A complete examination of Week 6 in college football ...
The Essay Question
The South Carolina Gamecocks prepared for their biggest home game ever, 80,000 rabid fans finally ready for what was expected to be a slugfest with Georgia. About 200 miles away, the North Carolina State Wolfpack were to go about their business, a two-loss team expected to sacrifice itself to the ACC gods as Florida State pursued a national title.
Well, N.C. State wanted to be noticed too, and something was in the air in the Carolinas on Saturday.
South Carolina ended up thrashing Georgia 35-7, a game that was never a game, and, somehow, it must share this space with its neighbor to the north, a team that shockingly shut down Florida State, scored in the final minute and knocked off the undefeated Seminoles 17-16.
For good reason, all attention was on the SEC and the Big 12 on Saturday. Florida upset LSU (read my colleague Tommy Tomlinson’s report from Gainesville), West Virginia won at Texas in a shootout and No. 6 South Carolina blew out No. 5 Georgia. As all of this unfolded throughout the evening, N.C. State quietly hung around against Florida State, then clawed back in. At about 11 p.m. ET, that sound you heard across America was remote controls clicking over to ESPN2. The Wolfpack, down 16-0 at halftime, shut out the Seminoles in the second half, got the ball back with a couple minutes left and scored on fourth-and-goal with 16 seconds left to win by a point.
In the span of a few hours, two of the nation’s top four teams lost, South Carolina and West Virginia became legitimate national championship contenders and chaos reigned to start the best month of the year. Unless you’re a Florida State, Texas, Florida or Georgia fan, this is why you love college football.
A few weeks ago, before Florida State beat Clemson, I wrote, “If the last decade is any indication, whoever wins will inexplicably lose to Maryland or Boston College and torpedo the conference’s national title hopes.” It wasn’t Maryland, and it wasn’t Boston College. But it did happen. Mike Glennon attempted 55 passes, completing 259 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State’s highly regarded defense, while E.J. Manuel’s Heisman campaign came to an abrupt end, along with Florida State’s national title dreams.
It was the type of thing you expect to happen to South Carolina, which isn’t used to this attention and pressure. History has proven, time and time again, that negativity will ultimately prevail for this cursed program. And, between defensive slugfests and offensive shootouts, we’ve grown accustomed to theatrics in these Gamecocks-Bulldogs matchups -- but we have not grown accustomed to lopsided eviscerations. That’s what Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks accomplished Saturday night at an electric Williams-Brice Stadium. It was a familiar throwback to Spurrier’s Florida days, as the Gators made a living trouncing Georgia in the 1990s, with Spurrier compiling an 11-1 record and an average margin of victory of 23.4 points in those wins -- only, unlike the Fun ‘N’ Gun, the Gamecocks did it with one of the nation’s best defenses.
South Carolina goes to LSU next week, then to Florida. Their regular season ends at Clemson. And, if they get there, the Gamecocks would likely play Alabama in the SEC title game.
They will probably not go undefeated.
But, on Saturday, everything went right in Columbia and throughout the Carolinas. Five homes games: one decent Clemson win over Georgia Tech; one big North Carolina win over Virginia Tech; one Duke blowout win over Virginia; one dominant South Carolina win over Georgia; one colossal N.C. State upset over Florida State. East Carolina and Wake Forest, which both lost, clearly did not pick a good week to play on the road.
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West Virginia will win the Big 12. Will the Mountaineers go undefeated? The answer is still probably no. But a road trip to Austin was their biggest test all year, and they passed it, but in an unconventional way for a Dana Holgorsen offense. With a talented secondary and two elite pass rushers, Texas had the personnel to at least make Geno Smith and West Virginia’s passing game uncomfortable. It worked; Smith was held to only 268 yards, although he still completed 25 of 35 attempts with four touchdowns and no interceptions. But West Virginia proved it can take what the defense gives it and run the ball.
That’s right -- tailback Andrew Buie bruised the Longhorns for 207 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries. Holgorsen has always been more willing to run the ball than his coaching mentor, Mike Leach, but it’s safe to say no one expected a Mountaineers running back to rack up 200 yards on the ground in a game this year, given the talent available in the passing game. Texas even forced a couple Smith fumbles, and David Ash completed 22 of 29 passes, but it wasn’t enough. West Virginia can score against anyone, and not just by getting the ball in the hands of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Anything can happen in the Big 12 -- we know anything can happen in Lubbock next week -- but three of the Mountaineers’ four toughest games remaining (Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma) are at home, with a trip to Oklahoma State on Nov. 10. It’s the Mountaineers’ conference to lose.
Ohio State may go undefeated. It’s still difficult to discern just how good Ohio State is, and unfortunately, we won’t get to see the ultimate test in a BCS bowl game. Instead we’ll have to live with Braxton Miller making the rest of the Big Ten look foolish. Through half a season, the Buckeyes have adjusted better and better to the Urban Meyer program, and nobody has looked more foolish than the Nebraska defense. Traditional Blackshirts these are not. Miller completed only seven passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, but he also ran 16 times for 186 yards, highlighted by a 31-yard touchdown and a long run of 72 yards. Plus, he got some help in the backfield, as tailback Carlos Hyde emerged to rush for 140 yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries. The Buckeyes have beaten Michigan State and Nebraska in back-to-back games. Three of their last six games are against Purdue, Illinois and Indiana.
Amazingly, the toughest game appears to be an Oct. 27 primetime trip to Happy Valley to face a sneaky-good Penn State team. At this rate, the Buckeyes will be favored in every game, running all over opponents, only with nowhere to go in January.
Notre Dame looks like an SEC team. Miami is a total enigma at this point, so figuring out what to make of Saturday’s game in Chicago is difficult. But, after five games, it’s pretty clear Notre Dame has one of the five best defenses in the nation. Miami had scored 86 points in its previous two games against Georgia Tech and N.C. State, with Stephen Morris totaling 1,002 passing yards. Against Notre Dame? Miami scored three points; Morris threw for 201 yards. Morris didn’t get any help from his teammates, but this was a game dominated by the Fighting Irish, who won 41-3 without even recording any sacks or forcing any turnovers. Plus, they also got their ground game in gear against a horrendous Miami run defense, as George Atkinson III and Cierre Wood both ran for 100 yards. Throw in the weird and brief suspension of QB Everett Golson for good measure, and the Irish would fit right in with the SEC’s elite. The last three games against Michigan, Michigan State and Miami? Notre Dame has allowed a total of 12 points.
ACC Coastal Power Rankings: 1) Duke, 2) Scissors. I’m just as confused as you are (if you can even name who’s in the ACC Coastal Division). Amazingly, Duke, the same Duke that hasn’t gone bowling since 1994 and last won the ACC under Steve Spurrier in 1989, sits at 2-0 in the league, 5-1 overall, with its only loss coming to Stanford. After beating Wake Forest, the Blue Devils blew out Virginia, 42-17, with backup QB Anthony Boone, and for now they can look down at the competition. It won’t last, of course, starting next week at Virginia Tech. But the Hokies look more vulnerable than they have in the last decade after losing to North Carolina 48-34, the Tar Heels are ineligible, Georgia Tech lost to Middle Tennessee, Virginia is terrible and Miami’s run defense couldn’t stop me from picking up at least one first down. At least Duke gets UNC at home, where it won’t have to deal with the mysterious scissors littering the field at Kenan Stadium.
Beware of misleading teams. Same thing, different year. Never overlook insanely easy nonconference schedules. Every year, a few “sleeper” teams open the season with four, five, maybe six wins, all against cupcakes. They make their way into or close to the Top 25. They get some national attention as surprise contenders. Then they quickly remind us all why we didn’t rate them highly in the preseason. Say hello to Texas Tech, Purdue and Mississippi State. Purdue, which lost to Notre Dame by three and beat Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan and Marshall, quickly became a fashionable sleeper because its competition in the Leaders Division includes Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
Well, just as everyone was getting excited, Purdue laid an enormous egg by getting trampled by Michigan 44-13. Then there’s Texas Tech, which received praise for being the No. 1 defense in the country after wins over Northwestern State, Texas State, New Mexico and Iowa State. The Red Raiders promptly lost 41-20 to Oklahoma on Saturday. Then there’s Mississippi State, which is … still undefeated and in the top 25 with wins over Jackson State, Auburn, Troy, South Alabama and Kentucky. The Bulldogs may actually be decent, but you just know this won’t last. Throw in Northwestern too as a team that was 5-0 with four wins over bottom-tier BCS teams (Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College, Indiana), although Saturday’s close loss at Penn State doesn’t look bad at this point.
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Grading the Rest of the Weekend
The Razorbacks get an A for beating anyone. Sorry, Auburn. Arkansas finally got its first win over a FBS team, winning 24-7 behind a phenomenal defensive effort. Ranked 90th in sacks in the first five games, Arkansas somehow sacked Auburn eight times and forced five turnovers. Maybe this says more about Auburn than Arkansas (See: F, below), but at least Arkansas is in the win column again with three winnable home games on tap next (Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tulsa).
A: Penn State
Bill O’Brien is putting together as good a coaching performance as anyone in the country. He’s creatively using whatever resources are available, rolling the dice on fourth down with a kicking liability and gaining the confidence of his team and fan base. Penn State is 4-2 (and missed four field goals in a one-point loss to Virginia) after a 39-28 comeback win over Northwestern, playing great defense and getting everything it can out of Matt McGloin. In fact, the McGloin-led Nittany Lions ran 99 plays in the game, their most since 1966. Penn State is far from elite, obviously, but it can beat anyone on its schedule in a weak Big Ten.
One lesson is to not get excited about UCLA just because it scored points on Nebraska. But, still, credit the Golden Bears for a dominant win over the Bruins Saturday night. After a rough 1-5 start that included a win over Southern Utah and a close loss at Ohio State, Cal blew out UCLA 43-17, thanks to great efforts from QB Zach Maynard (25-of-30 for 295 yards, four touchdowns) and RB C.J. Anderson (151 yards, one touchdown).
Ho hum. Just another week, another 52 points, another five forced turnovers. Oregon hasn’t been tested yet, and it likely won’t be until the Nov. 3 trip to USC. The Ducks beat Washington 52-21, no problem, and perhaps the most important news for them was that fellow national title contender Florida State took itself out of the race.
B: Kansas State
Kansas State decided to mix things up for a quarter or so, baffling everyone by falling behind 14-7 to in-state rival/punching bag Kansas. But that was enough fooling around. Bill Snyder’s team did what it does best: force the other team to make mistakes and run the ball over and over. The Wildcats won the turnover ball 5-0, QB Collin Klein ran 10 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns and RB John Hubert ran 10 times for 101 yards and four touchdowns. Six rushing touchdowns, five takeaways -- exactly what Snyder wants. Kansas State is 5-0.
What looked like a defensive debacle was, well, still a defensive debacle. But the Cardinal put together a furious rally from a two-touchdown fourth-quarter deficit as its defense partially redeemed itself with an interception to set up Stepfan Taylor’s game-winning touchdown in overtime of a thrilling 54-48 win over Arizona. An offense that was totally stagnant in a loss to Washington sprung to life against a weak Arizona defense, as Taylor ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns and Josh Nunes threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns. Amazingly, both teams put up exactly 617 yards of offense.
After an early scare -- the Trojans fell behind 21-10 in the second quarter -- last Thursday at Utah, USC controlled the rest of the game, leading 38-21 before a garbage-time Utes touchdown made the final 38-28. The Trojans have struggled along the offensive line, causing them to be conservative on offense, but they finally found a downfield passing game. Matt Barkley threw for 303 yards with three touchdowns, all of which were longer than 20 yards, including an 83-yard strike to Marqise Lee (12 catches for 192 yards). Still, USC is far from the dominant team many expected.
C: Oregon State
It wasn’t pretty, but the Beavers got the job done in winning 19-6 at home against a Washington State team that hasn’t come close to hitting its stride under Mike Leach yet. QB Sean Mannion was shaky for the first time this season, throwing three interceptions, and Storm Woods averaged just 3.6 yards per carry after rushing for 161 yards against Arizona. But the defense held Wazzu to 227 total yards, and the Beavers are sitting at an unexpected 4-0 (3-0 in the Pac-12).
C-: Michigan State
Michigan State entered the Sept. 15 game against Notre Dame ranked in the top 10. A few weeks later, the Spartans needed everything they had to escape Indiana with a win. The once-vaunted Spartans defense put Michigan State in a 17-0 hole in the first quarter, and the Hoosiers took a 27-14 lead into halftime. However, Michigan finally turned things around in the second half, pitching a 17-0 shutout to lead the team to a 31-27 win. Andrew Maxwell threw for 290 yards, but, once again, the Spartans rode Le’Veon Bell, who had 37 carries for 121 yards (only 3.3 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
D+: The State of Texas
At least Texas A&M managed to beat Ole Miss. It was not exactly a banner day for the Lone Star State. Texas lost at home to West Virginia. Texas Tech was blown out at home by Oklahoma. TCU, without suspended QB Casey Pachall, lost its first game, 37-23 to Iowa State. A&M needed two touchdowns to overcome a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Ole Miss.
D: South Florida
Pegged by some as Big East favorites heading into the season, South Florida is anything but. With its 37-28 loss at Temple (which picked up its first Big East win since rejoining the league), USF has dropped eight of nine conference games the last two seasons. The Bulls are now 2-4 this season after going 5-7 last year, but, hey, Skip Holtz got a contract extension in July!
Gene Chizik with Cam Newton: 14-0. Gene Chizik without Cam Newton, at Auburn and Iowa State: 22-33. Auburn is 1-4 and scored seven points against Arkansas, which gave up 110 points to Alabama and Texas A&M. Chizik even made a move at QB, benching Kiehl Frazier at halftime for Clint Moseley. The two combined for one touchdown and three interceptions.
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Other statistical standouts from the weekend:
Dri Archer, All-Purpose, Kent State. He’s not well known outside of the MAC, but few players are as electrifying as Archer, who missed last season because of academic issues. For the second week in a row, he scored three touchdowns, but it’s not that simple. Last week against Ball State, he had a 99-yard kick return TD and two TD catches. In Saturday’s 41-14 win against Eastern Michigan, he had a 98-yard kick return TD, a five-yard catch and a 64-yard run. He entered the week leading the nation in all-purpose yards. Don’t expect that to change much over the course of the season.
Army’s running game. Army fell from its perch as the nation’s No. 1 rushing team when it inexplicably scored three points in a loss to Stony Brook. Well, forget that. The Black Knights had three players with at least 100 yards rushing in an upset win over Boston College, including Raymond Maples’ 184, QB Trent Steelman’s 141 and three touchdowns, and Larry Dixon’s 128 and a touchdown. In total, Army rolled up 516 rushing yards on 79 carries.
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina. Virginia Tech’s defense is on its heels, and Bernard took full advantage with a huge game against the Hokies, racking up 262 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in a 48-34 win.
Kasey Carrier, RB, New Mexico. Bob Davie’s Lobos beat Texas State 35-14 despite completing just one pass. They were able to do this because Carrier tore up the Bobcats defense for 191 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries.
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan. Robinson bounced back in a big way after the worst performance of his career in the loss at Notre Dame. Michigan limited his passing to just 16 attempts in a 44-13 win at Purdue, and he did what he does best, running 24 times for 235 yards. He was essentially the entire running game, as Fitz Toussaint managed only 19 yards on 17 carries despite two touchdowns.
Matt Scott, QB, Arizona. Yes, Arizona lost in overtime, and Scott threw a pivotal interception. But, playing under the typically run-oriented Rich Rodriguez, Scott broke Pac-12 records for attempts (69) and completions (45), throwing for 491 yards and three touchdowns in a shootout 54-48 loss against a Stanford defense that stifled USC.
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Student of the Year
If I had a Heisman ballot …
1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Saturday was another a chance for Smith to put together a signature game in front of a national audience. While he didn’t really do that, his team got a signature win at Texas. Smith threw for 268 yards and four touchdowns and now has 24 TDs without a pick this year. He’s the obvious choice.
2. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. Miller’s passing won’t win him a Heisman, but he continues to be dominant on the ground for undefeated Ohio State. In a 63-point effort against Nebraska, Miller rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He has 688 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns in six games.
3. Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame. Te’o led the way for Notre Dame with another 10 tackles against Miami in another dominant defensive game for the Fighting Irish, who held Miami to just three points. They’ve given up 39 points in five games, and Te’o is the heart and soul of the team.
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Ranking the remaining games based on national championship implications:
1. LSU at Alabama, Nov. 3
2. South Carolina at Florida, Oct. 20
3. Oregon at USC, Nov. 3
4. Kansas State at West Virginia, Oct. 20
5. South Carolina at LSU, Oct. 13
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Bowl Eligibility Tracker
There are 35 bowls, which means 70 bowl spots. The last thing we want is for college football to come up short, forcing it to dip into the pool of sub-.500 teams. Eligible teams (six wins) as of Oct. 6:
3: Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina*
*Ohio State is also 6-0 team, but is ineligible for postseason play.
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On the Syllabus for Week 7
South Carolina’s absurd SEC gauntlet continues. After one of the most impressive wins of the season, the Gamecocks are rewarded with back-to-back brutal road trips to Death Valley at LSU and The Swamp at Florida, starting with LSU in primetime on Saturday. The big games are spread out through the day, with Texas and Oklahoma kicking off at the Cotton Bowl at noon ET, and Stanford visiting Notre Dame at 3:30 p.m.