South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson thought he had just ended the game.

With 5:24 left in the fourth quarter, and the Gamecocks clinging to a 38-35 lead over sixth-ranked Georgia, Thompson gift wrapped an interception for Georgia cornerback Damian Swann. The veteran defensive back scooted toward the end zone and an illegal block on the Gamecocks gave Georgia the ball at South Carolina's 4-yard line after Swann was eventually tackled.

No one could possibly judge Thompson's immediate assumption about the outcome of the game. With Georgia holding the nation's best player -- running back Todd Gurley -- in its backfield, you just knew that the Dawgs would pull ahead.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Jeff Blake/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley never got a chance to give Georgia the lead when the Bulldogs had a first down inside South Carolina's 5-yard line late in the game.
But when offensive coordinator Mike Bobo could have just handed the ball to his freight train running back 12 feet away from the goal line, he decided to give quarterback Hutson Mason the opportunity to shine. What ensued was a bizarre set of events that included a perplexing intentional grounding play -- on first down, no less -- and a missed chip-shot field-goal attempt by the very reliable Marshall Morgan.

Minutes later, the Gamecocks were celebrating and rushing through their own set of hedges in the end zone to mob their fantastic student section.

"We were meant to win this game, and Georgia was not," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who improved to 16-6 all-time against Georgia.

That might be true, and though there were a lot of questionable calls and no-calls that helped the Gamecocks along the way (has anyone found the phantom hold that took away the early 54-yard Gurley touchdown?), not giving Gurley, who had 128 rushing yards to that point, the ball inside the 5 was a mistake of epic proportions. Everyone in the stadium expected No. 3 to get the ball, and he should have. Even if South Carolina had all 11 defenders stacked in the box, the first -- and only -- call you have to start the drive is to hand it to the best and toughest running back in the entire country.

Instead, Georgia gambled with the pass and Mason's penalty moved the Dawgs back 10 yards. Georgia eventually had to settle for a field-goal attempt that was missed.

"If I had to do it again we would’ve hammered it," Georgia coach Mark Richt said after the game.

Bobo wasn't made available to the media after the game.

At least Richt knows it wasn't the right call, but there is nothing that can be done about it now. You learn and move on, but this one will sting. There will be a lot of finger-pointing by fans, as the Bulldogs dive into the teeth of conference season. And this play could come back to haunt the Bulldogs if they don't make it to Atlanta for the SEC title game in December.

Forget all the craziness that certainly didn't help Georgia on Saturday, that first-down call will leave a sick feeling in Athens for months if the Bulldogs continue to look up in the SEC East standings.

We don't know if Gurley, who had already made a handful of dazzling/gritty plays before that drive even began, would have punched the ball in on first down, but he was without a doubt the best option in that situation.

At first glance: SEC Week 4

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What do we know about the SEC right now? Not as much as we thought we did on Friday, before Kentucky put a triple-overtime scare into Florida, South Carolina toppled Georgia and other conference teams gave us reason to doubt previous assumptions about the SEC hierarchy.

The uncertainty is part of what makes following the league fun, though. With a couple more SEC teams jumping into conference play this week, we should soon gain a better understanding of where things actually stand within the conference. But for now -- with a couple of key SEC games and a huge nonconference matchup on Thursday ahead -- let’s celebrate how many SEC fan bases truly believe their teams have a legitimate chance to make it to Atlanta in December.

A quick look at the week ahead:

Game of the week: Florida at Alabama
Little did we know before the season that Florida’s first major challenge of the fall would come from Kentucky and not from Nick Saban’s juggernaut in Tuscaloosa. Will Muschamp’s team (2-0, 1-0 SEC) needed an all-star performance from receiver Demarcus Robinson (15 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns) and an assist from the back judge who was minding the play clock on a key fourth-down play to beat the Wildcats (2-1, 0-1) in overtime. The Gators need to make a lot of progress in a little time if they’re to have a chance against No. 3 Alabama (3-0), despite the Crimson Tide’s over reliance on dump-off passes to Amari Cooper and occasionally shoddy pass defense. Florida has the ability to make this a competitive game, but it must look a lot more like the team that destroyed Eastern Michigan, 65-0, two weeks ago than the one that easily could have lost to Kentucky.

Player under pressure: Dak Prescott
Mississippi State’s quarterback has been great against three overmatched teams so far (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama). When they visit No. 8 LSU this weekend, Prescott and the Bulldogs will gain their first real opportunity to prove they’ll be more than a middle-of-the-pack program in the SEC West this season. LSU hasn’t allowed a single point in nine quarters and has outscored opponents 108-0 since falling behind Wisconsin, 24-7, early in the second half of the opener. The Tigers traditionally win comfortably in this series, so the pressure is on Prescott to keep the Bulldogs afloat against by far the best team they will have faced to date.

Coaches under the microscope: Georgia coordinators Mike Bobo and Jeremy Pruitt
A longtime Mark Richt assistant, Bobo has fielded some of the most productive offenses in school history in recent seasons, but he has taken plenty of heat for not handing the ball to Todd Gurley on Saturday with Georgia knocking at the South Carolina goal line with the chance to take a late lead. That decision blew up in Bobo’s face when the drive sputtered and normally solid kicker Marshall Morgan missed a chip-shot field goal. Meanwhile, newcomer Pruitt’s defense was atrocious, surrendering 447 yards of total offense following a solid debut two weeks ago against Clemson. This Saturday’s matchup against Troy shouldn’t provide a major challenge for the Bulldogs, but it will be their next opportunity to get bad tastes out of their mouths.

Storyline to watch: Auburn’s travel schedule
Playing a Thursday night game halfway across the country can’t help but be disruptive for Gus Malzahn’s No. 5 Auburn Tigers (2-0, 1-0). It might be a competitive challenge, too, as the 1,000-mile trip to Manhattan, Kansas, will culminate with Malzahn’s team facing No. 20 Kansas State (2-0). The sunny side of the unusual trip is that Auburn was off last weekend, so it will not play on short rest. Plus the Tigers will have nine days until they host Louisiana Tech on Sept. 27, so they have extra recovery time built into the back end of this trip and a relatively easy nonconference game between K-State and a huge SEC matchup with LSU on Oct. 4. Nonetheless, this odd piece of scheduling will probably create a couple of headaches for Malzahn and his staff.

Intriguing matchup: Arkansas running game against Northern Illinois defense
Fresh off a 438-yard outing in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech, Arkansas’ impressive rushing attack seems to rank among the nation’s best. Jonathan Williams (22 carries, 145 yards, four TDs against Texas Tech) and Alex Collins (27-212, 2 TDs) might be the best tandem in the SEC and the Razorbacks’ offensive line is doing fine work. Let’s see how they fare on Saturday against a Northern Illinois defense that ranks 13th nationally against the run, surrendering 81 yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry. The Huskies posted those numbers in wins against Presbyterian, Northwestern and UNLV, so they certainly haven’t seen the likes of Arkansas’ running game yet. It seems highly likely NIU’s opponent averages might rise a bit after Saturday’s game.
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After their 38-35 upset of No. 6 Georgia, are South Carolina's playoff hopes back on track? And where does Georgia go from here?

Drive Through: AP Poll Angst

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Georgia lost to South Carolina, and Stanford lost to USC. Yet, in the week 4 AP Poll, both teams are ranked higher than the teams that beat them. Heather Dinich explains why voters need to do a better job.

SEC morning links

September, 15, 2014
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Arkansas' 49-28 win at Texas Tech was a big one for the Hogs in the Bret Bielema era, perhaps the biggest to date. It's a sign of a program showing improvement after a rough 2013. In the aftermath, much of the discussion focused on the Razorbacks' running game, led by Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and that big Arkansas offensive line. Rightfully so. But what is easy to overlook is the performance of the Razorbacks' defense, which took some body blows early but had an impressive second half, holding the high-powered Red Raiders to just seven points. New defensive coordinator Robb Smith's crew stood up to the challenge Texas Tech presented and helped Arkansas score a seminal win as a result.

Though they lost, Kentucky opened a lot of eyes on Saturday night in the Swamp. Taking Florida to three overtimes in a 36-30 loss is notable for a program that has been a cellar dweller. One of the reasons for the Wildcats' ability to compete is the increased talent on the field they've gathered in recruiting under coach Mark Stoops. Several of those young Wildcats, especially receiver Garrett Johnson, give Kentucky reason for hope in the future.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is often cited as one of the most detailed-oriented coaches around. That may be true, but it doesn't apply to every part of the game, apparently. Asked after Saturday's win over Southern Mississippi about the play of left guard Leon Brown, Saban admitted that he doesn't pay much attention to the offensive linemen. As a former quarterback and defensive back, he focuses on the skill players. He emphasized that the linemen are important but that he doesn't even "watch them during individual [drills]." You can see the video, where Saban smiles and jokes his way through the soliloquy, here.

Around the SEC
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We've got three big questions heading into Week 4, Florida survives at home and doesn't head-to-head mean anything? It's all ahead in your College Football Minute.

SEC bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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We're creeping closer and closer to the meat of conference season in the SEC. That just means things will get a little clearer in the bowl picture for the league.

We had a major shakeup at the top of our predictions with South Carolina's 38-35 upset win over Georgia, but we're still going with one SEC team making the College Football Playoff and 11 teams from the league making it into the postseason:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Alabama
Orange Bowl: Texas A&M
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: South Carolina
Capital One Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: LSU
Outback Bowl: Ole Miss
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Georgia
Belk Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Mississippi State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Florida
Birmingham Bowl: Tennessee
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College football reporter Heather Dinich breaks down the notable movers in the ESPN College Football Power Rankings.

SEC Reigns Over AP Rankings

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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ESPN College Football Insider Brett McMurphy discusses the latest Associated Press college football poll, where the SEC has an unprecedented seven teams in the top 15.

SEC again dominates AP poll

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:07
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South Carolina's win over Georgia vaulted the Gamecocks 10 spots to No. 14 in The Associated Press college football poll, giving the Southeastern Conference an unprecedented seven teams in the top 15.

The SEC had eight teams ranked in the poll for the third straight week and five teams in the top 10 for two weeks running. Alabama was third behind No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Oregon, followed by No. 5 Auburn, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 8 LSU and No. 10 Ole Miss.

Georgia fell to No. 13 after losing to the Gamecocks 38-35, and Missouri was No. 18.

Florida State, which was off, had 37 first-place votes, losing one to the Ducks, who had 17.


(Read full post)


SEC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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There's a new No. 1 in the SEC Power Rankings following South Carolina's triumph over Georgia. The teams at the top of this week's rankings weren't tested this week, but that could change Saturday, when Florida travels to Alabama and Mississippi State heads to LSU. This week's shakeup could be just the beginning.

Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.

Best of the visits: SEC

September, 14, 2014
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There were some great games around the SEC over the weekend. Several prospects attended games and used social media as a platform to share their experiences. Here's a look at some of the top social media posts:

The No. 2-ranked inside linebacker in the country, Roquan Smith, visited South Carolina for its 38-35 victory over Georgia. The Under Armour All-American tweeted out a picture of his family in Williams-Brice Stadium. Georgia is one of Smith’s favorite schools, while South Carolina has fallen behind. A big win against the Bulldogs could have given the Gamecocks a boost.



Former Florida defensive back commit Marcus Lewis is still considering Kentucky and Florida. The four-star prospect might not have attended the game, but Lewis was definitely watching on TV. The ESPN 300 prospect tweeted out his thoughts on how Kentucky looked.



David Womack tweeted a picture of his son, Matt Womack, an LSU commit, with Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Womack has been committed to LSU since July, but it appears the Alabama offer could give this three-star offensive lineman something to think about.



Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson, despite suffering a shoulder injury Friday night, visited Florida for the third consecutive week. In this photo he tweeted out, Jefferson is in the Florida locker room holding a “Chucky” doll. The doll, which is usually taken through the Gator Walk prior to the game, is a recent Florida defensive tradition started by New England Patriots defensive tackle and former Florida player Dominique Easley and passed down to defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.



ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Brandon McIlwain poses with his mom for a photo in front of Williams-Brice Stadium. McIlwain has narrowed down his choices to South Carolina, Duke, Florida, Auburn, Penn State and Virginia Tech. The strong-armed quarterback is one of the top signal-callers in the country for 2016.



Miami running back commit Dexter Williams visited Florida for its thrilling 36-30 victory over Kentucky. Despite his commitment to the Hurricanes, the Gators have continued to pursue Williams. Williams tweeted about his time in Gainesville.



2017 OL prospect Jack Anderson, who already holds offers from Arizona State, New Mexico, Texas Tech and UAB, visited Texas A&M for its 38-10 victory over Rice on Saturday night.

Playoff picture: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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Week 3 reminded us just how wild and unpredictable college football can be. Boston College shocked No. 9 USC. Virginia Tech lost at home to East Carolina one week after a monumental upset at Ohio State. Kentucky pushed Florida to three overtimes. South Carolina stunned No. 6 Georgia. Virginia knocked off No. 21 Louisville.

Did we mention USC lost to Boston College?

The playoff picture is as cloudy as the skies over Williams-Brice Stadium, but every game affects it in some way. Here’s a quick rundown of what we learned after Week 3:

[+] EnlargePharoh Cooper, Dylan Thompson
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina is once again pointing forward in the playoff picture thanks to a big win over No. 6 Georgia.
Who helped themselves the most: South Carolina. Had the Gamecocks lost to Georgia, they would’ve been written off in this space. Gone. Kaput. Better luck next year. Instead, they kept their playoff hopes alive by reasserting themselves in the SEC East race. Make it to the SEC title game and you’ve got a shot at the College Football Playoff. Win the SEC and you’ve got a ticket.

Once again, Georgia is looking up at the Head Ball Coach, but don’t give up on the Bulldogs. Remember, the last two times South Carolina beat Georgia, it was Georgia that went on to win the division. South Carolina’s win didn’t guarantee anything except longer life in the playoff race.

Who was hurt the most? The city of L.A. Sure, UCLA won and backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel was hoisted onto the shoulders of his teammates like he just beat, well, USC. But it was at unranked Texas, a beleaguered team that had just gotten smacked around by BYU the previous week. And with starter Brett Hundley injuring his elbow in the game, there are plenty of questions surrounding the Bruins moving forward.

UCLA is now 3-0 for the third straight season under Jim Mora, but if you’re going by that ever-scientific eyeball test, you’ve seen that UCLA hasn’t looked great in any of those wins. Now the Bruins have to go beat a ranked Arizona State team.

No. 9 USC, meanwhile, was -- get this -- outgained by Boston College on the ground 452-20! Was the defense in the stands? BC quarterback Tyler Murphy ran for 191 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. So, there’s that. But hey, the Trojans beat Stanford.

Injury impact: The College Football Playoff’s 13-member selection committee will consider injuries as it determines the top four teams in the country, and there were two injuries of note Saturday night. Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly injured his right foot in a 38-24 win over Colorado, and Hundley also left early with his elbow injury. No timeline has been set for either quarterback’s return, and the teams will face each other on Sept. 25.

Biggest trap game: Virginia Tech. It was just a week ago that the Hokies were being considered a dark horse for the national title. With what appeared to be a manageable schedule -- no Florida State, no Clemson in the regular season -- and a chance to beat a ranked opponent in the ACC title game, the Hokies had a shot.

Clearly, it was a mirage. East Carolina went into Blacksburg and beat the Hokies 28-21. Even more defeating was the fact that Virginia Tech was in position to overcome a 21-point deficit for what would have been the biggest comeback ever under Frank Beamer. Instead, ECU quarterback Shane Carden scored a rushing touchdown with 16 seconds left in the game. Before you start snickering, Ohio State fans, the Hokies’ loss now makes the Buckeyes’ home loss to Virginia Tech look even worse. Speaking of Ohio State ...

The beat goes on: The Big Ten beat, that is. The conference is now 1-9 against opponents from Power 5 conferences. Iowa lost at home to Iowa State, Maryland lost at home to West Virginia, Minnesota was beaten by TCU and Illinois was pummeled by Washington. Surprised? Don’t be. According to Vegas, Big Ten teams were favored to win in just four of those nine losses.

If only it ended there.

The Hoosiers lost to another pesky MAC team, Bowling Green. It was the league’s third loss to a MAC team in the past two weeks.

There are only four spots in the College Football Playoff. The Big Ten doesn’t look like it wants one.

Drawing conclusions from Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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Georgia vs. South CarolinaChris Morris for ESPN

Each Sunday during the season, ESPN.com will highlight four storylines that had an impact on the College Football Playoff race.

No. 24 South Carolina 38, No. 6 Georgia 35

"I think I may be the winningest coach against Georgia here at South Carolina," said Steve Spurrier, who has now won more games than any other coach against Georgia, including four victories in five tries with South Carolina.


Boston College 37, No. 9 USC 31

In its "red bandanna" game honoring Welles Crowther, a Sept. 11 victim and hero, Boston College shocks USC for its first victory over a top-10 team in a decade.


No. 12 UCLA 20, Texas 17

UCLA backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel, subbing in for an injured Brett Hundley, threw a 33-yard TD pass with three minutes left to rally past upset-minded Texas in Arlington, Texas.


East Carolina 28, No. 17 Virginia Tech 21

A week after upsetting Ohio State, Virginia Tech is toppled by East Carolina after Pirates quarterback Shane Carden threw three touchdown passes and scored a rushing TD with 16 seconds left.


(Read full post)


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Drive Through: Resurgent Gamecocks
After their 38-35 upset of No. 6 Georgia, are South Carolina's playoff hopes back on track? And where does Georgia go from here?
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