It wasn’t that long ago that Texas A&M departed Tuscaloosa, Alabama, feeling on top of the college football world.

The Aggies had an eventual Heisman Trophy winner, an up-and-coming coach and made a loud statement after upsetting the then-No. 1 Crimson Tide, 29-24, on Nov. 10, 2012.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsThe woes of quarterback Kenny Hill and Texas A&M are only growing after a blowout loss at Alabama.
That seminal moment in Texas A&M history was less than two years ago, but it might as well be 1939, because that’s about how long ago it feels after the Aggies returned home from the site of their past triumph, bruised and battered after taking a 59-0 whipping from Alabama this past Saturday.

Suddenly, after their worst defeat since a 77-0 loss to Oklahoma in 2003, the Aggies are at a crossroads in their third SEC season.

Serious questions must be asked. It’s one thing to lose to a top-10 team like Alabama. It’s quite another to be utterly destroyed.

“However you cut it, that performance was unacceptable and embarrassing,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Never in his seven-year head coaching career had Sumlin led a team that got shut out, and how it’s addressed will say a lot about the coach. Last Saturday’s loss was Texas A&M’s third straight and they’ve come by an average margin of 30.3 points. This is uncharted territory for him. Never have Sumlin's teams been dominated like how the Aggies have recently.

“I think we need to evaluate where we are and whenever something like this happens, you can't stick your hand in the sand and say, 'Hey, we're going to keep doing the same stuff,'” Sumlin said. “We've got to make some changes. What those are, I couldn't tell you right now. But the bye week comes at a good time for us.”

Offensively, the Aggies are the worst they’ve been since they entered the SEC. After ranking in the top five nationally each of the past two seasons in scoring offense, yards per game, yards per play and QBR, the Aggies have fallen out of the top 10 in each of those categories. In third-down conversions, an area they were No. 1 in 2012, they’re now 48th. They’re struggling to run the football, ranking 80th in rushing yards per game after ranking 11th nationally in 2012 and 45th last season. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital’s unit doesn’t share any resemblance to the group that dominated South Carolina on Aug. 28.

Defensively, the Aggies couldn’t be worse than they were a year ago, when they were last in the SEC in most major statistical categories, including scoring, yards per game, yards per play, rushing yards per game and red zone efficiency.

After a better start to this season, Texas A&M is beginning to trend in the 2013 direction again. The Aggies are last in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per game, 13th in yards allowed per game, 12th in scoring and 12th in yards per play. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is staring down a second consecutive season of poor defensive results.

On the field, quarterback Kenny Hill has struggled. So has the Texas A&M offensive line, once considered the strength of this program. The receivers, who looked spry and fierce early in the season, have wilted lately. The running game appears nonexistent.

Defensively, the Aggies have yielded an average of 255.7 rushing yards per game in their past four games. If extrapolated over the whole season, that would rank Texas A&M 121st nationally in the category. That means the job isn’t getting done in the front seven. The Aggies have had their inconsistencies in the secondary as well. Just check out what Alabama’s Amari Cooper did: eight catches, 140 yards, two touchdowns.

It wasn’t even two full months ago when a confident Sumlin sat before reporters in the moments after Texas A&M's 52-28 domination of then-No. 9 South Carolina, presumably sending a message about the future, post-Johnny Manziel.

“I think what we did tonight kind of showed that we’re not a one-trick pony,” Sumlin said that night. “We’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”

The jury may still be out on that one. Those words resonated that night and -- given the perception of what South Carolina, a program coming off three consecutive 11-win seasons, was supposed to be -- it gave initial validation to the words. The Gamecocks turned out to be fool’s gold and the Aggies, once ranked as high as No. 6 in the country but now out of the top 25, look that way, too.

The Aggies, who went 20-6 in their first two SEC seasons, reaped plenty of benefits from their early SEC success. It accelerated the fundraising for a $450 million redevelopment of Kyle Field. Millions were spent to renovate the football complex.

Sumlin received two raises and is getting paid $5 million per season, which is in the tax bracket of head coaches who have rings. The assistant coaches got raises, too. On social media the Aggies say they run this state (#WRTS). It’s hard to justify that claim when they have yet to beat a top-25 team in their home stadium since joining the SEC.

All those resources were spent with building a championship-caliber program in mind. Nobody said it was going to be easy, but this past Saturday’s events and what has transpired the past three weeks is cause for some soul searching.
Election Day is coming, in case you have not heard. One week before the Nov. 4 midterms, too.

Brian Kelly is no stranger to all of this. The Notre Dame coach is the son of an alderman. He once worked for Massachusetts state senator Gerry D'Amico. He was a driver for eventual presidential candidate Gary Hart.

A day after his Fighting Irish lost a 31-27 heartbreaker at Florida State, a defeat that kept the Seminoles' win streak alive at 23 and sent the 6-1 Irish down to No. 7 in the AP poll, Kelly took the initiative to play to his audience.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesNotre Dame coach Brian Kelly was quick to hit the College Football Playoff campaign trail following his loss to Florida State.
Not necessarily to his Notre Dame constituency -- unanimous in its frustration over an offensive pass interference call that wiped away a potential game-winning touchdown Saturday -- but to the College Football Playoff selection committee.

The 13-person committee will unveil its first top 25 rankings Oct. 28. Notre Dame has a bye this week, so its loss at FSU in what was arguably the best game of the year was, in effect, its last rehearsal for the committee before the group's initial rankings.

Kelly, ever the politician, made sure all noticed.

"Florida State blew the coverage and they got rewarded for it," is the line he trotted out Sunday that will draw the most attention, an assertion that has been (and will continue to be) picked apart endlessly.

"There's great disappointment," Kelly later added. "You never want to let the game be decided by a referee. You want to control the game yourself.

"What happened at the end was out of our control. We feel like we did the things necessary. We've got to be able to control finishes. That means make a couple more plays. If you've got the champ, you can't win by split decision, you've got to knock him out. I think that's what we want to take away from this."

The written records show that C.J. Prosise received blame for the costly penalty, but Kelly (and others) learned afterward that the flag was actually thrown on Will Fuller. That only further muddled the situation for Kelly, who said that there was nothing that Fuller could have done differently on the play.

Never mind that ACC supervisor of officials Doug Rhoads agreed with the call, or that seemingly every other analyst concurred as well. Never mind that, according to Kelly, officials confessed to him that they missed FSU corner P.J. Williams taking his helmet off on the field after Corey Robinson's nullified go-ahead grab, a no-call that added insult to injury. The only real point of contention, it seemed, was that the spirit of the pass interference rule was violated, a view steeped in the old-school belief across all sports that officials should swallow their whistles in a game's final minutes, especially in an instant classic between two unbeatens.

What matters among all of this are the thoughts of that 13-person committee, and if the rankings that they trot out from next week until the postseason will reflect what Kelly and Notre Dame feel was the truth of the matter Saturday night: That they were better than the defending national champions at Doak Campbell Stadium, and that they should not suffer because of the way things ended.

"I just loved our guys, their mentality going on the road in a hostile environment," Kelly said. "It really did not affect them. They played physical, controlled the line of scrimmage. We made plays against a team that had won 22 in a row. You love that about your team, its psyche, the way they went into the game. So all those are huge things."

This is college football in 2014, where every game still counts, but each game is not exactly an elimination game, not with four teams competing for the top prize at the end instead of two, not just with three Power 5 teams standing unbeaten here eights weeks through the season, with two of those (Ole Miss and Mississippi State) facing each other at season's end.

This is what Kelly -- no stranger to postseason play, having guided Grand Valley State to back-to-back Division II titles in 2002 and 2003 -- guarded against last week, saying that the trip to Tallahassee would not be a make-or-break deal for the Irish.

"It's a journey," Kelly said six days before the FSU game. "You know, this one is such that you have to persevere, and it's a long, long schedule to get there. For us, Florida State is an important game, but we've got to get the rest of the games that are equally as important. I think just pacing our football team through a long season when I was in Division II, you're playing 15 games, and here it's a long season. You just have to make sure that your calendar is stretched out so you're pacing your football team through the season."

It is foolish to assume anything in college football, least of all that Notre Dame will respond to Saturday's loss by winning its five remaining scheduled games. The Irish certainly could, though, and -- with apologies to unbeaten Marshall -- the four-team playoff is already virtually assured of featuring at least two one-loss teams. Notre Dame feels it belongs in that conversation, even without the 13th game that four conferences will offer their finalists.

So Kelly doubled-down on his stance Sunday in a defense of his players and of his fan base but, most importantly, in an attempt to convince the voices who matter that the Irish are better than the FSU team that has not lost in 23 months, and that questionable officiating was the only thing standing in their way.

He may be three decades and several gray hairs away from his previous life, but Kelly can still politic with the best of them.
The Big 12 was turned upside down by West Virginia and Kansas State, and both are being led by former juco recruits. Plus, it was no surprise that many of the nation's best recruits walked away impressed with Florida State following Saturday's victory over Notre Dame.

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 8

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The leaves are turning, the mercury is dropping and teams are becoming bowl eligible. Welcome to the heart of the college football season. It's a wonderful place to be, don't you agree?

Three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska) have reached the six-win threshold, ensuring bowl placement for this year. Four other squads -- Ohio State, Maryland, Rutgers and Iowa -- are one win away.

The projections don't change much this week after a Saturday where things more or less went according to plan. One debate among the Big Ten reporting team was whether to remove Northwestern, which lost its second consecutive game and continued to struggle offensively. Yet with four winnable Big Ten games left -- Iowa (road), Michigan (home), Purdue (road) and Illinois (home) -- we think Pat Fitzgerald's team can finish well.

Another factor is the Big Ten taking more control of the game assignments this year, rather than leaving it up to the bowls, who often prioritize brand name and size of fan base over on-field results. The league wants better, fresher matchups and no repeat appearances, if at all possible.

Would the Holiday Bowl rather have Wisconsin than Maryland? No doubt. But Maryland has earned its way into the Holiday Bowl slot on the field, so we're giving the Terrapins the nod. Fortunately, Wisconsin and Maryland can settle things on the field this week in Madison.

Should Michigan State or Ohio State be projected into the College Football Playoff? Not yet. But the winner of their Nov. 8 showdown at Spartan Stadium could move into elite company.

Iowa takes a tumble after its loss in College Park. The Hawkeyes have to take care of business at home in November to move up again.

OK, enough rambling. The projections ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/AT&T Cotton/Fiesta/Capital One Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/AT&T Cotton/Fiesta/Capital One Orange: Ohio State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Nebraska
Outback: Minnesota
National University Holiday: Maryland
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Wisconsin
San Francisco: Rutgers
New Era Pinstripe: Iowa
Quick Lane: Penn State
Heart of Dallas: Northwestern

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 8

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Just a few weeks ago, it was popular to write off the Pac-12's chances of having a team in the initial College Football Playoff. What was then an overreaction is now just silly.

It's clear Oregon, as the top-ranked one-loss team outside the SEC, controls its own destiny as far as the playoff is concerned. In no way does that guarantee anything, but based on how the Ducks have played since losing at Arizona and what has happened elsewhere in college football, Oregon should feel good about where it is.

The Ducks became the Pac-12's first bowl-eligible team after beating Washington 45-20 on Saturday, but after them the conference remains a jumbled mess. Six others have at least five wins, including five teams in the South Division.

There's no sound way to logically project how this will end up -- too much parity -- but here's our weekly attempt:

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: Arizona
Valero Alamo Bowl: Utah
National University Holiday Bowl: Arizona State
San Francisco Bowl: USC
Hyundai Sun Bowl: UCLA
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford
Cactus Bowl: Washington
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Cal
* at large

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 8

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It's moving day!

Chaos reigns as West Virginia's and Kansas State's wins join TCU's domination to result in the Horned Frogs sitting atop the queue. West Virginia could be the sleeper pick to win the conference, while K-State still faces a difficult road to its second Big 12 title in three years with road trips to TCU, West Virginia and Baylor left on the schedule.

The conference landscape is full of teams that could stake their claim in the Big 12 title race.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: TCU
Cotton Bowl: Kansas State
Valero Alamo Bowl: West Virginia
Russell Athletic Bowl: Baylor
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Oklahoma State
Cactus Bowl: Texas

ACC bowl projections: Week 8

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The win over Notre Dame certainly wasn’t the final piece to Florida State’s playoff puzzle, but it was clearly the biggest hurdle the Seminoles had remaining on the schedule. That has secured FSU’s spot in our postseason projections, but for now, we’re still predicting the Irish will get a bowl game shot at another ACC power.

College Football Playoff: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Clemson versus Notre Dame*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Duke
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville
Belk Bowl: Virginia
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Georgia Tech
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Virginia Tech
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: NC State

* Note: If Notre Dame is not invited to the College Football Playoff or a New Year’s Six bowl game, it will assume one of the ACC’s bowl spots.

SEC bowl projections: Week 8

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The SEC’s ability to get two teams into the College Football Playoff field is what should and will generate the most headlines as we push toward the final month of the season.

Each highly ranked team that loses -- hello, Baylor, Notre Dame and Oklahoma -- makes it seem like more of a possibility, but we’re not yet ready to project that half of the playoff teams will come from the SEC.

We’ll stick with top-ranked Mississippi State as the SEC's playoff pick for now, but Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia remain in the middle of the discussion as well. Those teams still have several key games ahead that will determine the top half of the SEC’s postseason pecking order.

Meanwhile, the bottom half of the pecking order should also become a source of late-season drama. After their losses on Saturday, we’re dropping Arkansas (3-4) and Florida (3-3) from this week’s bowl projections and adding Tennessee (3-4), although none of those teams is a sure bet at this point. Kentucky (5-2) gets to stay in, but the Wildcats are coming off a 41-3 loss at LSU and will face a challenging second half of the schedule where earning another victory (and achieving bowl eligibility) might be tough.

At any rate, there is assuredly plenty of movement ahead in these projections, but here is where we are entering the ninth week of the regular season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Cotton Bowl: Alabama
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: LSU
Outback Bowl: Missouri
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Texas A&M
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Kentucky

SEC owns top 5 of AP poll

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The SEC has been historically dominant this season. Just look at the most recent Associated Press poll where it became the first league to ever boast four teams in the top five.

Look even further, though, and you'll see that all four of those teams hail from the West: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Auburn's Gus Malzahn said it a few weeks ago and other coaches have echoed the statement since: "It's the best division in college football."

This might be the point where you feel sorry for Texas A&M.

The Aggies were the toast of college football for the first month or so of the season. They they went through three-quarters of the West wringer, losing games to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama -- in consecutive weeks.

How anyone will survive the West unscathed is beyond comprehension.

Already, Alabama has lost to Ole Miss and Auburn has lost to Mississippi State. But we're not through with the jockeying for position. Auburn goes to Ole Miss on Nov. 1 and Mississippi State travels to Alabama on Nov. 15. And lest we forget, the top four might not be decided until the final week of the regular season when the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl are played.

The SEC is a bear this season. The West just happens to pack the most heat.

It's crazy to consider how we've arrived here, but it's even crazier to look ahead at what's to come.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 8

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Well, that wasn't a very competitive weekend, was it? Not a single close game, highlighted by the weekend's marquee Alabama-Texas A&M matchup turning into a 59-0 rout for the Crimson Tide. Ole Miss shook off a slow start to run past Tennessee, Georgia kept rolling without Todd Gurley and Missouri put Will Muschamp on the hottest of hot seats. How did it all affect this week's Power Rankings? Let's find out.

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

ACC Power Rankings: Week 8

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 8

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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 8

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 8

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Get ready, Death Valley. ESPN "College GameDay" is coming.

Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and the rest of the gang will descend on Baton Rouge, Louisiana, next weekend for No. 3 Ole Miss vs. LSU. The Rebels (7-0), of course, are undefeated, LSU (6-2) has won two in a row.

And better yet, though "GameDay" is in the morning, it's a night game. You have to love Saturday night in Death Valley. The atmosphere will certainly be electric as Tiger fans "welcome" the unbeaten Rebels into Tiger Stadium.

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