Welcome back to The Professor, a comprehensive weekly guide to what we learned in the weekend in college football.
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Ten Week 7 Numbers To Know
782. Total yards compiled by Baylor in a 61-58 comeback win over TCU. The Horned Frogs allowed a total of 656 yards in three nonconference games.
55. Yards covered by the game-winning field goal by West Virginia's Josh Lambert at Texas Tech. "I haven't talked to Josh Lambert since he got on campus," coach Dana Holgorsen said after Lambert's game-winning field goal against Maryland in September. Times have changed.
31. Points scored by Purdue in a 45-31 loss to Michigan State. The Spartans haven't allowed more than 31 points to a Big Ten opponent since 2009.
29. First-half total yards for Oklahoma, who led Texas 17-13 at halftime and went on to win 31-26.
9. Pass completions of over 20 yards for Bryce Petty against TCU, after he completed only seven passes total at Texas last week.
6. Wins for Florida State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Baylor, Marshall and Notre Dame, the first six bowl eligible teams of 2014, and also the lone undefeated teams remaining. Only 70 more bowl slots to fill.
6. Touchdowns allowed by Mississippi State in opponents' 19 trips inside the red zone. Auburn scored only two TDs on six tries on Saturday.
4. Defensive touchdowns for Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson this season after he returned a California fumble 100 yards on Saturday. Add in his rushing touchdown, and he has more touchdowns than SMU's entire team.
3 . Winless FBS teams remaining after 0-6 UMass beat 0-5 Kent State. Idaho and SMU join the Golden Flashes.
1. New AP ranking of Mississippi State, for the first time ever. The Bulldogs were unranked a month ago.
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Saturday Storyline: The Best Defense in America
I enjoy high-scoring shootouts, so I enjoyed TCU-Baylor. I enjoy traditional, high-profile rivalries, so I enjoyed Texas-Oklahoma. But one of the most enjoyable things about college football? The unexpected breakouts in which traditionally mediocre teams suddenly become dominant.
Just look at the sidelines on Saturday, in Starvkville and College Stadion. Dan Mullen couldn't contain his emotions as Mississippi State beat Auburn in perhaps the greatest win in program history, one that launched it to the top of the polls on Sunday. The Ole Miss sideline was beside itself with energy after its defense overwhelmed a futile Texas A&M fake field goal attempt to preserve a 21-0 lead on the road. You often don't get this from the programs that are usually great and expect to be great. You get this from coaches who have been fighting uphill battles, finally seeing their efforts actually pay off.
That's what makes the Ole Miss defense perhaps the most enjoyable part of the season. Prolific offense is fun, and it's also the cause of endless frustration for opponents. Great defense, however, is soul-crushing for the opposition. It makes games seem futile, to know that moving the ball and scoring points -- you know, the objective of the game -- is hopeless. Ole Miss isn't supposed to be the team inflicting soul-crushing defensive performances on the opposition. It's the program that hasn't won an SEC title since 1963. But here we are. Hugh Freeze inherited a handful of talented defenders, and he's recruited a bunch more, giving coordinator Dave Wommack an impossibly deep and athletic defense that plays disciplined football. It looks frighteningly close to the dominant Alabama and LSU defenses that ruled the last half of the BCS era.
For example, here's a situation: On first down, Texas A&M running back Tra Carson runs on a sweep left, where he's surrounded by half the Ole Miss defense and tackled for no gain by three defenders -- including end C.J. Johnson, who caught up from the back side of the play. On second down, Hill senses pressure coming and gets rid of the ball to receiver Edward Pope to the left, but linebacker Serderius Bryant squares him up and throws him down for no gain again. After a Texas A&M false start, the Aggies face third-and-15 at the Ole Miss 45-yard line. The Rebels drop eight, brining only three pass rushers against six blockers, including a running back. Lined up wide at right end, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche drives potential top-10 draft pick Cedric Ogbuehi back, then beats him to the inside, where he gets a free run toward Hill. Hill gets rid of the ball before Nkemdiche clobbers him into the ground, and the ball sails high into the hands of safety Cody Prewitt, who read the play perfectly and out-runs the Texas A&M offense for a long touchdown return.
I'd blame Kenny Hill for a bad pick-six, but this is probably the most terrifying thing in college football: pic.twitter.com/RC6xLu4a5v— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) October 12, 2014
Here's another situation, on the next series: Texas A&M has third-and-one at its own 36-yard line, down 21-0. It lines up with Kenny Hill under center, two tight ends on the line and reserve lineman Jarvis Harrison offset in the backfield next to an I-formation. The Aggies run right with Tra Carson, but right tackle Germain Ifedi and guard Garrett Gramling need to both attack Nkemdiche, leaving tight end Cameron Clear to get shoved out of the way by Ole Miss end John Youngblood, who also runs right by Harrison and stuffs Carson for a loss.
Here's a third situation: After a fumble return for a touchdown by Ole Miss, and after another false start, Texas A&M faces third-and-15 at its own 20-yard line. Ole Miss drops seven and rushes four as Hill looks downfield. After a couple seconds, three Rebels defenders break free almost simultaneously, making a play that's not a designed screen pass look like a poory designed screen pass. Nkemdiche chases Hill backward, and Marquis Haynes and C.J. Johnson drop him at the five-yard line for a loss of 15. Nothing was open downfield, and Ole Miss embarrassed an O-line that has been one of the nation's best the last few years.
Ole Miss is no longer the plucky upstart trying to take down the big boys. It is 6-0, ranked No. 3 in the polls, playing now as the hunted instead of the hunter. Not only did it achieve its landmark home win over Alabama, in which it allowed only one offensive touchdown, but it followed up by avoiding the hangover that many expected. It had to go on the road to play in front of 110,000 fans at Kyle Field, and it was never bothered by anything. It made a statement, even if the Aggies were a bit overrated. The defense swarmed Texas A&M's skill players; the easy, open throws Hill had against South Carolina were nowhere to be found, and neither was any sort of downfield passing game. To make matters worse, the touted Texas A&M offensive line was rattled by Ole Miss' athleticism up front. Texas A&M scored 20 points and got 401 passing yards from Kenny Hill, but it was all misleading. The Aggies never had a chance.
Make no mistake: This is no fluke for Ole Miss. While others in the SEC West have lost tons of talent to the NFL early, Ole Miss has stockpiled talent on what's now the nation's best defense, boasting disruptive athletes along the line, smart linebackers who fly to the ball and ball-hawking safeties who support strong cornerback play. There is no weakness on this unit. As long as the offense continues to execute and avoid making too many mistakes, Ole Miss will not only continue the breakout season it hoped for, but it will surpass all possible expectations.
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Mississippi State is a deserving No. 1. No matter how bizarre this feels. Yes, Florida State, the defending national champion, has not lost since November 2012. That doesn't mean the Seminoles can't fall from No. 1 now. Midway through the season, no team has been more impressive than Mississippi State, which was largely dominant in wins over LSU and Texas A&M before controlling Auburn in a 38-23 win on Saturday in Starkville. The Bulldogs have gotten here behind fantastic play from the defensive front and the current Heisman Trophy frontrunner in quarterback Dak Prescott, and while Ole Miss has the better overall defense than the Bulldogs (and the Seminoles, for that matter), Mississippi State -- despite its four turnovers vs. Auburn -- appears more dangerous thanks to the presence of Prescott in the backfield. Bo Wallace has played very well the last two weeks for Ole Miss, but Mississippi State is more capable of being aggressive on offense, using Prescott and Josh Robinson on the ground to set up a lethal play-action game downfield.
The Bulldogs did everything they could to let Auburn back into Saturday's game after jumping out to a 21-0 lead, only for the active defensive front to clamp down and make life difficult for Nick Marshall, particularly in the red zone. Entering the game, the two teams had some similarities with returning starter dual-threat quarterbacks and fast-improving defensive fronts. Mississippi State proved to be better on both fronts, at least for now.
There is a long, long way to go this season, with the Bulldogs still needing to make trips to Alabama and Ole Miss (plus the dangerous trap at Kentucky). Through seven weeks, though, it has become quite apparent that this is not the Mississippi State we're accustomed to. This is a deep, talented, athletic team that just keeps proving that it belongs at the forefront of the national conversation.
Never doubt Baylor. Of course Baylor was not dead when down 58-37 in the fourth quarter to TCU, a top-10 opponent. Of course not. While Marcus Mallet's 49-yard pick-six of Bryce Petty appeared to be a dagger to put TCU on the verge of its second straight upset, the Bears went on a furious rally in response, taking less than a minute to cut the lead to 14 again, then getting two more Petty touchdown passes with 6:39 and 4:42 left to tie the game. While big-play prone throughout the game, the Baylor defense came through late, shutting down TCU to give Petty a chance to complete the comeback. The Bears held the Horned Frogs on a fourth-and-three with 1:11 to go just past midfield, then -- with the help of a questionable pass interference call -- got into position for Chris Callahan to hit a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give Baylor what will surely go down as one of the season's most dramatic victories.
All of this still feels odd, just like the Ole Miss/Mississippi State breakouts. Baylor-TCU has quickly become a heated Big 12 rivalry, and the Bears -- the original Big 12 doormat -- and the Frogs -- left behind when the Southwest Conference collapsed -- positioned themselves for a top-10 matchup that would decide the Big 12's current frontrunner and potentially play a key role in the playoff picture. With a win over Oklahoma already on its resume, TCU had a chance to launch itself into the top four, only to see Baylor's quick-strike, big-play offense refuse to die. In all, the Bears had three 100-yard receivers (Antwan Goodley, KD Cannon, Corey Coleman) and also got 178 rushing yards from Shock Linwood, as their 782 total yards on 109 plays edged TCU's combination of 485 total yards and touchdowns on both special teams and defense. Baylor still has plenty to prove, with road trips to West Virginia and Oklahoma on tap, but the offensive explosion in Waco on Saturday proved that the Baylor offense is still the Baylor offense we've seen since RGIII broke out, and that Petty can play his way back into the Heisman discussion.
Oregon is still alive. There are still things to worry about, for sure: the pass defense; third-down defense, the ability of the offensive line to hold up against the talented defensive fronts of Washington, Stanford and Utah; the ability of Marcus Mariota to stay healthy. But Oregon needed a win at UCLA on Saturday, and it got a decisive one, knocking UCLA out of any playoff discussion in the process. The Ducks fortunately got starting tackle Jake Fisher back from injury, providing a big boost to an offensive line that has been a mess since he went down. Mariota wasn't sacked once, and he turned in a solid, efficient outing, going 17 of 27 for 210 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, the re-energized O-line paved the way for the first 100-yard game of freshman RB Royce Freeman's career; he ran for 121 yards and two scores on 18 carries.
In the end, the 42-30 final score was misleading; UCLA scored three late touchdowns to close the gap. For most of the afternoon, we saw glimpses of Oregon at its full potential. Keep Mariota healthy and protected, and the Ducks can still go a long way and Mariota can still compete for the Heisman.
Arizona's good fortune was bound to end. Early returns had Arizona looking a bit like 2013 Auburn. It had the ridiculous comeback with a Hail Mary at California. It drew a hurting Oregon team down three offensive tackles. It beat UTSA and Nevada by a total of 10 points. Rich Rodriguez is an excellent coach, and Arizona has some excellent weapons on offense, but the undefeated run and No. 10 ranking were bound to come to an end, even if the Wildcats nearly pulled off another miracle. The Wildcats were unable to contain USC RB Javorius Allen, while the same USC defense that was run off the field by Boston College's read-option game shut down Arizona's ground attack, holding the Wildcats to just 77 rushing yards. Of course, QB Anu Solomon compensated by attempting 72 passes, completing 43 for 395 yards. That included a 41-yard touchdown to Jared Baker early in the fourth quarter to cut USC's lead to eight, and Baker then scored from one yard out with 1:07 left. A pair of two-point conversion attempts failed (pass interference was called on the first), only for Arizona to keep the miracle hope alive by recovering an onside kick. Alas, luck finally ran out in Tucson. Steve Sarkisian successfully iced kicker Casey Skowron, and the miss from 36 yards out gave the Trojans a 28-26 win. At 3-1, USC is back atop the confusing Pac-12 South, while Arizona has been brought back a bit toward reality.
There is hope for Texas ... just not this year. Before kickoff on Saturday, let's say that Tyrone Swoopes would throw for 334 yards and run for 50, and that Oklahoma would finish with one third-down conversion and 232 total yards. It would sound exactly like a remarkable turnaround for Texas, and another surprising win in one of college football's greatest rivalries. However, this being Texas' 2014 season, that was not to be. Oklahoma rode a pick-six by Zack Sanchez and a kick return TD by Alex Ross to an otherwise inexplicable 17-13 halftime lead, then got just enough offense from a struggling Trevor Knight and Samaje Perine against an excellent Longhorns defense to build a big enough lead to stave off a late Texas rally. A couple fourth-quarter Swoopes touchdowns weren't enough, as Oklahoma won 31-26, dropping Texas to 2-4, even though the Longhors got what was easily the best performance of Swoopes' young career after a very erratic start to the season. Despite the loss to a hated rival, there was a glimmer of hope for the future. The problem is that Texas needs four more wins to get to bowl eligibility, and the remaining schedule isn't easy in a tricky Big 12 (Iowa State, at Kansas State, at Texas Tech, West Virginia, at Oklahoma State, TCU). That hope may need to be saved for 2015. Given how great the defense looks, give Charlie Strong time.
Notre Dame-Florida State is this week's game of the year. After being treated to No. 2 Auburn at No. 3 Mississippi State in Week 7, another top-five matchup headlines Week 8. Notre Dame survived three turnovers to outlast North Carolina 50-43, bumping it up to No. 5 in the polls as it gets set for a trip to now-No. 2 Florida State. While the Seminoles have had their share of frustrating moments, there was no such bad fortune in a 38-20 win at Syracuse that was never in doubt. With a largely forgettable slate of games next week, all the attention will be on a battle of two national powers in prime time in Tallahassee, with Jameis Winston meeting Everett Golson with significant playoff implications in mid-October.
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Grading the Nation: Best and Worst of the Rest
A+: Georgia. This is how you make a statement when playing without your suspended Heisman Trophy frontrunner. To be fair, perhaps we should be talking about Missouri in the "F" slot rather than Georgia here, but the Bulldogs did what Mizzou didn't do: They avoided shooting themselves in the foot, repeatedly, despite not having Todd Gurley (or Keith Marshall or Sony Michel) in the backfield. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo put the ball in the hands of freshman Nick Chubb over and over, and while Chubb averaged only 3.8 yards per carry, his 38 attempts for 143 yards and a touchdown helped Georgia control the game. As he did that, Hutson Mason hit 22 of 28 passes for 156 yards, and Georgia capitalized on four Maty Mauk interceptions to cruise to a 34-0 road win behind its defensive front and take control of the SEC East (assuming Kentucky doesn't just start beating everybody). As for Missouri, now we know how it lost to Indiana.
A: Duke. The ACC Coastal is finally getting back on track, with Georgia Tech falling from the ranks of the unbeaten and everyone looking close to even. Duke, the defending Coastal champs, struggled to defend Georgia Tech's option offense the last few years, but on Saturday the Blue Devils nearly matched the Yellow Jackets' rushing output and got the edge thanks to forcing three turnovers. Despite being 5-0 behind QB Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech turned to backup Tim Bylerly after Thomas' second interception. It wasn't enough: Duke got 102 yards and a touchdown from RB Josh Snead and avoided turnovers to win 31-25 and set up a weirdly important home game with Virginia (the lone Coastal unbeaten at 2-0 in the ACC) next week.
A-: West Virginia. Texas Tech is hardly the most difficult opponent at this point, but West Virginia successfully rebounded from a quiet 10-point first half to score a 37-34 road win in Lubbock to set up a key showdown with Baylor at home next Saturday. The Mountaineers overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, scoring touchdowns with 5:55 and 2:02 left before forcing a punt and driving 42 yards in the final minute to set up Josh Lambert's game-winning 55-yard field goal -- his second walk-off kick of the season after beating Maryland last month. While West Virginia got 301 yards from Clint Trickett in the passing game, in a Dana Holgorsen rarity it had two 100-yard rushers as Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell attacked a beatable defense for a Texas Tech team that has lost nine of its last 12 games. West Virginia, meanwhile, has already matched last year's disappointing win total, and while it may not be a conference contender, it can play a role in deteriming how the Big 12 race shakes out.
B+: Minnesota. The Gophers lost 30-6 to TCU a few weeks ago, but otherwise they're just successfully doing their thing, however dull it can be. They're 5-1 now after a 24-17 win over Northwestern, a game they won despite running 55 plays for just 274 total yards. Quarterback Mitch Leidner ran for two touchdowns, while Minnesota got the win thanks to a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown by Jalen Myrick with 7:19 to play. Minnesota may win ugly, but with Purdue and Illinois up next, it'll likely be 4-0 in the conference entering the season-ending stretch against Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
B: LSU. Florida is lousy, but LSU badly needed any kind of win to rebound from a dreadful start to conference play in the brutal SEC West. After converting just 2 of 26 third downs in losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, the Tigers went a decent 7 of 16 in a 30-27 win at Florida, despite the fact that the passing game was lackluster, again. Anthony Jennings was back in the starting lineup ahead of freshmam Brandon Harris, hitting 10 of 21 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown as attention shifted toward budding star freshman tailback Leonard Fournette, who ran for 140 yards and two scores to fuel the offense on the road. The Tigers and Gators traded scores in the second half, with Jeff Driskel finally hitting a big play for 73 yards to Demarcus Robinson to set up an 18-yard game-tying field goal with 1:49 left. LSU got the ball back and promptly went three-and-out, before late-game magic happened again under Les Miles: Driskel threw another bad interception, which set up Colby Delahoussaye's game-winning 55-yard field goal. In a rebuilding year in a tough division, LSU needs wins however it can get them.
B-: Stanford. The red-zone funk isn't getting any better. In a 34-17 win over Washington State on Friday, Stanford had seven trips inside the 20-yard line but scored touchdowns on only three of them, with a fumble and a missed field goal completing dooming two of them. The Cardinal have come up empty on nine of their 28 red-zone trips this season, and they also rank 87th nationally in third-down conversions after finishing 10th last season. The running game just hasn't found a consistent replacement for Tyler Gaffney, and Kevin Hogan needs to work off the running game to be successful. To be fair, he ended up with a strong game against the Cougars -- he completed 23 of 35 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns. Stanford's excellent defense, meanwhile, held record-setting Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday to just 292 yards on 69 attempts after he threw for 734 yards in last week's loss. Without reliable execution from the running game and/or improvement from Hogan, Stanford will struggle to avoid more losses after losing two games already.
C+: Michigan. It was going fairly well for a while! Michigan and Penn State, both with overmatched offensive lines, avoided punting for the first 27 and a half minutes of the game, as a total of six possessions ended in three field goals, two touchdowns and a Michigan interception. Alas, everyone fell back into their assigned roles. Penn State's final nine possessions ended in five punts, two turnovers on downs, one bad Christian Hackenberg interception and an intentional safety. Michigan's final eight possessions before killing the clock ended in five punts, two field goals and one turnover on downs. The two teams totaled 470 yards with no rushing game beyond a couple early Bill Belton runs for Penn State, and Hackenberg was immediately swarmed by the opposition for most of the game, again. In the end, Penn State took that intentional safety to set up an onside kick down five points, which it recovered, only to be falsely called offside. Penn State wouldn't have won anyway, given the status of the offensive line, and instead Michigan escapes with what is technically called a win. Given the way Michigan's season has gone, even an ugly 18-13 win over a team playing with half an offensive line is a cause for celebration in Ann Arbor.
C: Alabama. We're only a few weeks past the brief period where Lane Kiffin was a genius, the man who easily out-witted Will Muschamp in a runaway win over Florida. Now Alabama has scored three offensive touchdowns in two weeks, in a loss to Ole Miss and an ugly 14-13 win over Arkansas in which an early blocked extra point proved to be the difference. The Crimson Tide doesn't appear to have much confidence in Blake Sims right now. He was limited in completing 11 of 21 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, while the running game managed -1 yards in the first half before finding some life in the second half. Alabama went ahead on a six-yard touchdown from Sims to DeAndrew White with 12:36 left, and then the teams took turns stalling the rest of the way. Alabama had only one drive go longer than four plays in the second half; Arkansas had only two, with the last ending in a game-clinching interception for the Tide. Bret Bielema's search for an SEC win continues next week against Georgia in Little Rock; Alabama's just trying to prove again that it is still a playoff contender and no longer an afterthought as the state of Mississippi takes control of the SEC.
C-: Michigan State and Oklahoma State. Here's something we don't get to say often: Against ranked opponents, Purdue and Kansas both had the ball late with chances to put together game-tying drives. Both failed, of course, ending on interceptions (Michigan State returned it for a touchdown), because we're talking about Purdue and Kansas against Michigan State and Oklahoma State, respectively. But they had a chance! The Spartans won 45-31, with another big day from WR Tony Lippett (seven catches, 138 yards, one touchdown), while Oklahoma State won 27-20 despite posting only 275 total yards, thanks to Tyreek Hill's 99-yard kick return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
D+: Louisville. Losing at Clemson is hardly a crime, especially given the state of the Cardinals' offensive line playing against Clemson's fearsome pass rush. However, the game was there for the taking. Clemson unfortunately lost star freshman QB Deshaun Watson to a broken bone in his hand (which will sideline him for a month), only Louisville's offense couldn't get enough going to support yet another terrific defensive effort. And when they finally did, they blew it. A 73-yard pass from Will Gardner (who returned from injury but didn't start) to James Quick put the Cardinals on the doorstep. With 26 seconds and no timeouts left, an unsuccessful run at the goal line prompted Bobby Petrino to call for a spike on third down, choosing to take time to set up one play rather than rush but have two opportunities. The extra time failed to make a difference, as Louisville came up empty on fourth down, and Clemson won 23-17 despite not scoring an offensive touchdown, getting the go-ahead points on a field goal with 1:24 left. The Cardinals finished a miserable 1-of-17 on third down.
D: California. The Golden Bears have undoubtedly made impressive strides in year two under Sonny Dykes, but a 4-1 start was also clearly misleading -- even if that only loss was on a miracle Hail Mary-capped comeback by Arizona. To put it simply, there is nothing sustainable about winning back-to-back games when allowing 56 and 59 points (as well as a Division I single-game passing record). On Saturday against Washington, everything came undone in a 31-7 loss. While the Huskies have struggled with inconsistency, they have a ton of talent defensively, and it showed on Saturday in Berkeley. Cal was held to 4.38 yards per play (nearly half its efforts from the last two weeks), and it lost the turnover battle 3-0. There's still a tough climb ahead for Cal to truly break through in the Pac-12.
D-: Connecticut. The arc of UConn has been an eventful one. After beginning FBS play in 2000, it took only a decade to win the Big East (even at just eight wins) and get a BCS bowl bid. But then Randy Edsall left, and then Paul Pasqualoni was inexplicably hired, and now new coach Bob Diaco is left with a massive rebuilding effort. So far this season, UConn's only win was 19-16 over Stony Brook, an FCS team, and it continues to pile up candidates for the Sad Box Score Hall of Fame. On Saturday at Tulane, the Huskies lost 12-3, finding an end zone only when getting tackled for a safety. The Huskies rank third-to-last nationally in yards per play, and they end their season on Dec. 6 against SMU, the team that ranks second-to-last. Get your tickets now.
F: Fade routes. "We don't feel like thinking of a plan, so let's just throw it high to a tiny area toward a guy who may or may not be tall." The worst, always. TCU has done a terrific job rapidly improving its offense and QB Trevone Boykin under new co-coordinators Doug Meachem and Sonny Cumbie, but given Boykin's improvement, they should trust him with real passes, and not just low-percentage prayers that usually result in settling for field goals. Ban the end-zone fade, especially. Forever.
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Honor Roll: Week 7's Best Performances
1. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor. We can excuse the two interceptions, and we can brush aside the fact that he needed 55 attempts to do it. When you throw for 510 yards and six touchdowns against TCU's defense, overcoming a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 61-58 against a top-10 opponent, you get on this list, and you start getting back in the Heisman conversation too.
2. Name an Ole Miss defender. Robert Nkemdiche disrupted everything despite recording only two tackles. Cody Prewitt had a 75-yard interception for a touchdown and seven tackles. Marquis Hayes had two sacks. Serderius Bryant was all over the field. This is looking a lot like recent Alabama defenses: Nobody jumps off the stat sheet, but the defense is so deep and dominant that everyone contributes. Texas A&M ultimately finished with 455 yards and 20 points, thanks to a couple late touchdowns, but the Aggies offense was knocked completely out of rhythm.
3. Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington. Cal had hope early Saturday at the Washington one-yard line, but it was all ripped away as a fumble fell into the hands of Thompson, who took the length of the field for his fourth defensive touchdown of the season. Cal went on to score only one touchdown, with Thompson proving to be everywhere on defense. In addition to the fumble return, he also led the Huskies with 11 tackles.
4. Javorius Allen, RB, USC. An afterthought under Lane Kiffin, Allen broke out down the stretch last season, rushing for 100 yards in four of his last six games. Now, aside from USC's all-around dud at Boston College, Allen has cracked 100 yards in five of the first six games in 2014, with his best coming on Saturday night at No. 10 Arizona. To fuel the win, Allen gashed the Wildcats for 205 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, and he also caught four passes for 28 yards.
5. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. While we wait for a Florida State disciplinary hearing, Winston played his best game of the season at the Carrier Dome in a 38-20 win over Syracuse. He completed 30 of 36 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, in a game in which Rashad Greene (six catches, 107 yards) became Florida State's all-time receptions leader.
6. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin. Wisconsin might not be particularly good, but between the combination of 1) Gordon's talent, 2) the national awareness of Gordon's talent and 3) the chaos elsewhere nationally, he's heading for at least an invitation to New York in December. In a middling 38-28 win over Illinois, Gordon again carried a one-dimensional Badgers offense, rushing 27 times for 175 yards and four touchdowns, while fellow RB Corey Clement chipped in 164 yard with a 72-yard touchdown. Despite rushing for 38 yards against Western Illinois last month, Gordon has cracked the 1,000-yard mark already, averaging 7.9 yards per carry and 174 yards per game.
7. Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana. The Hoosiers may have lost to Iowa, but don't blame Coleman. It was the Indiana defense that gave up 45 points to the Hawkeyes. Coleman did what he could, rushing for 219 yards on 15 carries, with touchdowns of 83, 45 and 69 yards. He currently holds an edge over Melvin Gordon for the national rushing lead, with 1,060 yards and an average of 8.8 yards per carry.
8. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. Florida is obviously flawed, but run defense usually isn't the problem. Enter the highly touted freshman Fournette, who's starting to show signs of his unlimited upside with a rare combination of power, size and speed. He had his best game so far in the 30-27 win in Gainesville, rushing 27 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns despite the fact that the Tigers still have no reliable passing game.
9. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State. Winning 27-20 at Kansas was mostly ugly for the Cowboys. But the Jayhawks averaged 2.2 yards per rush and were hopeless to block Ogbah, who finished with two sacks, 5 ½ tackles for loss and a team-high 10 tackles. He now has 9 ½ tackles for loss for the season after first making a big impression in the opener against Florida State.
10. B.J. Catalon, RB, TCU. Catalon didn't have a prolific rushing day against Baylor, but he contributed to the 61-58 shootout loss in several ways: He ran for two touchdowns, he caught two passes for 71 yards and he returned a kick 94 yards for a touchdown to help spark the Frogs.
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Predicting how the playoff bracket will eventually play out (not slotting teams as they stand now based on current resumes).
As of now, both Ole Miss and Mississippi State would be in. Gazing into the future, both Ole Miss and Mississippi State have strong cases, but deciding between the two is relatively simple right now: Ole Miss hosts Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, and also gets Auburn at home, while Mississippi State has to travel to both Oxford and Tuscaloosa. They're relatively even, and the team that plays at home gets the edge.
After its win over TCU, Baylor is in the best position in the Big 12, although it must visit Oklahoma. In the ACC, Florida State is still in good position to go undefeated, assuming it takes care of Notre Dame at home. The last spot is up for grabs, with Michigan State still struggling to put together a complete game. Still, beat Ohio State at home next month, and the Spartans could be in good position if they win the Big Ten.
Notre Dame would get into the projected field with a win over Florida State, while one-loss Auburn, Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State are all lurking in the mix too.
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Week 8 Syllabus
1. No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State. After playing sloppy football for a few weeks, Notre Dame finally plays its first true road game, in one of the biggest games of the season. Even at No. 5, Notre Dame still isn't been taken 100 percent seriously as a playoff contender. A win in Tallahassee would change that.
2. No. 14 Kansas State at No. 11 Oklahoma. A chance for Kansas State to insert itself into the Big 12 title conversation after quietly blowing out UTEP and Texas Tech since the frustrating Auburn loss. It's a tough matchup for OU to use to rebound on offense after the ugly win over Texas.
3. No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 7 Alabama. The last two weeks have lessened the impact this one, and it's worth wondering whether Texas A&M should even be ranked at this point. Still, we know Alabama can struggle with offenses like this, and the Crimson Tide are coming off a 14-13 win over Arkansas.
4. No. 4 Baylor at West Virginia. You may remember the last time Baylor visited Morgantown: 70-63 West Virginia, with over 1,500 total yards, two 300-yard receivers and Geno Smith throwing eight touchdown passes. Baylor's defense is better than it was two years ago, but then again the Bears just won a 61-58 game against TCU, and the score last year was 73-42. No over/under can be high enough.
5. Washington at No. 9 Oregon. The Huskies defense averages four sacks per game and has forced 15 turnovers, presenting a tough test for Marcus Mariota and the Oregon offensive line, which fortunately got tackle Jake Fisher back in Week 7.