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Charlie Strong Shows He Has Texas in Right Direction with First Signature Win

AUSTIN, Tex. — Six years had passed since the Texas Longhorns beat a ranked opponent at home. That drought ended Saturday in a 33-16 upset over No. 23 West Virginia.

The Longhorns offense put up 24 points on the Mountaineers in the first half alone, and the Texas defense held West Virginia's offense out of the end zone for three quarters.

But the game was far from complete.

The offense had one of its better performances in the first portion of the game but played flat for the majority of the second half.

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes completed 8 of 14 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown in the first half yet didn't throw another touchdown in the second half and finished the game completing 11 of 29 passes for 124 yards and an interception.

But the defense made up for the offense's second-half issues and was the difference-maker in the win.

Prior to Saturday's game, West Virginia ranked No. 21 nationally in scoring offense and averaged 36 points per game. Texas held the Mountaineers offense to two touchdowns, which ended in the Mountaineers' lowest scoring game of the season.

"It is a process. We know it's a week-by-week," first-year head coach Charlie Strong said following the win. "We may play one half of it very good, and the next half we just want to make sure we get a big enough lead where we can hold them off. But we know that we can really improve. We can get better, which we still have some areas where we can really improve in."

The main areas of concern are the offense's consistency and the kicking game.

Some will say quarterbacks receive too much praise in wins and too much criticism in losses. But to be the leader of the offense—especially at a school like the University of Texas—the quarterback will need to be prepared to handle both scenarios.

Swoopes has done a decent job of taking over the reigns following David Ash's career-ending injury. But it would be difficult for Texas fans to put their full faith in Swoopes' ability.

He has shown flashes of talent but continues to make rookie mistakes in big games. His interception against West Virginia was a perfect example.

The kicking game is an issue in itself. Strong pulled starting punter William Russ after his 23-yard punt in the first quarter against West Virginia. But it wasn't just one game that caused him to be benched.

Russ had a 12-yard punt against Kansas State, which caused the Wildcats' fanbase to literally laugh out loud at how bad it was.

And that is not an exaggeration.

It's far from a finished product, but if Texas fans can take anything from Saturday's win, it's that Strong has the Longhorns headed in the right direction.

Texas still has two difficult opponents on its schedule. The Longhorns will head to Stillwater, Okla. next week to face Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys have struggled this season, but playing in Stillwater is never an easy task. The fans—particularly the "Paddle People"—make it difficult for visiting teams to stay focused.

"Week by week we continue to get better. I told the team we have three weeks left to go play. We have to get up for a game each and every week. We have to get better in all phases: offense, defense and then the kicking game," Strong said.

"This was just a total team win where we didn't flinch at all. We kept battling. We wanted to make it a physical game and we were able to make it a physical game. But we know we have two left. We're not concerned about the bowl right now. We just want to enjoy this one this evening, and get ready to go play Oklahoma State next week."

If the Longhorns want to continue this momentum, the team can appreciate this upset over a ranked opponent but needs to remember what remains on the line.

 

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

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Oregon vs. Utah: How Ducks' Win Reshapes Playoff Picture

The No. 4 Oregon Ducks find themselves in prime position for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff. On Saturday night, the Ducks went into Salt Lake City and handed the No. 17 Utah Utes a 51-27 loss. 

Ducks quarterback and Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota was predictably awesome. He finished with 353 total yards and four touchdowns.

The win will vault Oregon ahead of the No. 3 Auburn Tigers in Sunday's Associated Press Top 25 poll. It will likely push the Ducks ahead of Auburn in the CFP rankings as well. Coming into the game, Oregon held the fourth spot, and Auburn was third.

The latter was stunned 41-38 by unranked Texas A&M earlier in the day. Saturday's games also saw the Florida State Seminoles defeat the Virginia Cavaliers, the Alabama Crimson Tide survive a resurgent LSU Tigers team and wins from other one-loss contenders like the Arizona State Sun Devils, TCU Horned Frogs and Ohio State Buckeyes.

It's a convoluted picture right now, but in the end, this is the way I predict the top four spots will be filled.

The Ducks' win clinched the Pac-12 North title and ensured them a spot in the conference championship.

Things didn't look good at first. Utah nearly had a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, but Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay made the type of inexplicable mistake that will live in infamy in Salt Lake City.

Clay was headed into the end zone for the score that would have given Utah the two-touchdown lead, but he dropped the ball short of the goal line to begin a celebration.

The ball was picked up by Oregon's Erick Dargan. During a brief scramble, Dargan fumbled, but his teammate, Joe Walker, scooped up the ball and returned it 100 yards for a score. The wild play tied the score at seven.

It was all downhill in the second quarter from there for Utah. The Ducks outscored the Utes 24-3 in that period and held a commanding 24-10 lead at halftime. The Utes got the game within seven points by the end of the third, but Oregon pulled away in the fourth quarter.

This should be the final tough regular-season game on the Ducks' schedule. They still have to face the 2-8 Colorado Buffaloes and the 4-5 Oregon State Beavers. The latter is obviously an intense rivalry game, but Oregon will be heavily favored in both.

In the Pac-12 title game, the Ducks could meet one of four teams from the South Division. If Oregon wins out, it will undoubtedly be one of the four teams playing for a national championship in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Making Sense of the Carnage of College Football's Elimination Saturday

It was billed as the Saturday of the college football season; a day where playoff resumes would blossom while others would be left in ruins.  

While the sport does not always cooperate when given such remarkable expectations and standards to live up to, it did in Week 11. Top 10 teams fell, playoff hopes were crushed, conferences were given newfound hope and others—looking in your direction, Alabama—saw their postseason lives flash before their eyes.

Although some felt that a four-team postseason would de-emphasize college football’s regular season, it has turned out to be the exact opposite. As a result, there were games played throughout various hours of the day on Saturday in different parts of the country—from Tempe, Arizona to Fort Worth, Texas to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and beyond—where everything was on the line.

November football is hard to beat.

And from Auburn, Alabama, where we didn’t expect a story, came the weekend’s biggest headline. The Tigers’ loss to Texas A&M creates a fascinating mess for the selection committee; one they’ll have only a few days to sort through.

As for everything we learned—and more importantly, what it means going forward—here are some observations from the elimination-packed weekend.

 

The Big 12 Had Itself a Weekend

It wasn’t just the fact that TCU and Baylor looked deadly in wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma, although let’s start there. The Horned Frogs' 41-20 win at home over Kansas State was eye opening; it also further silenced those still questioning the validity of this team’s College Football Playoff resume.

For Baylor, the lone team to beat TCU, Week 11 provided a similar response. The Bears beat Oklahoma 48-14—making it look simple at times—and in doing so, they stated their playoff case.

Although the debate over TCU vs. Baylor will rage on—and how the Bears’ weak out-of-conference schedule stacks up to their outright win against the Frogs—one thing is certain: The conference is suddenly in superb playoff shape as we hit the homestretch.

The schedules are manageable, particularly for TCU, and the lack of a conference championship game suddenly doesn’t feel like the roadblock it did weeks ago.

Losses from Auburn and Michigan State were almost as important for the Big 12 as the conference wins, and as strange and far-fetched as it seems, the Big 12 is now the most likely candidate to get two teams from one conference into the playoff. 

While that scenario is still incredibly unlikely, it’s also still possible. That’s what kind of Saturday it was.

 

Auburn is Out, Alabama is In, and the SEC Seems Strangely Playoff Vulnerable

Auburn’s 41-38 loss to Texas A&M served as the weekend’s primary shocker. The effects of this game, beyond the enormous hit to the Tigers, could be significant and far-reaching. 

The talk of getting two SEC teams into the College Football Playoff suddenly feels like a distant memory. No, the perception of the conference and the SEC West haven’t shifted all that much, but the losses have started to mount. And there are more to come.

Alabama nearly added another one to this list, and it looked all but doomed in its game against LSU. A late drive and an overtime touchdown gave the Crimson Tide a 20-13 win, and more importantly, kept their playoff hopes alive.

With Alabama and Mississippi State set to meet up next weekend, another SEC contender will suffer a setback. Looking past this game—regardless of the outcome—both teams still have challenging matchups to follow.

The idea that the SEC could somehow be left out of the postseason is not one that should be taken seriously, at least not right now. But given the way the results have started to unfold, this doomsday scenario is not out of the realm of possibility. 

On Tuesday, however, the SEC will again have two teams represented. It may last only five days, but the conference will stay in this position of power for at least one more Top 25 reveal.

 

You Should Probably Start Taking Arizona State Seriously

Arizona State controls its playoff destiny, which cannot possibly be stressed enough. 

Following the Sun Devils’ 55-31 win over Notre Dame, which was a blowout, close for a while and then a blowout again, Todd Graham’s team has played its way into the playoff picture without anyone truly noticing.

That changed somewhat last week when the selection committee tabbed Arizona State at No. 9 in its latest Top 25. We took note of them, acknowledging their existence, although did we take them seriously? More importantly, are we doing so now?

With games against Oregon State, Washington State and Arizona remaining, the Sun Devils should win out in the regular season. If this scenario unfolds—and you should by no means take anything for granted—the Pac-12 Championship matchup against Oregon would serve as a quarterfinal for the playoff.

This isn’t just the equation for the Ducks; include Arizona State in this conversation. Given the way the Sun Devils have played, they've earned it.

  

Ohio State Isn't Dead Yet

The selection committee has a real conundrum on its hands. How does it handle a team that inexplicably lost to Virginia Tech in a game that seems like ages ago?

Since that defeat, Ohio State has found its quarterback. The defense has improved. The overall quality of play has skyrocketed to a point to where the Buckeyes are a different group entirely.

That much was evident as Urban Meyer’s team dismantled Michigan State 49-37 on the road on Saturday. Behind J.T. Barrett, Ohio State looked dangerous. And in beating Michigan State, it has gained back control of the Big Ten. What this means beyond the obvious conference implications is where this gets complicated.

As it stands, the Big Ten is likely out of the playoff. With further chaos to develop, however, Ohio State should by no means be out of the conversation entirely. There are far too many impressions to be made and games to be played. More importantly, there are more losses to take place.

Beyond beating Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan, Ohio State’s best hope of crashing the playoff may rest in the hands of Nebraska. If the Cornhuskers can finish the regular season with only one loss, the Big Ten Championship will suddenly carry more significance. 

If that’s the case, Ohio State (and Nebraska, for that matter) could still have a shot at cracking the top four. One thing’s for certain; the Buckeyes are not a team you’re really lining up to play at this moment in time.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Utah: Game Grades, Analysis for Ducks

Amidst a tough environment, the Oregon Ducks were able to go on the road and defeat a stubborn Utah team by a score of 51-27. 

Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota finished with over 350 yards of total offense. It was the seventh time this season in which he's accumulated at least four total touchdowns. Perhaps most impressive is the fact he was able to complete this feat against a very good defense. 

With the win, expect Oregon to catapult itself into the top three in regards to the College Football Playoff Standings. This will go down as one of the more impressive victories on its resume. 

A full box score of the contest can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. First-Half grades and final grades will be addressed below. Additional analysis on position units will also be touched upon. 

 

Oregon Ducks Analysis

Passing Offense

Outside of a long 41-yard pass play to Devon Allen, Oregon didn't look to attack the field too often down the field. As a means to combat Utah's immense pressure, Mariota got the ball out quickly on shorter throws. Dwayne Stanford and Byron Marshall both were excellent in run after catch situations. 

Mariota finished with a solid stat line: 17-of-29 for 239 yards and three touchdowns. While Utah's pressure was effective at times, it did nothing to disturb Mariota's ability to deliver the ball to his receivers.

 

Pass Defense

Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was able to gash the Ducks on a big pass play for 78 yards to Kaelin Clay. Had it not been for Clay's boneheaded mistake, the play would have resulted in a touchdown—and could've easily spun the game in a different direction. 

Oregon's defenders blanketed Utah's average wide receiver corps for the duration of the night. Without Dres Anderson, there wasn't much in the way of a deep threat. 

The Oregon pass defense was hurt considerably by Devontae Booker out of the backfield. Utah's tailback had eight catches for 110 yards, with much of his production came on screens or simply leaking out of the backfield. Clay led Utah with 152 yards receiving on only five catches.

 

Rushing Offense

It was tough sledding in the first half. The offensive line wasn't getting consistent push up front against an active Utah front seven. There were breakdowns in protection, which resulted in four first-half sacks. 

However in the second half, the emergence of freshman Royce Freeman stemmed Utah's relentless pressure. Freeman ended the game with 99 yards on 15 carries. He had a number of punishing runs late in the game, where he broke multiple tackles. 

The story on the ground tonight involved Mariota. The signal-caller had a season-high both in carries (18) and yards (114). When the play broke down, he was able to escape and make positive yardage with his legs.

 

Run Defense

Credit Oregon's run defense for playing a whale of a game. The reason Utah had success throwing the ball was because Oregon virtually shut down its electric tailback Devontae Booker. The third-leading rusher in the Pac-12 finished with only 56 yards on 18 carries. The Oregon front seven—in particular its linebackers—were extremely active in penetrating gaps and getting into the backfield. 

Both Danny Mattingly and Joe Walker consistently made plays. Walker's bizarre 99-yard fumble return for touchdown completely changed the complexion of the contest. Tyson Coleman also had an acrobatic interception in the second half. 

 

Special Teams

Walk-on freshman kicker Aidan Schneider was perfect on all three of his field-goal attempts. In terms kick return coverage game, the team did a solid job against Clay.

Charles Nelson had one very nice punt return, and Jonathan Loyd would've had a punt return for touchdown in the final seconds of the contest—were not for a shoestring tackle by Utah punter Tom Hackett. 

 

Coaching

Credit Mark Helfrich and his staff for combating Utah's pressure after the first quarter. A heavy diet of quick throws and plays to the perimeter enabled Oregon's skill players to use their speed in space. 

Also credit the team in general for answering the bell every time Utah mounted some sort of a comeback effort. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Utah: Game Grades, Analysis for Ducks

Amidst a tough environment, the Oregon Ducks were able to go on the road and defeat a stubborn Utah team by a score of 51-27. Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota finished with over 350 yards of total offense...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Playoff Projections After Elimination Saturday

A number of Top 25 teams squared off in Week 11, giving us a slightly clearer picture of where everyone stands.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer gives you his updated projections for the College Football Playoff in the video above.

Who is in your top four for the CFP? Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State vs. Michigan State: Game Grades, Analysis for Buckeyes and Spartans

Urban Meyer and No. 14 Ohio State (8-1) picked up a huge win in East Lansing Saturday night, beating No. 8 Michigan State (7-2) 49-37 in a prime-time showdown.

The Buckeyes took control of the Big Ten's East Division with the victory, and if they can win two of their final three games (against Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan), they'll clinch a spot in the conference title game. Meyer has his eyes set on a bigger prize, though, as Saturday night's 12-point win will give Ohio State a huge boost in the College Football Playoff race. 

The loss was devastating for Michigan State and its conference and national title hopes. The Spartans will have to win and out and hope that the Buckeyes lose two of their final three games in order to reach the Big Ten title game.

How did Ohio State and Michigan State grade out from Saturday night's surprising shootout?

Ohio State Buckeyes Grades Analysis

Pass Offense: The Buckeyes knew they would need to throw the ball to beat Michigan State, and J.T. Barrett came through in a big way for his team. The redshirt freshman was sensational in the first half, throwing for 233 yards and two touchdowns against a stingy Spartans defense. Barrett finished with 300 yards through the air, and his top two targets—Devin Smith and Michael Thomas—came up huge, combining for 220 receiving yards and two touchdowns. 

Run Offense: Ezekiel Elliott and the Buckeyes' rushing attack abused what was one of the nation's strongest run defenses, piling up 268 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Elliott was explosive and showed excellent vision, running for 154 yards and two scores on just 23 carries. Barrett was a factor on the ground as well, accounting for 80 yards, but it was his 55-yard scamper in the fourth quarter that helped put the Spartans away. 

Pass Defense: Ohio State did a good job of flustering Connor Cook early as he completed just six of 18 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown in the first half. The Spartans got things going in the second half, but one of the biggest keys to Ohio State's victory was Doran Grant's success against Tony Lippett. The star Michigan State receiver leads the Big Ten and ranks ninth nationally with 111.1 receiving yards per game, but against the Buckeyes, he only managed 64 yards on five receptions.

Run Defense: Ohio State was having trouble with Jeremy Langford in the first half as coach Mark Dantonio and the Spartans tried to establish the run and set the tone early. While Cook was struggling, the running game was surging as Michigan State rushed for 137 yards in the first half. The Buckeyes had a hard time getting Langford on the ground all night, as the tough running back bulldozed his way to another 100-yard rushing performance.

Special Teams: Ohio State's horrendous night on special teams started early when freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger missed a 47-yard field goal on the game's opening drive. It went downhill from there as Dontre Wilson fumbled two kickoffs, only one of which was recovered by the Buckeyes. Ohio State also lost a possession when a Michigan State punt bounced off Jeff Greene, who was trying to set up a block for his returner. Those were the only two turnovers of the game, and it nearly cost the Buckeyes in the first half.

Coaching: Meyer and Ohio State came into Saturday night's game looking to even the score after Michigan State knocked the Buckeyes off in East Lansing. You could tell that Meyer had his offense ready to go, as the unit played arguably its best game of the season, piling up 568 yards and 49 points against the nation's fifth-best defense

Michigan State Spartans Grades Analysis

Pass Offense: Cook got off to a hot start on Michigan State's first drive, connecting on two of his first three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. He slowed afterward, though, missing on nine of his next 13 passes before halftime. But trailing for the entirety of the second half, the Spartans aired things out, and Cook finished with 358 passing yards and two touchdowns against no interceptions.

Run Offense: Langford had another big day against the Buckeyes, accounting for 137 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He led the way for a Spartans attack that bullied Ohio State in the first half, but with the deficit that Michigan State was facing in the second half, Langford faded down the stretch. The Spartans finished with 178 yards and a respectable 5.2 yards per rush. 

Pass Defense: The Spartans shut down Braxton Miller and Ohio State's passing attack in last year's Big Ten title game, but they had no such luck against Barrett and this year's Buckeyes. Kurtis Drummond and the Michigan State secondary were gashed by Barrett as they surrendered 300 passing yards and three touchdowns. The Spartans allowed both Smith and Thomas to break free for long touchdowns catches, and their inability to stop the Buckeyes ultimately cost them the game. 

Run Defense: Michigan State had an even tougher time slowing the Buckeyes down on the ground. Elliott and Barrett ran through and around the Spartans, averaging an incredible 6.5 yards per carry against the vaunted Michigan State run defense. A hobbled Shilique Calhoun didn't help matters, but even having him at 100 percent wouldn't have stopped a determined Ohio State squad.

Special Teams: Michigan State's special teams came up with the two big turnovers in the first half, but they also had a big blunder when Michael Geiger whiffed on a 39-yard field goal. It was a missed opportunity that would have put the Spartans up by 10, but the Buckeyes went down and tied the game on the ensuing drive, capitalizing on a big swing in momentum that Michigan State never recovered from. 

Coaching: Dantonio and the Spartans staff came in with a solid game plan, hoping to establish the ground game and the physicality that proved to be the difference in last year's Big Ten title game. That would have worked on last year's Ohio State team, but this year's edition completely outpaced the Spartans for most of the game. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi admitted to being a step behind Ohio State's staff the entire game, and the result certainly reflected that. 

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings Week 12: B/R's Official Top 25

How's your playoff projection looking?

After this latest Saturday of season-turning games, expect to see some changes toward the top of the College Football Playoff rankings. But before those are revealed on Tuesday, check out how the Bleacher Report Top 25 got shaken up by six matchups of ranked teams and plenty of other notable results.

The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 17 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editor Max Rausch.

Each voter submits their ballots 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 12 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

Oregon vs. Utah: Score and Twitter Reaction

Oregon had to work for it, but the Ducks went into the belly of the beast and walked away with a hard-fought 51-27 win on the road over the Utah Utes.

With the victory, the Ducks remain in position for a playoff spot with few hurdles until the Pac-12 Championship Game. If Oregon was going to slip up, it would've been in Salt Lake City. Instead, Oregon strengthened its top-four credentials.

Zach Braziller of the New York Post felt Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota also improved his Heisman Trophy candidacy:

Mariota wound up with 239 yards and three touchdowns through the air, while getting 114 yards and another touchdown on the ground. It was the kind of performance many have come to associate with the junior signal-caller.

Royce Freeman chipped in 99 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own to help out his quarterback.

The leaky Oregon defense had its worrying moments, giving up 440 yards of offense to Utah. Quarterback Travis Wilson threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns, which were offset by his two interceptions.

Running back Devontae Booker was superb in a losing effort, recording 65 rushing yards on the ground and 110 receiving yards with one TD.

The final score belies just how much Oregon had to fight to secure this win.

After Bubba Poole put Utah ahead 7-0 on the game's opening drive, the Utes should've had a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Wideout Kaelin Clay got separation from the Oregon secondary and found himself wide open with nothing but green in front. Just as he looked to have scampered 79 yards to pay dirt, he prematurely dropped the ball in celebration at the 1-yard line. An alert Erick Dargan recovered for Oregon and subsequently fumbled before teammate Joe Walker picked up the ball and ran 99 yards to the end zone, tying the game at 7-7.

Matthew Piper of The Salt Lake Tribune has Clay's thoughts on the play:

Fox Sports' Mike Pereira rightly praised the officiating crew, which never blew the play dead:

ESPN Stats & Info summed up how key that point swing was for Oregon:

Grantland's Matt Hinton took pity on the poor person who had to distill all of that craziness into a tiny blurb in the play-by-play recap:

Coincidentally, Clay went to Long Beach Poly, where DeSean Jackson is an alumnus, per SportsCenter:

After the brush with danger, Oregon quickly found its groove, dropping 17 more unanswered points on Utah in the second quarter. Mariota had two touchdown passes, then Aidan Schneider hit a 39-yard field goal with two minutes left in the half to put the Ducks on top, 24-7.

Andy Phillips stopped the bleeding for Utah with a 32-yard field goal to close out the half and trim the deficit to 14 points, 24-10.

Phillips also opened the scoring in the second half, splitting the uprights from 28 yards out. Schneider quickly answered back with a 31-yard field goal of his own to put the Ducks up 27-13.

The Utes needed something to spark their offense back to life, and they got it in the form of a 27-yard touchdown reception for Booker. He reached behind his body to grab the pass from Wilson with one hand and then weaved his way into the end zone.

Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe thought Booker's ability to catch the ball could serve him well at the next level:

JB Long of the Pac-12 Network wondered how good the junior running back could look if Utah had a more balanced offense:

With Oregon clinging to a 27-20 lead heading into the fourth quarter, Schneider banged home his third field goal of the game to give the Ducks a 10-point advantage. Thirty points is also the magic number for Oregon. It's unbeaten since 2012 when scoring 30 or more, per ESPN CollegeFootball:

But Utah wouldn't go away as Westlee Tonga hauled in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to pull the Utes to within three points, 30-27, with 11:48 to go in the game.

Mariota's third touchdown pass of the game gave Oregon some breathing room and a 10-point lead once again, and a missed field goal from Phillips swung the momentum in the Ducks' favor even more.

Playing a team as good as Oregon, Utah paid dearly for Phillips' mistake. Mariota registered a rushing touchdown on the next drive to put the game out of reach for the Utes with 4:51 remaining.

Freeman added an insurance score late to solidify the result.

Oregon plays Colorado at home and Oregon State on the road before what looks to be a date with Arizona State in the Pac-12 Championship Game. As long as both teams enter with one loss, the conference champion would almost certainly make the playoff.

While the Utes are out of the running for the conference championship, they can at least be a thorn in the side of the Arizona Wildcats on Nov. 22.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

JT Barrett Makes Case to Start over Braxton Miller in 2015 in Michigan State Win

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett played as well as one could have possibly, quixotically expected at Michigan State on Saturday, passing for 300 yards, rushing for 86 more and combining to score five touchdowns in a 49-37 win that wasn't even as close as the 12-point final margin indicates.

It was the type of performance only a select few college football players are capable of submitting. The number of qualified parties can be counted on one hand, maybe two.

When you find a quarterback good enough to (a) lead six consecutive touchdown drives (b) against a top 15 defense (c) on the road (d) as a redshirt freshman, you hand him the keys to the offense and adjust your program's future plans accordingly. You just do. You don't consider sending him back to the bench the following season.

You start him even though you have Braxton Miller.

Miller, of course, is the two-time reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He was favored to cap the three-peat in 2014, but he injured his shoulder in fall camp. Barrett passed Cardale Jones on the depth chart during spring practice and inherited the starting role.

The Buckeyes struggled to block for Barrett in his first career start against Navy, and Barrett himself imploded in the Week 2 loss against Virginia Tech. But ever since losing that game, Barrett has played like one of the four or five best quarterbacks in the country.

"Braxton is our quarterback (when he returns)," maintained Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer after Barrett starting playing well in late September, per Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report. "To be fair to Braxton, [he’s the] Big Ten Player of the Year.

"It’s good to know we’ve got both of them."

But after Saturday, Axelrod expects that Meyer will back off:

"You hate to see a kid leave his school," said Bleacher Report Lead NFL Draft Analyst Matt Miller of Braxton's future, per Axelrod. "But for [Miller's] career, I think the best thing would be going to somewhere that’s going to run a little bit more of a pro-style offense and where he would get on the field right away."

The idea that Miller would be better served in a different system falls in relative lockstep with what Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones said earlier this week: specifically, that "Barrett works better in [Ohio State's] offense" and "has a better arm."

Miller was is by no means a bad fit for Meyer's offense, a fact made plain by his Big Ten POY awards and the 24-game win streak he orchestrated in 2012-2013. His ability to run is significantly—although not, as it were, importantly—better than that of Barrett.

But Barrett gives Meyer's offense a pinpoint-accurate passer that has jibed with its run-first preference and created an unflinching machine. There is no good way to stop OSU's running game without committing ancillary bodies to the box. There is no good way to stop OSU's passing game when you've committed ancillary bodies to the box.

There is no good way to stop OSU…period.

Ohio State entered the weekend ranked No. 14 in the College Football Playoff standings. One could argue it was the most impressive team to play Saturday, a day in which the No. 3 (Auburn), No. 7 (Kansas State), No. 8 (Michigan State) and No. 10 (Notre Dame) teams in the country went down, and the No. 4 team (Alabama) needed overtime to beat LSU.

It stands to reason that the Buckeyes—at the very least—will jump into the Top 8 of the playoff picture now that they have earned a quality road win. My personal guess is that they rank at No. 7 behind Mississippi State, Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, TCU and Baylor.

Either way, Ohio State is sniffing around the playoff discussion. It is hurt by how bad Virginia Tech has been and would likely need some help to get into the playoffs, but it's a player. One slip-up from Florida State (most likely at Miami), TCU (most likely at Texas), Arizona State (most likely at Arizona) and/or Oregon (most likely in the Pac-12 title game) would give the Buckeyes control over their fate.

Barrett is the quarterback who's gotten them here; if they finish the season 12-1, he'll be the quarterback who got them there, too. Just like you don't bench a redshirt freshman who led six straight touchdown drives against Michigan State, you severely don't bench a redshirt freshman who led his team to the playoff.

You just don't.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Watch Utah's Careless Mistake Lead to 100-Yard Oregon Touchdown

Just when Utah WR Kaelin Clay thought he had scored a touchdown, it turned out he let the ball out just past the 1-yard line while going into the end zone. The Oregon Ducks took advantage, picking up the ball and taking it back to the house for a 100-yard fumble return.

Was this the craziest play of the College Football season?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Watch Utah's Careless Mistake Lead to 100-Yard Oregon Touchdown

Just when Utah WR Kaelin Clay thought he had scored a touchdown, it turned out he let the ball out just past the 1-yard line while going into the end zone...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Pharaoh Brown Injury: Updates on Oregon Star's Knee and Return

As Oregon looked to seal an impressive road win over Utah on Saturday night, the Ducks lost one of their most underrated players.

Junior tight Pharaoh Brown exited the game in the fourth quarter with what looked like a serious knee injury. CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon tweeted out that Brown was carted off the field:

Joseph Hoyt of the Daily Emerald could hear Brown screaming that his knee was in pain:

Entering the game, Brown was fourth on the Ducks in receiving, with 22 receptions for 380 yards and five touchdowns.

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Did Refs Bail out Alabama in Controversial Win over LSU?

Alabama vs. LSU was an incredibly close game, as many suspected it would be. The ending of the game contained some "controversial" calls that could have gone either way.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee explains what he thought of the officiating in the final minutes and overtime of this thrilling game.

Do you think this game was officiated fairly?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 11

Of the 25 teams ranked by the College Football Playoff selection committee, 24 played this weekend. There were also six games involving teams that were both ranked on Saturday, including two games pitting Top 10 teams against each other.

And by late Saturday night, the playoff picture got a little bit clearer.

The Big Ten likely has just played itself out of a playoff spot, while the SEC probably all but killed its chances of landing two teams in the four-team field. If we had more than a dozen teams still alive for the playoff last week, we might be down to about half of that by now.

With four more weeks still remaining, we're loath to eliminate teams prematurely. So we're going to cast our widest possible net on which teams are actually still in the hunt for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Teams that moved up

SEC West

Saturday's results actually left four teams still alive to win the SEC West: Mississippi State, Alabama, Ole Miss and Auburn. Each still has a path to the division title but only the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide control their own fate, as Miss State travels to 'Bama next week. In short, a four-way tie of two-loss teams will end with Auburn winning the division while a three-way tie will go to Ole Miss. 

TCU/Baylor

It will be intriguing to see how the committee decides to rank these two teams this week. Will the members continue to hold Baylor's weak nonconference schedule against it or will the Bears' head-to-head victory over the Horned Frogs finally matter? Either way, both teams are very much in the mix for the final spot in the playoff as the Big 12 representative.

Arizona State

At first, it looked like the Sun Devils were going to cruise to a crushing victory over Notre Dame, then it seemed like they blew it, completely. But in the end, ASU made a few more big plays to claim its biggest win of the season to date, and the Sun Devils will have a shot to play their way into the playoff field. But there's still a long way to go in the difficult Pac-12 South.

 

Teams that moved down

Big Ten

Ohio State's victory over Michigan State, though impressive, probably killed the conference's last best chance to land in the playoff field. The costly loss to Virginia Tech will continue to haunt the Buckeyes, as they will likely lose out to any other one-loss conference champion if it comes to the last playoff spot.

Notre Dame

The committee can feel vindicated about its low placement of the Irish in previous weeks. They still haven't beaten a ranked team and now their chances of landing in the playoff have been extinguished. Notre Dame has a shot at playing in a New Year's Six bowl, but it faces stiff competition even for that.

Kansas State

The Wildcats can still win the Big 12 title, as they visit Baylor in the season finale, but their chances of getting a playoff bid are finished. Even if TCU loses another game and K-State ends up claiming the conference title outright, that earlier loss to Auburn probably will be too much to overcome.

 

Group-of-five team in the best position

Marshall, Colorado State and Boise State all won Saturday to maintain the status quo among this group. The Broncos had the most difficulty and needed a big fourth quarter to beat lowly New Mexico, but they continue to bar CSU's path to the Mountain West championship game. If the current situation holds, it'll be very intriguing to see if the committee would prefer a two-loss Boise State over an undefeated Marshall at the end of the season.

 

Projected conference championship matchups

ACC: Florida State vs. Duke

Big Ten: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Arizona State

SEC: Mississippi State vs. Missouri

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Great Win for Alabama, but Don't Put Tide in College Football Playoff Just Yet

Was Alabama's 20-13 overtime victory over LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday night thrilling? Absolutely.

The feverish drive to kick a game-tying field goal in the closing seconds was nothing short of impressive, and the game-winning drive in overtime was creative and well executed—particularly the "rub route" on the fade from quarterback Blake Sims to receiver DeAndrew White to win the game.

Was it important? Absolutely.

The fifth-ranked Crimson Tide not only earned a feather in their cap with a tough road win over a ranked team, but it did so on a day that saw No. 3 Auburn go down at home to unranked Texas A&M.

Is it a sign that all is right in Tuscaloosa and this team is ready to not only make the inaugural College Football Playoff, but make a run to their fourth title in six years?

Not yet.

The Crimson Tide will likely land one of the four spots in the new College Football Playoff rankings when they're released on Tuesday night, but Saturday's win over LSU exposed more holes for a Crimson Tide team that was far from stable coming in.

The play-calling up until overtime from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin left a lot to be desired. The offense was wildly unbalanced, attempting 46 passes to only 29 running plays. Sims completed just 20 of those passes for 209 yards and averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt.

He redeemed himself in overtime with the play where Cam Robinson lined up wide and Sims found tight end Brandon Greene for a completion down to the 1-yard line. Greene was cleverly hidden and largely ignored by the defense. The game-winning touchdown was nice too. The Crimson Tide properly executed the pick play on a fade to White, which is something that Notre Dame couldn't do at Florida State in October.

Those were the exceptions on Saturday night.

Neither of these two teams were great, as Nick Saban pointed out in the postgame press conference (via: Cecil Hurt of TheTuscaloosa News):

There's no "probably" about that. It wasn't.

When the opposing quarterback goes 8-of-26 for 76 yards, one touchdown and one pick, an elite football team is supposed to make the game a laugher. LSU's Anthony Jennings did just that on Saturday night, and Alabama not only made it a nail-biter, but had to scratch and claw simply to force overtime.

It made for an exciting ending to the game but certainly is cause for concern long term.

On top of that, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper was held in check by Cooper standards by the LSU pass defense, and Tide running back T.J. Yeldon twisted his ankle late which caused a fumble.

This wasn't a "classic SEC slugfest" or an "old school battle." It was a sloppy football game that Alabama managed to survive with it's "C" game.

Good for Alabama. Good teams are able to do that.

But the taste of this "thriller" better be left in the state of Louisiana, because No. 1 Mississippi State is heading to Tuscaloosa on Saturday with an offense that can put pressure on teams in a variety of different ways.

If Kiffin, Sims and the rest of the Crimson Tide don't come out hot this week, Mississippi State is more than capable of putting them into a hole that they can't dig out of.

There are no great teams in college football this season, but there are seven or eight good ones.

Alabama had a chance to step out of that pack in Death Valley and simply couldn't.

 

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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Blake Sims Becomes Alabama Hero with Clutch Fourth Quarter and OT vs. LSU

For 59 minutes, Alabama and LSU traded blows, back and forth.

Both teams had hesitant offenses that didn’t look interested in taking control and punishing defenses that were happy to oblige.

But in the last minute, everything changed. And Blake Sims became an Alabama hero.

T.J. Yeldon’s fumble at the Alabama 6-yard line should have been the end of the Crimson Tide—the end of the game, their season, and their playoff and championship dreams. If that wasn’t, then Colby Delahoussaye’s go-ahead field goal should have been.

Instead, Sims took over with with 50 seconds left, led Alabama down the field for a game-tying field goal and finished the improbable victory with a smooth touchdown pass in overtime, overcoming two critical penalties.

ESPN's Skip Bayless took time to appreciate Sims' clutch performance:

Great Alabama quarterbacks have been defined by signature performances against LSU. Sims had his opportunity in front of him. After an up-and-down game for 59 minutes, he seized it and etched the first marks of his name alongside those greats.

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin looked to have a game plan that would feature Sims and the passing game, for better or worse.

Sims threw the ball 45 times on Saturday. His previous high had been 33 attempts in games against West Virginia and Florida. Alabama ran the ball just 29 times, its lowest rushing attempts of the year by three, and four of those runs came in overtime.

The returns, overall, weren’t great.

Sims completed less than half his passes and averaged just 4.6 yards per attempt. Alabama’s lone regulation touchdown was a quick throw to its most reliable weapon, Amari Cooper, who dodged and ducked and stiff-armed his way into the end zone.

Otherwise, the passing game was largely dull.

If that reminds you of another Alabama vs. LSU game, you aren’t the only one. Two years ago, AJ McCarron had a lackluster outing for the first three-and-a-half quarters. He rallied his team, stayed calm and led the Crimson Tide on a game-winning drive to keep alive what turned into a championship season.

Sims said this week he was looking to McCarron’s performance that night, hoping to emulate it.

He got his shot and delivered.

To appreciate Sims’ version of The Drive, one must appreciate the play-calling. Starting at Alabama's own 35—thanks to an LSU kick out of bounds—with no timeouts and 50 seconds left, Kiffin dialed up quick throws to the sidelines to stop the clock, simplify Sims’ progressions and get the offense in an elusive rhythm.

The plan, combined with Sims’ natural instinct and ability, made for a winning combination.

His scramble on 3rd-and-4 to keep the drive alive was Sims making something out of nothing. But his most impressive play may have been three plays later, when he bought time with his feet, rolled out of the pocket and hit Christion Jones on the run to put Alabama in field-goal range.

In overtime, after two frustrating penalties on right guard Leon Brown that stalled a promising possession, Sims lofted a gorgeous ball to a fading DeAndrew White that ended up being the game-winner.

That kind of cool execution in the most hostile environment is the trademark of a champion. It wasn’t lost on Nick Saban after the game, as he told reporters, via Marquavius Burnett of The Anniston Star.

Sims’ season has been one of earning support, executing when needed and keeping Alabama in a position to win.

On Saturday, with his team in a major bind and its season on the line, he took the next step.

Sims became a central figure and a source of motivation. He took control of the game when Alabama desperately needed someone to.

And he carved out a piece of Alabama history for himself in the process.


Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Florida State Needs to Fix Inconsistent Offense as Playoffs Loom

Florida State doesn't need to have the high-powered, balanced offense of 2013. That was an offense for the history books.

But the Seminoles keep living on the edge in 2014, surviving with an offense that has often been one-dimensional. At some point, will it catch up with FSU? Will the Seminoles be able to keep stacking up wins, especially close ones, as the playoffs get closer?

More than likely, the answer to the first question is "yes." It may not happen next week at Miami or the following weeks against Boston College or Florida. But the inconsistency will definitely be an issue in the playoffs.

FSU defeated Virginia 34-20 on Saturday night but did it with plenty of help from the defense. The Seminoles forced three turnovers in the first half, giving the offense three short fields to work with. So FSU needed to go 23 yards, three yards and 22 yards to score three of its four touchdowns and take a 28-13 halftime lead.

"The defense kept us in this ballgame," FSU quarterback Jameis Winston said.

On FSU's other 10 drives that didn't have the benefit of a short field, the team didn't do much. The Seminoles scored only 13 points and sprinkled in three turnovers and four punts.

Winston had been playing well at times this season, coming off a lackluster first half at Louisville that was followed by a strong second half as FSU rallied for a 42-31 win. He has had five games of 290 or more passing yards. But on Saturday, he was flat early, much like the first half at Louisville.

There were a pair of interceptions in the first half that led to Virginia touchdowns. That's five interceptions in two games.

"I've got to play better," Winston said. "Make smart decisions, not turn the ball over. I'm hurting this team. I really am."

The last part of that statement isn't completely true. Winston has tossed 11 interceptions in eight games in 2014, already more than the 10 INTs he had in 2013. The interceptions have certainly put the defense in a bind, and that's what Winston is referencing.

But the mistakes aren't limited just to Winston. Bobo Wilson dropped a few passes early. Travis Rudolph ran a wrong route that led to an interception.

The running game struggled yet again, getting 115 yards but averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Karlos Williams had 21 carries for 70 yards, but both of his touchdown runs came with FSU capitalizing on short fields. Dalvin Cook was the hero at Louisville with 110 rushing yards, but against Virginia he was held to 36 yards on 11 runs. Mario Pender was out again with an ankle injury.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said Cook would be evaluated for a potential hip injury.

"He got banged up pretty good," Fisher said.

If Cook and Pender are not available next week at Miami, FSU will need to lean on Williams and fullback Freddie Stevenson. Or ask Winston to drop back and win the game.

Winston certainly hasn't been awful. FSU has scored 30 or more points in the eight games he has played this season. If anything, he's been quite accurate, completing 66.7 percent of his passes this season (he completed 66.9 percent in his Heisman season a year ago).

The issue for Winston has been the inconsistency of the young receivers. And the 11 interceptions.

FSU's turnovers, now 21 in nine games, are disconcerting. And giving up three to Virginia was unexpected.

"That's scary," Fisher said. "That's something that we've never done around here. When you're playing young guys, you take the good with the bad."

FSU has taken the good with the bad all season. The Seminoles are 9-0, but it's often come with drama. Or frustration over mistakes.

The only question now: Is the dichotomy of good and bad going to be enough? Odds are it will be adequate for the regular season, but it will be a major cause for concern in December and January.

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats courtesy of seminoles.com. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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Ohio State vs. Michigan State: How Spartans' Loss Reshapes Playoff Picture

How do you gain instant legitimacy? You beat the eighth-ranked team in the country on the road by 12 points.

The No. 14 Ohio State Buckeyes put themselves in pole position to win the Big Ten after a 49-37 win over the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing. As a result, the Bucks may be back in the playoff picture after all.

Winning the conference championship is essentially a prerequisite to make the top four, and with the Spartans out of the way, Ohio State has a relatively easy road between here and the end of the year.

ESPN.com's Brian Bennett remains skeptical that the Buckeyes will do enough:

Ohio State head coach remains confident that his team's done enough so far, per Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors:

One thing is for sure; OSU won't crack the top four when the selection committee unveils its newest rankings. That would mean jumping 10 spots after one victory.

More than likely, the top four will look something like this:

Ohio State vs. Michigan State was billed as a playoff eliminator; whomever lost kissed its national title hopes goodbye.

"I personally feel like the playoff system starts this weekend," said Michigan State middle linebacker Taiwan Jones before the game, per MLive.com's Mike Griffith. "It's a one-game elimination."

Well, he and his Spartan teammates were eliminated on Saturday.

It's way too late in the season for Michigan State to have any chance impressing the selection committee all over again and getting into the top four.

Of course, that's not to say that Ohio State is a lock for the playoff, either. The Buckeyes will likely still be on the outside looking in when the Week 12 rankings are unveiled.

Entering Saturday, the Big Ten wasn't getting a ton of love from the committee. Here's a look at how many teams each conference had in the Top 25 and the conference's average ranking.

Even with this victory, it's likely that Ohio State will be ranked behind Oregon—as long as the Ducks win—and TCU. Arizona State might even remain ahead of the Buckeyes after the Sun Devils' victory over Notre Dame.

The Big Ten has a perception problem. The SEC surpassed it a few years ago, and the Pac-12 is deeper from top to bottom. The Big 12 has arguably leapfrogged the Big Ten as well.

Members of the selection committee can talk about not bringing conference strength/perception into the discussion, but that's nearly impossible when judging the quality of a potential top-four team.

Grantland's Matt Hinton wrote a great examination of the Big Ten and how exactly it arrived at this point. He argued that the clash between the Buckeyes and Spartans "exists in a kind of vacuum" outside of the national eye because the Big Ten remains an afterthought in the national discussion.

Ohio State lost to a now 4-5 Virginia Tech team, while Michigan State was dominated in the second half by Oregon. And beating Nebraska wouldn't register much for the Buckeyes since the Cornhuskers' best win so far was at home against Miami.

Hinton said that he had previously tried to defend the Big Ten from undue criticism, but the conference's decline is plain for everyone to see:

Such are the calculations that are so often misread as "bias" in a system that is (1) based largely on drawing conclusions from indirect and frequently contradictory comparisons, and (2) ill-suited to informing said comparisons. I spent years battling the assumption that the Big Ten was gathering rust or that the SEC was pulling away, which were two sides of the same annoying argument. Both conclusions struck me as shallow, anecdotal, and dubious. Gradually, though, the perception has become such an undeniable reality that the Big Ten commissioner himself has been forced to own up to it every time his conference has gotten sand kicked in its face. (Jim) Delany doesn't even bother to describe the malaise as "cyclical" anymore. Until further notice, it's just the way things are.

It's not impossible for Ohio State to get into the top four, but in order for that to happen, the Buckeyes will almost certainly need both Oregon and Arizona State to lose in the Pac-12 and then TCU to fall in the Big 12.

Then again, OSU might have swayed the selection committee with its decisive victory.

With the way that this season has unfolded, Ohio State fans shouldn't begin to panic. By the time all is said and done, the Buckeyes could be the only one-loss conference champion outside of an unbeaten Florida State.

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Alabama vs. LSU: How Crimson Tide's Win Reshapes Playoff Picture

Alabama eked out a 20-13 overtime victory against rival LSU on Saturday, a win that should keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive for at least another week. 

The result moves 'Bama to 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the SEC. LSU drops to 7-3 overall and 3-3 in the SEC, well out of both the playoff and conference title pictures.

The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre noted several teams saw their playoff hopes washed away on Saturday, but Alabama wasn't one of them:

This game established some semblance of order in the SEC, but it does little to alleviate the headache of the College Football Playoff selection committee, which at this point still has a multitude of one-loss teams to consider from the power conferences.

Florida State and Oregon should still make the College Football Playoff if they win out, although no one should dare sleep on Arizona State. The Sun Devils blew out Notre Dame 55-31 on Saturday and could very well dash the Ducks' playoff dreams if they meet in the Pac-12 title game.

The Crimson Tide's win creates desperation for the likes of TCU and Baylor, as only the winner of the Big 12 title is likely to get a playoff spot. The Bears hold the tiebreaker over the Horned Frogs by virtue of their 61-58 shootout win earlier this season. However, neither team could make the playoff if the committee selects two SEC squads, highly unlikely but still plausible after Alabama's win.

The win over a prestige opponent, combined with the Auburn Tigers' shocking loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, should vault Alabama into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings. The win also creates some semblance of separation in the SEC West, as Alabama and Mississippi State are now the top two teams in the division.

Unfortunately, these two heavyweights must still play each other on Nov. 15. This game could very well determine who wins the SEC championship, and whether or not two teams from the conference make the College Football Playoff.

Should Alabama beat Mississippi State and go on to win the SEC Championship—very likely considering the notable flaws of Georgia and Missouri, two of the best SEC East teams—the Bulldogs could still earn a playoff spot with one loss and all the goodwill Dak Prescott and company have conjured up throughout the season.

If the Crimson Tide lose on November 15, the second loss would likely doom their playoff hopes and leave it to the Bulldogs to finish out the season strong and represent the SEC in the College Football Playoff. 

Auburn can definitely spoil Alabama's chances if the Tigers defeat their bitter rival in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 29, leaving both teams with two losses and clearing the path for Mississippi State. It will be up to coach Nick Saban to keep his squad focused, so perhaps it's a good thing he was dismissive of the initial CFP rankings in late October. Via AL.com's Michael Casagrande: 

To me, none of it matters. What does it matter? I mean, it only matters where you end up at the end. So what matters to us is how we do in each and every game that we have to play. We have four games left to play, and if we can be successful in those games, maybe there's a chance we will play in the SEC Championship Game as well.

LSU's loss should spur the team to search for some semblance of a consistent passing game in the coming years.

Alabama has had great success with game managers like A.J. McCarron and Blake Sims, while Auburn is in the hunt every year thanks to the dual-threat exploits of quarterbacks like Nick Marshall and Cam Newton.

LSU's running game is in good shape with freshman Leonard Fournette in the fold, yet—simply put—the type of year quarterback Anthony Jennings has had won't cut it in this conference.

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