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Dominant Ole Miss Defense Will Give Alabama Its Toughest Game Yet

The SEC isn't always pretty, but Ole Miss showed on Saturday that they don't care. The show that the Rebels defense put on against the Memphis Tigers proves that when they take on the Alabama Crimson Tide next week, they'll be ready for the fight of their lives. 

Though the Ole Miss offense struggled for the first three quarters, the defense, which can be considered the best in the nation, helped the Rebels walk away with a 24-3 win.

Wallace struck gold early in the game, connecting with Laquon Treadwell for a 63-yard touchdown just three minutes into the game to take a 7-0 lead for the Rebels. Memphis tacked on a field goal later in the first quarter, then it wasn't until the fourth quarter that the Rebels finally started clicking offensively. 

Ultimately, it was Ole Miss's defense that produced some truly amazing numbers Saturday. 

The Tigers, who scored 35 points against then-No. 11 UCLA in their second game, were limited to just that field goal. They went 3-of-16 on third downs and racked up a measly 23 yards rushing on 31 carries. 

That's business as usual for the Rebels defense. They give up just 8.5 points per game and, heading into this week, gave up just 375 yards of offense per game. That number is sure to skydive after allowing just 104 to the Tigers. 

Though in the past the SEC West has traditionally gone through Tuscoloosa, Ole Miss would like nothing more than to change that destination to tiny Oxford, Mississippi

The Tide have yet to be tested like the Rebels have. Ole Miss already has blowout wins against two competitive opponents in Boise State and Vanderbilt, while Alabama's best win is against West Virginia, a jump start yet otherwise middle-of-the-road Big 12 squad. 

The Big Blue Wall of Ole Miss is certainly on a higher level than the Mountaineers.  

It's true, Alabama's offense has rolled offensively to start the year, averaging 42 points per game. And its defense has only given up 14. 

But Bo Wallace—like it or not—is the best and most experienced quarterback the Tide will be facing up to this point. 

Can Wallace be careless with the ball? His two interceptions against Memphis and six on the season seem to indicate that. 

Alabama's weakness defensively is in the secondary, though. While the Tide entered Week 5 ranked No. 1 in total defense, they are just 27th against the pass despite facing mediocre passing attacks. 

Against West Virginia, Clint Trickett torched the Alabama secondary to the tune of 375 yards. More importantly, the Mountaineers hung 23 points on the board and lost by just 10. 

Ole Miss won't give up 33 points. You'll be lucky to get 20 on them, especially with how slow both Freeze and Saban operate offensively. 

In 2013, according to 247sports, the Rebels' recruiting class ranked eighth nationally thanks largely in part to guys like Robert Nkemdiche, safety Tony Conner and defensive tackle Lavon Hooks. All these guys have made an impact on this defense, and this class was built for next week's tilt. 

So how does Ole Miss beat Alabama next week? 

Winning the turnover battle and forcing the Tide into mistakes—like the massive amount of penalty yards they forced on the Tigers today—is a big start. Containing Amari Cooper—because you can't truly stop Cooper—is another big step. 

Ultimately, the Rebels just have to let the defense show out and force an untested Blake Sims to make plays against hands down the toughest defense the Tide will face arguably all season. 

It'll be tough against Alabama, who have 10 straight wins against the Rebels and have won 21 of the last 23 meetings. But if this Ole Miss defense can give Wallace enough time to find a comfort zone like they did against Memphis, the Rebels will have an outstanding shot at knocking off the Tide. 

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Illinois vs. Nebraska: Game Grades, Analysis for the Cornhuskers

When a Heisman hopeful like Ameer Abdullah rushes for over 200 yards and three touchdowns in a conference game, you already know what kind of grade the Nebraska ground game is going to receive.  

But what about the rest of the Huskers team?

This game was a great warm-up for next week's showdown against Michigan State in East Lansing, and a fresh set of grades for the Cornhuskers is ready heading into that nationally relevant Big Ten showdown.

Box score via NCAA.com

 

Pass Offense

Tommy Armstrong had a perfectly mediocre performance against Illinois.  Luckily, Nebraska didn't need him to be any better than that in order to win.

Armstrong was 10-of-21 for 166 yards, one touchdown and one pick.  The day started very slowly for the Cornhusker quarterback, mainly because Ameer Abdullah was handling the Illini all by himself.  Armstrong didn't have a single completion until the last play of the first quarter, but he made up for it with a fairly prolific second quarter.

After halftime, with the game in hand, throwing the ball wasn't a priority.

Still, with a sub-50 percent completion ratio, Armstrong's inconsistency shouldn't be rewarded.

 

Rushing Offense

Anyone want to take a guess at Nebraska's grade here?

A total of 458 yards and five touchdowns, 208 yards and three touchdowns coming from Ameer Abdullah, only tells you the final tally.  What those numbers don't tell you is the incredible depth of talent the Huskers have at the position, as each back on the roster seems to possess the power and speed to run over and around defenders.

Abdullah is clearly the lead and should be a legitimate Heisman contender this season, but don't sell Nebraska short by believing he's the only guy capable of making highlight-reel runs in Lincoln.

 

Pass Defense

Holding Illinois' back-up quarterback Reilly O'Toole to 17-of-38 for 261 yards is decent enough. But limiting the Illini to one passing TD while picking off three O'Toole passes is worthy of recognition.

Both halves were pretty even in terms of passing success (or lack thereof) for the Illini, but Nebraska's pass rush was a factor all evening long, thanks to Randy Gregory and pals, so I'm content in giving a solid "B+" for the pass defense.

 

Run Defense

As impressive as the run defense was in the first half (allowing just 71 yards on 15 carries), things got even better after halftime.

The Illini finished with just 87 total rushing yards on the evening.  That early rushing TD hurt the Huskers grade, but Nebraska gets a significant boost for the final mark thanks to its suffocating run defense in the second half.

 

Special Teams

If there's one weakness in Nebraska's game so far, it has to be special teams.  The Huskers were 1-for-2 on field goals, averaged just four yards per return on both punt returns and kick returns (though Nebraska had only one kickoff return), and the punting average was an inflated 37.7 because of some great bounces and rolls in punter Sam Foltz' favor.

That kind of poor performance doesn't matter much against Illinois.  Against Michigan State or Wisconsin on the other hand...

 

Coaching

Bo Pelini is smart enough to stick with what's working.  Right now, that's Ameer Abdullah.  The only gripe (and, believe me, it's a small one) is that it would be nice to see stars like Abdullah, Armstrong and wide out Kenny Bell come out of the game a little bit earlier.

If the game is well in hand in the second half—let's say it's a three-score (or larger) lead—why risk injury?  In fact it appeared that Abdullah tweaked his right knee in the second half.  It didn't appear serious, but the point here is that it didn't need to happen at all.

We're just saying...

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter!

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Notre Dame Still Has a Long Way to Go Before It Can Beat Florida State

It's not fair to say that Notre Dame went on prime-time television and laid an egg. But the Irish's 31-15 victory over Syracuse produced more questions than it answered. 

The Irish survived the type of turnover-plagued performance that we haven't seen since 2011, the year of the Brian Kelly purple face. Three lost fumbles, two Everett Golson interceptions—including a late pick-six that could've gotten the Orange back in the game—put Kelly on the brink once again, with Notre Dame making the type of sloppy mistakes that usually guarantee your team will lose a football game.

"They knew they did not play the kind of football necessary to win each and every week," head coach Brian Kelly said after the game, perhaps a mild understatement. 

The Irish never felt like they were in danger of losing the football game. But they also felt miles away from being a team that can walk into Doak Campbell Stadium and beat Florida State, too.

Entering the toughest month of the season with Stanford heading to South Bend next weekend, Notre Dame's sloppy game raised all sorts of questions about the Irish that didn't necessarily exist last week. 

"You can't turn the football over and expect to win all your games," Kelly told ESPN's Heather Cox at the end of the national broadcast. "We did some good things tonight... but five turnovers is just not going to get the job done." 

For a young team traveling to an away game for the first time, Saturday night's environment was a test that Kelly hoped to pass with flying colors. Instead, it's back to the drawing board.

The message this week was dedicated to not looking past the Orange, with Stanford and a trip to Tallahassee on the October horizon. Yet the Irish made critical early (and often) mistakes that took probably a dozen points off the board and kept the Orange in the game, even with Notre Dame's defense shutting down Terrel Hunt. 

In between turning the football over four times, Golson played brilliantly. He completed 25 straight throws, a Notre Dame record and one shy of the NCAA record as he picked apart the Syracuse defense in the short passing game. 

But for as beautiful as his perfect 72-yard touchdown pass was to Will Fuller, his nonchalance with the football was exactly what Kelly talked about fixing earlier in the week. 

"He's very careful with the football, very conscientious throwing the football," Kelly said Thursday. "We worry about how he carries the football. He carries it like he's dribbling a basketball." 

Golson dribbled one off his knee on the Irish's first drive, ending a promising opening series when the ball was knocked loose. He nearly lost another on an overload blitz, but converted guard Steve Elmer recovered. And no basketball metaphor can do his fumbled spike justice, with the ball falling through his hands before he swatted at it, giving the Orange the ball with the Irish already safely in field-goal range. 

Even Golson's decision-making throwing the football was careless at times. His first interception was a misread, looking past a wide-open Ben Koyack and then overthrowing C.J. Prosise. And the interception to Durell Eskridge was one of the worst throws he's made in an Irish uniform, with the safety walking right into Golson's throwing lane before taking the pass back for an easy touchdown. 

If you're looking for a way to refocus your attention and forget about any September Heisman chatter, Golson found the best way. 

"I know my team expects more of me so I've got to come out and be better from the get," Golson told Cox after the game. "I came out and had a very sloppy first half and I was lucky it didn't cost us as much as it should have."

It may be an old coaching cliche, but it's often been said that you learn more from a sloppy win than a difficult defeat. And expect a lot of learning and a few extra hours in the film room to get things squared away. 

What should the Irish be looking at?

Ball security for one, with running back Greg Bryant joining the fumble parade. Blown special teams assignments, with the Irish being fooled by a fake punt. And a two-minute drill by the offense that had receivers lining up incorrectly, just one of the eight penalties Notre Dame committed on the night. 

It's not easy to win in college football; give the Irish credit for losing the turnover battle by four and still winning with relative ease. 

But if the Irish have aims of heading to Florida State and knocking off the defending champs, they've got plenty of work to do. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  

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Contenders and Pretenders for the College Football Playoff After Week 5

After Week 5 of the college football season a lot of teams are looking the part of a national championship participant, but there can only be four teams that make it to the College Football Playoff. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder tell you who is for real and who isn't. 

What team is a legit threat to be national champion?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Notre Dame vs. Syracuse: Game Grades, Analysis for the Fighting Irish

In what was a weird game to say the least, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish improved to 4-0 on the season after defeating the Syracuse Orange, 31-15, at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. 

The Irish were able to rack up 500 yards of total offense, but they turned the ball over five times, including four by quarterback Everett Golson. And the defense allowed only one touchdown, but surrendered over 400 yards of offense.

So there will be a lot of things the Irish will have to work on before they get ready to take on teams like Stanford and USC, because if they want to get into the College Football Playoff picture, they can’t afford to play like they did against the Orange.

Here are game grades for each positional unit for the Irish.

 

Passing Offense

Golson struggled in the first half, and that was because the Orange were constantly blitzing him. But he made adjustments after intermission and completed 26 straight passes. Golson played solid but would have had a better night had he not thrown two interceptions and fumbled twice. 

 

Running Offense

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made adjustments with the offensive line this week to see if they could run between the tackles more effectively. The Irish ran for 161 yards, but most of those runs came off the edge. Because the Irish were able to throw the ball effectively, the running game was not a priority, but they need to be able to run up the middle if they want to remain undefeated.

 

Pass Defense

The pass defense for the Irish was strong in the first half, but Orange quarterback Terrel Hunt was able to hit his receivers on big pass plays in the second half. The secondary was solid in coverage, but Hunt really wasn’t pressured as much as he could have been. The good thing is that Notre Dame did not give up a passing touchdown, and cornerback Matthias Farley came up with an interception in the second half.

 

Run Defense

Syracuse never got the run game going because linebackers Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt were all over the place. One of the reasons the Orange could not get anything going on offense is the fact their running game was inconsistent, forcing quarterback Hunt to try and beat the Irish with his arm. Hunt did score on a rushing touchdown, though, which was the first rushing score the Irish have given up this season.

 

Special Teams

The special teams for the Irish were as good as you could ask for. Kyle Brindza made his only field goal, and he was good in the punting game, averaging 40 yards per punt. But one of the plays of the game came on special teams when Jarron Jones blocked an extra point in the second half. It didn’t really impact the outcome of the game, but it was good to see him block the third kick of his career.

 

Coaching

The offensive line changes Kelly made did not work in terms of finding production in the running game. And it looked as if in the first half the Irish coaching staff didn't anticipate the Orange defense being as aggressive as it was. But Kelly simplified things in the second half and the Irish were able to make plays. The one thing his players will be working on this week is ball security, because five turnovers can’t happen again.

 

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Ameer Abdullah vs. Illinois: Stat Line, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

The Heisman campaign for Nebraska Cornhuskers running back Ameer Abdullah seems to gain steam every week. Saturday night, Abdullah helped Nebraska roll over the Illinois Fighting Illini en route to a 45-14 victory at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Take a look at Abdullah's stat line:

Abdullah opened the scoring with a 12-yard touchdown run that culminated a seven-play, 75-yard drive. In the second quarter, Abdullah added two more touchdown runs of eight and two yards. The 5'9", 195-pound senior has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in all but one of Nebraska's five games.

This was his third 200-yard performance.

He's averaging 166.6 yards per game.

Saturday the Illini had no answer for Nebraska's rushing attack on the whole, but Abdullah has feasted on almost every opponent. Coming into the season, Abdullah wasn't considered a major contender for the Heisman Trophy, but his production has forced people to take notice.

He came into the week second in the nation in rushing. After his 208 yards, Abdullah passed Pittsburgh's James Conner for the top spot.

Being the nation's leading rusher will undoubtedly help add some legitimacy to Abdullah's case to at least be invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

Abdullah and Nebraska have the first of two huge games ahead of them nest week. Next Saturday, they will attempt to conquer the No. 9 Michigan State Spartans on the road. Michigan State will represent the stiffest run defense Abdullah has seen this year, and the Cornhuskers' toughest opponent overall.

Coming into the week, the Spartans were No. 5 against the run in the nation and the highest-ranked team in the conference.

If Abdullah can shine and Nebraska wins in East Lansing, it'll serve as a major plus for the player and team. Later in the season, Nebraska will take on the No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers in Madison. 

Putting up big numbers and winning against the best competition is the key to getting Abdullah recognized nationally. We'll see if he can keep it going.

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College Football Playoff Projections After Week 5

The college football world was nearly turned upside down with a few top teams having close calls before pulling out narrow victories.

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer discusses who is in and who is out for the College Football Playoff.

Who do you think belongs in the discussion? Watch the video and let us know.

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Missouri vs. South Carolina: Game Grades, Analysis for Tigers and Gamecocks

One year after South Carolina pulled off a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Missouri, the Tigers returned the favor on Saturday night, beating the No. 13 Gamecocks 21-20.

The Tigers couldn't do anything offensively until the final seven minutes in the game. Trailing 20-7, Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk led the Tigers on a quick 35-second drive to cut the lead to 20-14.

After another defensive stand, Missouri scored again with less than two minutes remaining, which proved to be the difference in the game.

Missouri improves to 4-1 on the season, while the Gamecocks fall to 3-2.

Final stats from Saturday's game can be found on NCAA.com.

Here are grades and a brief analysis for each team in this SEC East showdown.

 

Missouri Tigers Game Grades

Pass Offense

The Tigers could get nothing going in the passing game until late in the fourth quarter. Throughout the first half, Mizzou struggled to protect Mauk, who, in turn, was off on just about everything.

Bud Sasser stepped up for the Tigers in the fourth quarter, making several big catches. Overall, it wasn't a great effort but a much-improved one late in the second half. 

 

Run Offense

The Tigers had a strong effort on the ground. Russell Hansbrough rushed for 43 yards and three touchdowns, while Marcus Murphy finished with 98 yards rushing. Missouri's biggest play on the ground was Mauk's 25-yard run early in the fourth quarter. 

Missouri finished the game with 148 yards on the ground. Murphy and Hansbrough continue to be an underrated duo. 

 

Pass Defense

The Tigers forced Dylan Thompson to be off target several times, particularly in the fourth quarter. However, many of Thompson's incompletions in the first half were due to drops. If South Carolina receivers would have helped Thompson, the Gamecocks would have scored more points.

Credit Mizzou's defense for several big stops in the fourth quarter, though.

 

Run Defense

Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds both had solid games. But, outside of one drive, South Carolina's running backs didn't beat Missouri. The Tigers did a solid job of holding the Gamecocks to just 119 rushing yards overall. Davis accounted for 104 yards on the ground. 

Missouri was especially good in short-yardage situations and forced South Carolina to punt nine times. 

 

Special Teams

The Tigers didn't make any big plays on special teams; however, Murphy did have a 23-yard punt return in the fourth quarter to set up Missouri's game-winning touchdown.

Fortunately for Mizzou, kicker Andrew Baggett didn't hurt them this year. 

 

Coaching

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel did an outstanding job by staying patient with his offense despite a disastrous first 53 minutes. He had confidence in Mauk to go down the field, despite several near interceptions. 

Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel had the call of the game, sending a cornerback blitz against the Gamecocks on a 2nd-and-goal from the Missouri 2-yard line. The Gamecocks were forced to kick the field goal, and that proved to be the difference in the game. 

 

South Carolina Gamecocks Game Grades

Pass Offense

Dylan Thompson got off to a better start in this game than he had in others, but he still wasn't consistent throughout the game. In the first half, South Carolina's receivers dropped several passes. Tight end Rory Anderson dropped an easy touchdown that cost the Gamecocks four points.

On the game's final drive, Thompson forced four straight throws into coverage instead of checking down and getting any positive yardage.

 

Run Offense

Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds combined for 142 yards on 30 carries. Steve Spurrier called for a few designed quarterback runs that led to first downs, too. Even though Thompson isn't quite the athlete Connor Shaw was, he converted those runs into first downs on three different occasions. 

The running game, as usual, was solid from the start. 

 

Pass Defense

Missouri was terrible passing the football for the majority of the night. South Carolina did a nice job of sending five and six rushers throughout the game. The plan forced Mauk off his spot numerous times.

The Gamecocks dropped at least three potential interceptions that could have clinched this game for them.

 

Run Defense

The Gamecocks were solid against the run all night. Missouri got its yards, but it wasn't easy. The Tigers' longest run of the night was Mauk's 25-yard scramble in the fourth quarter.

The Gamecocks did allow the Tigers to rush for three touchdowns. 

 

Special Teams

Hey, the Gamecocks didn't allow a kickoff return for a touchdown. That's progress. 

South Carolina did a nice job on returns for most of the night, with the exception of Murphy's punt return in the fourth quarter. That set up Mizzou's final score. 

Tyler Hull averaged just less than 44 yards per punt, while Elliott Fry connected on both of his field-goal attempts. 

 

Coaching

Coaching didn't lose this game for the 'Cocks, but Spurrier's decision to go for it on fourth down in his own territory early in the game cost the team seven points. Other than that, Spurrier called an excellent game. Execution hurt South Carolina.

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward was terrific. He did a nice job of designing pressure on Mauk all game long. The defense continues to improve, but those last two drives were troubling.

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Georgia Back on Path to SEC East Title After Missouri's Upset of South Carolina

One thing became apparent during the first month of the season, the road to the SEC East title is littered with twists, turns, pot holes and maybe a cliff or two...or 10.

The latest detour involved the two teams from Columbia, as Missouri charged back to beat South Carolina 21-20 in Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday night. After a futile offensive effort from both sides, Missouri charged down the field on nine plays, and running back Russell Hansbrough plunged in from a yard out on 4th-and-goal with 1:36 for the win.

It was a shock to everybody, including Tigers' head coach Gary Pinkel, whose team totaled just 280 yards on the night. Seth Boster of the Columbia Missourian provided Pinkel's comments:

That sound you hear is applause coming from Athens, Georgia. Suddenly, Georgia—which lost to South Carolina in Week 3—has new life in the race for the SEC East title.

The Bulldogs won a shootout with Tennessee 35-32 earlier in the afternoon to notch their first SEC win of the season.

"It feels good to get that win," defensive back Aaron Davis said in postgame quotes released by Georgia. "It feels really good to get the first SEC win of the year, and hopefully we can use this to get the train rolling and get some more big wins along the way."

Does Georgia have problems?

Absolutely.

Its pass defense is awful, and as I wrote Saturday, quarterback Hutson Mason is going to have to improve if the Bulldogs are going to win the division.

Mason will, however, get receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell back at some point, which, at the very least, will give him more weapons to work with on top of Michael Bennett and Chris Conley.

With Missouri's win over South Carolina the Tigers momentarily took over 'control' of the division. They also brought the Dawgs back to control of their own destiny in the division. Yes, that may not seem like much in one of the most uncertain division in college football, but it's certainly progress from where the Bulldogs were when they left South Carolina with their tails between their legs.

It was important for the Bulldogs for South Carolina to have another loss on its resume—especially a home loss where the Gamecocks had won 18 straight in Williams-Brice coming into the season.

Now South Carolina's margin for error is razor-thin. With a road trip to Auburn still on the schedule as well as games at Florida, at Kentucky and vs. Tennessee at home, there isn't much wiggle room for head coach Steve Spurrier's crew.

That's huge for the Bulldogs, who still have to travel to Missouri, host Auburn and make a trip to Little Rock to play an Arkansas team that is far from the gimmie many thought it would be in August.

No, Georgia won't win the division unless the status quo changes. That is, of course, unless it stays the same for every team in the division.

Call it a division of who wants it more if you want, but it's more likely going to be decided by who wants to lose it least. 

Georgia got some help from Missouri on Saturday night in South Carolina, and if it can just take one small step forward, it might be all the Bulldogs need to play in Atlanta in early December for the third time in the last four years.

 

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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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 5

Think of college football as a season-long playoff, not just the College Football Playoff part. We go through elimination games every week, with some teams fighting to live another week and others going down, never to be heard from again.

Entering this week, there were 25 undefeated teams among the 128 in FBS. After Saturday, only 17 remain. Just one unbeaten team (Marshall) is from one of the "Group of 5" conferences, with the once-proud Big Ten also hosting only one undefeated squad (Nebraska, which joined up in 2011).

For the most part, teams contending for the four playoff spots escaped without incurring real damage. Florida State struggled to put away NC State, while Texas A&M had to rally late to beat Arkansas in overtime to prevent Jerry World from becoming Hog Heaven. No Top 10 team in the AP poll was upset this week.

With September finally done, college football officially gets out of the preseason portion of the schedule, with mostly intraconference games coming up. Other than eight SEC teams still with a game each against an FCS foe, all Big 5 conference teams will be playing only teams in their own weight class.

Here's a quick look at what's transpired in Week 5:

 

Teams that moved up

Texas A&M

The Aggies offense, stifled for most of the game by Arkansas, finally came alive just in time to save their season in overtime. The Hogs were pushing their way to an emphatic victory at AT&T Stadium but were done in by a botched center exchange and a missed field goal late in regulation.

A&M needed this win to stay afloat in the SEC West, easily the toughest division in college football. After all, Arkansas is considered the "weakest" and the only unranked team from the division.

 

UCLA

There were a lot of doubts about whether the Bruins were all hype and no substance after their lackluster start. But they silenced most of their critics with a thorough beatdown (as in 62-27) of previously unbeaten Arizona State in this week's only meeting between ranked teams.

The blowout victory puts UCLA back as the favorite to win the Pac-12 South and very much in the playoff picture. But the Bruins will have no time to relax with a showdown with Oregon looming in two weeks.

 

Stanford

The Cardinal, smarting from their early-season loss to USC, are climbing back into the thick of the Pac-12 North race with a hard-fought win at Washington. With a killer schedule that still includes Notre Dame, both Oregon schools and UCLA, this amounted to a must-win game for Stanford—not only for a playoff spot, but also a shot at a third consecutive Pac-12 title.

 

BYU

Though the Cougars had the week off, impressive victories by Virginia and Texas helped their cause. With no guarantees of any sort for either a playoff berth or a spot in the New Year's Six bowls, BYU needs any boost it can get from its Big 5 conference opponents.

 

Nebraska

The Huskers are the only Big Ten team that got through the month of September unscathed. And next week they visit Michigan State with a chance to vault into the national conversation. A victory there, and the near-loss at home against McNeese State might be forgiven. Maybe.

 

Teams that moved down

Florida State

Let's get this straight: As long as FSU goes undefeated, it will earn a spot in the four-team playoff. But right now it's not looking like it'll get the top seed, which may or may not matter at the end of the day.

But a close shave against NC State, with Jameis Winston back under center, shows that FSU has major vulnerabilities. And whereas a year ago the 'Noles blew every team out en route to the BCS title game, this year they're not showing nearly the same kind of dominance.

 

Michigan State

The Spartans won handily again, but with more evidence showing that the Big Ten is a college football wasteland, it doesn't help their cause. Even if they win out, they might end up not beating a single ranked team at the end of the season. It's looking more likely each week that the Big Ten will be shut out of the inaugural playoff field.

 

SEC East

Does anybody want to win this division? A week after a ghastly home loss to Indiana, Missouri is now the only team without a conference loss after rallying late to win at South Carolina. But just wait a week. Anybody except for Vandy can still win the East.

 

Duke 

A week after jumping into the polls, the Blue Devils will fall right out of it after a listless loss at Miami. They're still very much in the ACC Coastal race, but unless they can beat Florida State in the ACC title game, there won't be a spot for them in a New Year's Six bowl.

 

Boise State

Despite its season-opening loss to Ole Miss, it looked as if the Broncos still had a very good shot at a New Year's Six bowl berth. But Saturday's loss to Air Force probably ended any hopes of that. Boise State may still go on and win the Mountain West, but it's unlikely that the conference champion will be able to beat out the top team from the American.

 

"Group of 5 team" in the best position

East Carolina

The Pirates were off this week but got a huge boost with Boise State's loss. While Cincinnati has fallen from the ranks of the unbeatens, it still appears that the American champion will have the inside track to the "Group of 5" automatic New Year's Six bowl berth. 

Marshall is the only undefeated "Group of 5" team left, but with its weak schedule that features no opponent from the Big 5 conferences, it's a long shot for the Herd to snatch that berth.

 

Projected conference championship matchups

ACC - Florida State vs. Georgia Tech

Big Ten - Michigan State vs. Nebraska

Pac-12 - Oregon vs. UCLA

SEC - Alabama vs. Missouri

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LSU Football: The Brandon Harris Era Has Finally Begun

LSU has a starting quarterback. And his name is not Brandon Harris.

That is a problem.

Sophomore Anthony Jennings got the starting nod from Les Miles against New Mexico State. To put it nicely, Jennings was putrid. He completed 40 percent of his passes, threw two interceptions and fumbled on LSU's opening drive. 

Jennings was booed off the field. 

Harris finally got his opportunity early in the second quarter and never looked back. The true freshman played spectacularly, leading the Tigers to a touchdown in all seven of the drives he directed. 

Sure, the opposition was New Mexico State. But the difference between Jennings and Harris was monstrous. 

LSU Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron opened up the playbook for Harris. The Tigers moved primarily to a no-huddle offense, which turned a sluggish attack into a prolific one. Harris' ability to run and throw out of this offense kept the Aggies defense on the ropes. 

Harris has now outperformed Jennings in two straight games. He led LSU to touchdowns in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State, while Jennings struggled throughout the contest.  

Miles publicly refused to give Harris the starting quarterback job after Saturday night's game. 

Miles on next week's starter: "We'll go back and look at the film and communicate with our team. Not do so through the paper." #LSU

— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) September 28, 2014

Miles is not fooling anybody. He has no choice but to start Harris in LSU's conference road opener against Auburn next week.

The team and fans alike can now see Harris is better. He played and carried himself like it.

It was evident Jennings lacked confidence. The Tigers cannot have a timid leader walking into Jordan-Hare Stadium next week. The wrong message would be sent if Miles sticks with Jennings, who has certainly not played well enough to beat an SEC-caliber team. 

Miles, above all else, wants to win. And Harris gives him the best chance of doing just that. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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Win over Cincinnati Revives Ohio State's Playoff Hopes for Now

COLUMBUS, Ohio — While doom and gloom felt omnipresent following Ohio State's Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech, Urban Meyer cautioned that everything the 2014 Buckeyes were playing for was still on the table.

Three weeks later, they proved it.

Because that Ohio State team that suffered a 35-21 defeat at the hands of the Hokies during its own home opener wasn't the same squad that ran Cincinnati out of Ohio Stadium Saturday night. In what at one point threatened to be a track meet that the Buckeyes once appeared ill-prepared to take part in, OSU scored 50 points, accumulated 45 first downs and tallied 710 yards—at one point eclipsing the school record (718 yards) before losing.

Even with a redshirt freshman at quarterback making the fourth start of his college career, these Buckeyes looked like the playoff contender they were supposed to be when they entered the season ranked as the No. 5 team in the AP Top 25. And with so much of the 2014 season left, who's to say that Ohio State still doesn't have a chance to land one of the four coveted spots in the first-ever College Football Playoff?

"I still felt like all the goals were still going to be there after Virginia Tech," said senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett. "We knew it was going to be a learning process with this team. We had to prove it to ourselves before we could prove it to anybody else."

On Saturday, the Buckeyes appeared to do just that—and then some—clicking on all cylinders offensively, but still leaving questions to be answered on the other side of the ball.

With the ball in its hands, Ohio State was nearly unstoppable, as running back Ezekiel Elliott racked up 233 yards of total offense (182 rushing, 51 receiving) and quarterback J.T. Barrett (330 yards, four touchdowns) put together his second stellar showing.

Following early=season struggles against Navy and the Hokies, the Buckeyes have finally found the success that they've become accustomed to under Meyer, much of which can be traced to the growth of their redshirt freshman signal-caller.

"I'm just progressing, game-by-game," Barrett said. "A lot of it has just been being comfortable in the pocket."

Barrett certainly seemed that way Saturday, playing predominantly behind an offensive that finally found its footing with the insertion of Chase Farris at right guard. Both Barrett and Meyer were effusive in their praise of the unit, which struggled mightily in the first two games of the season as it replaced four multi-year starters from a season ago.

"We're an offensive line-driven team," Meyer noted. "And they won the game for us. And they controlled that line of scrimmage. They protected our quarterback."

But while the Ohio State offense celebrated a rejuvenation of sorts on Saturday, the defense wasn't as fortunate.

Familiar failings reared their ugly heads in the Buckeyes' back end, with Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel throwing for 352 yards and four touchdowns, including scoring throws of 60, 83 and 78 yards. After ranking 118th in the country out of 125 teams in pass defense a season ago, the Ohio State secondary was supposed to be much improved under new defensive coordinator Chris Ash, but it certainly didn't seem to be Saturday night.

"Defensively, we're back to the drawing board," Meyer said. "A couple corners got beat and we gave up big plays. You can say, 'Other than that,' but that's—we've got to get that fixed. You can't play championship football until that gets fixed."

The good news for the Buckeyes is that while their secondary struggled, they managed to survive against the best passing attack that they'll likely see all season. Ohio State now enters Big Ten play with a more than manageable four-game stretch against Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State and Illinois, which should help prepare it for its Nov. 8 matchup with Michigan State.

With the Spartans similarly bouncing back after their Sept. 6 loss to Oregon, the road to Indianapolis once again appears to travel through East Lansing, where the Buckeyes could find themselves in a de facto Big Ten East Championship Game. And if both teams are strong enough—perhaps undefeated between now and then—it's not unrealistic to think that a one-loss Big Ten champion could find itself in January's four-team playoff.

At least that's what Ohio State is hoping.

"We gotta go the rest of the year," said senior tight end Jeff Heuerman. "They say November's for contenders. October, November, Big Ten season—that's where it really starts."

Of course as the Buckeyes learned last year when Michigan State dashed its national title hopes in the conference title game, none of that will matter if Ohio State doesn't shore up a pass defense that has proven to be its Achilles' heel in two-plus seasons under Meyer. And the third-year Buckeyes head coach is well aware of that, which is why despite all of the momentum that his team is suddenly enjoying, he's not ready to crown them.

"Not ready to say that yet," Meyer answered when asked if Ohio State is currently a Big Ten championship-caliber team. "You don't give up 300 yards passing and be able to look you in the eye say that's a championship-level football team out there."

Not yet, at least. But the Buckeyes' championship prospects certainly seem a lot brighter now than they did just three weeks ago.

 

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

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Watch Baylor QB Bryce Petty Hurdle Defender for Sensational Touchdown

Baylor has been on the outside looking in for a lot College Football Playoff discussions, but Bryce Petty made a statement play that will have much of the college football world buzzing about the Bears.

Was that the best hurdle you've ever seen?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Notre Dame vs. Syracuse: Score and Twitter Reaction

Notre Dame continued its undefeated season with a 31-15 win over Syracuse at MetLife Stadium.

Everett Golson had an up-and-down day, finishing 33-of-40 for 363 yards, four touchdowns and a stretch of 26 straight completions. On the other hand, he also had four turnovers in a game that was closer than it should have been. The squad totaled 525 yards of offense, but it was the minus-four turnover differential that ensured the close score.

The good news is the defense took care of business and allowed just one touchdown against a quality opponent.

Orange quarterback Terrel Hunt had a solid effort in the loss, accumulating 294 yards and a rushing touchdown. Unfortunately, he was unable to move the ball consistently enough to pull off the upset.

When the game first started, all anyone wanted to talk about was the interesting Syracuse uniform:

ESPN's Robert Flores gave his impression:

This was also because there was not a lot of action in the early going as the two sides combined for a scoreless first quarter.

The big story in the first half was Golson's inability to hold onto the ball. Angelo Di Carlo of WNDU explained why this was a surprise:

He also added a third turnover in the first half when he fumbled an attempted spike. Fortunately, he was able to respond after the mistakes, leading an 11-play, 95-yard drive for the first score of the game.

National Football Post's Greg Gabriel described the strong possession for the young quarterback:

William Fuller scored his first touchdown on a screen pass that went for 23 yards, which he followed up with a 72-yard touchdown on the very next offensive play.

Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press provided his thoughts after the Irish went up 14-0:

Syracuse was able to get a field goal before the end of the half to cut Notre Dame's lead to 14-3, but the squad was lucky to be in the game after being doubled in yardage at the break.

Notre Dame appeared ready to pull away when Hunt threw an interception in the first possession of the second half. The Irish were able to capitalize with a nine-play scoring drive capped with a fade pass to Corey Robinson in the end zone.

Rivals.com was impressed by the reception, which came despite pass interference by the defense:

Syracuse finally got into the end zone on a seven-yard scramble by Hunt, but it only took a few minutes for Notre Dame to answer with a Torii Hunter Jr. touchdown. This play also helped Golson tie a FBS record for consecutive completions, according to Notre Dame's John Heisler:

On the other hand, ESPN's Ivan Maisel questioned the impressiveness of the streak:

He made another bad mistake later in the fourth quarter when Durell Eskridge intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown to make the score 28-15. 

Still, the defense was able to take care of business from there to hold on for what eventually became a 31-15 win.

Golson has taken big strides this season, although this game featured both the good and the bad from the quarterback. Before the game, head coach Brian Kelly explained the difference between this year and when he last started in 2012, via Russo:

We really tried to find ways not to put him in difficult situations offensively [in 2012]. We controlled the game by running the football, play-action shots down the field, punting the football, that was probably the extent of our offense. This year, we've got to score points. So maturity, understanding of the offense and really putting him in that role to be a playmaker is the biggest difference from two years ago.

Even with the mistakes on Saturday, Golson continued to show his growth into one of the best quarterbacks in the country. 

His skills will be put to the test in the next game in the highly anticipated battle against Stanford. With the Cardinal having one of the top defenses in FBS, the entire Notre Dame offense will have to be at its best.

After facing a number of relatively weak opponents, this will be the first chance to see if this team can truly be a contender for the College Football Playoff. 

Syracuse will try to bounce back from its consecutive losses in a home game against Louisville on Saturday. It will be the first ACC game of the season for the Orange as they look to take one step closer to bowl eligibility.

 

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

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Texas Football: Longhorns Must Find Offensive Identity, and Fast

The Texas Longhorns kicked off Big 12 play on a positive note with a 23-0 shutout over the Kansas Jayhawks.

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes completed 19-of-34 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown, in addition to a seven-yard rushing touchdown in his third career start. The offense's performance was a bit inconsistent, but a win is a win.

However, if Saturday's game taught us anything about the Longhorns, it's that its offense is still lacking an identity. 

Texas entered the season with the hopes of being a downhill running team. The Longhorns finished the game with 36 rushing attempts for 111 yards.

But here's the kicker: The Longhorns put up 104 yards on 24 carries in the first half.

Running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown are struggling to break loose, and the offensive line has done little to help open up holes in the ground game. Head coach Charlie Strong is not entirely blaming the O-line. He has told Brown and Gray that they have to run through defenses and break tackles.

But the running backs have not been able to do it.

The duo is very talented, but has been a non-factor in 2014. If the two backs continue down this path, it will be up to the sophomore Swoopes and his receivers to lead the offense.

And that will not be an easy task either.

Swoopes has played consistently well but has not done enough to make anyone believe he is capable of carrying the offense on his own. Quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson has kept the game plan fairly basic for the young quarterback. But a conservative offense will not work against high-scoring Big 12 opponents. 

The Texas defense was solid against the Jayhawks and has continued to progress following the embarrassing performance it put up against BYU in Week 2.

But the defense can only do so much.

At this point, there is no reason to believe that its inconsistent offense will allow Texas to keep up with the prodigious offensive attacks boasted by other Big 12 programs. Next week, Texas will face a Baylor team that averaged 59 points against its first three opponents. Hypothetically speaking, let's say the defense finds a way to hold the Bears to 30 points and keeps the Longhorns in the game. Does anyone truly believe the Texas offense would be able to score more than 30 points?

From what it has shown thus far, the logical answer to that question is no.

The offense has to figure out what its identity is and find a way to put points on the board in order to keep up with the potent offenses in the conference.

If it cannot do this, Texas fans need to be prepared for an extremely long season.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Improved Defense Gives Auburn Big Momentum Heading into LSU Matchup

AUBURN, Ala. — Through their first four games of the 2014 season, it's safe to say the Auburn Tigers offense doesn't have quite the same efficiency it had toward the end of 2013.

But as the nation's No. 5 team heads into a brutal SEC slate, there should be no reason to panic, thanks to the play of its defense.

Yes, the Auburn defense—a unit that has received plenty of criticism over the last several seasons, even when the Tigers were national title contenders—is playing some of its best football at the moment.

"Coach said if we came to play, it’s our time to make a statement," freshman linebacker Tre' Williams said after Auburn's 45-17 win against Louisiana Tech on Saturday. "Nobody really talks about the defense in the last few years. It’s about that time for people to start saying that defense is a prime thing for Auburn."

After allowing just 285 yards and 14 points away from home to a ranked Kansas State team, the Tigers, followed it up on homecoming Saturday by holding Louisiana Tech to only 321 total yards.

Opponents are averaging 313 yards of total offense and 16 points against Auburn this season, which is only 66 yards and six points more than the team's best defensive performance against a power-conference team in 2013.

Members of Auburn's defense said they feel like the unit is hitting its stride at the right time—right before the Tigers face six straight opponents who are currently ranked in the Top 25.

"I really think we're getting better on the defensive side," sophomore defensive tackle Montravius Adams said. "Of course, we've got to keep doing that every day and every practice."

With 45 points and 473 yards against Louisiana Tech, Auburn's offense rebounded from a rough game against Kansas State, but the unit still disappointed with several three-and-outs.

While the offense continues to work out the kinks, senior running back Corey Grant noted just how valuable the defense's play this season is to everyone on the team.

"It helps us out and gives us motivation," Grant said. "They've done their job, so we've got to step up and do ours. If one end of the team is holding their job up, the other side has to do it as well."

The Auburn defense did more than just motivate its offense Saturday—it opened the door for two easy first-half touchdowns.

The Tigers' defensive line got great penetration early against the Louisiana Tech offensive line and swatted down several of quarterback Cody Sokol's passes.

"We were playing our backfield," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "We batted a couple of balls down so that was big...Our defensive line really set the tone, playing the backfield early."

Adams took advantage of one of those tipped passes by coming down with what he called "the first interception of [his] life." The 305-pound defensive tackle then rumbled up the sideline and was five yards short of getting a pick-six.

"Lately, [defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson] has been talking about turnovers," Adams said. "This game I thought we did well with that. That’s what we came in to do, to capitalize on mistakes."

The Tigers also forced a fumble late in the second quarter. Cornerback Jonathan Jones stripped the ball away from a Bulldog receiver on a third-down conversion attempt, and Adams landed on the ball to complete an incredible first-half performance.

A few plays later, quarterback Nick Marshall took advantage of the great field position with a 37-yard touchdown pass to receiver Quan Bray.

Grant said Auburn fans can expect to see that same synergy between the offense and the defense as the season goes on, with each side playing off the performance of the other.

"I think we started off slow but as the game went on, we picked it up as an offense and defense," Grant said. "We came together and played as a team."

Both sides of the ball were bit by the injury bug. Starting middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy and weak-side linebacker Kris Frost left the game early, while Adams missed a stretch of time with a leg issue.

But even with the setbacks, Auburn's defense showed an impressive amount of depth against the Bulldogs, plugging in key reserves and freshmen to sustain momentum—something that has been a problem for the unit in recent years.

"We have a balanced rotation at practice," senior cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. "Everybody knows what they are doing. Everyone is keyed into their assignment, whether they are a starter or not. Everyone takes part of their assignments and just goes out there and plays."

As Auburn's playmakers keep working back to their old ways on offense, they are confident in the play of their teammates on defense.

The Tigers have shown great improvement and depth through the first four games of the season, and they believe it has only just begun heading into the toughest part of their schedule.

"They've come very far," Grant said. "And they've got a ton of room to improve. That's the scary thing about it. They get better every week."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Deshaun Watson vs. UNC: Stat Line, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

Clemson has been going with a dual-quarterback system to start the 2014, but freshman signal-caller Deshaun Watson may have the position all to himself after his six-touchdown performance against the University of North Carolina.

Here are Watson's final stats from his memorable night at Memorial Stadium:

Clemson came away with a 50-35 win, and Cole Stoudt—who had been sharing snaps with Watson—had very little to do with it, completing just one of his three passes on the evening for one yard.

Indeed, it was a record-breaking performance for Death Valley's new favorite quarterback, per Sports Illustrated:

His very first pass of the game set the tone for all that was to come. ACC Football provides a look at the 74-yard bomb to wide receiver Germone Hopper:

Hopper would find himself on the receiving end of a 50-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter from Watson, quickly establishing the freshman quarterback's ability to throw the ball downfield with accuracy.

Watson hit wideout Mike Williams for two scores in the third quarter, the first of which set a Clemson record, per ESPN ACC:

Watson found wide receiver and fellow freshman Artavis Scott for a 33-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter.

Bart Boatwright of The Greenville News captured Watson saluting the Clemson faithful after his sixth touchdown pass of the game, a (relatively) simple five-yard toss to tight end Jordan Leggett:

This performance comes just days after head coach Dabo Swinney made public his opinion of his star quarterback, apparently considering Watson's talents as a true freshman beyond those of former Tiger and current Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

Via Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier:

Despite Watson's heroics, Clemson is 2-2 on the season, although both of those losses have come against top-tier opponents in Florida State and Georgia. They have a chance at an ACC title, but will need some of the conference's other titans to topple, while they remain perfect along the way.

It will be difficult to do so with a freshman at the helm, especially one that took four games into the season to really establish himself. Still, the long-term future of the program is bright with young Watson calling the shots.

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Missouri vs. South Carolina: How Tigers' Win Reshapes Week 6 Rankings

Good luck trying to make any sense of the SEC East right now.

One week after losing at home to the Indiana Hoosiers, who had previously lost to Bowling Green, the Missouri Tigers upset the No. 13 South Carolina Gamecocks 21-20 in Columbia, South Carolina. As a result, Mizzou is the only team remaining perfect in the East, per the SEC Network:

With a result like this, you know the Top 25 will be affected in a not-so-insignificant way.

The Tigers are a tricky proposition when it comes to a potential place in the Top 25. Missouri's only played two Power-Five opponents and lost to one of them. Victories over South Dakota State, Toledo and UCF don't exactly say a lot. And it's not as if Mizzou completely dominated the Gamecocks on Saturday.

Missouri jumped ahead 7-3 in the first quarter but fell behind 10-7 with 1:36 in the first half. It wasn't until the final 1:36 of the game that the Tigers had the lead again. The Gamecocks outgained Missouri 338-280, held the Tigers to 2-of-16 on third downs and possessed the ball for nearly 12 more minutes.

Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel admitted after the game that even he was a bit surprised by his team's late comeback, per Pete Scantlebury of PowerMizzou.com:

Give the Tigers plenty of credit for the victory, but don't all of a sudden overrate them because of it. If you're going to call the loss to Indiana a fluke, then it's fair to look at the South Carolina win a bit skeptically too:

Conversely, it wouldn't be fair to completely abandon the Gamecocks, either. They still have wins against Georgia and East Carolina on their resume. Losing to Texas A&M and Missouri isn't all that bad.

According to ESPN.com, after dropping out of the Top 25 this week, the Tigers are receiving a few votes in both The Associated Press Poll and USA Today Poll. Meanwhile, South Carolina is 13th in the AP Poll and 15th in the USA Today Poll.

It's entirely possible that both teams will end up in the Top 25 for Week 6.

Below is a brief glimpse at where Missouri and South Carolina could end up when next week's polls are revealed.

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Michigan Loss to Minnesota Should Be Last Straw for Brady Hoke, Dave Brandon

Embarrassing losses to Notre Dame, Utah, and now Minnesota have put Brady Hoke in the firing line as angry fans call for his job. Joining him in the criticism is athletic director David Brandon, whom fans blame for hiring Hoke and for engaging in a series of public relations gaffes.

The future looks grim for both, as fans are fed up with repeated failures on and off the field.

Michigan losses to Minnesota are rare—the Wolverines have lost only four games in the series since 1968. But this 30-14 loss makes the chances of Hoke saving his job as remote as the Little Brown Jug which is now back in Minnesota.

He tried to jump start his struggling offense by benching fifth-year quarterback Devin Gardner in favor of backup Shane Morris. The result was a single rushing touchdown with Morris (7-for-19 passing for 49 yards and two turnovers) at the controls.

Morris stayed in the game despite a leg injury and after being staggered by a big hit. The injuries added to a rough performance in which he missed receivers, lost the football without even being hit and threw a pick six.

Hoke stubbornly defended his decision to start Morris and said he didn't see the aftermath of the hit that staggered his sophomore quarterback.

"I don't know if he had a concussion or not, I don't know that," said Hoke.

Morris later left on the field on a cart.

Gardner (3-for-6 for 39 yards) returned late in the fourth quarter to lead the team to a touchdown, but by that point the game was out of reach.

The loss adds to a bad week for athletic director David Brandon who had to retract a ticket promotion that allowed fans to get two tickets included with the purchase of two soft drinks. Season ticket holders were infuriated.

End-zone tickets for the Minnesota game start at $75 per seat, plus an additional donation to the athletic department. Tickets for premium games cost even more.

Angry fans flooded local sports talk shows and discussion boards with complaints but the gripes were best described by author John Bacon on the ThePostGamecom:

When they discount and dump thousands of tickets, do they expect their season ticket holders not to notice? When you paid a few thousand bucks for your four tickets, and the guy sitting next to you got in for a couple of Cokes, do the department's leaders really think you will pony up for the same sky-high prices next year?…Michigan has somehow created a world where loyalty is punished with price hikes, and disloyalty is rewarded with freebies.

Fans are upset that ticket prices have steadily risen under Brandon’s leadership, even as the team has faltered. Surrendering home games for neutral-field spotlight games, a diminished role for the Michigan marching band and changes to the stadium's game-day experience have added to the overall level of frustration. 

The student section at Michigan stadium has also shrunk over the last few seasons as a result of rising prices and unpopular seating policies.

Brandon finds himself inextricably linked to Hoke after hiring him to bring back traditional Michigan football in the wake of Rich Rodriguez’ dismissal. When Hoke went 11-2 during his first season, Brandon took a high profile role, roaming the sidelines and basking in the success of the program.

But the success was short lived. The next season Michigan was blown out by Alabama, 41-14, on way to a 8-5 finish and last season the team slid further, finishing 7-6.

Brandon was a backup player under Bo Schembechler and probably dreamed of hearing his name chanted by the Michigan Stadium crowd. But today the calls were for his dismissal.

The only hope for Hoke (and by extension Brandon) is for Michigan to somehow beat in-state rival Michigan State. The task looks nearly impossible for a Michigan team that has struggled on the road under Hoke and appears be to unravelling.

After the game Hoke said, "the team's goals of winning a championship are still out there." 

But it looks increasingly like those goals will be left for the next coach and athletic director.

 

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

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@PSCallihan

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Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill Takes Home CFB's Top Performer for Week 5

Kenny Hill is starting to make people forget about a certain former Aggies quarterback. After his thrilling Week 1 performance vs. South Carolina, Hill lit up the Arkansas secondary for 386 passing yards to go along with four touchdowns to earn this week's honor as our top performer. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee discusses Kenny's big day.

Can Hill keep this going?

Watch the video and let us know!               

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