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2013: A look ahead

Carnac

What’s that you say?  It’s barely stopped raining confetti following Alabama’s BCS title game win over Notre Dame and we’re already talking about a 2013 season that won’t start for another eight months?

You damn right we are.  And you know why?  ’Cause that’s how we roll.  Or something.

Each of the past three years, before the last piece of title-game confetti had fluttered to the ground and while the corpse of the previous season was still somewhat warm, I dusted off the trusty crystal ball and flung a few predictions up against the next season’s wall with the hope that something, anything, would stick.  Hilarity ensued when I picked Alabama as the No. 1 team in 2010 (they finished No. 10); Oklahoma in 2011 (they finished No. 16) and USC in 2012 (they finished No. ROTFLMAO!!!).  There were guffaws as far as the eye could see as I asked questions like “Have the Conference Musical Chairs Stopped?” and “Is This the Year the SEC’s Streak Stops?” — hell no to both — or listed 10 (10!!!) preseason Heisman contenders for the 2012 season and not a single one of ‘em was even a finalist.

Yet here I am a year later, ready to once again expose my utter lack of prognosticating abilities for all the world to see.  So, without further ado, here’s what I, CFT’s resident Nostradumbass, think may — or may not — happen leading up to and during the 2013 season.

FIVE COMPELLING STORYLINES

1. DO I HEAR EIGHT IN A ROW?
For the past couple of years in this space, I’ve asked if the SEC can win five BCS titles in a row… six in a row… seven in a row… and each year the answer’s been a resounding “hell yes y’all!”  And why not?  Not only has the preeminent football conference in America won seven consecutive crystal footballs, they’ve won nine of the 15 played in the BCS era.  Unfortunately for the rest of the country, a downward trend doesn’t appear to be in the offing.  Sure, a team or two might take a dip in 2013 — I’m looking at you, LSU — but Alabama will be, well, Alabama, and Texas A&M appears to be on the verge of leaping on to the national stage.  Florida, should they get a handle on the quarterback situation and the embarrassing bowl performance against Louisville notwithstanding, should continue their upward trajectory in Year Three under Will Muschamp.  Georgia, with quarterback Aaron Murray returning for one more season, and South Carolina, despite the early loss of Marcus Lattimore, should be formidable if not on the fringe of the national title discussion.  In other words,  expect one or more SEC teams to be deep in the mix at the end in the final year of the BCS.  Speaking of which…

Death to the BcS2. DING, DONG THE BCS IS DEAD
Well, almost.  2013 will mark the final year of the bastard system utilized to crown a national champion since 1998, set to be replaced after the 2014 season with a slightly less bastardized version in the form of a four-team playoff.  While the new system is far from perfect, and a more equitable eight-team playoff will come sooner rather than later, the four-team parlay is already light years ahead of what the BCS had ever hoped to be and it’s yet to be officially implemented.  Granted, the BCS was a “better” system for crowing a champion than strictly polls, but that’s sort of like saying you own the nicest Yugo — it’s not exactly something you want to say or admit out loud.  Where will the new system take us?  Who cares, as long as it’s far, far away from the mess that is — and soon to be was — the BCS.

3. JANE, STOP THIS CRAZY CONFERENCE THING!
Expansion musical chairs has been an overriding theme in each of the past two look-aheads, and there’s no reason to think the shuffling will stop anytime soon.  At this time last year, who foresaw that Maryland and Rutgers would announce they were leaving the ACC and Big East, respectively, for the Big Ten, or that Louisville would ditch the Big East for the ACC, or that Boise State would turn its back on a 2013 move to the Big East to remain in the Mountain West?  The ACC, Big Ten and SEC all are at 14 current and future members, while the Big 12 is, for the moment, standing pat at 10.  The whispers are already out there that the ACC will race to become the first “real” 16-team superconference… unless the Big Ten beats them to it by, in part, raiding the ACC… unless the SEC beats the Big Ten to the punch by, in part, raiding the ACC.  In other words, we have very likely not seen the last of expansion talk and teams bolting this conference for that one and leagues like the Big East folding up their football shop and the like.  Hooray!?!

4. NO DUCKING THE NCAA
While Oregon is rightly basking in the glow of Chip Kelly‘s return to Eugene, there’s an NCAA elephant squatting smack dab in the middle of the room.  At some point this year, likely in the spring, Oregon officials will appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions to answer allegations of recruiting improprieties related to street agent Willie Lyles.  Essentially, UO has been accused of paying $25,000 for bogus and outdated scouting reports of high school players in exchange for, as Lyles himself stated, steering recruits — including Lache Seastrunk — to the Ducks.  How big of a hammer will the NCAA whip out and will it tear down, at least for the short-term, all or most of what Kelly’s built at the school?  Some are saying that Kelly’s return is a sign that the sanctions may not be as heavy-handed as some expect.  Until a decision is actually handed down, expect pins and needles to rule the day as the university, athletic department and football program braces itself for deeply punitive sanctions.

5. BIELAMA’S UNLIKELY MARRIAGE
Don’t know about you, but I was beyond floored — and I wasn’t the only one — upon hearing that Bret Bielema was leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas.  Sure, he wanted to get out from under Barry Alvarez‘s immense shadow… and, unlike at UW, he and his assistants are getting p-a-i-d paid… and he spent some time in the state as a youth, but he has absolutely no ties to that area of the country or the conference; he played his college ball at Iowa, and his collegiate coaching stops have included his alma mater, Kansas State and UW.  Essentially, he’s a Big Ten guy with a sprinkling of the Big 12.  How will he fare in the rough and tumble SEC on the field and, perhaps more importantly, on the hyper-competitive southern recruiting trail?  I have no clue, but it should be fascinating to sit back and watch unfold.

EARLY-BIRD TOP FIVE

1. Alabama
Back-to-back BCS championships, three crystal footballs in four years.  Will return somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 starters and 37 or so from the two-deep depth chart.  Nick Saban, well on his way to staking his claim to the greatest coach at the FBS level of all-time, will return.  A 2013 recruiting class that’s currently ranked No. 2 in the country — oddly enough, behind the team they eviscerated for their latest title.  I seriously considered putting one of the three teams immediately below ‘Bama at the No. 1 spot; after seeing it laid out so starkly as it is in the previous sentences, there was simply no way I could justify anyone but the Tide in the top spot.

2. Ohio StateUrban Meyer, Braxton Miller
In Urban Meyer‘s first season, with nothing to play for but pride and a “I won the Big Ten Leaders division and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” consolation prize, the Buckeyes went a perfect 12-0.  At the end of the 2012 season, Meyer felt his team could compete with any in the country; thanks to NCAA sanctions and a shortsighted administration, proving it in the postseason wasn’t an option.  That will change this year as the one-year bowl ban is over, and all signs point to Meyer and his Buckeyes bullrushing back to the national stage.  Not only does tOSU return several key components on both sides of the ball (they do lose seven defensive starters, though), the schedule has “run me” written all over — the nonconference slate is more than manageable, with a road trip to Cal and a home date with San Diego State only remotely resembling potential stumbling blocks, while the first seven games of the Big Ten schedule sees Wisconsin and Penn State visiting Ohio Stadium.  The toughest game, at least on paper, doesn’t come until last: a late-November road trip to the Big House for a date with hated rival Michigan.  It’s conceivable, based on how they finished 2012 as well as how 2013 sets up, that the Buckeyes could head into Ann Arbor riding a winning streak approaching two-dozen games.  And my apologies, Buckeye Nation, for totally jinxing that possibility.

3. Texas A&M
By the time the curtain had fallen on the 2012 season, and if there had been a playoff system in place, the Aggies had become the proverbial team that no one wanted to face.  And for good reason.  In its first season in the big, bad SEC, A&M won 11 games and lost just two — by three points to Florida in what turned out to be both the season and conference opener for the Aggies, and by five to LSU.  The smashing debut included signature wins over top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa and a blowout of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, as well as a healthy dose of optimism for what 2013 will bring.  With the reigning Heisman winner in tow, the Aggies will be expected to match or exceed the breakout year.  Will they be able to handle the pressure of being the hunted instead of the hunter?  With Kevin Sumlin in charge, we’d lean toward the affirmative.

4. Oregon
The 2013 season hasn’t even started and the Ducks have already earned what will prove to be their biggest win of the year.  After yet another round of flirtations with the NFL, Chip Kelly decided that his heart’s in Eugene and returned to UO for at least another season — until the New England Patriots job opens up, of course.  The Ducks would’ve been fine with offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich taking over; they’ll be even better because the man who built the Ducks into a national powerhouse — 46-7 in his four years, four BCS bowl games and three Pac-12 titles — is sticking around to build on his burgeoning legacy.  Oh, and the fact that Marcus Mariota, the triggerman of UO’s offensive juggernaut who deserves more national acclaim than he gets, is returning as well doesn’t exactly hurt, either.

5. Stanford
When Jim Harbaugh bolted for the NFL, many thought the Cardinal would sink back to the depths from which it came; 11 wins in 2011 showed the program is bigger than any one coach. When Andrew Luck bolted for the NFL, many thought, once again, the Cardinal would sink back to the depths from which it came; 12 wins in 2012 showed the program is bigger than any one player. Anyone want to doubt them a third straight year? The Cardinal returns 16 starters from its Pac-12-winning 2012 squad, a total that includes quarterback Kevin Hogan, the redshirt freshman who quietly became one of the most promising players at his position in his first stint as a starter. Head coach David Shaw not only maintained what Harbaugh built down on The Farm but enhanced it, adding to the foundation and ensuring success will continue regardless of personnel losses. Bet against “14 for ’13″ at your own peril.

THREE RISERS
Teams outside the final Top 10 that could be in it in 2013

Teddy Bridgewater, Charlie Strong1.Louisville
In my preseason Top 25, I lamented that, at No. 24, I was rating Louisville too low and “will likely regret it at season’s end.”  After 11 wins, a No. 13 ranking and the demolition of then-No. 4 Florida in the Sugar Bowl, I was right.  This year, though, that won’t be the case as the Cardinals, on the strength of the return of the sublime Teddy Bridgewater and the continuing presence of head coach Charlie Strong, are poised to sniff the Top 10 in the preseason rankings.

2. UCLA
With nine wins in 2012 in Jim Mora‘s first season at the school, UCLA posted its best mark since a 10-win season in 2005.  While the season finished with three straight losses — including back-to-back defeats to Stanford — the Bruins did claim quality wins over the likes of Nebraska, Arizona and USC.  With the Trojans plummeting toward mediocrity, the Bruins should be the class of the Pac-12 South yet again and the odds-on favorite for a a third consecutive appearance in the conference championship game — if not more.

3. Clemson
OK, this is cheating a little bit as the Tigers were just barely outside of the Top Ten at No. 11, but I need all the softballs I can take a whack at.  And, thanks to the (likely) return of Tajh Boyd, the Tigers afford me that opportunity.  Clemson’s two losses in 2012 came at the hands of 12-win Florida State and 11-win South Carolina, and they actually led each of those games at halftime before crumbling in the second half.  Call it a hunch, but the Tigers learned enough from those pair of disappointments to flip that script around in 2013 versus high-quality competition.

THREE TUMBLERS
Teams inside the final Top 25 that could struggle

1. Kansas State
While I don’t believe there will be a drastic drop-off for the Wildcats,  there should be at least a dip.  Heisman finalist Collin Klein is gone to expired eligibility, leaving a significant hole in both experience and leadership at the quarterback position.  All told, the Wildcats will lose 12 starters, including nine on the defensive side of the ball.  That formula has rebuilding year written all over it.

2. LSU
Losing nearly two handfuls of talented juniors won’t help LSU’s cause in 2013, even as the Tigers possess a wealth of talented albeit inexperienced replacements.  Nor will a schedule that includes a neutral site nonconference game with what should be a much-improved TCU squad as well as SEC road trips to Alabama and Georgia, although that’s mitigated somewhat by drawing Florida and Texas A&M at home.  LSU could take a half-step back in 2013, which means merely fighting for a top-ten spot instead of hovering around the top five and in the discussion for a BCS berth — championship game or otherwise .

3. Notre Dame
Yes, Notre Dame could very well begin the 2013 season inside the top five of the polls, and the talent they return would warrant such a lofty ranking.  However, the Irish won five of their games in 2012 by seven points or less, including one in overtime and another in triple overtime. Provided the talent level stays roughly the same, can the Domers expect to catch the same breaks and bounces — or officiating calls — in close games this season that they did last?  I say, even with a favorable schedule, not nearly to 2012′s degree, but your mileage may vary

RON ZOOK MEMORIAL COACHING HOT SEAT

Notre Dame v USC1. Lane Kiffin, USC
By any measure imaginable, the 2012 was an unmitigated disaster for USC.  The Trojans began the season ranked No. 1 in the country… and proceeded to become the first team in history with such a lofty ranking in the preseason to finish outside the Top 25 and culminated a six-loss season with an embarrassing performance in their bowl game.  The calls for Kiffin to be ousted grew louder as the season went further in the tank; a repeat performance in 2013 will earn Kiffin a well-deserved trip to the coaching unemployment line.

2. Mack Brown, Texas
Yes, Brown is signed through the 2020 season.  Yes, high-powered UT officials have been steadfast in their public support of their long-time head coach.  No, 15 losses in the past three years — one more than the Longhorns had in the past nine seasons combined — is not acceptable for a program accustomed to the national stage, especially when two of those defeats have come to rival Oklahoma by scores of 63-21 and 55-17 the past two seasons.  While quarterback continues to be an embarrassment for a program in the QB-rich state, the position is positively Vince Young-esque compared to a defense that was statistically the worst in the history of the storied program.  We know, it’s highly doubtful that Brown’s actually on the hot seat.  And that’s part of the problem — he deserves to be.

3. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
In its first season in the SEC, Mizzou failed to meet even modest expectations by winning just five games and finishing with a 2-6 conference record, with the lone wins coming at the expense of conference featherweights Kentucky and Tennessee (sorry Vols). That miserable showing was compounded by fellow Big 12 refugee Texas A&M stunning the college football world by coming out of the gate with an 11-win season — including handing Alabama its lone loss of the regular season — in its first year in the SEC.  While 2012 was Mizzou’s worst under Pinkel since 2004, being a member of the SEC, replete with its additional revenue and exposure, brings with it exponentially more pressure on the head coach to succeed.  Pinkel realized immediate improvement is a must as he “parted ways” with long-time offensive coordinator David Yost.  Another season like this last one, and the Mizzou administration could find themselves “parting ways” with their long-time head coach.

4. Randy Edsall, Maryland
This one comes with a disclaimer as the Terps were wracked by injuries in 2012, including the loss of four starting quarterbacks to season-ending injuries.  With that out of the way, the stark reality is this: the Terps have won a total of six games in Edsall’s two seasons, including just three wins in 16 games in ACC play.  Even the staunchest of supporters are beginning to question whether Edsall is the right man for his “dream job.”  With a move to the Big Ten in the offing after this season, anything short of a significant turnaround would likely signal to the administration that its time for a fresh start on the sidelines to coincide with the Terps’ departure for a new conference.

5. Mike London, Virginia
After getting Virginia to eight wins in his second season with the Hoos, London was one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel, garnering mention as a potential replacement for Joe Paterno at Penn State.  Following a four-win season?  London has gone from the coaching penthouse to the coaching hot seat.  In a signal that London realizes how hot despite being just three years into his tenure, he axed nearly half his coaching staff — four to be exact — shortly after the end of the 2012 season.  London is one of the most outstanding coaches in the game, but this is a bottom-line business, with the bottom line being London needs to turns things around post-haste.

WAY-TOO-EARLY HEISMAN ROLL CALL

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State — The first year in Urban Meyer‘s offense was above-average for Miller.  With a full year plus another offseason in the same system, Miller is poised to improve upon his fifth-place finish in the 2012 Heisman voting and could very well enter the 2013 season as the stiff-armed frontrunner.  The fact that the Buckeyes will likely be highly-ranked and Miller will again be a significant portion of the offense — he accounted for 28 of the 56 offensive touchdowns scored and led the team in rushing — means the Heisman hype will come early and often for the talented junior.

Chick-fil-A Bowl - LSU v Clemson2. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson — Boyd will enter the 2013 season — provided he doesn’t jump to the NFL by the Jan. 15 deadline, of course — as one of the most prolific yet underrated players in the country.  With offensive coordinator Chad Morris remaining after some head-coaching flirtations over the last month, Boyd will put up the kind of numbers that’d be hard for Heisman voters to overlook.

3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M — The first-year phenom shattered the freshman ceiling by taking home the Heisman in 2012.  Can he shatter the “no one’s won it twice since Archie Griffin” ceiling?  Based on his performance in the Aggies’ bowl romp, that would be a resounding yes.  With a year’s worth of film to view in the offseason, though, defenses could make harder a game that looked video-game easy for Manziel in 2012.

4. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina — Sure, no purely defensive player has ever claimed a Heisman.  However, the past few years, with the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Tyrann Mathieu and Manti Te’o making it to the Big Apple as finalists, it appears the narrow-minded voters could be expanding their horizon when it comes to candidates.  And when it comes to defensive candidates for 2013, it doesn’t get any more explosive or dynamic or borderline homicidal than Clowney.

5. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville — Bridgewater would’ve made this list even without the virtuoso performance in the bowl win over Florida.  With it, he moved up several notches in my eyes as he showed he could play at a high level against what was considered a top-notch defense.  In fact, slotting the soon-to-be junior fifth could prove to be low.  Very, very low.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Oregon v Kansas State6. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — Thanks to the return of Chip Kelly, the Ducks will run the same offense in 2013 as they did in Mariota’s first year as the starter in 2012.  And in that first season, Mariota was spectacular, accounting for 37 touchdowns — 32 passing, five rushing — in leading the Ducks to a 12-win season.  Whether Kelly would’ve been around to oversee the scoring factory or not, Mariota is hurtling toward nothing but improvement in his second season.

7. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona — The nation’s leading rusher returns for another season and deserves a spot on this initial list.  The only problem is, will the Wildcats win enough to get the attention Carey deserves?  While the Wildcats’ won eight games in Rich Rodriguez‘s first season, Carey’s quest for a 2,000-yard season — he finished with 1,929 — flew under the radar until he erupted for 366 yards in mid-November.  By then it was too late to make a difference in the ’12 Heisman race.  It could, though, serve as a reminder to voters entering ’13 that he’s a player worthy of keeping an eye on.

8. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA — Bruins head coach Jim Mora has already proclaimed his starting quarterback a future Heisman contender, so we’ll go ahead and roll with it.  Statistically, Hundley is worthy of his coach’s praise as the sophomore completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns.  The 11 interceptions are a concern, although that could simply be a combination of Hundley’s youth and inexperience in the first year of a new offensive scheme.  Still, Hundley’s a name to keep track of as the season progresses.

9. Marqise Lee, WR, USC — Thanks to USC breaking in a new starting quarterback, I nearly put Georgia’s Aaron Murray here.  Based on Lee’s stunning athleticism and production, though, I had to put him on the list somewhere.  Lee led the country in receptions and finished second in receiving yards, narrowly missing out on a trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist.

10. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor — Forget the head coach; the running back has already proclaimed himself to be a 2013 Heisman contender.  Over the last quarter of the season, the Oregon transfer showed there’s a reason behind that self-confidence.  After rushing for 465 yards in the first nine games of the season, Seastrunk exploded for 637 over the final four.  If he continues that trend in 2013, he could become a part of the Heisman discussion.

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The Fifth Quarter: Week 13 Rewind

Samaje Perine AP

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

HISTORIC REPEAT
As it turns out, while Samaje Perine made history, the timeframe in which he did it wasn’t historically unprecedented.

In Oklahoma’s win over Kansas, Perine set the FBS single-game rushing record with 427 yards.  That performance broke the record of 408 set a week ago by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon.  Most assumed Perine’s breaking of a rushing record that was a week old had never happened before; Anthony Thompson would point out what the word “assume” makes out of all involved.

Back on Nov. 11, 1989, the Indiana running back’s 377 yards broke the previous mark of 357 yards.  That record was first set by Washington State’s Rueben Mayes in 1984 and tied by Cal State Fullerton’s Mike Pringle on Nov. 4, 1989, exactly one week before Thompson broke it.

Below is how the FBS rushing record has progressed over the past four-plus decades:

347 — Ron Johnson, Michigan, 1968
350 — Eric Allen, Michigan State, 1971
356 — Eddie Lee Ivery, Georgia Tech, 1978
357 — Rueben Mayes, Washington State, 1984
357 — Mike Pringle, Cal State Fullerton, 1989
377 — Anthony Thompson, Indiana, 1989
386 — Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, 1991
396 — Tony Sands, Kansas, 1991
406 — LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU, 1999
408 — Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin, 2014
427 — Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, 2014

Perine was also second to Thompson in something else — percentage increase of the previous record.  Thompson bested the old mark by 5.6 percent;  Perine, meanwhile, topped Gordon’s week-old record by 4.7 percent.

Some would say, though, the most impressive record belongs to Gordon.  The Badger back did his record-setting damage in three quarters of work and on just 25 carries; the only other players on that list with less than 30 carries were Ivery (26) and Allen (29).  Gordon’s 16.2 yards per carry is easily the best mark among the group, with only Ivery (13.7) within three yards.   Perine did average 12.6 ypc, the third-best among that group of 11 players.

At the opposite end of the yards-per-carry spectrum were Thompson and Sands, who averaged 7.25 yards on 52 carries and 6.8 yards on 58 carries, respectively.

Of course, Perine is the only true freshman to break the record… and he did it in three quarters plus two fourth-quarter plays after not starting a game played in the rain… and he is the only player to rush for 200-plus yards in both halves of a game, all of which makes his performance arguably the greatest of all-time regardless of how you attempt to parse out the numbers.

PROJECTING CFP TOP FOUR
Unlike previous weeks, there was no upheaval around the top of the College Football Playoff Top 25 in Week 14.  The highest-ranked team to lose was No. 8 Ole Miss, and, with two losses, it’s unlikely the Rebels were a realistic playoff option to begin with.

Continue reading »

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No. 9 UCLA flattens No. 19 USC, moves one step closer to Pac-12 South title

USC v UCLA Getty Images

Brett Hundley‘s first possession ended in complete disaster, a 17-yard pick six by Anthony Sarao to give USC a 7-0 lead. From then on, though, Saturday night could not have been more perfect. Hundley completed 22-of-31 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns while adding another on the ground to lead No. 9 UCLA to a 38-20 win over No. 19 USC at the Rose Bowl.

While Hundley was playing his best football of the season, his counterpart was running for his life. Cody Kessler completed 22-0f-34 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown, but was sacked six times and harassed countless more. USC was also credited with 33 rushes for 62 yards.

Paul Perkins led the charge for UCLA with 24 rushes for 93 yards and a touchdown.

The game was actually tied 14-14 early in the second quarter, but UCLA went on a 24-0 run over the next 17 minutes to put the game away. A Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal gave UCLA the lead, and Hundley’s touchdown pass to Eldridge Massington pushed the lead to 24-14 just before the half.

Perkins opened the second half with a 10-yard scoring burst, and a 15-yard Hundley run all but sewed things up with 9:22 remaining in the third quarter.

The win moves UCLA to 9-2 on the season and gives the Bruins their third straight victory over USC, their first three-game winning streak over their cross-town rivals since winning seven straight from 1991-98. The win also moves Jim Mora‘s team to within one victory of a Pac-12 South title and two wins away from a Pac-12 championship. The Bruins will have to beat Stanford next week to win the division and Oregon to win the conference. It was Oregon who beat UCLA for the Pac-12 championship in 2011, and Stanford who did it in 2012.

USC, meanwhile, drops to 7-4 on the season and will close the regular season with a similarly disappointing 7-4 Notre Dame team at the L.A. Coliseum on Saturday night.

 

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Road warriors: Missouri holds on against Tennessee, stays atop SEC East

Gary Pinkel, Markus Golden

It didn’t come easy, but the No. 20 Missouri Tigers edged the Tennessee Volunteers 29-21 in Knoxville.

Gary Pinkel‘s squad has proven to be road warriors over the past two seasons, as they attempt to win a second SEC East title in consecutive years.

When the Tigers joined the SEC two years ago, they were considered an inferior program compared to the Texas A&M Aggies, who joined the league during the same season. Yet the Tigers have proven over the long haul they have what it takes to consistently win in college football’s toughest conference.

Even when Misssouri’s explosive spread offense isn’t firing on all cylinders — and it wasn’t Saturday against Tennessee — the team is now built to still win games.

Strong defense, a solid running game and good coaching always travel well. Missouri has all three.

Quarterback Maty Mauk continues to be erratic. The sophomore signal-caller was 12-of-25 passing, but he finally exploited Tennessee’s secondary in the fourth quarter. At that time, Missouri’s wide receivers began to win one-on-one matchups.

Jimmie Hunt and Bud Sasser were frustrated by Tennessee most of the contest. However, Mauk found both for a touchdown passes in the final frame. Hunt was the game’s leading receiver with 106 yards on three catches.

But what kept Missouri in the game initially was its ability to run the football and apply pressure on Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs. The Tigers gained 184 yards on the ground, while the Volunteers only managed 53 yards.

The strong defensive effort by Missouri is due to owning one of the best defensive lines in college football. Defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden are as good as any duo in the nation. Golden was particularly disruptive Saturday evening.

Those defensive linemen will have to step up next week against the Arkansas Razorbacks’ overwhelming offensive line and rushing attack. The Razorbacks have won two straight games by the score of 47-0 against ranked SEC West opponents. They’re going to bring a different mentality than Tennessee did.

One more win is all Missouri needs to win the SEC East and play in the SEC Championship Game again. Like the Tennessee contest, it won’t come easy.

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No. 4 Mississippi State dumps Vanderbilt, sets up Egg Bowl for the ages

Vanderbilt v Mississippi State Getty Images

No. 4 Mississippi State wasted no time in disposing of Vanderbilt, racing to a 37-0 halftime lead en route to a 51-0 win.

The Bulldogs led 13-0 through one quarter and 37-0 at the half on the strength of three Dak Prescott touchdown passes. For the day he completed 17-of-24 passes for 201 yards with three touchdowns and rushed six times for 29 yards and a score. Six Bulldogs rushed the ball, and all ran for at least 29 yards; Brandon Holloway led the way with 10 carries for 69 yards.

Vanderbilt mounted only 225 yards of total offense and 16 first downs.

The win moves the Bulldogs to 10-1 on the season, the first 10-win season in school history.

Beyond that, though, Mississippi State moves one step closer to a College Football Playoff berth, and set up an Egg Bowl for the ages a week from today. Ole Miss’ 30-0 flattening at Arkansas takes the Rebels out of contention for the SEC West title, but Mississippi State’s win means they can go to Atlanta with a defeat of Ole Miss and an Auburn win over Alabama. Even if Alabama wins, though, Mississippi State has a solid chance of earning a berth as an at-large.

All they have to do, of course, is walk into Oxford and beat an angry Ole Miss team looking to play spoiler.

It’s not as monumental an Egg Bowl as it appeared it could be back in October, but it’s still the biggest game since anyone can care to remember.

Vanderbilt, meanwhile, drops to 3-8 on the season and will close Derek Mason‘s first season against Tennessee next week.

 

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No. 9 UCLA pulls away from No. 19 USC for 24-14 halftime lead

Brett Hundley, Juda Parker

A spirited Battle for the Victory Bell opened with Anthony Sarao stepping in front of a Brett Hundley pass and returning it 17 yards for a USC touchdown.

It’s been pretty much all Bruins from there, though, as Hundley tossed touchdown passes to Devin LucienThomas Duarte and Eldridge Massington – the last of which came just before the half - to give No. 9 UCLA a 24-14 halftime lead over No. 19 USC at the Rose Bowl.

The Trojans got a two-yard touchdown toss from Cody Kessler to Justin Davis to tie the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter, but missed a golden opportunity when stuffed on a 4th-and-goal from the two-yard line on an earlier drive.

Hundley has been near perfect outside of the interception, completing 15-of-19 passes for 201 yards and those three touchdowns, and Paul Perkins has carried 11 times for 44 yards.

Kessler has completed 10-of-19 passes for 119 yards, but has been harassed by his Bruin counterparts much more than Hundley. Buck Allen has rushed eight times for 38 yards.

UCLA will receive the ball to open the second half.

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Everything going right for No. 4 Mississippi State through one half vs. Vandy

Dak Prescott

Nothing cleanses the palette quite like playing Vanderbilt.

One week after suffering its first loss of the season, No. 4 Mississippi State is dominating Vanderbilt in every way possible, leading 37-0 at the half in Starkville.

Dak Prescott has completed 13-of-16 passes for 151 yards with three touchdowns, while also rushing five times for 21 yards and a touchdown. Josh Robinson has added seven carries for 63 yards and a 14-yard touchdown catch.

Christian Holmes also picked up a fumble and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown to push the Bulldogs’ lead to 20.

Overall, Mississippi State has out-gained Vanderbilt 270-109 and holds a 17-8 edge in first downs.

Mississippi State will receive the ball to open the second half.

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No. 20 Missouri tied 13-13 with Tennessee as SEC East hangs in the balance

Butch Jones

The No. 20 Missouri Tigers control their destiny. If they win out then they will claim an SEC East crown and a spot in the SEC Championship Game.

Tennessee apparently didn’t get the message.

Butch Jones‘ squad has given Missouri everything it can handle through two quarters of play. The two teams are tied 13-13 at halftime.

Neither team has been particularly sharp on offense, but Missouri has an edge in yardage with 181 total yards. The Volunteers only mustered 126 yards, and 31 of those came courtesy of a fake field goal.

Tennessee required a little trickeration to reach the end zone against Missouri’s vaunted defense. Backup quarterback and holder Patrick Ashford found tight end Alex Ellis racing down the field for the Volunteers only touchdown of the half (see: below).

Otherwise, Missouri’s talented defensive front has applied consistent pressure on Volunteers quarterback Josh Dobbs. The SEC’s sack leader, Shane Ray, already registered a pair of sacks in the first half.

“We have to continue to mix it up,” Jones told ESPN at halftime. “They’re a very, very disruptive front. So, we have to stay ahead of the sticks. A lot of the sacks have come on third-and-long situations.”

Running back Marcus Murphy proved to be the catalyst for the Tigers offense. While Russell Hansbrough led Missouri with 46 rushing yards, Murphy found the end zone twice. A missed extra point is the only reason the game remains tied.

As the two teams prepare for the second half, Missouri’s coaching staff needs to get quarterback Maty Mauk into a rhythm. The sophomore signal-caller was only 6-of-15 passing.

Tennessee, meanwhile, should continue to leave everything on the field and continue to dig deep into the team’s playbook.

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Marcus Mariota sets Pac-12 record during Oregon’s 44-10 victory over Colorado

Marcus Mariota

Move over Matt Barkley. Marcus Mariota now sits atop the Pac-12 record books.

With his four-touchdown performance against the Colorado Buffaloes, Mariota became the Pac-12′s all-time single season leader with 42 total touchdowns.

Mariota was nearly flawless in what could be his final appearance at Autzen Stadium.

The junior quarterback, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in April’s NFL draft, completed 24 of his 32 pass attempts. Mariota added 323 passing yards to his resume and a trio of touchdown tosses. The signal-caller also ran the ball eight times for 73 yards and a touchdown.

One of Mariota’s former teammates took it a step beyond calling him the favorite for the Heisman Trophy:

With the 44-10 victory, the No. 2 Ducks improved to 10-1 overall with only the “Civil War” remaining against the Oregon State Beavers.

On the other hand, Colorado dropped to 2-9 overall. It’s a disappointing season after improving to 4-8 last year during Mike MacIntyre‘s first year as head coach of the program.

For Oregon, this is the season for the Ducks to take the next step as a program. Mariota is playing at an elite level. The team already conquered its previous stumbling block by defeating the Stanford Cardinal. Pac-12 championship and College Football Playoff appearances are within the Ducks’ grasp.

Expectations should be sky high for a program ready to compete for a national championship.

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Woo pig sooie! Arkansas wins second-straight contest with victory over No. 8 Ole Miss

Bret Bielema

Don’t look now, but the Arkansas Razorbacks are one of the hottest teams in the country.

After a 4-5 start to the season, Bret Bielema‘s squad has won two in a row against a pair of ranked SEC West opponents. Arkansas latest victory came courtesy of a 30-0 stomping of the No. 8 Ole Miss Rebels.

Bielema told ESPN after the contest he believes his team can play with anyone. And that’s clearly the case at the moment.

Saturday’s effort was Arkansas’ second straight shutout victory. The Razorbacks officially beat LSU and Ole Miss by a combined score of 47-0.

The win also makes Arkansas bowl eligible at 6-5 overall. Every team in the SEC West is now eligible to go to a bowl game.

Ole Miss was dominated at every level, and the Rebels are no longer in position to possibly claim an SEC West crown or play in a New Year’s bowl. After starting the season 7-0, including a victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide, Ole Miss lost three of their last four games.

Arkansas’s formula against Ole Miss was simple. The Razorbacks ran the ball 50 times for 159 yards and held an advantage in time of possession by eight minutes. Arkansas’ defense also forced six turnovers, including a 100-yard pick-6 by Rohan Gaines.

The Razorbacks will have opportunity to ruin another season next weekend when they face the No. 20 Missouri Tigers. Another impressive effort by Arkansas could knock Missouri out of the SEC championship game as the representative from the SEC East.

The way Bielema’s squad is currently playing, Missouri better be prepared or the Tigers will find themselves watching the SEC Championship game instead of playing in it.

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Badgers hang on, set up B1G West play-in game with Gophers

Wisconsin v Iowa Getty Images

Whenever Wisconsin and Iowa get together, it’s rarely pretty.  At the end of the game, however, the scoreboard looked like a supermodel to the visiting team from Madison.

The Badgers jumped out to a 16-3 halftime, then extended it to 19-3 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.  The Hawkeyes, though, refused to rollover as they scored 21 of the next 28 points to pull to within two at 26-24 with just over five minutes remaining.

However, the Hawkeyes, down a controversial timeout that was taken from them by the officials, could not stop the Badgers on the last drive of the game, with UW picking up a pair of first downs to bleed the remaining five minutes off the clock and secure the 26-24 win.

Melvin Gordon, who saw the rushing record he set a week ago broken this afternoon, ran for an even 200 yards and two touchdowns on the game. Gordon now has 2,109 yards on the season, tying the single-season Big Ten record set by Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne in 1996.  He’s also the 17th player in FBS history to surpass the 2,000-yard mark in a single season

Interestingly, Gordon was also the Badgers’ leading receiver as he caught four passes for 64 yards, both career-highs.  His 10-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference in the game.

With the win and Minnesota’s dropping of Nebraska, UW set up a Week 14 play-in game to the Big Ten championship game.  The Badgers will play host to the Gophers next Saturday, with the winner representing the West in the conference title game against East winner Ohio State.

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Kicking again fails Notre Dame as Irish fall to No. 24 Louisville

Kyle Brindza

It happened again.

A week after foot-inflicted vomit cost it a win over Northwestern, holder/back-up quarterback Malik Zaire and kicker Kyle Brindza were determined to not let it happen again.

It happened again.

Brindza missed a 32-yard field goal with 50 seconds remaining, and Notre Dame fell to No. 24 Louisville 31-28 at a soggy Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday evening. The loss is Notre Dame’s third in a row and fourth in five games, sending a once-promising season into absolute free fall.

Of course, a three-point loss can’t be blamed on a solitary kick, and this is no exception. Trailing 31-20 in fourth quarter, Everett Golson hit William Fuller for a 28-yard touchdown and ran in a two-point conversion to pull the Irish within 31-28 with 11:17 to go, and then benefitted from a missed field goal on the ensuing possession. Starting at its own 20 with 5:03 to go, Notre Dame moved to a first-and-goal at the 10 with a golden opportunity to win the game, but Golson was sacked on second-and-goal from the 9 and threw incomplete on third down, setting up Brindza’s fateful field goal.

Notre Dame lost this game at the point of attack, as Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff rushed 17 times for 136 yards and a touchdown, while Michael Dyer added 13 rushes for 61 yards and quarterback Reggie Bonnafon added 35 rushing yards and two touchdowns to go with 180 yards and a score through the air.

Golson completed 16-of-24 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns, but threw an interception in Notre Dame territory that set up a Louisville field goal in the second quarter, and coughed up a fumble that the Irish eventually recovered but killed a promising drive in the process, turning a 2nd-and-6 at its own 44 to a 3rd-and-38 at the 12. Both mistakes contributed to a 17-6 halftime deficit for Notre Dame.

The Irish scored consecutive touchdowns to grab a 20-17 lead midway through the third quarter, but Bonnafon hit DeVante Parker for a 21-yard touchdown to put Louisville back on top at the 5:46 mark of the third quarter, and Radcliff raced in from 15 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter to provide the winning score.

The win pushes Louisville to 8-3 on the season and gives the Bobby Petrino‘s bunch a shot at a 10-win campaign with a win over Kentucky next week and in the bowl game.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, closes out the regular season at USC next week. Other than bowl positioning and the satisfaction of beating a rival, the Irish will travel to Tinseltown with purpose of improving this 2014 season from “completely” to only “moderately” disappointing.

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No. 15 Arizona defeats No. 17 Utah 42-10 despite QB concerns

Anu Solomon

The No. 15 Arizona Wildcats can take multiple positives away from its 42-10 victory over the No. 17 Utah Utes.

Unfortunately, the main concern for the Wildcats is the health of their starting quarterback, Anu Solomon. Solomon put together a strong first-half effort before injuring his ankle. The freshman didn’t play during the second half and was reportedly wearing a walking boot on the sideline.

Senior Jesse Scroggins took over for Solomon. Scroggins played well during his first extended action of his career. The senior wasn’t asked to do much, but he kept his team in position to win without making too many mistakes.

Solomon’s status for the coming week is in question as Arizona continues to compete for a Pac-12 South crown. A feat that won’t come easily. The Wildcats need plenty of help despite a 6-2 conference record:

If Solomon isn’t ready to play next weekend against Arizona’s primary rival, the Arizona State Sun Devils, the Wildcats can continue to rely on freshman running back Nick Wilson. The talented runner set a career-high against Utah with 218 yards on 20 carries.

The Wildcats’ defense was also impressive against Utah.

Arizona forced four turnovers and only allowed 4.5 yards per pass. The play of senior safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant continues to be a highlight of the Wildcats season. Bondurant forced a fumble and snapped a pick-6 against Utah.

With a strong running game, talented wide receivers and an opportunistic defense, Arizona still has a chance to represent the Pac-12 South in the conference championship game even without Solomon in the lineup.

Utah, meanwhile, fell to 7-4 with the Colorado Buffaloes remaining on the schedule. An 8-4 finish might place Utah toward the bottom of the Pac-12 South, but it’s still a successful season for Kyle Whittingham‘s squad.

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Cardiac ‘Noles survive another scare, extend win streak to 27

Boston College v Florida State Getty Images

No matter what else happens this season, the defining trait of this 2014 Florida State team will be its propensity to allow its opponents into standoffs and come out alive. Seemingly every week this season the Seminoles invite a new opponent to take its undefeated record, and so far every opponent has blinked. Clemson blinked when fumbling on a would-be game-winning drive. Notre Dame did the same on that controversial offensive pass interference penalty. N.C. State, Louisville and Miami built large early leads but just couldn’t get that one last score they needed to knock Florida State off.

In a rain-drenched Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday evening, Boston College blinked and once again Florida State made them pay for it.

With the game tied 17-17 with 13:29 left in the fourth quarter, Boston College accepted the ball at its own eight-yard line. The Eagles called 14 straight runs, grabbing every available shred of momentum, until they set up a 2nd-and-9 at the Florida State 26. Boston College called a throwback pass from wide receiver Josh Bordner to quarterback Tyler Murphy, and Bordner had an open Murphy but waited a tick too long; Murphy was unable to come down with the ball at the FSU 2. It was the only pass of the 17-play drive, and it was the one that killed them. Murphy ran for one yard on third down, and Alex Howell missed the ensuing 42-yard field goal.

You know how the story goes from here.

Florida State cooly moved 66 yards in 12 plays, eating up all but three seconds of the remaining 4:37, to set Roberto Aguayo up for the game-winning 26-yard field goal.

No. 3 Florida State held off Boston College 20-17, keeping its 27-game winning streak and national championship hopes intact.

if a 6-4 team was ever going to knock off the Seminoles, it was this 6-4 Boston College team. Coached and quarterbacked by former Gators and sandwiched after an emotional Miami win and before the pressure-cooker Florida game, Boston College out-rushed Florida State 240-110, didn’t turn the ball over and turned a Jameis Winston interception into a touchdown, limited the Seminoles to only eight offensive possessions, and it still wasn’t enough.

The key Florida State possession of the game, other than the final one, when Boston College intercepted Winston in Florida State territory and turned it into a five-play, 67-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 49-yard pass from Murphy to Shakim Phillips, to tie the game at 10-10 with 5:29 remaining before halftime. Like they always do, Florida State responded when it had to, marching 75 yards in seven plays as Winston hit Nick O’Leary for a 30-yard score to give the ‘Noles a 17-10 lead at the break.

Murphy (6-of-10 passing for 73 yards and a touchdown, 15 carries for 48 yards) rushed for a 21-yard touchdown to tie the game in the third quarter. It was the only score of the second half until Aguayo’s game-winner.

Dalvin Cook rushed 14 times for 76 yards and Karlos Williams added 41 yards and a score to go with Winston’s 281 passing yards, but the hero for FSU – as it has been so many times this year – was Rashad Greene. He left the game in the first half with an apparent arm injury but returned before halftime to grab eight passes for 106 yards, including a couple on the game-winning drive.

Florida State will wrap up its regular season against Florida next week in Tallahassee before meeting Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship in Charlotte on Dec. 6.

Boston College wraps up its regular season against Syracuse next week.

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Marcus Mariota continues to build Heisman resume against Colorado

Marcus Mariota

There have been plenty of spectacular performances by multiple players attempting to enter the race for the Heisman Trophy in recent weeks. Marcus Mariota remains the favorite for the award, though.

As the national conversation shifted this week to “game control”, Mariota and his Ducks aren’t having any trouble with the Colorado Buffaloes. The No. 2 Oregon squad leads Colorado 30-3 at halftime, while Mariota continues to pad his resume.

The junior quarterback was efficient and effective. Mariota was 14-of-20 passing for 176 yards and a touchdown. The quarterback is also the game’s leading rusher with six carries for 74 yards and another touchdown.

In fact, Mariota’s performance in the first half propelled him to elite territory in college football history:

Plenty of other Ducks got into the act as well.

Freshman running back Royce Freeman ran the ball 12 times for 59 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Mariota also connected with eight difference targets. Senior Keanon Lowe led the way with four catches for 43 yards.

Oregon’s quarterback was also helped by a spectacular catch from wide receiver Darren Carrington, who caught a tipped pass while on his back:

During the second half, Oregon should continue to overwhelm an outclassed Colorado squad. The Buffaloes can build some confidence by moving the ball and slowing the Ducks offense. While Oregon has a much bigger aspirations this season, Colorado can still earn a moral victory with better play during the third and fourth quarters.

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Ryan Broyles’ career receiving mark broken by ECU’s Justin Hardy

East Carolina v Cincinnati Getty Images

Earlier this afternoon, one Oklahoma player added his name to the NCAA record books.  A short time later, a former Sooner found his name erased from the same book.,

Early in the first quarter of East Carolina’s game against Tulane, Justin Hardy hauled in a seven-yard catch from quarterback Shane Carden, the 349th of his career.  That tied the FBS record set by Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles.

The next possession for the Pirates, Hardy grabbed a 22-yarder that was No. 350 and broke the record Broyles had set from 2007-11.  Hardy added two more catches and now has 352 for his career with the rest of this half plus three more games — two in the regular season and one bowl game — to add to the record.

Hardy has been a significant weapon in ECU’s passing game from the moment he stepped on the field as a redshirt freshman.  He pulled in 64 receptions in 2011 — 11 of them in his first-ever game at this level — then grabbed 88 and 114 in 2012 and 2013, respectively.  He currently has 86 this season.

If you recall, Hardy was also the subject of an unusual rebuke earlier this week, with the AAC’s commissioner calling out the Biletnikoff Award for not including Hardy among its 10 semifinalists

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