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The Fifth Quarter: Week 12 Rewind

Auburn Georgia Getty Images

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

THUMBS UP

War Damn Miracle… and the Mother of All Iron Bowls
For a short period of time, it appeared that the Alabama-Auburn game for all of the SEC West Tostitos would be nothing but a distant memory thanks to the fourth-quarter heroics of Aaron Murray and his Georgia teammates.  And then, the Dawg Gone Miracle went and happened and the Mother of All Iron Bowls was back on.  While there’s still the little matter of Alabama getting past its scrimmage against FCS-level Chattanooga next weekend — after it struggled with Mississippi State this weekend — Nov. 30 is set for an epic in-state showdown: the  7-0 (in SEC play) Tide versus the 6-1 Tigers, with the winner staking its claim to the SEC West and earning a berth in the conference title game the following weekend.  In the 21 years since the SEC went to divisional play, the Iron Bowl has never served as a winner-take-all affair for the SEC West.  Hide the women, children and Udykes, y’all; this one’s gonna be huge.

SEC East clarity
Meanwhile, on the redheaded stepchild side of the SEC, the chase for a spot in the conference championship game is nearly as simple as it is in the West.  With South Carolina’s escape against Florida, the Gamecocks finish league play at 6-2.  Missouri, which was idle this weekend, is at 5-1.  If the Tigers win their last two games on the road against Ole Miss and at home against Texas A&M, Mizzou will face the winner of the Alabama-Auburn Iron Bowl the first Saturday in December in Atlanta.  If Mizzou stumbles once either week?  The Gamecocks, based on their Oct. 26 overtime win over the Tigers, will represent the East division in the league title game.  If Mizzou can get past an up-and-down Rebels squad, both the SEC East and West will be decided on the final week of the regular season.  That, I would think, would be kind of cool.

Ed OrgeronOregon for Orgeron
Nov. 7, the bottom dropped out of Oregon’s football world.  Not only did the Ducks lose its stranglehold on a potential spot in the BCS title game, they lost control of their own division with the loss to Stanford.  10 days later, their world’s looking a bit brighter.  Thanks to USC’s stunning upset of Stanford, Oregon now merely needs to take care of business against Arizona and Oregon State the next two weeks and it will claim the Pac-12 North’s spot in the conference title game.  Just who the opposition would be remains to be seen.  Arizona State, at 6-1 in the conference, needs to “simply” beat UCLA (5-2) next weekend on the road to win the South division, regardless of what happens in the regular season finale against Arizona and regardless of what USC (5-2) does in its last two games (ASU 62, USC 41 the day prior to Lane Kiffin‘s firing).  The Sun Devils, though, aren’t the only ones that control its own divisional fate; the Bruins can win the South if they wins their last two (ASU, USC).  Unbelievably, the Trojans also have a (slim) shot at a South crown.  If USC wins its last two, and if ASU loses its last two, the Trojans would be the South’s representative in the Pac-12 title game.  To boil it down: the South will have much more clarity after the ASU-UCLA game next Saturday.  Probably.

Nerd slipper still fits
I’m a sucker for a good Cinderella sports story, especially when it comes to football.  And this season, it doesn’t get any more Cinderella than Duke.  Not only have the Blue Devils become bowl-eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time in the program’s history, they are in control of the ACC Coastal division thanks to the 48-30 pounding of Miami.  To repeat, Duke, a program that hasn’t won an outright ACC championship since 1962 and last shared one in 1989, is in the driver’s seat to represent the Coastal in the conference championship game.  If Duke is able to go on the road the next two weeks and beat Wake Forest (4-6 overall, 2-5 in ACC) and North Carolina (5-5, 4-3), the Blue Devils will face Florida State for the league title and a BCS berth.  Yes, that’s a blowout waiting to happen, but the fact that Duke is even in the discussion let alone the divisional driver’s seat  makes it one of the best stories of the year.

For all the rushing yards
When you think of Wisconsin football, whether it be under Barry Alvarez or Bret Bielema or Gary Andersen, you think ground game.  As if to drive home that point, the Badgers decided to run the ball right down the throats of Indiana Saturday afternoon.  UW rushed for 323 yards… then came back out for the second half, finishing with a season-high 554 yards that was 10 yards shy of the school’s single-game record and the most by an FBS team this season.  Three different Badger backs ran for over 100 yards: James White, 20-205; Melvin Gordon, 13-146; Corey Clement, 11-108.  This was the third time this season that trio of backs had each gained 100-plus yards in a single game.  A fourth player, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, just missed the 100-yard mark with 86 — and two touchdowns — on just three carries.  The Badgers averaged a staggering 11.1 yards on their fifty carries and, well, you get the point.

Probe, schmobe
Jameis Winston may or may not be facing some rather serious charges in the next week or two, but, if he’s concerned about the investigation into an alleged sexual assault, he didn’t show it on the field Saturday afternoon.  In the first half of Florida State’s drubbing of Syracuse, the presumptive Heisman front-runner completed 19-of-21 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns.  That would be the extent of Winston’s work for the day as the redshirt freshman spent the rest of the game holding the proverbial clipboard as the reserves closed out yet another dominating win.  It was a virtuoso performance in a situation that, given the off-field circumstances, would’ve sent most people most people cowering anywhere but the very public spotlight of a football field.  I don’t know if Winston should or shouldn’t be charged, or is guilty or not guilty.  What I do know is that, for the sake of a young man with such a bright future, I hope he’s not.  Even more so, I hope that, if a crime was indeed committed, the alleged victim gets the justice she deserves — regardless of who the perpetrator may be.

I’m still here
It took approximately a nanosecond after Oregon lost to Stanford two Thursdays ago for Marcus Mariota to be all but eliminated, by the general public at least, from the Heisman race.  Saturday, the quarterback showed exactly why he’s still one of the best football players in the country despite a blemish on his team’s résumé.  Mariota passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns in a little over three quarters of work in the bounce-back win over Utah.  This season, Mariota has thrown 25 touchdowns and zero interceptions in 285 pass attempts.  He is the only FBS quarterback in the Top 100 in passing efficiency who has yet to throw a pick.  It’s a shame that one subpar game — in which he was playing hurt, no less — has overshadowed what’s been a magnificent season for a player who’s done more than enough to be in the thick of the stiff-armed discussion.

Andre 300Andre Williams
Unbeknownst to some (most?), Andre Williams of Boston College came into today’s game with North Carolina State leading the nation in rushing.  Suffice to say, he did absolutely nothing to hurt that standing.  All the senior did was rush for 339 yards — on “just” 42 carries — in the Eagles’ win over the Wolfpack.  The total is the most ever in ACC history — the FBS record is 409 by TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson — and breaks the school record Williams set a week ago.  His 634 yards the past two weeks is second in FBS history in back-to-back games, surpassed only by Texas’ Ricky Williams‘ 668 in 1998.

You down with OHP? Yes, yes you are Mr. Fan
Every home game, Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer Brian Orr is assigned to protect the blindside, and every other side for that matter, of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops.  Orr is a rather large man who has, based on the size of his biceps, been to many a gun show.  During the Sooners’ win over Iowa State Saturday, an overexuberant fan decided to take to the field and begin celebrating another OU win over the Cyclones a little early.  Showing SEC speed to go along with his size, Orr left his post as Stoops’ protector and, well, did this:

L

Officer Orr, there’s a Vince McMahon on Line 1 for you…

It was also good form on the part of Orr as he avoided being flagged for targeting a defenseless fan.

Myles and Myles of two-way talent
In the week after linebacker Myles Jack ran for 120 yards in UCLA’s win last Saturday, head coach Jim Mora was asked about the true freshman’s role on offense moving forward. “He’s a linebacker,” the Bruins coach said.  We doubted the one-way sincerity at the time; Mora, though, was kind of enough to remove all doubt Friday night.  All Jack did for an encore in the win over Washington was rush for four touchdowns on just 13 carries while adding five tackles on the other side of the ball.  Likening the balance of Jack’s time on offense and defense to “a dance,” Mora called him “an outstanding linebacker”… but at the same time said “we are going to continue to use him” in the backfield.  For his part, Jack prefers to be the hitter instead of the hittee. “I’m still defense all the way,” the linebacker said after the Bruins’ win over the Huskies.  Whatever, just get the talented kid on the field as much as possible.

THUMBS DOWN

Sack Mack back in vogue
Judging by my emails and the reaction on Twitter, all of the goodwill Mack Brown had gained over the past few weeks is gone.  Evaporated.  Vanished.  The 25-point loss to Oklahoma State, at home and after the Longhorns had just reentered the rankings no less, snapped UT’s six-game winning streak and wrested control of the Big 12 out of their hands.  After fading to the background, and fair or not, the calls for UT and its new athletic director to make a change at head coach will return and will be as loud as ever.  And, yes, that means the tiresome Saban-to-UT speculation will be an ever-present reminder to Brown and everyone else that many, many people want that change.  Whether those who actually hold the power to make such a thing happen agree, however, remains to be seen.

Will MuschampBowl-less in Gainesville
No, it’s not official but it might as well be.  Thanks to the five-point loss to South Carolina, 4-6 Florida will now have to beat Georgia Southern next week and… No. 2 Florida State the following week to become bowl-eligible.  In other words, the Gators won’t be bowl-eligible in 2013.  When the final gun sounds on the loss to the Seminoles, the Gators will have been shut out of the postseason for the first time since 1990, the first season with Steve Spurrier as head coach.  While they were 9-2 that season, they were ineligible for a bowl due to NCAA sanctions.  The last time UF played its way to a bowl-less season?  The 6-5 1986 squad.  Athletic director Jeremy Foley issued an unequivocal, no-gray-area-here declaration of public support for Will Muschamp earlier in the week.  We’ll take the straight-shooting Foley at his word.  When it comes to the offensive assistants on Muschamp’s staff?  Don’t buy any green bananas.  And do month-to-month leases, if possible.

Singing the Big Offensive Blues
Yes, Michigan was able to end its two-game skid, but all is most decidedly not right in the Land of Big Blue.  In the three-overtime win over conference-winless Northwestern, the Wolverines managed just three field goals in regulation.  The offense barely cracked 300 yards the first four quarters despite not committing a turnover and being penalized just once the entire game — and doing it against a defense that was 80th in the country in total defense at 417.9 yards per game coming in.  On ESPN‘s College GameDay show, former Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard called out Al Borges, challenging the fourth-highest paid offensive coordinator to earn his salary.  It’s highly unlikely Brady Hoke would do something as drastic as make a change at coordinator in the offseason.  Whether he should, though, is another matter entirely.

Seat as hot as a burning couch
If it wasn’t before, the honeymoon in Morgantown is officially over.  West Virginia became Kansas’ first Big 12 victim in three years, suffering an embarrassing 12-point loss to a team that had won twice in 2013 coming in.  The loss dropped the Mountaineers to 4-7 on the season and officially knocked them out of bowl contention.  In two-plus seasons at WVU, Holgorsen is 21-16 overall and 6-11 in Big 12 play.  While this sobering stat is unrelated to the latest miserable loss, it bears repeating: in 37 games under Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has lost nine of them by 21-plus points.  In 126 games under Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart, which spanned a 10-year period, the Mountaineers were beaten by 21 or more points a total of eight times.  In other words, the Mountaineers simply aren’t competitive on a consistent basis under Holgorsen.  With the move from the Big East to the more competitive Big 12, that’s a coaching death waiting to happen.  And, based on the people in my area, there are plenty of fans eager to line up and pull the plug.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

– No. 1 Alabama 20, Mississippi State 7: As best as I can recall, this is the first time since I began doing this feature four years ago that the top-ranked team in the country has appeared in this category.  Four turnovers on the road, however, will do that to a team.  While it’s highly unlikely that enough voters would flip based solely on this performance, there’s a very good likelihood that Florida State will pick up quite a few first-place poll votes and chip into the Tide’s commanding rankings lead.

– No. 11 South Carolina 19, Florida 14: With all of the injuries the Gators have incurred this season, I have no clue how they did it.  Baling wire and duct tape were involved, I assume.  Regardless, the Gamecocks, which finished off the SEC portion of its slate with the win, remain within shouting distance of first-place Missouri.  And will be the biggest Ole Miss/Texas A&M fans the next two weeks.

– No. 15 UCF 39, Temple 36:   It took a miraculous touchdown catch — and that catch was the dictionary definition of an athletic miracle — and a field goal with no time on the clock, but the Knights were able to finally subdue the one-win Owls, maintaining a firm stranglehold on their AAC lead and continuing to close in on the first-ever BCS berth in the program’s history.

– No. 19 Louisville 20, Houston 13: Trailing the Cougars by three at halftime, the Cardinals put 10 points on the board in the third quarter while holding the potent UH offense to no points in the second half to win its third straight game after losing its first game of the season.

– No. 21 Arizona State 30, Oregon State 17: The Sun Devils led the reeling Beavers 20-10 entering the fourth quarter before finally putting OSU away for good with an interception return for a touchdown with just over five minutes left.  With 10 games in the books, ASU’s year essentially comes down to a one-game season: next Saturday against UCLA, with the opportunity to clinch the Pac-12 South on the line.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Sunday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Florida State — Yep, I finally pulled the trigger.  Here’s what you need to know about the Seminoles: the past six games against teams that are currently a combined 34-26, FSU has outscored those opponents 322-51.  From my vantage point in this corner of my mom’s basement, the ‘Noles are simply the best and most talented team in the game. (Last week: No. 2)
Next up: vs. Idaho

2. Alabama — Dropping the Tide was something I had been considering for the past three weeks, based solely on how FSU was playing.  Alabama’s sloppy 13-point win over Mississippi State added to how FSU continues to play allowed me to justify such a move in my own head. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: vs. Chattanooga

3. Ohio State — When the polls come out this later this morning/early this afternoon, it would serve as a major shock if Baylor didn’t leapfrog the Buckeyes in all three of the major polls, including the two that are part of the BCS standings.  I won’t do that here, although watching the Buckeyes muddle through what should’ve been a game-long cakewalk against a really bad Illinois team had me at least considering it. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: vs. Indiana

4. Baylor — The Bears’ idea of a close game is spotting its opponents the first 14 points, then outscoring them 63-20 the rest of the way to turn an upset alert into a blowout.  BU will likely face its stiffest of the season this weekend as they travel to Stillwater.  Maybe then we can all get a handle on just how good this team really is. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: at No. 12 Oklahoma State

5. Missouri — Yes, you could’ve made the case for Auburn or Oregon or Clemson or Michigan State or Oklahoma State here, but the quality of the Tigers’ lone loss trumps every other team’s.  Auburn lost by double digits to three-loss LSU.  Oregon was dropped rather handily and easily by a Stanford team that’s lost to 4-6 Utah and USC, which fired its head coach before the first month of the season was in the books.  Clemson was taken to the woodshed by FSU.  Michigan State lost to a Notre Dame squad that’s currently unranked.  Oklahoma State lost to West Virginia, which lost in Week 12 to a Kansas team that hadn’t won a Big 12 games in three years.  Mizzou’s lone loss came in overtime to a ranked South Carolina and after it had taken a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter before getting Connor Shaw‘d. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: at Ole Miss

(Dropped out: No. 5 Stanford)

HE SAID IT
“This team has the ‘It’ factor. That’s just the bottom line. … I told them a minute ago that I think we’re in the midst of something special.” — Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, following the miraculous win over Georgia.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“I think most teams would have folded or found a reason to quit but they didn’t do that. … I talked about being disciplined on and off the field. If your goal is to live a disciplined life, you’ll probably have a blessed life.” — Mark Richt, when asked what he said to his Georgia players following the heartbreaking loss to Auburn.

HELMET OF THE DAY
This may not be the most “hip” helmet in an era where the Oregons and Baylors of the college football world look to one-up each other on a seemingly weekly basis, but it’s certainly the most meaningful.  For its game against Ohio State Saturday, the Illinois players wore an understated tribute on their heads: a silhouette of the state of Illinois with 10 stars arranged in the shape of an “I” inside of it.  Those 10 stars represent the 10 football players who made the ultimate sacrifice serving our country in the armed forces, giving their lives in combat for our freedom.

Illini Tribute Helmet

Illini Combat Heroes

Well done, Illini.  Well done.

SAY WHAT?
As embarrassing as the loss was for West Virginia, it was an even bigger relief for Kansas.  The Jayhawks’ 31-19 win over the Mountaineers snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak that was the longest negative league streak among AQ schools.  Prior to Saturday afternoon, KU’s last conference win came on Nov. 6, 2010 against Colorado.  You had to go all the way back to Oct. 10, 2009 (Iowa State) for the Jayhawks’ last win over a current member of the conference.  Since playing in the Orange Bowl following the 2007 season and prior to the WVU win, KU had gone 6-42 in Big 12 play, with four of those wins coming in 2008.

TRUE STORY
Oklahoma’s 48-10 win over Iowa State was the 157th of Bob Stoops‘ career with the Sooners, tying Barry Switzer for the most wins in school history.  In 15 seasons, Stoops has gone 156-39 (.796); Switzer went 157-29-4 (.837) in 15 seasons.  In those 15 seasons under Switzer, the Sooners collected three national championships and won or shared 12 Big 8 titles.  In his 16 seasons, Stoops has laid claim to one BCS title and eight won or shared Big 12 championships.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

– The number of undefeated teams remained static from a week ago: Alabama, Florida State, Northern Illinois and Ohio State at 10-0, Baylor and Fresno State at 9-0.  The same held true on the other side of the won-loss ledger, with Georgia State, Hawaii, Miami of Ohio and Southern Miss at 0-10, and UConn at 0-9.  It should be noted that the Rainbow Warriors took San Diego State to overtime before remaining winless.

– While Andre Williams was impressive in rushing for 339 yards, he wasn’t the top ground performer in college football this weekend.  Not even close, actually.  D-III running back Cartel Brooks rushed for 465 yards, setting an all-division NCAA record in the process.  That record had been 455 yards… and was set just three weeks ago by D-III Western Connecticut’s Octavias McKoy.

Kapri Bibbs– Coming off a 312-yard, four-touchdown performance last weekend, Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs ran for 291 yards and a program-record six touchdowns in the win over New Mexico.

Carlos Hyde ran for a career-high 246 yards and score five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) as Ohio State remained unbeaten on the season with a win over Illinois.

– The day of the running back continues as Kansas’ James Sims‘ 211 yards and three touchdowns helped the Jayhawks snap their lengthy Big 12 skid.

AJ McCarron set one Alabama record and tied another in the win over Mississippi State.  The senior now has 8,146 yards of total offense in his career, surpassing John Parker Wilson‘s 8,099 yards from 2005-08.  The win was also the 35th of his career, tying him with Jay Barker (1991-94) in that category.

– Cincinnati’s Brendon Kay threw for a career-best 405 yards and four TDs in the Bearcats’ 52-17 thumping of Rutgers.

Allen Robinson now has 78 catches on the season, breaking the Penn State record of 77 he set in 2012.

– Texas Tech began the 2013 season by winning its first seven games.  The last four games, all losses, the Red Raiders have been outscored 202-124.

– Alabama streak of seven straight wins by at least 21 points was snapped Saturday night.  The SEC record for consecutive wins by 21-plus points still belongs to Florida alone, which won eight straight such games in 2008.

James Franklin– Vanderbilt is bowl-eligible for the third straight season, the first time that’s happened in the football program’s history.

– Ole Miss totaled a school-record 751 yards of offense (382 passing, 369 rushing) as the Rebels waylaid Troy 51-21.

– In Clemson’s 55-31 throttling of Georgia Tech Thursday night, Tajh Boyd completed 20 of his 26 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns.  The senior also added a rushing touchdown.  Boyd now has 97 career touchdown passes, breaking the mark of 95 previously held by North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers.

– For the fourth time in his career, Marshall’s Rakeem Cato passed for more than 400 yards (456) in a single game as the Herd got past Tulsa Thursday night, 45-34, to remain tied atop the Conference USA East standings with East Carolina.  The junior passed for 400 yards-plus three times in the first five games last season.

Jordan Lynch passed for 345 yards, ran for 123 more, tossed two touchdown passes and scored two on the ground as Northern Illinois remained unbeaten with their 48-27 win over Ball State Wednesday night.  It was the first time this season and third time in his career he’s passed for 300-plus and rushed for 100-plus in the same game, with one of those being a 400/100 game.

– Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata also passed for a career high 497 yards in the Bulls’ 51-41 loss to Toledo Tuesday night.  The sophomore’s previous career-high was 285 yards in a win over Western Michigan last November.

–  A dozen different Yellow Jackets were credited with at least one rushing attempt in the loss to Clemson, the seventh time in 10 contests this season run-heavy Georgia Tech has used double-digit ball carriers in a single game.

Marshall 75 HelmetIN CLOSING…
Say what you want about the negative headlines some college football players make for off-field escapades, but the vast majority of young men at this level of the game are good folk and quality people.  Case in point: the Marshall Thundering Herd.  Thursday night, Marshall debuted helmets that featured the number “75” on the left side, with that number honoring the 75 souls lost in the tragic plane crash on Nov. 14, 1970.  The plan was for the special helmet to be a one-shot deal.  However, the school announced via a press release Saturday that a decision has been made to wear the helmets for the remainder of the season… because the players requested that the tribute continue. “Remembering those 75 people isn’t about one day; it’s about a mentality here,” head coach Doc Holliday said.  More than anything, those Herd players showed that the memories of those who perished in that tragedy will not fade away with the passing of time.  And that the word “respect” still means something.

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The Fifth Quarter: Week 9 Rewind

Mississippi v LSU Getty Images

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

CALM(ISH) BEFORE THE STORM
After a few weeks worth of utter tumult, we were due.

Entering Week 9, we were looking at a slate of games heavy on the mundane and light on intrigue.  Exiting it, the landscape is essentially the same as it began — with one very large exception.

No. 3 Ole Miss’ loss to No. 24 LSU was easily the most high-profile upset of the day, even as it probably shouldn’t be referred to as an upset.  Playing in Death Valley, at night no less, is no easy task for any squad regardless of how highly-ranked they are, especially facing a Tiger team riding an emotional roller coaster after the death of their head coach’s mother Friday night.

Certainly there were, in the weekend before Halloween, some scares for the Top 25.  No. 5 Auburn was able to survive an upset bid by South Carolina, exiting Jordan-Hare with a seven-point win.  No. 13 Ohio State and No. 25 UCLA were even more fortunate, getting taken to double-overtime by Penn State and Colorado, respectively, before scrambling back to Columbus and Los Angeles, respectively, with their closer-than-expected wins.  Even No. 1 Mississippi State had its “lemon-booty” moments in a 14-point win over Kentucky on the road.

That, though, was essentially the gist of the Week 9 tumult, as it were.

Of the 16 teams that played an unranked team this week, exactly none went down in defeat.  The average margin of victory in those games was 17.6.  A whopping 13 of the 16 were decided by at least 10 points, with five of them coming by 20 or more.  Of course, there was also that 55-point shellacking that we mention below.

The four remaining Top 25 teams that hit the field this weekend played each other, with the lower-ranked team winning one (the previously referenced Ole Miss-LSU game) and the higher-ranked team winning the other (No. 19 Utah over No. 20 USC).

In other words, expect very little change in the Top 25 when the polls are released Sunday afternoon, the last polls, incidentally, before the first release of the newly-minted College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night.

SATURDAY RESET
Below is a list of links out to a handful of the gamers posted by the CFT crew, placed in one handy and convenient space for you, our beloved and dear readers.

  • A head-scratching decision at game’s end was the highlight — or lowlight if you lean toward Oxford — of the biggest upset of the day, Ole Miss’ loss to LSU under the lights in Death Valley.
  • On the road against Kentucky, top-ranked Mississippi State looked downright vulnerable but came away with a 45-31 win.  The margin of victory was the Bulldogs’ second-closest of the year, behind only the five-point victory at LSU that wasn’t even remotely as close as the 34-29 final score indicated.
  • Auburn’s offense continued to roll, which was fortunate for the Tigers as so did South Carolina’s as AU was able to hold off the upset-minded Gamecocks for a 42-35 victory on The Plains.
  • It was the Ameer Abdullah show in Lincoln as the talented and prolific running back set a school record with 341 yards (225 rushing, 26 receiving, 90 on kickoff returns) in Nebraska’s 42-24 pounding of Rutgers.  The senior back, if he wasn’t already, should be in the thick of the Heisman discussion.
  • It wasn’t aesthetically impressive — it very rarely ever is when a Bill Snyder-coached team is involved — but Kansas State still did enough to shut out Texas 23-0, the first time the Longhorns have been whitewashed since 2004.  It was also enough to keep K-State (4-0 in Big 12 play) just ahead of the one-loss conference teams of Baylor, TCU and West Virginia.  The Wildcats will face all three of those teams in the last five games.
  • There’s taking a team to the woodshed, and then there’s what TCU did to Texas Tech Saturday night.  The Horned Frogs hung a 82-spot on the Red Raiders, most in a league game in Big 12 history; eviscerated Tech by 55 points, it’s largest margin of victory in a Big 12 game; and dropped a school-record 785 yards of total offense.  That, Double-T, is what happens when you get on the wrong side of Gary Patterson.
  • Surprising West Virginia was able to easily handle Oklahoma State on the road 34-10.  Next up for WVU?  A home date with rampaging TCU, with College GameDay possibly coming to Morgantown.
  • Lane Kiffin was the storyline entering the Alabama-Tennessee game, but it was Amari Cooper who stole the show on gameday as the Tide rolled over the Vols 34-20 at Neyland Stadium.
  • Michigan State drove yet another nail in Brady Hoke‘s coffin in embarrassing in-state rival Michigan 35-11.  The Spartans, heading into its last bye of the season, will now get an extra week to prepare for the Big Ten Game of the Year Nov. 8 against Ohio State.
  • Ohio State didn’t deserve it, but the Buckeyes were able to slink back to Columbus with a double-overtime steal of a win over Penn State.  To say the aforementioned B1G Game of the Year lost a little luster would be an understatement.
  • UCLA avoided an embarrassing double-overtime loss to Colorado — and staved off the “Most Disappointing Team in America” label for at least another week.  If the Bruins, 3-2 in Pac-12 play, are going to get back into/remain in the South Division chase, they will have to play better than they did Saturday. Or all season, really.
  • Arizona tied a school record for points in a Pac-12 game as it thumped Washington State 59-37.  Connor Halliday‘s 489 yards passing in a losing effort was his sixth 400-plus effort of the season in eight games.
  • Arizona State used a couple of fourth-quarter touchdowns to both drop Washington and remain one of three Pac-12 South teams, along with Arizona and Utah, with just one conference loss on the ledger.
  • Minnesota had the opportunity to reach 4-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1967, but fumbled that chance as Illinois shocked the Gophers 28-24 in Champaign.  The win was huge for the hot-seated Tim Beckman, who watched his Illini win for the first time in the conference this season even as he improved to just 2-18 in league play in two-plus years.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Sunday if I, ya know, had a real vote.

1. Mississippi State — Go on the road and beat a quality team like Kentucky (yes, UK is quality in something other than basketball)?  Yep, you keep your spot at the head of the class. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: vs. Arkansas, Nov. 1

2. Florida State — FSU saw its lead in the polls gradually erode until MSU overtook them earlier this month.  With the Seminoles on a bye and the Bulldogs “struggling,” the ‘Noles could very well return the favor this afternoon. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: at Louisville, Oct. 30

3. Notre Dame — The further away we get from last Saturday night, the more impressive the Irish’s performance in Tallahassee becomes.  Like FSU, the Golden Domers were on a bye after their Week 8 thriller. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: vs. Navy (Landover, Md.), Nov. 1

4. Oregon — After a couple of weeks of wobbling, the Ducks have righted what some would describe as a listing ship.  That righting comes at a most opportune time with the annual grudgefest with Stanford on tap. (Last week: No. 5)
Next up: vs. Stanford, Nov. 1

5.  Ole Miss — (What, you thought I’d move Alabama into the Top Five and drop Ole Miss?  No thanks, I’m not the coaches’ poll; I don’t rank teams with the same number of losses over teams that have already beaten them.)  The Rebels loss to LSU wil certainly sting, especially the way the coaching staff and the quarterback bungled the ending, but Ole Miss remains very much in the thick of the SEC West race.  In fact, like Mississippi State and Auburn, they control their own fate: win out, and they’re in Atlanta the first week of December for the SEC championship game. (Last week: No. 2)
Next up: vs. No. 5 Auburn

(Dropped out: none)

HeismanHEISMAN RACE, BY THE NUMBERS
A statistical look at how some of the top contenders for this year’s stiff-armed trophy fared this weekend, listed in alphabetical order so as not to offend any of the delicate sensibilities readers in the audience may possess. Also, each week at least one name will be sliced from a list that began in Week 6 at a baker’s dozen and, if need be, names will be added as well.

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (7-1, No. 16)
Saturday: 19 carries for 225 yards (11.8 ypc), three touchdowns; two catches for 26 yards; two kickoff returns for 90 yards
Season: 161 carries for 1,024 yards (6.4 ypc), 14 touchdowns; 11 catches for 143 yards, two touchdowns; nine kickoff returns for 182 yards (20 ypr)

Trevone Boykin, QB TCU (6-1, No. 10)
Saturday: 22-39 (56.4%) 433 yards, seven touchdowns, zero interceptions; 28 rushing yards
Season: 168-247 (68%), 2,306, 21 touchdowns, three interceptions; 403 rushing yards, three touchdowns

Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina (6-1, No. 18)
Thursday: 38-64 (59.4%), 445 yards, two touchdowns, one interception; 32 rushing yards
Season: 204-316 (64.6%), 2,574 yards, 18 touchdowns, five interceptions; 105 rushing yards, three touchdowns

Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall (8-0, No. 23)
Saturday: 13-24 (54.2%), 218, one touchdown, zero interceptions; 32 rushing yards
Season: 132-228 (57.9%), 2,130 yards, 20 touchdowns, six interceptions; 255 rushing yards, five touchdowns

Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame (6-1, No. 7)
Saturday: bye week
Season: 166-268 (61.9%), 1,996 yards, 19 touchdowns, six interceptions; 239 rushing yards, four touchdowns

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (5-2, unranked)
Saturday: 22 carries for 122 yards (5.5 ypc), three touchdowns; two receptions, 12 yards
Season: 154 carries for 1,168 yards (6.7 ypc), 16 touchdowns; eight receptions, 39 yards, one touchdown

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (5-3, unranked)
Thursday: 29 carries for 249 yards (8.6 ypc), one touchdown; two receptions, 37 yards, one touchdown;
Season: 139 carries for 1,036 yards (7.4 ypc), seven touchdowns; 19 receptions, 224 yards, one touchdown

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (7-1, No. 6)
Friday: 18-30 (60%), 326 yards, five touchdowns, one interception; 36 rushing yards
Season: 150-218 (68.8%), 2,283 yards, 24 touchdowns, one interceptions; 325 rushing yards, five touchdowns; one reception, 26 yards, one touchdown

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (7-0, No. 1)
Saturday: 18-33 (54.5%), 216 yards, one touchdown, one interception; 88 rushing yards, two touchdowns
Season: 114-189 (60.3%), 1,694 yards, 15 touchdowns, five interceptions; 664 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (7-0, No. 2)
Saturday: bye week
Season: 149-211 (70.6%), 1,878 yards, 13 touchdowns, six interceptions; 47 rushing yards, two touchdowns

(Dropped out: Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, Pittsburgh running back James Connor)
(Added: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, Miami running back Duke Johnson)

Hot Seats

Hot Seats

COACHING HOT SEAT
My weekly look at a couple of the current head coaches who could most likely be ex-head coaches by season’s end — if not sooner.

1. Will Muschamp, Florida
(Writer’s note: I’m just going to trot this same note out week after week, with the records updated, until athletic director Jeremy Foley finally and mercifully puts Gator Nation out of its collective misery.)
In his three years at UF,Ron Zook was 23-14 overall and 16-8 in the SEC.  Since beginning his Gator career at 4-0, Muschamp has gone 22-20 overall and an embarrassing 13-14 in the conference.  The last 18 games, Muschamp’s record is 7-11 and 5-8.  In other words, there’s been nothing but regression instead of the progression that an 11-2 second season portended.  The worst part?  There’s no hope as far as the eye can see.

2. Brady Hoke, Michigan
(Writer’s note: same goes for the UM fan base.)
In what turned out to be Rich Rodriguez‘s last season at Michigan in 2010, the Wolverines’ began the year 6-1; in what could turn out to be Hoke’s last season at Michigan, the Wolverines are 3-5.  From Oct. 3, 2009, through Oct. 9, 2010, UM went 7-8 under Rodriguez; from Oct. 12, 2013, through Oct. 25, 2014, UM has gone 5-11 under Hoke.  In his first 31 games at UM, Rodriguez was 14-17; in his last 31 games at UM, Hoke is 16-15.  You see where this is going, right?  So should Hoke, athletic director Dave Brandon and the entire UM football program as a different direction is needed on that hallowed sideline.

Bo Pelini

Bo Pelini

HE SAID IT
“We got the win. I’m happy about that. That’s about all I’m happy about. I thought we were sloppy, inconsistent and we didn’t play at the standard we needed to.” — a happily unhappy/unhappily happy Bo Pelini following Nebraska’s 42-24 thumping of Rutgers to improve to 7-1 on the season.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“We try to design something that makes as little sense as possible.” — Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, on lining up an offensive lineman in the shotgun and having him throw a touchdown pass to a long-snapper (see below).

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“I think that’s why the women come to the game, to be honest.” — Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson, when asked about his ample buttocks following his 198-yard, two-touchdown performance in the win over Kentucky.

HE SAID IT, THE QUADQUEL
“Why don’t you let us think about it tonight?” — Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, when asked if Devin Gardner is still Michigan’s starting quarterback.

HE SAID IT, BONUS EDITION
“I said it going in I thought he w a top-three Heisman guy. After watching him live and in-person, he’s got to be the frontrunner. He’s that good. He’s the best player in the country in my opinion.” — Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, after watching TCU’s  Trevone Boykin throw for 433 yards and seven touchdowns.

FROM-THE-HEART HE SAID IT
“After the game, I can’t tell you the number of young men that threw their arms around me and said that they love me coach, which is as touching as anything I’ve had happen. They hand me the game ball, which I only accept on behalf of a great team. A team that really comes out and says we can be a whole lot better, we can improve and they go to work. You guys hear me say this, they’re going to improve, they’re coming, we’re going to be special, this team is ambitious. So, I accept it. Martha Miles, this is a great night considering. I miss you Ma.” — LSU head coach Les Miles, whose mother passed away Friday night.

FLY-OVER OF THE DAY
You want a photographic proof of how bad it’s gotten for Michigan?

That sign requesting the retention of Brady Hoke was flying over Spartan Stadium in East Lansing prior to Michigan State’s game with its “big brother.” When stuff like that happens, the end is truly nigh, which should somewhat assuage the anguish of the great Wolverine fans all across the nation.

FAT GUY TD PASS OF THE DAY
(I touched on this already, but this kind of once-in-a-lifetime greatness deserves an encore.)
That’s right, “Fat Guy” and “TD pass” in the same headline… and it doesn’t involve a lineman-eligible play.  Instead, 350-pound Arkansas guard Sebastian Tretola lined up in the shotgun — in the shotgun! — and tossed a six-yard touchdown pass.  Here it is, in all of its fat-guy glory.

 

“What’s the big deal?” — Jared Lorenzen, at a buffet somewhere.

Incidentally, Tretola’s career quarterback rating is 480.4

Oh, and the player on the receiving end of the pass?  Long-snapper Alan D’Appollonio. All things considered — Tretola busted out the Heisman pose for good measure — it’s likely the greatest touchdown in the history of college football at any level ever. Or close to it.

DEER RUN OF THE DAY
There were reports that someone was blasting air horns at four in the morning outside of the hotel in which Ohio State was staying prior to Saturday night’s game against Penn State.  As it turns out, that wasn’t the only thing happening at a Happy Valley hotel at that time of the morning.

 

The “what the what,” deer-in-the-hotel look on dude’s face makes me chuckle every time.

(Tip O’ the Cap: Land-Grant Holy Land)

FACEMASK OF THE DAY
There are facemask penalties, and there are facemask penalties.  What happened to LSU’s Leonard Fournette was the quintessential facemask penalty.

That one might’ve deserved a 20-yard penalty.

HELMET OF THE DAY
I’m not a fan of myriad uniform combinations that have enveloped the game of college football.  I am, though, a huge fan of retro looks in general and Oklahoma State’s back-to-the-past lid specifically.

OSU may have lost to West Virginia — its second straight loss to drop to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in Big 12 play — but at least they looked good doing it.

STREAKING
Florida State has won a nation’s best 23 straight games, a record for an ACC school.  The Seminoles’ last loss came Nov. 24, 2012, a 37-26 home setback to in-state rival Florida, and FSU has won 18 of those 23 games by at least 14 points.  Mississippi State, at 10 in a row, is the only other FBS team with a double-digit winning streak, although Marshall is closing in with its own nine-game streak.

SMU’s nine straight losses serve as the longest losing streak in the country, and they remain the only winless team at the FBS level in 2014.  Georgia State, meanwhile, has lost seven in a row.

GOING BOWLING
For the third straight week, six or more teams officially qualified for postseason play.  There are now 32 teams eligible to play in this year’s 38 bowl games.  Below are the 16 teams that hit the six-win minimum this week.

Arizona
Arizona State
Clemson
Georgia Southern
Georgia Tech
Kansas State
Louisville
Missouri
Northern Illinois
Ohio State
South Alabama
TCU
UCLA
Utah
West Virginia
Wisconsin

S.I.D. NOTE OF THE WEEK
In his first career game against Toledo on Sept. 12 this year, Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel recorded the most passing touchdowns (six) for a quarterback in his FBS debut. The record was previously held by Florida’s John Reaves, who threw five against Houston in 1969. Reaves’ son, David, is the quarterbacks coach for USF, the Bearcats’ opponent in Week 9.

S.I.D. NOTE OF THE WEEK II
In the last two weeks, North Carolina has played in the highest scoring game in Notre Dame Stadium history (93 points, first season in 1930) and the most total offense yards combined (1,190) in Kenan Stadium history (first season in 1927).

OFF THE CHARTS
Entering Week 9, below are the teams with the biggest margins of victories this season:

1. Marshall 30.8
2. Ohio State 26.3
3. Baylor 26.0
4. Michigan State 25.4
5. Mississippi 24.8
6. TCU 24.5
7. Alabama 23.8
8. Georgia 23.4
9. Mississippi State 21.8
10. Nebraska 21.1

OFF THE CHARTS, ENCORE
Entering Week 9, here are the…
Most Passing Yards FBS QB

SAY WHAT?
Washington State’s Connor Halliday is on pace to throw for 5,749 yards on 775 pass attempts.  The current FBS records are 5,833 yards passing and 719 attempts by Texas Tech’s B.J. Symons in 2003 in 13 games.  As Wazzu is currently 2-6, it’s highly doubtful the Cougars qualify for a bowl game, so Halliday will have to do in 12 games what Symons did in 13.

DULY NOTED
There are four FBS teams that have scored a touchdown on at least 40 percent of its possessions in 2014: Marshall, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon.

US actor Don Diamont poses with his wife

Don Diamont, wife

DID YOU KNOW THAT…

… Indiana’s starting quarterback, Zander Diamont, is the son of former “Young and the Restless” and current “The Bold and the Beautiful” soap opera actor Don Diamont?

… Wake Forest’s starting quarterback, true freshman John Wolford, is the brother of Boston College’s starting fullback, junior Bobby Wolford?  The older brother’s Eagles got the best of the youngster’s Demon Deacons Saturday afternoon by the score of .

… Utah State’s Nick Vigil is the only player in the country to start on both offense and defense in the same game this season?  The sophomore started at both linebacker (his main position) and running back in the Week 7 win over Air Force.  He’s played on both sides of the ball each of the past four games, and this season has ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries — and he’s completed both of his pass attempts as for good measure.  His 55 yards in the win over UNLV led the team.

… Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins was the first receiver in the FBS to register at least 175 yards in three consecutive contests since Michael Crabtree accomplished the feat for Texas Tech in 2007?  That streak was stopped in Week 9… when Higgins grabbed 174 yards worth of receptions in the win over Wyoming.

Les Miles is the fastest coach in LSU history to reach 10 wins (11 games), 20 wins (24 games), 30 wins (35 games), 40 wins (48 games), 50 wins (63 games), 60 wins (76 games), 70 wins (87 games), 80 wins (98 games), 90 wins (112 games) and 100 wins (126)?

Texas v Kansas State

Bill Snyder

… Kansas State has beaten Oklahoma and Texas in the same season twice in the last three years?  Prior to that, that double-dip had only happened once: 1926.

… the Notre Dame-Florida State rating of 7.9 last weekend was the highest-rated college football game of the season on ESPN and the highest on that family of networks since the Notre Dame-USC game Thanksgiving weekend of 2012?

… Virginia and North Carolina met for the 119th time Saturday in what the schools describe as the South’s Oldest Rivalry, a series that was first played in 1892?  Thanks to the win Saturday, UVa./UNC now trails/leads the series (60-54-4).

… Iowa State has not beaten Oklahoma in Ames since 1960?  Thanks to Saturday’s loss to the Sooners, ISU’s last win over OU, period, came during the 1990 season.

… at 4-5, South Carolina is off to its worst start to a season since the winless 1999 campaign in the first year under Lou Holtz?  The Gamecocks have also lost three straight in SEC play for the first time since 2009.

… Oregon State is the only Power Five conference team that will play four of its final five games this season at home?

… Wake Forest will not leave the state of North Carolina for its final six games of the season?  The Demon Deacons have four home games and road trips to Duke and North Carolina State remaining.

… Louisiana-Monroe and UMass are the only FBS teams to have a non-conference schedule comprised entirely of Power Five teams? The former has already played Wake Forest, LSU and Kentucky, with a game against Texas A&M still on tap, while the latter has already played Boston College, Colorado, Vanderbilt and Penn State. The two teams are a combined 1-6 in those games, with the lone win being ULM’s 17-10 triumph in the opener against Wake.

… exiting Week 9, Pac-12 road teams are 20-9 in conference games?

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No. 14 Arizona State pulls away from Washington for windy 24-10 win

Taylor Kelly

On a night where winds approaching 60 miles per hour knocked both team’s offensive game-plans – and, at times, the ESPN broadcast – off course, No. 14 Arizona State notched two late touchdowns to beat Washington 24-10 in Seattle.

After Arizona State grabbed a 10-0 halftime lead, Washington pulled into a 10-10 tie with a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown by John Timu – Washington’s sixth defensive touchdown on the season – in the third quarter and a Cameron Van Winkle 23-yard field goal with 7:14 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Arizona State immediately responded by moving 75 yards in nine plays, producing the go-ahead score on a seven-yard pass from Taylor Kelly to Gary Chambers.

Washington then moved to the Arizona State 44 on its would-be game-tying drive, but then suffered a sack, a holding penalty, another sack and, fatally, a 61-yard interception return for a touchdown by Armand Perry. Perry’s score meant that defensive touchdowns equaled the number of offensive touchdowns on the night, 2-2.

Kelly returned to action for the first time in six weeks to complete 14-of-25 passes for 180 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Unfortunately, Kelly was hit hard in the head on his final pass – the score to Kelly – and then was examined by medical staff and had his helmet taken away. D.J. Foster rushed 13 times for 36 yards and caught four passes for 52 yards, while Jaelen Strong nabbed three passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.

Troy Williams made his first start for an injured Cyler Miles, and the Huskies suffered for it. He hit 18-of-26 passes, but for only 139 yards with two interceptions. Shaq Thompson spent most of the night on offense and rushed 21 times for 98 yards.

The win pushes Arizona State to 6-1 (4-1 Pac-12) with a massive game against Utah waiting Saturday in Sun Devil Stadium. Washington falls to 5-3, but gets the healing elixir of a date with Colorado Saturday in Boulder.

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No. 14 Arizona State leads Washington after wind-swept first half

Taylor Kelly

With gusts of wind reaching 60 miles per hour, points and sustained drives have been hard to come by Saturday night in Seattle. No. 14 Arizona State have combined for more punts (11) than points as the Sun Devils lead 10-0 at the half.

After a scoreless first quarter, Arizona State busted through with a 50-yard touchdown drive, five consecutive rushes for 34 yards by Demario Richard (his only rushes of the half) and a 16-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Kelly to Jaelen StrongZane Gonzalez knocked through a 33-yard field goal in the half’s final minute to provide the other score.

Washington’s kicking game has been an adventure. Korey Durkee has punted six times for just a 30 yard average, with a number of kicks barely getting off the ground, and Cameron Van Winkle’s only field goal try was blocked.

While Kelly has completed 8-of-15 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown, Washington has struggled to get anything going through the air; Troy Williams has connected on 9-of-14 passes, but for just 42 yards. Do-everything Shaq Thompson leads all runners with 40 yards on 10 carries, and Washington has out-rushed Arizona State 77-56 at the break.

Washington will receive the ball to open the second half.

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Buckeyes barely escape Happy Valley with double-OT win

Ohio State v Penn State Getty Images

With each passing game, the Nov. 8 showdown between Michigan State and Ohio State was looming larger and larger.

MSU did its part in Week 9, taking “big brother” Michigan to the woodshed yesterday afternoon. A few hours later in Happy Valley?  Meh, not so much on OSU’s part.

What was a comfortable 17-0 halftime lead turned into a nail-biting hair-puller for the Buckeyes, with Penn State putting a scare into the visitors a week ahead of Halloween before OSU was able to escape with a 31-24 win in double overtime.  Penn State capped a 17-0 second half run with a 31-yard field goal by Sam Fickens with :09 left to send it into the first overtime.  After both teams exchanged touchdowns in the first extra session, OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett scored his second rushing touchdown of the game to give the Buckeyes a 31-24 lead.

On fourth down on the ensuing possession, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was “sacked” by OSU’s Joey Bosa — Bosa actually bullrushed his blocker into Hackenberg, knocking him down — to seal the win and send the No. 13 Buckeyes back to Columbus with a 6-1 record.

Were it not for the incompetence of the officiating crew, though, Penn State very well could’ve walked out of Beaver Stadium with its fifth win of the year.  A botched replay in the first quarter allowed the Buckeyes to maintain possession of an interception, turning the pick into seven points.  A delay of game wasn’t called on a 49-yard field goal attempt that was good; a penalty there likely would’ve pushed the Buckeyes out of field-goal range.

To say that some of the sheen has come off the matchup with the Spartans two weeks from Saturday would be an understatement.  The Buckeyes didn’t look like they could hang with a directional Michigan school most of the night let alone the best team in the state.  If OSU can’t improve on its woeful performance — even head coach Urban Meyer acknowledged afterward that his charges didn’t play well — it’ll be a long night in East Lansing.

The good news for Meyer and company is that they have two weeks to work on their issues.  Part of that work will be a home game against Illinois in which they’ll be 20-plus-point favorites, with OSU knowing that, despite the uneven Week 9 performance, wins the next two weeks would place them squarely in the East Division driver’s seat.

Again, however, the Buckeyes need to step their game up, lest Sparty takes a second consecutive rival to its version of the woodshed.  At least based on last night, that doesn’t look promising.

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No. 5 Auburn continues to roll on offense, defeats South Carolina 42-35

The South Carolina Gamecocks threw everything they had at the fifth-ranked Auburn Tigers, and it simply wasn’t enough.

Auburn continues to prove week in and week out why its one of the most dangerous teams in the nation. The program’s 42-35 victory over South Carolina Saturday is just another example.

To borrow an old tagline: “You can’t stop Auburn’s offense. You can only hope to contain it.”

The Gamecocks used fourth-down conversions, trick plays and even a surprise onside kick, yet it still didn’t slow Auburn. At one point in the game, the Tigers scored a touchdown during six straight offensive drives.

Auburn amassed an impressive 551 total yards in one of their best offensive performances of the season.

Quarterback Nick Marshall led the way 228 total yards and four touchdowns, including a trifecta of rushing scores. Running back Cameron Artis-Payne also impressed with 167 rushing yards.

The concerns for the Tigers come on the defensive side of the ball. Auburn surrendered 535 total yards. South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson lit up Auburn’s defense with 402 passing yards and five touchdowns.

The effort simply wasn’t good enough for a team expected to be in the top four of the first College Football Playoff rankings.

With the win, Auburn will likely become the No. 4 in the AP Top 25 after Ole Miss lost to LSU. The Tigers still face the No. 9 Georgia Bulldogs and No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide. As long as the Tigers’ offense continues to click, Auburn will remain in contention even as it runs through the gauntlet of SEC play.

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Lane Kiffin wins return to Neyland Stadium, No. 4 Tide tops Tennessee 34-20

Alabama v Tennessee Getty Images

No. 4 Alabama built a nearly insurmountable lead first half lead and coasted from there, turning a 27-0 early lead into a 34-20 victory over Tennessee Saturday night in Neyland Stadium.

Lane Kiffin‘s much-hyped return to Knoxville quieted the Tennessee crowd from the opening snap, as Alabama scored on its first play from scrimmage with an 80-yard pass from Blake Sims to Amari Cooper. The Tide followed that up with touchdown drives of 79 and 90 yards, grabbing a 20-0 lead. By the time Alabama got the ball with 1:30 remaining in the first quarter, Tennessee had punted four times and saw itself get out-gained 249-78.

After forcing a Joshua Dobbs fumble deep in Volunteer territory and turning it into a 28-yard Blake Sims touchdown run to push the lead to 27-0 three minutes into the second quarter it seemed the Tide was ready avalanche Tennessee the same way it did Texas A&M last week.

But then Tennessee rallied.

The Vols responded with a 10-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to get on the board, and closed the half with a long field goal drive to pull within 27-10 at the break.

Tennessee mounted another long touchdown drive in the third quarter to pull within 27-17, but Derrick Henry put the game away with a 28-yard touchdown jaunt with 13 seconds left in the third quarter.

In the end, Tennessee never pulled within closer than 10 points, but it didn’t pack up shop when things got tough. Tennessee is a program long on moral victories and impatient for actual victories, but the Vols got better tonight.

For one, Dobbs has the makings of being a solution at quarterback. He hit 19-of-32 passes for 192 yards for two touchdowns and one interceptions and led the club in rushing with 19 carries for 75 yards. Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane combined for 107 yards on 19 carries, and Tennessee nearly matched Alabama yard-for-yard on the ground, 183 to 181.

Still, the combination of Sims to Cooper was too much for Tennessee. Sims was 14-of-24 for 286 yards and two touchdowns, and Cooper caught nine of those passes for 224 yards and both touchdowns. Only six players touched the ball for Alabama tonight: Sims, Cooper, Henry (16 carries, 78 yards and the touchdown), T.J. Yeldon (14 carries, 52 yards and a touchdown, one catch for three yards), DeAndrew White (four grabs for 59 yards, one rush for a loss of one) and Jaiston Fowler (two carries for 24 yards).

In all, Kiffin’s offense produced 34 points, 23 first downs, 469 yards of total offense and a cool 11-of-15 mark on third down.

Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) will take next week off before preparing for a trip to No. 24 LSU on Nov. 8, which happens to be its final road game of the season. Tennessee, 3-5, winless in SEC play and weary from playing four Top 12 teams in eight games, will visit South Carolina next week and, deservedly, closes with four games against unranked opponents.

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Poor decision costs No. 3 Ole Miss as Rebels lose to No. 24 LSU 10-7

Mississippi v LSU Getty Images

Death Valley claimed another victim Saturday night.

The No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels fell to the 24th-ranked LSU Tigers 10-7 even though Les Miles‘ squad nearly had the game slip away.

With nine seconds remaining, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze made a dumbfounding decision. After initially allowing his kicker to line up to attempt a game-tying field goal, Freeze decided to take one shot toward the end zone after LSU called a timeout.

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace rolled to his left after the snap. He lobbed the ball toward the end zone for one final attempt to claim a victory. The quarterback didn’t put enough loft on the ball, and it was intercepted by LSU safety Ronald Martin. Game over. Ole Miss kicker Gary Wunderlich never got a chance to prove himself in adverse conditions.

Freeze’s decision was immediately panned on social media:

Those are just a few examples.

Wallace played his worst game of the season at the wrong time. Even if his mind-boggling poor throw at the end of the game is excluded, Wallace was still 14-of-32 passing for 176 yards.

The Rebels were never able to get on track on offense, while LSU dominated in the trences.

LSU ran the ball 55 times for 264 yards against a defense that was ranked fourth overall in stopping the run entering the contest. Ole Miss’ undersized front simply couldn’t hold up as LSU continued to deliver blow after blow. Freshman running back Leonard Fournette led the way with 113 rushing yards.

The Tigers’ resiliency under Miles has been remarkable.

Even after a season-defining victory for LSU, the Tigers won’t be the happiest program due to this outcome. With the loss, Ole Miss will likely drop out of the Top 5 and create a spot for another a one-loss program to slide into the top four once the College Football Playoff committee releases its initial rankings Tuesday.

The No. 5 Auburn Tigers, No. 6 Oregon Ducks, No. 7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish and No. 8 Michigan State Spartans will all be vying for that final spot. With Ole Miss out of the way (for now), one of those program are expected to make a very important move into the upper echelon of college football.

The Rebels season isn’t over, though.

Ole Miss can reclaim its status as one of the nation’s top teams. Next weekend’s contest against Auburn will be vitally important to the program’s future.

It doesn’t get any easier for LSU either. The Tigers host the No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide in two weeks.

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Near perfect defense, just enough offense leads No. 21 Clemson to 16-6 defeat of Syracuse

Syracuse v Clemson Getty Images

The Clemson defense was near perfect on Saturday night, and it nearly had to be as the offense struggled to find a rhythm in a 16-6 defeat of Syracuse at Death Valley.

Playing in his first start since losing his job to freshman Deshaun WatsonCole Stoudt turned the ball over three times and managed a meager 209 passing yards on 24 attempts. He also rushed eight times for 36 yards. Dabo Swinney has promised Watson will not lose his job due to a hand injury sidelining him for around a month, and Stoudt’s play affirmed that. If this was professional football – hold your jokes, folks – Watson’s agent would be sitting in front of Swinney tomorrow morning demanding a contract extension.

That said, Stoudt led Clemson to 13 second half points and notched the game’s only touchdown, a 19-yard toss to Stanton Steckinger half a minute into the fourth quarter, to essentially put the game away.

Stoudt’s scoring strike was the only touchdown of the night. This one was a thing of beauty for those who love ugly football: seven turnovers, five field goals and 15 punts. In addition to Stoudt’s three turnovers, Clemson running back C.J. Davidson lost a fumble inside the Syracuse 10-yard line before the half.

Frustrating as the Clemson offense was at times, it didn’t matter because Brent Venables‘ defense was up to the challenge and then some.

Syracuse’s only points came by way of Clemson turnovers. The Tigers limited the Orange to only 170 yards of total offense, 10 first downs, nine punts, three conversions in 16 tries, three turnovers of their own while registering four sacks and a dozen tackles for loss.

The Orange touched the ball seven times after taking a 6-3 lead into the half. Six possessions went 12 yards or less, four ended in puts, two ended in turnovers, and one culminated with a missed field goal.

Clemson (6-2, 5-1 ACC) is off next week before visiting Wake Forest in a Thursday night affair, while Syracuse (3-5, 1-3 ACC) returns home to the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome to face N.C. State.

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No. 15 Arizona ties school record by defeating Washington State 59-37

Arizona v Washington State

Saturday’s meeting between the No. 15 Arizona Wildcats and the Washington State Cougars was the irresistible force against the movable objects.

Washington State entered the game with the nation’s 95th-ranked defense. Arizona was 88th overall. On the other side of the ball, Arizona claimed college football’s fourth-best offense, while Washington State was ranked ninth.

The Wildcats got the best of Wazzu on both ends as Arizona won 59-37. The 59 points was a school record for Arizona in conference play.

Arizona took over very early in the contest. Rich Rodriguez‘s squad built a 24-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. The Wildcats were up 31-0 before the Cougars even placed a tally on the scoreboard.

Arizona’s freshman quarterback, Anu Solomon, was efficient throughout the game and continued to make the right read and throw. Solomon was 26-of-38 passing for 294 yards and five touchdowns.

Overall, the Wildcats accumulated 451 total yards. A number that was eclipsed by Washington State.

Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday threw the ball 79 times and amassed 489 passing yards. He also threw a pair of touchdowns and interceptions.

Halliday is on pace to shatter passing records this season in Mike Leach‘s Air Raid offense.

After giving up 21 inconsequential points in the fourth quarter, Arizona is now bowl eligible and remains in contention for Pac-12 South.

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Sketchy officiating pushes Buckeyes to first-half lead on Nittany Lions

Ohio State v Penn State Getty Images

Ohio State caught an incredibly fortunate break on a blown instant replay review early in the first quarter, and it was all downhill from there officiating-wise and scoreboard-wise for home-standing Penn State.

The Buckeyes scored on The Interception That Wasn’t seven plays later and never looked back, grabbing a 17-3 lead and heading into the locker room.  A Vonn Bell “interception” on the Nittany Lions’ fourth play from scrimmage obviously hit the ground and should’ve been overturned, but there was some type of issue in the replay booth that didn’t allow the replay official to see the proper feed.

OSU caught a break on its next scoring drive as well as the play clock appeared to be at zero for at least two seconds before the snap on what turned out to be a 49-yard field goal that pushed the lead to 10-0.

The officiating gaffes didn’t necessarily cause Penn State’s double-digit deficit at the half… wait, yes it did.  Well, that and OSU’s punishing ground attack

The Nittany Lions entered the game as the nation’s top defense against the run, giving up 60.8 yards per game; the Buckeyes totaled 84… in the first quarter alone en route to a 119-yard rushing effort in the first half.  Running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback J.T. Barrett accounted for all of those yards, with 76 going to the former and 46 for the latter (there was a minus-three yard run credited to “team” at the end of the half).

Field position also played a pivotal role in each team’s success, or lack thereof.  Penn State started all six of its first-half drive from inside its 25-yard line, including three inside the 20.  Ohio State, meanwhile, started all but one of its six drives from outside its own 25-yard line.  OSU’s starting position was an average of 20 yards better than PSU’s.

The Buckeyes, already up, will get the kickoff to open the second half.

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No. 4 Alabama comes out firing, leads Tennessee 27-10 at the half

Blake Sims

It’s hard to start a game hotter than No. 4 Alabama did at Tennessee tonight.

After forcing a Tennessee punt to open the game, Blake Sims found Amari Cooper for an 80-yard touchdown pass on Alabama’s first play from scrimmage. The Tide immediately forced a Tennessee three-and-out, and then marched 79 yards in seven plays, capped by a 41-yard scoring strike from Sims to Cooper, to take a 13-0 lead six minutes into the game.

Alabama then forced the Volunteers’ third punt of the first quarter, and promptly moved 90 yards in nine plays and exactly four minutes to push the lead to 20-0.

Sims added a 28-yard touchdown run with 12:03 to go in the second quarter to push the gap to 27-0, and Alabama’s overall run to 86-0 dating back to its 59-0 demolition of Texas A&M last week.

Tennessee closed the half on a 10-0 run, getting a nine-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs to Josh Malone and an Aaron Medley field goal to close the half, but the Tide have felt firmly in control of this game from the opening gun.

Sims has hit 8-of-16 passes for 219 yards and two scores, plus the 28-yard run, and Cooper has toyed with the Tennessee secondary, catching half a dozen passes for 194 yards and those two touchdowns.

Dobbs replaced starter Nathan Peterman after a 2-for-4 start for 10 yards and completed eight of his 13 passes for 89 yards and a score while also serving as Tennessee’s leading rusher with 10 carries for 56 yards.

Alabama will receive the ball to open the second half.

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South Carolina goes toe-to-toe with No. 5 Auburn, tied 21-21 at half

Steve Spurrier

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier decided to hold nothing back against the No. 5 Auburn Tigers. And the Gamecocks are standing toe-to-toe with Gus Malzahn‘s Tigers.

After two quarters of play, the two teams are tied 21-12 at halftime. Each and every time the Gamecocks took a lead, the Tigers answered.

South Carolina got on the board first with a fantastic 32-yard pass from Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson to wide receiver Shaq Roland. Thompson was 12-of-19 passing for 197 yard and three touchdowns.

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall wasn’t impressed. The senior accumulated 123 total yards with a pair of touchdowns.

But the most impressive player on the field was South Carolina running back Mike Davis. The junior ran for 40 yards on nine carries. He also proved to be a weapon out of the backfield with three catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.

On the other hand, Cameron Artis-Payne led Auburn with 86 rushing yards on 12 carries.

During the second half, South Carolina must keep its foot on the gas pedal. Spurrier can’t let up as his team attempts to upset one of the most talented programs in the country.

Auburn, meanwhile, simply needs to execute and remain disciplined on defense. The Gamecocks will continue to throw everything they have at them. If Ellis Johnson‘s defense does what it’s coached to do, they’ll likely be able to capitalize on an eventual mistake. Thompson already made one with an interception in the red zone. He’ll be prone to making another.

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LSU not afraid to attack Ole Miss as Rebels lead 7-3 at halftime

Terrence Magee, La'el Collins

The LSU Tigers decided that instead of avoiding the strength of Ole Miss’ defense to attack it.

Ole Miss entered Saturday’s contest as the nation’s sixth-best run defense. LSU didn’t care. The Tigers ran for 147 yards with the Rebels leading 7-3 at halftime.

Despite the attention given to Ole Miss’ “Landshark” defense, it’s an undersized unit. And the biggest advantage for the Tigers is their size and physicality along an experienced offensive line. Les Miles‘ coaching staff took full advantage of the size disparity.

Ball control became a priority for the Tigers. During LSU’s only scoring drive, the Tigers held the ball for nine minutes and seven seconds. LSU eventually settled for a field goal after the 17-play, 90-yard drive.

However, LSU had Ole Miss’ defense on its heels throughout the first half. The score might be different if LSU’s freshman running back, Leonard Fournette, didn’t fumble the football within Ole Miss’ 5-yard line earlier in the contest. LSU turned the ball over twice in the first half.

Ole Miss wasn’t executing at a high level either. Quarterback Bo Wallace has been lauded for the mistake-free football he’s played during the Rebels’ initial conference games. The senior signal-caller has been far more daring with his passes in Death Valley. And it’s nearly cost the team.

Wallace was only 5-of-15 passing during the first half.

Overall, the Rebels were in position to score multiple times when they had possession of the football. Instead, two touchdowns were called back (one due to review and another from a penalty). Ole Miss can move the ball, but it needs to stop LSU’s running attack to gain possession and score.

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Clearly missing Deshaun Watson, No. 21 Clemson trailing Syracuse 6-3 at the half

Cole Stoudt

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney promised injured quarterback Deshaun Watson his starting job will be there for him when he returns from surgery to repair an injured hand. Swinney’s words have proven unnecessary through one half against Syracuse, as backup quarterback Cole Stoudt‘s command of the offense has been all the assurance Watson could ever need.

Behind Stoudt’s 11-of-15 passing for 96 yards with an interception and a fumble, the 21st-ranked Tigers trail Syracuse 6-3 at the break.

Clemson was poised to take the lead just before the half, but a brilliant Chad Morris play-call saw C.J. Davidson drop a pitch and then fail to recover loose ball at the Orange’s eight-yard line. Then, after getting the ball back with 1:22 remaining in the quarter, Stoudt lost the ball as he was being tackled by a host of Syracuse defenders, as the Orange’s Dyshawn Davis came away with the ball.

Stoudt’s fumble allowed Syracuse to take a 6-3 lead as time expired in the half.

Though it’s on the wrong end of the scoreboard, the Clemson defense has been outstanding. Syracuse has mounted only 127 yards of total offense and committed a turnover of its own.

Clemson will receive the ball to open the second half.

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No. 15 Arizona Wildcats race past Wazzu 31-16 at halftime

Davonte' Neal, Michael Lowe

The No. 15 Arizona Wildcats set the tone against the Washington State Cougars Saturday evening with the team’s very first touch of the contest.

Arizona’s Devonte’ Neal caught a punt from Washington State’s Jordan Dascalo and blew past the Cougars’ coverage team for 53 yards and a special teams touchdown.

It was the first of four first-half touchdowns by the Wildcats. Arizona leads 31-16 after two quarters of play.

Neal was the game’s early star. The punt-return touchdown wasn’t the sophomore’s only score. The talented running back/wide receiver caught three passes for 29 yards, including a two-yard touchdown reception.

Washington State simply couldn’t match up with the talent Arizona presents at the skill positions.

Arizona’s freshman quarterback, Anu Solomon, was 19-of-28 passing for 193 yards and three touchdowns. Eight different targets caught passes from the young signal-caller.

On the other side of the field, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday continues to produce in Mike Leach‘s prolific passing attack. The senior was 25-of-37 passing for 209 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Senior wide receiver Isiah Myers was the primary recipient of Halliday’s passes. Myers caught six passes for 95 yards and both touchdowns.

Since Washington State’s defense isn’t capable of slowing Arizona’s offense, the Cougars will attempt to win this contest like they always do…by outscoring their opponent. However, Arizona’s offense may be far too potent for that to happen.

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