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CFT Predicts: the SEC

Nick Saban AP

As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the SEC. 

And while we’re at it, check out our other conference previews: Big Ten, Pac-12

SEC East

1.  South Carolina (Last year: 11-2; beat Michigan in Outback Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Gamecocks put together an 11-2 season for the second straight year — the first time in school history the program has accomplished such a feat. Yet, Steve Spurrier‘s team still didn’t make it to the SEC championship game despite handing it to SEC champ Georgia 35-7 in Columbia. Also, this happened. You may have seen it before on SportsCenter. 

So why are they ranked here?
South Carolina and Georgia have taken their respective turns representing the East division in the SEC title for the past three years, and it looks like 2013 will be two-team race between these two once again. The Gamecocks get the edge this time because of their defense, which features preseason Heisman candidate Jadeveon Clowney. But it’s not just the projected No. 1 NFL draft pick that makes this defense so good. Cornerback Victor Hampton and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles also return.

Anything else?
That’s a Clowney question, bro. But for real, the offense loses wide receiver Ace Sanders. However, the Gamecocks have a solid wide receiver group led by Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd. 

2. Georgia (Last year: 12-2; beat Nebraska in Capital One Bowl) 
What happened last season?
If only Chris Conley had been a few yards further, Georgia would have been playing in the BCS championship game. Still, 12-2 and a January bowl win aren’t too shabby. Despite getting blasted by South Carolina midway through the season, UGA still won the East division for the second year in a row.

So why are they ranked here?
The Bulldogs’ offense returns so many key players, including seventh-year senior quarterback Aaron Murray and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. But conversely, it’s the defense that loses just about everyone. There’s plenty of talent on that side of the ball and Todd Grantham is considered one of the best in the business at defense coordinator, but there’s enough turnover to cost the Bulldogs the top spot in the East.

Anything else?
Georgia is the media’s favorite to win the SEC East this year, but the month of September could get the Bulldogs off to a slow start. Georgia faces four tough opponents to start the season: Clemson, South Carolina, North Texas* and LSU.

(*Kidding, obviously. But seriously #GoMeanGreen.) 

3. Florida (Last year: 11-2; lost to Louisville in Sugar Bowl)
What happened last season?
It wasn’t always pretty, but Florida won 11 regular season games with arguably one of the tougher schedules in college football. However, the Gators’ season ended in a Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville, something only our favorite Cardinals fan Mark Ennis could have foreseen.

So why are they ranked here?
This is where the Gators fit. The East will continue to be dominated by Georgia and South Carolina at least for another season, and there are some injury concerns on offense for Florida with wide receiver Andre Debose out for the year and running back Matt Jones out indefinitely with a viral infection. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is now a junior and should be a bigger part of this offense. On defense, this team needs to replace stars Matt Elam, Jelani Jenkins and Sharrif Floyd.

Anything else?
It doesn’t affect SEC records, but the Gators have two meaty non-conference games: the annual rivalry with Florida State and an early season game against Miami, a team some feel are flying under the radar.

4. Vanderbilt (Last year: 9-4; beat NC State in the Music City Bowl)
What happened last season?
Seven straight wins to end 2012 gave Vanderbilt its first nine-win season since 1915. James Franklin continues to do an outstanding job building the Commodores’ brand and is now quickly becoming one of the most intriguing coaches in the game.

So why are they ranked here?
That nine-win season? Yeah, Vandy returns 17 starters from that team a year ago. Leading receiver Jordan Matthews is back, but Chris Boydthe team’s second-leading receiver, is currently dealing with a legal issue related to a horrific rape allegation involving four former VU players. Still there should be plenty of firepower on offense and the defensive front seven should be a strength.

Anything else?
Vanderbilt’s next step is to knock off a SEC favorite. This team will have four opportunities to do so against South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M. A season-opener against Ole Miss could also build some early momentum for the ‘Dores.

5. Missouri (Last year: 5-7) 
What happened last season?
Missouri’s first year in the SEC was, shall we say, eye-opening. The Tigers suffered their first losing season under Gary Pinkel in eight years thanks, at least in part, to the fact that quarterback James Franklin couldn’t stay healthy. Missouri’s only two conference wins came against Kentucky and Tennessee.

So why are they ranked here?
It’s not a stretch to think Mizzou can have, say, a two-game swing in the win column this season. The Tigers don’t have to play Alabama or LSU out of the West and there are about four winnable conference games on the schedule. Franklin has to stay healthy, which could again be an issue if the offensive line doesn’t come through. Running back Henry Josey returns after missing last season with a significant knee injury and one-time five-star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is a sophomore who needs to have a big year. A lot of previously unknown names are going to have to emerge as playmakers.

Anything else?
Pinkel has been the head coach of Mizzou for 13 years if you can believe it. And, if nothing else, the Tigers have been fairly consistent with winning records. But a new conference and a disappointing 2012 campaign has made the seat beneath Pinkel’s keister a little warm. If there’s not at least a little bit of a turnaround, or some reason to be excited about the future, Mizzou could be looking for another direction by year’s end.

6. Tennessee (Last year: 5-7)
What happened last season?
The Vols suffered their third straight losing season and Derek Dooley was punished by being demoted to the wide receivers coach for the Dallas Cowboys.

So why are they ranked here?
Butch Jones is a good coach and he should be the guy to finally get things turned around for Tennessee. He’s a natural with young people and players love him. That said, Neyland Stadium wasn’t built in a day — neither were UT’s shiny new facilities — and the Vols took a solid gut punch in the passing game with the departures of wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Defense has been bad too. There’s a lot to fix and not a lot to work with right away.

Anything else?
The stretch between Sept. 21 (at Florida) and Oct. 26 (at Alabama) is ruthless and unkind. But winning one game against either the Gators, Georgia or South Carolina would go a long way for Jones no matter the final record.

7. Kentucky (Last year: 2-10)
What happened last season?
The Wildcats beat Samford and Kent State, the latter of which almost had a chance to make a BCS bowl appearance. Strange, indeed. Either way, Joker Phillips got canned.

So why are they ranked here?
If Tennessee is building things “brick by brick”, then Kentucky’s going to need some heavier materials. UK made an interesting hire with former Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who is recruiting extremely well early. Signing Day 2014 is still a ways off and it’s yet to be seen if those efforts will pay dividends down the road. For now, the Wildcats have too much to improve upon to make a real dent.

Anything else?
The schedule the Wildcats go through doesn’t help. Road games against South Carolina and Georgia aren’t even the worst games — that distinction would belong to hosting Alabama on Oct. 12.

SEC West

1. Alabama (Last year: 13-1; beat Notre Dame in BCS championship)
What happened last season?
Oh, not much. The Tide won the SEC and then mercilessly beat Notre Dame in the BCS championship, giving Nick Saban his third national title in four years with Alabama. Of course, it wasn’t all perfect. Texas A&M came into Tuscaloosa in November and stunned the top-ranked team in the country 29-24. Saban has since been playing that game on loop around the football facilities because money isn’t the root of all evil — satisfaction is.

So why are they ranked here?
Unless the wheels inexplicably fall off or Saban takes his coaching talents to the pros, Alabama is in rolling along (see what we did–ah forget it) and there’s nothing anybody can do to stop it. We could talk about returning starters like A.J. McCarron or C.J. Moseley, or how the Tide’s schedule doesn’t feature any of the SEC East teams expected to finish at or near the top of that respective division. Those are all fine and well, but as long as Saban is wearing crimson, this program is going to be a perennial favorite.

Anything else?
Because college football black magic is very, very real, it should be pointed out again that Alabama has never have won a BCS title when ranked atop the preseason coaches poll. Guess where they’re ranked this year.

2. LSU (last year: 10-3; lost to Clemson in Chick-fil-A Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Tigers shocked the college football world by beating up on a much more talented North Texas team* to open the year and came thisclose to beating Alabama at home (tailback screen FTW!) on their way to a 10-win season. LSU lost by one point to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl as Tajh Boyd pulled off the toughest individual postseason performance of the year.

(*Kidding, obviously. But seriously #GoMeanGreen.) 

So why are they ranked here?
LSU is an interesting team who’s getting overshadowed by two other SEC West teams. Understandably, Alabama is the overwhelming favorite not only to win the West division, but to win the SEC and get back to another national championship. But the Tigers shouldn’t be counted out so quickly. Defense will always be a staple and Zach Mettenberger has all the tools to be an elite quarterback, he just has to put it all together. Ironically, perhaps his best game last season came in that agonizing loss to Alabama.

Anything else?
Les Miles‘ team has some big games this year, including road games against Georgia and Alabama, and a season-opener against TCU. This is a program that’s thrived in those environments over the last few years (sans a BCS title loss to Alabama in 2012). They’ll need to again if they want to knock off the preseason favorite.

3. Texas A&M (last year: 11-2; beat Oklahoma in Cotton Bowl)
What happened last season?
Kevin Sumlin started Johnny Manziel at quarterback and all of us — defenses, media members, all of us — looked like idiots. Also, Manziel won the Heisman as a redshirt freshman. Just as a reminder.

So why are they ranked here?
Manziel is back… maybe. In fact, this is probably one of the few predictions that actually deserves an asterisk next to it. With the NCAA reportedly investigating whether Manziel improperly received money for signing thousands of pieces of memorabilia, it’s possible he could face suspension. If he does, and depending when and for how long, the Aggies’ win total could dip tremendously. There are a lot of questions defensively even with Manziel in the lineup, and while I personally don’t believe the offseason “controversies” will affect Manziel’s play on the field, he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback.

Anything else?
Wide receiver Mike Evans burst on to the scene last year with over 1,100 yards as a freshman. All the talk is about Manziel, but Evans provides an athletic, big target to throw to in this offense. He could have an even bigger year as a sophomore.

4. Ole Miss (Last year: 7-6; beat Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Hugh Freeze made one of the bigger first-season splashes by leading the Rebels to a seven-win season and then pulling in one of the most impressive recruiting classes for 2013.

So why are they ranked here?
The Rebels are considered to be on the upswing, but the first half of their ’13 schedule is bordering on unfair. Ole Miss travels to Vanderbilt, to Texas in non-conference play, to Alabama, and to Auburn before finally catching a break and hosting Texas A&M and LSU. It seems impossible to get through that stretch unscathed, but if quarterback Bo Wallace cuts down on his mistakes (17 interceptions a year ago) and the defense can clamp down even a little (the Rebels gave up an average of 36 points in five losses to the aforementioned six opponents last season thanks in part to 66 points from the Longhorns), then this team should find itself with some quality wins headed into an easier second half of the schedule.

Anything else?
If you think Ole Miss has broken any recruiting rules, Freeze asks that you email compliance@olemiss.edu. Thanks and hotty toddy!

5. Auburn (Last year: 3-9)
What happened last season?
The Tigers failed to win a conference game and Gene Chizik, two years removed from winning a BCS championship, was fired.

So why are they ranked here?
Gus Malzahn, who was the offensive coordinator for Auburn when it won that national title over Oregon in 2011, returns to The Plains as head coach hoping to turn things around. There are plenty of guys returning on both sides of the ball… it’s just that neither side played particularly well. It’s not like there’s a lack of talent at Auburn, so if Malzahn and his coaching staff, which features veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, can get the production out of their players in a way Chizik couldn’t, then there’s no reason this team can’t go bowling this year.

Anything else?
Nick Marshall, a former Georgia defensive back, will be the starting quarterback for the Tigers. Meanwhile, Kiehl Frazier, Auburn’s former starting quarterback, has moved to defensive back.

6. Mississippi State (Last year: 8-5; lost to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Things were looking good for Dan Mullen‘s team, which was 7-0 headed into a late October game against Alabama. That’s when it fell apart and the schedule got significantly harder. The Bulldogs lost 38-7 in Tuscaloosa and went on to drop five of their last six games, including a bowl loss to Northwestern.

So why are they ranked here?
Because the SEC West is arguably the deepest division in college football. It’s quite possible that six teams could be bowl eligible here. Quarterback Tyler Russell is back, but there will be plenty of new faces at wide receiver. Six starters return on defense, but in all, this is a relatively young team that will be tested when it faces South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama in consecutive weeks.

Anything else?
If Bulldogs center Dillon Day plays as well as he bowls, then MSU should have a spectacular season.

7. Arkansas (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Bobby Petrino drove his motorcycle off a road. John L. Smith then drove the BCS-ready Razorbacks into the ground. Hog fans didn’t take either particularly well.

So why are they ranked here?
Arkansas brings in a new coach in Bret Bielema, but loses quarterback Tyler Wilson, its top two leading rushers and receivers from a year ago. Defense was a major liability last season and will have to improve significantly if the offense doesn’t get going. And that schedule? Brutal. The Hogs may not win a game past September.

Anything else?
Freshman running back Alex Collins had some drama trying to Fayetteville, but in Bielema’s run-heavy offense, he could make a huge impact right away.

—————————————-

John Taylor‘s prediction:

East
1. Georgia
2. South Carolina
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Vanderbilt
6. Kentucky
7. Missouri

West
1. Alabama
2. LSU
3. Texas A&M
4. Ole Miss
5. Mississippi State
6. Arkansas
7. Auburn
Ben’s SEC champ: Alabama
John’s SEC champ: Alabama
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OU RB Samaje Perine, Mizzou DE Markus Golden win Walter Camp Player of the Week honors

Samaje Perine

Another week, another round of what had to be the easiest vote in Walter Camp Player of the Week history – at least on the offensive side.

Oklahoma freshman running back Samaje Perine, holding his mythical FBS single-game rushing championship belt, has been named the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s Offensive Player of the Week. Perine bested Melvin Gordon‘s week-old FBS single-game rushing record by toting the rock 34 times for 427 yards and five touchdowns in No. 21 Oklahoma’s 44-7 bludgeoning of Kansas at a rainy Memorial Stadium in Norman on Saturday afternoon. Perine is the fifth Sooner to win the honor, and first since Sam Bradford took it home on Sept. 9, 2007.

On the defensive side, Missouri defensive end Markus Golden won Player of the Week honors for his part in No. 20 Missouri’s 29-21 win at Tennessee. Golden collected six tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, a fumble recovery and two quarterback hurries. The win kept Missouri ahead of Georgia for the top spot in the SEC East. A win over Arkansas on Friday gives Mizzou its second consecutive division crown.

Golden is the first Tiger to win Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week accolades since fellow defensive end Aldon Smith took it home on Sept. 5, 2010.

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Florida State edges Alabama for top spot in AP Top 25

Boston College v Florida State

Florida State edged Boston College on Saturday, and did the same to Alabama on Sunday, keeping the Crimson Tide at bay by 13 votes for the top spot in Sunday’s Associated Press Top 25. Oregon and Mississippi State remained third and fourth, but a 49-28 win over Oklahoma State was enough for Baylor to pass TCU for the fifth spot – and the Bears did so by one point.

Georgia remains the highest-ranked two-loss team at No. 8, four votes ahead of No. 9 UCLA. Arizona used a 42-10 whipping of Utah to leapfrog Arizona State for the No. 12 spot.

Ole Miss was this week’s biggest loser – just like the Coaches’ Poll – dropping ten spots from No. 8 to No. 18. And for those wearing scarlet, green and purple among us, this is significant because Mississippi State’s resume now includes a solitary Top 25 victory over No. 15 Auburn, and No. 18 Ole Miss this week.

Minnesota was the AP’s biggest gainer, leaping from 31st all the way to 22nd thanks to its 28-24 win at Nebraska.

The full poll:

1. Florida State – 1,458 total votes (37 first-place votes)
2. Alabama – 1,445 (21)
3. Oregon – 1,393 (2)
4. Mississippi State – 1,301
5. Baylor – 1,234
6. TCU – 1,233
7. Ohio State – 1,163
8. Georgia – 1,002
9. UCLA – 998
10. Michigan State – 971
11. Kansas State – 898
12. Arizona – 807
13. Arizona State – 790
14. Wisconsin – 764
15. Auburn – 597
16. Georgia Tech – 581
17. Missouri – 525
18. Ole Miss – 398
19. Marshall – 384
20. Oklahoma – 363
21. Colorado State – 346
22. Minnesota – 232
23. Clemson – 198
24. Louisville – 191
25. Boise State – 96

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Alabama passes Florida State for top spot in latest Coaches’ Poll

Blake Sims

Yet another nail-biting win cost Florida State the top spot in the latest Amway Coaches’ Poll, which was released early Sunday afternoon.

Florida State’s 20-17 squeaker over Boston College coupled with Alabama’s 48-14 blowout of Western Carolina was enough for the ‘Noles and Tide to swap spots, pushing Alabama back to the top spot for the first time since its Oct. 4 loss at Ole Miss.

Speaking of Ole Miss, the Rebels were this week’s biggest losers, as a 30-0 loss to Arkansas saw them fall eight spots from eighth all the way to 19th. Marshall dropped two spots for a 23-18 win at UAB.

Close road victories by Minnesota and Louisville allowed each to move up eight spots, as a 28-24 win at Nebraska bumped the Gophers from unranked to 22nd, and Louisville moved from 31st to 23rd with a 31-28 win at Notre Dame. Clemson and Boise State are also new to the poll.

Here’s how the full poll shakes out:

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 12.36.35 PM

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Week 13, Statistically Speaking

Joey Iosefa, Tau Lotulelei

A statistical snapshot of the week that was in college football…

.592 – Winning percentage of visiting teams in Pac-12 road games (29-20) this season. The six teams ranked in last week’s Associated Press Top 25 (Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona, Utah and USC) have a combined overall road record of 23-6 (.793)

.815 – Ohio State’s winning percentage (97-22) in Big Ten play since 2000, the highest league winning percentage among all Power Five schools.  Oklahoma 99-24 is next at .805.

.933 – Career field-goal percentage for Florida State’s Robert Aguayo (42-45).  The all-time career mark, for at least 45 attempts per the 2014 FBS record book, was .900 (45-50) by Louisiana-Lafayette’s Brett Baer (2009-12). The career mark, for at least 55 attempts, is .895 (68-76) by Nebraska’s Alex Henery (2007-10).

0 — Touchbacks this season for Wake Forest punter Alex Kinal, the only player in the Top 25 in punting average who can make that claim.

1 — 400-yard passing games for Jake Waters in his career, the lone one coming in Kansas State’s win over West Virginia Thursday night (400 even).  Waters had only one previous 300-yard game, that coming in November of last year against Oklahoma (348).

Ohio State v Maryland

Brad Craddock

1 – Kickers at the FBS level who have yet to miss a field goal attempt (minimum eight attempts) this season: Maryland’s Brad Craddock (17-17).  Craddock has made 23 straight attempts dating back to 2013, the longest current streak at the FBS level and third-longest in Big Ten history.

1.2 — Yards per play Savannah State averaged in its 64-0 loss to BYU.  The Cougars limited the Tigers to 40 yards passing on 28 attempts and 23 yards rushing on the same number of attempts.

4 – FBS teams currently undefeated in conference play:

Florida State (ACC, 8-0)
Georgia Southern (Sun Belt, 7-0)
Marshall (Conference USA, 7-0)
Ohio State (Big Ten, 7-0)

5 — Consecutive games Auburn allowed 30 or more points prior to playing Samford, the first time that’s ever happened in the history of the football program.

5 – Number of undefeated home seasons in the history of Utah State football: 1968 (4-0), 1972 (5-0), 1982 (4-0), 2012 (6-0) and 2014 (6-0).

6 — Total touchdowns (five rushing, one receiving) for Colorado State’s Dee Hart in a win over New Mexico, the second-highest single-game total in Mountain West History.

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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.

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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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