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LSU, Alabama All but Control Their Playoff Destinies as Giant Showdown Looms

University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban smiled during his postgame press conference Saturday.

Perhaps he too was woozy from the heat, but he did it nonetheless following his team’s 41-23 victory over Texas A&M on Saturday.

"You have to hand it to this team,” he said. “This is the second team ranked in the Top 10 that we've beaten on the road in some really tough places to play. I think you have to respect the competitive character of this team. My hat’s off to them."

During a season that Crimson Tide fans seem to be revisiting their past with each game—including the loss to Ole Miss, reliving the Blackout at Georgia and then another grind-it-out win against Arkansas—it would be only fitting if the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division came down to another showdown against LSU.

That’s the way it’s beginning to look, even though there are still four strong division contenders.

First, consider each team’s schedule: 

  • LSU (6-0, 4-0 SEC): Western Kentucky, at Alabama, Arkansas, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M.
  • Alabama (5-1, 3-1): Tennessee, LSU, at Mississippi State, Charleston Southern, at Auburn.
  • Texas A&M (5-1, 3-1): at Ole Miss, South Carolina, Auburn, Western Carolina, at Vanderbilt, at LSU.
  • Ole Miss (5-2, 2-1): Texas A&M, at Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State.

Ole Miss has the head-to-head tiebreaker over Alabama, but the Rebels appeared to have started their late-season fade early this year. Injury issues and the inability to run have made them a longshot especially since they have five SEC games yet to play, and having already lost to Florida and Memphis one has to wonder how many more defeats may be looming.

That begins with next week’s showdown against Texas A&M, which has to be considered an elimination game. It’ll be interesting to see how both teams react to coming off a loss.

“Here is where the maturity and leadership aspect comes into play,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said during his postgame press conference.

“We still have all our goals ahead of us. We got beat today, but we are tied with them in the SEC standings and we head on the road next week. What we have to do as a team is acknowledge what happened tonight, be truthful with where we our as a team and what we can get fixed, lean on each other, put this one away and move on with the rest of the season."

But Texas A&M looked pretty beat up following the Alabama game after using its bye beforehand. It’s the only one of the four that won’t have a week off from here on out.

"The way I look at it, if we win the rest of our games we go to the SEC title (game),” Texas A&M defensive lineman Julien Obioha said. “We have to win out, and the only way we can do that is by beating Ole Miss next week. We can't do anything about the Alabama game anymore so we're on to Ole Miss."

But even if Texas A&M does win out it, can’t advance to the SEC Championship Game unless Alabama stumbles again. 

Here’s a sobering thought for Aggies fans, imagine what the score might have been Saturday if center Ryan Kelly hadn’t left the game or Alabama didn’t have its special teams issues.

With its 43-37 win in Week 3, Ole Miss hit the Crimson Tide at the right time, before it had a quarterback established and benefited from five turnovers. It needed every one of them to win.

"I feel like we're a different team from week to week,” defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “You don't win the game on Saturdays; you win the game on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which are preparation. I feel like we've improved, but we're definitely not satisfied or happy with anything we've done up to this point."

Like LSU, which beat Florida with a fake field goal (speaking of familiar), Alabama found a different way to win this week. Its young secondary, with three freshmen in the dime package, returned three interceptions for touchdowns at A&M, Jake Coker is proving to be tougher than most linebackers and running back Derrick Henry had a career game.

Yet, neither Alabama, nor LSU, is hitting on all cylinders yet. Neither has probably played its best game yet.

"Don't doubt 'Bama, man," sophomore left tackle Cam Robinson told John Talty of Al.com.

“Honestly, we've done so well in the past that if we lose one game everybody says, 'Oh something's wrong; is the dynasty over?' No, we just lost a game. We will come out next week, move forward and continue to play Alabama football."

Being undefeated, LSU clearly has the inside lane, while Florida still has it in the East despite the 35-28 loss in Baton Rouge. But Alabama also essentially controls its destiny, which may have been why Saban was smiling because his team does have the potential to run the table.

Alabama also has home-field advantage against LSU on Nov. 7 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, which in this case could be huge, and both teams might be ranked in the top five by then if Alabama gets by rival Tennessee next week.

That’ll lead to two weeks of mind-numbing hype: Leonard Fournette vs. Henry; Saban again facing his former team, the 2011 national championship chase all over again.

So go ahead and circle the date on the calendar because it might determine the SEC West champion, and it could be viewed as a quasi play-in game for what’s now called the playoffs—and we’ve all seen that before out of that matchup.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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USC vs. Notre Dame: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

With 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, the No. 14 Notre Dame Fighting Irish overcame a one-touchdown deficit to defeat the USC Trojans 41-31 on Saturday night to improve to 6-1.

Led by quarterback DeShone Kizer's arm and C.J. Prosise's 143 rushing yards, Notre Dame spoiled the debut of interim head coach Clay Helton, who took over for Steve Sarkisian after he was dismissed last week. Kizer and Prosise each recorded two touchdowns Saturday.

It looked like things would be a walk in the park early for Notre Dame, who overcame an early touchdown from USC quarterback Cody Kessler to score 24 of the next 27 points. 

The Irish didn't wait long to come up with a reply for Kessler's touchdown, either, as Kizer hit wide receiver Will Fuller for a 75-yard pass just 15 seconds after USC took the lead. 

Watch ND had the replay of Kizer's bomb to one of the best wide receivers in the nation:

Fuller beat the coverage of USC cornerback Adoree' Jackson, who is one of the best in the nation at his position. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman was impressed:

The wide receiver made the most of his catches, piling up 131 yards on just three receptions.

Prosise followed up a USC field goal with a 25-yard touchdown rush.

A minute later, Amir Carlisle scooped up a blocked punt by Equanimeous St. Brown deep in USC territory and returned it for a touchdown, helping give the Irish an 11-point lead. 

It was a sweet moment for Carlisle, who scored against the school he transferred from after his freshman year. NBC Sports shared the replay:

Jackson did manage to make a big play on defense, halting a Notre Dame drive on the USC 9-yard line by stripping Torii Hunter Jr. and getting the Trojans the ball back.

ESPN's Matt Fortuna saw that play as a turning point in the game:

It helped gain some momentum for USC, who managed to find an answer. Down two touchdowns with 5:59 left in the first half, the Trojans rattled off 14 points in a little over two minutes to tie the game at 24-24 going into the locker room.

They came on two consecutive huge plays as well. 

First, a trick play sprang JuJu Smith-Schuster open for a 75-yard touchdown reception off a pass from wide receiver Jalen Greene. The Pac-12 Networks shared the replay:

Notre Dame's coverage might have been lacking, as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller pointed out:

But Jackson, who was burned by Fuller on defense, might be one of the fastest players on the field. He showed it off on the touchdown that helped the Trojans tie the game, which started as a harmless screen pass.

The Pac-12 Networks showed off his speed, which topped out at around 23 miles per hour, per the Los Angeles Times' Lindsey Thiry:

In the third quarter, the Trojans picked up where they left off, scoring on a five-play, 80-yard drive to grab a 31-24 lead. A 65-yard rush from Ronald Jones II set up a four-yard Taylor McNamara touchdown reception.

Rushing for 73 yards on six carries, Jones is already drawing comparisons to some of the NFL's best running backs. Here's what NBC Dallas Fort Worth's Pat Doney pointed out:

Notre Dame was giving up yards at will, according to Feldman:

USC did plenty to get the Irish back in the game, committing a pair of pass-interference penalties that gifted Notre Dame 30 yards and put the team in the red zone. The drive was capped off by Prosise's second touchdown of the game, a six-yard rush.

The Irish took the lead on their next drive, when Kizer hit Corey Robinson for a 10-yard touchdown. It was their second straight drive in which they went 90 or more yards in less than four minutes. 

Kessler proceeded to give the ball and game away as he saw two of his next three passes picked off by KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield. Notre Dame was able to get only three points from the turnovers, though, putting it up by 10.

RedditCFB showed Russell's athletic interception:

That was more than enough, as USC could not muster a reply. It was an anticlimactic debut for Helton as the Trojans slumped to 3-3 on the season. As unappealing as it sounds to some, USC should focus on getting experience for its future cornerstones while finding the right head coach and not worry about the team's record. 

Notre Dame survived again and will move up in the standings this week after losses from No. 12 Michigan and No. 13 Ole Miss. A balanced offense with plenty of playmakers is showing that it can play its way back into College Football Playoff contention.


Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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Missouri vs. Georgia: Game Grades, Analysis for Tigers and Bulldogs

The Georgia Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2) defeated the Missouri Tigers (4-3, 1-3) 9-6 on Saturday night to stay alive in the SEC East. 

Running back Sony Michel ran for 87 yards and hauled in four receptions in his first start since Nick Chubb's injury. Georgia's defense was suffocating, holding Missouri to 164 total yards, including just 21 yards on the ground.  

Pass Offense: Drew Lock was bad. In his first career road start, he passed for just 143 yards and completed less than 50 percent of his passes. 

Run Offense: The Tigers ran for just 21 yards on 22 attempts. Not good. Russell Hansbrough paced Mizzou with 24 yards. His longest run was for five yards. 

Pass Defense: Missouri did a good job against Georgia's passing offense. The Tigers allowed only 178 yards passing. The biggest issue for Mizzou was all of the potential interceptions it dropped. 

Run Defense: Georgia ran for 120 yards, but it came into the game averaging over 231 yards rushing per game. Missouri did a nice job of not allowing Michel to break any big runs. 

Special Teams: Kicker Andrew Baggett missed a field goal, and the Tigers had no big plays in the return game. Also, Missouri allowed Georgia's return man, Terry Godwin, to have two big returns in the fourth quarter.

Coaching: Gary Pinkel is an outstanding coach. However, he didn't appear to set his freshman passer up for success in this game. The Tigers never truly attempted to get the running game going. Also, why not call more short pass plays to keep the chains moving? Missouri did that on its final drive in the first half. But that was it.  

Pass Offense: Greyson Lambert did not have a good night. Yet, he only had one pass picked off. Fortunately for Lambert and the 'Dawgs, Missouri dropped at least four more potential interceptions. He also held the ball too long on several occasions, leading to bad decision or sacks.

Run Offense: The Bulldogs did not run the ball as well as they normally do, but Michel did a good job of getting the tough yards. Brendan Douglas and Keith Marshall had some important runs, too. 

Pass Defense: Georgia was in Lock's face all night, forcing several bad throws and moving him out of the pocket where he's uncomfortable at this stage of his development. The 'Dawgs allowed only 11 completions on the night. 

Run Defense: The Bulldogs held Missouri to just 21 yards on the ground. The longest run by any Missouri player on the night was a 10-yarder in the fourth quarter. 

Special Teams: This unit was big for the Bulldogs. Godwin had two big returns in the fourth quarter, one of which set up the game-winning field goal. Marshall Morgan hit the game-winner, but he also missed a 26-yarder earlier in the second half. 

Coaching: The play-calling was conservative, but it was just enough to win this game. When the Bulldogs got down in the red zone on the missed field goal, they essentially settled for the three points instead of trying to get the first down. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt did an outstanding job of confusing Lock and staying in his face all night. 

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Brandon Harris Sparks Offensive Balance vs. Florida, Propels LSU's Playoff Hopes

For the first five games of the season, LSU was incomplete.

Sure, running back Leonard Fournette had established himself as one of the game's brightest stars, and the new-look defense led by coordinator Kevin Steele didn't suffer much of a drop-off from the John Davis days.

But the passing game was still a major question mark.

Brandon Harris entered action on Saturday with just 10 passes of 20 or more yards on the season—tied for the fewest among qualifying quarterbacks, according to CFBStats.com. He was averaging just 122 yards per game—which was last in the SEC among quarterbacks who have started every game this season.

He's no longer a question mark.

The true sophomore provided the perfect complement to Fournette's accolades against the ultra-talented Gator secondary in Saturday's 35-28 win in Baton Rouge, completing 13 of his 19 passes for 202 yards, two touchdowns and zero picks. 

Clay Travis of FoxSports.com had high praise for the dual-threat signal-caller from Bossier City, Louisiana, during the game:

The Tigers had a huge performance. Fournette entered the game having accounted 45.4 percent of LSU's offense on the season according to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com. While that's great for Fournette and a testament to his ability as a workhorse running back, that's far too much of a burden for one player to carry.

LSU needed to keep Florida honest, and Harris did just that on Saturday when the Tigers needed it most.

As LSU's official Twitter page pointed out, the Tigers were incredibly balanced offensively against the talented Gator defense:

Head coach Les Miles knows just how important it was for his quarterback to step up against a defense that is as talented as any his Tigers will face this year, according to Marcus Rodrigue of the Advocate:

I wasn't a believer in LSU before.

I thought the quarterback issues that had plagued the program virtually every season since 2008 (aside from Zach Mettenberger's senior season in 2013) were alive and well in Baton Rouge, and Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron were doing their best to mask them.

LSU was one-dimensional by necessity, not choice.

It turns out it was mostly by choice.

Fournette provided the staff a nice insurance policy during the early part of the season. 

It's no surprise that the super-sophomore has become a star, but by becoming the best player in the game and dominating games in the face of defenses that stack everybody in the box to stop him, Fournette allowed the staff to bring Harris along slowly, build his confidence and unleash him when it mattered most.

It mattered on Saturday.

Harris proved that LSU is the SEC's most complete team and perhaps in all of college football. Even if he doesn't look like Tom Brady all the time, the threat of that is at least there. 

With Fournette in the backfield, a little threat goes a long way toward LSU earning a trip to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2011.

That might not be the end game for this team, though.

In a season full of flawed teams, all it takes is a minor tweak to transform a team from a contender to a favorite.

That's exactly what LSU is now, thanks to Harris.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Florida vs. LSU: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

In a high-profile matchup between undefeated SEC teams, trick plays and a balanced offensive attack propelled the No. 6 LSU Tigers to a 35-28 win over the No. 8 Florida Gators on Saturday night at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

With the score tied at 28-28 early in the fourth quarter, LSU pulled ahead for good on a fake-field-goal touchdown toss to kicker Trent Domingue—because head coach Les Miles can't resist messing with Florida. Here's the play, courtesy of ESPN:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wondered whether Miles was contractually obligated to mess with the Gators, while CBS Sports' Doug Gottlieb commented on the inevitability of it all:

Florida quarterback Treon Harris—starting in place of Will Grier, who was suspended Monday for a positive performance-enhancing-drug test—had two drives to bring Florida back, but a ferocious LSU pass rush stymied his last-ditch efforts.

LSU running back Leonard Fournette—who came into the matchup with 1,022 rushing yards in just five games—didn't get going until the second quarter, but once he did, there was little Florida could do to stop him. He grilled the Gators for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

Fournette has racked up at least 150 yards on the ground in every game this season and has an eight-game streak of topping the century mark, dating back to last season. ESPN College Football showed him running hard all the way into the final quarter:

Florida's 13th-ranked rushing defense was no match for the bruising back, who is in Heisman Trophy contention despite playing in an era defined by the gaudy stats put up by spread-offense quarterbacks.

“It’s his to lose,” CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd said, per the Advocate's Ross Dellenger. “I don’t think I’ve said that this early in a season. He is such a singular talent that he breaks down all of the barriers, all of the trends.”

After passing for just 382 yards and two scores in LSU's first four games, Tigers QB Brandon Harris has taken his game to another level in the past two weeks. He threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-24 win over South Carolina last week and followed up that performance with 202 yards and two more passing touchdowns against Florida.

Harris dished out most of his damage in the first half, but the touch and accuracy he showed on the night should inspire confidence in the Tigers faithful. In former NFL lineman Damien Woody's estimation, it will be hard to stop LSU with Harris playing like he did in the first half:

Wide receiver Malachi Dupre was his favorite target, reeling in four catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns.

LSU defensive end Lewis Neal was a nasty thorn in the Gators' side all game long, picking up three sacks on the night. ESPN.com's David Ching felt it was a standout performance from the junior lineman: 

Treon Harris completed 17 of 31 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns for Florida. Zach Abolverdi of the Gainesville Sun felt he did well under the circumstances: 

True freshman wideout Antonio Callaway had a standout night, catching three passes for 100 yards and a score while adding a touchdown on a punt return. Florida's rushing attack left much to be desired, totaling just 55 yards on the night.

After a sloppy start to the game that saw LSU spot Florida a 7-0 lead, the Tigers found their footing and exploded for 28 points in the second quarter. Fournette scored twice in the quarter—first on a direct snap out of the Wildcat formation, a sign of the creative play-calling that was to come—but was arguably upstaged by Brandon Harris and Dupre, who connected for two touchdown passes in the frame.

Dupre's first score was a nine-yard grab in the back of the end zone that helped make it 14-7. ESPN College Football shared the play: 

On their next drive, the threat of Fournette on a flea-flicker suckered the Florida defense, allowing Harris to hit Dupre in stride for a 52-yard gain. ESPN's Bomani Jones wanted to see more of the finesse from LSU:

Florida was playing well, with two touchdown passes from Treon Harris to tight end Jake McGee. Callaway also impressed with a juggling 42-yard catch down the sideline to set up McGee's second scoring grab late in the second. However, it wasn't enough to keep up with LSU. 

With 15 seconds left in the half, Brandon Harris scrambled to his right and hit Dupre deep downfield for a 50-yard touchdown, helping LSU grab a 28-14 halftime lead.

Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde was deeply impressed with Harris' display for the Bayou Bengals, and ESPN shared the play:

LSU's blistering finish to the first half did not carry over to the third quarter. Florida cut the Tigers' lead to seven on a 10-play, 66-yard drive that was capped off by a two-yard run from Kelvin Taylor. The defense then forced two three-and-outs from the Tigers, with the second leading to a 72-yard punt-return touchdown from the speedy Callaway.

Here's the play that quieted Death Valley, per ESPN:

With the game perhaps getting away from it, LSU again snookered Florida in the fourth quarter by pulling off the fake field goal for the eventual game-winning score. It capped off an 11-play, 75-yard drive, which tied for the second longest of the night for LSU.

Florida could do little to answer on offense with the hostile crowd at a fever pitch after the shocking fourth-down call. Fournette ran hard to chew time off the clock with the slim lead, and the defense held on Florida's final desperate drive to put the game away for the home side.

LSU could find itself in the top four after this monumental win. Fournette proved he can rack up huge gains against one of the best defenses in the country, and the play from Harris has been encouraging.

Although he threw for only 13 yards in the second half, much of that was because of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron sticking with the tried-and-true method of feeding Fournette. LSU's next opportunity is a winnable game against Western Kentucky on October 24. 

Florida has a week of rest before playing Georgia on October 31. The loss likely knocks them out of College Football Playoff contention, as there are a number of undefeated teams with better cases at this point. Still, there's plenty of time left, and Treon Harris proved even in a loss that he has the talent to give the Gators a chance to win all five of their remaining games.

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Winners and Losers from Week 7 of the 2015 College Football Season

College football: There's nothing else quite like it. 

Michigan State's odds-defying win over Michigan in the Big House will be talked about for weeks, months, years and generations. It was the most stunning ending to a college football game since Auburn's "Kick-Six" in 2013, and we may not see anything like it for a while. 

Of course, that wasn't all that happened in Week 7. Memphis made its case as a playoff dark horse, and Alabama and Baylor grabbed statement wins against conference opponents. We had fat-guy two-point conversions and flying quarterbacks.

All in all, it was a busy day. 

Who were the winners and losers from Week 7? We break down all that was good, bad, ugly, gorgeous and more in the following slides.

Begin Slideshow

Arizona State vs. Utah: Live Score and Highlights

Utah 27, Arizona State 18, Mid-4th Quarter 

The No. 4 Utah Utes (5-0) and Arizona State Sun Devils (4-2) are set to battle at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN.

The Utes are undefeated and will try to keep their surprising Cinderella season in tact, but Todd Graham's Sun Devils will try to play spoiler as they attempt to stay in the race for the Pac-12 Championship.

ESPN will have the television coverage for this game, but come back here for live updates and analysis. Also, please feel free to share your opinions on the game in the comments.

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Arizona State vs. Utah: Live Score and Highlights

Utah 0, Arizona State 0, Early 1st Quarter The No. 4 Utah Utes (5-0) and Arizona State Sun Devils (4-2) are set to battle at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN...

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