NCAA Football News

Brady Hoke Running out of Excuses as Pressure Mounts at Michigan

Brady Hoke's most fireable offense Saturday had nothing to do with a scoreboard. It was totally unrelated to the 183 yards the Wolverine defense allowed to David Cobb on the ground or the pitiful 171 yards Hoke's hapless attack put up. It didn't even have anything to do with Hoke's postgame comments, in which he told reporters, via ESPN, his insipid team can still win a Big Ten championship.

No, Hoke's most fireable offense came early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Shane Morris took a hard hit from Minnesota defensive end Thieren Cockran. Anyone with working eyes could see Morris was hurt—possibly with a concussion. He remained in the game for a subsequent play before being taken out for Devin Gardner, which wouldn't be so bad if for not what came after.

Later in the drive Gardner lost his helmet on an 11-yard run. By rule, he'd have to sit out a play. Rather than putting in third-stringer Russell Bellomy, who everyone (including Bellomy himself) thought would enter the game, Hoke re-inserted the obviously shaken up Morris for a handoff to Justice Hayes.

Morris would later leave the stadium on a cart, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive. There has been no official word on Morris' condition, but Hoke, like any responsible adult, took responsibility and said he was wrong to have put a kid in that situation, right?

Nope!

"I don't know if he had a concussion or not; I don't know that," Hoke told reporters. "Shane's a pretty competitive, tough kid. And Shane wanted to be the quarterback, and so, believe me, if he didn't want to be, he would've come to the sideline or stayed down."

Never mind all of the information we have at our disposal about concussions. Never mind the fact that two years ago Michigan was being praised for being on the "cutting edge" of concussion research and treatment. Never mind that Morris sat out only three plays—barely long enough for a doctor to shine that little light in your ear canals, let alone perform a full concussion exam.

That quote is problematic on every single level. First, there is a 55-year-old football coach putting a decision in the hands of his (possibly concussed) 20-year-old quarterback. Shane Morris might have said he was good to go, but who wouldn't have? Morris is a struggling sophomore in his second start and was about to give way to a senior in his third season as a regular contributor under center. Plus there's the whole possibly concussed thing. 

Coaches and, by proxy, their schools/franchises far too often put the onus on a player to clear himself—to prove his "toughness" and "leadership"—rather than consulting with medical professionals. Or even standard human empathy. 

“That No. 7 is still in this game is appalling. It is appalling that he was left in on that play to throw the ball again as badly as he was hit by Cockran,” ESPN's Ed Cunningham said on the broadcast, per Nick Schwartz of USA Today.

I can't say for certain Hoke knew Morris was concussed. No one can. But it was obvious to anyone watching the game—whether on television or from the Coca-Cola swigging stands—that Shane Morris should not have been playing football.

The Morris situation is merely the latest black eye for Hoke, who is on the precipice of following Charlie Weis as the second Power Five coach sent packing before season's end.

Michigan's loss Saturday drops its record to 2-3, including an 0-3 mark against teams with a pulse. The Wolverines earned cheap early-season wins against Appalachian State and Miami (Ohio), the former a 1-3 FCS outfit and the latter possibly the worst FBS team in the nation. Notre Dame, Utah and Minnesota—the actual, functioning football teams—have outscored Michigan 87-24. 

And keep in mind we're being kind in complimenting those teams. Notre Dame is ranked in the Top 10, but hasn't been tested yet. Utah and Minnesota are also-rans in their respective conferences that will be happy to make a bowl game. All three have nonetheless landed gut punch after gut punch, defanging the Wolverines and turning them into LOLCats.

Michigan sits 104th in points scored, 108th in passing yards and is 127th out of 128 FBS teams in turnover margin. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier looks like a bust. His system has found uses for talented stars Derrick Green and Devin Funchess but has been totally unable to mask its deficiencies; Morris and Gardner have combined for nine interceptions against five touchdowns (all from Gardner).

It's almost unfathomable that this is the same guy who looked like a savior three seasons ago. Equipped with ready-made players from the Rich Rodriguez era—who, given what he's accomplished at Arizona, might be less at fault for his failures in Ann Arbor than previously thought—Hoke led Michigan to a 11-2 record and its first BCS bowl victory in more than a decade.

The plaudits quickly followed: Big Ten Coach of the Year. Maxwell Club Coach of the Year. You name it, Hoke won it and it all felt deserved. Even as recently as last September members of the media were excusing underperformance by giving him backhanded compliments like "at least he's not Rich Rodriguez."

Now even the most strident Rodriguez detractor would swap places with Arizona in an instant. Now Michigan is the clear little brother of Michigan State—a Freaky Friday body switch that only Lakers fans living in a Clippers town can understand. Now rather than praising Hoke he's one of college football's most embattled coaches, facing questions of whether he put an obviously injured kid into a game his team was already losing 30-7.

I'm not an advocate of writing people should lose their livelihood. That part of sports media culture has always been a bit unseemly. That level of harshness is more befitting of politics, where decision-makers hold, like, important things in their hands.

But the incredulity displayed when Hoke re-inserted Morris was justified. As is the frustration with Michigan—one of the most well-funded programs in the nation—failing to perform on the field. Combine it all and Brady Hoke is standing on the thinnest ice imaginable.

One more slip up and don't be surprised if he falls through.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Freshman Power Rankings of the Week: Top 5

By this time next week, the 2014 season will already be in October. Freshman players across college football are growing up so fast, aren't they?

Before we know it, they'll be declaring for the NFL or graduating.  

In the meantime, the B/R freshman power rankings are chugging along, highlighting some of the best performances of the week. 

The freshmen on this list didn't technically have to start—as in, they didn't have to be the first player on the field at their respective position—but they did have to play at least a complementary or rotational role with at least one recordable stat. 

So which freshmen stood out in Week 5? Which ones had the most jaw-dropping highlights? Which ones underwhelmed? The answers are in the list below.

 

The Standout

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson stood out above the rest. The Tigers have officially moved on from senior Cole Stoudt and are going with the true freshman. And what a debut it was for Watson in a 50-35 win over North Carolina in which he threw for six touchdowns, a school record, and 435 yards. 

"He makes the game look easy," said head coach Dabo Swinney, per Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier

Barring injury or an unexpected turn for the worse, Watson will be the guy for Clemson going forward. His ceiling is high, and he's already taking command of the spotlight. He's going to be a good one. 

 

Best Highlight

Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya has quietly been solid for the Hurricanes. In a 22-10 win over Duke Saturday, Kaaya delivered one of the best-looking touchdown passes of the day—on a fourth-down play, no less. 

Kaaya was pressured, but he hung in the pocket and somehow made an accurate throw to the corner of the end zone while being hit. There's a little bit of good fortune involved as well, but this was a beautiful play—even though it came as a result of a breakdown in protection.

Kaaya looks like the next star for the Hurricanes, that's for sure. 

 

Who’s Rising?

LSU quarterback Brandon Harris is on the rise. It may finally be the Harris show in Baton Rouge after an easy 63-7 rout over New Mexico State.

Yes, the Aggies aren't much competition, but sophomore Anthony Jennings again struggled with a pair of interceptions on just 2-of-5 passing. In relief, Harris went 11-of-14 for 178 yards and three touchdowns while adding another two rushing touchdowns on the ground.

LSU goes to Auburn next week, a major challenge for whoever is the starting quarterback. Head coach Les Mileswon't say if Harris will get the start, but if Saturday was any indication, Harris has a shot. 

 

Who’s Falling?

Texas A&M defensive back Armani Watts is on the decline. Watts has been fantastic in the early part of the season, leading the team with four pass breakups. In fact, there's a case to be made that he's been the most outstanding freshman so far. But he had a rough game in a come-from-behind win over Arkansas. 

Watts was burned more than a couple of times on some big plays from the Razorbacks. He was also out of position on another would-be touchdown that was called back for a penalty. 

Watts will bounce back, and A&M got the win, so no harm, no foul. But it was definitely a "welcome to college" game for the freshman. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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Coaches Poll Right with Alabama over Florida State, but Tide Shouldn't Be No. 1

Ah, college football. It's a wondrous sport where we all claim not to care about subjective rankings even though we all care immensely about subjective rankings.

Take this week, for example. 

After Florida State narrowly escaped Carter-Finley Stadium—its personal Bermuda Triangle—with a 56-41 win over N.C. State, Alabama jumped the Seminoles to take over the No. 1 spot in the Amway coaches' poll, earning 15 first-place votes and 1,477 total points.

Associated Press voters didn't share the same sentiment, as they kept Florida State in the top spot in their latest poll with Alabama holding firm in the No. 3 spot behind Oregon.

They're both wrong, because Oklahoma has proven throughout the season that it is a complete football team in every facet of the game and deserves to be ranked No. 1.

The coaches (or SIDs, if you prefer) did get it right this week by voting Alabama above Florida State.

What has Florida State done this year to earn that No. 1 designation over Alabama, Oklahoma or Oregon?

Nothing.

The claim to fame for the Seminoles this year is that they're the defending national champs and are sporting a 4-0 record. The latter is important, because losses matter. The former, however, is meaningless.

Florida State has looked sluggish in every single game they've played this year. The offensive line—which was thought to be a strength—has looked average at best and mediocre at worst for the majority of the season. The 'Noles rank next to last in the ACC in rushing offense at 123.75 yards per game. The defensive line has struggled to force teams behind the chains. They're tied last in the ACC with 22 tackles for loss and have managed just six sacks this season—the second-worst mark in the conference.

Meanwhile, Alabama has gradually looked more and more like a contender.

The cornerback issues that re-appeared in the season opener against West Virginia have disappeared thanks to the emergence of Eddie Jackson and Tony Brown. Quarterback Blake Sims progressed from a game manager to a difference-maker, lighting up Florida with 445 passing yards and four touchdowns in his most recent game—a 42-21 win over Florida.

It was clear that Alabama's coaches were unsure of what their team really was in the season opener, so they played conservative, brought the team along slowly, and it came together in the fourth game of the season. Florida State hasn't done that.

In fact, many of the questions that exist in Tallahassee now are surprises, particularly the protection issues along an offensive line that has five seniors and 112 combined starts, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Sure, Florida State has a nice win over a ranked Oklahoma State team on its resume, and wins over Clemson and N.C. State are nice; but quality wins are only one—lesser—component that should be used in ranking teams. 

On the field, Alabama has proven that it is a more complete football team right now and deserves to be ranked ahead of the Seminoles.

Oregon does, too, because while the Ducks do have offensive line issues of their own and struggled to put away Washington State two weeks ago, they do have the best win of any team in the Top Five—a 46-27 win over No. 10 Michigan State.

They all should be chasing Oklahoma, though.

The Sooners have outscored their opposition 144-66, boast a stifling front seven, tremendous running game with first Keith Ford and now Samaje Perine and a dynamic playmaker at quarterback in Trevor Knight. Sure, the Sooners' strength of schedule isn't great, but they did beat West Virginia by double digits in Morgantown, which gives them a common opponent card to play over Alabama in addition to their consistency throughout the year.

It's nice to see the coaches poll remaining fluid, though. Rankings are supposed to reflect work performed this year. This year, Alabama has proven that it deserves to be ranked higher than Florida State during the first month of the season.

Oklahoma and Oregon have, too, for that matter.

 

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

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

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Hits and Misses from Week 5

Week 5 of the 2014 college football season is in the books. 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. 

It was an action-packed weekend for featuring just one game (UCLA-Arizona State) between Top-25 teams. Florida State survived and advanced against North Carolina State, and South Carolina was upset at home by Missouri. 

And, now, voters get to rank teams while trying to simultaneously ignore transitive properties. Good luck, everyone. 

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

Begin Slideshow

AP College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 6 Rankings Released

Look at the postgame records, and Week 5 looked like a typically mundane early-season college football slate. If you watched the games on Saturday, though, you quickly realized it was anything but.

Top-ranked Florida State and every other Top 10 team was able to hold steady. It just wasn't without some scares. The Seminoles came back from a 10-point second-half deficit against North Carolina State, Texas A&M needed overtime to take down Arkansas, and a host of the nation's best teams looked much more vulnerable than they'd have liked.   

Of course, vulnerability only matters when it causes a loss. Despite the handwringing from Tallahassee to College Station and beyond, the Week 6 Associated Press poll looks much like the last iteration. Florida State leads one of the more inert Top 25s in recent memory, as all but one ranked team came away victorious against unranked opponents.

That team, of course, was South Carolina, which collapsed down the stretch in a 21-20 loss to Missouri. Russell Hansbrough scored two rushing touchdowns in the final 6:49 to erase a 13-point deficit, and the Gamecocks' potential game-winning drive stalled at their own 25, as Steve Spurrier's team fell to a disappointing 3-2.

"Our defensive players were really ready to play," Spurrier told reporters after the game. "I thought we would do a little better offensively. Obviously, Missouri is a lot better team than what they showed last week. They came to play. We had our chances, but we didn't get it done."

South Carolina came into 2014 expected by some to compete for its first SEC championship under Spurrier—if not enter the national title picture. Instead, inconsistencies on both sides of the ball have made it highly unlikely the Gamecocks can even overcome the weaker SEC East. The loss was already their second in the conference, with a third very likely coming next month when they travel to Auburn.

Dr. Saturday of Yahoo Sports weighed in on what the Gamecocks' loss meant for the SEC East:

The first team that took down Spurrier and Co., Texas A&M, was almost an upset victim itself in its second SEC game of the season. Controlling the game on the ground, Arkansas rushed for 285 yards and three touchdowns while Brandon Allen offered a steady hand under center as the Razorbacks led 28-14 going into the fourth quarter.

Two long Kenny Hill touchdowns later—86 yards to Edward Pope and 59 to Josh Reynolds, the latter coming with two minutes remaining—and Texas A&M had forced overtime. Hill needed one play in the extra period to find Malcome Kennedy for a 25-yard touchdown, and the Aggies defense held Alex Collins to no gain on a 4th-and-1 at the 16-yard line to close it out.

"In order to win a game like that, it takes a complete team. Every phase had its poor moments in the first half. Offensively, we were a beat off. Defensively, we gave up some big plays, and special teams, we gave up a fake," coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters. "Our defense stopped them not just in overtime, but on the last couple series."

For all of the individual accomplishments of the past couple of seasons, Texas A&M may have its best all-around team under Sumlin. The program is 5-0 for the first time since 2001 and will have an opportunity to make a real statement over the next three weeks. The Aggies open October traveling to Mississippi State and then host Ole Miss before a matchup with Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

An 8-0 start and Texas A&M might find itself atop every major poll.

Teams like Texas A&M have a shot at the No. 1 slot because Florida State continues to give hints that it is not the same monolith as last season. The Seminoles went down 24-7 to NC State in the first half and were losing 38-28 late in the third quarter before scoring 28 of the day's final 31 points to come away with a 56-41 win.

Florida State, which allowed 20 points or more just once during the regular season during its national championship run in 2013, has already doubled that mark. More concerning, it's allowed two teams to come within a touchdown—feats that did not happen at all until the national title game last season.

"When's the last time the offense and defense actually clicked on the same note?" Jameis Winston, who threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns in his return to the starting lineup, told reporters. "I don't know. We've got so much potential. We've got so much to look for. I'm telling you, that's the most exciting part."

The Seminoles will have to get better fast. Their next two games are essentially gimmes against Wake Forest and Syracuse, but a surging Notre Dame squad awaits on Oct. 18. The Fighting Irish have won each of their games by two touchdowns or more and are firing on all cylinders heading into next week's matchup with Stanford.

Notre Dame ranks fourth nationally in points against per game, and Everett Golson has picked up right where he left off in 2012 after missing all of 2013 with academic issues. Golson is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and has thrown 11 touchdowns against two interceptions. He completed a Notre Dame record 25 straight passes in Saturday's 31-15 win over Syracuse.

As for the rest of the Top 25, the noteworthy results were few and far between. Georgia escaped its second SEC loss against Tennessee thanks to a career-best day from Todd Gurley. Brett Hundley reminded everyone why he's considered a potential first-round draft choice in a 62-27 blowout of Arizona State on Thursday night. Stanford got a five-yard touchdown run from Kevin Hogan with less than five minutes remaining to escape Washington with a 20-13 win.

The ranked teams changed by a product of two, as South Carolina and Arizona State dropped out. The Bruins' defeat of the Sun Devils led to a tie for the greatest leap of teams in last week's Top 25, as they moved up to No. 8 from No. 11. Oklahoma State moved up three spots to No. 21 after beating Texas Tech.

Moving into the rankings are Missouri and TCU. The Horned Frogs are 3-0 following their 56-0 rout of SMU. They will get a chance to stake their claim in the conference title race against Oklahoma next week. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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College Football Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to AP and Amway Week 6 Polls

Oh, how the mighty have fallen in college football. 

After spending the first five weeks of the season at No. 1 in the Amway Poll, Florida State dropped to No. 2 behind Alabama. The Crimson Tide had the week off, but took over the top spot in the Coaches Poll thanks to a dominant start.

Jameis Winston and the Seminoles were No. 1 in the Week 6 Associated Press poll following a come-from-behind victory against NC State. FSU remains inside the top four in both polls, but the foundation has clearly cracked for the undefeated team.

Here's a look at both polls and where the top teams ranked.

*Associated Press poll can be found here. Amway poll can be found here.

 

Reaction

The Amway Poll has been under fire this season for some questionable results at times, but the drop of Florida State made serious waves.

Despite receiving 26 first-place votes—11 more than Alabama—FSU was unable to retain the top spot. Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports passed along his thoughts on the change:

The Seminoles were gutted by NC State on Saturday, allowing 24 points in the first quarter and ultimately 41 throughout the game. Winston was overshadowed at times by Jacoby Brissett, but was able to do enough late to win by a final of 56-41.

David Hale of ESPN provided some surprising statistics for Brissett against the once imposing FSU blitz:

Not much can be said for Alabama moving up, because it was simply about Florida State not meeting expectations. The Tide will get a chance to prove why they should remain the No. 1 team in the Coaches Poll on the road against Ole Miss this weekend.

Jon Solomon of CBS Sports noted the reason for the change even with the Tide on a bye:

In fact, the performance against the Wolfpack was enough to drop the Seminoles outside of the Top Four for at least one AP voter. Brett McMurphy of ESPN passed along his ballot prior to the release:

Confidence in Texas A&M stems from yet another crucial victory as the Aggies dropped Arkansas. Texas A&M faces tough tests ahead against Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama, but has looked like one of the best teams in the country thus far.

College GameDay notes just how impressive Kenny Hill has been in clutch situations:

Several SEC team might be on the rise, but another took a dramatic drop in both polls.

An erratic start has South Carolina outside of the Amway Poll following its 21-20 loss to Missouri. The Gamecocks had moved up as high as No. 13 in the AP Poll thanks to three consecutive wins, but fell to 3-2 on the season after the loss.

David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune notes Mizzou is actually ahead of South Carolina in the Amway Poll:

Arizona State also saw its stock plummet after a blowout loss to UCLA while 3-0 TCU entered the Amway Poll for the first time. Needless to say, the college football landscape continues to see shakeups with some of the best matchups of the year coming up.

The Sun Devils have fallen on hard times, but other Pac-12 programs continue to impress.

UCLA continues to build its case as one of the best in the conference, jumping into the top 10 in both polls. Matters for the team are looking even better with Brett Hundley getting healthier, as Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports points out:

An easy road lies ahead for the 'Noles against Wake Forest and Syracuse while other top teams have a tough slate. Nothing is certain in college football, even when it comes to a team with 20 straight wins.

A troubling performance for the Seminoles raised some questions about their chances at another title, but it's still early in the season. FSU remains one of the top-four programs in both polls and still looks like a College Football Playoff team.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Week 6 AP and Amway Standings Revealed

The 2014 college football regular season has lived up to the lofty expectations, and fans of the sport are now looking to the Week 6 rankings to see where their favorite (and least favorite) programs sit in the Top 25 polls.

It was a good week to be a ranked team. Besides losses from Arizona State and South Carolina, every ranked team that was in action in Week 5 was able to pull out a victory, no matter how ugly it was in some cases.

Here are the full Amway Coaches, Associated Press and Bleacher Report Top 25 polls and a breakdown of how Week 5 of the college football season shook out.

 

Breaking Down Week 5

Week 5 of the 2014 college football regular season was filled with marquee wins and close calls for some of the top programs in the nation. While top-ranked teams like Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma enjoyed a bye week, other schools were forced to scratch and claw for victories.

Few elite teams struggled the way the Florida State Seminoles did on Saturday when they beat NC State, 56-41. With quarterback Jameis Winston throwing two interceptions and the defense allowing 520 total yards of offense, FSU looked like a shell of the elite squad that entered the weekend No. 1 in the rankings. Luckily for Florida State, the program will play lackluster Wake Forest and Syracuse teams before facing off against Notre Dame on Oct. 18.

When asked about the recent struggles of his team, Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher spoke with reporters regarding what his team needs to do in order to overcome the recent adversity:

We can take a punch and stand up and compete. Now I'd rather start blocking and dodging some and playing, but there's something to that now. I'm going to tell you what: that takes time. That's a culture. That's the way you think, the way you believe in each other and there's a lot of inner trust in that locker room.

Speaking of the Fighting Irish, they were one of the top teams in the rankings that managed to dominate their opponent in Week 5. Along with Auburn, Baylor, Michigan State and Ole Miss, each of the aforementioned teams squared off against unranked programs and utterly dominated their foes.

The official Twitter of the ESPN Stats & Info department shared just how dominant Notre Dame has been through the early part of the season:

One team that didn’t dominate this week was Georgia. After a loss earlier this season to South Carolina (the Gamecocks lost Saturday to Missouri), the Bulldogs needed to mount a convincing victory against a less-talented Tennessee Volunteers roster. Unfortunately for Georgia fans, the 35-32 victory proved little about the Bulldogs as playoff contenders.

The most anticipated matchup for many fans took place on Thursday, when the UCLA Bruins squared off against the Arizona State Sun Devils. UCLA pounded Arizona State, 62-27, and showed exactly why the Bruins could be a surprise championship contender.

Texas A&M and Stanford pulled out hard-fought victories over tough competition, and other top programs like USC, Nebraska and Kansas State also managed to pull out much-needed wins.

It was a wild weekend in the sport of college football. For the fans who love the excitement of Saturdays, Week 5 lived up to expectations and has set the stage for an even more entertaining Week 6.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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College Football Playoff 2014: Updated Outlook After Release of Week 6 Rankings

There's nothing quite like a close game or two to get the adrenaline flowing on game day.

Georgia narrowly got past Tennessee in a game that should not have been decided by just three points. Florida State edged NC State in a game that also should not have been nearly as close as it was. Texas A&M and Stanford each won by a touchdown, while South Carolina could not get anything going offensively against Missouri and lost.

Of course, there were the typical big wins from ranked teams as well. Michigan State, Kansas State, Ohio State, LSU and others put at least 50 points on the board en route to wins.

Both the Amway coaches poll and AP poll have seen some movement based on this week's results. Take a look at them below and continue reading to see how it impacts the future of the 2014 season.

 

Outlook

Florida State's ability to overcome a 24-7 first-quarter deficit against NC State showed the Seminoles' resilience. The Seminoles haven't had to overcome many on-field situations over the past season-plus, but watching them come back against the Wolfpack was a good sign.

Sure, they probably never should have been in such a big hole to begin with. That said, the team clawed all the way back and took the game by 15 points.

Jameis Winston threw two picks, but he had a nice rhythm going with Rashad Greene and Jesus Wilson. The two receivers combined for 17 catches, 234 yards and three touchdowns.

On the ground, Karlos Williams posted 126 yards and three touchdowns. Because he was able to constantly keep his feet moving forward, Williams effectively led most of the drives for Florida State.

The Seminoles' early struggles against the Wolfpack are a bit concerning, but the only thing that matters in the end is that they posted another victory. This team is clearly the class of college football right now.

LSU was dominant in its 63-7 drubbing of New Mexico State. Avenging their Week 4 loss to Mississippi State, the Tigers had everything working Saturday.

Brandon Harris looked crisp passing the ball, even if he aired it out only 14 times. That said, three of his 11 completions were touchdowns.

Leonard Fournette looked strong on the ground, gaining 122 yards on 18 carries and finding the end zone twice. Terrence Magee tallied 62 yards and also scored a touchdown on his eight carries.

Despite the big win, LSU didn't win the turnover battle. Both teams coughed the ball up four times, and while that might be expected of New Mexico State against a powerhouse like LSU, there's no excuse for the Tigers to be turning the ball over that much. That's a major concern moving forward, as it could ultimately inhibit them from rising higher up the rankings.

It'll be a long day for the Tigers on Oct. 4 if they don't fix their turnover problem, as Auburn will surely take advantage of poor passes and loose grips on the football. It's no secret as to what the Tigers should focus on in practice this week.

Texas A&M was down 14 points against Arkansas entering the fourth quarter, meaning Kenny Hill needed a bit of magic to help push his team to 5-0.

The Aggies defense held the Razorbacks to nothing in the fourth, allowing the offense to score the two touchdowns necessary to tie the game and send it to overtime. In overtime, Hill tossed a 25-yard pass to Malcome Kennedy for the game-winning score.

Despite completing only 21 of 41 passes, Hill looked strong overall. He tossed four touchdowns (one interception) and racked up 386 yards. He also tallied 30 yards rushing.

Mississippi State is next up on the schedule, and that will be a make-or-break game for A&M. Following Mississippi State, the schedule gets no easier. The Aggies will be tested by Ole Miss and Alabama in the following weeks, then by Auburn in Week 10 and LSU in Week 12. This trying portion of the schedule will determine if the Aggies are for real.

Their offensive output (51.2 points per game, second in the nation) would indicate that they have the weapons, but we'll have to see if they can keep up that pace against the best defenses in the country.

This team is arguably better than last year's group of Aggies, but we'll have to see if the schedule dictates its fate.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR

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What Michigan Can Learn from Kansas' Firing of Charlie Weis

The coaching silly season is no longer reserved for November and December. It's become a months-long ordeal, and the first head coach to receive a pink slip (SMU coach June Jones resigned earlier this month) in 2014 was Kansas' Charlie Weis.

Another coach who could be on the way out sooner or later is Michigan's Brady Hoke after a disastrous 30-14 home loss to Minnesota. Since Hoke took over the program in 2011, the Wolverines have steadily declined. Hoke won the Sugar Bowl with Michigan in his first year, but he is off to a 2-3 start this season. 

There are a plethora of issues at Michigan, not all of which revolve solely around Hoke. Attendance is a problem and fans aren't happy at all with athletic director Dave Brandon and how he runs things. 

The easy out would be to fire Hoke (and Brandon?) right away, just like Kansas did with head coach Charlie Weis on Sunday, according to kuathletics.com, following a 23-0 loss to Texas.  

The consequences of midseason firings, while often unintended, can still have an impact. 

Firing coaches midseason is usually a Hail Mary attempt to save face at the expense of the players who pour their heart and soul into every game. To fire a coach before the leaves turn is an admission that what's happening isn't working and will never work. As a football team, you're taught from the get-go that giving up isn't an option. 

As B/R colleague Michael Felder, a former player himself, wrote in 2012, it usually doesn't aid the hiring process either:

Wait. Do your kids, your exiting coach and ultimately yourself a favor and just wait to pull that trigger.

Instead of getting into the whole 'how do you handle this?' deal, let's talk about the actual hiring process. The advantage gained by having everyone know your gig... is negligible. This idea that you can start earlier in the hiring process and get a jump on other jobs is just more fluff than fact.

If a program, be it Kansas or Michigan, is looking for an active coach to be the next guy, it's going to have to wait until the season is over. 

That, or as Russ Mitchell of College Football News tweets, it may have to go with a recycled coach. Either way, the timing is in no way advantageous. 

Long term, Kansas made the right move to move on from Weis. He simply wasn't getting it done or showing improvement. However, this is a classic catch-22 situation and something Michigan would face if it did the same thing. 

Keeping Weis for another year would likely only set the program back further. Yet, Kansas will be looking for its third coach in five years in the post-Mark Mangino era. Lawrence hasn't been an easy place to win, so what exactly would Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger pitch to potential coaching candidates? 

From a coach's perspective, you're looking at a program that hasn't had success and will fire someone in three years or less. That's not an attractive job to any coach with other options.  

A similar logic applies to Michigan, even though this is a discussion of two jobs on different levels. The Wolverines, should Hoke be fired, will be conducting a third coaching search in seven years. And firing Hoke midseason accomplishes little more than satisfying the masses, many of whom would agree that the season has been lost anyway. 

Michigan could target alum and San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, as Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports writes, but there's baggage between the two. There's no guarantee it would work out, so what then? Who's the Plan B? Plan C? Plan D? Plan E? The list can keep going. 

There's also a case to be made, believe it or not, that Michigan hasn't hit its stride yet. Seventy-eight players on the Wolverines' roster are either freshman or sophomores. This is a young team. That doesn't excuse the offensive line issues, which started three years ago in recruiting and is now rearing its ugly head, but it provides context. 

"I think this team can still win the [Big Ten] championship," Hoke told reporters after Saturday's loss (h/t Wetzel). "I really do."

Scoff if you must, but what else is Hoke supposed to say? He can never lose confidence in his team, even if everyone else has lost it for him 1,000 times over. 

The only person who knows if Hoke will survive the season is Brandon, and he's not immune to external pressure. It's part of the business, and that could result in Hoke's job tomorrow or in three months. But if Michigan does decide to pull the trigger, it better have its act together. 

Firing a coach is easy; having the replacements lined up is not. That holds true whether you're a Big 12 bottom feeder or a Big Ten blue blood.  

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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LSU vs. Auburn a Lot More Intriguing with Emergence of Brandon Harris

Prior to Week 5, LSU's game at Auburn looked like it would be more of a pushover for the Tigers from Auburn than an intriguing matchup.

After all, Auburn—which ranks third in the conference in rush defense (90.75 YPG)—can follow the same blueprint Mississippi State used to stomp LSU in Death Valley—a punishing run defense and back end that can take advantage of miscues.

LSU head coach Les Miles threw a curveball on Saturday night against New Mexico State, when he brought in true freshman quarterback Brandon Harris in for Anthony Jennings and left him in until it was time for mop-up duty.

All Harris did was complete 11 of 14 passes for 178 yards, three touchdowns and no picks, rush for 36 yards and score two rushing touchdowns. Harris brings what Jennings can't: consistency in the passing game and more of a home run threat on the ground.

“It seemed like everything was clicking when I was in the game," Harris said in quotes released by LSU. "I told [punter] Jamie [Keehn] that we weren’t going to make him punt that often in the game tonight. It was an amazing feeling.”

Meanwhile, Jennings went 2-for-5 for 11 yards, two interceptions and one fumble in the first quarter.

"Anthony Jennings is going to have to get better, and we are going to insist on it," Miles said in quotes released by LSU. "I hope he has not lost his confidence. Some of the things that he did and certainly the fumble is certainly one of those things that you cannot do."

Despite Harris' stellar performance and Jennings' struggles, Miles was noncommittal on naming a quarterback after the 63-7 win over the Aggies.

“We are not going to operate that way," he said. "We have always done things in a measured fashion. We will go back, look at the film, communicate with our team and not do so through the paper. We are going to do the things that we do to reconcile games. That’s not necessarily the splash you want but that is how we do things.”

Let's be real, though. This is technically a "battle" at this point only because Miles and his staff haven't gone through the process of sitting each down and letting them know the deal. Once that happens, the battle will be a thing of that past, and Harris will have the keys to the kingdom.

Sometimes stats lie, but in this case they don't. Harris is the quarterback of the future and the present.

The Tigers have responded well with Harris in the game in each of their last two outings, he's shown that he's a reliable and consistent passer and makes quick decisions when the heat is on. He's developed a chemistry with several receivers, including sophomore Travin Dural and true freshman Malachi Dupre—who now has nine catches for 197 yards and four touchdowns.

Basically, he's exactly what LSU needs on the road at Auburn.

Is it a risk starting a true freshman on the road in a hostile environment in what amounts to a must-win game? Absolutely. Starting Jennings, though, is a riskier proposition.

Don't sleep on LSU's chances on the Plains.

We've seen fire (1996), hurricanes (2004) and earthquakes (1988) in this rivalry over the last few decades.

A true freshman winning on the road wouldn't be the most shocking development in the world.

That, of course, depends on Miles remembering Harris is on the roster.

 

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

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

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Amway College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 6 Rankings Released

In many ways, this week of college football was the calm before next week's storm, when a slew of ranked teams will face off and change the landscape of the pursuit for the playoff. This week, however, the top teams generally survived, albeit with a few scares.   

Below, we'll take a look at the latest Amway Coaches Poll, recap some of the big results from the week that was and take a look ahead to next week's epic slate of games. Things are starting to heat up, folks.

 

Standings

 

Analysis

With very few upsets in the Top 25 outside of South Carolina losing to Missouri, there wasn't too much notable change in this week's Coaches Poll. There are, however, plenty of questions for a few teams in those rankings.

For the second week in a row, Florida State received all it could handle, this time rallying from a 24-7 first-quarter deficit to NC State, winning 56-41. One way to look at the result is to wonder how much longer the Seminoles can live on the edge. The other opinion is that the team can overcome adversity and continues to battle. 

Head coach Jimbo Fisher chose the latter viewpoint, as he told reporters after the game:

We can take a punch and stand up and compete. Now I'd rather start blocking and dodging some and playing, but there's something to that now. I'm going to tell you what: that takes time. That's a culture. That's the way you think, the way you believe in each other and there's a lot of inner trust in that locker room.

Texas A&M was also really tested, needing overtime to survive Arkansas, 35-28. But once again, it was Kenny Hill who had Aggies fans asking, "Johnny Football who?"

Just consider the following, from Fox Sports Live on Twitter:

Things are about to really heat up for the Aggies, however, as they face Mississippi State next, followed by Ole Miss and Alabama. Auburn, Missouri and LSU also remain on tap. Suffice to say, the SEC slate down the stretch is loaded with exciting matchups between top teams. Once again, the conference appears to be the most competitive in college football. 

One of those SEC teams was really challenged this past week, as Georgia was taken to the limit by Tennessee before winning 35-32. Once again it was Todd Gurley that led the Bulldogs to the win, rushing 28 times for 208 yards and two scores. He's going to look very good in an NFL uniform next season. 

And he might just look very good striking the Heisman pose this season.

Stanford's Kevin Hogan won't be striking up that pose anytime soon, but he was the hero for Stanford on Saturday as his late touchdown run carried the Cardinal to a 20-13 win and possibly saved their season. Another loss would have erased any hopes—however slim they may already be—that the club could qualify for this season's playoff.

While they have quite the battle in front of them to reach that goal, it's still a possibility after Saturday. It nearly was taken off the table against Washington. 

And so we head into this week with many of the top teams intact atop the rankings and some truly intriguing matchups to come. Alabama vs. Ole Miss, LSU vs. Auburn and Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State will sort more than a few things out in the SEC and in the playoff picture, while Stanford vs. Notre Dame is a huge matchup for both teams.

In the Big Ten, Nebraska and Michigan State will battle it out in a clash of the two teams in the conference that aren't underwhelming thus far this season, while in the Pac-12 Arizona State and USC face off in a big contest.

It's going to be a brilliant week of action, folks, and these rankings will look at lot different next week. Sit back and enjoy the show.

 

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Notre Dame Football: Potential Cures for Everett Golson's Inconsistencies

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Only one quarterback took snaps for Notre Dame football in its 31-15 win over Syracuse on Saturday night, but it sure felt like two different players under center throughout the night.

Everett Golson was equal parts head-turning and head-scratching, sometimes looking like the rising Heisman candidate and other times appearing to be a slightly off turnover magnet. Golson’s night was Exhibit A in “How to Frame Statistics to Fit Your Argument.”

“It was pretty weird for me,” Golson said afterward. “What I take from it is I’ve just got to get better.”

The signal-caller completed a career-high 32 of 39 passes for a career-high 362 yards. He fired four touchdowns. He completed 25 consecutive passes—one shy of tying the FBS record.

“Oh my gosh, he played phenomenal tonight,” said defensive captain Sheldon Day, one of Golson’s best friends.

To an extent, yes. But Golson also committed four turnovers. He fumbled on Notre Dame’s first and second drives (losing the first, not the second) and threw an interception on the fourth, missing an open Ben Koyack down the center of the field.

He then orchestrated a 95-yard touchdown drive, conducting the proper ensemble of short screens, curls and out routes, deftly placing the ball on his receivers’ mitts in stride.

When Notre Dame got it back the next time, he wasted no time in catapulting a 72-yard beauty to Will Fuller for a one-play touchdown drive.

Next time out? More of the same. Golson drove Notre Dame into enemy territory during the two-minute drill, handling the situation with the moxie of an NFL quarterback in an NFL stadium. Then, all of a sudden, Golson did his best Eli Manning impression and botched an attempted spike, resulting in a lost fumble that could have been worse.

“When I think of this game I think of my play as being sloppy,” Golson said. “I know I just really have to clean that up.”

The mixed bag continued in the second half, with Golson delivering a tailor-made pick-six to the Syracuse defense.

“It was kind of me reverting back a little bit kind of like my younger days,” Golson said. “I expect more out of myself than that.”

As the dust settles from Week 5 in college football, it’s still obvious Golson has all the makings of an elite quarterback, the key cog for a top-10 team. There’s no need to panic after his up-and-down night, but Notre Dame will need a more consistent, stable and discerning Golson as the season wears on.

Notre Dame won’t beat Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State or USC with five turnovers. The Irish know that. Maybe most importantly, Golson knows that.

“I just gotta be better,” Golson repeated afterward.

And that just may be the key takeaway from Golson’s on-field duality Saturday. He wasn’t satisfied. Not with new career highs. Not with a nearly perfect completions record.

Golson doesn’t need to tinker with much. A bit more care with the ball in his hands in and outside of the pocket will help limit turnovers.

Brian Kelly, for his part, wasn’t satisfied either. But there was a telling calmness to Kelly’s postgame comments, as if he already knows Golson will bounce back and put the mistakes behind him, using the miscues as an optimal teaching moment.

“I’m a much better teacher after a win, and certainly tonight, our quarterback learned a lot from really having a great performance, too,” Kelly said. “He did a lot of really, really good things. He threw the ball on target down the field, and his perimeter throws were outstanding, so he did a lot of good things but learned so much from it.

“That’s a great teaching tool.”

 

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 Playoff 2014: Latest Predictions After Week 5 Standings

After Week 5's action, nothing major should change at the top of the polls, nor should the top four teams on track to reach the first ever College Football Playoff have changed.

The No. 2 Oregon Ducks, No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide and No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners were all idle. That left only the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles in action.

The Noles nearly lost to the unranked NC State Wolfpack, but a second-half rally saved the defending national champions from disaster. In the end, the 'Noles remained undefeated after a 56-41 win.

If the season ended today, these are the four teams that would likely be playing for the national championship:

  1. Florida State
  2. Oregon Ducks 
  3. Alabama Crimson Tide
  4. Oklahoma Sooners

That's the way the playoff brackets would look if things were decided today, but there's still a long way to go. Based on what we've seen thus far, there's reason to believe there could be a shift down the road.

Even with the shift, the teams should remain the same.

 

Predictions for the Top Four Spots

1. Oregon Ducks

Expect the Ducks to take over the top spot simply because they have a tougher schedule than the Noles. Finishing with an unblemished record—as I predict they will—would be more impressive.

Oregon still has games at UCLA and at home against Stanford. Those contests ensure Oregon's route to perfection will be more difficult.

Normally, the Ducks are a program that gets to the cusp of an undefeated season and has the wheels come off late. This year, things will be different and a lot of that is because of the leadership of Marcus Mariota.

We've seen him rally the troops twice this year already. He brought his team back against the Michigan State Spartans and the Washington State Cougars in Week 4. 

His leadership will keep Oregon undefeated heading into the Pac-12 title game.

 

2. Florida State Seminoles

As shaky as the Seminoles have looked this season, they only have one game remaining against a team that is currently ranked.

Notre Dame will come to Tallahassee on Oct. 18. Aside from that, Florida State has five of its eight games left on the schedule at home before the ACC title game.

The team isn't as sharp as it was last season, but it's still good enough to push through this schedule unscathed.

 

3. Oklahoma Sooners

The Sooners' schedule is rather friendly the rest of the way. Sure, they have to tangle with Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, but all three of those games are at home.

If there are top-four teams set up to run the table, it's the Sooners and the Seminoles.

 

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

There's almost no way you can imagine Alabama emerging without at least one loss at the end of the regular season. Then it figures to have its hands full in the SEC title game.

With road games at Ole Miss and LSU, there's obvious reason for concern. There are also home games against Texas A&M and Auburn in the Iron Bowl in the regular-season finale. 

You have to think Bama drops one of those games. Still, based on strength of schedule, the Tide will likely be the strongest one-loss team in the nation.

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Charlie Weis Relieved as Kansas Coach: Details, Replacement, Reaction and More

Charlie Weis' second run as a college head coach is over after less than three seasons. Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger announced Weis' dismissal Sunday, one day after the Jayhawks' embarrassing 23-0 loss to Texas in Lawrence. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen will take over for Weis on an interim basis. 

"I normally do not favor changing coaches mid-season," Zenger said in a statement. "But I believe we have talented coaches and players in this program, and I think this decision gives our players the best chance to begin making progress right away."

Weis, who previously coached at Notre Dame from 2005-09, was hired before the 2012 season with designs on turning around the struggling program. His plan never got off the ground, as the Jayhawks went a disappointing 6-22 in his tenure, including a 1-18 record in the Big 12.

Though a 2-2 start puts Kansas on pace for its best record under Weis, Saturday's loss to a struggling Texas team made it clear the program isn't progressing fast enough. Montell Cozart threw four interceptions, Kansas committed seven penalties and the Jayhawks allowed three touchdowns to Tyrone Swoope in the home defeat.

"Our Achilles' heel on offense is still making productive plays in the passing game, and that's at the end of the day what ended up costing us," Weis told reporters after the game.

Weis, who cut his teeth as an offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, was never able to build a successful offense at Kansas. The Jayhawks rank No. 124 nationally in scoring offense, which would be their third straight season ranking outside the top 100. Zenger indicated the lack of progress played a big part in the school's decision.

"I appreciate what Coach Weis did with several facets of our football program," Zenger said. "But we have not made the on-the-field progress we believe we should. I believe new leadership gives our coaches and players the best chance to make a fresh start."

Weis, who went 35-27 in five seasons at Notre Dame, is 41-49 overall as a head coach. It'll be interesting to see whether he returns to the NFL game as a coordinator or finds another, smaller school who still buys into his resume.

As for Kansas, it's time to start over. Again.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 6 Standings for College's Top 25 Teams

Week 5 of the college football season may have been missing some of the season's biggest players, but it wasn't short on intrigue. 

The slate was punctuated by two titans being put on upset alert, as No. 1 Florida State and No. 6 Texas A&M both had to prove their mettle by rallying against unranked opponents. Ultimately, both were able to walk away with their records unscathed, but it served as our weekly reminder that anything can happen in college football. 

Here's a look at the results for the entire Top 25 Saturday as well as possible risers and fallers before the new polls are released.

 

Risers

UCLA Bruins

No one can lay claim to making a bigger statement than the UCLA Bruins did on Thursday night. The Bruins were the only ranked team to take on another team in the Top 25 and dominated the game over the last three quarters en route to a 62-27 win. 

As ESPN Stats & Info noted, the win boosted the Bruins chances of winning the Pac-12 South and possibly capturing a conference championship:

But perhaps the best news of all for the Bruins was the play of Brett Hundley. 

After an elbow injury limited the star junior to just four pass attempts against Texas, he was back to his usual game-changing self against the Sun Devils. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports even noted that he looked like a No. 1 pick:

Avoiding a trap game upset against Utah will be the next challenge on the docket before the Bruins get the No. 2 Oregon Ducks at home. 

 

Fallers

South Carolina

Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks entered Week 5 as one of the few one-loss teams who could conceivably make it to the College Football Playoff. As we know in college football, it's often not if you lose it's when you lose. A Week 1 loss to Texas A&M could be forgiven if the Gamecocks ran the table. 

Now, the dream is all but dead. 

Just one week after the Missouri Tigers were defeated by Big Ten ne'er-do-well Indiana, the Gamecocks turned around and lost to those same Tigers. 

The Gamecocks defense played one of its best games of the season to date. The 21 points it surrendered is the least it's given up all year. However, the offense was equally as ugly as Mizzou's for much of the game. Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report summed up the Big Ten-esque game rather nicely:

Offensive issues aside, one thing is for certain—the Gamecocks should be free-falling down the polls after this loss at home. 

 

Florida State?

No, Florida State's inclusion on this list doesn't mean they should be moved from the No. 1 spot just yet. It's just that, as suggested by Stewart Mandel, they don't quite look like the best team in the nation right now:

The Seminoles got off to the worst start imaginable Saturday. Going into Raleigh to take on a scrappy NC State team, they allowed the home team to take a 24-7 lead in the first quarter before slowly crawling back into it and taking control early in the fourth quarter. 

Now, there's a chance this game quickly becomes a memory. After all, Jameis Winston and Co. ended up winning by a score of 56-41. However, the 2013 Seminoles had an aura of invincibility regardless of opponent and location. 

Coming off of an overtime nail-biter against Clemson, this team just doesn't have the same command to win games week in and week out. 

The good news for the 'Noles is that right now, there doesn't seem to be a team that can beat them quite yet. As evidenced by Oregon's narrow victory over Washington State last week, no team has truly laid claim to being invincible this season. 

In essence, Week 6 just reiterated something we already knew: The first four teams to play in the College Football Playoff are far from decided. 

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Fun and Games Are Over, SEC West Will Finally Be Sorted out in Week 6

Week 5 served as the opening act, as the SEC East took its turn on the stage and began to sort itself out. In Week 6, it's the SEC West's turn.

In music terms, that's like Milli Vanilli opening for The Beatles.

Mississippi State will host Texas A&M, Ole Miss will welcome Alabama and LSU will travel to the Plains next week to take on Auburn in what will be a 12-hour marathon of football that will define the landscape of the toughest division in college football.

Unlike the East, there isn't much margin for error in the West. One conference loss could eliminate teams from the chase for Atlanta depending on how the rest of the season shakes out and who that loss is to.

What can you expect in a crazy Week 6?

 

Texas A&M at Mississippi State

The Bulldogs sat back and watched the Aggies get a win in a Texas-sized overtime shootout with Arkansas in Jerry World on Saturday afternoon.

What they saw should make them smile.

Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill was great yet again, but he didn't get a ton of help from his running backs. Tra Carson led all Texas A&M rushers with just 55 yards on the ground, and the Aggies totaled 137 rushing yards against a Hogs defense that's eighth in the SEC in rush defense (139.4 YPG).

Mississippi State's just a little bit better—and by "a little bit," I mean a lot.

Head coach Dan Mullen's crew is giving up just 82.5 yards per game on the ground and an SEC-best 2.39 yards per carry. Mullen will force Hill to be the guy in this one, and while he's capable—after all, he's a Heisman candidate for a reason—that's still a tough proposition on the road in the biggest game of his career.

Yes, that's a subtle shot at South Carolina's pass defense, which pales in comparison to Taveze Calhoun, Jamerson Love and the crew in Starkville—where top-tier cornerbacks like former Bulldogs Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay have become staples.

"Jamerson is a real speed player for us," Mullen said. "Where Johnthan [Banks] and [Darius] Slay also had some size. I think he's up there with those guys as that type of player. He's still improving, and there are some things he can get better at, but he certainly has the talent to play at the next level."

Texas A&M's defense looked great early, but the tandem of running back Josh Robinson and quarterback Dak Prescott will put those fundamentals to the test. That nearly cost the Aggies against Arkansas on Saturday, and there's more to come this week in the form of the Bulldogs' multidimensional attack.

 

Alabama at Ole Miss

ESPN's College GameDay will be in Oxford for the Alabama at Ole Miss game for the first time ever. 

The question to Ole Miss now becomes, "Is this really a good idea?"

Sure, it's great for recruiting and exposure, but it's not like Ole Miss has looked like a team that has earned that Top 15 designation.

Sure, the defense is great, but quarterback Bo Wallace has been a turnover machine. It got worse Saturday, when Wallace tossed two picks and fumbled once in a 24-3 win over Memphis that was much closer than the score appeared.

If "Dr. Bo" can cut down on the mistakes and not help Alabama out, this might be a fun game. After all, the Rebels—who rank first in the SEC in total defense (248.0 YPG)—are, by far, the best defense Alabama will face this year. 

This isn't a game, however, that Ole Miss can skate by with its C-game offensively and expect to win. 

The Crimson Tide have had two weeks to sit on their breakout offensive performance against Florida and scheme against that Rebels defense. Judging from what we've seen from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, that's scary.

Kiffin has brilliantly brought along quarterback Blake Sims, got him into a rhythm early in each game and proved that he is the expert play-caller head coach Nick Saban expected him to be when Kiffin was hired during the offseason.

Alabama's offense versus Ole Miss' defense will be the dominant storyline, but this game will be decided when Ole Miss has the ball. If Wallace doesn't fix his turnover issues—he has six picks through four games—it'll be a long afternoon for the Rebels at home.

 

LSU at Auburn

It took LSU head coach Les Miles a while, but logic finally won the day.

Quarterback Brandon Harris entered the game in the second quarter against New Mexico State and provided the spark LSU's offense needed. The true freshman from Bossier City, Louisiana, finished the day 11-of-14 passing for 178 yards, three touchdowns, no picks, 36 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. 

Assuming Harris becomes the unquestioned starter—which should be obvious to everybody including Miles at this point—this is a whole new ballgame on the Plains.

Head coach Gus Malzahn's crew boasts the SEC's third-best rush defense (90.75 YPG) and will force the quarterback to beat them through the air. Anthony Jennings didn't do a whole lot through five games to suggest that he's capable of doing that.

Harris has.

Meanwhile, Auburn's offense has been sort of disjointed over the last two games, struggling to get going in the first halves of games at Kansas State and at home versus Louisiana Tech. That trend can't continue against LSU with Harris at the helm. 

If you're looking for great SEC atmospheres, this game will be one you can't miss. Auburn rarely gets to host LSU at night, which should make things difficult for Harris and those young LSU playmakers on offense.

"Anybody we play, having them here on a Saturday night is a big advantage for us," said Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs. "Our students, they're the best in the nation regardless of when we play, but that night atmosphere will make it a fun, exciting time for football on Saturday night."

Six teams. Three winners. One division. Twelve hours of can't-miss college football.

Get your popcorn ready.

 

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

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

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Turning the Page to College Football's Most Exciting Weekend Thus Far

A college football season that has been starved for meaningful showdowns will hunger no more this week. The good stuff finally is about to be served, including the marquee clash between No. 3 Alabama and No. 10 Mississippi.

So far, we’ve seen No. 1 Florida State on the ropes against Clemson and North Carolina State, No. 2 Oregon in danger of losing to Washington State and a host of other top teams flirt with early-season disasters.

But seismic outcomes that shatter the playoff picture have been lacking.

That serene start to the 2014 season is done. Eight games this week will pit ranked teams against each other, and two others will match top-10 teams with an undefeated opponent.

The meat and potatoes will be dished up, at last, instead of more cupcakes.

So who’s on center stage?

Arizona at Oregon

Oregon gets the drama started on Thursday night against unranked but also unbeaten Arizona. The Ducks might wear pink cleats for this game, but it’s the red zone that will be on their minds as they seek to avenge a 42-16 loss to Arizona last year that saw them utterly fail to convert their 506 total yards into points.

 

All of Mississippi will be manic

Saturday conceivably could be the biggest day the state of Mississippi has ever had in college football.

Ole Miss hasn’t won the Southeastern Conference title since 1963 and Mississippi State claimed its lone championship all the way back in 1941. But both schools will be playing at home as they seek to prove they are genuine contenders this year.

Ole Miss, 4-0 for the first time since 1970, understandably might have had Alabama on its mind during an ugly 24-3 victory against Memphis on Saturday. But the Rebels defense allowed only 104 total yards and will be stoked to beat the Crimson Tide for the first time since 2003.

No. 14 Mississippi State is coming off its first win at LSU since 1991 and no doubt is anxious to prove its first road victory against a top-10 opponent since 1986 was no fluke. The Bulldogs will get that chance against No. 6 Texas A&M, which looks vulnerable after needing overtime to survive Arkansas.

Dak Prescott has as eye-catching a two-dimensional game as any quarterback in the nation. Beating A&M would give Mississippi State its greatest credibility since the Jackie Sherrill era and strengthen the case that the Bulldogs have the tools to come out of nowhere and contend for the national title the way Auburn did in 2010.

 

Stanford at Notre Dame

Is Everett Golson worthy of his growing hype as a Heisman Trophy candidate? The Notre Dame quarterback’s 25 consecutive completions against Syracuse say yes. His four turnovers in that game, including a humbling one that came while attempting to spike the ball, say no.

Now the stout Stanford defense that has yet to yield more than 13 points in a game gets a chance to cast a vote while traveling to South Bend.

This game also should shed plenty of sunshine on whether Golson can outduel Jameis Winston when the Fighting Irish visit Florida State on Oct. 18.

Notre Dame is 4-0 but has yet to face a top-quality opponent while playing a schedule that’s heavily back-loaded.

A victory against Stanford would illuminate the FSU matchup as a key factor in deciding who goes to the College Football Playoff. A loss would shift the importance of this game to Stanford’s Nov. 1 date with Oregon.

LSU at Auburn

The case can be made that Auburn is getting the least respect among teams ranked in the top five.

The Tigers weren’t given much credit for a road win against ranked Kansas State (including from me). And with hindsight the Auburn defense seems a lot more impressive. It held Arkansas to 153 rushing yards, back before the Razorbacks went on to run for 438 against Texas Tech and 285 on Saturday against Texas A&M.

So the defending SEC champions and near-national titlists of 2013 may be in the mood to make a statement against an LSU team that’s still sorting out quarterback issues.

Nebraska at Michigan State

A bruised knee and a lopsided score meant unbeaten Nebraska pulled Ameer Abdullah in the third quarter Saturday. So that meant Abdullah ran for, ahem, only 208 yards against Illinois. But the Heisman candidate should be ready to prove himself at Michigan State in a game that will help determine who’s the Big Ten’s best hope for the College Football Playoff.

In its three victories, No. 9 Michigan State has outscored opponents 174-35. But if the Spartans are going to become a serious part of the playoff conversation they need a signature win that will make voters forget they let a lead slip away against Oregon. Nebraska presents that opportunity.

Best of the Rest

No. 4 Oklahoma shouldn’t have much trouble handling TCU, especially with the Sooners coming off a bye week. But the Horned Frogs are unbeaten after humiliating Southern Methodist by the count of 56-0, and they’ll be playing at their house.

The Southern California-Arizona State confrontation looked interesting until ASU eliminated much of the intrigue while getting hammered 62-27 by UCLA.

Speaking of UCLA, if the Bruins can register another wipeout against 3-1 Utah on Saturday their Oct. 11 home date with Oregon will take on even greater playoff implications.

 

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

 

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USC Football: Consistency Key for Trojans to Compete for Pac-12 Title

LOS ANGELESNo. 18 USC showed flashes of Pac-12 championship caliber play in its 35-10 defeat of Oregon State Saturday in the Coliseum. The Trojans were also prone to stretches of sloppiness that must be remedied if they are to compete for the conference title.

“We’ll enjoy this, but it isn’t the end-all, be-all,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said in his postgame press conference. “We’re better than we played tonight, so we’ll get back to work and continue to strive for more.”

The highs were indeed high, and they were evident both on offense and defense. Wide receiver Darreus Rogers grabbed a 48-yard Hail Mary from quarterback Cody Kessler just before halftime, which is sure to be the highlight reel moment of Kessler’s individual effort.

He completed 24-of-32 pass attempts for 261 yards and threw two touchdowns. His pocket presence continues to progress, which was demonstrated Saturday when he evaded would-be tacklers.

Kessler said he placed an emphasis on that facet of his game after taking five sacks against Boston College.

Kessler also effectively spread the ball among his receivers, hooking up with nine different teammates. Saturday’s effort was Kessler’s best distribution since Week 1 against Fresno State.

A promising sign for the USC offense going deeper into Pac-12 play is the integration of the tight ends as pass-catchers. Bryce Dixon and Randall Telfer each caught two passes.

Sarkisian said he "loved" to see Kessler spread the ball among the roster, adding it was one point of emphasis for the offense. Another was establishing the run.

Javorius “Buck” Allen did just that. He scored a rushing touchdown for the first time since Week 1 and notched his third 100-plus-yard game of the season with 115.

Allen slammed the door on the Beavers with a 17-yard run to paydirt early in the fourth quarter.

Behind the play of its leaders Kessler and Allen, the USC offense showed flashes of an explosiveness the Trojans will need to contend in the Pac-12.

The Trojans defense also played at a championship level, putting together its best all-around performance of the 2014 season. The Trojans held the Beavers without an offensive touchdown and routinely had quarterback Sean Mannion under duress.

Sophomore Su’a Cravens in particular was stellar. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s use of Cravens both at safety and SAM linebacker paid dividends: Cravens returned an interception of Mannion 31 yards for a touchdown, made a sack and a tackle for loss.

USC got another interception when freshman cornerback Adoree’ Jackson made an athletic play to break-up a Mannion shot at the end zone. Safety Leon McQuay III had the presence of mind to get to the deflected ball before it fell out of bounds.

After giving up 37 points and 506 yards to Boston College, via USCTrojans.com, the defense answered the bell by holding Oregon State to 181 yards.

“That’s been our main focus this past two weeks, with the bad taste in our mouths,” defensive lineman Leonard Williams said. “Stop the run on first and second down, and getting to the quarterback.”

Wilcox said last week that a problem in the Boston College loss was losing sight of ball-carriers, but against Oregon State, Sarkisian claimed defenders' vision on fly sweeps was one key to slowing the Beavers.

But if the positives from Saturday’s win are potential building blocks to a championship, the negatives are possible stumbling points for Sarkisian and Co. to be wary of.

USC was penalized 14 times for 124 yards, including two unsportsmanlike conduct flags on linebacker and captain Hayes Pullard for facemasking.

Pullard summarized the penalties rather plainly: "That can cost us in a big game."

Sustaining drives also proved problematic for the USC offense, which did not put together a scoring drive until midway through the second quarter when running back Justin Davis scored on a 16-yard wheel route reception from Kessler.

Davis' score was pretty, but the sequences before it were not.

The Trojans also went scoreless in the third quarter. The stingy play of the defense kept Oregon State at arm's length until the flood gates opened in the final period, but that may not be a luxury USC has against some of the more potent Pac-12 offenses.

One such offense, Arizona State, comes to the Coliseum next week.

USC will enjoy its win and 2-0 conference start for now, but attention turns to preparation for the Sun Devils quickly.

"It's basically a 24-hour deal," Pullard said, alluding to the potential of complacency and letdown. "You still remember that bad taste [from a loss] you never want to revisit."   

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of the USC athletics department unless otherwise noted.

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Oregon State vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for the Trojans

It wasn't pretty, but the USC Trojans sent the Oregon State Beavers home thinking about an embarrassing 35-10 loss.

Though USC committed 14 penalties, its defense was the bright spot in a decent overall performance.

 

Passing Offense

Cody Kessler did not dominate, but he spread the ball around and connected with nine different receivers. Eight players tallied at least two catches, with Darreus Rogers' 48-yard touchdown grab being the highlight.

Rogers catch was the most important catch of the game. The Beavers would have been content with a four-point deficit at the break, but they looked deflated during the second half while playing from a double-digit hole.

 

Running Offense 

USC relied heavily on Kessler during the first 30 minutes, but Buck Allen and Justin Davis dominated the second half. Overall, the duo combined to gain 197 yards, and both players found the end zone on rushing touchdowns.

 

Pass Defense

Oregon State's Richard Mullaney hauled in a couple jump-balls downfield, but it's hard to criticize the secondary on well-covered passes in which the receiver makes a tough, contested catch. Su'a Cravens returned a pick 30 yards for a score, and Leon McQuay snared an interception in the end zone for another defensive TD.

USC gave Sean Mannion few easy looks, as the Beaver quarterback never looked comfortable thanks to constant pressure and tight coverage by USC. Mannion completed 4-of-13 passes during the second half for 16 yards.

 

Run Defense

Despite some rather pedestrian rushing numbers, Storm Woods and Terron Ward actually had solid showings against the Trojans. For some reason, however, Oregon State abandoned the ground game and relied on Mannion's arm—unsuccessfully, that is.

Woods and Ward combined for 90 yards on 16 attempts. USC's front seven certainly wasn't complaining about the lack of running plays, but it needs to improve in that area.

 

Special Teams

Andre Heidari yanked a 36-yard field goal but did convert four extra points, so it wasn't all bad for the senior. Kris Albardo averaged 40.5 yards per punt, pinning Oregon State inside its own 10-yard line three times.

The most glaring issue was the Trojans kick coverage, which allowed Ryan Murphy to return a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Fortunately for the Trojans, it didn't come back to haunt them.

 

Coaching

Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox had his unit prepared for a bounce-back performance, and it shined. Oregon State entered the night averaging 447 yards and 31.7 points per outing, but USC limited its opponent to just 181 total yards.

The offense still has some issues, but Kessler and Co. converting 11-of-22 third and fourth downs was outstanding.

 

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the AP Top 25 After Week 5

Week 5 was more about what almost happened than what did.

Florida State, Texas A&M and Georgia were pushed to the brink by N.C. State, Arkansas and Tennessee, respectively, and looked for a long while like they might fall victim to an upset.

Ultimately, they all survived those challenges, but the Associated Press Poll voters were taking notes. Were their struggles enough to move them down the rankings in a week where only two Top 25 teams lost? Or will the status quo be maintained when the new poll comes out Monday?

Here is a guess at the answer:

Note: Poll reflects the author's projection of the Week 6 poll—not how he would rank the teams himself.

 

Fun Fact

In this projection—i.e., one where South Carolina falls out of the Top 25 and TCU climbs in—the Big 12 and SEC would both place 50 percent of their teams in the rankings. The former's would be backloaded with three teams ranked in the bottom fifth, but given the Big 12's preseason reputation, matching the SEC would be remarkable nonetheless.

Technically, the FBS Independents also place 50 percent of their "conference" in the rankings with Notre Dame and BYU, but we'll ignore that for reasons of sample size (only four Independent teams).

 

Teams Rising:

UCLA

Let's start with the obvious. UCLA played a road game against a "top-15" team in the country and won by 35 points.

That's an easy way to move up the rankings.

No matter your opinion of the Sun Devils, it was hard not to be impressed by what UCLA did in Tempe, overcoming a slow start to blow away the reigning Pac-12 South champion. Quarterback Brett Hundley gave a Heisman-worthy performance in his return from an elbow injury, combining for 427 total yards and five touchdowns.

That was on Thursday. But the Bruins' stock kept climbing late Saturday night when the Memphis team that everybody gave them grief for barely beating, 42-35, put up a similar fight at Ole Miss.

 

TCU

TCU beat SMU 56-0 Saturday, which is par for the course for opponents of the Mustangs but nice to see nonetheless.

In three games this season, the Horned Frogs have scored 128 points and allowed just 21, appearing to have found a nice offensive rhythm under first-year offensive coordinators Sunny Cumbie and Doug Meachem. Quarterback-turned-receiver-turned quarterback Trevone Boykin has taken well to the spread attack, and he's ready for the big test he'll face against Oklahoma in Week 6.

"Coach says get ready for the games you're supposed to win and the big games will take care of themselves," Boykin said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We will probably be up on the little things because we have a better opponent coming to town next week."

The Horned Frogs also rise a bit because their best opponent to-date, Minnesota, looked strong in a road win at Michigan. Granted, there are high school teams out there that look like they could beat Michigan right now, but a win at the Big House will always be a win at the Big House.

TCU beat Minnesota in Week 3, 30-7.

 

Teams Falling:

South Carolina

South Carolina lost a game it should have won against Missouri on Saturday, blowing a 20-7 lead in the fourth quarter and falling on its home field, 21-20.

The Gamecocks were the better team for more than three-fourths of the night, at one point even holding Missouri to 69 yards of offense over a 40-minute stretch of game time. They were playing strong and sound against a decent opponent, and they appeared to be heading toward an easy (and important) win.

But all of that was erased in the final seven minutes when Missouri scored two quick touchdowns and forced South Carolina into a four-and-out to clinch the win. It returned the favor after last year's game in the other Columbia when South Carolina erased a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Tigers on their own home field.

As a result, Steve Spurrier's team should drop out of the rankings.

 

Arizona State

Arizona State hung tight against UCLA for the first portion of the game, finding success despite the absence of quarterback Taylor Kelly. In fact, it even led by two scores, 17-6, 16 minutes into the game.

Big plays became its undoing, though, and the final result was ugly. An 80-yard touchdown by Eldridge Massington and two 95-plus-yard scores by Ishmael Adams all contributed to the Sun Devils' downfall, exposing their tackling as slipshod on a national stage.

To be honest, Todd Graham's team was over-ranked in the first place. It lost just about everything from last year's defense, and the new unit had not been tested before Week 5. It was only ranked No. 15 in the country by virtue of other teams losing.

It was never one of the 15-best teams.

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