NCF Nation: South Carolina Gamecocks

Gurley, South Carolina on collision course

September, 11, 2014
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Dale Zanine/USA Today SportsTodd Gurley rolled over Clemson, but South Carolina’s defense has kept him bottled up
Todd Gurley made an early statement in Week One, setting a Georgia record with 293 all-purpose yards against Clemson. This week, however, he returns to the site of the worst game of his career, Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.

Two years ago, Gurley had career-lows in rushing yards (39) and yards per carry (3.0) as Georgia lost 35-7. In two games against the Gamecocks, Gurley has averaged 4.0 yards per carry, his worst against any opponent.

This South Carolina defense isn’t the same, however. It ranks last in the SEC in points per game, yards per game and yards per play.

Below is a breakdown of how South Carolina has slowed Gurley and why the Gamecocks might not be able to replicate that success in Saturday’s matchup.

How South Carolina has stopped Gurley

One of Gurley’s strengths is his ability to run between the tackles.

In Week One against Clemson, Gurley ran for a career-high 131 yards between the tackles on nine carries.

South Carolina has been better against Gurley than its Palmetto State rival.

Last season, it limited Gurley to 2.4 yards per carry between the tackles. The Gamecocks have held him to 1.4 yards after contact per rush, his lowest average against any opponent.

Although 6.4 percent of Gurley’s career rushes have been for at least 20 yards, Gurley has not run for more than 19 yards on one carry against South Carolina.

Why Saturday might be different

But South Carolina hasn’t shown it can stop a running game.

Opposing runners average 4.0 yards before contact per rush, the most against any Power Five team this season.

On runs between the tackles, South Carolina allows 4.8 yards before contact per carry – a yard worse than any other SEC team.

There have been two causes to the issues: a lack of experience up front and respect for opponents’ passing games.

First, the losses of stars Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton have led to a less experienced front. The Gamecocks have missed 24 tackles this season, most among Power Five teams.

Second, the combination of personnel losses in the secondary and prolific passing opponents has prompted South Carolina to take defenders out of the box.

The Gamecocks averaged at least 6.8 defenders in the box each year from 2011 to 2013. This year, having faced the pass-heavy offenses of Texas A&M and East Carolina, they average 6.1 defenders in the box, second-fewest in the SEC.

South Carolina has keyed on Gurley, who has faced an average of 7.0 defenders in the box in their two meetings. If the Gamecocks are to avoid falling to 0-2 in the SEC, they will probably need to key in on Gurley again and not let him get to the second level unimpeded.

Flip Week: South Carolina

December, 24, 2013
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Editor's note: During Week 12, 10 ESPN.com reporters changed conferences to experience college football in unfamiliar territory. Here is what they learned.

Recall last month that the ESPN reporters flipped out for a few days and ventured to parts of the country unknown to them.

This Southern California boy was transported to a different South. Not going to lie -- most of what I knew about the South I learned from catching snippets of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour on TV. I could already see the "you might be a redneck" texts coming from my buddies. My cable guy neither looks nor talks like Larry.

[+] EnlargeChris Fulmer
Kevin GemmellSouth Carolina fans welcomed a West Coast native to their tailgate before the Florida game Nov. 16.
But that wasn't what I got. Instead, I was welcomed with open arms by warm people who love their food, love their friends and love their football. I spent a great deal of time with a group called "The Ultimate Tailgaters" who wouldn't let me leave with an empty stomach or empty arms. There were hugs all around.

I saw Florida fans and South Carolina fans mingling -- and talking a little bit of trash. I saw cocktails toasted, toured a Cockaboose and learned a great deal about a region of the country I knew little about.

Excited but admittedly a bit apprehensive about what I'd encounter, I'm happy to say I left richer for the experience.

Best meal: A good burger in Southern California is a good burger in Columbia, S.C. So checking out Pawley's Front Porch in Five Points with a few of my new USC friends was all well and good. But honestly, the best food I had was wandering from tailgate to tailgate trying out the local fare. From boiled peanuts and fried gator tail to the briskets, ribs and sausages, the tailgating grub was outstanding. And I do find it humorous that I can get better pulled pork in the Columbia, S.C., airport than I can in San Diego.

Must-see sight in Columbia: I loved the history of the region (which I'll get into in the next section). But aside from seeing good football and some great historical sites, one absolutely must take a stroll through The Horseshoe -- the old part of campus. It's obvious why "College GameDay" picks this venue to set up at when it visits Columbia. The leaves were turning and it was simply beautiful. I could picture myself 20 years ago as a student, parked under a tree with a cup of coffee furiously trying to make sense of Immanuel Kant.

Biggest surprise: As noted, I found the history of the area fascinating. I'm no Civil War buff, but it always interested me. In Pac-12 country, when we talk about the Civil War, it refers to Oregon's recent dominance over Oregon State. But hearing how most of the college was spared during the Civil War because it was converted into a hospital, and seeing the George Washington statue in front of the state house (allegedly once used as target practice for Confederate soldiers) was engrossing. So the biggest surprise to me was how much the Civil War is still such a part of the daily culture and community, for better or worse. It's something we simply don't think about on the West Coast.

Biggest difference from the Pac-12: The football wasn't all that different. The SEC has speed. The Pac-12 has speed. In fact, there was a play when Shon Carson broke off a 58-yard run and got caught from behind by two defenders in the open field. I remember thinking to myself, no way Ka'Deem Carey or Bishop Sankey or De'Anthony Thomas gets caught from behind (SEC fans, no doubt, will attribute that to the league's superior defensive speed).

I have been to many Pac-12 games hours in advance where the lots are only half-full. But eight hours before kickoff in Columbia, the traffic on Bluff Road rivaled the 405 at 5 p.m. on a weekday. SEC folks come out early and make it a full day. There are some Pac-12 fans who do as well, but a lot more in the South.

They said it: My outstanding tour guide for one of the days was Cory Burkarth, a member of USC's sports information department. I asked him how folks from South Carolina refer to Californians like myself. To which he replied: "You're not from the South. You're not a Yankee. If you're from the West Coast, you're a hippie." I laughed and bought him a burger.

If I could go back: I'd sit in the student section and jump up and down during the players' entrance to "2001: A Space Odyssey" and wave my towel every time "Sandstorm" is played before a kickoff. I was on the field for it, several times, but the vibe and energy coming from the stands was intense. And, next time around, I'll be sure to refer to our USC as Southern California. Lesson learned, Columbia, and thanks for the hospitality.
1. When many schools begin concluding their seasons next week, expect firings and hirings to be done quickly. The NCAA recently revamped its recruiting calendar, hearing the plea of coaches for whom recruiting has become a year-round affair. The calendar took away about two weeks out of the December-January contact period. That means new coaches have that much less time to try to assemble recruiting classes or keep the ones their predecessors assembled.

2. So who gets the four BCS at-large bids? Either No. 14 Northern Illinois or No. 16 Fresno State is in line for an invite. The SEC, with four teams in the top 10, will get one. If No. 6 Clemson beats No. 10 South Carolina, it will get one. That would leave one for the Big Ten or the Big 12. No. 11 Michigan State can solve that by beating No. 3 Ohio State. That would leave No. 9 Baylor on the outside looking in.

3. Sentiment got to me this week when I filled out my ESPN Heisman straw poll. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is on my ballot, a tribute to one of the best college careers in recent memory. Murray, who tore his ACL in the Bulldogs’ rout of Kentucky, will miss his final two games at Georgia after starting the first 52 (35-17). Murray not only leaves with every major SEC career record, but he will be honored next month in New York as a finalist for the Campbell Trophy -- the Academic Heisman. Murray represents the best of the sport.
Who is this year’s Johnny Manziel in the Pac-12? In other words, which player could come out of nowhere and win the Heisman from the conference? Well, if we knew, he wouldn't be coming out of nowhere in the preseason, now, would he?

Perhaps it is better that the Pac-12’s elite players are coasting below Mr. Heisman's persnickety radar. After all, front-runner status hasn't been kind to the Pac-12 the past couple of years. Two seasons ago it was Andrew Luck -- a shoo-in from the day he announced his return to take home the Heisman. Last year, it was Matt Barkley who had the unpropitious front-runner title pegged on him.

Luck carried the title much longer in his final season. Barkley, however, quickly gave way to Geno Smith, who in turn gave way to Collin Klein, who in turn fell to Johnny Football.

[+] EnlargeMarion Grice
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsArizona State's Marion Grice averaged 6.6 yards per carry and had 11 touchdowns last season.
So how about the Pac-12?

Marcusy Football?

Marqy Football?

DATy Football?

Ka’Deemy Football?

Bretty Football?

Not exactly phonetically pleasing.

Within the Pac-12, there aren't many dark-horse candidates. There are some front-runners who immediately come to mind: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, USC’s Marqise Lee, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. But none of them are considered national front-runners with Manziel (maybe?) back to defend his title, Braxton Miller coming off a perfect season, AJ McCarron and his ridiculous 30-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year and Teddy Bridgewater soaking up his share of hype.

You can make a case for all five in the preseason. Mariota and Thomas will be playing for a top-five team, which always helps garner the necessary attention from the national media, and they should continue to put up video game numbers. Hundley is one of the most exciting players in the league, and with a year of maturity, many are anxious to see just how far he can lead the Bruins. Lee was last year’s Biletnikoff winner and is arguably the top skill player in the country. Carey was last year’s national leader in rushing. Solid credentials for all.

But this is about the sleepers. The guys who are so under the radar they're practically stealth. So who are they?

You have to start with ASU’s Marion Grice, who is going to continue putting up fantastic dual-threat numbers as a runner and receiver. He’s packed on more weight and ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said they've expanded the playbook now that he and quarterback Taylor Kelly are a year into the system. (Probably not a bad idea to keep an eye on Kelly, either).

Stanford’s Kevin Hogan could also be a sleeper. Like the Oregon duo, he’ll be on a high-profile team that is going to get plenty of national exposure with showdowns against Oregon, UCLA, USC and Notre Dame on the 2013 docket. He’s not as flashy as the other players and his numbers might not be as lofty, but he’s asked to do a lot more behind the scenes than a lot of other quarterbacks. That was Luck’s brilliance, as well as his Heisman curse.

The appearance of Manti Te’o in New York last year proved defensive players aren't immune to getting some attention in the spread era. So UCLA’s Anthony Barr and ASU’s Will Sutton certainly deserve to be in the conversation if we’re talking defensive players. Both should be atop the national defensive rankings in sacks and tackles for a loss. But both will have to play well enough to surpass the well-deserved hype of South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and overcome the public perception of the Pac-12 when it comes to defense. As I’ve written previously, the Heisman is all about subjectivity and perception. (Full disclosure, I have Clowney No. 1 on my preseason Heisman ballot).

Finally, a guy who I think is really a long shot -- but should be getting more love than he is -- is Oregon State running back Storm Woods. In the Beavers’ first six games against FBS opponents in 2013, they face only one defense that ranked in the top 20 last year in total rushing yards allowed (Utah), and only one other in the top 50 (San Diego State). The opportunity will be there early in the season for Woods to make a name for himself. He’s got four of five offensive linemen coming back (including an outstanding center), an offense that wants to be more balanced, and a quarterback-to-be-named who is a veteran and knows the offense. He’s also really, really good.

It’s probably best not to put all your hopes into one of these guys winning the Heisman. For now, it’s safer to track the conference front-runners. But don’t sleep on these guys, either.

The next Stormy Football is just waiting to breakout.
The 2013 NFL draft was terrible for the Pac-12. It was worse than any draft since 2000.

Well, other than 2012, when the draft looked a lot like the one last weekend, with 28 players also picked. The conference had 28 players picked in 2010, but that was a 10-team conference.

In short, last two years haven't been good for the conference in terms of NFL love, and that matters in terms of national perception of how good the conference really is. Perception matters, both with our subjective systems for measuring college football teams against each other and for how recruits perceive conferences and teams.

Meanwhile, there's the SEC, which over the weekend probably posted the greatest numbers for a college conference in NFL draft history, with 63 selections, including 32 in the first three rounds. Even when you do the math and break it down by per team numbers, the SEC's 4.5 picks per team far outstrips the Pac-12's 2.33 players per team.

This is not old news, folks. The SEC hasn't long dominated the NFL draft, as some might try to convince you. The Pac-10, in fact, had decisively better per team numbers in 2008 (3.4 vs. 2.92) and was also better in 2009 (3.2 vs. 3.1).

Even last year, the SEC wasn't that far ahead of the rest of the FBS conferences. Remember the woeful Big Ten, much maligned for its terrible 2013 draft numbers? It had 41 players drafted in 2012, just one fewer than the SEC.

The SEC did have a huge 2010 draft with 49 players selected (4.1 per team), so the present momentum isn't entirely new. It's just the "Wow" factor this go-around seems more substantial.

Yet this long lead-in, which might have glazed over some eyeballs, isn't about looking back. It's about looking ahead, with both hope and concern for the Pac-12 and, really, the rest of college football.

You might have heard this: The SEC has won seven consecutive BCS national titles. That makes it reasonable to view the conference as a favorite to make it eight in a row before we jump into a four-team playoff in 2014. And many believe the SEC will then dominate that playoff.

I feel I'm being optimistic for the other AQ conferences when I respond, "Maybe."

So I asked myself a question while being agog over the SEC draft numbers: That should come with a big talent drain, correct? I know SEC recruiting also rates highly, but losing 4.5 NFL draftable players per team, with much of that coming from the perennial powers, has to have an impact.

Right?

Well, in terms of 2013 returning starters, the Pac-12 stacks up well with the SEC. While returning starters numbers are a bit fluid (and often overrated), my review has the SEC averaging 14.6 returning starters compared to 16.3 for the Pac-12.

But that's not the Pac-12's entry point.

It's this:
  • The SEC's top-six teams (Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina) average 12.3 returning starters.
  • The Pac-12's top-six teams (Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State and Washington) average 16.5 returning starters.

So the Pac-12, generally regarded as the No. 2 AQ conference during the rise of the SEC, stacks up nicely.

Further, the Pac-12 looks like it will do far better in the 2014 NFL draft, though schools aren't eager to consider the potential early departures of players such as Oregon QB Marcus Mariota or Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

While SEC commissioner Mike Slive and SEC fans surely wouldn't agree, it would be good for college football for another conference to win the national title in 2013. It would send us into the College Football Playoff not fretting that the sport was becoming a handful of minor leagues surrounding the SEC.

At least not as much.

But just imagine if the SEC wins another title and then produces another draft of 60-plus players. Yikes.

A few years ago, there were cracks in the "SEC rules!" argument. There were grounds for debate and ready-made ripostes. Now? Not so much.

As already noted more than a few times, the Pac-12 stacks up nicely for 2013. While "now or never" sounds a bit dramatic, it's not unreasonable to fear that if it's not now, it could feel closer to never as we begin the College Football Playoff.

Pac-12 coaches not among the elite?

April, 10, 2013
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Everybody loves rankings lists, and college football fans -- by necessity -- seem to like lists even more than average folk.

So we have Athlon making another list. First it ranked Pac-12 coaches. Now it ranks all 125 coaches for FBS programs.

Obviously, any ranking like this is highly subjective, as Kevin noted with his notes on the Pac-12 coach rankings.

I really like Athlon's top three. That would be mine. If Chip Kelly were still at Oregon, I'd rank him third, but he is not.

After that? Well, there were some head-scratchers.

LSU's Les Miles way down at No. 24? New Arkansas and former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema buried at No. 25? Vanderbilt's second-year coach James Franklin way up at 17? Three words: No, No, No.

There is no conceivable way to rank Franklin ahead of Miles, WHO HAS WON A NATIONAL TITLE!, nor is it reasonable to rate Franklin over Stanford's David Shaw, WHO HAS WON A ROSE BOWL, nor Bielema who owns THREE BIG TEN TITLES and won 68 games in seven years at Wisconsin.

Franklin? He's done some nice things at Vandy, making a terrible program respectable, but please identify for me a signature win from 2012? Or 2011. I'll wait here.

Yep. Nada.

Just last season, Shaw, who is No. 1 in the Pac-12 but only 20th in the nation, beat Oregon, which finished ranked No. 2, and WON THE ROSE BOWL. He's a muffed field goal away from winning consecutive BCS bowl games.

Vanderbilt, winners of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl over the doughty NC State a year after losing to Cincinnati in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, took advantage of a weakened SEC East, and it's notable that the one adventurous nonconference tilt ended up a double-digit loss at Northwestern. You know: The so-called slow Big Ten.

And I think Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is a bit high at No. 12, too.

(Deep breath) OK ... I'm OK.

Anyway: Here's how Athlon ranked the Pac-12 coaches in the nation (national rank).
  1. David Shaw, Stanford (20)
  2. Mike Riley, Oregon State (21)
  3. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (22)
  4. Todd Graham, Arizona State (29)
  5. Mike Leach, Washington State (31)
  6. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (44)
  7. Steve Sarkisian, Washington (45)
  8. Jim Mora, UCLA (54)
  9. Kyle Whittingham, Utah (55)
  10. Sonny Dykes, California (56)
  11. Lane Kiffin, USC (57)
  12. Mark Helfrich, Oregon (73)

Video: Analyzing the Outback Bowl

January, 1, 2013
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Andrea Adelson and Michael Rothstein discuss South Carolina's wild 33-28 win against Michigan in the Outback Bowl.

Pregame: Outback Bowl

January, 1, 2013
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Michigan (8-4, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC)

Who to watch: South Carolina sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Against a somewhat suspect Michigan offensive line -- other than future NFL first-round tackle Taylor Lewan -- Clowney could have a huge day. He tied for second in the FBS with 13 sacks, and was second in tackles for loss (21.5, 1.95 per game). Between the Wolverines’ line and a running game which rarely produced this season, this sets up well for Clowney.

What to watch: Michigan’s offense. One of the bigger questions for the Wolverines is where senior Denard Robinson will line up and how often. Michigan likely plans on using Robinson at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. In addition to it being Robinson’s last college game -- and a potential preview of what he’ll try to do in the NFL -- he needs 85 rushing yards to tie former West Virginia quarterback Pat White for the FBS quarterback rushing record.

Why to watch: Besides the NFL-level matchup between Clowney and Lewan and the potential explosiveness in Robinson’s last game, this could be a chance to see South Carolina, one of the more promising teams next year, jump-start a run for the 2013 season. The Gamecocks should return most of their offense next season, along with Clowney and a few others on defense, which could set them up for another successful year in the SEC. On the Michigan side, if quarterback Devin Gardner has a good day -- he’s averaged 251.25 yards passing in his four starts -- it could set him up for a special 2013 season.

Prediction: While Michigan’s offense could be very fun to watch and explosive with Robinson moving all over the field, the Wolverines still have the same issues with their running backs and offensive line that they’ve had all season long. Add into that a secondary missing starting cornerback J.T. Floyd because of suspension, and it could be a tough day for Michigan. Gardner and Robinson keep it close on offense, but South Carolina has too much. South Carolina 24, Michigan 17.
Three bowl matchups that caught my eye:

1. Chick-fil-A Bowl: Clemson wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins combined for 126 receptions for 1,922 yards and 19 touchdowns. LSU finished ninth in the nation in pass efficiency defense, allowing only 13 touchdowns through the air. The Tigers secondary, rebuilt around safety Eric Reid and corner Tharold Simon, is the rare group that can match Hopkins and Watkins in athleticism.

2. Outback Bowl: the Southeastern Conference had few answers for South Carolina All-American Jadeveon Clowney, the sophomore defensive end who combines size (6-foot-6, 256 pounds) and quickness as few ever have. Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan also has received All-American attention. He’s 6-foot-8, 302 pounds and the leader of a line that allowed only 16 sacks, fewest in the Big Ten. That’s only three more than Clowney got on his own. If the Wolverines can neutralize Clowney, they can neutralize the Gamecock defense.

3. Rose Bowl: Wisconsin needed more than half the season for its traditional power running game to take shape (237.8 yards per game). The offensive line slowly learned to become a unit after head coach Bret Bielema fired the offensive line coach. Tailback Montee Ball got healthy and set an NCAA career record for touchdowns. But the Stanford defensive front is big, physical and deep. The Cardinal allowed fewer than 88 rushing yards per game, third in the nation.

Mizzou, South Carolina, victorious

November, 10, 2012
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Missouri 51, Tennessee 48 (4 OT): Redshirt freshman kicker Andrew Baggett connected on a 35-yard field goal, lifting the Tigers to a thrilling four-overtime road victory at Neyland Stadium.

Missouri needed a near-miracle just to get the game to overtime, trailing 28-21 in the final minute of regulation. The Tigers converted two fourth downs, including a 25-yard touchdown pass from James Franklin to Dorial Green-Beckham on 4th-and-12 to tie the game at 28-28 with 47 seconds left.

Boos rained down from the fans at Neyland when the Volunteers decided to run out the clock and go to overtime.

The teams exchanged touchdowns in the first two overtimes, and Missouri receiver Marcus Lucas made another impressive catch, an 18-yard reception reminiscent of Green-Beckham's regulation haul, to send it to a third overtime tied at 42.

The teams exchanged touchdowns and failed two-point conversion attempts in the third overtime, then Tennessee coach Derek Dooley made an interesting decision in the fourth overtime, electing to go for it on fourth-and-3 at the Missouri 18. Quarterback Tyler Bray's pass to Zach Rogers fell incomplete and the Vols paid for it when the Tigers capitalized with Baggett's game-winning kick.

The loss keeps Tennessee (4-6, 0-6 SEC) winless in conference play while the Tigers (5-5, 2-5) picked up their second SEC win.

Franklin's day was a good one, as he went 19-of-32 for 226 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. He also picked up 43 yards on the ground, and senior running back Kendial Lawrence rolled to a 153-yard, two-touchdown day on 21 carries, which included a 77-yard third-quarter touchdown run.

Tennessee was awful in the penalty department, committing 11 for 80 yards.

South Carolina 38, Arkansas 20: Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks receivers found plenty of room downfield en route to the resounding victory against the Razorbacks at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Shaw, the Gamecocks' junior quarterback, was 14-of-22 passing for 272 yards and two touchdowns. He was able to hit on big plays down the field early and often -- the first coming on a 29-yard pass to a wide-open freshman tight end Jerell Adams.

The Razorbacks moved the ball well themselves in the first half, getting inside the Gamecocks' 10 on three straight drives, but only yielded 10 points from those three trips. The first ended in a lost fumble by Dennis Johnson, the second resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Wilson to Keon Hatcher, and the third stalled before becoming a short Zach Hocker field goal.

Shaw continued his downfield assault before the half, hitting a wide open Bruce Ellington for a 42-yard touchdown at the 1:30 mark, giving South Carolina a 21-10 lead going into halftime.

The defense got in on the act in the third quarter when D.J. Swearinger stepped in front of a Wilson pass and returned it 69 yards for a score and a 31-10 lead.

The Gamecocks put ample pressure on Wilson, sacking him four times and picking up four hurries as well. Wilson was productive when he did have time (26-of-41, 277 yards) but threw two interceptions with his two touchdowns.

South Carolina was able to keep the chains moving fairly well, converting 7-of-13 attempts on third down. That's an area where Arkansas struggled mightily (3-of-17). The turnover battle went in the Gamecocks' favor also, 3-1, with the only South Carolina turnover coming with Shaw taking a shot in the end zone holding a 38-13 lead in the fourth.

Minimal precedent for Alabama win vs LSU

November, 2, 2012
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History shows that the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, who are coming off a home win against a Top-20 opponent Mississippi State, have a tough test Saturday against another highly ranked opponent in the fifth-ranked LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium.

The AP No. 1 team has faced a Top-20 opponent on the road the week after a home win against another Top-20 opponent nine previous times. The AP No. 1 team is just 2-7 in those games, including the Crimson Tide, who lost in that situation at South Carolina two years ago.

Some of these games are defining moments in the history of at least one of the schools involved.

Here’s a summary of each game since 2000 that fits the same description as Alabama’s game at LSU this Saturday.

2010: 19 South Carolina def. 1 Alabama, 35-21
The Gamecocks came out firing, opening up a 21-3 lead that couldn’t be overcome en route to a 35-21 victory behind three touchdown passes from Stephen Garcia and three scores from freshman running back Marcus Lattimore.

The defense limited future NFL first-rounders Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson to just 64 yards on the ground, allowing South Carolina to earn the school’s first victory vs a No. 1-ranked opponent.

2008: 6 Texas Tech def. 1 Texas, 39-33
Texas was a play away from winning before Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell found Michael Crabtree on the sideline for the dramatic game-winning touchdown with one second left.

That loss would be the Longhorns’ only defeat of the season, but was enough to leave them (controversially) out of the BCS national title game that season.

2007: 17 Kentucky def. 1 LSU, 43-37 (3 OT)
The Wildcats, who hadn’t beaten a top-ranked opponent since taking down Ole Miss in 1964, rallied from a 13-point third-quarter deficit to force overtime.

In the third extra period, Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson found Steve Johnson for a 7-yard touchdown pass, and LSU was unable to pick up a first down on its possession, setting off a wild celebration at Commonwealth Stadium.

Though it seemed like the loss dashed the Tigers’ national title hopes, they actually went on to lose another triple-overtime game later that season (50-48 to Arkansas), but still would end up playing for and winning the national title that season.

2001: 1 Miami (FL) def. 14 Virginia Tech, 26-24
The Hurricanes appeared to have the game under control after taking a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, but Virginia Tech rallied for two touchdowns, including one off a blocked punt.

A failed two-point conversion by the Hokies and a late interception by Ed Reed (his second of the day) helped the Hurricanes ward off the comeback, giving them a two-point win that was their only single-digit margin of the season. Miami went on to crush Nebraska in the Rose Bowl and win the national title.
Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.)

Yes, the college football punditry and peanut gallery can sound like a broken record. The Fighting Irish are 5-0 and ranked seventh, and almost every sign suggests legitimacy, but, well, we've been down this road before. And not only with Notre Dame. It wasn't too long ago that everyone was blowing kisses at Florida State -- the Seminoles are finally back -- before it became a national punch line or cautionary tale, however you wish to view a loss at NC State.

Notre Dame plays host to No. 17 Stanford on Saturday. The Cardinal might present the Irish their toughest test yet. Stanford, after all, beat USC. Whipped the once-No. 2 Trojans at the line of scrimmage, no less.

Of course, Stanford also wilted against Washington, making a Huskies defense that would get decimated by Oregon look stout.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
George Nkitin/AP PhotoStepfan Taylor and Stanford can perhaps clear the national title picture a bit by toppling undefeated Notre Dame.
The gist here is there is still a lot of fog over the college football season. We all say stuff, perhaps even with a feigned certainty -- Alabama is unbeatable! -- but we don't really know. The season remains rife with variables and plot twists, even with the first BCS standings being released Sunday.

There are 14 undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Ohio State isn't eligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions). Some teams mostly feel -- fairly or unfairly -- like curiosities: three in the Big East (Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers), Ohio, Louisiana Tech, Oregon State and Mississippi State. Others own undeniable heft: Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas State and, yes, Notre Dame.

Odd that this weekend's Red River Rivalry feels so far off the radar, although both Texas and Oklahoma could play roles in winnowing the contenders and pretenders. The Sooners still have dates with Notre Dame and West Virginia, while the Longhorns conclude the season against Kansas State.

The "what ifs" are rampant. Such as: What if Alabama, Notre Dame and Oregon all finish undefeated; who then plays for the title? Or switch out Oregon with West Virginia or Kansas State. There are the multiple unbeaten quandaries, and then there are all the best of the once-beaten comparisons, such as: Can USC get back into the national title hunt?

Again, so many variables in our penultimate season yoked by the lovely BCS system. It's difficult to predict how pollsters will react. And don't even start with the computers. With strength of schedule, it's not just what your team has accomplished, but what all its foes did. And all its foes' foes. Etc., etc.

What's also interesting is that the march toward clarity isn't always linear. At any moment, a couple of upsets can put a boot print in our consensus expectations. For example, what might have happened last season if LSU had been nipped in the SEC title game?

The good news is a page will turn next week. If Kansas State and West Virginia both survive tricky road games this weekend -- the Wildcats are at Iowa State, and the Mountaineers are at Texas Tech -- they meet in Morgantown on Oct. 20, so one of the Big 12's two unbeatens will fall.

Same goes for the SEC East. If No. 3 South Carolina manages to win at No. 9 LSU on Saturday, a visit to No. 4 Florida on Oct. 20 seems like the Rubicon for the division. Only one unbeaten will remain in the division, just as only one unbeaten -- Alabama or Mississippi State -- can emerge from the West.

And, if everyone then holds serve, we could have an epic No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup in the SEC title game.

But, alas, that's getting ahead of ourselves.

We started with the notion that Stanford will provide a nice test for Notre Dame's legitimacy. The Cardinal, after all, are riding a three-game winning streak in the series.

But we know past success doesn't guarantee future results. Just look at your 401K. Or the Fighting Irish's storied history.

Is Notre Dame for real? Heck, is anyone for real?

It's probably best to turn to one of history's great college football pundits at times like this. As Socrates once noted when his preseason picks imploded, "I know one thing, that I know nothing."

Or, more charitably, at least very little.

UGA fails on national stage once again

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
1:54
AM ET
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Georgia has found itself in college football's center ring only a few times in the last several seasons -- and when it has, the results have not been pretty.

The No. 5 Bulldogs suffered another humiliating loss while occupying the national spotlight on Saturday night, watching No. 6 South Carolina immediately jump out to an enormous lead en route to a 35-7 victory at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Asked about the widespread national perception that Georgia fails to rise to the occasion in the biggest moments, senior defensive end Abry Jones couldn't dispute that opinion.

"It's hard to argue that point of fact when we really don't come and put in work when the time comes," Jones said. "It's hard to argue something when you have nothing to put forth -- no proof or anything like that. We're definitely going to have to keep working and then when we get another opportunity to, just come up and show up and win the game."

Read the full story here.

Video: May's look behind the numbers

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
12:47
PM ET

Mark May looks at the numbers behind college football and breaks down the most important statistics.

SEC prime-time primer: Week 4

September, 22, 2012
9/22/12
5:04
PM ET
There's no nice way to say it: that was a boring slate of early games for the SEC in Week 4.

SEC fans had only a pair of shutouts -- Ole Miss' 39-0 win against Tulane and Florida's 38-0 pasting of Kentucky -- to entertain them for the first three hours of the day. No. 7 South Carolina is carrying the banner for the league right now, as the Gamecocks' game against Missouri is the only mid-afternoon kickoff today. And No. 1 Alabama has an overmatched Florida Atlantic in the early evening.

Other than that, it looks like we'll be cramming our SEC action into the prime-time windows this week.

What's coming tonight:

No. 2 LSU at Auburn, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: LSU won this matchup in a 45-10 walk last year in Baton Rouge. Auburn's lopsided loss to No. 23 Mississippi State, along with its overtime escape last weekend against Louisiana-Monroe, indicate that might be the case again in 2012. Auburn has a few factors in its favor, though. The game is in Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Auburn is 5-1 in its past six meetings with LSU. It's also the first road start for untested LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Rutgers at Arkansas, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Whatever hope remains for Arkansas' season hinges on the Hogs' ability to get a win tonight. The Razorbacks have back-to-back road games at Texas A&M and Auburn following this nonconference tilt, and a 1-3 start would be less than ideal for their SEC prospects. Rutgers is off to a surprising 3-0 start, highlighted by a conference road win at South Florida.

South Carolina State at Texas A&M, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN Gameplan: The Aggies get one more nonconference tuneup before the SEC slate begins anew next week. Assuming A&M makes easy work of the Bulldogs, this might be the last time the Aggie starters get a break this season. The postponement of the Louisiana Tech game by Hurricane Isaac means no bye week this season.

South Alabama at No. 23 Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN Gameplan: The Bulldogs fought off a serious upset bid from Sun Belt heavyweight Troy last weekend -- the result of a possible letdown after the big win against Auburn. The schedule sets up nicely for a 7-0 start, so Mississippi State fans would undoubtedly love to see the Bulldogs flex some muscles against an overmatched opponent.

Akron at Tennessee, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Gameplan: The Volunteers could use a confidence boost after last weekend's second half collapse against Florida. They'll need it, too. When Tennessee is done with the Zips, it faces four top-25 teams in a row -- three of them on the road.

Vanderbilt at No. 5 Georgia, 7:45 ET, ESPN2: Everyone is sure to keep an eye on this one because of the altercation between Georgia defensive coordinator and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin at the end of last year's Georgia win. That might steal some headlines, but the real story is that Vandy hasn't been an easy out for the Bulldogs recently. The Commodores defeated the Bulldogs in 2006, and they've come as close as three in 2007, 10 in 2008 and five last fall. Of course, tonight's game is in Athens, Ga., and the last time the Bulldogs hosted Vanderbilt they won 43-0.

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