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Playoff picture: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
10:00
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That was it.

That was the best the ACC has to give against No. 1-ranked Florida State: a Clemson team that was in the red zone seven times and scored on just three of those drives. It was the most meaningful game the Noles will play during the regular season, and they won it with their Heisman-winning quarterback suspended for the entire game and their best defensive player sidelined for the second half with a concussion.

If Florida State somehow found a way to win that one, you better believe the odds are in the Noles' favor to find their way into the inaugural College Football Playoff -- with or without Jameis Winston.

With the win, Florida State took the lead in the ACC's Atlantic Division race and should be on cruise control to win the ACC. Notre Dame is the only ranked opponent remaining on the schedule, and ESPN's FPI still gives the Noles a 73.2 percent chance of winning -- their lowest predicted percentage on the schedule. That Thursday night game at Louisville no longer looks so daunting, and as for Florida?

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire, Jameis Winston
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State beat Clemson with backup quarterback Sean Maguire, while Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston watched from the sideline.
Boston College might put up a better fight.

Even with backup Sean Maguire leading the way, Florida State racked up more yards (318) against Clemson than rival Florida did (200) against Alabama with starter Jeff Driskel running the show. Maguire, making his first career start, had a better QBR than Driskel, and they both threw two picks. In spite of Winston's shocking suspension, Florida State remains right on track to be an undefeated ACC champ heading to the playoff.

The question is whether Winston wants to be part of it.

HOW THE WEST WILL BE WON

There are five undefeated teams remaining in the SEC -- and they're all in the West Division.

Welcome to the club, Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs' win over No. 8 LSU legitimized their hopes not only as a contender in the West Division, but also as a darkhorse candidate for the playoff. Any team that has a chance to win the SEC has a chance to earn a playoff bid. In what should be considered the toughest division in the sport, the winner of the SEC West should wow the committee with its strength of schedule. Five teams entered the week ranked in the top 10.

LSU was the first to be reminded how quickly that can change. This is where a two-loss team might cause some debates.

Nobody has clearly separated from the pack, but it's still early.

CHEST BUMPS FOR THE BIG TEN

It took four weeks, but the Big Ten finally had a good day.

Everyone but Michigan, that is.

For the first time this season, the Big Ten came out on top, highlighted by Indiana's shocking upset of No. 18 Missouri and Nebraska's win over Miami -- part of a 3-0 sweep of the ACC. Wisconsin also pummeled Bowling Green, as if each touchdown further distanced the Badgers from the rest of the league's MAC woes.

No. 11 Michigan State, still the Big Ten's best hope of a playoff representative, scored 73 points against Eastern Michigan, even though coach Mark Dantonio downplayed the idea of scoring style points.

The Big Ten was in desperate need of a weekend like this to boost its image. Whoever thought the Hoosiers would trump a Nebraska win over Miami as the league's marquee win? The Big Ten's playoff hopes aren't over yet.

DON'T FORGET BYU

There was no bigger story than Florida State this week, and there is no deeper league than the SEC, but BYU still has the best chance of any team in the country to go undefeated, according to ESPN's FPI.

The Cougars' 41-33 win over a much-improved Virginia team is nothing to be scoffed at, but the Cavaliers -- like every other team on BYU's schedule -- aren't ranked. BYU would likely have to win out and look good in the process in order to have a chance at displacing a team from a Power 5 conference in the playoff.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
9:00
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That's a wrap on Week 4 in the ACC. Who stood out the most? Glad you asked ...

Duke safety Jeremy Cash: There were a handful of players to choose from on a Blue Devils defense that turned in an excellent performance in Saturday's 47-13 win over Tulane, but Cash gets the nod here. The redshirt junior tied for the team-high with 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and had the first of four Duke interceptions on the day, and the fifth of his career. Duke is 4-0 for the first time since 1994, when it started 7-0, and it has looked sharp on both sides of the ball as it readies for conference play next week at Miami.

Pitt running back James Conner: At this point we'll call it a ho-hum day for the bruising sophomore back: 29 carries, 155 yards and two touchdowns. (He had one catch for 9 yards as well.) Those early-season Heisman prospects likely go out the door with a 24-20 loss to Iowa, given Pitt's underwhelming schedule, but a fifth straight 150-yard rushing outing is nothing to overlook. Conner is at 699 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, a school-record to start a season, crushing Tony Dorsett's 564 yards through four games during his 1973 freshman season.

Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene: There may not be a player in the country who is more important to his team than Greene. The senior delivered again Saturday night in FSU's 23-17 overtime win over Clemson. He had nine catches for 135 yards and a touchdown, in addition to a 28-yard punt return. He came up huge on a night the Seminoles needed him to, proving to be a huge help to first-time starter Sean Maguire.

Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy: Stop the presses: Murphy failed to rush for 100 yards. He did net 99, though, along with two rushing touchdowns, including a 71-yarder in the first quarter. And he completed 11 of 18 throws for 130 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Murphy has proven to be an invaluable addition to the Eagles, as he stretches the field and makes them so much less predictable. BC rushed for 413 yards in its 40-10 win over Maine, eclipsing the 400-yard rushing mark for the second straight game and eclipsing the 300-yard mark for the third time in four games. The Eagles' 549 yards of total offense marked the third time they eclipsed that mark this year as well. So much of that comes back to the man under center.

Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas: Thomas' numbers will not jump off the page as a passer: He completed 7 of 18 throws for 125 yards and a touchdown during the Yellow Jackets' 27-24 win over Virginia Tech. His rushing numbers were much better: 22 carries for 165 yards and another touchdown. But Thomas made plays when it mattered most, leading yet another game-winning drive and helping the Yellow Jackets snap a four-game losing streak against Virginia Tech. Thomas bounced back from a rough start throwing (he lost a fumble as well) and completed 4 of his final 7 passes, relying heavily down the stretch on DeAndre Smelter (5 catches, 101 yards, TD), who himself deserves plenty of recognition in this space now. For all of its troubles, Georgia Tech is now 4-0 and in great position in the Coastal race, having fended off the Hokies on the road. (Special recognition in this game also goes to Virginia Tech linebacker Chase Thomas, who had the insane line of 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.)

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
9:00
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Recognizing the best and brightest from Week 4 in the Big Ten:

Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: Handing out this first helmet sticker was as easy as it gets. Let’s go straight to the stats: Gordon finished with 253 rushing yards and five TDs -- on only 13 carries. Thirteen! Heck, Gordon would’ve earned a helmet sticker if those kinds of numbers came on 31 carries. It was the fewest carries needed for a back to gain 250 yards since at least 2000. And the last time a Big Ten team gained so many total rushing yards (644) was in 1927, when Minnesota finished with 663 and gas cost 15 cents a gallon. Gordon's performance -- in Wisconsin’s 68-17 win over Bowling Green -- might be the most dominating one we see all year.

Indiana defense: No need for a double take. Indiana’s defense may have never before earned a helmet sticker, but it certainly deserved one this weekend. Missouri came in averaging 42 points a game, but the Hoosiers limited the No. 18 team in the nation to just 27 points while forcing seven punts and 11 tackles-for-loss in the unlikely 31-27 upset. But, most importantly, it held the Tigers when it needed by allowing three points on Mizzou’s final three drives. When Mizzou reached the Indiana 20 with about three minutes to go, it couldn’t get anything going and settled for a field goal. That set the stage for a great Indiana comeback, one set up by an unlikely-but-solid defensive effort.

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: The front-runner for Big Ten offensive player of the year made it look easy again on Saturday. He set a career-high with 35 attempts and made them count by racking up 229 rushing yards (6.5 ypc) and two TDs -- in addition to a 3-yard catch for a receiving TD. He touched the ball just about every other offensive play in Nebraska's 41-31 win over Miami. The Hurricanes entered this game as the 16th best run defense in the nation.

Iowa QB C.J. Beathard: His stats on Saturday won’t blow you away -- 7-of-8, 98 yards -- but it’s clear this offense was different when Beathard was under center. Exhibit A: Iowa had just four offensive possessions in the second half and scored on three of them. Exhibit B: He made two critical third-down throws and ran for a fourth-down conversion on Iowa’s game-winning drive in the 24-20 win over Pitt. Iowa tailback Mark Weisman deserves a shoutout, but Beathard deserves the helmet sticker. He had a QBR of 97.3 -- it only goes up to 100 -- and the Hawkeyes wouldn’t have won without him.

Minnesota RB David Cobb: How important was Cobb to the Gophers’ 24-7 win over San Jose State? Well, first off, Minnesota completed just one pass, so there was really no other offensive support to speak of. And, second of all, Cobb accounted for more than 53 percent of the Gophers’ entire offense as he rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Minnesota ran 65 offensive plays, and Cobb ran the ball 34 times. San Jose State knew what was coming, but it couldn’t stop him anyway. Cobb averaged 6.1 yards a carry.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
9:00
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Can you feel the drama building? We're just starting to get into the meat of the SEC schedule and already the league is spinning off its axis with excitement. Here are this week's best performances:

Blake Sims and Amari Cooper, Alabama: Everyone suspected Cooper might be the nation's best receiver, but who saw this coming from Sims? The Crimson Tide dismantled Florida 42-21 and Sims' 445 yards passing -- second best in the school's storied history -- was the biggest reason why. Equally unstoppable was Cooper, who caught 10 passes for 201 yards and three TDs. Much of Cooper's production came against the defense of UF cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, thought to be one of the nation's finest.

Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson, Mississippi State: Time after time this dynamic duo sliced through the heart of the LSU defense en route to the Bulldogs' first win in Baton Rouge in nearly 23 years. LSU's late rally made the final score 34-29, which diminished State's dominance for most of the game. Prescott passed for 268 yards and two TDs. He ran 22 times for 105 yards and another score in building MSU's 34-10 lead. Meanwhile, Robinson was a deadly efficient complement, running for a career-high 197 yards and a TD on 16 carries (12.3 yards per carry). The Bulldogs' offense was firing on all cylinders and racked up 570 yards with standouts all around. The empty seats in Death Valley were a testament to just how demoralizing Mississippi State's performance was for the No. 8 Tigers and their fans.

Auburn's run defense: Holding a run-heavy team like Kansas State to 40 yards on the ground is exactly how you win huge nonconference road games. The Tigers did that in Thursday's 20-14 win in Manhattan, Kansas. The Wildcats came in averaging 236 yards a game on the ground, but Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had his front seven ready. When called upon, safeties Joshua Holsey (11 tackles) and Rudy Ford (eight tackles) cleaned up the leftovers.

Arkansas' run game: We might want to reserve a weekly spot for this unit, as it seems there is absolutely no slowing down Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and their under-appreciated blockers. The Razorbacks were rolling once again in their 52-14 rout of Northern Illinois on Saturday. Collins, Williams and Korliss Marshall combined to rush for 188 yards on 36 carries. Right guard Denver Kirkland (6-foot-5, 330 pounds), left tackle Dan Skipper (6-10, 316) -- both sophomores -- and senior tight end AJ Derby (6-5, 255) had great success opening some gaping holes.

Sony Michel, Georgia: We knew the heralded true freshman was good, but in garbage time against Troy he laid any doubt to rest. Michel needed just 10 carries to pile up 155 yards (15.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Occasionally running out of the Wildcat, he's already proven to be more than a backup. The future is looking bright for a Bulldogs team that suffocated Troy in a 66-0 romp.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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A true freshman made his case to become a household name, a pair of Jayhawks changed the game, another target emerged in Manhattan, Kansas, and the Big 12's most consistent receiving threat did it again. Here's a look at the best performances in the Big 12 this week:

RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: Even if you didn't watch the game you probably already know how dominant the Sooners true freshman running back was in OU's 45-33 win over West Virginia. He finished with 34 carries for 242 yards and four touchdowns. And he got better as the game went on. Keith Ford better hurry back.

Oklahoma's offensive line: While Perine basks in all the headlines, the Sooners offensive line was the foundation of OU's ground-and-pound victory in Morgantown, West Virginia. Perine and Alex Ross (eight rushes for 56 yards) each averaged at least 7 yards per carry. Tackles Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, guards Nila Kasitati, Adam Shead and Dionte Savage along with center Ty Darlington deserve a ton of credit.

WR Justin McCay, Kansas: His numbers aren't staggering. His impact was. The Jayhawks receiver changed the game with his 60-yard catch and run for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. McCay finished with two receptions for 66 yards and the score but KU might not have defeated Central Michigan, 24-10, without McCay's big play.

LB Jake Love, Kansas: Fellow linebacker Ben Heeney was outstanding, as usual, but Love was very productive in his own right. He finished with five tackles including four tackles for loss and one sack. His back-to-back tackles for loss in the middle of the fourth quarter helped set up Corey Avery's touchdown on the Jayhawks next possession, which essentially sealed the win.

WR Curry Sexton, Kansas State: The Wildcats got the usual big plays from Tyler Lockett but Sexton provided a quality second option for K-State's offense. He had a career-high 11 receptions for 121 yards in the Wildcats' 20-14 loss to Auburn. Six of Sexton's 11 receptions came on third down and seven of his catches resulted in a first down. His previous career high was six receptions and 112 against West Virginia in 2013.

WR Kevin White, West Virginia: The Mountaineers' senior continues to prove Lockett and Baylor's Antwan Goodley have competition for the honor of Big 12's best receiver. White had 10 receptions for 173 yards and one touchdown. It was his fourth straight 100-yard game to start the season and third game with at least 140 receiving yards.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
9:00
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Recovered from the sensory overload that was college football Saturday? Time to re-live some of this weekend's star performances.

Nelson Spruce, WR, Colorado: Hawaii had no answer for the junior, who caught a school-record 13 passes for a career-best 172 yards in the Buffs' 21-12 win. Spruce's most explosive play came late in the first quarter, when Sefo Liufau found him for a 71-yard touchdown that gave the Buffs a lead they would not relinquish.

Travis Wilson, QB, Utah: His helmet popped off and his neck bent uncomfortably far out of its usual position during a nauseating second quarter spill, but Wilson returned to the game in the second half to assert total Utah control and get a rain-delayed 26-10 win at Michigan. A 28-yard touchdown strike to Dres Anderson highlighted Wilson's gutsy return, and the Utes knocked the big road monkey off their backs.

Special Teams Unit, Utah: Kaelin Clay's 116 return yards included a stunning, sideline-tightrope-walk of a punt return that kept Utah afloat while the offense was still sputtering in the first half. "Automatic" Andy Phillips booted four field goals to drive the nail into Michigan's rain-soaked coffin. The Utes have been spectacular in this third phase of the game.

Marcus Peters, CB, Washington: Georgia State outgained the Huskies 233-62 in the first half, but they led only 14-0 at that point. Washington may have Peters to thank for that manageable deficit, because he recorded two impressive interceptions in the first frame. The second featured a beautiful diving effort near the sideline and served as a prelude to the Dawgs' furious 45-point second half rally in a game they won 45-14.

Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State: In a narrow escape over San Diego State last year, the Beavers went scoreless in the second and third quarters. This time, they outscored the Aztecs 21-0 over those middle two frames. Mannion executed Oregon State's adjustments with surgical precision, finishing 24-for-31 for 275 yards in his team's 28-7 win.

Austin Hill, WR, Arizona: He caught a game-winning Hail Mary. He should have the right to distribute helmet stickers, for crying out loud. Let's not forget about fellow receiver Cayleb Jones, whose 13 catches, 186 yards, and three touchdowns also spearheaded a 36-point fourth quarter. Oh, and the guy throwing all those passes may be icing his arm right now: Anu Solomon threw 73 times for 520 yards as the Wildcats shocked the Cal 49-45. A replay, just for fun.

Jared Goff, QB, Cal: Amidst the Arizona Hail Mary hoopla, it's important to not forget the strides Cal has made in the quarterback's sophomore season. The Bears' defense obviously collapsed, but Goff was spectacular for most of the contest: He delivered lasers downfield, averaging over 21 yards per completion and over 12 yards per attempt.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: His stat line was close to perfect in the face of ferocious Washington State pressure (seven sacks) -- 21-for-25, 239 yards, five touchdowns, and 58 more yards on the ground in the Ducks' 38-31 win. The Ducks could have very well lost this game considering how badly they were struggling up front, but Mariota's composure ended up Winning the Day (yes, that was intended). It never hurts to have track star Devon Allen on your side, either (20.3 yards per catch).

River Cracraft, WR, Washington State: The Cougars played the Ducks tough, and much of that can be credited to a series of fine Cracraft grabs against a very talented Oregon secondary. He finished with eight catches for 107 yards, and it seemed that every one of those receptions came in a clutch spot to keep Wazzu in the ballgame.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:20
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Some things we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 4:

No quit in Arizona: California led 28-6 at halftime and 31-13 going into the fourth quarter, and Arizona needed to go 85 yards in less than a minute without any timeouts. There were plenty of reasons to quit believing. Didn’t happen. Instead, the college football world was treated to the best game of the season. Freshman quarterback Anu Solomon's 47-yard Hail Mary to Austin Hill as time expired to give Arizona a 49-45 win and the play of the year so far. Arizona’s 36 fourth-quarter points mark a new school record for a quarter and more than the Wildcats scored all game against Cal the past season (33).

[+] EnlargeKaelin Clay
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsKaelin Clay and Utah struck a pose and took over the Big House from Michigan.
Utah is a complete team: It’s not that we learned the Utes are a complete team this week, more that our previous assumption was confirmed. Let’s recap Utah's 26-10 victory over Michigan. Special teams: Kaelin Clay added a punt return for a touchdown and now leads the nation with three returns for scores; kicker Andy Phillips was 4-for-5 on field goals in bad weather, including one from 50 yards; and punter Tom Hacket twice pinned Michigan inside the 20. Defense: Allowed only a field goal, intercepted three passes and forced a quarterback change. Offense: There is room for improvement, but quarterback Travis Wilson bounced back from a scary injury and immediately led the team on a seamless touchdown drive. Backup quarterback Kendal Thompson threw a sloppy pick-six, but on the next drive he settled down and showed he can move the team as well. Next week against Washington State should be interesting. And the Utah fans came to play as well.

Mannion into record book: Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion became the school’s all-time leading passer. He eluded a pass rush and completed a 27-yard pass to Hunter Jarmon in the third quarter to take the record from Derek Anderson, who threw for 11,249 yards between 2001 and 2004. Mannion finished with 275 yards passing and now has 11,339 for his career, but he didn’t throw a touchdown and had one pick against the Aztecs. The most impressive part of the 28-7 win over San Diego State was the Beavers’ defense, which allowed just 215 yards of offense.

Colorado takes advantage: By giving both Washington a game and Oregon State a late scare, Hawaii proved it could hang with Pac-12 teams. But that was in Hawaii. Colorado’s 21-12 win started at 8 a.m. Hawaiian time and was played at altitude, and the Warriors’ flight was delayed on Friday, which canceled its walk-through. That’s tough sledding. Still, Colorado deserves credit for taking advantage. The Buffaloes built a 21-6 halftime lead and hung on to move to 2-2 for the second straight season -- they’ve yet to start 3-2 since their move to the Pac-12 in 2011. WR Nelson Spruce continued his torrid start with 13 catches for 172 yards, which included a 71-yard touchdown.

Another passed test for Oregon: Oregon's first road game of the season didn't go as smoothly as it would have liked, but a 38-31 road win over Washington State is a road win, and the Ducks are probably better for it. Offensive line issues remain a concern, but Marcus Mariota again looked like the Heisman favorite, as he finished 21-of-25 for 329 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 58 yards on 13 carries. Sports Illustrated jinx? Better luck next time.

Inconsistency remains at Washington: Georgia State has never beaten an FBS opponent but led Washington 14-0 at halftime. Sure, the Huskies bounced back to score 45 points in the second half and win 45-14. Still, the first half has to be concerning. Take it from coach Chris Petersen, who said, “If we show up like we did in the first half from here on out, we’ll get run out of the stadium and won’t be able to get back in.” Washington is still searching for an identity after playing starkly different types of games in each of Petersen’s first four as head coach. The competition level takes a big jump next week, when the Huskies get a visit from No. 16 Stanford. The 45 second-half points were the most a team scored in the second half after being shutout in the first since West Virginia scored 46 against Louisville in 2005.

Time to take Cal seriously: First, poor Cal. To play that well for that long only to lose on a Hail Mary is torture for a team and fan base that suffered mightily a year ago. Be extra nice to your Cal fan friends this week; this isn’t the time for jokes. As devastating a loss as this could be, the performance did legitimize the Golden Bears’ first two games. Quarterback Jared Goff played like an All-American for long stretches, and the defense played well early before being gassed. That fourth quarter, however, was worse than anything the Cal defense did a year ago. The lack of depth was again on display, just like it was against Northwestern.

Cougars can compete: The WSU team that showed up in Pullman was the version many were expecting -- and maybe even better -- to see all season, but for WSU to beat Oregon, it would have taken a near-perfect game. The Cougars made a few too many mistakes to get this win, but overall, it was a positive step -- just don't tell Mike Leach. All of a sudden, WSU looks like it can compete week-in, week-out. Two games into the season, that wasn't the case.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The spotlight was going to be on Jameis Winston regardless. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, engulfed in controversy for the better part of a year, was suspended for the full game less than 24 hours before No. 1 Florida State's matchup with No. 22 Clemson.

As the game approached, though, the attention was supposed to turn to redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire, the other quarterback -- the starting quarterback, if only for three hours.

Except Winston invited the cameras and microscope with his pregame antics, appearing from the locker room in full pads and taking practice snaps with the rest of the quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargeTallahassee, FL - September 20, 2014 - Doak Campbell Stadium: Sean Maguire (10) of the Florida State University Seminoles during a regular season game (Photo by Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesAfter a rocky first half, Florida State backup quarterback Sean Maguire came through with some big second-half throws to help defeat Clemson.
It was supposed to be Maguire’s moment, and it was being taken away from him before he even took the first snap. The latest distraction was another viral video relapse, creating another issue that ate at the Seminoles’ focus.

Then it carried over into the game. The spotlight was not on the Seminoles until the ball was finally kicked off at 8:23, but for the first 30 minutes the team played like it was a secondary story: Breakdowns on the offensive line, a negative rushing total and a defense that allowed 249 first-half yards to Clemson.

For the most loyal Winston supporter, this was the perfect scenario as late as Friday evening. The offense was sputtering and in need of a spark as it entered halftime trailing 10-3. But now Winston was relegated to the bench for the second half, too, and it was time for Maguire to earn the spotlight he hadn't received since being named the starter Wednesday.

So Jimbo Fisher was left with Maguire, and if the Seminoles were going to win, he was going to have to take them there. He did, tossing a 74-yard touchdown to Rashad Greene with 6:04 left to tie the game, which Florida State eventually won 23-17 in overtime.

“I felt a lot of pressure was on him,” cornerback Ronald Darby said. “… We put him in bad situations, but he pulled out the win.”

Maguire learned he'd play the entire game not long before he went to sleep Friday. There weren't any dreams of big touchdown passes or improbable overtime wins. But he lived it Saturday.

“I can’t put into words,” Maguire said. “It’s the greatest feeling in my life so far that’s for sure.”

Maguire played nervous early while teammates played distracted. In the first half, Maguire played like a quarterback who only saw the field in mop-up duty previously, completing only 6 of 17 passes in the first half.

In the second half, Fisher took the training wheels off. There were shotgun and first-down passes and no-huddle offenses to start the second half. The game was going to be in Maguire’s hands, which most honest Florida State fans did not trust leading into the game.

In the second half, he was 15-of-22 passing and finished with 305 yards.

“We got him in a rhythm and got him some confidence,” Fisher said.

Would Maguire have been confident enough to throw that deep fourth-quarter pass to Greene in the first quarter?

“Probably not,” Fisher said. “And it comes after he takes a sack he shouldn’t have taken. But that’s what I loved about him tonight -- he just kept playing the next play, and that takes a lot for a first-time starter.”

The narrative nearly turned for Maguire in the final three minutes of the game. Maguire took a chance over the middle and threw an interception. Clemson had the ball at the Seminoles’ 26-yard line and was killing the clock to set up a game-winning field goal attempt.

That is when Maguire’s teammates secured the backup quarterback’s moment in the spotlight, no matter how fleeting it was destined to be, by forcing a fumble.

“Oh my God, we got the ball back,” Maguire said.

And Maguire finally got his limelight.

No. 2 Oregon 38, Washington State 31

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
2:38
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video Marcus Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns in Oregon's 38-31 win over Washington State.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- With two minutes to go in regulation Saturday night, the end seemed near -- for both the ACC and Florida State.

Jameis Winston stood in track pants on the sideline, his suspension threatening to shred national championship hopes. His backup, Sean Maguire, had just thrown a bad pass that Clemson safety Jadar Johnson easily intercepted, putting the Tigers in prime position to win.

On second-and-2 from the Florida State 18, C.J. Davidson took the ball. All the Tigers had to do was get a few more yards to set up for a game-winning field goal. Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman converged, and got his hand on the ball. It squirted out.

Hearts sank on the Clemson sideline. The nation had seen Clemson fumble opportunities before, mistakes that have turned its school name into a verb that has come to symbolize what it means to give away games.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire and No. 1 Florida State overcame early struggles to rally past No. 22 Clemson on Saturday.
But this fumbled opportunity became a golden gift for the Seminoles, and, in turn, the ACC. Momentum shifted in an instant. There was no way Florida State would lose this game now, not with its suddenly rejuvenated defense leading the way. Overtime arrived, and the Seminoles’ defense made another huge play, stopping Clemson on fourth-and-short.

All that was left was victory. Karlos Williams, ineffective all night, knew what he had to do. He would not let his teammates down. His 12-yard touchdown run gave No. 1 Florida State a 23-17 win, preserving its championship hopes and saving face for the ACC.

“It just shows we have great players on this football team besides Jameis Winston,” Williams said. “Although he's our captain, he's our leader, he's the best player in college football, we showed tonight we also have great players on this football team -- Rashad Greene, Bobo Wilson. Sean Maguire is a great quarterback. I believe that we proved we're Florida State and we're on the right track.”

With all due respect to Clemson, the ACC needed Florida State to pull out the win. Saturday was the worst weekend of the year for the ACC, as the league went 3-5 in nonconference play against FBS opponents, including an ugly 0-3 against the Big Ten.

Had Clemson won, the ACC would have gone from front-runner to outsider praying for a shot in the College Football Playoff.

Watching Florida State win the national title last year helped get the ACC some major respect. Watching Florida State go down at home in September to a team it has owned the past two seasons would not make a compelling case for inclusion. While it is true a one-loss Florida State team may not have been completely eliminated from contention, the ACC strength of schedule is simply not going to hold up this season against the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12. Not with the Week 4 results as an example.

So to guarantee staying alive for another week, Florida State had to win. It looked bleak in the early going, with the Clemson defensive line dominating and Clemson freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson taking a star turn of his own.

While Clemson played better for large parts of the game, it left points all over the field -- unacceptable for a team with its own championship hopes. Cole Stoudt, who started the game at quarterback, missed a shot at a sure touchdown in the first quarter when he threw the ball at his receiver’s feet. Clemson missed a field goal.

In the third quarter, Clemson had first-and-goal on the 1. A bad snap sailed over Watson’s head on second down. Clemson ended up missing another field goal. All the while Maguire started playing better, and so did his offensive line. It helped that Greene and Nick O’Leary were more involved, a big reason why the Noles stayed in the game.

But the biggest play of all belonged to Goldman, who matter-of-factly described his crucial forced fumble late in the fourth quarter.

“I knew it came loose,” he said. “When you're in the heat of the moment, you're not really thinking.”

Was there ever a moment of doubt when his teammates took the field, with the clock winding down and Clemson in prime position to win the game?

“You can't think of losing,” Goldman said. “One thing that Jimbo Fisher tells us is that you're never out of the fight until it's over. That's the mentality.”

Winston will be back at practice Monday. He will be under center next Saturday, when Florida State continues its playoff quest at NC State. The Seminoles proved they can win with Winston, and they can win without Winston.

Now they need to prove they can keep on winning. Because once again, the Noles are left alone carrying the banner for themselves.

And the banner for the ACC.

Video: Oregon coach Mark Helfrich

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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After a close win over Washington State, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich knows his team still has plenty of room to improve on the season.

Arizona beats Cal 49-45 on Hail Mary

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
2:12
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Anu Solomon's Hail Mary pass to Austin Hill with no time remaining lifted Arizona to a 49-45 win over California.

OU's Perine bulldozes, closes out WVU

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
1:30
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- The Oklahoma backfield is a full house, and Bob Stoops hardly seems concerned about putting his talented tailbacks in any order on a depth chart.

But if the Sooners don’t want to get too hung up on designating a pecking order, particularly when the nominal starter is hurt, that’s fine. No matter who takes the first carries for Oklahoma’s brutally efficient rushing attack, it’s pretty clear by now it knows who will handle the last few.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Tyler Evert/Associated PressSamaje Perine was a battering ram that West Virginia couldn't handle Saturday, especially in the fourth quarter.
In case there was any doubt, Samaje Perine bulldozed it out of existence on Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium, battering his way through the West Virginia defense until it couldn’t take any more and establishing himself as the ideal closer as the No. 4 Sooners rode him hard down the stretch in a 45-33 win.

“I wouldn’t say it’s best to be the closer,” Perine said. “But it sure is a good thing for a coach to have confidence in you like that at the end of the game.”

The Sooners had plenty of faith in the true freshman well before the end of the game, riding Perine almost from start to finish in a coming-out party that at least made it worth discussing whether Keith Ford had been unseated while sitting out with an ankle injury.

Perine rushed 34 times for 242 punishing yards, each one taking a toll on every Mountaineer who tried to bring him down. By the time he finished off his fourth touchdown run of the game, West Virginia seemed almost completely unwilling to take him on, and the Sooners definitely took notice as defenders continually lowered their sights on him after getting trucked repeatedly by the 243-pounder.

Regardless of whether or not the Sooners call on him that early or often again this season as they rely on the ground game to compensate for some inconsistency through the air, Perine clearly has carved out a role for himself. And if the Sooners can keep him fresh with a lighter load alongside Ford and Alex Ross, that might make him even more dangerous to tired defenders as they make a push for the College Football Playoff.

“Samaje was just outstanding,” Stoops said. “You know about how powerful and strong he is, but he also has great vision, great ability to cut and he just had a sensational night.

“You know what, these guys are all going to play. And we’re going to keep them fresh. But like tonight, you know, somebody gets hot -- he gets more. It’s really pretty simple.”

There was no need to complicate matters against the Mountaineers, though they made the Sooners’ road conference win a challenge.

They capitalized on a few misfires from Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight to get defensive stops, continued to cause some problems offensively with their explosive passing attack and had the score tied heading into halftime. But that was when Perine took over, toting the ball 20 times after intermission -- and grinding the game away with seven consecutive carries on the final scoring drive, which ended with a 19-yard trip to the end zone and a warm embrace from Stoops as he trotted back to the sideline.

“I didn’t know [his game] was that big until I looked down at the stat sheet,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He’s a great player, mature player -- he’s a load, you know what I mean?

“But before it’s all said and done, before this season is over, we’re going to need everybody who was in that locker room tonight on our side of the ball. Tonight was Samaje’s night. Hopefully he has more nights like that, but the rest of those guys have to be ready, too.”

Stoops has already proven he can find a way to use them all, and a huge outing by Perine isn’t going to change either his plans or interest in providing a clear-cut depth chart.

But even if Perine’s workload lightens up in the coming weeks, it’s a safe bet now that he’ll be on the field when it’s time for the Sooners to close the deal.

Bulldogs overcome Tiger Stadium mojo

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
12:56
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Five of the most intimidating words in college football are “Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.” Unless you’re Dak Prescott.

You chalk up a loss when your team is playing against LSU under such circumstances. Always, always, always.

Only twice in Les Miles’ nine-plus seasons at LSU -- at least before Prescott and Mississippi State dominated most of Saturday’s 34-29 win before the No. 8 Tigers' frantic comeback -- had a visitor come to Death Valley on a Saturday night and walked away a winner: Florida in 2009 and Alabama in 2012. Two teams that came in ranked No. 1 in the nation. One that eventually won a BCS title and one that easily could have.

In other words, this simply doesn’t happen. Especially in the fashion that the Bulldogs made it happen on Saturday night. They controlled the line of scrimmage on defense, limiting LSU to 89 rushing yards. They ran around and through an LSU defense that had not allowed a single point in 31 possessions and nine quarters, rolling up 570 yards of total offense -- the most ever allowed by a Miles-coached LSU team.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertDak Prescott likely entered the early Heisman discussion with his performance against No. 8 LSU.
And they expected it all along.

“Our guys were very, very confident coming in here and really expected to win. I don’t know, to the guys in the locker room, that this is a big upset for us,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “I think it obviously is on more of a national stage, but I think our guys really believed that we could come in and if we did our job, took care of plays and made plays, we could win the game, and we were able to do that.”

Louisiana native Prescott was the leading figure in the upset, using his running and passing skills to embarrass LSU’s previously dominant defense. The Bulldogs’ quarterback was a Heisman Trophy dark horse prior to Saturday night, but he’s sure to get more serious attention after carving up the Tigers’ defense for 268 passing yards, 105 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.

“I think this game was really big for him, coming here,” Mullen said. “He wanted to have a big game.”

Prescott had plenty of help.

Josh Robinson rushed for 197 yards and a score and Jameon Lewis had 116 receiving yards, including a 74-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter that gave the Bulldogs a shocking 31-10 lead. Mississippi State’s defense overwhelmed an LSU offensive front that came in as a question mark and a quarterback -- Anthony Jennings -- who has yet to prove himself as a consistent passer.

As a result, the Tigers’ offense was often stagnant and unable to counter punch until freshman Brandon Harris provided a late spark and actually had a chance to toss a game-winning touchdown on the game’s final play before Will Redmond intercepted it at the Bulldogs 1-yard line.

So where does this leave us now? One of these teams exits Tiger Stadium as a legitimate contender in the SEC West, and it’s not the team that came in as a Top-10 club. Mullen was 2-23 against ranked opponents and had never beaten a Top-10 team as State’s coach before Saturday, but as Miles indicated earlier this week, this might be Mullen’s best team since he arrived in Starkville in 2009.

The Bulldogs certainly played like it on Saturday.

“They’ve definitely gotten better every year -- every year I’ve played them,” LSU senior linebacker D.J. Welter said. “They always come in here and give a tough fight and compete well against us. They definitely had the upper hand tonight. They did a great job of executing and we didn’t do so well.”

Mississippi State gets a week off and then will host Texas A&M and Auburn in its next two games. Winning in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1991 was a major hurdle to clear, but we might know by mid-October whether the Bulldogs have staying power in the Western Division race.

“We’re 1-0 in the SEC West this year with a lot of football [to go],” Mullen said. “I think the next two games we play are against teams ranked higher than LSU was, which is hard when you have that much depth and talent in our side of the league, and then Alabama’s I think even higher than those two. So there’s so much to play for in this league. You’re going to have to bring your A-game every week.”

The Tigers, meanwhile, look like a young team that will experience the growing pains that most of us expected prior to the season. Their season-opening comeback win against Wisconsin and ensuing blowout wins against Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe provided LSU fans with hope that maybe they were ahead of schedule while breaking in a host of new players in key roles. State provided a wake-up call on Saturday night that the SEC West is the wrong division in which to rely on a host of youngsters.

There are bright days ahead for Miles’ team, but Prescott’s Bulldogs are perhaps the team of right now. Can they play with the A&Ms and Auburns and Alabamas that remain on the schedule? We’ll find out soon enough.

But the team that dominated LSU in Tiger Stadium for most of Saturday night looked like it can play with just about anybody -- even the heavyweights in the toughest division in college football.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Well, that was a bad Saturday for the ACC. Bad losses, high-profile suspensions, a Group of 5 team hanging 70 on a supposed Coastal contender. Yeah, it might be another long year in the ACC, but the rough day did offer a few lessons.

[+] EnlargeTallahassee, FL - September 20, 2014 - Doak Campbell Stadium: Sean Maguire (10) of the Florida State University Seminoles during a regular season game (Photo by Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesFlorida State QB Sean Maguire had a gutty performance, but the Seminoles' offense missed Jameis Winston on Saturday.
 Clemson found its QB, and the Seminoles didn’t need theirs. Two things should be mentioned here that weren’t necessarily reflected in the final score of Florida State's win over Clemson. First, if Jameis Winston had played, there’s a good chance all the late drama wouldn’t have been necessary. While Sean Maguire certainly showed guts to stay in there and atone for some mistakes, FSU’s struggles on offense also showed just how much Winston brings to the table. At the same time, while the Seminoles survived, Clemson outplayed them at virtually every turn, but coming up empty in three trips to the red zone makes it tough to win. But the good news for both teams is that they’ll have much better QB situations moving forward. Winston will return, and FSU’s title hopes remain. Clemson’s season won’t end with a playoff berth, but Deshaun Watson’s emergence means there’s still a lot for Tigers fans to be excited about.

The ACC didn’t have bragging rights for long. Remember when the Big Ten was a laughingstock and the ACC was comfortably in the No. 4 spot in the conference power rankings? Well, that didn’t last long. The ACC went 0-3 against the upstart Big Ten on Saturday, including home losses by Pitt (to Iowa) and Syracuse (to Maryland). The Pitt loss is particularly galling, as the Panthers were on the brink of hitting the Top 25 and might have established themselves as a Coastal favorite with a win. Now? It’s tough to see a team that’s going to gain any national respect in this conference beyond FSU.

North Carolina isn’t a contender. The Tar Heels rolled over for ECU a year ago in an ugly loss. They saw the Pirates upset Virginia Tech last week. They had an extra week to prepare for Shane Carden and Co. before Saturday’s showdown. The result? A brutal 70-41 loss that offered a long, long list of embarrassments. The 789 yards of offense by ECU is the most against an ACC team in at least a decade, and the most any team has racked up so far this season. The 70 points is the most scored against an ACC team since Clemson’s Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia in 2012. Carden’s 438 passing yards were the second most against UNC in the last decade. After three games, UNC hasn’t looked ready to stop anyone on defense, which certainly doesn’t bode well for the ACC slate to come. Up next? Clemson.

Jacoby Brissett took care of the little guys. No one will mistake NC State’s early-season schedule for a murderer’s row of talent, so it’s way too early to buy in on the Wolfpack’s ACC chances. But the bottom line is that they’re 4-0, need just two more wins to become bowl eligible, and a year after enduring chaos at the quarterback position, Brissett has appeared to have all the answers. Through four games, he’s completing 70 percent of his throws and has tossed 10 touchdowns with just one pick -- and that came early in the opener. He’s now thrown 108 straight passes without an interception. Of course, the task gets tougher in Week 5, when Florida State comes to town.

We were high on the wrong Tech. OK, it was tough to hype Georgia Tech too much. The Yellow Jackets have trailed in each of their four games thus far, and even against Virginia Tech on Saturday, they were outgained (424 to 375), had fewer first downs (24 to 19) and converted just 4-of-12 third downs. But the Georgia Tech D made plays when it had to, and the offense cashed in with 17 points off turnovers. So maybe instead of nitpicking the Jackets’ flaws thus far, we should’ve been noting how well they’d overcome them. Justin Thomas has Georgia Tech at 4-0, and with home dates against Miami and Duke, there’s a perfect opportunity for the Jackets to take command of the Coastal.

QBs of the future took a step forward. OK, so Miami lost, Clemson lost and Wake Forest barely escaped Army. That’s not ideal, but fans have to at least be excited about how the freshman QBs performed. We already mentioned Watson, who has immense talent, and Miami's Brad Kaaya looked markedly better than he did in his Week 1 performance against Louisville, and John Wolford continues to improve in spite of very little help from the rest of the Deacons’ offense. Overall, the three true freshmen combined to complete 69 percent of their throws, averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, tossed five touchdowns and ran for a sixth while largely limiting any killer mistakes. On a brutal weekend in the ACC, the kids at least offered a reasonable silver lining.

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