabama always playing with a target on its back. You want to live in the penthouse, that comes with the territory.

Likewise for the leg injury that sidelined running back Kenyan Drake. Winning national titles in the 2009, 2011 and 2012 seasons gave Alabama a recruiting edge that helped stockpile thoroughbreds, so don’t complain if the talent pool isn’t endlessly deep.

The fact is that the Tide would have been hard-pressed to beat any other SEC West team with the way they played Saturday. 

Looking ahead, next week’s game against Texas A&M might as well be named the Regrouping Bowl for both teams, and the Nov. 15 showdown with soaring Mississippi State looms as a potential embarrassment.

This was Saban’s 100th game at Alabama, and he’s 84-16 since arriving in Tuscaloosa. But that was just about the only positive number generated for him on Saturday.

Arkansas scored numerical victories all over the stat sheet. They won the count for first downs, 18-10, for total yards, 335-227, and for rushing yards, 89-66.

Midway through third quarter, Alabama had only three rushing yards, and while the conditions were wet, they weren’t torrential. But the Tide’s total yardage was a season-low, way worse than the 396 than they managed against Ole Miss, and light years from the 645 they piled up on Florida.

Dynastic teams don’t get worse as the season grinds on. They don’t run into new problems that need solving, like Alabama’s four fumbles on special teams, two of which were lost. They punish opponents, they improve and they look forward to punishing again.

That’s not where Alabama is these days, as was made obvious in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Blake Sims’ failed quarterback sneak looked more like a slam-dunk try than a crucial 4th-and-1 attempt. 

Sims leapt vertically when he need only a few horizontal inches. That led Saban to bemoan that:

Well that was the ugliest-looking quarterback sneak I ever saw. I mean we run the quarterback sneak and we teach a guy how to run a quarterback sneak and we never ever taught that.

And if Saban has hopes of keeping the Alabama dynasty intact, that's not the only lesson he needs to get right in the very near future.

 

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

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Is Michigan's Defensive Effort Against Penn State a Sign of Things to Come?

The Wolverines haven’t given up on the season.

With Brady Hoke’s fate hanging in the balance, a large raucous crowd in attendance and an opponent looking for its own signature victory, Michigan found its defensive mojo exactly when it needed it most.

The team enters the bye week with its first Big Ten victory of the season and proof that its defense is capable of containing an opponent with the game on the line.

After six games of erratic play, the defense has arrived to give Michigan fans hope that the season can be salvaged.

How good was Michigan’s defense? Penn State only eked out a single touchdown while gaining 54 yards on the ground and 160 yards through the air.

Michigan’s defense clamped down and shut out Penn State in the second half to preserve the 18-13 victory in the first Big Ten night game in the history of Michigan Stadium. It even scored two points by forcing the Nittany Lions to take a safety with the game clock running down. The resulting kick was Penn State’s last chance to get back on offense but Michigan recovered the attempted onside kick and smothered the clock to preserve the victory.

Defensive end Frank Clark forced Penn State to attempt the desperate tactic after sacking Christian Hackenberg for a 13-yard loss to set up fourth-and-32 at the Penn State 3-yard line.

Last week Frank Clark whiffed on a big sack while battling Rutgers. This week versus Penn State he made sure not to make that mistake again.

“I knew it was going to be a sack before I even got to him,” said Clark of the big play.

That play and, most importantly, the victory was cathartic for Clark and the defense as a whole.

“It felt good to finally finish a game, we’ve been going through a lot of scrutiny as a team the last three weeks,” he said. “Against our last opponent we didn’t finish the game after it was put on our back.”

While Clark was emphatic that "this was a team victory—it wasn’t a defensive victory or an offensive victory,” the defense was the highlight of the game.

Defensive back Jourdan Lewis made a big interception that resulted in a second-half Michigan field goal.

“I saw my guy go across the field,” said Lewis. “I just watched the quarterback’s eyes and jumped in front of [the receiver].”

When it came time to stop Penn State late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line the defense was ready.

“We were going to stop them, that’s the only thing we were worried about, “ said Lewis. “That’s exactly what Michigan defense does, we want the pressure.”

That pressure is about to amp up considerably.

In two weeks Michigan heads to East Lansing where it will face the 24th-ranked offense in the country (496.4 total yards per game) and the 11th ranked defense (297.0 total yards per game).

Michigan State crushed Michigan 29-6 last year at Spartan Stadium and due to a quirk in scheduling will host the Wolverines for a second consecutive season.

It’s an opportune time for Michigan’s defense to prove that its performance versus Penn State wasn’t a fluke.

A win over the Spartans would put Michigan’s season back on track, while a loss will put an expiration date on Brady Hoke's Michigan tenure.

 

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

Follow @PSCallihan

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Southern Cal vs. Arizona: Game Grades for Trojans, Wildcats

The Southern Cal Trojans traveled to the desert and knocked off the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats in thrilling fashion by a score of 28-26 on Saturday night.

Running back Buck Allen led the Trojans offense with 205 yards rushing and three touchdowns on only 26 carries. It was a career-high effort for Allen, who dominated all evening long. 

For once in a football game, the proverbial icing of a kicker finally paid off. USC head coach Steve Sarkisian iced Arizona kicker Casey Skowron twice in the game—both leading to huge misses. Arizona's beleaguered kicker missed three on the night—including one in the final seconds that would have won the Wildcats the game. 

The win by Southern Cal now places the Trojans atop the Pac-12 South Division standings. 

A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. Check out first-half and final grades for the Trojans and Wildcats. Additional analysis for positional units will also be addressed. 

 

Southern Cal Trojans Game Grades

Passing Offense

With the success of USC's rushing attack, there wasn't a big need to stretch the field vertically. Cody Kessler was efficient and poised, completing 66 percent of his passes on the evening. While he didn't put up huge numbers statistically, he calmly guided the Trojans offense very well.

His one minor mistake came on the interception throw late in the first. Aside from that, he was solid. 

 

Pass Defense

In the first half, USC did a nice job of challenging Arizona's receivers. Most of the routes were shorter than 10 yards, and the Trojans didn't allow any big plays. 

Injuries in the second half to Adoree' Jackson and Kevon Seymour understandably made things difficult. At times, USC trotted out three freshmen in the secondary. Arizona began to smartly pick on the inexperienced players and was able to gain yards in chunks. 

Anu Solomon threw for 395 yards on the night but averaged only 5.5 yards per completion. It's a case where statistics can be a bit deceiving. 

 

Rushing Offense

What more can we say about Allen? USC's star tailback led the way with a career-high 205 yards rushing. He, along with Justin Davis, was virtually unstoppable at points in the game. 

Credit USC's offense for dominating the battle at the line of scrimmage. Both Allen and Davis had gaping holes to run through. Throw some pads on Pat Haden, and he would have run for close to 100 yards on the evening. 

In total, USC ran for 239 yards and a 6.3 yards-per-carry average. 

 

Run Defense

The defense hounded Arizona's offensive line all night long. Led by Leonard Williams, the front three got consistent penetration up the middle. Williams was a disruptive force throughout the night—even when he faced double- and triple-teams. 

The defense held Arizona to a 2.7 yards-per-carry average. Although Nick Wilson didn't play in the game, USC's front effectively shut down an important element to Arizona's offensive success.

 

Special Teams

Aside from a 43-yard punt return by Arizona receiver DaVonte' Neal and an onside recover by Arizona, the USC unit did very well—especially considering starting kicker Andre Heidari was a late scratch due to a groin injury. 

The blocked field-goal attempt at the end of the first half by Claude Pelon was huge from a momentum standpoint. It also loomed large on the final scoreboard, as the Trojans won by two points. 

 

Coaching

Credit Sarkisian for icing Arizona's kicker. Although this wouldn't seem like an overly important thing, Skowron missed both kicks after being held up by a USC timeout.

The defense played very well for three quarters and then reverted back to a similar showing versus Arizona State last week. Justin Wilcox in particular never adjusted to Arizona's passing scheme of quick throws—which predominantly were slants and outs to the perimeter. 

Offensively, some questionable calls in third-down situations could have come back to bite the Trojans. Regardless, the team won on the road versus a Top 10 team.

Job well done by Sark and the staff.  

 

Arizona Wildcats Game Grades

Passing Offense

Arizona used a predominantly short passing attack for the first half, often looking to exploit the perimeter on outs and hitches. 

In the second half, coach Rich Rodriguez opened it up a bit. With USC's corners playing with a considerable cushion, Solomon simply took what the defense gave him. Due to the running back situation, Arizona threw probably more than it would have liked. Regardless, Solomon went 43-of-72 for 395 yards and one touchdown. 

 

Pass Defense

The secondary generally did a solid job of containing the elite skill players of USC. Jarvis McCall in particular defended Juju Smith very well. The Wildcats tackled well and never allowed the receivers to beat them in space.

USC's longest pass play went for only 25 yards, and Arizona held Kessler to only 185 yards passing on the night. The interception by Jonathan McKnight was Kessler's first in 196 attempts. 

 

Rushing Offense

Arizona did not have much success running the football, but it wasn't necessarily its fault. Without Nick Wilson, Arizona had little in the way of physicality in the backfield. The reliable Terris Jones-Grigsby was knocked out of the game in the first half, which left a decimated backfield. 

Jared Baker probably played the best game of his career in relief of Jones-Grigsby. The Los Angeles native had three touchdowns—including two on the ground.

However, the unit as a whole only rushed for 77 yards on 29 carries. This equates to a paltry 2.7 yards-per-carry average. 

 

Run Defense

It was a tough night for the unit across the board. The Trojans ran to the tune of 6.3 yards per carry. Allen had a career high in rushing, and the defense gave up 239 yards on the ground for the night. 

At times, the line could not adequately get off blocks. Various pressure packages also weren't overly effective. On most instances, the bigger USC offensive line engulfed the small, undersized Arizona front. There's only so much a 247-pound nose guard can do versus the massive guards of Southern Cal. 

 

Special Teams

It was a tough night for the Arizona kicker. Even with two makes on the evening, the grade would have been an "F," had it not been for a nicely executed onside kick recovery in the final moments. Skowron missed three very manageable attempts. Converting on just one would have given Arizona the victory. 

Nothing else really needs to be said. 

 

Coaching

Defensively, Jeff Casteel seemed reluctant to bring pressure. At times (especially in the first half), Kessler had all day to sit in the pocket and make throws. Furthermore, Arizona made few adjustments against the vaunted USC rushing attack. 

Offensively, the team was handicapped without its two top running backs. As a result, it's understandable that the offensive balance was irregular. However, Rodriguez made a questionable decision on the zone-read call for the two-point conversion. 

With USC playing exclusively freshmen at corner, why not attack one of the inexperienced players with Cayleb Jones or Austin Hill? Running the third-string RB into the strength of USC's defense didn't make much sense. 

Also with the struggles of his kicker, one has to wonder whether Rich Rod should have kept his offense on the field earlier in the game as opposed to attempting some of the field goals. 

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Buck Allen Vaults USC Right Back into Pac-12 Title Hunt

Little came easily for USC in its season-preserving, 28-26 defeat of No. 10 Arizona, but running back Javorius "Buck" Allen made rushing for a career-high 205 yards look awfully simple.

Allen carried the USC offense on his back much of the night—and he did so by carrying plenty of defenders.

His record night, punctuated by three touchdowns, gave the Trojans enough of a cushion to hold off Arizona's 13-0 fourth-quarter rally.

Allen made a convincing case to jump into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Whether he does remains to be seen.

There's no such wait-and-see necessary to determine who leads the chaotic Pac-12 South, however. By knocking Arizona, the conference's last unbeaten, from its perch, USC leads in the win column.

That doesn't mean the Trojans control their own destiny just yet. Arizona State joins Arizona, Utah and USC as one-loss Pac-12 South teams, and the Sun Devils have the tiebreaker over the Trojans by virtue of their comeback win last week in the Coliseum.

Still, USC was in real danger of dropping out of the title race for all intents and purposes Saturday night. Had Wildcats kicker Casey Skowron made any one of three missed field-goal attempts, USC would have fallen to .500 and trailed the Wildcats by two full games.

And, despite Allen's best efforts, that very nearly became reality.

The final minutes served as a reminder that while USC is still in the thick of the wide-open Pac-12 chase, it's hardly a finished product.

Arizona attacked a USC down cornerbacks Kevon Seymour and Adoree' Jackson. Largely untested freshmen Jonathan Lockett and John Plattenburg acquitted themselves nicely, but their being forced into the lineup in a critical situation speaks to the tenuous nature of the Trojans roster.

USC's lack of numbers looms as a very real threat to its championship aspirations.

The Trojans' thin roster also seemed to have an impact on the defense in the fourth quarter. Much like a week ago against Arizona State, USC contained an explosive, high-tempo opponent for more than three quarters.

But just like the Sun Devils in Week 6, the Wildcats were able to open the flood gates in the fourth quarter.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian was perilously close to coming under intense scrutiny for his late-game decisions, as well.

For as much as Allen carried the Trojans, he was conspicuously absent for much of their final possession. Sarkisian instead turned to sophomore Justin Davis, who coughed up a costly fumble earlier in the second half.

Sarkisian also called a timeout on Arizona's final drive, which gave the Wildcats time to run an additional play before bringing on the field-goal unit.

But Sarkisian also called another timeout before Skowron's game-winning attempt. Sarkisian brought 6'9" offensive lineman Zach Banner onto the field, which may have contributed to Skowron's attempt going wide-right.

It was the second time a precisely timed stoppage spared USC from giving up points.

All the other contributing factors take a back seat to Allen, however. His long touchdown rushes in the first half gave USC a lead it never ceded and effectively put the season back on track.

The Trojans reflect the Pac-12 as a whole: Unpredictable. The team in this conference that can find the most stability in the coming weeks will take the inside track to the championship.

And USC has stability in Allen.

 

Statistics via ArizonaWildcats.com.  

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