Welcome to the Week 10 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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Call it a prelude, an appetizer, even an undercard, whatever: Florida State dismantled Miami on Saturday night, as many expected, serving as the calm before the storm that is the most important week of the college football season to date.
No. 3 Florida State wasn't even perfect in beating previously undefeated No. 7 Miami in Tallahassee, but much like Oregon against a good-but-not-great UCLA team, the Seminoles' all-around talent advantage, at nearly every position, came to the forefront and delivered a decisive win with the world watching.
Such is the state of college football in 2013. It's not a year for parity; it's a year for dominant teams to consistently deliver blowouts and leave no questions unanswered. The top teams simply appear better than they did last year, seem much more unlikely to lose. Florida State has scored at least 41 every game and has given up more than 17 only once. Oregon has scored at least 42 every game and has given up more than 16 only twice. Alabama has given up 26 total points in six games since the Texas A&M thriller. Baylor could probably score 100 if it wanted to. Ohio State has won its last two games by a combined score of 119-14. We are experiencing the anti-2007.
It is a year for dominance, for a combination of historic powers and fast-paced upstarts to take the college football world by storm and make us wonder if the final season of the BCS will deliver the most convoluted and controversial championship game ever. As shown last year, November has a tendency to surprise us and upend our expectations, and perhaps it will again. Perhaps, when the month is finished, only two unbeatens will be left standing in a neat finish for the BCS.
If the dominoes do actually start falling, now is finally the time. Florida State again established its worth by proving Miami would have needed to play a perfect game to even have a chance to win. Now the Seminoles wait and watch. On Thursday, Oregon meets Stanford, which ruined its undefeated season last year. Baylor also gets its first actual test when it hosts Oklahoma that night. On Saturday, Alabama hosts LSU, the closest thing it has had to an equal in the Nick Saban era.
By Sunday, we will have a much clearer picture of the path ahead, whether it's a continued reign of dominance by the season's elite, or a narrowed field racing for Pasadena. Florida State did what it needed to do, and in all likelihood it needs Oregon or Alabama to lose to ultimately get to the championship game. Alabama and Oregon need to win out. Ohio State needs a lot of help. Baylor needs to beat somebody decent and then get a lot of help.
Week 10 may have been sleepy thanks to the superiority of Florida State and the absence of half the top 10 from the schedule, but it's only the beginning. In the next few days, we'll learn learn a whole lot more about how the season will shake out, and our perceptions about the contenders should take a sharp turn toward reality. Florida State passed its first November test by leaving little doubt. Now it's everyone else's turn.
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Michigan State has the best chance of beating Ohio State. I suppose I need to apologize. But come on: Michigan State was painful to watch through the first month of the season. Losing Le'Veon Bell made the Spartans even worse on offense, and no matter how good their defense was, it didn't appear capable of carrying Michigan State into BCS bowl contention. But here we are. Against rival Michigan, Michigan State put together an incredibly dominant effort, controlling the game on defense while getting solid production out of the offense to notch a convincing 29-6 win. Michigan finished with -48 rushing yards (yes, NEGATIVE 48), because of the bad rule that credits sacks rushing yards, but either way the Spartans sacked Devin Gardner seven times and kept the Wolverines out of the end zone.
OK, so yes, Nebraska did do this on Saturday in one of the most spectacular finishes you'll ever see behind unknown backup quarterback Ron Kellogg III:
But the Cornhuskers' shocking Hail Mary to beat a floundering Northwestern doesn't suddenly change their outlook in the Legends Division. And while Minnesota is a nice story at 7-2 following its 42-39 win over Indiana, the Gophers aren't capable of winning the division.
No, amazingly, Michigan State is the one team that may be able to challenge Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. That's not to say the Spartans would beat the Buckeyes, but with Shilique Calhoun (despite claims to contrary by Taylor Lewan), Denicos Allen, Max Bullough, Marcus Rush, Ed Davis and on and on and on, Michigan State may have the best defense in all of college football. The Spartans offense needs to merely be competent, and that's finally starting to happen more often than not. Defense can be fun to watch when the offense at least picks up an occasional first down, and Michigan State is certainly proof of that.
Remember Oregon State's schedule. Oregon State was perhaps the best candidate for the annual team that's most overrated because of its schedule, and the Beavers helped prove that Friday in a listless 31-14 loss to a re-energized USC team. Somehow, the Beavers' opening loss to Eastern Washington was forgiven because QB Sean Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks put up such staggering numbers through the next six games, but that was against Hawaii, Utah, San Diego State, Colorado, Washington State and Cal. Mannion and especially Cooks are undoubtedly very, very good, but they can't do it alone, especially against defenses like Stanford and USC. And now the Beavers get to travel to Arizona State to face one of the hottest defenses in college football.
Oklahoma State is back to being a leading Big 12 contender. The Cowboys' 52-34 win in Lubbock over Texas Tech was far from perfect, but the consensus preseason favorite to win the conference reminded us the loss at West Virginia wasn't the end of the world. They managed to score 52 despite two picks by Clint Chelf, who showed some wheels with 88 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and despite a meager 3.1-yards-per-carry average from running back Desmond Roland. This is a flawed Oklahoma State team, but everyone besides Baylor in the league is flawed. And this win puts the Cowboys right back in the discussion at 4-1 in the conference, 7-1 overall, with Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma still to come.
Gus Malzahn vs. Bret Bielema is our new best coaching rivalry. It's possible nobody has pulled off a better coaching job than Malzahn, who has resurrected Auburn from a winless SEC season to 4-1 in the league, 8-1 overall, after a mostly easy 35-17 win at Arkansas. Most notably, the game served as a showcase for the developing Malzahn-Bielema feud of first-year SEC head coaches. During the week, Bielema complained about the game film provided by Auburn, saying it was missing the use of a swinging gate formation, and so on Saturday he used the swinging gate himself to convert a fourth down and set up a touchdown. Auburn followed with what appeared to be one of the most egregious fake injuries in football history, although, of course, the Tigers denied linebacker Anthony Swain was faking it when he mysteriously dropped to the ground.
Welcome back, Todd Gurley. For the most part, Georgia's 23-20 win over Florida didn't teach us much. The Bulldogs were dominant for a half, leading 23-3 at the break, and then the Gators defense woke up and held Georgia without a point in the final 30 minutes. Georgia remains in the hunt in the SEC East; Florida is pretty much out. So the most notable outcome of the game was the return of star Georgia running back Gurley from a three-game absence due to an ankle injury. Gurley actually missed a big chunk of the game because of fatigue, but he gave Georgia enough to win by finishing with 17 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown and three catches for 87 yards, including a 73-yard score. It didn't turn out pretty, but Georgia has Gurley back and some winnable game left to finish strong, while Florida sits at an ugly 4-4 with South Carolina and Florida State remaining.
Congratulations to North Texas. A loyal reader and Mean Green fan emailed me last week to ask about the prospects of North Texas, and sure enough the Mean Green took down Rice 28-16 on Thursday behind defensive and special teams touchowns to move to 6-3, 4-1 in Conference USA. That means they can compete for the league title, but also that they're on their way to their first bowl game since their run of four straight New Orleans Bowls from 2001-04. Former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney has clearly swung North Texas back in the right direction.
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A+: Ohio State. Unfortunately, there's just nothing else the Buckeyes can do. They can obliterate everybody that stands in their way -- Penn State (63-14) last week, Purdue (56-0) this week -- and then hope two teams ahead of them lose. Urban Meyer is now 21-0 as coach of the Buckeyes. Ohio State fans invaded and took over Ross-Ade Stadium. Braxton Miller threw four touchdown passes in the first half and completed 19-of-23 passes. Purdue may be legendarily awful, but Ohio State did what it was supposed to do. This is a better Ohio State team than last year, and, for now, it still may not matter because the rest of the Big Ten can't pull its weight.
A: Missouri. Beating Tennessee isn't necessarily impressive, even if the Vols have occasionally shown life over the past month. It's just that Missouri avoided an obvious hangover situation and pummeled Tennessee from the get-go, reestablishing its place atop the pecking order in the SEC East, where it controls its destiny a game in the loss column ahead of South Carolina and Georgia. The Tigers won 31-3, getting an impressive rushing performance out of No. 2 QB Maty Mauk, who again started for James Franklin and threw for 163 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 114 yards. Unsurprisingly, Tennessee freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs was no match for Missouri's defensive front in his first career start, and the Tigers were happy to welcome back top cornerback E.J. Gaines from injury, as he recorded an interception and a tackle for loss. Kentucky and, more important, Ole Miss and Texas A&M now stand between the Tigers and Atlanta.
A-: Arizona State. The Sun Devils may not be the deepest team in college football, but they have a good number of standout players, especially in the defensive front. It's a group that underperformed for a while, though, with All-America defensive tackle Will Sutton struggling to make a significant impact after bulking up in the offseason. But Arizona State has more than hit its stride. In the last two games against Washington (which has one of the nation's most productive running backs) and Washington State (which does not), the Sun Devils have allowed -3 rushing yards on 36 carries. This is the same defense that gave up 231 to Wisconsin, 240 to Stanford and 247 to USC in consecutive games. Those rushing numbers in the last two games include yards lost on 10 sacks, so they're somewhat skewed, but Bishop Sankey managed only 22 yards, and not surprisingly Washington State didn't bother running. The Sun Devils beat Washington State 55-21 on Thursday, meaning they have cracked 50 points five times now, and they control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South and have become increasingly dangerous thanks to the disruptive play of their defensive front and a solid core of talent on offense.
B+: Wisconsin. An 11 a.m. CT kickoff in Iowa City doesn't get any more predictable: Wisconsin and Iowa got off to sluggish starts, with the Hawkeyes settling for chip-shot field goals and punting from the 35-yard line, because Kirk Ferentz loathes fun, and Wisconsin struggling to wake up. Eventually Wisconsin solved Iowa's solid defense and made the Hawkeyes pay for their inability to score a touchdown, with Jacob Pedersen and Jared Abbrederis putting them ahead with touchdowns, and running back James White putting it out of reach, 28-9, with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Even without star linebacker Chris Borland (hamstring), the Wisconsin defense held Iowa's rushing game to 3.5 yards per carry, including 15 yards on nine carries from Mark Weisman. Wisconsin has four winnable games left (BYU, Indiana, at Minnesota, Penn State), meaning it has a very good chance of taking the Big Ten's second BCS bid without really beating anyone of note. Remember, the Badgers are a botched finish at Arizona State away from having only one loss.
B: South Carolina. The Gamecocks didn't play their best game against Mississippi State, but they kept themselves in the thick of the SEC East race, waiting for Missouri to slip, by dominating the second half to win 34-16. They did that despite Connor Shaw completing only 10 passes -- four of which went for touchdowns -- although star running back Mike Davis ended up with 128 yards on 15 carries. The biggest story of the day was the defense forcing five Bulldogs turnovers, pushing the Gamecocks to 5-2 in the conference, meaning their tilt with Florida in two weeks is their only remaining SEC game.
B-: Texas. Nobody can ever get excited to play Kansas, so a few mistakes are forgivable. With two interceptions and an average of 6.8 yards per attempt, Case McCoy wasn't perfect, but Texas easily cruised to a 35-13 win over the Jayhawks to stay unbeaten in the Big 12 and become bowl eligible at 6-2 before the schedule gets interesting again with a trip to West Virginia followed by Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and a trip to Baylor. Perhaps disappointingly, the Longhorns didn't use the Kansas game as a chance to see what freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes could do after burning his redshirt. He attempted only three passes and ran twice for 20 yards, meaning McCoy is still obviously the guy at quarterback with David Ash sidelined.
C+: UCLA. Not surprisingly, after back-to-back losses to Stanford and Oregon, the Bruins started out sluggishly against hapless Colorado, trailing 10-7 into the second quarter. But ultimately they rolled behind Brett Hundley, who was essentially the entire offense, even with the return of running back Jordon James. James managed only eight yards on six carries, while Hundley threw for 273 yards and two scores and ran for 72 yards and two more scores to carry UCLA to a 45-23 win in a much-needed layup after a brutal two-game stretch, and before the schedule picks up again with a tricky finish.
C: Arizona. UCLA and Arizona State are the obvious headliners in the Pac-12 South, but Arizona and USC sit tied with the Bruins for second, one game behind the Sun Devils. The Wildcats have to be one of the quietest bowl-eligible teams in college football, which isn't a surprise given that their six wins have come against Northern Arizona, UNLV, UTSA, Utah, Colorado and now California. Helping to prove themselves as a worse-than-their-record team, the Wildcats struggled to put away Cal for a while, winning 33-28 behind four total touchdowns from quarterback B.J. Denker. Perhaps Arizona will play spoiler with both UCLA and Oregon at home in the next three games; it's more likely the Wildcats will drop three of their last four and end up 7-5 again.
C-: Notre Dame. Navy may have turned itself around a bit with a win over Pitt, but there's absolutely no reason this Navy team should have given Notre Dame so much trouble Saturday. In a back-and-forth game that saw the Midshipmen and Fighting Irish trade scores all afternoon, Navy rushed for 331 yards on 70 attempts, controlling the clock (37:36) like it always tries to do. Notre Dame put up 506 yards and got 140 rushing yards from Tarean Folston, but Tommy Rees threw two picks, and the Irish needed a Folston touchdown with 3:47 left to win 38-34. Again, a BCS bid remains within reach for Notre Dame, but this is a team that may get all it can handle from BYU, and also one that probably stands little chance of taking down Stanford in the finale. Nothing about this team says BCS, other than the ever-present pull of the Notre Dame brand.
D+: Rutgers. Rutgers may be 5-2, but after getting blown out by Houston, it barely managed to escape a home game with lowly Temple (1-8), winning 23-20 thanks to a 33-yard touchdown pass from Gary Nova to Leonte Carroo with 35 seconds left. Rutgers out-gained Temple by 118 yards and won the turnover battle 3-1, but its run game accomplished little (69 yards on 28 carries), and while Nova had one of his best games with 371 yards and three touchdowns, he obviously needs a better run game against opponents not named Temple, given his penchant for turnovers.
D: Virginia Tech. At least this week the Hokies lost on the road to a team that scored more than 13 points. But after looking like a possible ACC Coastal contender, the Hokies have gone off the rails, following that abysmal Duke loss with a 34-27 loss at Boston College. Finally, the offense had some life, as Logan Thomas threw for 391 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw two picks as part of a four-turnover day for the Hokies, who lost despite holding Boston College to 93 passing yards. This is a rather ugly team, still capable of giving most teams a game because of how talented the defense is, but the situation is beginning to get dire. Even when the offense looks good, it still shoots itself in the foot.
D-: Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane's sudden demise gets overshadowed in Conference USA by the inexplicable 0-20 record boasted by Southern Miss in the past two seasons, but Tulsa has also experienced a sharp drop-off. One of the premier programs in the league in the past several years, Tulsa lost 34-15 to UTSA on Saturday, falling to 2-6 with three of the toughest teams in the league still left (East Carolina, Marshall and North Texas), meaning a 3-9 record is quite possible after winning at least 10 games in four of the past six seasons.
F: Tulane. It's still hard to ever give Tulane a failing grade for losing a game, because in the days since Shaun King that's mostly what the Green Wave have done. But, then, after achieving bowl eligibility before November, Tulane went on the road to Florida Atlantic -- the same FAU that's been in turmoil the last few days after the resignation of Carl Pelini over drug use -- and lost to a bad Owls team 34-17. The loss drops Tulane into a three-way tie for first in its division. One loss isn't necessarily a killer, putting up 167 total yards against Florida Atlantic is rather terrible.
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1. Pick a Florida State player. The Seminoles didn't even look great for half the game but proved their superiority in the ACC by blowing out Miami. Jameis Winston threw for 325 yards despite his two picks; everyone on defense played well without a true standout; Devonta Freeman had 176 total yards and three touchdowns; the offensive line took over in the second half. Pick a player, it doesn't matter. Florida State is good everywhere
2. Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State. You can pick anyone on Florida State's team, and here you can at least pick anyone on Michigan State's defense. In the dominant performance against Michigan, the Spartans got an interception from Darqueze Dennard, 2 ½ sacks from Shilique Calhoun, 2 ½ sacks from Ed Davis and two sacks and a team-high nine tackles from Allen.
3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. While many other top teams were off, Manziel toyed with a bad UTEP team, completing 16-of-24 passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns and rushing seven times for 67 yards and two touchdowns. In case we needed yet another reminder Johnny Football is incredibly good at this.
4. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois; Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State. Same story every week for Lynch. UMass is awful, but it doesn't mean what Lynch accomplishes on a weekly basis isn't impressive. He set the QB rushing record in Week 8; he had rushing, passing and receiving touchdowns in one half in Week 9; and in the 63-19 win over the Minutemen, he threw for 160 yards and a touchdown and ran for 119 yards and four touchdowns in yet another abbreviated performance. By MAC standards, things do get interesting soon as we begin weekday MACtion, with Ball State and Toledo next for the Huskies.
Not to be outdone by his fellow BCS crashing hopeful, Carr continued his dominance in the Bulldogs' 41-23 win over Nevada. Nevada briefly put a scare into Fresno State in the third quarter, but the Bulldogs pulled away behind Carr's arm. He threw for 487 yards and three touchdowns with no picks, completing 17 passes for 253 yards and two scores to junior receiver Josh Harper.
5. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson. And here comes the pre-Florida State team that was so enjoyable to watch for the most part. In a 59-10 thrashing of Virginia on the road, Boyd hit 24-of-29 passes for 377 yards with three touchdowns and a pick, along with a rushing touchdown, to set the ACC's all-time touchdown record over Philip Rivers.
6. Garrison Smith, DE, Georgia. Youth has been the most common word used to describe the Georgia defense this season, but Smith, a senior, stepped up as a force in his final Cocktail Party against Florida. The 299-pounder recorded nine tackles and 2 ½ sacks in what proved to be an emotional game for him against Georgia's hated SEC East rivals.
7. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn. Mason nearly carried Auburn to its 35-17 win over Arkansas by himself. The Tigers attempted only nine passes (completing eight), while Mason ran 32 times for 168 yards and scored four of the team's five touchdowns. It was his second highest rushing total of the season, behind a 178-yard effort in the landmark win at Texas A&M.
8. Bill Belton, RB, Penn State. It turned out quite ugly, but Penn State edged Illinois 24-17 in overtime thanks in large part to the efforts of Belton, who's emerged as a more comfortable and consistent runner since taking over for the fumble-prone Zach Zwinak. Of course, it must be noted Belton had a near-crushing fumble of his own, but aside from that he ran 36 times for 201 yards and a touchdown -- Penn State's first 200-yard rushing game since Larry Johnson cracked the 2,000-yard mark in 2002.
9. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech. Of course, we've come to expect big passing numbers from Texas Tech and coach Kliff Kingsbury, but Amaro's performance as a tight end is astonishing. In the loss to Oklahoma State, Amaro caught 15 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. He hasn't caught fewer than eight passes in a game since the opener, and he has 572 yards in the last four games.
10. Adam Muema, RB, San Diego State. Muema earned himself some respect even in Week 9's loss to Fresno State with his punishing running style. In an otherwise lackluster 35-30 win over New Mexico on Saturday, Muema took his game to another level by rushing 27 times for 233 yards and three touchdowns, proving he's shaken the rust off after a disappointing start to the season for he and the Aztecs.
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1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Winston threw two bad interceptions against Miami, but ultimately it didn't matter much, and it's hard to alter the list after Mariota had off and Manziel faced UTEP (although he accounted for six touchdowns in the game). The race will really start to take shape soon with Mariota facing Stanford on Thursday, and Manziel having LSU and Missouri still to come.
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1. LSU at Alabama. This season, it doesn't appear Alabama can afford to lose if it wants to win yet another national title. LSU may be the biggest obstacle left.
1. Oregon at Stanford (Thursday). Oregon likely would have won the national title last year had it not run into Stanford's brick wall defense. The Cardinal get another chance to ruin the Ducks' season, this time at home.
1. Oklahoma at Baylor (Thursday). In one of the biggest games in Baylor football history, the ridiculous Bears offense finally meets an opponent with a pulse.
4. Virginia Tech at Miami. Miami is in control of the Coastal even with the loss to Florida State after Virginia Tech's back-to-back losses to Duke and Boston College. Still, it's a tough bounce-back game for the Hurricanes against what has mostly been a very good Hokies defense, especially with Duke Johnson out.
5. Houston at UCF. Now a very big game in the American race thanks to UCF's win over Louisville. Both teams are undefeated in conference play.
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