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Texas A&M vs. Arkansas: Complete Game Preview

The Texas A&M football team improved its record to 4-0 with a 58-6 victory over SMU. The Aggies will take on the 3-1 Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

The Aggies are ranked No. 7 in the coaches poll. Arkansas is out to prove that it is a better team than the 2013 version that lost all eight of its conference games after going 3-1 in non-conference play. 

This game will showcase diverging theories on offense, with the Aggies' no-huddle spread versus the Razorbacks plodding rushing game. Texas A&M wants to run as many offensive plays as possible in order to wear a defense out. 

Arkansas wants to grind out yardage with the running game, control the clock and wear the defense down by physically overpowering them. 

The Aggies are looking to improve to 2-0 in the SEC and move into contention for the SEC title. The Razorbacks are trying to even their conference record and remind the world that this is not a repeat of 2013. 

This is a look at how the Aggies and Razorbacks match up. 

 

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Why Dan Mullen and Mississippi State Are a Match Made in Heaven

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen struggled for a signature win throughout the first few years of his tenure as the Bulldogs' head coach. He entered Saturday night's matchup with LSU with a 2-22 record against ranked opponents, with both of those wins coming against teams that were average at best (Ole Miss 2009, Florida 2010).

That third win against ranked competition resonated like a clap of thunder that was a little too close for comfort.

The Bulldogs manhandled then-No. 8 LSU in a 34-29 victory in Death Valley on Saturday night, notching the biggest win of his Mississippi State career. If the previous wins over ranked opponents were considered "signature wins," this one was written in ink, paint and etched in stone.

Don't be fooled by the score. Mississippi State treated LSU like a cupcake in a paycheck game for the majority of the night, and then survived a late charge led mostly by LSU's backups.

This begs the question, what does the future hold for Mullen? 

It should include more taxes being paid to the city of Starkville, Mississippi, because the Bulldogs and Mullen are a perfect fit.

I'll admit, I was wrong about Mullen.

Up until late last season, he had done a lot to raise the floor of the program but hadn't really done much to impact the ceiling. Sure, four straight bowl games was nice, but there wasn't much to indicate the possibility of upward mobility for the program.

There is now.

Mississippi State went into one of the most hostile environments in college football, played his brand of football and flat out whipped the typically-physical Tigers. 

There have been suitors for Mullen in the past. 

He was linked to the Penn State job in late 2011, according to Sports Illustrated, and Miami was turned off by Mullen before it hired Al Golden after the 2010 season, according to The Miami Herald (via SportsByBrooks.com). 

What's done is done, though, and Mullen's future looks incredibly bright in Starkville.

He made $2.7 million in 2013, according to the USA Today coaching salary database, one spot behind Florida head coach Will Muschamp.

Why does that matter?

If Mullen is going to be linked to any job after this season, it'll likely be Florida. He won two national championships as the offensive coordinator of the Gators in 2006 and 2008 and is familiar with the recruiting territory. Plus, Muschamp isn't doing his hot seat any favors by combining a suddenly putrid defense with a consistently woeful offense.

Would the Florida job really be worth leaving Starkville for? At this point, no.

The pay would be roughly the same, and if Florida started tossing cash at Mullen's front door, Mississippi State would have no problem matching it now that the SEC has what amounts to its own version of a mint known as the "SEC Network."

Sure, the immediate upside would be great. After all, Florida has a recruiting base that is second to none in college football. What Florida lacks, though, is job stability. 

Mullen has now established that in Starkville, which is a rarity for the coaching profession. 

Saturday night proved that while the journey takes a little while longer at a program like Mississippi State, the potential still exists to be great—even in the SEC West. Mullen already walked down that path, built the program the way he wanted to and proved that it works.

There's no reason to leave now. It's just getting good.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Freshmen Power Rankings of the Week: Top 5

If you can believe it, we're approaching one month into the college football season. 

And the B/R freshmen power rankings are chugging along, like a train of high ceilings, raw talent and untapped potential. 

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

These rankings are also subject to change from week to week depending on who shines. 

So which freshmen stood out in Week 3? Which ones had the most jaw-dropping highlights? Which ones underwhelmed? The answers are in the list below.

 

The Standout

Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine. With Keith Ford sidelined with an ankle injury, the freshman running back helped the Sooners grind out a 45-33 victory against West Virginia. Perine, unofficially known now as Optimus Perine, carried the ball 34 times for 242 yards and four touchdowns.

Of course, the Sooners did a tremendous job blocking up front, but opposing defenses shouldn't want anything to do with the 5'11", 243-pound freshman. He's a wrecking ball. 

"He's gonna be special," said head coach Bob Stoops of Perine (h/t David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest). 

 

Best Highlight

How do you not go with Anu Solomon's 47-yard Hail Mary to Austin Hill in Arizona's wild 49-45 come-from-behind stunner over Cal?

Solomon had a night he may never replicate again with 73 pass attempts for 520 yards and five touchdowns. Considering the Wildcats had to score 36 fourth-quarter points, it's no surprise Solomon had to throw the ball a ton. 

Still, what an incredible play to cap off a wild Week 4. 

 

Who’s Rising?

Ohio linebacker Quentin Poling. Yeah, this is an off-the-radar pick, and the Bobcats have been so-so at best this year. But Poling is quietly starting to rack up some eye-catching stats. 

The redshirt freshman had three interceptions in 36-24 win over Idaho, returning them for a total of 77 yards. He also leads the team in tackles with 34.  

Poling won't get a lot of publicity because of the team he plays for, so might as well give him a little love while we can. 

 

Who’s Falling?

Technically, Leonard Fournette led LSU with seven carries for 38 yards in Saturday's 34-29 loss to Mississippi State. He had a long run of 20 yards, but he was otherwise quiet. Then again, LSU was playing from behind. Running the ball isn't really an option there. 

Fournette is churning out a decent enough year with 200 yards through four games, but with SEC play underway, the Tigers have been a so-so rushing team. Fournette is quickly falling out of the spotlight. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Re-Ranking SEC Quarterbacks After Blake Sims' Epic Week 4

Four weeks are in the books, and the once-murky SEC quarterback picture has come into focus.

Remember when Texas A&M had a challenge replacing former quarterback Johnny Manziel? That seems like a decade ago.

Remember Alabama's "quarterback controversy?" Blake Sims ended that the moment he stepped foot off the bus at the Georgia Dome for the season opener.

Remember when Jeff Driskel was set to thrive in Kurt Roper's hurry-up, no-huddle offense? That hasn't really happened yet.

Stars have emerged, others have fallen off and several SEC veterans have elevated their play through the first four weeks. We re-rank the SEC starting quarterbacks in this slideshow.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to AP and Amway Week 5 Polls

After a weekend of close calls for top teams, one major upset and the usual unpredictability and excitement that college football brings, both the Amway coaches poll and Associated Press poll were released Sunday. 

And, as always, there were plenty of strong opinions to follow. 

But first, let's take a look at the polls. Here's the AP poll:

And here is the coaches poll:

The biggest storyline this week was arguably Mississippi State jumping into the rankings, as Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press noted:

And Knox Bardeen of Fox Sports South was happy to see the team also pop up in the coaches poll:

Meanwhile, Hugh Kellenberger of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger noted that a bit of history was made Sunday:

Of course, the SEC West had a pretty darn good day in both polls. Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports notes its big performance in the AP poll:

Meanwhile, former Alabama quarterback and current SEC Network broadcaster Greg McElroy noted its strong showing in the coaches poll:

But enough of the SEC West love. While there was never bound to be much movement near the top of the rankings outside of LSU, there were a few surprises nonetheless. John Coon of The Associated Press noted one:

And Jon Solomon of CBS Sports pointed out a few more:

The last tweet points out one of the stranger instances that always seem to pop up on a yearly basis: Team A beats Team B and each team has the same amount of losses, but Team B is ranked higher. Huh? How does that work?

Folks making the polls will claim it's a look at an overall resume. Perhaps. Or maybe teams are always punished that lose later in the season than teams that lose early. That has always felt closer to the truth. 

The top of both sets of rankings seems likely to remain pretty much the same next week, barring a major upset. However, a few games—namely UCLA facing Arizona State and Missouri taking on South Carolina—could shake things up a little further down.

As always, it should be another fun week of action.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Hits and Misses from Week 4

Week 4 has come and gone, and we inch ever closer to the first College Football Playoff. There's still a long way to go in the season, but contenders are starting to take shape. 

Florida State and Oregon survived and advanced against Clemson and Washington State, respectively. Auburn fended off Kansas State in one of the more intriguing nonconference matchups of the season. Alabama hosed Florida despite being bit by the turnover bug, and Oklahoma powered past West Virginia on the road. 

Now, The Associated PressUSA Today and Bleacher Report have the difficult task of ranking the Top 25 teams. The Top 10 feels set for the most part, but how does the top half look? Do voters keep Florida State at No. 1 because it keeps winning? How much does a close win at Washington State hurt Oregon?

These are just some of the questions voters have to answer. 

How did the polls look? Which teams are the hits and which are the misses? The answers are in the following slides. 

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College Football Playoff 2014: Updated Outlook After Release of Week 5 Rankings

For the second straight week, a college football Saturday that looked straightforward proved anything but. Top 10 teams went down in flames, the entire Top Five was scared to varying degrees and another potential monster in the SEC West emerged.

At the top, Florida State and Oregon were sweating bullets down to the final minutes. A key defensive stop and a 12-yard Karlos Williams run gave the Seminoles an overtime victory against Clemson, while not long later Oregon was going on a 3:34 drive to ice the final moments of a 38-31 win over Washington State.

That, of course, came a couple of days after Auburn had its own game-icing drive to take down Kansas State in Manhattan. Alabama and Oklahoma were both scared deep into the third quarter of their matchups with Florida and West Virginia, respectively, but were able to prevail by double digits.

What does this mean? Well, basically, all that excitement was for nothing. The top of college football's available polls remains the same, and the poll that actually matters is still weeks from being decided. The basic takeaway from Week 4 is that LSU will almost certainly not be making a College Football Playoff appearance.

Everything else? Still to be decided. With that in mind, let's run a postmortem on the day that was for the nation's top four teams.

 

No. 1 Florida State

Sometimes, Florida State makes games look too easy. The athletes overwhelm even the best competition, with defenders swarming to the point of attack and skill-position guys all looking like they run 1.2-second 40-yard dashes. It's then at times difficult to gauge the value of Jameis Winston—an undoubtedly talented quarterback who gets a ton of time to throw and has awesome running backs and wide receivers around him.

Saturday night may have been the best possible evidence of Jameis' on-field awesomeness. Playing without the Heisman winner, who was suspended for Saturday's game after making lewd comments on campus, the Florida State offense sputtered.

Backup Sean Maguire was wildly inaccurate in the first half and wildly dangerous in the second, highlighted by two fourth-quarter interceptions. A good chunk of Maguire's 305 yards came on a 74-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Greene, who had the benefit of not having a defender within five yards of him. Strip away that play, and Maguire barely averaged more than six yards per attempt.

Greene's touchdown and two missed field goals by Clemson's Ammon Lakip wound up being the Seminoles' savior. Afraid Lakip would miss another kick, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney went for a 4th-and-short in overtime and failed. Two plays later, Karlos Williams was running in from 12 yards out to give Florida State the 23-17 win.

Meeting Williams in the end zone was Winston, who bum-rushed the field the second his running back hit paydirt.

"(Winston) told me he's proud of me," Williams told reporters after the game. "He's a great leader. He did something you really don't see in a lot of starting quarterbacks, which is rally behind the backup."

With Winston back in the lineup, the Seminoles shouldn't have many problems for the next month. They go on the road to North Carolina State next week before taking on Wake Forest and Syracuse. The Wolfpack are 4-0 but have spent the early part of their schedule on a cupcake-mashing spree. Pollsters might be turned off a bit by Winston's actions, but there's no reason to worry until Oct. 18's matchup with Notre Dame.

 

No. 2 Oregon

Marcus Mariota is probably your Heisman trophy favorite through the first four weeks. The Oregon signal-caller was essentially solely responsible for Saturday night's close win in Pullman, completing 21 of 25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns. Despite being sacked seven times (sacks count as negative rushing yards), Mariota also added 58 yards on the ground.

Like his sophomore campaign, Mariota's most impressive feat remains his decision-making. He is yet to throw an interception in 95 attempts. Add in the whole 1,135 yards, 11 touchdowns and 74 percent completion rate thing, and you have an inhuman life form sent from another planet to embarrass us mere mortals.

"He did a great job of rattling the defense in the second half," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters. "The guy is special."

The special guy was nearly undone by a defense that allowed 436 yards and four touchdowns to Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday. The Cougars were never behind by more than a touchdown and might have won the game had it not been for two lost fumbles.

As the schedule difficulty ratchets up, Oregon might have issues in its secondary. Halliday's performance gave Ducks fans deja vu from Connor Cook's first half in the Ducks' win over Michigan State.

Hmm, come to think of it, maybe Oregon just can't defend the pass against people named Connor. Just saying, Arizona; maybe it's time for the Connor Brewer era to begin under center. Anu Solomon is great and all but is he REALLY good enough to overcome the droves of evidence we have indicating a #ConnorCurse? [Kanye shrug]

(Psst, Oregon will be fine. Mariota is awesome.)

 

No. 3 Alabama

It took Blake Sims five years to get his chance in Tuscaloosa. He's sure taking advantage of it. The Alabama quarterback was sensational Saturday, throwing for 445 yards and four touchdowns as the Crimson Tide scored the final 21 points of their 42-21 win over Florida.

Save for a brief injury reprieve, in which backup Jake Coker threw a touchdown to Amari Cooper, Sims was the best player on the field. His gaudy yardage total came on a somewhat reserved 33 attempts, and the senior showed off his legs on multiple occasions.

"I didn't think it was possible," Sims told reporters of passing for 400 yards at Alabama. "I just try to take what I take and what the defense gives me, and just try to trust my guys that they're going to be there."

Saturday's game may have been the clearest sign yet that this is not a typical Nick Saban Alabama team. Under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, the Tide have noticeably had more success through the air this season. Sims has thrown for 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns against only two interceptions, completing nearly three quarters of his passes.

Cooper, should he stay healthy, looks to be headed for the Biletnikoff Award. His 43 receptions are nearly four times more than any other Alabama receiver. DeAndrew White, who has caught 12 passes, and Christion Jones, who has 10, are the only other players even in double digits.

The Tide haven't had a real defensive test this season outside West Virginia—all three Florida touchdowns came as the result of Alabama turnovers; don't get it twisted—so it'll be interesting to see how they handle a road trip to Ole Miss in two weeks. The Rebels are eighth nationally in passing yards per game and have the defensive talent to match up with Alabama's athletes defensively.

Given Clint Trickett's success against the Tide in August, Bo Wallace may just find enough holes to help Ole Miss pull off the shocker. Then again, a two-week break for Nick Saban is typically a death sentence for his opponent.

 

No. 4 Oklahoma

Speaking of Mr. Trickett, he had quite the game against Oklahoma's secondary Saturday night. The West Virginia quarterback threw for 376 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions both came in Oklahoma territory and wound up leading to Samaje Perine touchdown runs. Trickett's second pick came immediately after one from Travis Knight that gave West Virginia a short field with a chance to take the lead.

In the end, the Sooners wound up stretching their lead to 45-27 before a meaningless late touchdown finalized the score at 45-33. Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns on his 34 carries, perhaps giving himself an edge for a workhorse load the remainder of the season.

"You know about how powerful and strong he is, but he has great vision," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told reporters. "He has great stamina and is a very conditioned athlete. He works hard at his conditioning."

Perine had been sharing carries with Keith Ford and Alex Ross. Ford sat out Saturday, and his status for the next couple weeks is uncertain due to a fracture in his right leg. A true freshman, Perine was the less touted of Stoops' 2014 recruits. Joe Mixon was widely viewed as one of the two best high school running backs in the country with Leonard Fournette, but Mixon's season-long suspension after assaulting a woman opened the door for Perine to shine.

Oklahoma's biggest concerns remain at quarterback. Trevor Knight is slightly improved from his freshman season form but still battles with accuracy issues and poor decision-making. Knight, at this point, does not look like a steady enough quarterback to lead an undefeated team into the playoff.

We're going to get a good idea of the makeup for this Oklahoma team soon. The Sooners travel to TCU in two weeks in what should be a closer-than-advertised contest and then have games against Texas and Kansas State before their next bye. If they get through all three games unscathed, then maybe this is a title contender after all.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AP College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 5 Rankings Released

Week 4 of the 2014 college football season may have been better described as Survival Saturday. Each of the nation's Top Five teams were in action and extended their respective unbeaten streaks. Very few (if any) of them can feel too great about how they played, though. 

Florida State, Oregon and Auburn escaped with one-touchdown victories. Alabama and Oklahoma stretched their wins to the double digits but were sweating bullets deep into the second half.

With none of the nation's best separating themselves, The Associated Press rankings for Week 5 remain in an inert state. The Seminoles remain atop the rankings after their overtime win against Clemson, followed by Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma and Auburn, respectively.

Here's a look at how the rest of the Top 25 played out, along with Bleacher Report's official Top 25:

Despite escaping the fierce fight against Clemson, Florida State's near-loss was by far the most talked-about game of the day. The Seminoles were forced to play without Heisman winner Jameis Winston, who was suspended for Saturday's game after shouting obscenities in the student union.    

Backup Sean Maguire struggled for most of the game, battling accuracy issues and looking overwhelmed by the big stage. It wasn't until Florida State's back was planted firmly against the wall that he finally came through with a crucial play. Maguire's 74-yard strike to Rashad Greene tied the game at 17-17 with six minutes remaining and eventually became the score that forced overtime.

After Clemson, which saw kicker Ammon Lakip miss two critical field goals, went for it on fourth down and failed in the extra session, Karlos Williams did the rest of the work. A 13-yard gain on first down was followed by a 12-yard scamper that extended the Seminoles' winning streak to 19. Winston was one of the first people to rush the field in celebration.

"(Winston) told me he's proud of me," Williams told reporters after the game, per the Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "He's a great leader. He did something you really don't see in a lot of starting quarterbacks, which is rally behind the backup."

As Florida State was escaping, Oregon was experiencing quite a scare, too. Washington State was able to keep up with the Ducks' high-powered offense with a banner outing of its own, led by 436 yards and four touchdowns from quarterback Connor Halliday. The Cougars held a lead early and were never down more than a touchdown.

Oregon forced a fourth-down stop deep inside its own territory and then ran out the final 3:34 with an eight-play drive to earn the 38-31 win. Heisman contender Marcus Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns, adding 58 yards on the ground.

"He did a great job of rattling the defense in the second half," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters, per the Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "The guy is special."

The divergent evenings of Mariota and Winston, expected to be the top two quarterbacks off the board in next year's draft, are no doubt being talked about in NFL front offices. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) dropped Winston from third to 25th on his most recent big board; Mariota is now alone at the top.

Also trending in opposite directions are SEC rivals Alabama and LSU, with one able to escape a scare from a conference foe and the other not so much. Alabama's 42-21 win over Florida was much closer than the score indicates. The Gators tied the score at 21-21 early in the third quarter; the Tide didn't take their final lead of the game until there were a little over 20 minutes remaining.

But Derrick Henry's three-yard touchdown began a 21-0 run that looked like the game most expected. Amari Cooper scored the final two touchdowns as part of a 10-catch, 201-yard day. Quarterback Blake Sims threw for 445 yards and four touchdowns.

Likewise, LSU managed some rapid second-half scoring against Mississippi State. Unfortunately for the Tigers, it came as part of a failed comeback bid. The Tigers, down 34-10 early in the fourth, reeled off three straight touchdowns but couldn't convert the necessary two-point conversions. Their last drive stalled with a Will Redmond interception of Brandon Harris' Hail Mary attempt as time expired.

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott had 373 total yards (268 passing, 105 rushing) and three touchdowns, including two plays of 50-plus yards in the second quarter. Running back Josh Robinson needed only 16 carries to gain his 197 yards.

The win was Mississippi State's first in Baton Rouge in nearly a quarter-century.

"It's not necessarily just the players. I'm putting first of all the responsibility on me," LSU head coach Les Milestold reporters, per the Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "I know our guys on our team expect more from themselves...They're stung and it's not something that they enjoyed."

Miles' team moves down from No. 8 to No. 17. Mississippi State, meanwhile, moves into the rankings at No. 14 as it prepares for Texas A&M in two weeks. The Bulldogs then host Auburn on Oct. 11, rounding out a three-game gauntlet featuring Top 10 opponents—all from the SEC West.

The only other Top 25 team to fall to an unranked opponent also came from the SEC. Missouri's hot offensive start against also-rans proved to be a bit of fool's gold, as Indiana rushed for 241 yards in a 31-27 upset in Columbia. D'Angelo Roberts scampered in for the game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds remaining.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the win was only Indiana's fourth in program history against a nonconference AP Top 25 team on the road. This same Hoosiers team lost on the road in Bowling Green last week—not a great sign for a Missouri squad that begins its SEC schedule in South Carolina next Saturday.

The Tigers are one of two teams to drop out of the rankings, the other being Clemson. Replacing them are Mississippi State and East Carolina, which found its latest upset victim Saturday in North Carolina. Led by quarterback Shane Carden, the Pirates have had three consecutive strong showings against Big Five schools. They look like a favorite in the American Athletic Conference.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Week 5 AP and Amway Standings Revealed

After another wild week of the 2014 college football regular season, fans of the sport have already turned their attention to the Week 5 rankings and where the schools they support stand.

It was not a good week to be a ranked program. Florida State and several other teams came close to losing, and other schools like LSU, Missouri, Clemson and Kansas State were defeated and will slide down the ratings.

There will be plenty of turnover in this week’s college football rankings.

Here are the full Amway coaches', Associated Press and Bleacher Report Top 25 polls, followed by a breakdown of which programs are playing well and which are struggling heading into Week 5.

 

 

Breaking Down the College Football Landscape

It was a tough week to be one of the top teams in the nation. For those ranked teams who managed not to lose, there were several close calls that had top programs sweating a possible loss on Saturday.

Many college football fans believed powerhouses like LSU, Missouri, Clemson and Kansas State would make a serious splash in the new playoff system, but each was handed a loss this week.

Kansas State and Clemson lost to college football juggernauts Auburn and a Jameis Winston-less Florida State respectively, but those defeats will not hurt as much as those suffered by SEC programs LSU and Missouri.

LSU was handed a defeat by the unranked and undefeated Mississippi State in a 34-29 thriller, and Missouri lost to a less-talented Indiana program in an even closer game, 31-27. If you are a fan of either team, it was a long Saturday filled with frustration and sadness.

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen told The Associated Press, via ESPN.com, about the victory and the toll it took on him, “I probably aged seven to 10 years in the final three minutes of the game. We are trying to build a program and I'll take it. I guess everybody can now write how I have beaten LSU and Alabama once during my career.”

For other fans, close calls were the name of the game. Several ranked teams came close to losing, but none were closer than Florida State. With Winston suspended for his actions off the field over the last week, the Seminoles faced a tough test against Clemson and managed to pull out the 23-17 win in overtime. FSU proved it had the talent to win without Winston, but the team is clearly better with the former Heisman Trophy winner under center.

The official Twitter of SportsCenter talked about how Winston was still making bad choices Saturday:

Florida State wasn’t the only school involved in a game that was closer than many anticipated. With Oregon beating Washington State, 38-31, and Oklahoma holding off West Virginia, 45-33, supporters of each program were forced to bite their nails as the teams were unable to mount a sizable advantage on Saturday.

The talk has been about the teams that struggled this week, but there were several other top programs that dominated and likely earned even more respect from voters as the teams begin posturing for the postseason.

The biggest winners in Week 4 were Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia and Wisconsin.

Alabama managed to dominate a tough Florida team on Saturday, but it wasn’t a traditional Crimson Tide victory. Instead of running the ball down Florida’s throat, Alabama leaned on quarterback Blake Sims and his 445 yards and four touchdowns.

Another SEC team that thrived was Texas A&M. SMU never stood a chance, but few saw the 58-6 beatdown coming. The Aggies could have scored even more if they hadn’t taken their foot off the throttle. Staying in the SEC, Georgia was another huge winner, knocking off Troy in spectacular fashion, 66-0. You read that right, folks, Georgia scored 66 on offense and managed to hold Troy to 216 total yards and zero points.

If you’re looking for a winner not getting the credit it deserves, look no further than Wisconsin. The Week 1 loss to LSU is tough to swallow after the Tigers lost on Saturday, but the Badgers destroyed Bowling Green, 68-17. Wisconsin is one of the few highlights for the lackluster Big Ten.

Hopefully, the rest of the season will be as wild as the first four weeks. College football fans certainly hope so.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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Cal Bears Send out Victory Email Before Arizona Beats Them on Hail Mary

The California Golden Bears led the Arizona Wildcats 31-13 heading into the fourth quarter of their Saturday night Pac-12 showdown. By all accounts, the game was over. 

You think you've seen it all.

Arizona scored 36 fourth-quarter points and ultimately won the game on an incredible Hail Mary.

Apparently, the Cal marketing department had gotten a little impatient, sending out a promo email to its subscriber base to celebrate the victory before the game was over. Oops.

D’oh: Official Cal store sends out “win” email before Zona beat them on a Hail Mary pic.twitter.com/lw9uw9lJPK (via @KingBanks30)

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) September 21, 2014

Here's a look at the final play with no time remaining:

[Twitter]

 

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ESPN College GameDay Headed to Columbia, S.C., for South Carolina vs. Missouri

ESPN's College GameDay is making its first trip of the season to SEC country, where it will watch South Carolina host Missouri in Week 5.

Even after the Gamecocks' Week 1 loss against Texas A&M and the Tigers' Week 4 loss against Indiana, Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and the rest of the crew will be in Columbia, South Carolina, to watch a rematch of one of last year's craziest games.

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

Last season—when this game was played in the other Columbia—Missouri took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter. It shut down Gamecocks' quarterback Dylan Thompson, who was playing for an injured Connor Shaw, and looked to be on track to remain undefeated.

But then, in a shocking twist of fate, Shaw entered the game on a sprained knee and led South Carolina to 17 fourth-quarter points. Tied at 17, the game went to overtime, and tied at 24, it went to double overtime. But after a South Carolina field goal in that second frame, Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett missed a 24-yard field goal off the left upright, sealing the Gamecocks' victory, 27-24.

Both of last year's starting quarterbacks—Thompson and Missouri's Maty Mauk—were playing in place of an injured senior starter. Both were regarded among the best backup QBs in college football last season, and both are regarded among the top half of SEC QBs in 2014.

Mauk completed only 10-of-25 passes in last year's game, but those 10 completions went for 249 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "I think he did some really, really good things and a lot of little things he needs to do to get better," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said after the game, according to quotes released by the school. "Overall he battled and we will improve and I think he will be a really good player."

Since both of these teams have suffered an embarrassing defeat on their home field this season, one might think this an odd choice for a GameDay location.

However, that might actually raise the stakes.

Whichever team wins this game will advance to 4-1 and control its own fate in the SEC East. Whichever team loses will fall to 3-2 and be pinned against a wall.

Considering these teams combined to go 23-4 in 2013, watching either fall to 3-2 on the season would be a minor shock.

Other big games next week include UCLA at Arizona State—which could not be a GameDay site because it's being played on Thursday—Tennessee at Georgia and Stanford at Washington. But the crew has already seen Stanford play once this season, having traveled to Palo Alto, Calif., when the Cardinal lost to USC in Week 2. 

Given the options, this feels like the correct choice.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Amway College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 5 Rankings Released

Almost every top team faced a tough challenge in Week 4 of the college football season, causing plenty of voters to reconsider their rankings heading into Week 5.   

While LSU was the only Top 10 team to lose, there were upset scares involving Florida State, Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma and Auburn.     

When adding this to a few other interesting results throughout the weekend, it creates more confusion surrounding the possibilities for the College Football Playoff. Until then, we can take a look at the latest Amway Coaches Poll from USA Today, along with Bleacher Report's Top 25.

Coming into Saturday, all eyes were on the battle between Florida State and Clemson. Starting quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was suspended for the game due to inappropriate conduct, leaving the No. 1 team in the country in the hands of backup Sean Maguire.   

After a rough start, Florida State was able to make big plays when needed to force overtime. Clemson was then stopped on fourth down in overtime, allowing the Seminoles to seal the win on a Karlos Williams touchdown.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher discussed the work that went into preparing Maguire for his first career start, via Dan Wolken of USA Today:

It was a lot of work we had to do late, late Friday night and early Saturday all day. A lot of things that had to get done, but life gives you turnips all the time. You have to adjust and move on.

I couldn't be prouder of Sean Maguire tonight, what he did for our team and the resolve he had.

Winston will return next week as Florida State looks to remain undefeated and a top contender for the national championship. However, the Seminoles survived one of the toughest matchups on the schedule and should now have even more confidence going forward.

Meanwhile, Oregon had just as much trouble in a road game at Washington State, barely coming through with a 38-31 win.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee explains the Ducks' shortcomings:

Injuries along the offensive line caused quarterback Marcus Mariota to be under pressure all game long, but he still responded with 329 passing yards and five touchdowns to go with 58 rushing yards in the win.

With UCLA, Stanford and others still looming on the schedule, though, Oregon better figure out how to solve these problems if it wants to stay in the playoff picture.

Oklahoma and Alabama had similar stories from their games as both needed strong individual efforts to pull away late.

The Sooners were tied with West Virginia on the road at halftime until running back Samaje Perine came alive, finishing with 242 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The Crimson Tide were also tied in the second half against Florida, although for them it was Amari Cooper who came through with 10 catches for 201 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

This exciting slate on Saturday almost caused us to overlook a great Thursday night game between Auburn and Kansas State, which the Tigers pulled out thanks to some late mistakes by the home team.

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder was impressed by the win:

The only Top 10 school to lose was LSU, which went down 34-10 at home against Mississippi State before almost completing a comeback. Still, a failed Hail Mary attempt clinched the team's fate in a 34-29 loss. ESPN Stats & Info notes the rarity with this result:

On the other hand, Tim Brando of Fox Sports gives credit to the Bulldogs in what should be an exciting SEC season:

It seems likely that whoever wins the SEC West will get an automatic ticket to the College Football Playoff. Then again, a lot can happen over the next few months as upsets threaten to shake up the rankings.

Week 5 features mostly one-sided battles on paper, although this is usually when the biggest surprises occur. With an intriguing Pac-12 matchup between UCLA and Arizona State taking place on Thursday, there is always something to watch in college football. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UNC at ECU: Potential NFL Prospects and Their Performances

The East Carolina Pirates routed the North Carolina Tar Heels 70-41 on Saturday.

Though the game wasn't all that close, there were some potential NFL players in action for both teams.

While one team clearly shined more than the other, we will look at the long-term NFL prospects for a few players from both teams, in addition to their performances on Saturday.

 

All stats from GoHeels.comECUPirates.com and www.sports-reference.com/cfb/

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College Football Playoff 2014: Latest Predictions After Week 4 Standings

Another week of college football in the books, another step toward the inaugural College Football Playoff.

There were statement games. Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide went ahead and silenced any doubters with a major win over Florida thanks to the play of one electric quarterback. Texas A&M did much of the same to stay in the hunt, not that any critics were out there as the Kevin Sumlin machine continues to roll along.

There were upsets, too. Mississippi State took down LSU at home. Indiana upended Missouri. Clemson even took Florida State to overtime.

The result is a necessary refresher as to which teams are in the driver's seat in regards to the playoff.

Below, let's take an updated look at playoff projections based on recent results and a peek into the future.

 

Florida State

No Jameis Winston, no problem. 

All right, that may be a lie, but Florida State remains on top after a nail-biting overtime finish against Clemson. College GameDay puts the win into image form:

The Seminoles defense allowed 407 total yards and quarterback Sean Maguire threw two picks, but Florida State proved game in the face of adversity.

The hero? Wideout Rashad Greene, who brought in nine receptions for 135 yards and a score.

While the game speaks to the true value of Winston, it is only a matter of time before he is back under center. It helps that the coming schedule is rather straightforward until a visit from Notre Dame in the middle of October.

All things equal, the Seminoles remain on the fast track to win the ACC, especially considering the winner of Florida State-Clemson has gone on to do so in each of the past three seasons.

 

Oregon

The Oregon Ducks are a lock at this point, barring an epic collapse.

Of course, that almost happened Saturday night, but adversity on the road against Washington State is admirable, at least in a way.

Saturday was a ho-hum affair for the explosive offense, with Heisman contender Marcus Mariota throwing for 329 yards and five scores with all of four incompletions in a 38-31 win.

More impressive, of course, was the season-defining win two weeks ago, when the defensive perennial powerhouse that was then-ranked No. 7 Michigan State came to town and suffered a 46-27 loss behind 318 passing yards and three touchdowns from Mariota.

Given UCLA's consistently iffy form to date, the only real landmine on the schedule that sticks out at this point is the usual date with Stanford. But this year the contest is at home, and the Cardinal is very similar to the Spartans in most ways, meaning should the Ducks stay true to this form then even that contest looks like a win.

The defense and offensive line have questions to answer, but Mariota is a man on a mission. Until further notice, he can will his team to the Playoff.

 

Alabama

Remember when quarterback was an issue that could have doomed the Crimson Tide, effectively ending the school's reign of dominance?

Crickets.

Blake Sims is the real deal, folks. He beat out Florida State transfer Jake Coker for the starting gig for good reason, and on Saturday against the Florida Gators he wrote his way into the record books with 445 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Previously, only one other player had thrown for more than 400 yards in school history (Scott Hunter, 484 yards against Auburn in 1969).

Of course, Sims is not alone. As ESPN Stats & Information notes, the Crimson Tide's jaw-dropping 645 total yards is the No. 2 overall output under Saban, with the highest performance coming against Duke.

Florida is no Duke. Derrick Henry contributed on the ground with 111 yards and a score on 20 totes. Amari Cooper continued to look like arguably the best wideout in the nation with 10 receptions for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

On the flip side, the Crimson Tide limited the Gators to 200 yards of total offense and allowed just two third-down conversions on 13 attempts.

Alabama is here to stay as long as Sims can continue to utilize the talent around him to great success. Hurdles such as games against Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn will be tough, but there is absolutely nothing to suggest the Crimson Tide will not be in the running come Playoff time.

 

Baylor

It is entirely too easy to overlook Baylor, especially as Week 4 was a bye for Art Briles' team.

That in no way eliminates the Bears from consideration.

The Bears once again tout an elite offense behind the hot arm of Heisman contender Bryce Petty. A 45-0 win over SMU was nice. A 70-6 win over Northwestern State was expected. A 63-21 triumph on the road over Buffalo is the most impressive of all to this point.

While the biggest tests are yet to come for Petty and Co., it is abundantly clear that the team continues to fire on all cylinders thanks to continuity at a number of key positions. In just two games, Petty has not skipped a beat en route to 577 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.

He is also once again supported by an elite stable of backs, as the numbers show:

Perhaps scariest of all is that the Bears keep rolling in the face of injury.

"Everyone I started out the summer with isn't on the field right now," Petty said, referring to his depleted group of receivers, per The Associated Press (h/t FoxSports.com). "It's kind of weird. But I thought those guys did a great job of just stepping up."

While contests against Oklahoma State and Kansas State loom large near the end of the season, the game that may very well determine the Bears' playoff candidacy outright comes against the Oklahoma Sooners near the beginning of November.

Considering the Sooners had their fair share of struggles Saturday against West Virginia, what Petty and his offense can do to that defense will be quite interesting indeed.

 

AP poll via The Associated Press. Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 5 Standings for College's Top 25 Teams

Week 4 of the college football season was supposed to be a fairly easy one on the ranked teams that were in action. As it turned out, quite a few were pushed and some were even bitten by the upset bug.

No. 1 Florida State needed overtime to knock off No. 22 Clemson without the suspended Jameis Winston. The No. 2 Oregon Ducks needed its Heisman front-runner to show why most consider him the best player in the nation.

Marcus Mariota almost single-handedly saved the Ducks from an embarrassing loss to the Washington State Cougars in the latest game on the day's schedule.

This trend actually began on Thursday when the No. 5 Auburn Tigers narrowly escaped No. 20 Kansas State Wildcats 20-14. Perhaps we should've sensed there would be tight games on Saturday.

Here's a look at how all of the ranked teams in action fared.

 

The Upsets

Indiana Shocks Missouri at Home

The Missouri Tigers hadn't lost all season, and they hadn't lost at home to a nonconference opponent since 2012. Both of those things happened on Saturday.

On the strength of a late touchdown drive and a run game that tallied 241 yards, the Indiana Hoosiers handed the Tigers a 31-27 loss. Tevin Coleman ran for 132 of those yards.

With most teams below them holding serve, or having the day off, the Tigers could plummet out of the Top 25.

 

Mississippi State Holds off LSU

The LSU Tigers started horribly, but it finished strong. Unfortunately, the start was too dank to recover from. Mississippi State ran for 302 yards and quarterback Dak Prescott combined for 373 total yards and three total touchdowns.

LSU trailed 31-10 after three quarters, but behind Brandon Harris, who relieved Anthony Jennings, the Tigers outscored Mississippi State 19-3 in the fourth quarter.

Harris' desperation heave was intercepted, and the Bulldogs had earned a 34-29 victory over LSU in Baton Rouge. The win ended a 14-year losing streak against LSU.

 

The Close Calls

BYU Rallies to Hold off Virginia

In Week 3, the Virginia Cavaliers upset the Louisville Cardinals and knocked them from the Top 25. The BYU Cougars were intent upon avoiding the same fate against the Cavs.

The Cougars were outplayed in almost every aspect, but somehow they came away with the 41-33 win. Virginia outgained the Cougars 519-332, and BYU committed 12 penalties for 133 yards. The Cavs also had the ball for over 40 minutes to just over 19 for BYU.

The Cougars' saving grace was its bend-but-don't-break defense. It forced Virginia to settle for four Ian Frye field goals. None of them was longer 46 yards.

A win is a win, but BYU wasn't exactly impressive.

 

Winston-less Seminoles Survive Clemson

Without their reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Florida State struggled to score against the stout Clemson defense. The Seminoles converted just four of 15 third-down attempts, and Sean Maguire threw two interceptions as Winston's replacement.

The game went into overtime, where Karlos Williams clinched the win for the Noles with a 12-yard touchdown run.

While Florida State will gladly take the win, this close call caps off a week the program would like to put behind them as soon as possible.

 

Mariota to the Rescue

Connor Halliday and the Washington State Cougars came to play on Saturday. Halliday threw for 436 yards and four touchdowns, but it wasn't enough as Mariota played like a front-runner for the Heisman in leading his team to victory.

Despite being sacked seven times, Mariota completed 21 of 25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns. Dealing with a makeshift offensive line because of various injuries, Mariota was under pressure all game.

The defense also struggled to get a handle on Halliday and Co.

Oregon as a team was not at its best, but Mariota couldn't have played better under the circumstances.

 

The Blowouts 

Spartans Smite the Eagles

Perhaps the Michigan State Spartans needed to let out their frustrations after losing 46-27 to Oregon in Week 3. 

The Eastern Michigan Eagles were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The score of the game was 49-0 at halftime, and the 73-14 final tally capped off one of the most lopsided games you'll ever see, hear or read about.

 

The Badgers Like to Run

It's safe to say, if a team racks up a Big-Ten record 644 rushing yards, there's a pretty good chance it'll win. The Wisconsin Badgers demolished Bowling Green 68-17.

It truly looked as if Wisconsin was running the football against a high-level high school squad.

It averaged a whopping 10.7 yards per carry and had three players top 100 yards on the day. Chief among them was Melvin Gordon. He ran for 253 yards and a ridiculous five touchdowns.

 

Georgia Silences Men of Troy

Another team still smarting from a tough loss was the Georgia Bulldogs. On Saturday, Georgia allowed just 216 total yards, but most importantly, it gave up zero points against Troy.

This was supposed to be a blowout, and it was.

 

Texas A&M Rolls over SMU

The Texas A&M Aggies offense is downright scary. By now, we all have all heard of Kenny "Trill" Hill, but the Aggies' attack is even deeper than its talented young quarterback.

In Saturday's 58-6 demolition of SMU, the Aggies had 663 yards of total offense, and it only had the ball for 23:53. It's clear that it doesn't take long for this explosive bunch to do major damage.

Arkansas is next as the team heads into the heart of its SEC schedule.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Despite Win over Washington State, Oregon Not Playoff-Ready

Oregon may have escaped with a road win over Washington State; however, the Ducks are nowhere near ready to compete for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

If it hadn’t been for the performance of Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, who finished the night with more touchdown passes than incompletions, Oregon would have lost to the Cougars.

Mariota didn’t just lead the Ducks to victory; he tied the team to his back and dragged it to a win. 

Let’s start with the obvious reason as to why Oregon struggled so mightily against a Washington State team that had previously lost to Rutgers and Nevada—the offensive line. The Ducks offensive line played their worst 60 minutes of football in the Mariota era, which dates back to 2012.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t just the new Ducks tackles—true freshman left tackle Tyrell Crosby and right tackle Matt Pierson—that struggled against Washington State. Center Hroniss Grasu and guard Hamani Stevens had troubles of their own against a team that came in with four sacks on the season, according to Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com.

The Ducks offensive line allowed seven sacks of Mariota, by the far the most he has even been sacked in his career. Coming into Saturday, the highest number of sacks he had faced in one game was three. The Cougars sacked him five times in the first half alone. 

The number of sacks only illuminates how well Mariota played. On the night he was 21-of-25 for 329 yards and five touchdowns. He also had 13 carries for 58 yards. However, when you account for the sacks, he ran for almost 100 yards overall.

When asked about Mariota's performance tonight, head coach Mark Helfrich could only say he was ''ridiculous", according to Nicholas Geranios of The Associated Press (h/t Yahoo).

While Oregon’s pass blocking was suspect at best, the run blocking from the offensive line wasn’t much better. The Ducks, one of the best running teams in the nation, carried the ball 42 times for a grand total of 172 yards—an average of 4.1 yards per carry. Coming into the game, the Cougars ranked No. 94 in the nation against the rush.

Oregon’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries, and creating a makeshift line on the fly isn’t the easiest task in the world. Losing left tackle Tyler Johnstone before the season got started was a big blow to the line, as were the subsequent losses of right tackle Andre Yruretagoyena and left tackle Jake Fisher. However, Mark Helfrich has preached that the next man up, regardless of your class, is expected to play at a high level.

“We're at the point now where there's not freshmen and sophomores and juniors and seniors.” Helfrich told Andrew Greif of The Oregonian. “If you're in there you're our No. 1 guy period. We expect those guys to play like it and play great if they've been here for three games or three years.”

The Ducks offensive line didn't play anywhere near the vicinity of a high level. It’s one of the reasons why, despite Oregon’s victory over Washington State, that the Ducks are nowhere near ready to compete in the College Football Playoff.

However, it is certainly not the only reason.

Yes, the Ducks offense struggled at times on Saturday, mostly due to the spotty play from the offensive line. But they did score 38 points, largely thanks to the heroics of Mariota and the solid play of the wide receivers—specifically Keanon Lowe and Devon Allen who both scored two touchdowns. In all reality, it was the Ducks defense that failed to shine on the national stage, leading many to question if this was the defense of a second-ranked team in the nation. 

The Ducks defense conceded 499 yards and 31 points to quarterback Connor Halliday and company. While Halliday “only” threw the ball 63 times, 26 less attempts than last year, he completed 43 of those passes for 436 yards and four touchdowns. More importantly, Halliday committed no turnovers—something he did four times in last year’s matchup.

Washington State only committed one turnover on the night—a fumble recovered by the Ducks in the third quarter. That turnover directly led to an Oregon touchdown, but only after Mariota scrambled 28 yards along the sideline on 4th-and-10.

Oregon’s defense failed to put pressure on Halliday all night, and the secondary—specifically All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu—was consistently beaten by Cougar wide receivers—notably River Cracraft and Dom Williams.

Ekpre-Olomu—Oregon’s most high-profile defender—likely had his worst performance as a Duck on Saturday night. In the first quarter alone he was beaten twice by Williams for a touchdown. 

While the statistics may compare favorably to last season's matchup against the Cougars where the Ducks defense allowed 38 points and 557 yards through the air, the reality is that Oregon struggled once again against a high-profile passing attack. If there’s one thing that Pac-12 offenses do very well, it's throw the ball.

It’s disconcerting for Oregon that Halliday is the second quarterback to throw for over 300 yards against them this season, the other being Michigan State’s Connor Cook. Worse yet, the Ducks have only played four games so far. 

There were other mistakes made by players and coaches alike that led to Oregon’s narrow victory over the Cougars. Oregon kicker Matt Wogan missed a short 32-yard field goal on the first drive after halftime that would have given the Ducks a bit of a cushion.

Defensive coordinator Don Pellum failed to make adjustments to Halliday and the “Air-Raid” offense. The Ducks played in zone coverage for most of the night while rushing only three players at Halliday. It’s tough to stop the Washington State passing attack when he has all the time in the world to gun down his receivers.

When the Ducks brought the pressure, they were successful, including on their last two defensive plays of the night, the last of which resulted in Oregon’s only sack by linebacker Tony Washington.

The Ducks also committed an egregious number of penalties. Oregon had 10 penalties called against it for a total of 86 yards.

When asked about the victory, Helfrich would only say that road wins are tough in the Pac-12 conference and there was a ton of adversity facing the Ducks.

''A road win in this conference is hard,'' Helfrich said, according to Geranios. ''We are 4-0 and we got a big win on the road. There was a ton of adversity.”

The Ducks have a long way to go if they want to be considered as one of the four teams worthy of selection into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

If Saturday is any indication of the Ducks' future, it doesn’t look bright. However, if this was just a bump in the road and the Ducks are conscientious of the fact that they cannot continue to let Marcus Mariota bail them out of difficult situations, then maybe this was a necessary bruise.

They survived. They advanced. Now where do the Ducks go from here?

That is the question everyone will be asking come Monday morning.

 

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter@TheSportsGuy33.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Despite Win over Washington State Oregon Not Playoff-Ready

Oregon may have escaped with a road win over Washington State; however, the Ducks are nowhere near ready to compete for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Week of Survival Shows There Are No Dominant College Football Teams in 2014

The main message from this week’s college football games is that while a whole bunch of teams have admirable survival skills, there isn't a dominant one among the contenders. And no one has shown it is entitled to take up the “We’re No. 1” chant any time soon.

Defending national champion Florida State leads that pack. The Seminoles will again occupy the top spot when the polls come out, but their place atop the sport is iffy at best.

They're there because Clemson helped Florida State stick around for an overtime victory with two missed field goals and a wild snap that took them out of scoring range.

And the Seminoles shouldn't assume all will be right when Jameis Winston rejoins the huddle. Last season’s Heisman winner has an NFL arm and Kentucky Derby legs. But he also has the capacity for foolishness that could remove him from FSU’s roster at any moment, as last week’s suspension-causing aria of profanity made obvious.

Coming out on the field for warm-ups in full pads indicates he either doesn’t understand the meaning of “suspended” or is in some serious denial about misdeeds having consequences.

And as the 23-17 overtime squeaker against Clemson demonstrated, Florida State’s offense can be expected to leak more oil if continued Winston follies lead to more starts for Sean Maguire. The backup threw for 305 yards but was rocky and inconsistent throughout. He also was fortunate to throw only two interceptions. 

So, who’s ready to seize the front-runner role?

Not No. 2 Oregon, which had trouble getting off the ropes against a Washington State team that opened the season 0-2. The Ducks yielded 31 points, suggesting the old criticisms about a soft defense are relevant again.

Not No. 3 Alabama, whose four turnovers against Florida had Nick Sabanspewing verbal venom in the face of Blake Sims on the sidelines, even though the quarterback eventually threw for a whopping 445 yards. The Crimson Tide won big, 42-21, but with fumbles and a porous defense, they took their sweet time in finding second gear against the unranked Gators.

Not No. 4 Oklahoma, which found itself firing a few blanks before taking control to win a shootout with West Virginia by the count of 45-33. Samaje Perine ran for a beastly 242 yards, but Trevor Knight’s 16-of-29 passing and early accuracy problems showed the Sooners aren’t built to come from behind.

Not No. 5 Auburn, which should be counting itself lucky to have escaped Kansas State 20-14 on Thursday night. If the Tigers had been facing a sure-footed kicker, they easily could have been removed from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Maybe No. 6 Texas A&M, but only for those who are willing to invest a leap of faith in a 58-6 win over a Southern Methodist team that already has seen its coach resign.

No. 7 Baylor and No. 9 Notre Dame had Saturday off, and No. 8 LSU played as if it thought it had the night off. The Tigers were beaten at home much worse than the 34-29 score against unranked Mississippi State indicated, as Dak Prescott showed he's the best dual-threat quarterback in the SEC, with 268 passing yards and another 105 on the ground. 

At this point no team out there has a clear and easy path to one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff, which is fine. Tension, drama and uncertainty give coaches migraines and ulcers, but they make Saturdays thrive in the fall.

The cloudy picture also validates the decision to have the panel that will vote on the College Football Playoff wait until Oct. 28 to release its first poll.

The current pecking order of The Associated Press poll is based more on theory than factual results. No one in the Top 10 looks unbeatable, and there’s a good chance once-beaten teams can keep their playoff hopes alive, because there figures to be several of them.

We'll also see plenty of key games before the first playoff poll starts bringing the postseason into soft focus.

Notre Dame will take on Florida State and Stanford before then. Alabama will get tested by Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Oklahoma will face Kansas State and engage in the always-emotional Texas rivalry. Auburn and LSU will help shake out the always hypercompetitive SEC West race.

Even traditionally disregarded Mississippi State suddenly looks formidable, but I want to see what the Bulldogs do against Texas A&M and Auburn before believing they’re for real.

Right now, not a single one of those potentially pivotal confrontations has an overwhelming favorite. And the number of undefeated teams from major conferences is still in double digits.

So thank you, Florida State, for looking so vulnerable on Saturday night.

You just sprinkled hope and optimism all across the college football landscape.

And that’s a good thing.

 

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

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Florida State Would Have No Shot at Playoffs Without Jameis Winston

It became clear, somewhere smack-dab in the middle of the second half, just how valuable Jameis Winston is to Florida State.

Perhaps such value should have been recognized well before we got to witness this doomsday scenario. After all, Winston won a Heisman Trophy and he did so posting video game numbers as a redshirt freshman. In accomplishing these individual goals, his team also won a national championship.

Without him in 2013, the stakes and scenario would have been drastically different. And without him this year—as we witnessed with our own eyes on Saturday night—Florida State's national title hopes are all but lost.

As the Seminoles closed out a suspenseful, ugly and mistake-aided 23-17-win in overtime over Clemson, Winston’s value was amplified. The quarterback will ultimately define just how close Florida State can come to duplicating last season’s success and cracking the first-ever College Football Playoff.

But given recent events, nothing should be assumed. 

Winston's situation is well-known by now, at least to a degree. He said vulgar things in a public setting, prompting the school to suspend him for a half. Late Friday night—when most of the football world was sound asleep, preparing for the day ahead—the university announced that Winston would miss the entire game. 

The late news has yet to truly be defined outside of a cryptic release. Regardless of why this punishment was doubled, it came as a surprise on the eve of one of the biggest ACC games all year. The loss was, unquestionably, significant.

And yet even with the news, I expected to write a much different column once his absence became official. I expected to write about the Florida State defense, and how it proved that the Seminoles were much more than just a QB. In some ways, this group did showcase that, although it was not without its moments of distress.

I expected to write about the best offensive line in the country, and how it kept Clemson's feisty and aggressive front seven in check. Off that same talking point, it was assumed that the Seminoles’ array of intriguing skill position players would take control of this matchup and assert themselves in unique ways. These moments eventually came, although it was the natural addition we assumed. Moving the football was by no means easy for much of the night.

And finally, I expected backup quarterback Sean Maguire to ease in slow but steer this magnificent ship without taking it off course. It was assumed there would be a drop-off of some kind—he was replacing a Heisman winner, after all—but Maguire, given the pieces around him, seemed poise to handle the moment just fine.

Although Maguire deserves the utmost credit for the adjustments (and improvements) he made in the second half after struggling, the differences were far greater than we could have imagined.

His interception late in the fourth quarter could have—and perhaps should have—doomed the team and its playoff hopes. A Clemson fumble made the throw moot, however, and Maguire led his team to victory in overtime. 

All of this is good news. Style points, particularly for a team coming off a national championship, are by no means a requirement. A win is a win, and without Winston, this victory should be appreciated despite the rocky path that it took to get there.

But bigger picture, even on a night when FSU took out one of its main ACC rivals, we were reminded of just how much Florida State needs its quarterback. Without him—and with difficult games still on the horizon, including a matchup with surging Notre Dame—it will likely eventually come undone.

Following the game, head coach Jimbo Fisher made it abundantly clear that Winston would be welcomed back next week with open arms. There was no reason to assume anything different, but again, recent events have not exactly followed this most linear path.

Jimbo: Jameis will be our quarterback on Monday

— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) September 21, 2014

If that is the indeed the case—and twists moving forward are kept at a minimum—the Seminoles should be considered a national title contender, if not the favorite. There are reasons to be concerned with this team, some of which were on display Saturday night, although there’s also plenty to be excited about. And that begins with Winston. 

Although the severity of this punishment will continue to be discussed and debated, it makes no difference now. The hope is that Winston can learn from his latest off-field debacle, something he has been unable to do up until this point. 

If it was obvious for us on Saturday night just how valuable he has become, and hopefully he had a similar (and more impactful) takeaway while assessing it all from a much different, more impactful viewpoint. 

Bigger yet, hopefully one of the sport’s most exciting and exceptional talents can take the attention back toward his craft and away from the stupidity that put his team in this position in the first place. 

He’s losing out, we’re losing out and Florida State, as we saw on Saturday night, will eventually lose out if its star player is absent any longer.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Washington State: Game Grades, Analysis for the Ducks

It wasn't easy, but the No. 2 Oregon Ducks managed to escape Pullman, Washington, with a 38-31 victory over Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars. 

Marcus Mariota proved to everyone yet again why he's potentially the best player in the country. The signal-caller went 21-of-25 for 329 yards. He only threw one incompletion in the entire second half. 

The offensive line does need a bit of work. Mariota was sacked seven times on the day. Heading into Saturday's game, Oregon had only relinquished three sacks. 

A mark of a good team is winning on the road in adverse conditions. The Ducks were able to do just that. 

A full box score of the contest can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. 

Check out the first-half grades and final grades for the Ducks. Additional analysis for different position units will also be addressed.

 

Pass Offense

Mariota was nearly flawless on the evening. Despite being under constant pressure, the quarterback kept his eyes up and found Devon Allen and Keanon Lowe (among others) down the field for huge gains. 

His poise in the face of adversity was simply exquisite. Having only one incompletion after halftime (and despite being sacked seven times on the evening) is extremely impressive. Mariota finished 21-of-25 for 329 yards and five touchdowns. 

 

Pass Defense

The pass defense did have its troubles, especially in the first half. The secondary in general did not tackle well in space. Many times, WSU receivers were able to break tackles and rack up yards after the catch. 

As is the case with any defense facing a Mike Leach offense, Oregon gave up passing yards. WSU quarterback Connor Halliday threw for 436 yards and four touchdowns. In addition, Oregon's secondary was unable to create any turnovers. The soft zone also allowed WSU to pick up good production over the middle of the field. 

 

Run Offense

Oregon's vaunted zone-read rushing attack was bottled up for the most part in the first half. Credit the Cougars defensive line for getting off blocks and making plays. In the second half, the ground game got going a bit. 

Oregon finished the first half with only 45 yards on the ground (most of which came from Mariota scrambles). The Ducks did ultimately finish with 172 yards rushing. While it wasn't the usual amount of production rushing the football, it was effective enough. 

 

Run Defense

Washington State came into this game averaging 40.0 yards per game on the ground. This was good for 126th in the country. 

Oregon did allow 63 yards on the ground. In the second half especially, the defensive line closed running lanes and tackled with more effectiveness. WSU's Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow did slash the unit at times. However, for the most part, Oregon put forth an effective effort. 

 

Special Teams

On a special teams error by Washington State, the Ducks were able to recover a muffed punt. A Matt Wogan 32-yard chip-shot miss ultimately lowered the special teams grade down into the "B" range. He did convert later from 34 yards out. 

 

Coaching

In the first half, Mark Helfrich didn't really account for Washington State's pressure up front. Mariota was sacked five times and often was restricted to the pocket. In the second half, Oregon opted for quicker throws and opportunities in which Mariota was rolled out to either side of the field. This was a nice adjustment. 

Defensively, Oregon rarely attacked Halliday with blitzes. He was able to stand comfortably in the pocket and throw the ball down the field without facing much pressure. 

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