For the first time in college football history, two Mississippi schools are ranked in the Top Five. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are actually tied for third in the latest AP Poll. (The Rebels are ranked fourth, Bulldogs sixth in the coaches poll.)
How did this happen? Start with MSU dominating A&M 48-31 in Starkville, add in Ole Miss overcoming a undeserved 14-3 Alabama halftime lead to beat the Crimson Tide 23-17, and then have five of the Top Ten teams getting beat and you’ve got a wide open chase for the first-ever College Football Playoff. Let’s review:
1. It started last Thursday night with second-ranked Oregon going down – at home – against Arizona. The Ducks offensive line would eventually cost them at least one loss, and that’s what happened in Eugene. The previously unranked Wildcats were 24 point underdogs at Autzen stadium but pressured Oregon QB Marcus Mariota all night sacking him three times and forcing a fumble that sealed the deal. Mariota was sacked seven times in “way too hard fought” 38-31 win at Washington State in their last game two weeks ago. It would appear this is a problem Duck’s head coach Mark Helfrich cannot fix and I find it much more likely Oregon loses at least one other game than I do seeing them make the playoff.
2. Though not ranked in the Top Ten, BYU’s Cinderella story came to an end in Provo on Friday night, losing to Utah State 35-20.
3. The upsets continued Saturday morning when Mississippi State simply routed A&M 48-31. (The Bulldogs led 48-17 before the Aggies added a pair of meaningless touchdowns in the final 2:29.) State QB Dak Prescott deserves serious Heisman consideration after throwing for 268 yards and two TD’s and rushing for another three touchdowns and 77 yards. Pit bull running back Josh Robinson added another two touchdowns and 107 yards on just 17 carries, and the Bulldogs find themselves hosting GameDay this weekend as Auburn comes to Starkville. As for A&M, three Kenny Hill interceptions, and the “Trill” is gone in College Station.
4. Seventy miles North in Oxford, MS, ESPN’s GameDay made it’s first visit to The Grove – the top tailgating spot in college football. Typically, the Ole Miss football team hasn’t been as good as the pre & post game festivities, but under third year head coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels beat a number one ranked team for the first time in school history (Bama was ranked 1st in the coaches poll). Katy Perry stole the show as the celebrity picker, The Grove lived up to its billing and the trip to Oxford was everything GameDay had been waiting 20 years to experience. As for the game, the Rebels defense proved legit holding the Tide to ten points on the afternoon, while Bo Wallace led a fourth quarter comeback, made more difficult when the refs completely missed a face mask call that would’ve prevented a scoop ’n score fumble recovery that gave the Tide a 14-3 halftime lead. The Rebels rallied to score the game’s final ten points in the fourth quarter, and Senquez Golson’s interception of a Blake Sims pass in the end zone with :31 seconds left sealed the victory, and all that was left was for the student section to pour onto the field and struggle to bring down the goal posts as Ole Miss is 5-0 for the first time since 1962 – the last time the team was undefeated (and last won a Nat’l Title) and James Meredith became the first African-American student at the school. To the victor goes the spoils, as Ole Miss must now overcome the hangover of victory and travel to College Station and take on a Texas A&M team looking for redemption.
5. As Saturday afternoon moved on, TCU handed fourth-ranked Oklahoma a 37-33 defeat in Fort Worth. Katy Perry’s potentially new boyfriend – Sooner QB Trevor Knight was intercepted twice – and his hail Mary pass fell incomplete and the Frogs frustrated OU yet again. The star QB in this game was TCU’s Trevone Boykin who threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns, ran for another 77 yards, and the Horn Frogs finally got their win over Oklahoma after losing by three last year and seven the year before.
6. Down the road in Austin, Baylor beat the Longhorns 28-7, but this game was much closer than the score indicated. It wasn’t until the seven-minute mark of the third quarter that the Bears’ offense led by Brice Petty found the end zone (Baylor scored a first quarter touchdown by returning a blocked field goal 62 yards). Petty’s Heisman hopes probably died at DKR after passing for just 111 yards on a 7-22 performance.
7. Before the evening action got underway, Notre Dame scored with 1:01 remaining when Everett Golson found Ben Koyack for a 23 yard touchdown that gave the Irish a 17-14 win over Stanford. The Cardinal is officially out of playoff consideration with a second loss, while the Irish still have to get past top-ranked Florida State (which scored 30 second half points to beat Wake Forest 43-3) and Southern Cal, but ND is capable of winning both those games and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Domers earning one of the four playoff spots.
8. After looking more lucky than good, Auburn earned my preseason prediction that they’d win the SEC-West by rolling LSU 41-7. Auburn led 31-7 at the half getting 207 yards passing and two TD’s, and 119 yards rushing and two more TD’s from QB Nick Marshall. Meanwhile, if LSU doesn’t turn things around – QUICKLY – Les Mile’s Tigers will find themselves finishing in the basement of the West.
9. Finishing the Top Ten upsets, Utah knocked off UCLA 30-28 in the Rose Bowl. After Brett Hundley hit Eldridge Massington for a 40 yard touchdown pass with 4:50 to go, the Utes drove 63 yards, consuming 4:16 to set-up Andy Phillips 29 yard game-winning field goal. The Bruins have been flirting with defeat all season with the exception of last week’s trouncing of Arizona State, and their defense just isn’t strong enough to keep UCLA among those deserving playoff consideration.
So what do all the upsets mean? Mostly, that those teams we thought were among the best, see: Alabama, A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oregon and last year’s BCS Title opponents – undefeated Florida State and Auburn – are still alive for a playoff spot. Michigan State, Georgia and perhaps Ohio State are back in the discussion. And Ole Miss, Mississippi State, TCU and Arizona have joined the conversation. (Yes, Georgia Tech is undefeated at 5-0, but come on, really?!)
Bama is not the “BAMA” we’re used to (I call it justice for hiring Lane Kiffin), the secondary can be exploited, and the Tide make more mental errors than a typical Crimson Tide team. It would appear that A&M is still a defense away, as the Aggies were a tripping call away from losing to Arkansas in Dallas last weekend, and simply could not stop Miss. State this weekend. As for the Magnolia state schools, it will be very shocking if either the Rebels or Bulldogs represent the SEC West in Atlanta, but it’s certainly not inconceivable. The conference isn’t “down” because they’re up, these are good teams they’re just new to this class and neither – because of reputation – will have any room for error. (It may not be fair, but it’s true.)
Auburn is in the drivers seat in the West, but they’ve still got a lot of very tough games to win (see: MSU in Starkville this weekend, plus road trips to Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama, and a home game against A&M.) In the East, Georgia is the best team and should run the table. If they can win the SEC Title game, they’re in. Getting by road trips to Mizzou and Arkansas in the next two weeks won’t be easy, neither will that home game against Auburn, and because it’s UGA you’ve got to include Florida and Georgia Tech as possible road blocks. The Dawgs have NO ROOM for error, not a good spot for a Mark Richt coached team.
In the Big 12, I just can’t see Baylor getting through unscathed. I still see Oklahoma as the most talented, but their margin for error seems gone. As for TCU, while their defense was far from stout against the Sooners they are good enough to win the Horned Frogs a conference title.
In the Big 10, despite losing QB Braxton Miller and a home opener to a now 4-2 Virginia Tech, Ohio State could win a playoff spot as other contenders beat up on each other, with a win over Michigan State. However, the same could be said for the Spartans if their only loss ends up being to Oregon.
Speaking of the Ducks and the Pac-12, unless Rich-Rod can get Arizona to run the table I think this conference gets shut out of the first-ever playoff. UCLA is just not good enough, neither is ASU and USC already is out with a pair of losses. As for the North division, Oregon State, Cal and Washington are merely pretenders, and Oregon’s O-line will probably cost the Ducks another game, which will eliminate them from consideration.
Finally in the ACC you can probably ink in FSU for one of the four playoff spots, though the Seminoles are not deserving of their number-one ranking. Can currently undefeated Georgia Tech beat the ‘Noles? Uh, NO.
It’s another brutal weekend upcoming with Ole Miss at A&M, Auburn at Mississippi State, Baylor hosting TCU, Bama with a trap game at Arkansas, Arizona hosting Southern Cal, UCLA entertaining Oregon, and Georgia at Missouri.
What’s it all mean? That it’s still too early to know anything for certain, but it’s looking more and more likely one of the four playoff teams will enter either the Rose or Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day with a pair of defeats.
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