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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is guaranteed to change in Week 8.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Amway College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 8 Rankings Released

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

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

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

 

Breaking Down Week 7 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Begin Slideshow

The Best Big Ten Team Nobody Knows Anything About

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA Football Playoff 2014: Latest Predictions After Week 7 Standings

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

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

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

 

The King Stays the King

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mississippi Becomes the Epicenter of College Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Baylor Distances Itself from Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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

 

Communication

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

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

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

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

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

 

Turnovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tackling

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

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

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

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

 

Quarterback Contain

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Who's No. 1?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

Jared Shanker of ESPN has more:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Is Anybody Scared of Alabama Anymore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Wolverines haven’t given up on the season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That pressure is about to amp up considerably.

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

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

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

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

 

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

Follow @PSCallihan

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Southern Cal Trojans Game Grades

Passing Offense

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

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

 

Pass Defense

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

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

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

 

Rushing Offense

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

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

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

 

Run Defense

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

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

 

Special Teams

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

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

 

Coaching

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

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

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

Job well done by Sark and the staff.  

 

Arizona Wildcats Game Grades

Passing Offense

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

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

 

Pass Defense

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

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

 

Rushing Offense

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

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

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

 

Run Defense

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

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

 

Special Teams

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

Nothing else really needs to be said. 

 

Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And USC has stability in Allen.

 

Statistics via ArizonaWildcats.com.  

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

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

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Rankings Week 8: B/R's Official Top 25

So it wasn't to the level of madness that we saw last week, but Week 7 wasn't too shabby, either. And after all that craziness, having a Saturday with a little more stability was refreshing.

But we still have plenty of movement in the Bleacher Report Top 25, mostly at the top where there's a new No. 1, while those trailing the leaders are pretty well bunched.

This week's poll was voted on by 18 members of B/R's college football team: writers Ben AxelrodPhil CallihanMichael Felder, Andrew HallKyle KensingDavid KenyonBen KerchevalAdam KramerBrian LeighBrian PedersenBarrett SalleeBrad ShepardErin SorensenMarc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

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

Check out Bleacher Report's Week 8 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 7

Week 6 of the college football season was all about chaos. Week 7 was all about near chaos.

Three teams from the national Top 10 were defeated, but two of those teams, Auburn and TCU, were playing road games against Top Five opponents (Mississippi State and Baylor, respectively). It's hard to call those "chaotic" defeats.

At the same time, though, last week's No. 6 team (Notre Dame) struggled at home against North Carolina, last week's No. 7 team (Alabama) struggled on the road at Arkansas, last week's No. 8 team (Michigan State) struggled on the road at Purdue and last week's No. 11 team (Oklahoma) struggled on a neutral field against Texas. We almost saw a lot more wreckage in Week 7 than we actually did.

What sort of effect is this going to take on the polls? It's difficult to say. The biggest winners of the week will not be the biggest risers, because they started so far toward the top. There isn't any room for them to rise. For the teams they beat, however, there is always plenty of room to free-fall. The rankings are a bottomless pit.

Here's a projection of Sunday's Associated Press Top 25.

Note: Rankings above reflect the author's projection of the Week 8 AP poll—not how he would rank the teams himself.

 

Biggest Risers

Oregon

Oregon's offense looked a lot more like...well, Oregon's offense in a thorough win over UCLA. Offensive tackle Jake Fisher returned to the lineup after missing two games with an injury, and it was difficult to ignore the improvement he catalyzed up front.

Fisher moved from right tackle to left tackle when Tyler Johnstone went down with a torn ACL this spring and has played as well on Marcus Mariota's blind side as he always had on his sighted side. Mariota was not sacked against a very good Bruins pass rush, and Oregon rushed for 258 yards on 41 carries.

The Ducks raced out to a 42-10 lead before allowing UCLA to score some meaningless points at the end of the fourth quarter, taking their foot off the gas once the outcome was in hand. If this version of Oregon shows up for the rest of Pac-12 play, it's not hard to foresee a scenario where it finishes 12-1, wins the conference and sneaks into the CFP despite last week's ugly home loss to Arizona.

 

USC

USC held on tight to beat Arizona, 28-26, in the wee hours of Sunday morning. This time, there was no Grand Canyon State miracle.

As egregious as the Trojans' Hail Mary defense was against Arizona State in Week 6, do we really think that says much about the quality of their team? If not for that one lapse in defense, they would be 5-1 right now and probably ranked inside the Top 15. Even with a loss at Boston College, the Trojans would be ranked inside the Top 15.

So it seems logical to think they'll re-crack the Top 20 after winning a road game against an alleged Top 10 opponent. Even after the loss to ASU, the Trojans placed No. 28 with 61 votes last week. And who among that back group did more than USC to rise up during Week 7?

 

Biggest Fallers 

Missouri

Missouri's offense was terrible against Georgia. Painfully, comically terrible. It was the most undeserving-of-a-Top-25-ranking performance from a Top 25-ranked team we have seen this entire season.

Offseason darling Maty Mauk—a player for whom I am guilty of believing the hype—played the worst game of his career, completing just nine of 21 passes for 97 yards and four interceptions. At times, he looked like he wanted to turn the ball over, lest he be forced to take another snap behind his overwhelmed offensive line.

Missouri's defense was plucky but eventually caved when its offense kept throwing it back onto the field with no rest. There is enough talent on this roster for Missouri to compete for second place in the SEC East, but in a division so devoid of quality teams, that doesn't mean much of anything.

 

UCLA

As mentioned above, UCLA was outplayed by more than 12 points in its 42-30 loss against Oregon. The only real difference between last year's meeting and this year's meeting was the fact that this year's meeting took place in the Rose Bowl, where all of UCLA's fans could witness the embarrassment firsthand.

For the umpteenth consecutive week, Brett Hundley struggled to feel pressure in the pocket, which makes him a suboptimal quarterback for a team so prone to allowing pressure. The NFL will be enamored with Hundley's physical tools—and rightfully so; they're impressive—but it's looking more and more like he'll never put the pieces all together in college. He isn't a good fit for this team.

The real trouble with Saturday's game was the UCLA defense, which wilted by allowing Oregon to score 42 points in the first 46 minutes of the game. A lot of that was a result of its offense not staying on the field, but it was difficult to watch the Bruins' supposedly superior unit get torched.

 

Texas A&M

What do we make of Texas A&M?

The Week 1 win at South Carolina looks worse than it did at the time, but South Carolina beat Georgia on that same field. The Week 5 win against Arkansas was difficult on the eyes, but Arkansas just came within a blocked extra point of taking Alabama to overtime. And even though the Aggies got worked by the Mississippi schools the past two weeks...the Mississippi schools appear to be the class of college football.

Still, there is no good excuse for getting beaten as handily as Texas A&M did by Ole Miss in Week 7—especially on its home field. Kevin Sumlin's supposedly fine-without-Johnny-Manziel offense sputtered to the tune of zero points in the first half.

"We're getting whipped up front," Sumlin said at halftime, per Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com. And that is the problem exactly. At its best, Texas A&M functions from the inside out. For three consecutive weeks now, its offensive line has been outplayed by an opponent's defensive line. In all three cases, it hasn't even been close.

The line is the biggest difference between last year's team and this year's. It's also the reason A&M might fall out of the polls pretty soon.

 

Arizona

Arizona finally lost a game in Week 7, mounting a frantic comeback against USC but falling just short with a missed 36-yard field goal as time expired.

Truthfully, however, the Wildcats' undefeated season should have been buried long before Casey Skowron's kick went sailing wide right. They should have lost to California before catching a Hail Mary as time expired, and they shouldn't have even been within two points against USC.

The Wildcats are not a bad team by any measure. They won a true road game at Oregon, which, no matter the state of Oregon's offensive line, is difficult to replicate. Rich Rodriquez is a fantastic game-planner, the receivers are first-rate, Anu Solomon looks like a future star and even the defense is better than in previous years.

But this was never a team that belonged in the Top 10. It just wasn't. It deserved to be there based on its record and its on-paper resume, but who among us really thought it was one of the 10 best teams in the country? Who would have taken it over, say, Oklahoma on a neutral field? 

Twenty seems like a much fairer spot.

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USC vs. Arizona: Score and Twitter Reaction

Just one week after pulling a major upset win over the Oregon Ducks, the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats were bit by the upset bug themselves. On Saturday, the USC Trojans came into Tucson, Arizona, and handed the Wildcats their first setback of the season.

The 28-26 loss will almost certainly send the Wildcats tumbling in the polls.

The Trojans' Javorius Allen was phenomenal out of the backfield. He had 205 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Allen's effort helped to offset the 395-yard passing performance from Arizona's Anu Solomon.

The Wildcats had their opportunities. They couldn't manage a two-point conversion with 1:07 remaining that would have tied the game—even after a pass-interference penalty gave them a second chance. The Wildcats recovered the subsequent onside kick to breathe new life into their hopes of remaining undefeated.

Solomon got his team within field-goal range, but Arizona kicker Casey Skowron missed the 36-yard attempt wide right. Skowron earned goat status for missing the very makeable attempt, but the play-calling on second and third down before the miss wasn't exactly genius.

Instead of running the ball up the middle on second down to gain a few more yards for Skowron, Arizona elected to have Solomon throw a low-percentage pass to Caleb Jones in the end zone. It fell incomplete, and that took away the team's opportunity to spike the ball on third down.

On the next play, Solomon simply hurled the ball out bounds in what was really just a wasted opportunity.

USC nearly gave the game away with careless penalties throughout the second half. The pass interference on the two-point conversion was just one example. The Trojans were penalized a total of 13 times for 103 yards in the game. Somehow they still hung on for a much-needed win.

With the victory, the Trojans are the top team in the Pac-12 South. USC has been anything but impressive in most of its games this season, but head coach Steve Sarkisian's team has found its way to a 4-2 record overall and a 3-1 mark in the conference.

Many people doubted whether Arizona was for real when it vaulted into the No. 10 spot after knocking off the Ducks. Saturday night's loss makes any of the Wildcats' detractors look as though their criticisms were on point. Losing at home to such an imperfect Trojans team is a bad look.

With so much transition in the top 25 over the last two weeks, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Wildcats drop out of the top 20 with this loss. This one will sting for a while.

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The Only 7 Teams Who Control Their Own College Football Playoff Destiny

There is still so much to be determined, and yet, it’s amazing how much we already know. 

The bedlam of the college football season has created a foggy College Football Playoff picture at the halfway point. Entire conferences already need help to garner consideration for one of the four coveted spots. As a result, the usual jam-packed list of undefeated teams is surprisingly modest. Auburn, Arizona and TCU fell this week, making a small list even smaller.

Only six unbeatens remain. There were 14 following the games of Week 7 last year and 12 at this point in 2012.

— Brett Edgerton (@EditorEdge) October 12, 2014

Resumes are being crafted, and a group of human beings—better known as the selection committee—will likely have its work cut out.

Through the madness, a handful of programs still control their own playoff destiny, pushing past the various bits of carnage. Some of these teams will eventually clash, two as early as next week. 

As for those currently in control of their playoff destiny, here is the updated rundown.

 

Mississippi State

Thought by many, including me, to be the No. 1 team in the nation, Mississippi State is racking up critical wins week after week. Although the path to an unbeaten regular season is far from a given, Mississippi State certainly controls its own playoff fate as it dives deeper into SEC play. 

With their win over Auburn, the Bulldogs have done a complete perception transformation. It was by no means a clean game on either side—with conditions and turnovers playing a significant role—but the victory served as a reminder that this team is very much for real for those who weren’t ready to embrace this unfamiliar contender.

Still, the path to perfection is riddled with difficult games. Dan Mullen’s squad still has road games at Kentucky (yes, this should be noted), Alabama and rival Ole Miss. It also has a home matchup against Arkansas.

"If we keep on this path, ask me the second week of December," Mullen said to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd following Saturday’s game.

At this rate and path, we might have to.

 

Ole Miss 

“Some” college football writers on Bleacher Report—writers who will remain nameless—predicted that Ole Miss would struggle against Texas A&M due to an Alabama hangover. Boy, were “those” guys wrong. 

Playing on the road a week after taking out the Crimson Tide, the Rebels dominated Texas A&M at Kyle Field. As a result, much like its instate rival, the expectations for this team have evolved, even more so from where it was a week ago. 

The obvious obstacle, of course, is Mississippi State. On top of what could be the most hyped Egg Bowl ever played, Ole Miss still has road trips to LSU and Arkansas. The Rebels also play Auburn at home.

Of all undefeated teams, this is likely the most turbulent playoff path. But given the way Hugh Freeze’s team has played thus far on both sides of the ball, the possibility of a playoff appearance should be embraced. 

Like Mississippi State, Ole Miss has gone from good story to SEC wrecking ball.

 

Florida State

Even with negativity and distractions hovering over the program, the Seminoles have quietly gone about their business while the teams around them have fallen.

In many ways, Florida State’s 38-20 victory over Syracuse on Saturday was a microcosm of the season: a lot of good on both sides of the ball, and yet, the overall product isn’t quite where it was a year ago. 

Through it all, FSU is right where it needs to be. Although you could question the overall strength of the ACC, it does not matter for the Seminoles.

If they win out, they’re in the playoff. There’s no debate there. 

With games against Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami and Florida on tap—along with a matchup against an ACC Coastal team to be determined—the Seminoles’ road to the playoff is much kinder than others. Arguably the biggest test still to come is now in the on-deck circle. 

Speaking of…

 

Notre Dame

It has not always been clean. It has not always been efficient. It has not always been easy on the eyes. But through the first two months of the college football season, Notre Dame has managed to stay unbeaten. 

Faced with the ultimate sandwich game, Notre Dame powered past North Carolina 50-43 after a slow start. This came a week after the Irish needed a late touchdown to squeeze past Stanford 17-14 at home and before a critical matchup against Florida State in Tallahassee. 

While style points are not exactly piling up for Brian Kelly’s team, they’re of no importance right now. If—and the open-ended nature of the word is critical here—the Irish beat Florida State, they will immediately vault into playoff consideration. Of course they will.

Beyond Florida State, a team you can’t simply glaze past, Notre Dame still plays at Navy, at Arizona State and at USC. No one said it would easy, but the Irish are in position.

 

Baylor

Even without a conference championship game, Baylor is sitting pretty for one of the four vacant CFB Playoff openings. “Pretty” isn’t a word you’d use to describe how the Bears got to this point, although, like others included, it’s gotten the job done.

A basketball score-infused comeback against TCU to maintain this position was needed for Baylor on Saturday. Down three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Bears ultimately took down TCU 61-58 at home. Despite watching the game in its entirety, the score still felt strange to type. 

As a result, Art Briles’ group is still in lovely shape. It doesn’t erase the holes that require attention, but Baylor is still unbeaten. With games against West Virginia, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State to come, however, the Bears will need to get right in a hurry to stay in control of their fate as the season progresses.

 

Georgia or Kentucky (The “Let’s Get Weird” Scenario)

In a game of “who doesn’t belong?” this category would light an M-80 and throw its hand up straight up into the sky to be noticed. Your confused outrage at this point is understood and appreciated.

However, the team to come out of the SEC East still—at this moment in time—controls its own playoff destiny. The two teams at the top of the standings, Georgia and Kentucky, will play one another on November 8. It is uncertain if running back Todd Gurley will play in this game for Georgia or what Kentucky will look like if/when he does, but these are the only two two teams with one loss in the East.

That means they’re still alive.

For this to transpire, one of these two teams would also have to win every other game on its schedule. And, making it even more complicated, the one-loss team will have to beat the SEC West champion as a significant underdog. At that point, they would be all but guaranteed a spot in the playoff even without an unblemished loss column.

It is strange and remarkably unlikely. And yet, the scenario remains very real. 

In a year built on madness, no doomsday stone should go unturned.

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Texas A&M Once Again Proving They Are More Style Than Substance

For the past few years, the flair for the dramatic that Johnny Football, Kenny Trill and the rest of the Texas A&M Aggies possess have made them one of the most popular college football teams. 

But Saturday's loss to Ole Miss proved one inevitable fact that fans in College Station don't want to admit—this team isn't built to be a legitimate contender for an SEC title. 

This year, Kenny Hill was the darling of college football—another young quarterback taking the wild and unpredictable college football landscape by storm. 

Before Hill was the flashier, far more controversial Johnny Manziel. A Heisman winner as a freshman, the guy that flashed money signs anytime the ball bounced his way defined the new world order of Saturdays. 

But he didn't leave Texas A&M—something he once tweeted that he couldn't wait to do—as an SEC champion. Nor did the Aggies' gunslinger ever take the 12th Man to the promised land of a BCS bowl. 

This season, Hill, the heir to Manziel's throne, had the Aggies looking like early-season playoff contenders after a Week 1 throttling of South Carolina. Plenty of analysts were pegging Hill as the Heisman favorite, and to his own credit, he had earned that distinction. 

However, the same bug that always seems to bite Kevin Sumlin teams bit hard over the last two weeks. 

After winning their first four games by an average of 43.5 points, the Aggies were pushed to the limit two weeks ago against Arkansas, winning 35-28 in overtime. 

Then the past two weeks had the state of Mississippi proving they are the kings of college football in 2014, not the state of Texas or Alabama for that matter. The only constant between both Ole Miss and Mississippi State these past two weeks?

Wins over the Aggies. 

At times, the flashy offense of Texas A&M has found success against the traditional powerhouses of the SEC. There was Manziel's freshman year victory over Alabama as a prime example.  

But as history tells almost any team that employs the no-huddle, there will be Saturdays where it doesn't work. And those days equate to losses. The Aggies lost to Ole Miss, and Bo Wallace isn't anywhere near the type of quarterback that Hill is. 

The Aggies have also never been known to field a strong defense that can hold its own against top competition. Last year's loss to Alabama, where Manziel arguably had his best game of the year, proved just that as the Aggie offense did all it could, but the defense simply couldn't get enough stops. 

Offenses will win you games, but defenses will bring you championships. 

Both Mississippi teams, plus the Crimson Tide have control of their own destiny in the SEC. With two losses and a matchup to the Tide coming up next, Texas A&M could very well end up on the outside looking in at the playoffs before we even hit November. 

College Station likes to claim that they own the state of Texas with the recent downturn in Austin. But clearly, Waco is the site of the new throne in the Lone Star State. The Aggies have proven instead that they're the dukes of Texas. 

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 7

Is Alabama's dynasty over? Despite the protestations to the contrary by one of Paul Finebaum's irate callers, the proof is becoming irrefutable. 

The Crimson Tide had to resort to a blocked PAT just to escape Fayetteville, Arkansas, by the hair on their chinny chin chins. Granted, Arkansas is vastly improved and deserves better than its 0-3 SEC record, but Alabama's play showed all the signs of a fading power ready to cede its perch.

And the usurpers are ready. There are only four unbeaten teams left in the power-five conferences after Saturday, and two of them reside in the state of Mississippi. If the talk of the Egg Bowl being more important than the Iron Bowl sounded like a gag last week, no one is laughing at that line now.

We're but two weeks away from the selection committee's inaugural rankings. While the committee members have a truckload of statistics and data available to them, these trends should be pretty unmistakable:

 

Teams That Moved Up

State of Mississippi

This isn't just a cute little story about the Magnolia State anymore. Mississippi will have the second- and third-ranked teams in the polls come Sunday, behind defending champion Florida State. In fact, both Ole Miss and Mississippi State boast a better resume than the 'Noles.

Both teams have proven that they're not just cute, feel-good stories, suffering no letdown this week after big victories in Week 6. The Egg Bowl is indeed shaping up to be what will decide the SEC West.

 

Baylor

The Bears overcame a 21-point deficit with less than 12 minutes to play to stun TCU in a battle of unbeatens. With it, the persistent questions about Baylor's less-than-stellar nonconference schedule will start to recede. 

As the only undefeated team in the Big 12, Baylor is now in a prime position to claim a spot in the playoff field. The Bears might not always win pretty with a very shaky defense, but they're never out of any game with their firepower.

 

Notre Dame

The Irish certainly didn't score any style points in a harder-than-expected win over mediocre North Carolina, but they continue to benefit from the fact that other power conference teams are knocking each other off.

Even a loss at Florida State next week might not eliminate Notre Dame from the playoff field. With a schedule getting considerably softer after Tallahassee, the Irish should be pretty close to a lock for at least a spot in one of the New Year's Six bowls.

 

Oregon

The Ducks righted their ship with a resounding win over UCLA, a game that wasn't as close as the final score of 42-30 indicated. They're still in control of the Pac-12 North race, with a showdown against Stanford to come Nov. 1.

With all the SEC West teams starting to inflict losses on each other, Oregon still has a shot to play its way back into the playoff. It should also keep sending reminders that it's defeated Michigan State, which inexplicably is still ranked several spots ahead in both polls.

 

Teams That Moved Down

State of Alabama

First, Auburn was resoundingly beaten by Mississippi State. Then, Alabama struggled to shake off Arkansas. The SEC West's center of gravity has shifted across the borders to the state of Mississippi, which is now 2-0 against its divisional foes from Alabama.

The Tigers' chances of repeating as the SEC champ just became that much more daunting, as their schedule does not let up going forward. Alabama does get a bit more of a break with the schedule, but it hasn't faced Mississippi State yet, never mind the Iron Bowl.

 

TCU

It was all right there for the taking, but the Horned Frogs simply blew it. TCU was about 10 minutes away from a huge win in Waco, Texas, and firm control of the Big 12 race, having already defeated Oklahoma last week.

But after Baylor blitzed them 24-0 to finish the game, the Frogs probably are out of the playoff race. The dwindling number of contenders from the Big 12 might help the Pac-12 and the Big Ten if no one emerges as a clear conference champion. 

 

UCLA

The Bruins began their meltdown last week when they missed a pair of field goals at the end of an upset loss to Utah. It culminated Saturday when their coaches went nuclear at each other on the sideline. 

UCLA ranked in the Top 10 to open the season and was a chic pick to crash the playoff field. Halfway into the season, the Bruins have proved that they're not ready for prime time.

 

BYU

The Cougars' flickering hopes of landing in a New Year's Six bowl were officially extinguished after Thursday's loss to Central Florida in overtime. For the purposes of being relevant in the new college football landscape, BYU might have to rethink whether its path of independence is really working out—even though, money-wise, it's still a winner.

 

Group-of-Five Team in the Best Position

East Carolina

The Pirates just continue to grind out victories, this time a 28-17 win at South Florida to keep them in pole position for the Group-of-Five bowl bid. The ranks of their competition actually thinned out a bit as fellow American Athletic member Memphis lost to drop out of contention.

If East Carolina should falter, Marshall—the only unbeaten team in the Group-of-Five conferences—will be in the mix along with the Mountain West winner, with Colorado State currently leading the pack.

 

Projected Conference Championship Matchups

ACC: Florida State vs. Duke

Big Ten: Michigan State vs. Minnesota

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Arizona

SEC: Mississippi State vs. Georgia

 

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