It's often the surprising losses -- the trap games -- that derail promising seasons. Just ask Oklahoma State (Iowa State) in 2011 or USC (Oregon State) in 2008.
As for 2014, here are the most perilous traps remaining down the stretch for the top six in the AP poll. That includes Mississippi State, FSU and Ole Miss, the three remaining undefeated Power 5 teams.
1. Ole Miss
Trap game: at Arkansas (Nov. 22)
When they go to Fayetteville, the Rebels will essentially be coming off two open dates (they play Presbyterian on Nov. 8). But Arkansas still presents a classic look-ahead scenario, because Ole Miss has the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State the following week. The "biggest Egg Bowl ever" chatter is buzzing now; just imagine what it will be like a week before the game. If the Rebels' focus is waning, Arkansas is good enough to punish them for it. Mark it down: The Razorbacks are going to end their 16-game SEC losing streak this season, and it wouldn't surprise me if it happened in an impactful game. Mississippi State (Nov. 1) also should be on high alert. Arkansas will slow down the game. Even if Ole Miss isn't running as much up-tempo this season, pace is still something the Rebs want to dictate. The timing and matchup are as dangerous as it gets.
"Give the guys some credit," D'Onofrio said in this article from Matt Porter of The Palm Beach (Florida) Post.
The truth is the Miami defense has played well this season. The problem is the defense is not stepping up in the games the Miami program needs it to.
Against Nebraska, the Hurricanes were torched on the ground and allowed the Cornhuskers to convert 70 percent of their third-down attempts. In the Hurricanes' three losses, all on the road, they are allowing opponents to convert nearly 60 percent of their third-down attempts. With the Miami offense improving each week, the defense needs to do a much better job of giving quarterback Brad Kaaya the ball.
There have also been two games already in which Miami allowed more than 300 rushing yards, and if the Hurricanes were able to get a few stops against Georgia Tech, there was a good chance they could have won the game.
But D'Onofrio is right in that the defense is seemingly taking steps in the right direction. The unit played well in the first half against Cincinnati, and it put the clamps on Duke at the end of September.
The problem is the Georgia Tech loss was sandwiched between those games, and that inconsistency is causing Canes fans to pull their hair out.
With a date against Virginia Tech on Thursday, the odds are the defense will limit the Hokies, who rank 83rd nationally in total offense. But what will happen the next two games against North Carolina and Florida State?
- Virginia Tech's defense needs to be prepared on Thursday night, too.
- Once North Carolina began racking up the points, the Georgia Tech defense began playing without discipline by trying to make the big play instead executing the called play.
- For the Tar Heels to truly turn this season around, the defense will need to begin making strides.
- Clemson is right where most people expected them to be at 5-2, but Dabo Swinney still sees greatness for this team.
- Syracuse still expects its indoor facility to be ready in December.
- Florida State linebacker Matthew Thomas, who was suspended the first six games, saw quite a bit of action in his first game back.
- Miles Gooch was a productive high school quarterback, but like so many star athletes at the position, a change was needed in college. Now Gooch is Virginia's leading receiver.
- Louisville will wear alternate uniforms for next week's game against Florida State. Do you like them? More importantly: does it matter? I don't buy the theory that alternate uniforms -- black, gray, turquoise -- have any impact on a game.
- If you like Pittsburgh football and like math, here's a breakdown of James Conner's bounce back from a drop off. While Conner was better against Virginia Tech, he still wasn't the dominating runner Pitt fans saw the first few weeks.
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Starting defensive tackle Luther Maddy said Monday night on Twitter that he needs a second surgery on his knee and will sit out the rest of the season.
His loss is a big one for the Hokies, who have had to make do without him for the last three games. Nigel Williams replaced him in the lineup, but it's tough to make up for Maddy's experience and skill-set. The four-year starter was a preseason All-ACC team selection after he had 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries a season ago. In four games this season, Maddy had seven hurries.
Virginia Tech also plans on redshirting Brandon Facyson, who started the season at cornerback opposite Kendall Fuller. Facyson has been slow to heal from a stress fracture to his shin and has not played since Week 3.
In one other Virginia Tech injury note, running back Marshawn Williams is expected to play against the Hurricanes after missing last week with a sprained ankle.
Over at Georgia Tech, the Jackets got some tough injury news of their own when coach Paul Johnson said that starting B-back Zach Laskey probably won't play at Pitt on Saturday. Laskey hurt his shoulder late against North Carolina last week and was in a sling Monday. Laskey has been terrific this season, with a team-high 120 carries for 595 yards and five touchdowns.
He gained 70 or more yards in each game this season.
Now let's see what else is making headlines in the ACC:
- Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has sensed frustration with his unproductive offense.
- Is anybody ever going to learn their lesson about Duke?
- Things got a little awkward when Jimbo Fisher was asked about Jameis Winston during an appearance in Birmingham, Alabama.
- There are some who believe Louisville will give Florida State a run for its money next Thursday night. Others, like Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, believe the Cards will pull the upset. Fast forward to the 1:15 mark to hear his proclamation.
- Will Miami receiver Stacy Coley finally break out?
- Kenneth Wainstein will release the findings of his investigation into academic irregularities at North Carolina on Wednesday. While we wait for that, quarterback Marquise Williams has been on quite a tear lately.
- Once again, Pitt is looking for some sort of consistency in the football program.
- Syracuse tackle Sean Hickey has high praise for the Clemson defensive line.
- Virginia faces a swing game against North Carolina on Saturday.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher cut short a media interview Monday after he was asked whether his reputation was taking a hit because of star quarterback Jameis Winston's off-field issues.
Fisher has faced heavy criticism for both standing up for Winston throughout the university's handling of the investigation about whether the quarterback sexually assaulted an FSU student in December 2012, and not coming out with a stronger suspension of Winston for a recent profane and sexually charged outburst.
Fisher was asked in an interview with AL.com and several other media outlets whether he thought his reputation as a no-nonsense coach had received any damaging blows in light of Winston's several off-field incidents and subsequent questionable behavior.
"Why is my reputation taking a hit? For backing a kid who has done nothing wrong?" Fisher said. "I don't want to get into this. The questions weren't supposed to be asked today. I'm done. I'm done."
The interview abruptly ended.
Later Monday, AL.com said Fisher contacted the website and agreed to answer several questions about his Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback he had earlier declined to answer.
The questions included whether any date had been set for an upcoming student judiciary hearing in which Winston might have violated the university's student conduct code for his behavior during the alleged 2012 sexual assault.
"They'll have to set the date for that and it'll be through our administration and their lawyers," Fisher said.
He also conceded he'd be open to disciplining Winston "if the facts change."
Winston is the comeback kid
Amid all the off-field chaos, it's easy to forget how good Jameis Winston is on the field, and he's been particularly impressive when his team needs him most. Winston is awfully good at rallying his team. In the second-half comeback against Notre Dame on Saturday, Winston was a sterling 15-of-16 for 181 yards, leading two touchdown drives.
This is nothing new. While Winston hasn't been tested often, his numbers when playing from behind are off the charts. Since the start of last season, Winston has completed 81-of-109 passes (74 percent) for 1,104 yards (13.6 yards-per-attempt) with 12 touchdowns and one interception when FSU is trailing. That's absurd.
Winston also excelled against the blitz Saturday. In 2013, he completed 69 percent of his throws, averaged 11.8 yards-per-attempt and tossed 21 TDs to just three picks vs. the blitz, but to start this season, his YPA dropped to 8.1 and he had just three TDs on 54 attempts. Against the Irish, however, Winston was 9-of-11 for 113 yards with two TDs and no picks when facing the blitz.
Noles' ground game struggling
On Saturday, FSU mustered just 50 yards on 26 rushing attempts -- a dismal 1.92 YPC. Last season, FSU averaged 5.6 yards per rush, but it has yet to hit that mark in any game against an FBS foe this season.
It's not all on the tailbacks, however. The biggest difference appears to be the O-line.
FSU's runners are averaging roughly the exact same number of yards after first contact as they did in the previous two seasons, but they're getting more than two yards-per-carry less before contact than they did in 2012.
Boyd and nothing else
Pitt toppled Virginia Tech on Thursday despite QB Chad Voytik completing just 10 passes (on 17 attempts). What's perhaps even more noteworthy about Pitt's passing game, however, is that the only wide receiver to catch a pass was Tyler Boyd, who had six receptions on nine targets.
That's hardly a surprise. For the season, Boyd has 34 catches against FBS teams. The rest of Pitt's receiving corps has 22.
Overall, Boyd has accounted for 41.4 percent of Pitt's targets and 49.7 percent of its receiving yards vs. FBS foes -- both the highest rates in the nation.
Clemson stuffs the run
Remember in the opener when Todd Gurley ran all over Clemson's defense? Georgia racked up 328 rushing yards and five TDs on 41 carries. It was ugly.
Since then, however, the Tigers have surrendered just 395 more yards in six games. Clemson is allowing just 2.0 yards-per-carry since the opener, the best rate in the nation. Against Boston College on Saturday, it held the Eagles to nearly 200 yards below their season rushing average, and the Tigers racked up 14 tackles for loss. It was the fourth time in the last six games Clemson has had double-digit TFLs, and since that opening game against UGA, no defense in the country has created a higher percentage of negative rushing plays than Clemson's (36.5 percent).
Marquise the magician
For the second straight week, North Carolina QB Marquise Williams was terrific. Williams enjoyed his third 300-yard game of the season (Winston is the only other ACC QB with as many), chucking four TD passes and adding a fifth score -- along with 70 rushing yards -- on the ground in a win against Georgia Tech.
It's the second straight game Williams had 300 passing yards, 70 rushing yards and at least three total touchdowns. In the past decade, the only other Power 5 conference QB to do that in back-to-back games was Heisman winner Robert Griffin III.
Heels, Jackets struggle on D
Entering Saturday's game, the only Power 5 conference team allowing more yards-per-play than Georgia Tech (6.3) and North Carolina (6.2) was South Carolina (6.35), so it was no surprise that the two defenses coughed up 1,190 yards and 91 points when they faced off.
For Georgia Tech, it's the continuation of a downward trend. In Ted Roof's first eight games against FBS teams as Tech's defensive coordinator, the Yellow Jackets allowed 5.5 yards-per-play and held five opponents below 101 yards rushing. In his last nine, opponents have rushed for an average of 173 yards per game and are averaging 6.5 yards-per-play overall, good for 115th in the nation in that span.
But things are even worse for the Tar Heels. In the last decade, just five Power 5 conference teams have allowed more yards in their first seven games than UNC (3,659) and only four have allowed more touchdowns (40).
- Entering the game, Virginia QBs were completing 63 percent of their throws to wide receivers this season, but against Duke, the Hoos completed just 45 percent. Matt Johns targeted wideouts on 70.2 percent of his throws in the game — the second-highest percentage of throws to WRs for Virginia quarterbacks this season. Cavaliers wideouts haven't caught a touchdown pass in their past three games after hauling in six in the first four.
- Johns did hit running back Khalek Shepherd for a passing touchdown. It was just the third one Duke has allowed this season. Only San Jose State and Ole Miss have allowed a lower rate of touchdown throws in the nation.
- Ryan Switzer in 13 games last season: 32 catches, 341 yards, three TDs. Switzer in seven games this season: 34 catches, 429 yards, three TDs.
- The two highest completion percentages for Power 5 wideouts (min. 30 targets) reside in the ACC, and both are true freshmen: Clemson's Artavis Scott (38 catches on 46 targets) and NC State's Bo Hines (28 catches on 35 targets).
- UNC's defense has struggled, but it has also been opportunistic. The Heels have 80 points off turnovers this year, the third-best total in the country. On the flip side, the Heels have allowed 77 points off turnovers, the second-worst total in the country.