NCAA Football News
Thank you, college football.
Thank you for the wild finishes and the shocking upsets. Thank you for the conference clashes and the unexpected unbeaten teams. Thank you for something unexpected every week.
Week 8 certainly didn't disappoint. Week 9 is unlikely to as well. Let's take a look back at how this weekend's action shaped the Amway coaches poll and the Bleacher Report rankings, along with a closer look at some of the biggest results in college football.
"What a time to be alive."
That was the call from ESPN play-by-play announcer Mark Jones after Georgia Tech's Lance Austin returned a blocked field goal 78 yards for a game-winning touchdown as time expired, giving the Yellow Jackets a shocking 22-16 win over Florida State.
It was a surreal moment, as Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson could be seen from the sideline waving his players away from the blocked kick, clearly content with heading to overtime. But Austin either didn't see his coach or simply decided to try to make a play, and boy, did he ever, racing down the sideline behind a convoy of Yellow Jackets before reaching the end zone.
"When I picked it up and started running up the field, I saw a lot of green," Austin said, per the Associated Press. "So I was like, 'OK, I can return it.'"
Florida State was in a position to win the game, as star kicker Roberto Aguayo attempted a 56-yard field goal with just six seconds remaining. But Patrick Gamble managed to block the kick and, well, the rest is history.
History seems to repeat itself in college football these days. It was only two years ago that Auburn returned a missed field goal the length of the field for a game-winning touchdown against hated rival Alabama. And it was just a week ago that Michigan State scored off a fumbled punt by Michigan as time expired to win in most improbable fashion.
There's just nothing quite like college football.
Of course, Florida State won't be feeling whimsical or awestruck after a loss that could cost it a berth in the ACC title game or the College Football Playoff. Utah is in the same boat, as the previously unbeaten Utes suffered their first loss against USC as the Trojans continued a season of dramatic highs and lows.
The other top contenders managed to escape the week without losses, though Alabama cut it close against Tennessee and Baylor may have lost starting quarterback Seth Russell to injury after he broke a bone in his neck against Iowa State.
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports thinks the Bears will be in good hands without him, however:
Assuming the leading quarterback in the nation in pass efficiency is out, someone else will lead the top offense in the country. That someone is Jarrett Stidham, a blue-chip recruit who enrolled early, went through spring practice and has an even higher efficiency rating than Russell this season. Stidham is 23 of 27, a ridiculous 85 percent accuracy rate, for 319 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions.
It's always good to have a strong backup plan.
While Baylor won't be in action next week, a slew of ranked teams are set to clash. Week 9 doesn't look chock-full of promising contests on paper—Notre Dame facing Temple might be the premier matchup, if you can believe that—but this season has proved to be so unpredictable that it's safe to say none of the top teams in the nation can rest on their laurels.
This week, it was Florida State and Utah. Next week it might be TCU or Clemson. At this point, any contender is one crazy play on special teams away from earning a shocking loss.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Suspend the strength-of-schedule argument for a moment. Heading into Week 8 against Iowa State, Baylor had the look of a playoff-caliber team. Though the 45-27 win over the Cyclones was the sleepiest the Bears have looked all year, it did little to change their place in the national landscape.
Moving forward could be a different discussion entirely. Quarterback Seth Russell left Saturday's game in the fourth quarter with a neck injury. Later, Baylor confirmed Russell sustained a fracture in one of the bones in his neck. The redshirt junior will see a specialist this week, and his timetable for return is "unknown."
For reference, Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams sustained a neck fracture in Week 1 while catching a touchdown pass against Wofford. He is likely out for the year, per Aaron Brenner of the Post and Courier. While it would be premature to speculate on Russell's prognosis, it's telling that, when asked if Russell would have been able to finish the game if it were close, Bears head coach Art Briles said, "No, no."
Suffice it to say, Baylor's open week couldn't have come at a better time. Still, losing someone of Russell's caliber for any length of time makes the Bears the most at-risk team in the playoff hunt.
To give you an idea of what Russell meant to Baylor, consider the following: He's averaged more than 300 passing yards per game and ranked behind only TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II in total yards per game in the Big 12. Russell directly accounted for 35 of the Bears' 59 touchdowns. That's more touchdowns than 101 Football Bowl Subdivision teams have scored all season. Russell also has excellent straight-line and open-field speed, the best since Robert Griffin III.
Granted, every team is banged-up at this point in the season. Ask Notre Dame and TCU what it's like to have an injury report as long as a grocery list. The Irish, though, have already proved they can overcome myriad injuries, even at quarterback. DeShone Kizer is averaging 220.7 yards per game and is moving the offense with the help of running back C.J. Prosise and receiver Will Fuller.
The Frogs, for all their problems, still have the quarterback-receiver combination of Boykin and Josh Doctson. Together, they've been impossible to stop and have also shown the ability to win tight games when it matters most.
Similarly, Baylor needs to be ready to insert the next man up. That "man" is 19-year-old true freshman Jarrett Stidham. Chris Johnson, who had transitioned to wide receiver, will move back to quarterback, per Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman.
The early returns on Stidham have been overwhelmingly positive. The former 4-star recruit and Elite 11 finalist enrolled early and quickly moved up the depth chart. In garbage time this year, he's 24-of-28 for 331 yards and six touchdowns with zero picks. His first collegiate pass was a touchdown against SMU.
But what separates the Bears from the likes of Notre Dame and TCU is that no one yet knows if Stidham will be able to pick up where Russell left off. It's one thing to look good when a game against lower-tier competition has already been decided. It's another to take the reins of an offense when the toughest part of the season is forthcoming.
Three of Baylor's final five games come against the Big 12's other top teams: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU. The latter two are on the road. Combined, the Sooners, Cowboys and Frogs are 20-1. The final stretch of the Bears' schedule was always going to be the toughest part to navigate. Now, it's going to be even more difficult.
This is where Briles' reputation as a quarterback guru comes into play. Baylor has been able to plug-and-play signal-callers in recent years with the success of few other programs. The Bears, however, have had tremendous fortune with injuries, which has allowed those quarterbacks to come along at an easy pace.
The last time Baylor was forced to play a true freshman quarterback for an extended period of time was in 2009, when Nick Florence took over for the injured RG3 in a situation that mirrors this one. RG3 also started as a true freshman in 2008. Back then, though, Baylor was still building into the program it is today. This Bears team has high expectations and little room for error.
But in '09, Florence was coming in cold. Stidham, on the other hand, at least has some experience and an extra week to prepare for his first start. This, as Craig Smoak of ESPN Radio Central Texas explained, is why Baylor did not redshirt Stidham.
A coach's job is to simulate chaos with the hope that players will be ready for anything on Saturdays. Still, no amount of preparation can account for what a freshman who touches the ball on every play might do when thrown into meaningful live situations. It doesn't matter if a first-year player is a 5-star recruit or a walk-on, the speed of the college game is a different animal, and it takes time to adjust.
UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen is a perfect example. He's been brilliant in some games and quite freshman-esque in others. In fact, sometimes he embodies those qualities on back-to-back plays. It takes time for the inconsistencies to balance out. There's a learning curve. To expect Stidham to be anywhere near perfect is unrealistic, even with all the skill players he will have around him.
Will that cost Baylor at any point over the next five games? Maybe, but it's Briles' job to put Stidham in position to be successful as often as possible.
In the coming days, and perhaps weeks, you may hear that a new quarterback doesn't change a team's offense or its play-calling. That is coachspeak. The Bears have to adjust to a backup quarterback—potentially for an extended period of time. That means both their coaches and players have to be ready to be more accountable.
How well Baylor accomplishes that will go a long way toward determining whether it's playoff-bound.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Two weeks ago, Kevin Sumlin was in the SEC West's catbird seat.
His Aggies were undefeated, hosting Alabama in one of the biggest games of the week and looked every bit like division and national title contenders.
Then quarterback Kyle Allen seemingly forgot how to play football, the running game fell to pieces and his Aggies lost to the Crimson Tide before getting run over 23-3 on Saturday night by a beat-up Ole Miss team in Oxford.
It wasn't as close as the score indicated.
Now, Sumlin's career and program are at a crossroads.
For his program, it's a matter of identity.
Offense is never supposed to be a problem for a Sumlin-coached team, but the Aggies managed just 192 yards against an Ole Miss team that was without star defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, linebacker C.J. Johnson and safety Tony Conner.
Allen misfired on 18 of his last 20 attempts vs. the Rebels before being benched for Jake Hubenak—not stud freshman high school legend Kyler Murray, who was curiously absent.
"We couldn’t move the ball, turnovers, penalties, we couldn’t get off the field fast enough on defense in the first half," Sumlin said, according to Ole Miss' official site. "We did get opportunities we had at midfield or [with a] short field, but we weren’t able to stay on the field and move the football."
The play-calling from offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was far too focused on stretching the field laterally, which typically isn't a great a idea against a speedy defense like Ole Miss'—especially when the Aggies have a loaded wide receiving corps that includes Christian Kirk, Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil and Josh Reynolds.
The running game, which was a focus of Sumlin's this offseason when he brought in offensive line coach and running game coordinator Dave Christensen to bring a more power-based attack to College Station, was nonexistent with just 58 yards.
In conference games this year, the Aggies are averaging a conference-worst 87.25 rushing yards per game and 2.98 yards per carry—13th in the conference.
Simply put, Texas A&M's offense is a mess, and that's the one aspect of the program that Sumlin should have complete control of.
Now at 5-2, Sumlin's Aggies have regressed in the win column every year since joining the league with that 11-win season n 2012. A nine-win season in 2013 followed by an eight-win season last season should have people questioning just where the program is headed—especially with the offense suddenly sputtering.
The schedule suggests that Texas A&M should catch fire. South Carolina, Auburn and Western Carolina at home should be wins, and the road trip to Vanderbilt should be no problem prior to the regular-season finale at LSU.
Is there anything to suggest that the offense can get back on track after the last two performances?
It's also a critical year for Sumlin personally.
He signed a six-year, $30 million contract after the 2013 season that pays him the entire sum of the contract unless he's fired with cause or chooses to leave on his own, according to Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News.
If he chooses to leave on his own prior to the 2016 season, he would owe Texas A&M $5 million but would't owe the school anything after a potential 2016 bowl game.
Sumlin's contract has allowed him to build the program and his own reputation, but it also provides personal job flexibility at the point in which it was supposed to reach its pinnacle.
Instead, it's trending down, as Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press noted on Twitter:
The final five games of the season are going to be enormous for the Aggie football program and Sumlin's future as a head coach.
With USC open, Miami likely opening up and the NFL looming, Sumlin could have plenty of options available to him. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported on Sunday that Sumlin could be open to moving up a level:
At this point, though, would any NFL team really want him?
It's getting pretty difficult to have faith in a coach and program that do everything possible to eliminate it.
Luckily for Sumlin, he has the luxury of time built into his contract at Texas A&M to fall back on.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Another week of college football is in the books, and another pair of Top 10 teams fell from the ranks of the undefeated. Utah and Florida State were the latest unbeatens to suffer their first defeat, likely opening up two spots in the Top 10 this week.
Aside from those two upsets, it was a relatively uneventful week in the Top 25, so a major shake-up is unlikely.
In the projection of the Week 9 AP poll below, only California (previously No. 20) falls out of the rankings, with Mississippi State rising to take its spot.
Clemson entered the season ranked 12th in the AP preseason poll and has been on a steady rise throughout the season.
The Tigers made their first major move after a rain-soaked victory over previously undefeated Notre Dame and could be in line for another significant jump after thumping Miami on Saturday.
Miami’s 58-0 loss to No. 6 Clemson marks the largest margin of defeat in Hurricanes history. Wow.— Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis) October 24, 2015
While a victory over Miami isn't what it once was, the convincing manner in which Clemson dismantled the Hurricanes is sure to catch the attention of voters.
The Tigers were ranked sixth in the AP poll a week ago and are sure to move up at least one spot thanks to Utah's loss to USC.
The Buckeyes entered the season with a 97-point lead over second-ranked TCU in the AP preseason poll, but that lead shrunk to just a 12-point advantage over Baylor in Week 8.
While Baylor continues to keep pace, it's safe to assume the Buckeyes' blowout victory at Rutgers was enough to maintain, and possibly extend, their lead.
Over the past two weeks, Ohio State has outscored Rutgers and Penn State by a combined score of 87-17.
Flood on JT Barrett: "You look at him in the run game ... he is the prototype dual-threat quarterback."— Garrett Stepien (@GarrettStepien) October 25, 2015
With the team displaying its dominance in consecutive weeks, and regaining its effectiveness on offense with J.T. Barrett at the helm, Ohio State's detractors can no longer lament its too-close-for-comfort victories.
Tulsa kept it relatively close, but Memphis avoided a letdown by pulling away with a victory Friday night.
Quarterback Paxton Lynch has the Tigers continuing their ascent up the rankings as teams ahead of them continue to lose.
#Memphis QB Paxton Lynch had another money performance last night. Career-best 447 yards passing, 5 TDs (4 passing, 1 rushing) in the win.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 24, 2015
Thanks to losses by Texas A&M and Florida State, the Tigers will likely rise at least two spots this week. But the rankings don't matter much to Memphis right now.
At this point in the season, what matters most to Memphis is a November 14 showdown at Houston, with the winner gaining a significant advantage in the battle for the top-ranked Group of Five team and a berth in one of the New Year's Six bowls.
It's hard to get excited about Ole Miss after seeing the Rebels lose convincingly against Florida and Memphis. But with a win over Texas A&M, Ole Miss is on the rise and still controls its own destiny in the SEC.
The team will host undefeated LSU on November 21—and will represent the SEC West in the conference title game if it runs the table.
Looking even further into the future, the Rebels' strength of schedule gives them an excellent chance to be the first two-loss team selected to the College Football Playoff if they're able to win out.
The Rebels would have to jump a number of one-loss teams, and possibly even an undefeated team, but by closing out the season with wins against LSU and a likely rematch against Florida in the SEC Championship Game, Ole Miss would enter the playoff as one of the hottest teams in the nation.
A lot has to fall their way, but the Rebels are certainly a sleeper to watch out for in the playoff race.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
If you missed Week 8 in the SEC, you missed a lot of fun.
Arkansas topped Auburn in quadruple overtime, Alabama topped Tennessee 19-14 in a thriller in Tuscaloosa, and Ole Miss stomped Texas A&M in Oxford.
Who were the stars who shined brightest in the SEC in Week 8?
Our performances of the week based on production and importance to the team are in this slideshow.