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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Marcus Mariota threw for 326 yards and five touchdowns as No. 6 Oregon rang in the first college football game at Levi's Stadium with a 59-41 win. Cal kept it interesting for a while -- it trailed 31-28 late in the first half -- but the Bears aren't quite ready to seriously compete with a team of Oregon's caliber. Here's what happened.

How the game was won: Oregon scored and scored and scored. Then it kept scoring. For Cal to have had a chance to pull out a miracle, it would have needed a big edge in the turnover battle, but despite Mariota's first interception of the season -- which needed two Cal players to tip it first -- that didn't happen.

Game ball goes to: Oregon WR Byron Marshall. Playing 15 miles north of his high school, Marshall contributed as a receiver (4 catches, 133 yards, 1 touchdown) and carrying the ball (7 carries, 57 yards).

What it means: They are who we thought they were. Both teams. Oregon piled up 592 yards of offense and cruised in the second half, while Cal continued to show progress. It was the fourth game this year that Cal and its opponent both accumulated at least 560 yards of offense. Only one other team in the country (Bowling Green) has been involved in two such games.

Playoff implication: No change here. Oregon remains the Pac-12’s best bet at a playoff berth and is in good position as the top-ranked one-loss team outside the SEC. However, the Ducks' performance on defense will undoubtedly raise some red flags for the College Football Playoff selection committee.

What's next: Oregon (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) hosts Stanford at Autzen Stadium next week, where it will try to end a two-year skid against the Cardinal. With two wins needed for bowl eligibility, Cal (4-4, 2-4) has an important game at Oregon State. The Bears have No. 20 USC, Stanford and BYU after that to try to get to six.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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Chat live with our writers from 9 a.m. to noon ET and then again starting at 8 p.m. ET for the prime-time games. In between, keep this page open as we bring you the latest real-time reaction, analysis, pics and video from our ESPNers scattered throughout the country.

1. How much will Oregon get some targets to its less experienced receivers?

The Ducks spent the early part of the season relying heavily on Devon Allen and Keanon Lowe, though of late we've seen players like Darren Carrington and Dwayne Stanford have the opportunity to make big plays. Having that kind of a receiver arsenal is only going to improve Oregon's chances for the playoff, and the more chemistry quarterback Marcus Mariota can build with those receivers now -- in games in which the passing defense isn't quite as strong -- the more it will pay off down the road when the passing defenses are a bit more intense.

2. How will the Ducks' secondary hold up?

Cal has the No. 3 pass offense in the nation, averaging 372 yards per game, and Oregon's secondary has been less than stellar. Opposing quarterbacks average a 63.4 percent completion rate against the Ducks' defense (103rd nationally). And on third-down passing plays, opponents have converted 44.9 percent of the time. So, Oregon's defense hasn't been stout and it really hasn't been stout in crucial situations. Jared Goff is a much improved quarterback. Given the opportunity, he's going to air it out against Oregon and the Ducks are going to need to respond.

3. What kind of numbers will Royce Freeman put up?

Oregon's freshman running back is on quite the kick. He came in with a lot of hype and he has more than backed that up. In the past two games he has tallied six rushing touchdowns and 290 yards at 6.2 yards per carry. Those aren't freshman statistics. And those numbers were put up against two pretty good rushing defenses in Washington and UCLA.

Now enters: Cal. The Bears have a good rushing defense, giving up just 133.4 rushing yards per game at 3.8 yards per rush. But those numbers are a bit skewed considering how much more teams pass against the Bears than run (teams are averaging 53 pass attempts per game as opposed to just 35 rushing attempts per game). Could Freeman have a third consecutive 100-yard game? It seems silly to bet against him at this point.

4. How long will Cal keep pace?

When things are clicking, Cal's offense can be nearly as dangerous a unit as any in the country. The Bears rank No. 10 in the country in scoring (41.6 points per game) and are built to play in shootouts, but with minimal depth on defense, those types of games also are tougher on Cal than other teams the later they go. For Cal to make a game of it, its rotational guys on defense have to give them a chance.

5. How will Levi's Stadium fare as a college venue?

Fans at Cal had mixed reactions to moving a home game to the South Bay, to the new home of the San Francisco 49ers. On one hand, it's an impressive stadium that has all the amenities a fan could want. On the other, it's not Memorial Stadium, and playing a game off-campus changes both during and leading up to the game. There's also those pesky San Francisco Giants, who are playing in the World Series on Friday night, which will undoubtedly hurt the game's attendance.

Five storylines for Ole Miss-LSU

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- No. 3 Ole Miss (7-0, 4-0 SEC) has its national championship hopes intact as it travels to face No. 24 LSU (6-2, 2-2) on Saturday, but the Rebels have won just once at Tiger Stadium in their last six visits.

Ole Miss is the rare road team to be favored over LSU at Death Valley, however, and it will take the best game of the season from the Tigers' erratic offense in order to pull the upset.

With an assist from ESPN's Stats & Information group, here are five storylines and trends worth watching Saturday:

[+] EnlargeOle Miss
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesBased on ESPN's efficiency score, Ole Miss is on pace to be the most dominant defense in the last decade.
Dominant Rebels defense: A quick glance at the SEC's weekly statistical leaderboard makes it clear that Ole Miss boasts arguably the conference's top defense. The Rebels lead the league in scoring defense (10.6 ppg), rank second in total defense (290.6 ypg) and run defense (97.1 ypg) and are fourth in pass defense (193.4 ypg, plus 15 interceptions, which ties for the most in the FBS).

But even those gaudy numbers don't adequately explain how dominant the Rebels have been. ESPN's 19.43 defensive efficiency score (points per game that the defense adds to Ole Miss' scoring margin through contributions like forcing turnovers, preventing points and ending drives) for the Rebels' defense is the best in the nation. Not only that, Ole Miss is on pace for the best score of any defense in the last decade.

The Rebels have scored four defensive touchdowns and lead the nation with 90 points off turnovers, so it will be incumbent on LSU's offense to take care of the ball -- the Tigers have just nine turnovers this season -- because it's hard enough to beat Ole Miss without giving away free points. Opposing offenses have scored just six touchdowns against the Rebels this season, another FBS best.



Good Bo/Bad Bo: For most of his career, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has been plagued by inconsistency, leading to the popular narrative that there is a "Good Bo" and a "Bad Bo." Bad Bo hasn't made an appearance in SEC play this season, however.

Wallace has yet to commit a turnover in an SEC game and is on pace to break multiple Ole Miss season passing records. He is averaging 237 passing yards, 1.75 touchdowns and no interceptions through four SEC games thus far.

In two starts against LSU, Wallace has passed for 656 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions and has rushed for 72 yards and two scores.

Keep an eye on whether Wallace enjoys success as a runner Saturday. LSU has done a better job against mobile quarterbacks lately, but it has allowed 58.3 rushing yards per game to opposing quarterbacks, seventh-most in the nation, and an SEC-worst 15 runs of 10 yards or more by QBs. Wallace averaged 38.3 rushing yards per game in the last three games.

Fourth-quarter QBs: Wallace and LSU's Anthony Jennings have had their moments in the fourth quarter. Wallace, in fact, has been one of the nation's best QBs in the final period.

His fourth-quarter Total QBR (90.7) leads the SEC, and he is tied for the nation's best touchdown-to-interception differential (6-0) in the fourth quarter.

Jennings hasn't been particularly effective in any quarter -- his overall 49.3 QBR ranks 81st among FBS QBs -- but he succeeded on crucial drives at the end of wins against Wisconsin and Florida. Jennings is 10-for-23 for 235 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter with an average of 23.5 yards per completion.

Mixed bag on third down: Both defenses are effective on third down, with LSU tying for fourth in the FBS by forcing 34 three-and-outs this season. Ole Miss is tied for 10th with 30.

Jennings and the LSU offense haven't been particularly successful on third down, however. The Tigers' worst outing came against Auburn -- when freshman Brandon Harris started at quarterback and LSU went 0-for-13 on third down -- and overall LSU has an SEC-high 30 drives that ended with a three-and-out. Only seven FBS teams have more, and Ole Miss has just 19.

Looking ahead: Last week's 41-3 win against Kentucky was big in many ways for LSU. Not only did it help the Tigers get back to .500 in SEC play, but it removed the pressure of achieving bowl eligibility.

That's a big deal since ESPN's Football Power Index rates the Tigers' remaining schedule as the toughest in the FBS. Beyond facing Ole Miss (which ranks third in the FPI), LSU will face Alabama (second), Arkansas (20th) and Texas A&M (18th).

Ole Miss' schedule is more manageable, although it still must host Auburn (first), Presbyterian (FCS) and Mississippi State (fifth) and visit Arkansas (20th).
Back when freshmen were ineligible and you could count teams’ offensive plays on one hand, the annual clash between Ole Miss and LSU was one of college football’s premier games.

Respect mixed with vitriol, along with heart-stopping plays and gut-wrenching defeats.

"Go to hell, LSU!" is still screamed during the national anthem at Ole Miss -- no matter the game.

Iconic coaches, such as Ole Miss’ Johnny Vaught and LSU’s Paul Dietzel, roamed the sidelines and national championships were sometimes on the line.

What’s now called the Magnolia Bowl still has deep meaning for Rebels and Tigers, as these two have played 102 times, including every year since 1945.

Saturday’s nighttime showdown in rebuilt Tiger Stadium has this rivalry buzzing again. ESPN’s "College GameDay" will be in the house for No. 3 Ole Miss (7-0, 4-0 SEC) and No. 24 LSU (6-2, 2-2).

[+] EnlargeBilly Cannon
Louisiana State/Getty ImagesBilly Cannon's punt return against Ole Miss in 1959 is still perhaps the biggest play in the rivalry's history.
This marks the first time since 2003 that the teams will meet as ranked opponents, and it’s the first time since 1961 that Ole Miss is ranked higher than LSU when both have been ranked.

“It’s not just gonna be another game,” legendary LSU player and coach Jerry Stovall said. “It’s going to add to the lore of playing on Saturday night live in Tiger Stadium.

“Part of [the stadium] is brand new; I’m not sure it won’t come down. It’s gonna be one of the most exciting games and hard-fought games in Tiger Stadium in a long, long time. No matter who wins it, they’re gonna get bloodied.”

The meat of this rivalry came in the late 1950s and early 1960s. From 1958-63, five games were played in which both teams were ranked in the top six. Ole Miss was undefeated entering four of those games, LSU twice. Only once during that time did a team enter the game with more than one loss -- 1960, when 1-4 LSU tied No. 2 Ole Miss 6-6 in Oxford.

“There was a time when the Ole Miss game meant more than any other to the LSU people,” said Bud Johnson, former LSU sports information director and current director of the Jack & Priscilla Andonie Museum at LSU. “You could get more of the LSU-Ole Miss ticket than any other if you were in that business.”

It was also special because of proximity and the fact that LSU really didn’t a true in-state rival. It was nothing for Ole Miss fans to hop over the border into Louisiana. Getting folks from Jackson -- which is halfway between Oxford and Baton Rouge -- Brookhaven, Natchez and McComb to Louisiana was easy.

Games were colossal, and tickets were hot. You could get a Cadillac in the classifieds for four tickets, and eight tickets on the 50-yard line got you a camp on the False River.

People knew each other – players and fans. Families are split and relationships tested, making this game last 365 days.

“Two rabid fan bases with so much on the line for both teams,” said Langston Rogers, who worked in Ole Miss’ athletic department for 29 years before retiring in 2010. “That’s what made it so special.”

With Ole Miss dominating the series with Mississippi State and LSU not playing Alabama or Auburn on an annual basis, it became a heated, evenly contested rivalry game.

There was the nail-biting 14-12 Ole Miss victory in 1957, and No. 1 LSU slipping by sixth-ranked Ole Miss 14-0 in 1958 -- a game in which LSU’s Billy Cannon used his summer-job paycheck to buy an entire section inside Tiger Stadium to take tickets away from Ole Miss fans.

You had LSU’s 7-3 win in 1959, thanks to Cannon's famous/infamous 89-yard punt return for a touchdown and a goal-line stand (triggered by another Cannon play) on a hot, muggy Halloween night.

The play, which runs on loop in Baton Rouge this time of year, still haunts Jake Gibbs, Ole Miss’ quarterback from 1958-60 and who punted to Cannon, because he was trying to punt the ball out of bounds. Instead, Cannon corralled it at the 11 and made his way through just about every Ole Miss player before scooting past Gibbs toward the end zone and the Heisman Trophy.

“God, you know, he went through about five or six tackles really kinda on his own,” said Gibbs, who was actually heckled by LSU fans about the play when he later became Ole Miss’ baseball coach. “By the time he got to me … I couldn’t do anything but hit him up high. Of course, you can’t bring him down hitting him up high.”

[+] EnlargeOle Miss Rebels
John Korduner/Icon SportswireOle Miss knocked off LSU last year on a field goal with two seconds left.
But did it feel good to have sweet Sugar Bowl redemption over LSU a couple months later with a 21-0 win?

“Damn right,” Gibbs said.

Dietzel called the Tigers’ 10-7 comeback win in 1961 arguably his greatest game. A year later, Vaught led sixth-ranked Ole Miss to a 15-7 win over No. 4 LSU in Baton Rouge.

There was Doug Moreau's two-point conversion catch for an LSU win in 1964 and Archie Manning directing back-to-back comeback wins for the Rebels in 1968 and 1969. Of course, there was “The Night the Clock Stopped” in Baton Rouge in 1972 when Brad Davis’ one-handed catch came with one second left gave LSU a fabled 17-16 win and prompted people to leave signs at the Louisiana state line that read, “You are now entering Louisiana. Set your clocks back four seconds.”

“There was not a year when you had one or two good players on each team,” said Stovall, who went 1-1-1 as a player against Ole Miss. “This was a group of years – an era – where the coaching could not have been any better, the players could not have been more in number at that high of a level, and the fans responded to the excellence that they saw.”

Eli Manning tripped in 2003 with the SEC West on the line, and Les Miles didn’t see the clock in 2009. You had Zach Mettenberger’s mercy kneel with five minutes left in 2011 and Ole Miss fans storming the field in 2013.

You have ranked foes and top-named coaches in Miles and Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze standing in the shadows of Dietzel and Vaught. The hype and bite are back.

“It’s a lot of fun now,” Gibbs said, “and I think you’re going to see a many more good, heated games between Ole Miss and LSU.”
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Don't look at his feet.

Study nothing but his eyes. How they calmly scan left to right. How they read blockers and study the defense.

T.J. Yeldon will fool you.

On this day, Texas A&M thinks it has Alabama's junior running back figured out. He's hemmed in on all sides. The Aggie defense watches Yeldon plodding behind the line, figuring sooner or later he'll get dragged down for a loss.

But Yeldon doesn't fall. He's waiting, watching. And as soon as a hole opens up, he makes one cut and he's gone. He finishes with 114 yards and two touchdowns.

He's Houdini. Tighten the straightjacket and marvel at how he slips free.

A quiet thinker, a deliberate runner, Yeldon defies the usual style of running backs in that he's neither particularly fast nor powerful. Instead, he's an amalgam of things, a veteran with poise few possess.

As former Alabama great Shaun Alexander is quick to point out, Yeldon isn't Mark Ingram or Trent Richardson or Eddie Lacy. He's not a runaway freight train like Derrick Henry or a bolt of lightning like Kenyan Drake. He is, as Alexander explains, "A confusing monster."

"You come off of Mark and Trent and Lacy, and then comes T.J.," Alexander said. "You say, 'Is he going to be big? Have a nice spin move? Break a few tackles? Or is he going to be a shift guy who makes you miss? Who is he going to be?' Well, he's that guy that can do all the things those Bama running backs can do, it just doesn't look the same, so it almost can make you miss how talented he is.

"He dominates the game and it's done so smooth, almost like it's effortless."

For nearly three years we've watched Yeldon run. During his first college game against Michigan he rushed for 111 yards. Thirteen times since then he's surpassed the century mark. He's become so reliable he's almost been forgotten.

If he averages 109.3 yards over the next six games, he'll break Alexander's school record of 3,565 career rushing yards.

If you can't appreciate Yeldon's brilliance with your own eyes, let us open them for you.

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Asked what separates Yeldon from other backs, Jalston Fowler said it was simple.

"It's his vision," the fullback answered. "He sees the field really well."

Sometimes it doesn't look like there's a hole to be found.

"You pull up the film and see how he makes these cuts and things and you want to know, how did he see that?" said linebacker Denzel Devall. "I know if I was running the ball I'd never see the hole. I'd probably just bounce it outside or run it up on somebody."

Said Yeldon: "It's something you work on. I watch film a lot and look at the blocking schemes and make my cuts from there."

Mike Vickery saw that point of emphasis when he served as Yeldon's offensive coordinator at Daphne High in South Alabama.

"His football IQ is off the charts," he said. "The more he played, the more things slowed down.

"By the time he left, he not only knew everything he was supposed to do, he knew what the quarterback was supposed to do, he knew the blocking schemes up front, he knew the routes and what every receiver is supposed to do."

video Patience

It's part of who he is.

Reserved and soft-spoken, Yeldon doesn't make a spectacle of himself.

"He's a very introverted guy," Vickery said. "But that does have something to do with being able to mentally see things and have the vision of things before they happen and all the things that play out in his mind."

Alexander figured that was the case. It explains how Yeldon can be so patient running the football.

"That's personality," he said. "Like the guy that says, 'I'm coming here to hit!' or 'I'm going to level somebody on every play!' Well, another guy might say, 'I'm going to sit here and see my way through.' I think before the game starts that person already has that.

"A lot of guys are so anxious to make the big play that they don't understand patience is a part of it. T.J. understands that the big plays have to come over time instead of trying to stress it to happen."

It drives some fans nuts the way Yeldon doesn't lurch toward the line of scrimmage, but often times that's ill-advised. Though he's not thought of as explosive, Yeldon has 25 career rushes for 20-plus yards, which ranks sixth among active running backs.

"He's good at hiding behind the guards and tackles, and then he'll pop up out the ground on you," Devall said.

Said defensive back Jarrick Williams: "You just see him explode through the hole and go, 'Whoa, where did he come from?' It's really shocking."

video Total Package

If Yeldon is so appreciated by his peers, why is he so overlooked by others?

"I have to start all over like a freshman again because I had a bad year last year," Yeldon said heading into this season. Keep in mind that last season he became the first Alabama back ever to rush for 1,000 yards his first two seasons. "I'm just ready to prove I belong at the top."

If today's opinion makers don't see it, history is sure to put Yeldon in rarified air.

"It's hard for me to see [Yeldon] and not compare him to the whole group: the Bobby Humphreys, the Johnny Mussos," Alexander said. "Because he's one of us. He's one of the elite."

For now, Alexander hopes people appreciate Yeldon's worth.

If not at Alabama, then in the NFL.

He'll challenge the idea that the feature back is dead, Alexander said.

"He will allow people to think, 'Well, if you want to you can,'" the former NFL All-Pro and MVP said. "That's what's going to make him a great steal because he will open up the coaches' eyes wherever he goes to that, 'You know what? We can use this guy all day and in any situation.'"

He may not wow you with any one skill, but Yeldon is the complete package.

"It's special what he does," Alexander said. "He just gets it done."
Shanking an extra point off an upright and getting stuffed on a two-point conversion attempt is an easy way to turn a kicker into a goat.

It actually turned out to be an ingenious move to set the stage for kicker Ryan Santoso to become a hero.

Maybe the Minnesota redshirt freshman would have preferred a simpler script. The team almost surely would have been better off avoiding the late-game drama they were facing last weekend against Purdue.

[+] EnlargeRyan Santoso
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsRyan Santoso's fourth quarter field goal sealed the game for the Gophers and kept them undefeated in conference play.
After shaking off the miss that helped create the 2-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Santoso replaced all the bad memories with what could be a pivotal moment in a season that is shaping up to be special for the Gophers.

"Oh yeah, I had a lot of ups and downs,” Santoso joked to ESPN.com. “A lot of learning opportunities. But you just have to come back and take it one kick at a time, hit the restart button, reset your mindset. I knew that I would have to kick again.

“You know, everything happens for a reason, and everything played out well, I guess.”

There’s certainly no reason for Santoso or the Gophers -- the leaders in the West Division -- to complain about the way things worked out in the end, and his 52-yard game-winner clearly overshadowed the earlier missteps.

The long-range field goal also turned him into something of a celebrity, earning him a shout-out from Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and making him more recognizable around campus after bouncing back to protect Minnesota’s perfect start in league play.

Perhaps because his reputation could have easily gone a completely different direction, Santoso was quick to shrug off the publicity that has come with a clutch performance for a conference contender. And despite what his field goal might mean down the stretch for the Gophers, he also stressed repeatedly that it was a team win and he wasn’t looking for any extra credit for the part he played.

Both reflect the mental approach that allowed Santoso to move on from a couple points left on the field. His physical tools have never really been in doubt at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds with a powerful leg that has banged in kicks from 60 yards on the practice field.

“His personality doesn’t change any and his work habits won’t change any,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “He’s worked hard since he’s been here and he handles things well.

“I don’t usually say too much to him. I’m like most coaches with kickers and just leave them alone. But he’s done a good job, he’s done a good job in practice and he’s transferring that into the game.”

That work is mostly paying off now in Big Ten games after a sluggish start to the season.

Santoso only had 3 attempts in 4 matchups outside the league, and he missed a pair of them. But since then, and not counting the extra point he drilled off the post, Santoso has been perfect. He’s hit on all six of his attempts in conference play, and more important, he delivered when the Gophers absolutely needed him -- regardless of how that make-or-break situation came to be.

“Coach Kill wouldn’t put you out there if he didn’t believe in you, so I just had to do my part for the team,” Santoso said. “The team has confidence in me and I have confidence in my ability, I just had to go out there and stick it for them.”

Maybe that hero moment wasn’t a product of some brilliant design, and it easily could have gone another way. But neither Santoso nor the Gophers have to worry about the alternative now.

Can the SEC East return to power? 

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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Hey, no pressure, Jeremy Foley, but the balance of power in the SEC is riding on your next move.

It looks likely that Florida will have a new coach in 2015, and Foley, the Gators' longstanding and highly respected athletic director, will make a decision that could greatly influence whether the Western Division continues to dominate the league and capture national acclaim.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMark Richt and Georgia rule the SEC East now, but could that change?
Sure, Georgia remains in the national and conference title race discussion, even without star running back Todd Gurley, but beyond that it’s a cluster of disappointing, regrouping and reconstructing teams.

The division in the divisions is enough to make you believe that things have always, always, always been this way in the SEC.

That made an SEC East assistant laugh this week. He didn’t quite offer Rust Cohle’s “time is a flat circle” soliloquy from “True Detective,” but he reminded me of college football’s cyclical nature.

“It’ll turn,” he said, “and then it’ll turn again.”

Back to Florida and Foley’s next hire: The other six schools might not want to hear this –- and especially Georgia -– but because of its past success and location in recruiting heaven, it’s the flagship in the SEC East.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 9

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It's an interesting weekend for the Big Ten. On one hand, we have an intra-state rivalry on tap along with a nationally televised night game at one of the best atmospheres in the country.

On the other, only one of the conference's five games is expected to be close. Four of the underdogs are picked to lose by double digits this week, and the closest game isn't exactly a hot ticket: Minnesota at Illinois.

For the first time all season, we Big Ten writers all picked the same winners. But will there be an upset? Can someone surprise in the Big Ten? Let's take a closer look at the matchups:

Noon

Minnesota (6-1) at Illinois (3-4), ESPNU: The Gophers are still fighting for respect, as they appear at No. 24 in the USA Today poll -- but they're still left out of the Associated Press' top 25. They've quietly put together a solid season, with their only loss coming against TCU, and running back David Cobb could be the most underrated player in the conference. Illinois coach Tim Beckman is fighting for his job, and he and his offensive coordinator can't even seem to agree on whether a two-quarterback system is best for the team. The Illini have a plethora of defensive problems, and they can't afford to have their offense stumble.

Maryland (5-2) at Wisconsin (4-2), BTN: Melvin Gordon is one of the most dynamic backs in all of college football, and the Terrapins are one of the worst rushing defenses in all of college football. That's not exactly a recipe for success for the Terps. That being said, Wisconsin's woes through the air have been well-documented, and it would be no surprise to see the Terps dare Wisconsin to throw. Randy Edsall needs to get his own house in order, too. Maryland has a lot of firepower on offense, but C.J. Brown needs to find more consistency for this team to hang with the Badgers. Backup Caleb Rowe is out for the season, so it's Brown or bust. And Brown has thrown three picks to zero touchdowns in the last two games.

Rutgers (5-2) at Nebraska (6-1), ESPN2: The Scarlet Knights just can't catch a break with their schedule. They were dismantled by Ohio State 56-17 on Saturday and they play Wisconsin next week. Rutgers was the surprise team of the conference in the first half of the season, but it will have to show something in this second half to retain that title. It won't be easy. Like the Buckeyes, Nebraska boasts a balanced offense -- and Ameer Abdullah is the best back the Knights have seen since ... well ... it's been years. With one Big Ten loss already, Nebraska can't afford a slip-up. But it might just have the most talented team, overall, in the West.

3:30 p.m.

Michigan (3-4) at Michigan State (6-1), ABC: Since 2008, this rivalry has basically been owned by the Spartans. Mark Dantonio's team has won five out of the last six, with the Wolverines winning only once in a 12-10 game in 2012. Michigan is coming off a bye week -- and actually won its last Big Ten game, against Penn State -- but the Spartans are on another level. If U-M can pull off this upset, maybe Brady Hoke has an outside chance to save his job and the Wolverines really have sparked a turnaround. If not, expect the same Michigan storyline that you've heard since Week 2.

8 p.m.

Ohio State (5-1) at Penn State (4-2), ABC: The Buckeyes have scored at least 50 points in four straight games, but they haven't faced a defense quite like Penn State's. On the flip side, the Nittany Lions haven't faced any offense resembling Ohio State's, either. The key to an upset here is two-fold: Penn State's weak offensive line must somehow keep one of the nation's best front fours at bay (unlikely), or Penn State's defense has to play out of its mind and force turnovers (more likely). Ohio State pounded Penn State 63-14 last season, and the Lions would like nothing more than to avenge the worst loss in program history since 1899 (a 64-5 loss to Duquesne). This game will act as a good measuring stick for both J.T. Barrett and the PSU defense.

Required reading

SEC viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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A look ahead to Saturday's games in the Southeastern Conference. All times Eastern:

Noon

UAB at Arkansas, SEC Network: Bret Bielema will have to wait at least one more week before notching that first SEC victory, but after three straight losses, this Arkansas team needs a win in the worst way. It’s not like the Razorbacks are playing poorly. Even Saturday, after falling apart in the first half, they didn’t give up. They responded in the second half and outplayed Georgia the final 30 minutes. That first conference win is coming. In the meantime, Arkansas can’t afford to overlook UAB. The Blazers put up 34 points on No. 1 Mississippi State earlier in the season, so they’re at least capable of getting in the end zone.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisDak Prescott threw for 268 yards and ran for 33 last season in a 28-22 home victory over Kentucky.
3:30 p.m.

No. 1 Mississippi State at Kentucky, CBS: What happened to Kentucky? This game was shaping up to be one of the biggest games in program history – a top-25 matchup, a chance to take down the No. 1 team in the country – and then it all fell apart at LSU on Saturday. Losing close is one thing, but the Wildcats were dominated in Death Valley. The good news is that they can still take down No. 1 this weekend as this will be Mississippi State’s first game since taking over the top spot. For the Bulldogs, it’s a chance to prove they’re worthy of No. 1 and it’s another opportunity for Dak Prescott to shine in front of a national audience.

4 p.m.

Vanderbilt at Missouri, SEC Network: A week after everybody left Missouri for dead, the Tigers are back in the SEC East race and rolling after a 42-13 win at Florida. The defense feasted on the Gators’ offense, forcing six turnovers and taking two back for touchdowns. That’s bad news for Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary, who will be making his first start for the Commodores. In his first action since the season opener, McCrary went 10-of-16 for 169 yards with one touchdown and one interception Saturday against Charleston Southern. But that was Charleston Southern. This is Missouri. Good luck Mr. McCrary.

7:15 p.m.

No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU, ESPN: Don’t assume that Ole Miss is going to just go to Baton Rouge and handle its business. Yes, the Rebels have arguably the top defense in the SEC. And yes, they’re ranked No. 3 for a reason. But winning on the road at LSU is no easy task. Just ask Les Miles, who is 45-4 as LSU coach in night games at Tiger Stadium. There’s something special about when the sun sets over Death Valley. So don’t be surprised if this game is close in the fourth quarter, and it’s up to Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace to make a play. Wallace did account for more than 350 yards and four touchdowns at LSU two years ago.

7:30 p.m.

No. 4 Alabama at Tennessee, ESPN2: Thank you, Lane Kiffin, for infusing a little life back into this rivalry. He made it interesting back in 2009 when his Tennessee team nearly knocked off the eventual national champs, and he’s doing it again this year with his return to Knoxville as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. You can bet the fans will be a little more rowdy in welcoming Kiffin back to Neyland Stadium on Saturday. But despite all the hoopla surrounding Kiffin, there’s still a game to be played. Alabama comes in as a heavy favorite, and the Vols could be in trouble if quarterback Justin Worley isn’t able to play.

South Carolina at No. 5 Auburn, SEC Network: Gus Malzahn admitted this week that he wears a visor every game because of Steve Spurrier. That’s how much respect and admiration he has for the Head Ball Coach. On Saturday, Malzahn will face Spurrier for the first time as a head coach in a game that Auburn has to win for its playoff hopes. The Tigers are coming off a loss to Mississippi State, and this is their first of four SEC games in four weeks. Meanwhile, South Carolina has not delivered on the preseason hype. A top-10 team before the season, the Gamecocks are barely above water at 4-3.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 9

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Miami silenced Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium fairly early Thursday night. Will we find more drama in the rest of the Week 9 slate?

Noon

North Carolina at Virginia, ESPN3, #UNCvsUVA: Marquise Williams is coming off consecutive career outings. Virginia is looking to get back on the winning track after losing to reigning Coastal division champion Duke last week. Can its defense make another big stand and make life difficult for the red-hot UNC offense? Or have the Heels found their second-half groove after a poor start, much like they did last year?

3:30 p.m.

Boston College at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #BCvsWAKE: John Wolford is good to go for Wake after leaving last week's 30-7 home loss to Syracuse. He'll face a BC team that gave Clemson all it could handle last week before falling just short. Still, the 4-3 Eagles are on the brink of back-to-back bowl games under Steve Addazio in his first two years, and their rushing game (No. 9 nationally) should be a handful for a Demon Deacons defense that has been stout this season.

Georgia Tech at Pitt, ESPNU, #GTvsPITT: Is it panic time in Atlanta? A 5-0 start has been met with consecutive losses, including a 48-43 defeat last week at North Carolina in which the defense simply could not make a stop late. Pitt hopes it turned the corner last Thursday in its win over Virginia Tech, but it needs more diversity on the offensive side of the ball, which has been too reliant on James Conner and Tyler Boyd. Its defense does not have Aaron Donald and his dominant performance last year against the Yellow Jackets, but it has been playing well so far this season, ranking 14th nationally in scoring average (18.6).

7 p.m.

Syracuse at No. 21 Clemson, ESPNU, #CUSEvsCLEM: Scott Shafer and Dabo Swinney have made up after last year's Tigers rout in the Carrier Dome. Both teams are in their second straight week with their current signal-caller, as freshman AJ Long led the Orange past Wake Forest in their first career start and Cole Stoudt returned as Clemson's starter in its win at BC. Will the Orange's offensive line give Long a chance against the Tigers' stout front? This game ends a brutal stretch for the Orange, who faced Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State before Wake last week.

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 9

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In Week 9 of Big 12 action, Kansas State and TCU will attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive, while Texas and Texas Tech will try to take a step on the road toward bowl eligibility. West Virginia, meanwhile, will look to keep rolling at Oklahoma State, which hopes to bounce back after getting blown out last week.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch Saturday in the Big 12:

Texas at No. 11 Kansas State, noon ET (ESPN): If the numbers are any indication, Texas won’t get anything easy in this game. Kansas State has allowed only 19 plays of 20 yards or more, which is the fewest given up by any Big 12 defense. The Longhorns have been better offensively the last two weeks. Still, only Kansas and Iowa State have produced fewer 20-yard-plus plays in the Big 12 than the Longhorns. Running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown have also had problems breaking loose from the line of scrimmage. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Texas is averaging 1.4 yards after contact on designed runs, the worst average among Power 5 offenses. The Longhorns will have to be better on the ground to have a chance of pulling the upset in Manhattan, Kansas.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
AP Photo/Chris JacksonClint Trickett has thrown 15 touchdown passes and only five interceptions this season.
No. 22 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN): How much better has West Virginia QB Clint Trickett been this year? He has improved his Total QBR by 29 points from last season, the third-largest increase among Power 5 QBs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. One reason for the dramatic improvement has been the long ball. Trickett has already thrown eight touchdowns on passes of 20 yards or more, tied for third among Power 5 QBs. He had just one such touchdown pass all of last season. Kevin White, the nation’s leading receiver, has been on the other end of the majority of Trickett’s long throws. White tops the country with 16 receptions of 20 yards or more. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, has been even more reliant on throwing deep. Daxx Garman has 35 completions on passes thrown 15 yards or longer, tied for the most by a Power 5 QB. One thing is certain in this game: The ball will be flying downfield often.

Texas Tech at No. 10 TCU, 3:30 p.m. ET (FOX): Trickett isn’t the only Big 12 QB who has been a completely a different player this year. Trevone Boykin’s Total QBR is up 28.7 points from last season, the fifth-largest increase in college football, per ESPN Stats & Information. Thanks in big part to Boykin’s turnaround, the Horned Frogs have featured one of the best big-play offenses in the country. TCU has 13 touchdown drives of three plays of fewer, tied for the most such drives in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Boykin & Co. could add to that total this weekend. Texas Tech's defensive efficiency is the worst among Power 5 teams. Opponents have scored a touchdown on 36 percent of their drives against Tech, the worst percentage of any Power 5 defense. The Red Raiders will probably need their best defensive effort of the year to have any shot at toppling the surging Horned Frogs.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 9

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video (All times Pacific)

Friday, 7 p.m.

Oregon at California, Fox Sports 1

[+] EnlargeMariota
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota and Oregon figure to be in a shootout against California.
This is a matchup between the two Pac-12 leaders in scoring offense: The Ducks average 43.6 points per game, and the Bears are at 41.6. The difference on paper -- and likely on the field, too -- comes on defense. Cal sports the conference's second-worst unit (38.4 points per game), and the Ducks have upped their defensive play to reach fourth in the conference rankings (23.6 points per game). This will be the first college football game at Levi's Stadium and comes on a massive sports night in the San Francisco Bay Area: Game 3 of the World Series will be happening there, too.

Saturday, 11 a.m.

UCLA at Colorado, Pac-12 Network

It's turned into another long season for the Buffs, and the journey certainly doesn't become any easier with UCLA's explosive bunch coming to town. Turnovers, though, have been a major issue for the Bruins this season. Cal scored 21 points off UCLA miscues to keep the game close last week, and that might well be Colorado's formula to have a puncher's chance at Folsom Field. For Brett Hundley's squad, this should be a chance for a tuneup before a challenging finishing stretch: vs. Arizona, at Washington, vs. USC, vs. Stanford.

12:30 p.m.

Oregon State at Stanford, ESPN2

The Beavers will certainly be sniffing upset in Palo Alto. Stanford is a very vulnerable team right now: The offense is faltering, and that supersonic defense has taken two gut punches with injuries to linemen David Parry and Aziz Shittu. That being said, the Cardinal have been excellent when faced with adversity in the David Shaw era. The fourth-year coach has yet to lose consecutive games in his tenure, and Stanford is desperate to right the ship at home.

3 p.m.

Arizona at Washington State, Pac-12 Network

The Cougars won 24-17 in Tucson last season, but we will likely see more points this Saturday in Pullman when Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach resume battle. Arizona and Washington State are the Pac-12's two top teams when it comes to total offense. They are averaging a combined 1,091 yards per game. Since both defenses are ranked in the conference's bottom half, expect fireworks and an intriguing duel between senior Connor Halliday (who is on an NCAA record-smashing pace) and freshman Anu Solomon.

7 p.m.

USC at Utah, Fox Sports 1

This Utah squad reminds our Kevin Gemmell of the 2012 Stanford squad that won the Pac-12 championship, and I agree with him: The Utes don't ask for much out of their quarterback (62 pass yards last week), they run the ball with vigor (229 yards from Devontae Booker last week) and they set up frequent shop in opposing backfields (nation-leading 5.5 sacks per game). Both teams have also established a hashtag for their pass rush: 2012 Stanford had #PartyInTheBackfield, and 2014 Utah has coined #SackLakeCity. So USC is tasked with beating this rugged Ute team in a raucous road environment. This game is a significant step in figuring out the convoluted Pac-12 South puzzle.

7:45 p.m.

Arizona State at Washington, ESPN

There is a 70 percent chance of rain in Seattle. They call that "Dawg Weather" in the Pacific Northwest, and Washington hopes that will aid in its quest to win the turnover battle -- the Huskies are ranked second nationally in turnover margin even after last week's substandard performance at Oregon. Taylor Kelly returns to the quarterback role for Arizona State, but Todd Graham expects Mike Bercovici will also get snaps. Washington's offense has sputtered this season (league-worst 5.0 yards per play), and it will be interesting to see who gets the upper hand in its matchup with the Sun Devils' unremarkable defense.
Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. Last season, we all wondered how in the world Stanford was good enough to defeat six ranked opponents during the regular season, but couldn’t beat Utah on the road.

The Utes, who finished 5-7 in 2013, upset the Cardinal 27-21 in Salt Lake City, an ugly loss that might have prevented Stanford from being selected for a four-team playoff if it had been around a year earlier.

After watching Virginia Tech lose to Miami 30-6 at home Thursday night, the Hokies’ stunning 35-21 upset of then-No. 8 Ohio State on the road Sept. 6 looks like the biggest head-scratching result of 2014.

Since upsetting the Buckeyes, the Hokies have dropped four of their past six games and have looked terrible on offense. Miami outgained the Hokies 255-36 in the first half to build a 24-0 lead, and then forced them to fumble on their first three possessions of the second half.

Virginia Tech’s 250-game streak of scoring even seemed to be very much in doubt, until backup quarterback Mark Leal threw a 14-yard touchdown to Isaiah Ford with 1:30 to go.

Sure, the Buckeyes have looked much better since losing to Virginia Tech, scoring more than 50 points in four straight victories. But OSU had better hope the College Football Playoff selection committee wasn’t paying attention to the Hokies on Thursday night.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Rob Foldy/Getty ImagesBarring a quick turnaround to the Gators' season, the Will Muschamp era in Gainesville appears to be drawing to a close.
2. Unless Florida can run the table the rest of the season, which would include upsets of No. 9 Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 1 and No. 2 Florida State on the road on Nov. 29, the Will Muschamp era will probably come to an end after four seasons.

The early list of candidates being mentioned for the not-yet-open UF job include Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops.

Florida has contacted Stoops about its openings in the past, but he has always been reluctant to leave the Sooners. Mullen, who was Florida’s offensive coordinator under former coach Urban Meyer, seems like an obvious choice. But Mullen and UF athletics director Jeremy Foley didn’t always see eye-to-eye during their previous working relationship, so those past differences would have to be worked out.

I don’t think Foley, one of the most respected ADs in the country, can afford to make another mistake. With Muschamp’s tenure seemingly headed to a disappointing end, Foley is batting 1-for-3 in football coaching hires since legendary coach Steve Spurrier left. Foley struck out on former UF coach Ron Zook and hit a home run with Meyer. He can't be wrong again.

3. Here’s a great stat from ESPN Stats & Info, which says a lot about the current state of affairs in Michigan: According to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Michigan State is a 17-point favorite against Michigan this weekend. According to historical lines data from The Gold Sheet going back to 1957, it is the highest betting line in the rivalry in the past 57 years. Before this week’s game, the most points Michigan State was favored by in the rivalry was 13 in 1966 (MSU won 20-7).

4. Given Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel’s play the past two seasons, it’s hard to believe that he was actually the last quarterback to defeat Florida State. Driskel led the Gators to a 37-26 victory over the Seminoles on the road on Nov. 24, 2012, completing 15 of 23 passes for 147 yards with one touchdown. The Seminoles were undone by five turnovers in that loss, including three interceptions thrown by former quarterback EJ Manuel.

Since that loss, the Seminoles have won 22 games in a row. Meanwhile, the Gators have dropped 11 of their past 18 games.

5. More than a few athletic directors around the country had to cringe when Texas AD Steve Patterson suggested earlier this week that the Longhorns were budgeting $6 million annually to pay student-athletes $10,000 in cost-of-attendance and likeness stipends per year.

Patterson said the Longhorns are prepared to pay each of their student-athletes $5,000 for full cost of attendance (which would cover educational expenses that a full scholarship doesn’t currently pay) and $5,000 in compensation for the university’s use of the player’s name, image and likeness.

Patterson said Texas is prepared to provide the stipends if the NCAA doesn’t win its appeals of its current legal battles concerning student-athlete compensation.

The bottom line: Paying an additional $6 million to student-athletes is a drop in the bucket for an athletic department such as Texas. In fact, it’s only 3.6 percent of the Longhorns’ annual operating budget for athletics. But for smaller (and poorer) FBS programs such as Iowa State, Purdue, Wake Forest and Washington State, the additional costs will be significant.
Sometimes a millimeter can make the difference between winning and losing. Just ask Georgia.

But a lot of us were guilty of writing off the Bulldogs when they came out on the wrong side of that fourth-down measurement Sept. 13 in their 38-35 loss to South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsThough certainly not an easy one, Georgia appears to have the most manageable path out of the SEC to the College Football Playoff.
All they've done since is reel off five straight wins, the last two on the road with Todd Gurley, the best player in the country, watching from home while suspended.

And while we're all mesmerized with how stout the West has been, the dirty little secret as we enter the final week of October is that Georgia has the most manageable path of any of the SEC teams to the College Football Playoff.

Notice I didn't say the easiest path, because there is no such thing in this league.

But there's also a reason ESPN's Football Power Index projections give Georgia a 43 percent chance of winning the SEC championship. The next closest team is Ole Miss at 26 percent followed by Mississippi State (17 percent), Alabama (8 percent) and Auburn (4 percent).

Think about it, especially if Gurley returns for the November stretch. The Dawgs would essentially have two games against ranked teams standing in their way -- at home against Auburn on Nov. 15 and then possibly the SEC championship game Dec. 6.

Now compare that against the grind the four West teams face.

Auburn still has to play at Ole Miss on Nov. 1, at Georgia on Nov. 15, at Alabama on Nov. 29 and then potentially the SEC championship game. Clearly, the Tigers have the toughest path.

The other three don't have cakewalks, either.

After playing Saturday at Tennessee, Alabama still has to play at LSU on Nov. 8 and then faces Mississippi State at home on Nov. 15, Auburn at home on Nov. 29 and then the SEC championship game if they get by.

Ole Miss travels to LSU on Saturday and then returns home to face Auburn on Nov. 1, travels to Arkansas on Nov. 22, comes back home to play Mississippi State on Nov. 29 and would then have the SEC championship game.

Mississippi State, which plays Saturday at Kentucky, probably has the second toughest road behind Auburn. The Bulldogs have to play at Alabama on Nov. 15 and at Ole Miss on Nov. 29 before perhaps ending with the SEC championship game.

The bottom line: Georgia's hitting its stride at the right time, getting its players back and getting a lot better on defense.

Mark Richt and his staff have done a terrific job keeping this team pointed in the right direction despite the early struggles on defense and the suspension of Gurley.

In the end, the Dawgs just might have their day.

Stroll down memory Lane



Tennessee fans still haven't forgiven Lane Kiffin for leaving them high and dry for USC after only one season in Knoxville, but what they really ought to be mad at him about is his role in what's been an abysmal stretch of quarterback play for the Vols.

Kiffin returns Saturday to Neyland Stadium as Alabama's offensive coordinator and does so with Tennessee senior quarterback Justin Worley struggling just to stay in one piece. Worley has already been sacked 29 times this season and is currently nursing a shoulder injury that's kept him out of practice all week. If he can't go Saturday, Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs could split time under center.

In fact, longtime Tennessee follower Brent Hubbs of Volquest.com dug up a stat this week that's staggering. In their last 35 SEC games, the Vols have thrown 42 touchdown passes and 57 interceptions while starting five quarterbacks.

With those kind of numbers, is it really a surprise that Tennessee is 7-28 in SEC play over that stretch?

As a comparison, Alabama has thrown 66 touchdown passes and just 14 interceptions during its last 35 SEC games. The Tide started three quarterbacks during that span, including AJ McCarron for all but nine of those games.

So yes, you better be good up front. You need to protect the quarterback on offense and pressure the quarterback on defense. But more than ever, you also better be darn good at quarterback, not to mention experienced, efficient and healthy.

What's all this have to do with Kiffin?

Upon taking the Tennessee job, he sent word to a couple of quarterbacks the Vols had committed under the previous regime that they needed to look elsewhere -- and they did.

Their names? Tajh Boyd and Bryce Petty.

Landsharks attack



This is the best Ole Miss defense since ...

The measuring stick in Oxford, at least over the past 55 years, would be the 1962 defense, which was the backbone of the Rebels' 10-0 national championship team. That unit allowed just 19 points in six SEC contests.

This year's defense has given up just six touchdowns in its first seven games, while scoring four of its own off takeaways. And one of the six it gave up came on the last play of the game against Texas A&M with the Rebels leading 35-14. Ole Miss leads the country in scoring defense, allowing an average of 10.6 points per game.

Even more telling, Ole Miss' plus-19.4 defensive efficiency is on pace to be the best for any team in the past 10 seasons. Team efficiency is the point contributions of each unit to the team's schedule-adjusted scoring margin, on a per-game basis. According to ESPN's Stats ∓ Info, the Rebels have forced at least two turnovers in six of their seven games this season, tied for the most in FBS.

It's no coincidence Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is slowing the tempo on offense. Smart coaches aren't so programmed into playing a certain way they can't adjust. Freeze is playing more to his defense right now.

And with that defense, why wouldn't he?

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