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Loss vs. USC Shows Utah Was Always a Playoff Cinderella, Never a Favorite

Utah enjoyed a nice a run near the top of the national polls, but a 42-24 loss at USC proved it never truly belonged there.

That's not to say the Utes aren't good. They are. They're very good. They earned their No. 3 ranking. They just always had a stinker like Saturday's in them.

Quarterback Travis Wilson threw four interceptions in the loss, continuing a trend of recklessness that's plagued his entire career. As good as he can look on his best days, he's still the guy who threw six interceptions against UCLA two years ago.

At some point, he was bound to turn into a pumpkin.

But Wilson wasn't alone in overachieving through seven weeks. Utah as a team had been punching above its weight.

One major story before the game concerned the lack of respect shown to Utah by Las Vegas. Sportsbooks opened USC, a team with three losses but rich history and brand recognition, as a 3.5-point favorite over Utah, a team with no losses but modest history and brand recognition. That spread rose as high as minus-6.5 before kickoff, according to Odds Shark.

But USC wasn't favored because it's sexier. That was just the narrative talking. Sportsbooks are too smart to get caught up in that.

USC was favored because it's better.

MGM race and sports director Jay Rood, one of the men responsible for setting the lines, explained the number Friday to Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times. Here's what he had to say:

In this spot, people see a ranked team versus an unranked team that's gone through some adversity and…just about every parlay ticket we've taken has Utah.

People think this is a tailspin for USC, but I don't see it as a tailspin. They just need to stabilize a bit. They have the No. 1 recruiting class, NFL talent all over the roster. All it takes is the coaches to say the right things and to put the guys in the right spots, and that team can play with anyone in the country.

Other, more transparent metrics came to the same conclusion.

Bill Connelly's S&P+ ratings at Football Study Hall, for example, ranked USC No. 11 and Utah No. 18 before the week. It gave the Trojans a 63 percent chance of winning. Like Vegas, it would not call Saturday's outcome an "upset."

It would call Saturday's outcome foreseeable.

So where does Utah go from here?

The good news is it can still make the College Football Playoff.

Even though it was highly overrated, it navigated the first half of its schedule unblemished, which gave it some margin for error.

More than that, it has a workable schedule. Even the S&P+ ratings—a metric that ranked Utah 15 spots lower than the Associated Press poll—think the Utes can finish 11-1:

Those numbers will change based on Week 8's results, but they still provide a general template. Utah should be favored in its five remaining games, with only minor scares against Washington, Arizona and UCLA.

When you add up those probabilities, Utah still stands a decent (26 percent) chance of winning out. Doing so would launch it to the Pac-12 Championship Game with an 11-1 record. From there, one more win would make it a very serious playoff candidate.

Defensive back Tevin Carter hinted at that after the game, saying "the season's not over," per Utah's official Twitter account:

Carter has a point, which is why it's too early throw dirt on Utah's grave. But it's not too soon to pick up the shovel.

Wilson has another bad game in him, because that's who he is: the 2015 version of Bo Wallace.

To extend that metaphor, Utah might be the 2015 version of 2014 Ole Miss: a defense-first team that started hot, rose higher than anyone thought possible, successfully hosted College GameDay…but never really felt like it belonged.

Even those who ranked Utah in the top three, which wasn't necessarily misguided, had to know this outcome was possible.

The clock was always ticking toward midnight.

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Loss vs. USC Shows Utah Was Always a Playoff Cinderella, Never a Favorite

Utah enjoyed a nice a run near the top of the national polls, but a 42-24 loss at USC proved it never truly belonged there. That's not to say the Utes aren't good. They are. They're very good...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Utah vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for Utes and Trojans

Freshman linebacker Cameron Smith snatched three interceptions, and the USC Trojans upended the third-ranked Utah Utes 42-17 on Saturday in Los Angeles.

Utah jumped out to a 14-7 lead, but Smith's pick-six capped a 21-point second quarter that gave USC momentum it never relinquished.

Pass Offense: Travis Wilson started 9-of-9, but the shiny box score numbers didn't represent how poorly the senior quarterback had played. It was clear mistakes were coming, and they certainly did. Wilson finished with four interceptions. Britain Covey tallied seven receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

Run Offense: One of the biggest reasons Utah came up short was it failed to give star running back Devontae Booker enough touches. He tallied 52 yards in the first half but only received four carries after the break. Wilson added 35 rushing yards.

Pass Defense: The Utes registered four sacks, but Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler recorded 9.4 yards per attempt. Screens and drags consistently hurt Utah, which surrendered 11 first downs through the air.

Run Defense: Although the defense surrendered just 2.6 yards per carry, the Utes couldn't use their overall success against the run in the most clutch moments. USC converted a pair of 4th-and-goal snaps for touchdowns. Even after a quiet first half, Gionni Paul had a career-best night with 17 tackles, including 5.5 for loss. Utah Football quoted head coach Kyle Whittingham:

Special Teams: Andy Phillips blasted a 53-yard field goal and hit all three extra points, while Tom Hackett averaged 43.2 yards per punt. Cory Butler-Byrd needs to learn taking a touchback is typically better than forcing the issue. He managed just 15.3 per kick return.

Coaching: Kyle Whittingham's decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 probably changed the game, but it was an admirable call. Wilson shouldn't have thrown the ball across his body and over the middle. On another note, Utah straying from Booker was a poor coaching decision.

Pass Offense: The connection between Kessler and JuJu Smith-Schuster is flat-out deadly. They hooked up eight times for 143 yards and one touchdown. Kessler completed 21 of 28 passes for 264 yards and the one score. Adoree' Jackson chipped in six catches for 37 yards.

Run Offense: USC didn't do much on the ground, but it did enough. Ronald Jones II totaled 73 yards and a touchdown, while Justin Davis accumulated 66 yards and a score. Kessler and fullback Soma Vainuku each had a 1-yard touchdown.

Pass Defense: Delvon Simmons notched two sacks and Su'a Cravens—who grabbed an interception with two seconds remaining—added another, but the star of the night was Smith. The freshman linebacker snatched three picks, highlighted by his 55-yard pick six.

Run Defense: The Trojans had a little bit of trouble limiting Booker during the first half, but it's not their fault Utah ignored him during the latter frames. USC allowed 3.5 yards per carry and held an opponent under 100 rushing yards for the second time this season.

Special Teams: Alex Wood buried all six extra points but absolutely yanked a 36-yard field goal wide left. The punt coverage unit surrendered a 40-yard return, and Jackson went nowhere on two ill-fated attempts to break a big one. Keely Eure of USCFootball.com quoted interim head coach Clay Helton:

Coaching: Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox assembled an outstanding game, and USC held Utah to a 3-of-13 mark in late-down situations. Additionally, a play-calling adjustment in the second quarter that featured quick passes helped the offense establish a much-needed rhythm.

 

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Utah vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for Utes and Trojans

Freshman linebacker Cameron Smith snatched three interceptions, and the USC Trojans upended the third-ranked Utah Utes 42-17 on Saturday in Los Angeles...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Does Texas A&M Have a Starting Quarterback After Ole Miss Fiasco?

It’s late October, which means there's a lot of screaming from college football fans, and none of it has anything do with Halloween.

Saturday there were screams of horror from Florida State fans after the Seminoles lost to Georgia Tech on a blocked field goal, and there were exasperated screams from Tennessee fans yet again after their ninth straight loss in the “Third Saturday in October” rivalry with Alabama.

But screams of pure frustration may be the worst. Just ask a Texas A&M fan.

The Aggies’ passing game wasn’t just bad during their 23-3 loss to No. 24 Ole Miss on Saturday night, it was beyond putrid. Granted, a lot of that had to do with the Rebels’ swarming defense, which was playing with a renewed swagger after a bye week, but sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen’s season completely came apart.

Allen got off to an average start, completing 10 of his first 12 passes for 91 yards, and he would have gladly taken those numbers the rest of the game. But after that, he completed just two of his next 22 attempts, and both were for negative yards. 

While fans were begging for freshman quarterback Kyler Murray to be inserted, the Aggies went 0-for-13 passing in the third quarter and tallied just 27 total yards. They finished with just 66 total yards in the second half.

It was a miracle that the Aggies were only down by 20 points, but they could have been down by two and it probably wouldn’t have made any difference.

When head coach Kevin Sumlin finally did make a change with roughly 11 minutes to go, he opted for sophomore Jake Hubenak, who had attempted just one pass this season coming in.

At Blinn Junior College last year, he completed 216-of-333 passes (64.9 percent) for 4,052 yards and 47 touchdowns with nine interceptions in eight games. He’s definitely more of a pocket passer than Murray, and perhaps Sumlin thought that might be the better option at that point in the game.

But waiting so long was inexcusable, and the way the Aggies have handled their quarterbacks can only leave us with two conclusions:

  1. Murray, who looked as confused as anyone about not being used, isn’t ready to handle anything beyond spot situations.
  2. The extensive quarterback competition that dragged on for a long time appears to have come back to bite the Aggies.

Now, with seven games down, does Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2 SEC) really have a starting quarterback?

It’s a worthwhile question. After all, the passing game is their offense’s identity.

Just to back up a little, when the Aggies came into training camp, the quarterback battle was played up as a three-way competition, though most assumed it was primarily between the youngest guns.

Allen, who led A&M to a 41-38 victory at then-No. 3 Auburn last season, started the last five games of 2014 and was named the Liberty Bowl MVP.

So the job was his, right?

Wrong. The Aggies were trying to keep Murray happy as well. The son of Aggies legend Kevin Murray, who led the Aggies to consecutive Southwest Conference titles in 1985 and 1986, is considered small for a college quarterback, but he was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

It’s now obvious that decision came at the expense of Allen’s development.

Saturday night, with both teams’ seasons on the line, Ole Miss played with a lot of emotion, while Texas A&M looked like it was still trying to recover from last week’s 41-23 loss to Alabama, in which the Crimson Tide returned three of their four interceptions for touchdowns.

Allen completed 20 of his 40 attempts for 263 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in that game, while Murray in relief went 2-of-4 for 21 yards and one pick.

What Alabama and Ole Miss both figured out was that Texas A&M still doesn’t have a running game and still can’t run between the tackles. Without that balance, both defenses went after the quarterbacks, and the outcome made their defensive backs look good. 

Consequently, we’re left with Allen’s final line of 12-for-34, 88 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, which adds up to a passer efficiency rating of 51.2.

At least the Aggies can take their time figuring out their next step, because the loss essentially eliminated them from SEC contention and killed their playoff hopes for another year. 

 

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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FSU vs. Georgia Tech: Game Grades, Analysis for 'Noles and Yellow Jackets

The finish inside Bobby Dodd Stadium was one for the ages as the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets knocked off the Florida State Seminoles 22-16 on a blocked kick returned for a touchdown.

It was Florida State that appeared to have the game in its hands with 10 seconds remaining as Roberto Aguayo was attempting a 56-yard field goal, but it was Georgia Tech's Lance Austin that wound up in the end zone for the winning score. 

The two key numbers in this game were 34 and 82. It was the 34 minutes that Georgia Tech possessed the ball that helped it sustain drives on offense and keep the ball away from Florida State. The other number (82) was the amount of rushing yards that Dalvin Cook had. That is not a terrible number, but the ineffectiveness to consistently run the ball hurt Florida State's offense on Saturday night. 

Everett Golson finished with 210 yards on 20-of-30 passing, but it was a red zone interception (his first of the year) that turned out to be a pretty big play. The Florida State defense played well at times, but it gave up too many chunk plays. The Yellow Jackets only mustered 67 total passing yards, but they were still able to consistently run the ball. 

Quarterback Justin Thomas finished with 88 yards on the ground, including a 60-yard score. His pass to Brad Stewart in the fourth quarter on fourth down was undoubtedly one of the biggest plays of the game. Georgia Tech played like a team that had nothing to lose, and it was a big first ACC win for them. 

For Florida State, the loss breaks up a 28-game ACC win streak, but all of its goals are still on the table. With Clemson still on the schedule (Nov. 7), the Seminoles still control their own destiny. 

 

Georgia Tech Game Grades 

 

Passing Offense

Let's be honest. There wasn't much there in the passing game for Georgia Tech. The long pass on fourth down to Stewart in the fourth quarter was huge, but Thomas never got anything going in this game. With the way Tech ran the ball, Thomas was not forced to make a lot of plays through the air. 

 

Rushing Offense 

This was the rushing offense we knew was going to play big in a game like this sooner or later. The Yellow Jackets ran the ball very effectively on Saturday night, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. As a team they rushed 49 times for 261 yards, and Thomas made some big plays with his legs. 

 

Pass Defense 

The pass defense gave up some plays, but overall it was a solid effort for this group. The interception in the end zone was one of the biggest plays of the game, and Golson was limited to 210 total passing yards. 

 

Rush Defense 

The Yellow Jackets defense did a great job of containing Cook in this game. A running back that good is going to get yards, so holding him to 82 yards on 17 carries was a win in that matchup. 

 

Special Teams 

Special teams is what won this game for Georgia Tech. The blocked kick for a touchdown was the obvious play of the game, but Harrison Butker was solid in this one too, going 3-of-3 on his kicks. 

 

Coaching 

Paul Johnson's game plan was very effective Saturday night. His team was not able to throw the ball very well, but he stuck with the running game and mixed things up enough to keep drives going. His defensive staff also did a very good job of limiting Cook to only 82 yards. 

 

Florida State Game Grades 

 

Passing Offense 

It was an above average effort for the Seminoles' passing attack on Saturday night as they threw for 210 yards on 20 completions. This is not a team that is supposed to beat opponents with a ton of yards through the air, but the interception in the fourth quarter was a crucial mistake. 

 

Rushing Offense 

Cook appeared limited with his hamstring injury, but Florida State's inability to establish a run game is ultimately what hurt the team. The 'Noles averaged only 2.9 yards per carry as a team, which kept a lot of pressure on Golson to move the ball through the air. 

 

Pass Defense 

It was a solid effort by the Seminoles secondary, but we have to consider the team it was playing. Georgia Tech did not have a lot of passing in the game plan, but we still can't take away from this group. They did an excellent job of forcing Thomas into two interceptions early in the game, but a couple of deep passes helped Georgia Tech flip the field position. 

 

Rush Defense 

The Seminoles rush defense did not play well on Saturday night. They flew to the ball and made tackles for loss at times, but they were not able to consistently stop the Tech rushing attack. Georgia Tech was largely one-dimensional in this game, but Florida State could not keep the Yellow Jackets from sustaining drives. The Seminoles allowed 261 yards and 5.3 yards per carry, so it was not a great effort from this unit. 

 

Special Teams 

Of course the final play will be the special teams play that stands out, but it was a pretty good effort otherwise from the Seminoles. Aguayo connected on three of his four field goal attempts, and Cason Beatty averaged 50.0 yards per punt. 

 

Coaching 

Some of the coaching was questionable in this game. It's tough to figure out why Georgia Tech ran the ball so effectively, given the fact that its passing game was almost nonexistent. It's not entirely clear how much of a factor Cook's health was, but the offensive play-calling should have gotten him more involved. He did not even have a carry in the third quarter, and he was limited when he did carry the ball. 

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Utah vs. USC: How Utes' Loss Impacts AP Rankings, CFP Picture

So this is why Odds Shark listed the USC Trojans as 3.5-point favorites against the Utah Utes. The last two weeks have been nothing but a bumpy roller-coaster ride for the ...

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Utah vs. USC: How Utes' Loss Impacts AP Rankings, CFP Picture

So this is why Odds Shark listed the USC Trojans as 3.5-point favorites against the Utah Utes.

The last two weeks have been nothing but a bumpy roller-coaster ride for the Trojans, with former head coach Steve Sarkisian being fired in the process. The team can forget all of that now. USC came back to Los Angeles and put a beatdown on the No. 3-ranked Utes, 42-24.

Unranked to begin the season, Utah stormed into the Associated Press Top Five with wins over the Michigan Wolverines, Oregon Ducks and California Golden Bears. The Utes had the talent to run the table and represent the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff, but a loss to an underachieving USC team may have ended the Utes' playoff dreams after quarterback Travis Wilson's four-interception day.

Trojans linebacker Cameron Smith had three of those interceptions. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde summarized the day:

Since most of Top 10 took care of business Saturday (aside from Florida State), Utah could take a huge drop down the rankings and possibly out of the Top 10.

If Stanford takes care of business at home against Washington, that should move the Cardinal into the right side of the Top 10. Then there's Iowa if the voters feel the undefeated Hawkeyes deserve some recognition for their 7-0 start. One loss can drop a team further down the polls, even against a ranked team. Look at Texas A&M, who dropped six spots last week after losing to Alabama.

Imagine what a loss to an unranked, underwhelming USC team could do to the likes of Utah. If the Utes fall out of the Top 10, that would likely take them out of the playoff picture, leaving Stanford to wave the Pac-12 flag.

USA Today's Dan Wolken disagrees with the notion that the Utes are out of this, though:

"Utah still has a very clear path to the Pac-12 South title and is by no means out of the College Football Playoff race, but the Utes were exposed a bit on Saturday and will absolutely not survive down the stretch unless Wilson throws with more accuracy and takes care of the ball," he wrote.

Wolken even had a unique take on his playoff field:

LSU and Clemson both won in convincing fashion Saturday. One of those two teams will find itself in the No. 4 spot, with TCU possibly jumping into Utah's spot. Depending on how LSU fares against Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 7, the playoff field could be set in stone for the foreseeable future.

The common theme in college football this year is clear: One loss can shake up everything. Utah still leads the Pac-12 South, and winning its last five games will ensure a showdown with Stanford in the conference title game.

But as it stands, Stanford is the top dog of the Pac-12, and Utah has plenty of questions it needs to address going forward if the Utes want to jump back into the playoff race. The Utes still have to go to Tucson to play a struggling Arizona team that always performs down the stretch as well as Washington.

If it comes down to Utah and Stanford for a spot in the playoff, Stanford will be there.

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Ole Miss Rebounds with Win vs. Texas A&M, Still Controls Its Destiny in SEC West

After getting blown out by Florida earlier in the month and then getting worked on the road by Memphis of the American Athletic Conference last week, Ole Miss was down.

It wasn't out, despite injuries to defensive linemen Robert Nkemdiche and Isaac Gross, linebacker C.J. Johnson, safety Tony Conner and center Robert Conyers.

With a head-to-head win over Alabama in hand and a game looming on Nov. 21 with undefeated LSU, the Rebels entered Saturday night's matchup with Texas A&M in Oxford in control of their own SEC West destiny. 

To celebrate, they controlled the game for a full 60 minutes in a 23-3 win over the Aggies.

Quarterback Chad Kelly threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell hauled in five passes for 102 yards and a score, and the Rebel defense was all over Aggie quarterback Kyle Allen all night long.

Just how good was that defense? 

The normally explosive Aggie offense managed just 192 yards, quarterback Kyle Allen completed just 12 of his 34 passes before being benched and the Aggies rushed for only 58 yards on the night.

The strong defensive showing was something Ole Miss desperately needed.

Head coach Hugh Freeze admitted after the game that mounting injuries too a toll on his Rebels, according to Courtney Cronin of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

I'd say that confidence is now restored.

The win is a huge boost to a Rebel team that desperately needed something good to break its way after a tough month of October.

It also should give them a boatload of confidence heading into a stretch run that sets up well for the Rebels (6-2, 3-1 SEC) to potentially push for their first ever SEC Championship Game appearance.

They travel to Auburn next week for a noon tilt against a 4-3 Tiger team that, while better than they were in early October, is hardly intimidating. Plus, a hangover could be in order for Gus Malzahn's crew after losing a four-overtime heartbreaker at Arkansas on Saturday afternoon.

Then the Hogs come to Oxford, followed by a bye and another home game against LSU.

Can you say "SEC game of the year?"

Whatever the outcome of LSU's game against Alabama that immediately precedes its matchup with the Rebels, the Magnolia Bowl could be huge for the College Football Playoff, SEC West and New Year's Six races. 

Ole Miss, though, could also be the worst enemy of its own conference.

If the Rebels win out and claim the SEC title, that road loss to Memphis could play a huge factor in whether or not the conference gets a team in the College Football Playoff. Not only could the undefeated Tigers be a roadblock for the Rebels, but the Rebels could be a roadblock for Alabama if the Crimson Tide run the table. After all, Ole Miss would have an SEC title and a straight up victory over Alabama in its back pocket.

As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated noted on Twitter, things could get sketchy for the SEC if Ole Miss gets hot:

Ole Miss isn't going to worry about that right now.

For now, it looks like the team that went into Alabama in mid-September and shocked the Crimson Tide.

Is it flawed? Of course.

The Rebels still struggle to run between the tackles, and many of the injury concerns will linger into next week and beyond. 

Show me a team in college football that isn't flawed, and I'll show you a unicorn. They simply don't exist.

Welcome back to contention again, Ole Miss. It's like you never left.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 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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Western Kentucky vs. LSU: Game Grades, Analysis for the Tigers

The No. 5 LSU Tigers (7-0, 4-0) defeated the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (6-2, 4-0), 48-20, on Saturday night in Baton Rouge. 

While much of the focus was on running back Leonard Fournette—and rightfully so—sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris passed for 286 yards and three scores. It was the third straight solid start for Harris, and he has yet to throw an interception in 2015. 

The Tigers are off next week before traveling to Alabama on November 7 to face the Crimson Tide. 

 

Pass Offense: Harris was good. The conditions were bad, especially in the first half, but Harris hung tough in the pocket and made some big plays downfield. His maturation is coming at the right time for the Tigers.

Run Offense: Fournette ran for 150 yards on 26 carries. He was terrific, getting the tough yards all night as he broke numerous tackles. He didn't have the highlight-reel run everyone expects, but he got better as the game wore on. 

Pass Defense: Western Kentucky passed for 325 yards on 61 attempts. However, that is expected. LSU allowed only one big play all night. The Tigers kept everything in front of them, limiting one of the more explosive offenses in the nation to settling for shorter gains. 

Run Defense: Outside of one run, WKU did nothing on the ground. Overall, LSU allowed 103 yards, 35 of which came on one play. 

Special Teams: Kicker Trent Domingue remains perfect on the season, as he connected on both his attempts. No fake field goals this week for the Tigers.

Coaching:Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called a good game for Harris. They called for several deep shots, knowing WKU's defense had eight or nine players in the box on every play. The defense did a good job of limiting big plays in the passing game. 

 

Bryan Manning covers college football for the Bleacher Report, and you can follow him on Twitter @bdmanning4

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Winners and Losers from Week 8 of the 2015 College Football Season

It's always the weeks you least expect that provide some of the wildest finishes. 

Week 8 of the 2015 college football season looked grim on paper, but it didn't completely disappoint. It yielded a pair of overtime games, a Hail Mary, a fat-guy touchdown and some of the most absurd catches you'll see this year. 

However, it did also produce some potentially season-defining games. Miami's 58-0 loss to Clemson could be the moment that officially ends the Al Golden era with the Hurricanes. 

With the second half of the season officially underway, who were the winners and losers from Week 8? We break down all that was good, bad, ugly, gorgeous and more in the following slides.

 

As a reminder, Winners and Losers is live while evening games are ongoing. Fear not, as we'll update this post throughout the night as events warrant. 

Begin Slideshow

Utah vs. USC: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The No. 3 Utah Utes suffered their first loss of the season against the unranked USC Trojans, 42-24, on Saturday, leaving their College Football Playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.

All-Pac-12 running back Devontae Booker was limited to 62 yards on 14 carries against a Trojans defense that ranked seventh in the conference against the run entering the matchup. Quarterback Travis Wilson didn’t offer much more, going 24-of-36 for 254 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. A minor bright spot was the 129 yards from wide receiver Britain Covey, who hauled in the two touchdown passes.

Booker’s Heisman Trophy hopes continue to dwindle with Utah’s slouch through the middle of the season, with Saturday's loss coming on the heels of a sloppy Week 7 scare against the Arizona State Sun Devils. ESPN.com's Heisman rankings tabbed Booker as high as No. 5 as recently as two weeks ago. He’ll likely need the Utes to run the table to have a chance of hoisting the trophy.

However, the story wasn’t Utah's offensive struggles; it was the Trojans’ defensive dominance. USC entered the contest giving up 402.5 yards per game but was allowing only 21.3 points per game, good for third in the Pac-12.

True freshman linebacker Cameron Smith accounted for three interceptions—the first time for a USC player since 1991, per CBS Los Angeles. He had Wilson’s number all evening, as Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde noted:

A dazzling offense that was anchored by quarterback Cody Kessler, who finished 21-of-28 for 264 yards and a touchdown, complemented the defense. The Trojans also ran for a combined 139 yards on 34 carries between running backs Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis, who each had a score.

Kessler's primary target, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, put on a show as well, hauling in eight catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. The two connected for the proverbial dagger: a 25-yard score that helped extend the lead to 42-17.

USC's official Twitter account shared the replay:

It was a benchmark win for a Trojans team that has endured a topsy-turvy season. USC opened the year at No. 8 in the Associated Press Top 25, then strung together three losses in four games entering Saturday in the midst of the lingering off-field saga of former head coach Steve Sarkisian, who has since been replaced by interim coach Clay Helton.

But a change on the sidelines might have been what the team needed, per Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer:

Not many would imagine a playoff contender to be an underdog against a three-loss team that had recently fired its head coach. But Las Vegas called it earlier this week, tabbing the Trojans as three-point favorites in the opening line, per Odds Shark.

Clay Travis of Fox Sports pointed out the irregularity:

USC will take on the California Golden Bears, losers of two straight, in a winnable Week 9 matchup—particularly if the Trojans stick to the stout ground game they employed against the Utes.

Utah still sits atop the Pac-12 South at 3-1 in the conference, 1.5 games ahead of Arizona State and UCLA, which it will play on Nov. 21. But the Utes' chances in the playoff picture are in peril, as the current AP Top 10 houses six undefeated teams. Much can and will change before the season ends, but the Utes no longer control their own destiny.

 

Postgame Reaction

The win was one of the Trojans' most monumental in nearly a decade, per ESPN Stats & Info, when Pete Carroll was still on the sidelines and churning out BCS wins like clockwork.

They accomplished the feat by doing something no team had done to Utah all season, per Michael Yam of the Pac-12 Network:

The Trojans celebrated in style in the locker room following the game, courtesy of USC Athletics:

Helton drew praise for his game plan, but he reverted attention to his players in his postgame press conference, telling reporters, per the Daily Trojan, "This team is the definition of 'Fight On’.”

USC is still alive in the Pac-12 South, sitting at 2-2 in conference play with Arizona State (which it beat) and UCLA (which it plays Nov. 28). The Trojans now hold the tiebreaker with Utah, but they will need the Utes to lose at least once more to reach the Pac-12 championship game.

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Texas A&M vs. Ole Miss: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

In as thorough of a victory you will see between two ranked opponents, the No. 24 Ole Miss Rebels defeated the No. 15 Texas A&M Aggies 23-3 on Saturday night in Oxford, Mississippi.

Both teams were coming off losses, with Ole Miss falling to the Memphis Tigers and Texas A&M being outplayed by the No. 8 Alabama Crimson Tide a week ago.

But Saturday was the first time all year that Texas A&M has played a true road game, as its first six games were all in the state of Texas. This was the latest a team has played its first true road game of the season since 1928, according to the ESPN telecast.

The Aggies were out of sorts in enemy territory, and it showed. The offense had no rhythm, and its playmakers did little to get things going. Ole Miss outgained A&M 471-192 on Saturday night. 

Aggies quarterback Kyle Allen couldn't get anything going and experienced a stretch in which he saw 14 straight attempts fall incomplete. He finished the day 12-of-34 for just 88 yards.

The Rebels offense looked more fluid, which could have been because of the return of offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, who was suspended for the first seven games of the season. Quarterback Chad Kelly had plenty of time to pass, even with the likes of sack master Myles Garrett pursuing him, while the running game was eating up chunks of yards.

Ole Miss rushed for 230 yards on the night.

 ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff was watching:

Ole Miss got on the board first after Kelly threaded the needle to Evan Engram from seven yards out. ESPN College Football shared the replay:

Kelly started off hot, completing 12 of his first 14 passes before cooling off. He finished the night with 241 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

A&M's start wasn't as successful. The Aggies punted on their first three possessions, and their fourth ended when Ole Miss recovered a botched handoff. 

Garrett finally got the better of Tunsil, breaking his way into the backfield on a screen play, deflecting the pass and intercepting it all on his own. Max Olson shared ESPN's replay of the interception:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee summed it up best:

It came a play after a chop-block penalty wiped out a 43-yard Ole Miss touchdown pass. But Texas A&M couldn't take full advantage of the turnover and settled for a field goal.

The turnover parade was in full swing by the end of the second quarter. Freshman star Christian Kirk fumbled an Ole Miss punt, giving the ball back to the Rebels in the red zone. Kirk was a non-factor Saturday, catching his first pass with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.

But on the following play from scrimmage, Jordan Wilkins had the ball ripped out of his hands by Armani Watts on the A&M 14-yard line.

Wait—there's more. On the next play, Allen's pass was deflected and intercepted by Kendarius Webster, giving Ole Miss another chance to extend its lead before the half. It was the third turnover in 38 seconds, as Fox Sports Southwest's Greg Tepper looked on:

Ole Miss, though, couldn't punch it into the end zone again as it tacked on another three to end the first half with a 16-3 lead.

But the Rebels did come out swinging in the third as Kelly hit Laquon Treadwell on a 58-yard bomb to open up the lead to 20 points. It was the longest play from scrimmage that the Aggies have allowed all season. 

ESPN shared the replay:

Rebels alum and current Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief loved what he was seeing:

In the fourth quarter, A&M decided to bench Allen, but instead of inserting Kyler Murray, who has been Allen's backup all season, it went with sophomore Jake Hubenak. In three minutes, he had half as many completions as Allen had all night but was just as unsuccessful when it came to finding the end zone.

Post-Game Reaction

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze was happy to have his best offensive lineman back in action. It looked like he hadn't missed much time at all, let alone seven games:

On the opposite side, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin obviously was not happy with his team's effort, saying that they "got whipped," in his postgame press conference:

A win like this might have saved Ole Miss' season, who will surely move up in the rankings next week. Combined with Alabama's continuous rise in the polls, a team that Ole Miss beat, things are looking up for the Rebels despite their two losses on the year.

They still sit in third in the SEC West behind Alabama and LSU. While they will be hoping for an LSU loss to create a three-way tie at the top if they stay at one loss, Ole Miss still has an opportunity to play the Tigers on Nov. 21. If they can start rolling by using the momentum of this win, the SEC West is in for an exciting finish this season. 

 

Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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FSU vs. Georgia Tech: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-5) snapped their five-game losing streak in epic fashion Saturday night after blocking Florida State's potential game-winning kick and returning it 78 yards to down the nation's No. 9 team, 22-16.

ESPN provided footage of Lance Austin's block and game-winning score: 

Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo hadn't missed a fourth-quarter field-goal attempt in his collegiate career prior to the last-second disaster at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Furthermore, the loss was the first for Florida State (6-1) in the regular season in 35 months, according to ESPN.com's Field Yates

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel and ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna noted Alabama and Florida State have now experienced similar heartbreaks:

Florida State's offense struggled all night. The Seminoles managed just 280 yards of total offense as quarterback Everett Golson completed 20 of 30 passes for a modest 210 yards, no touchdowns and his first interception of the season. Golson's pick was the first turnover by the Seminoles in 439 snaps, according to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman.

Golson's interception seemed to sink Florida State. Driving with a chance to go up by 10 points, the quarterback dropped back on third down with just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and was picked off in the end zone following a Georgia Tech tip drill.

The Seminoles received solid contributions from running back Dalvin Cook, who toted the rock 17 times for 82 yards and Florida State's lone touchdown. Cook's biggest impact came on Florida State's final drive, when a couple of clutch runs and a reception put Aguayo in position to kick the potential game-winner.

Tomahawk Nation's Bud Elliott put Florida State's inconsistent effort into perspective:

As always, Georgia Tech did its damage on the ground. Quarterback Justin Thomas led the Yellow Jackets with 13 carries for 88 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown, as illustrated by ESPN College Football on Twitter:

Running back Marcus Marshall tacked on 16 carries for 69 yards. As a team, Georgia Tech posted 261 of its 328 total yards on the ground and nabbed the upset victory despite Thomas throwing two interceptions and completing just four of 10 passes for 67 yards. 

The fashion in which Florida State lost was stunning, but the result wasn't terribly surprising, given how fallible the Seminoles have appeared throughout the season. They beat Wake Forest by only eight points a week after putting up a meager 14 points on Boston College, and they needed nine fourth-quarter points to hold off Miami at home on Oct. 10.

They should be able to rebound at home next week against Syracuse, but a Nov. 7 road date with No. 6 Clemson looms. The Tigers have emerged as the class of the ACC over the past few weeks, and Florida State should be the underdog for that tilt, barring unforeseen developments. 

For Georgia Tech, Saturday was a major confidence booster. Head coach Paul Johnson's squad hadn't tallied a win since thrashing Tulane on Sept. 12, and defeating a Top 10 team should provide the Yellow Jackets with extra fire as the regular season winds down.

 

Postgame Reaction

Johnson kept things short and sweet in summarizing the win, according to ESPN PR: 

Thomas, who helped keep Georgia Tech competitive throughout, explained how he turned interceptions into motivation, per the program’s official Twitter account:

Georgia Tech also received congratulatory Tweets from some famous alumni:  

Conversely, Florida State wasn’t in the mood to discuss the outcome after its 28-game ACC winning streak was snapped: 

"It was our turn," Johnson said, per ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy. "We’ve had so many that have gone the other way." 

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Georgia Tech Blocks FSU FG, Returns for TD as Time Expires

The score was tied at 16-16, and Florida State was attempting a game-winning field goal on Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.

Then everything changed.

Georgia Tech's Lance Austin blocked the Roberto Aguayo kick and took the ball back 78 yards for a walk-off touchdown as time expired, giving his team the 22-16 win. It was your classic kick-six.

Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson was feeling it after the shocking win:

[YouTube, Vine]

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Leonard Fournette Ties LSU Record with 9th Straight 100-Yard Game

Leonard Fournette continues to strengthen his case for the Heisman Trophy.

The LSU Tigers star running back eclipsed 100 yards for the ninth straight game Saturday against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, tying the school record that Charles Alexander set in 1978, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Fournette came into Saturday's tilt against the Hilltoppers with 1,202 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns in only six games. If the No. 5 Tigers hadn't canceled their game against the McNeese State Cowboys in September because of lightning, there's no telling where Fournette's numbers would have been at this point.

The star sophomore had 119 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries with three minutes remaining in the third quarter against Western Kentucky.

If Fournette continues on the pace he's on now, he could eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in LSU's season finale against Texas A&M. He came into Saturday's matchup averaging more than 200 yards per game.

Even head coach Les Miles thinks Fournette has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential, per NFL.com's Chase Goodbread.

"I think he's just getting started," Miles said. "He has speed, but I think you'll find that he'll continue to develop."

Sports Illustrated college football analyst Zac Ellis took an in-depth look into Fournette's season and his chances of winning the Heisman:

Only one running back—Alabama’s Mark Ingram (2009)—has won the Heisman in the last 15 years, but Fournette’s first-half performance has exceeded expectations for run-first Heisman contenders. The Tigers’ star ranks first nationally with 1,202 rushing yards, the eighth-most of any player through six games in FBS history. Fournette paces the country with a 200 yard-per-game average, sits tied with Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. for the national lead in rushing touchdowns (14) and averages 8.01 yards per carry.

The Tigers will travel to Tuscaloosa in two weeks for a high-stakes showdown against Alabama. That may be the last test for Fournette and the Tigers before they can start wondering about College Football Playoff possibilities, assuming they can hold on against Western Kentucky.

It's unclear how far Fournette can carry LSU this year, but if he keeps producing at this level, it'll make things easier for quarterback Brandon Harris and the rest of the Tigers offense.

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Christian Morris Injury: Updates on Ole Miss OL's Neck and Recovery

Ole Miss Rebels offensive tackle Christian Morris departed Saturday's game against the Texas A&M Aggies after suffering a neck injury and "is being taken to the hospital for evaluations," according to ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff.

Continue for updates.

Morris Immobilized and Placed on Stretcher

According to Yahoo Sports' Dr. Saturday, ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe noted that "Morris complained of a neck injury on a field goal before halftime and collapsed" before he was transported to the hospital. 

Aschoff reported Morris was carted off the field during halftime.

Ole Miss' official Twitter account provided an update on Morris' status and confirmed the team had ruled him out for the remainder of Saturday's contest.

A sophomore, Morris serves as a backup offensive lineman for the Rebels behind Laremy Tunsil. Ole Miss has primarily used him as a blocker on field-goal attempts.

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Braxton Miller Makes Unbelievable Bobbling Catch vs. Rutgers

With about four minutes left in the first half and No. 1 Ohio State leading Rutgers 14-0 in Piscataway, New Jersey, the Buckeyes' Braxton Miller made a catch that can be summarized in a word.

Pick any one you want—outrageous, insane, unbelievable. There are many options.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett aired a ball out down the sideline, and the Rutgers defensive back did all a human could do to break up the pass.

Somehow, Miller still hauled it in for 45 yards.

[Vine]

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Alabama's Close Call vs. Tennessee Exactly What Crimson Tide Needed

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — They will spend the rest of the night, weekend and even month mulling over what to name this one, while enjoying the smell of cigar smoke one more time.

Rocky sack?

Smoked again?

T-sized turnover?

More than anything, though, University of Alabama fans should call the 19-14 victory in the “Third Saturday in October” rivalry just what the Crimson Tide needed to set up what could be another championship run.

Alabama is finding out that it has what it takes to do just that.

“It’s a great win for our team,” Nick Saban said. “We were tired out there today, and we didn’t look really quick or fast. We didn’t have a lot of energy like we usually do, and I think that’s due to playing eight games in a row. The best thing I can say is that you have to really respect a team that finds a way to win and makes plays when they have to make plays.”

Although No. 8 Alabama had been trying to downplay its incredibly difficult schedule this season, October was when things were really stacked against the Crimson Tide.

There aren’t too many teams that could have survived a month-long run of at No. 8 Georgia, Arkansas, at No. 9 Texas A&M and Tennessee without a loss. All four of those Southeastern Conference opponents have been ranked this season, and the last two were coming off byes when they faced the Crimson Tide.

The grind finally caught up to Alabama, which at 7-1 overall (4-1 SEC) really couldn’t afford another setback if it wanted to keep its league title and playoff hopes alive. But as previous Crimson Tide teams have discovered, the ones that play for championships almost always have to endure a scare and notch a “find-a-way” win like this one.

“It was a tough one,” senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “It shows what kind of team we have.

“Some people grew up tonight, and that’s what we needed. We needed a game like that to show what kind of tough team we have.”

For the first time this fall, an opponent scored a touchdown during the opening quarter when Tennessee receiver Josh Smith caught an 11-yard pass from quarterback Joshua Dobbs to cap a 75-yard drive. Previously Alabama had outscored opponents 48-6 in the first quarter.

It was the fourth straight SEC home game (including 2014) in which Alabama didn't have the lead at halftime.

With the offensive line struggling, Tennessee tallied 10 tackles for a loss including five sacks. The defensive backs dropped three interceptions while the Volunteers (3-4, 1-3 SEC) missed the same number of field goals, two from 51 yards the other from 43.

"I don't like to lose,” Saban said. “I like to win however we win, and I’m not really particular about how we win."

The game really came down to two fourth-quarter possessions, one by each team with the game on the line, just after Tennessee went 75 yards on four plays and took its first lead in the series since 2011, 14-13 on a 12-yard Jalen Hurd run with 5:49 remaining.

Despite having numerous miscues all day, with Alabama having seven penalties and allowing five sacks, the offense went to work. Wide receiver ArDarius Stewart's clutch leaping grab beat a blitz, and freshman Calvin Ridley matched it on the other sideline for another key first down.

Although Alabama was trying to run down the clock as much as possible, with UT still having all of its timeouts remaining, getting a touchdown, and not just a field goal, was the top priority. Three carries by Henry resulted in the points it coveted on a 14-yard touchdown misdirection run, helping establish a 19-14 lead.

“Same old Henry,” Jake Coker said about the running back who finished with 143 rushing yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the quarterback went 21-of-27 for 247 yards and an interception.

“It means a lot,” Coker said. “Wish we could have had a few drives go better earlier, but we did what we needed to do.”

Following Adam Griffith’s kickoff that resulted in a touchback, Tennessee had a first down at the 25 with 2:24 to go. It managed to get one first down, but a false-start penalty put the Vols in a bad hole that Alabama’s pass-rushers could exploit.

Junior defensive end Jonathan Allen got the first sack, and on 2nd-and-24, a defensive play put the game away when senior linebacker Ryan Anderson got to Dobbs, sending the ball sailing to junior defensive end A’Shawn Robinson for the clinching fumble recovery.

“I saw his stance, it was elongated, so I knew it was going to be a pass,” said Anderson, before adding about Robinson’s attempt at a touchdown return that was stopped short: “I didn’t even see him running. I was so hyped up I took off the other way. I might get in trouble for that.”

No one noticed immediately because the Alabama sideline essentially turned into a mosh pit of players jumping around, celebrating the ninth straight win over Tennessee.

“It was pretty incredible,” said senior center Ryan Kelly, who barely practiced this week while recovering from a concussion. “I can say that I never lost to Tennessee. It’s kind of up there with the LSU one from last year—the ones that really test this team. We overcame a lot of adversity today and will keep moving forward.

“We’re just super-excited about how we finished.”

Next up is some badly needed rest and recuperation heading into the final stretch of the regular season, when Alabama has another showdown with No. 5 LSU looming on Nov. 7, followed by road games at Mississippi State and Auburn. 

It might take that long to get the victory cigars' taste—per rivalry tradition—out of their mouths, but Alabama considers that a very good problem to have.

“As soon as coach stopped talking and broke the huddle, the whole locker room was a big cloud of smoke,” Jones said. “It can overwhelm you in a hurry.”

  

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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Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell Lights Up Texas A&M Player After Block

Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is not to be messed with.

After holding his block against Texas A&M’s De’Vante Harris during the host Rebels’ Saturday showdown with the Aggies, Treadwell turned around and flattened linebacker Shaan Washington.

Level of boom: Very high.

This was superhuman head-on-a-swivel ability.

[Vine, h/t SB Nation]

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