Welcome to the Week 8 edition of The Professor, a weekly wrap-up of everything you need to know about the weekend in the college football.
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Let there be carnage.
On the eve of the season's first BCS rankings, much of the 2013 college football season was placed in a blender and mashed into a landscape that barely resembles previous perceptions.
After a day of SEC upsets, the ACC's game of the century failed to live up to its billing, only because freshman phenom Jameis Winston and Florida State were so successful in embarrassing Clemson 51-14 in Death Valley. Nearly any sort of win at Clemson would have vaulted the Seminoles into top-tier status, but they proceeded to leave no doubt. The highlight of Clemson's night was the drawn-out recruiting pitch that was ABC's coverage of the Tigers' stadium entrance; They then fumbled on their first play, Winston hit Kelvin Benjamin for an impossible 22-yard touchdown three plays later and the rest is history.
Florida State looked like 1990s Florida State -- a decade in which the Noles never lost more than two games in a season -- winning 51-7 with impeccable confidence, dominant defense and a quarterback who is somehow making those Charlie Ward comparisons a reality. Except for one first-half interception on a fluky miscommunication between Winston and his receiver, any pressure brought by Clemson -- which had led the nation in sacks per game -- was futile. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Winston threw for a staggering 293 yards against the blitz.
Winston is a supremely confident 19-year-old surrounded by some of the nation's best talent at every position, and Clemson's defense is only good enough to succeed when it makes plays behind the line of scrimmage. The Tigers couldn't do that on Saturday, and Winston made them pay, over and over and over, to Benjamin, Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and tight end Nick O'Leary. It was a masterful performance, the sort of game that validated the growing legend that has enveloped Winston.
Through all the talk of Clemsoning, and Florida State's reputation for the same, it was the ACC king Seminoles standing tall, above the wreckage, removed from the SEC schools who spent Saturday falling in dramatic fashion.
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So what did Saturday mean for the SEC: Is it at its weakest in years, or did the upsets prove its impeccable depth? According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, this week marked the first time in history that four teams from the same conference in the top 15 of the AP poll lost. Undoubtedly, the answer is somewhere in between, but for fans outside Oxford, Auburn, Nashville and Knoxville, Saturday was bad for the SEC.
Only three teams out of 14 are left with fewer than two losses, and thus, national championship hopes still alive: Alabama, Missouri and Auburn, a bet nobody would have possibly taken in the preseason, no matter the odds.
- Auburn 45, Texas A&M 41. Some good happened. For one, it can't hurt the league to have Auburn on top of its game to at least make the Iron Bowl interesting, and for all we know a this point the 6-1 Tigers could be BCS bowl worthy. Gus Malzahn has done a phenomenal job reshaping everything about this team, with quarterback Nick Marshall and tailback Tre Mason leading a great running game (60 attempts for 379 yards as a team vs. the Aggies) and the defensive front quickly developing into one of the SEC's most formidable. Sure, Auburn gave up 41 points and miles of yardage to Johnny Manziel (who played through an apparent shoulder injury) and Mike Evans, but the Tigers came up with two Dee Ford sacks in the Aggies' final three plays to clinch the road upset for Auburn.
Malzahn has already doubled last year's Auburn win total and gotten the Tigers back to bowl eligibility. After a cakewalk against Florida Atlantic, they finish with Arkansas and Tennessee on the road and Georgia and Alabama at home, a set of games that they're at least good enough to split, meaning he could ultimately triple last year's debacle.
- Missouri 36, Florida 17. Yes, Florida's defense/entire roster has been decimated by injuries, but it's impossible not to be impressed by the performance of Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk in his first career start in place of the injured James Franklin. Against one of the top rated defenses in America, he threw for 295 yards and accounted for two touchdowns with one pick -- the most passing yards Florida has allowed since Nov. 5, 2011, against Vanderbilt.
Missouri has stockpiled both skill position stars -- like running back Henry Josey and receivers L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham -- and good athletes in the defensive front, giving it back-to-back wins over Georgia and Florida to shockingly take a two-game lead in the SEC East. With the help of injuries, the SEC East may have taken a significant step back, but Gary Pinkel has done a tremendous job turning Missouri around after a lackluster, injury-ravaged first SEC season.
- Ole Miss 27, LSU 23 and Tennessee 23, South Carolina 21. Two passionate, long-suffering fanbases get defining wins. Ole Miss' hope for a breakout season was on the verge of disaster after losses to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M, but it survived a second-half rally from LSU thanks to a 41-yard Andrew Ritter field goal as time expired, and thanks to the efforts of QB Bo Wallace, who completed 30 of 39 passes for 346 yards. LSU played a sloppy game, with Zach Mettenberger throwing three picks, but the Rebels took advantage and did just enough to win, a week after losing to the Aggies in heartbreaking fashion, to end LSU's slim national title hopes. With a navigable second-half schedule, Ole Miss can at least try to move itself out of BBVA Compass Bowl territory to something more desirable.
It's been a rough decade for the Vols, from the end of the Phil Fulmer era through Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, but Butch Jones has quickly established himself as the right choice to snap the funk in Knoxville. Facing a brutal schedule, Tennessee recovered from the blowout to Oregon and the ugliness against Florida to take Georgia to overtime, and then to rebound to get the landmark win they wanted against the Gamecocks. The Vols did it despite the best efforts of Jadeveon Clowney, in his best game of the season, and RB Mike Davis, with two fourth-quarter field goals by Michael Palardy giving them the win after South Carolina QB Connor Shaw went down with a knee injury and freshman Marquez North put them in position to pull off the upset. That South Carolina losing at Tennessee is considered an upset says a lot about the changed dynamics of the SEC East over the last 10 years, but Jones can do a lot to turn things back toward what we used to think of as normal.
- Vanderbilt 31, Georgia 27. It didn't seem possible, while everything else was happening, when Georgia went up 27-14 in the third quarter. But the Bulldogs' miscues late in the game and overall special teams problems proved too costly, as the Commodores scored 17 straight points despite the loss of QB Austyn Carta-Samuels to an injury. Georgia has now lost back-to-back games to Missouri and Vandy, desperately needing this week's bye to get whoever they can healthy -- particularly star running back Todd Gurley -- and the hopes to pay back Alabama for last year's near-miss in Atlanta have vanished.
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Given the events of Saturday, it seems like ages ago, but don't forget what happened Friday either: Not that Louisville stood a chance of getting into the national title game anyway, but the Cardinals' 38-35 home loss to UCF, in which they blew a 28-7 lead, ended any possible debate about the merits of their strength of schedule. Instead, a team that was supposed to be a lock for a BCS bowl as American Athletic Conference champs now stares squarely at a Champs Sports Bowl future.
Of course, by the end of the day Saturday, two teams had still restored some sanity to the proceedings. Alabama and Oregon have universally been acknowledged as the two best teams in college football for weeks, and while Florida State is making a compelling argument, the Crimson Tide and Ducks have done little to knock themselves from their perch. As the rest of the SEC descended into mass confusion, the Crimson Tide quietly throughly dominated Arkansas, winning 52-0 and holding Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen to 7-of-25 passing. In five games since giving up 42 points to Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide have given up a total of 16 points.
Then, despite some early miscues, including Marcus Mariota's first two turnovers of the season, Oregon pummeled Washington State 62-38, with Mariota throwing for 327 yards and two scores and Byron Marshall rushing for 192 yards and three scores, the kind of team numbers that we brush off at this point, because it is the new normal for Oregon, which has scored at least 55 in all of its home games.
And it's because of this that I'm glad the only poll my vote counts in is the weekly four-team Playoff Projection over at USA TODAY Sports. This week, Nos. 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 in the coaches' poll all lost, leaving some clarity at the top -- 1. Alabama, 2. Oregon, 3. Florida State, 4. Ohio State seems reasonable -- and then total confusion, with wild cards like Baylor and Missouri.
Baylor remains an intriguing threat, arguably the best offense in college football with a much-improved defense, but it can't be considered among the top tier until it adds a quality win. Missouri remains a mystery, but it has the talent along its defensive front to go along with a surplus of skill-position playmakers to compete with almost anyone. Miami and Texas Tech are undefeated, but it's hard to imagine it lasting. And that's it. Only Fresno State and Northern Illinois are also alive as unbeatens, and the one-loss pool of contenders took a significant hit thanks to the SEC's baffling weekend, which all but eliminated everyone but Alabama and Missouri from the national title race.
And so a messy weekend muddled perceptions of the 2013 landscape as much as any since the wild 2007 season. There is a lot of football left to play, and plenty of regrettable proclamations left to be written, because that's how this sport tends to work. But, finally, one things that appears true is that Florida State looks nothing like a team of the past that might choke. The Noles look like a team every bit as good as Alabama and Oregon.
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Grading the Weekend
A+: Georgia Tech. One way to respond to a three-game losing streak is to continue spiraling into a horrible season. The other way is apparently to play Syracuse. After losses to Virginia Tech, Miami and BYU, the Yellow Jackets hosted the Orange and went on a rampage, winning 56-0 despite completing only three passes (on only five attempts) and not having a 100-yard rusher. The latter wasn't an issue because Paul Johnson employed 14 different ball carriers to run 67 times for 394 yards and seven touchdowns in a grind that rendered Syracuse utterly hopeless.
A: Baylor. Close game against Texas or not, Iowa State has made it abundantly clear this season that it's not very good. So, again, a blowout win by Baylor comes with that caveat. But come on. This is verging on insanity. The Bears are playing a different game at home, where they have scored at least 69 points in all five games. They rebounded from a close win at Kansas State by smoking Iowa State 71-7, out-gaining the Cyclones 714 to 174. As always, the offense was dominant, with Bryce Petty throwing for 343 yards, Lache Seastrunk rushing for 100 yards by halftime and both Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese hitting 100 yards receiving. But, again, the defense stepped up, pitching a shutout in the first 59 minutes, finishing with five sacks, forcing three turnovers and allowing 2.9 yards per play. We still have a lot to learn about the Bears -- they play Kansas next week, meaning their biggest test in two months will have come from a 2-4 Kansas State team -- but they continue to make clear that they are the overwhelming favorites in an awful year for most of the Big 12.
A-: Oregon State. Looking at the Beavers' schedule in the preseason, it seemed plausible that they'd start 7-0, heading into an absolutely brutal back part of the schedule against Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon. After inexplicably giving up 49 points in a loss to FCS power Eastern Washington, Oregon State has rebounded to rattle off six consecutive wins while putting up absurd passing numbers game after game. At California late Saturday, the Beavers' No. 1 passing offense kept rolling, as Sean Mannion completed 35 of 45 for 481 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-17 win, once again connecting over and over with surefire All-America wideout Brandin Cooks. This could all fall apart in the next five games, but the Beavers have established themselves as one of the more entertaining offenses in the nation, setting up an important clash of styles at home against a physical Stanford team next Saturday night.
B+: Texas Tech. Texas Tech is Baylor, only, you know, without the weekly eviscerations. The Red Raiders are undefeated at 7-0, but their best wins are over TCU's lousy offense in a sloppy Thursday night game, and now 37-27 at West Virginia on Saturday. In the battle of Mike Leach's Air Raid disciples, Kliff Kingsbury bested Dana Holgorsen even though the Red Raiders trailed heading into the fourth quarter. Davis Webb completed 36 of 50 passes for 462 yards, and now the Red Raiders must turn around and go to Oklahoma in a game that will tell us if we should actually start taking them seriously.
B: Michigan. No, giving up 47 points to Indiana at home is never something to be proud of, no matter how weirdly dangerous the Hoosiers offense is. But after the stubborn playcalling debacle in a four-overtime loss at Penn State, the Wolverines' record-setting 63-point effort was a welcome relief. No matter how bad the defense was -- 410 passing yards, 9.5 yards per attempt -- the offense put on a spectacular show with Devin Gardner throwing for 503 yards on only 21 completions, Fitz Toussaint following his 27 carries for 27 yards performance with 32 for 141 yards and four touchdowns and, most notably, Jeremy Gallon catching 14 passes for a Big Ten record 369 yards and two touchdowns. When I was a kid, I stupidly thought it was fun to run Hail Mary after Hail Mary on the "rookie" setting of Madden to figure out how many yards were possible. Gallon's numbers were the closest thing to that experience.
B: Wisconsin. OK, two B grades this week because Wisconsin needs to be mentioned somewhere. The Badgers survived the loss of star linebacker Chris Borland to a hamstring injury, beating Illinois 56-32 behind, once again, the running of Melvin Gordon (17 carries for 142 yards and three touchdowns) and the receiving of Jared Abbrederis (eight catches for 106 yards). At this point, Wisconsin is clearly the best candidate for "No. 2 team in the Big Ten status," and if the Badgers manage to win out -- a decent chance, with Iowa, BYU, Indiana, Minnesota and Penn State left -- they'll work themselves into the BCS at-large mix.
B-: Ohio State. This is just what these Ohio State teams do. Last year's 12-0 record came with plenty of scares, with close wins over Cal, UAB, Indiana and Purdue. This year's Buckeyes may do the same. After taking care of Wisconsin and Northwestern in close games, they hosted Iowa in what probably should have been a convincing win but didn't come close. The Buckeyes and Hawkeyes traded scores all game and were tied at 24 entering the fourth quarter before Ohio State put them away in a 34-24 win, thanks in large part to Carlos Hyde and his amazing balance. Hyde ran for 149 yards and two scores to help Ohio State overcome glaring deficiencies in its secondary -- Iowa backup tight end Jake Duzey had 138 yards, including an 85-yard touchdown -- that weren't helped by Bradley Roby's early ejection for targeting, on top of the previous injury to safety Christian Bryant last month. Getting burned by Iowa is not a good look, and next week's Roby-Allen Robinson matchup could be a fun showdown. But Ohio State did what Ohio State did under Jim Tressel, and now continues to do under Urban Meyer: Survive, and just keep winning.
C+: Oklahoma. A hangover from the Red River debacle could probably be expected, but it didn't make Oklahoma's horrendous start at Kansas any less jarring. After all, this is Kansas. The Sooners fell behind 13-0 early, but fortunes changed thanks to the Jayhawks' ineptitude, including a safety on a blocked punt and a blocked extra point that turned into two points. Oklahoma's 34-19 win was quite sloppy, with a couple turnovers and the rough start, but ultimately the Sooners out-gained the Jayhawks 415-201, holding Charlie Weis' decided schematic advantage to 16 passing yards. Now they can go about their business in games that will decide the Big 12 title, with Texas Tech and Baylor in their next two.
C: Miami. The Hurricanes are basically falling upward this season. Sure, they beat Florida, but they needed an endless parade of Gators red zone miscues to do it, and we've since seen how bad Florida's offense is. On Thursday at North Carolina -- a one-win team that's better than its record but clearly much worse than expected -- the Canes survived their own parade of miscues, as the inconsistent Stephen Morris forced too many passes and threw four interceptions, but Miami still won 27-23 on a Dallas Crawford run with 16 seconds left. The good news is that star running back Duke Johnson is expected to be fine after leaving with a head injury (that may have been a migraine); The bad news is that wideout Phillip Dorsett's knee injury will sideline him for a month. Miami is 6-0, with Wake Forest next, meaning it should be 7-0 leading into what will likely prove to be a massive reality check at Florida State.
C-: Michigan State. One on hand, the Spartans defense pitched a shutout. Purdue or not, a shutout's a shutout, and they continue to prove that they have a dominant defense that's among the best in college football. On the other hand, any progress the Spartans offense was thought to have made was thrown out the window. In a 14-0 win, they got half their points from the defense on a 45-yard Denicos Allen fumble return, and Connor Cook completed only 13 of 25 passes for 107 yards. They're now 6-1, 3-0 in the Big Ten, but they're bound to stumble a couple times the rest of the way as their offense gets upstaged by frisbee-catching dogs.
D+: TCU. After last year's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss, TCU has managed to adopt Michigan State's personality. The Horned Frogs offense appears to keep getting worse, as they managed only 10 points in a two-touchdown loss to Oklahoma State. Trevone Boykin threw three picks, as both teams looked terrible in an eight-turnover game. It's clear that TCU desperately misses Casey Pachall. Boykin's passing has not developed from last year, and it doesn't help that poor special teams coverage burnt them too. TCU's defense is good enough to win close, low-scoring games, but not with a bunch of turnovers and long kick returns allowed.
D: Maryland. Now I just feel bad for Maryland. Injuries have taken huge tolls on several notable teams, especially in the SEC East, but the Terrapins have been devastated for the second year in a row. Last year, it was quarterback after quarterback, leading linebacker Shawn Petty to start. This year, it's 11 preseason starters missing from the lineup in a 34-10 loss at Wake Forest. Worst of all, that now includes their two best playmakers on offense: Receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, who are both out for the rest of the season. It's amazing to think that just a few weeks ago the Terps squeezed into the bottom of the AP poll. Since that 37-0 win over West Virginia, they lost to Florida State 63-0, beat Virginia by one and now lost to Wake Forest. They're still only one win away from the first bowl bid of the Randy Edsall era, but with the injuries piling up and 24-point losses to Wake Forest -- complete with A-C-C chants at the future Big Ten members -- nothing is guaranteed.
D-: Northwestern. So much for the thought that Northwestern looked like it might be the Big Ten's second best team after nearly upsetting Ohio State. Somewhat predictably after that deflating loss, the Wildcats were soundly beaten by Wisconsin, and then they returned home to lose 20-17 to... Minnesota. Injuries didn't help, of course, as they did it without the dynamic duo of QB Kain Colter and RB Venric Mark, but they threw the game away with three turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown that gave Minnesota the lead for good in the third quarter. Northwestern is now last in the Big Ten Legends at 0-3, and even though the Big Ten is lousy, none of its five remaining games are guaranteed wins: At Iowa, at Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State and at Illinois. When healthy, the Wildcats are capable of beating all of those teams, but the direction of this season has turned in a hurry.
F: Washington. The Huskies were forced to endure Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weeks, a task even more brutal than Northwestern's, resulting in two deflating losses, and to make things worse they were forced to travel to Arizona State the next Saturday. Based on the result in Tempe, the Huskies obviously could have used a bye week, or at least Colorado, instead. Arizona State's defense is talented, and that talent finally showed up to embarrass the Huskies in a 53-24 rout that put the Sun Devils right back in the Pac-12 South race with UCLA. They held Washington to an astonishing -5 rushing yards (which, officially and foolishly, includes sacks), holding national rushing leader Bishop Sankey to 22 yards on 13 carries. All-America defensive tackle Will Sutton had his best game of the season, with three tackles for loss and a sack, and the Sun Devils as a team finished with seven sacks. To make matters even worse for the Huskies, who are suddenly 4-3 with trips to UCLA and Oregon State still left, quarterback Keith Price injured his thumb in a 16-of-39 outing.
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More Lessons Learned
Last week was an exception, not the rule, for Stanford's defense. It was easy to be down on Stanford after its shocking loss at Utah, but an experienced, physical team like the Cardinal isn't suddenly going to fold. In fact, facing acclaimed UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, Stanford put together one of the best defensive performances of the season, reasserting itself as the second best team in the Pac-12. The Cardinal completely controlled the game in a 24-10 win holding UCLA to 266 total yards, with Hundley completing 24 of 39 passes for 192 yards, one touchdown and two picks.
The Bruins' offensive line continues to have issues, and Stanford took advantage with four sacks and two Jordan Richards interceptions. With complete control of the line of scrimmage, Stanford ended up grinding out the win by handing the ball to Tyler Gaffney 36 times for 171 yards and two touchdowns against a UCLA defense that ended up shorthanded after star linebacker Eric Kendricks left the game with a kidney ailment. David Shaw occasionally gets too conservative and complacent with a lead, but it's worth being confident in a defense that engineered a significant week-to-week turnaround in advance of back-to-back games against prolific division rivals Oregon State and Oregon in games that will play a major role in deciding the North.
Notre Dame beat USC and it meant nothing. Well, nothing by Notre Dame-USC standards. Technically, Notre Dame kept its BCS bowl hopes alive by grinding out a 14-10 win over the Trojans, but to actually get to the BCS, they'll have to fend off BYU and somehow win at Stanford to go 10-2. The Irish aren't bad, but they're also nowhere close to the team that went unbeaten in the regular season last year, and it doesn't help that quarterback is a question mark, with Tommy Rees dealing with a neck strain. After he left, backup Andrew Hendrix completed 0 of 4 passes.
USC knows all about those sorts of problems, and the Trojans have injury problems of their own after star wide receiver Marqise Lee tweaked his sprained knee and left the game. This is a lost season for USC at this point, with a lame duck interim coach, and there's no reason to do anything that might put Lee at risk with the NFL only months away. The good news for the Trojans is that previously injured tailback Silas Redd looked healthy in rushing for 112 yards, but they still managed only 10 points and now must go on the road and attempt to keep pace with Oregon State on Friday.
Fresno State controls its BCS destiny. Fresno State got a big boost from UCF, and from all the losses ahead of it in the polls. To get to the BCS, the Bulldogs (or Northern Illinois) need to finish in the top 12 of the standings, or the top 16 ahead of an AQ conference champion. With wins over Louisville and Penn State, UCF has a chance to rise fairly high in the top 25, but the non-AQ door is now open. Northern Illinois beat Central Michigan 38-17 to move to 7-0, while Fresno State kept rolling to 6-0 with a 38-14 win over UNLV and has the advantage because it is ranked ahead of the Huskies. Fresno State is the clear frontrunner in the Mountain West, with its win over Boise State, who beat Nevada on Saturday but must move forward without Joe Southwick, who broke his ankle. A path to the BCS for Fresno State must go through the new Mountain West title game, but top contenders Boise State and Utah State (Chuckie Keeton) have both lost their quarterbacks.
Not all of Saturday's fun belonged to SEC underdogs. While we were all watching the SEC's descent into chaos, Navy-Toledo and BYU-Houston turned into two of the day's best games -- strangely, both airing on ESPNEWS. First, Navy ran the ball NINETY-THREE times for 419 yards and five touchdowns but lost 45-44 to Toledo in double overtime, as the Rockets ran 46 times for 312 yards and four touchdowns. Then, BYU played at an astonishing pace against previously unbeaten Houston, running 115 plays in a 47-46 win. The Cougars ran 36 plays in the first quarter alone (last week, Arkansas somehow ran 37 plays in an entire game).
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Honor Roll: Week 8's Best Players
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Florida's defense will be a nice challenge, and Virginia Tech would be if the Hokies somehow get to the ACC title game, but there simply appears to be no plausible way of stopping Winston. He's uncommonly mature, uncommonly talented and uncommonly successful, absolutely shredding Clemson in a hostile environment in just his sixth college game. The Tigers' blitzes were hopeless, and in one of the biggest spotlight games of the season, Winston completed 22 of 34 passes for 444 yards with four total touchdowns and one interception to firmly establish himself as a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Given that the Seminoles held Clemson to 14 points, we must also recognize a brilliant defensive effort from defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, who had eight tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles and an interception.
2a. Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan. Devin Gardner attempted 29 passes against Indiana, 18 of which were intended for Gallon, a 5-foot-8 senior who most notably torched Notre Dame in Week 2 for 184 yards. Of those 18 targets, Gallon caught 14 passes. Of those 14 catches, two went for 70 yards, one went for 50 and another went for 33. He finished with 369 yards, a Big Ten record, averaging 26.4 yards per catch with two touchdowns. Indiana left him spectacularly wide open far too often (well, once is too much), and Gallon made them pay in a performance that looked like it might challenge Troy Edwards' FBS record of 405 receiving yards against Nebraska in 1998.
2b. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois. It speaks to the all-around absurdity of Week 8 that Lynch is not at the top of this list. All he did in the Huskies' 38-17 win over Central Michigan was set the FBS single-game quarterback rushing record.* That's all. In a game that was somehow tied 14-14 at halftime, Lynch ran 32 times for 316 yards and three touchdowns (in addition to completing 20 of 30 passes for 155 yards, a TD and a pick), breaking the record of 308 yards previously held by... Northern Illinois' Stacey Robinson in 1990. Lynch entered the game ranked 23rd nationally in rushing at 102.7 yards per game, after becoming the first QB in FBS history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,500 yards in the Huskies' Orange Bowl season last year.
*SPECIAL BONUS RECORD-BREAKING PERFORMANCE: This column would not be complete without mentioning the remarkably odd feat of Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday. In the Cougars' 62-38 loss to Oregon, Mike Leach understandably had Halliday throw a lot in a futile attempt to keep up. However, Leach's idea of throwing a lot isn't necessarily 50 passes. Or 60. Or 70. No, Halliday broke Drew Brees' FBS record of 83 by attempting 89 passes (EIGHTY-NINE!), completing 58 for 557 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. Including sacks, Wazzu not surprisingly ended up with two rushing yards. Halliday now has 17 interceptions in eight games. His 89 pass attempts were more than three teams (New Mexico, Army and Navy) had all season entering Week 8.
4. Johnny Manziel, QB, and Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. So they lost, yes. But, except for the time Manziel missed with his injury, and except for the final sequence in which Auburn successfully pressured him, they were their usual unstoppable selves. Texas A&M scored 41 points, so it's hard to blame the offense, especially when Manziel completed 28 of 38 passes for 454 yards and four touchdowns (with two picks) and ran for 48 yards and a touchdown, and when Evans caught 11 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns to pass the 1,000-yard mark in seven games. The fact that this seems almost normal is staggering; Manziel is, again, having one of the best seasons in college football history, and Evans is joining him. Now if only the Aggies could find a defense that could occasionally stop a ball carrier.
5. Sean Mannion, QB, and Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. They're here every week, as are California's opponents. But their connection this year is unbelievable, suepassing even Manziel and Evans, albeit against a weaker schedule so far. In the 49-17 win over Cal, Mannion threw for 481 yards and four touchdowns, with 13 for 232 yards and a touchdown going to Cooks. Mannion averages 427 yards per game, while Cooks has caught 76 passes in seven games.
6. [Insert favorite Mountain West player.] Pick whoever you want. In a game in which QB Joe Southwick got hurt, Jay Ajayi shouldered the load for Boise State against Nevada, rushing 24 times for 222 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a 71-yarder to take the lead in the third quarter. In Colorado State's surprising 52-22 win at Wyoming, Kapri Bibbs ran 29 times for 201 yards and three touchdowns and wedged himself into all-name team discussions. In Utah State's 45-10 win over New Mexico, Joey DeMartino ran 12 times for 144 yards and three touchdowns and caught three passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. And in Fresno State's 38-14 win over UNLV, Derek Carr threw for 412 yards and four touchdowns, with eight for 221 and all four scores going to Davante Adams. The WAC may be dead, but its former inhabitants are carrying its glorious basketball on grass (or blue turf) legacy into the future.
7. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech, and Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. We can cancel any lingering debate about which tight ends should occupy spots on the first two All-America teams. Amaro is the best player in Kliff Kingsbury's Texas Tech offense, and in the win at West Virginia he caught nine passes for 136 yards and two scores, including the clinching 10-yard TD with a minute left. He's caught exactly nine passes in five straight games. And had North Carolina beat Miami, responsibility could have been divided equally between Stephen Morris' interceptions and Ebron's spectacular play. A freakish athlete at 245 pounds, Ebron caught eight passes for 199 yards, highlighted by a 71-yard touchdown early in which he did most of the work himself.
8. Josh Stewart, WR/PR, Oklahoma State. Easily the Cowboys' most valuable asset in their stagnant 24-10 win over TCU, Stewart provided both offensive and special teams firepower. On offense, he caught 10 passes for 141 yards. On special teams, he took a punt back 95 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and also had a 29-yarder.
9. Michael Sam, DL, Missouri. Sam has broken out as one of the premier pass rushers in America in his senior season. He has already doubled his career-best total of 4 ½ sacks set last year, recording three sacks against Florida on Saturday for his third three-sack game out of the last four (Arkansas State and Vanderbilt). Sam was a big reason for Florida's offensive misery in a 36-17 Missouri win in which the Gators totaled 151 yards and scored 10 points on offense.
10. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU, and Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona. Great performances that capitalized on volume. Hill has been erratic in his first full season as starting quarterback, but with him leading an up-tempo offense, the Cougars have now won four straight games. In the same offense that scored a paltry 16 points in a loss to Virginia, Hill threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns (with three picks) on 44 attempts and ran for 128 yards on 34 attempts in a 47-46 shootout win over Houston in which BYU ran 115 plays. As for Carey, he fueled Arizona's 35-24 win over a Utah team fresh off its upset of Stanford. Last year's national rushing leader, Carey ran 40 times for 236 yards and a touchdown, continuing to prove how perfect of a fit he is in Rich Rodriguez's offense.
11. Bill Murray.
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If I had a Heisman vote
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Basically any ballot at this point is going to have some variation of this, and there's no reason why they shouldn't. Ideally, Manziel and his star wide receiver, Mike Evans, could be a dual entry, and a second loss hurts both of them, but nothing on Saturday should do anything to really hurt either of their candidacies. Manziel is as impressive as ever. But, for now, the season belongs to Mariota and Winston. Ultimately, the Heisman is awarded to the signature player of the season, not necessarily the best, although arguments could be made for these two meeting both criteria at this point.
It was quite a week for thinning the race, as Manziel, Tajh Boyd, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley, Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray all lost. It's possible that a Baylor's Bryce Petty or Lache Seastrunk will slip into the mix, and the same could happen for AJ McCarron with a big game against LSU and in the SEC title game. But for now the race is pretty clear.
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Week 9 Syllabus
1. South Carolina at Missouri. Yes, just as we expected, Missouri has taken firm control of the SEC East with a week still left to play in October. Both teams could be without their starting quarterbacks after James Franklin's injury against Georgia and Connor Shaw's against Tennessee. At 3-0 with five games to play, the Tigers already hold a two-game lead in the loss column over South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
2. UCLA at Oregon. Just like Oregon-Washington, the magnitude of this game was knocked down a peg by a loss to Stanford. The Bruins must somehow recover from their brutal trip to Stanford with another trip to Oregon.
3. Penn State at Ohio State. Christian Hackenberg's biggest challenge so far, in prime time at the Horseshoe, but he proved to be rather unflappable in the comeback against Michigan. Ohio State should control the game for another win, but Big Ten wins rarely seem to come easily.
4. Stanford at Oregon State. What Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks have accomplished is amazing, but Stanford presents their first actual defensive challenge.
5. N.C. State at Florida State. No, it's not going to happen again. But yes, we all remember what happened last year.
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