Originally Published: October 13, 2013

Where the winning streak meets the wall

By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com


Welcome to #thegrind.

It's the inevitable midseason wall. Some teams hit it. Others find a way to scale it.

We've reached the point in the season in which separation truly begins, and the conference schedule starts to finally take its toll. It's when the dividing line between good and great is drawn, and we saw it etched into the Top 25 this week.

We saw it when No. 5 Stanford and No. 12 Oklahoma -- two previously undefeated teams that had to grind out tough wins the previous week -- were shocked on Saturday by lesser opponents. We saw it in Athens, where injuries have taken a toll and Georgia's streak of 15 straight home wins came to an end. We saw the flip side from Clemson, Texas A&M and Baylor, teams that were humbled early in their Week 7 games against unranked opponents and had to dig deep to find wins.

What Alabama and Oregon do each week? That's not the norm.

Upsets, chaos -- it all comes with the territory as teams reveal whether they can muscle their way through road trips, injuries, pressure and adversity.

James Franklin
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMissouri beat Georgia, but lost starting quarterback James Franklin in the process.

Last week, Georgia needed overtime to beat Tennessee 34-31 on the road. This week, with running back Todd Gurley sidelined with an injury, the Bulldogs had four turnovers at home against a surging Missouri team in a 41-26 loss.

Last week, Stanford was pushed to the brink in a 31-28 win over then-No. 15 Washington in a game that featured two unbeaten Pac-12 North teams. This week? Stanford lost on the road to an unranked Utah team that started out 0-2 in league play. And Oklahoma, in one of Saturday's biggest surprises, had no answer for a struggling Texas team one week after sneaking past TCU 20-17.

For many, #thegrind is just beginning.

Missouri won its game against Georgia, but lost its quarterback. James Franklin separated his shoulder and is expected to miss at least a couple of weeks. Can Mizzou hold up with back-to-back games against top-15 opponents Florida and South Carolina looming?

After overcoming a good scare from Boston College at home, No. 3 Clemson will host No. 6 Florida State next week in what will arguably be the biggest game in ACC history. After needing a game-winning field goal to beat Ole Miss 41-38 in its second straight road game, No. 9 Texas A&M will try to avoid a letdown at home against a 5-1 Auburn team. LSU has to travel to Ole Miss after a defensive slugfest against Florida, and the Rebels are trying to rebound from three straight losses, including two to top-10 opponents. Undefeated Texas Tech has back-to-back road games after hanging on in a 42-35 win over 1-4 Iowa State.

Ask Northwestern about #thegrind. After a hard-fought 40-30 loss to No. 4 Ohio State last week, the Wildcats fell flat on the road, losing 35-6 at Wisconsin.

And then there's Penn State, which pushed through four overtimes to knock off No. 18 Michigan. Next up for the Nits? A road trip to No. 4 Ohio State.

Hey, at least they have a bye week.

Everyone needs a break from #thegrind. Problem is, it's just beginning.

Clemson weathers storm, moves on to FSU

By Andrea Adelson | ESPN.com

>CLEMSON, S.C. -- It was safe for Clemson players to talk about Florida State once day turned to night Saturday. But given what unfolded on the football field, you had to wonder whether the Noles might have been on their minds all afternoon.

Boston College wanted no part of making a nice, simple script for the showdown between No. 3 Clemson and No. 6 Florida State one week from Satirday. For three quarters, Boston College outplayed the heavily favored Tigers and held the lead headed into the fourth quarter.

The Clemson season, the looming top-10 matchup between the ACC heavyweights, the respect the league has garnered through the first half of the year? About to go poof. It should be no surprise, then, that the phrase the Tigers and their fans so desperately despise started being tossed around.

This would have been the ultimate example.

Instead, normalcy was restored in the span of one minute in the fourth quarter. Tajh Boyd ran 6 yards for a touchdown to put the Tigers ahead. On the following series, Vic Beasley returned a fumble by Chase Rettig 13 yards for a score to seal the 24-14 win over the feisty Eagles.

ACC officials surely exhaled. So did "College GameDay," headed to Death Valley next Saturday.

"It's good to know that we can win a street fight," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said afterward.

To read Andrea Adelson's full story, click here.

Who's No. 2 in the Big Ten?

By Brian Bennett | ESPN.com

>MADISON, Wis. -- Maybe we should accept Wisconsin as the second-best team in the Big Ten despite its two losses. Ohio State clearly reigns as the league's alpha dog right now, but a stirring debate has broken out over identifying who's best in the non-Buckeye division.

Several Badgers didn't mind saying their showing against Northwestern delivered a statement. Other results on Saturday might have changed the conversation.

Michigan's run as an unbeaten ended in State College, as Penn State's Bill Belton finished a four-overtime slog with his touchdown jaunt. Conservative playcalling cost the Wolverines several chances to improve to 6-0, but Brady Hoke's team never looked as good as its record, anyway. The bottom line is Michigan doesn't have a singular strength on which to hang its winged hats, and that showed again in all four extra periods at Beaver Stadium.

Meanwhile, the Hoosier State helped Michigan State and Nebraska morph into mirror images of their previous selves. The Spartans' much-maligned offense took advantage of a shaky Indiana defense and put up a season-best 42 points in an easy win. Nebraska's even more maligned defense kept Purdue off the scoreboard until the final 40 seconds on the way to a 44-7 blowout. Whether those teams really have built armor around their Achilles' heels or are simply benefiting from weak competition remains to be seen. But barring major upsets, Michigan State will be 7-1 and Nebraska 6-1 heading into the November showdowns that will determine the Legends Division.

Northwestern had staked a reputable claim as the league's No. 2 team until Saturday, when it appeared deflated from last week's physically and emotionally draining 40-30 loss to Ohio State. Of course, it didn't help that top playmakers Kain Colter and Venric Mark missed the majority of the game with lower-body injuries, accounting for a combined total of 52 yards. But little else went right, either. Mark's status going forward is unclear, and so is that of the Wildcats as they already are saddled with an 0-2 conference record.

Then there's Wisconsin, a team that had looked the part of major contender most of the season without the results to show for it. The Badgers got robbed by incompetent officiating at Arizona State and stole their own chance to win at Ohio State through critical mistakes. Those losses are why Andersen admitted that he considered this week a critical game for his team, and having a bye week after the crusher in Columbus proved great timing.

To read Brian Bennett's full story, Click here.

Brian Bennett | email

ESPN Staff Writer

The Big 12 crown is up for grabs

By Jake Trotter | ESPN.com

>As Johnathan Gray ran over Oklahoma and Daniel Sams weaved through Baylor, Week 7 revealed the following about the Big 12 race.

It's anyone's ballgame.

"Anybody can beat anybody," Texas coach Mack Brown said.

Never before has that been truer in the Big 12. And never was it more evident than Saturday.

In Dallas, the Longhorns pulled a Lazarus and whipped the heavily favored Sooners 36-20 in a Red River rout that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.

And in Lubbock, Texas Tech became bowl eligible but couldn't rest easy in a 42-35 victory until after an onside kick bounced in and out of the hands of Iowa State's Deon Broomfield in the final minutes.

Going into the weekend, Baylor armed with the nation's No. 1 offense, looked like the team to beat in the Big 12.

In their first venture away from Waco, the Bears looked beatable.

To read Jake Trotter's full story, click here.

Jake Trotter | email

ESPN Staff Writer

Week 7 Takeways

By Travis Haney | ESPN.com

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Lined up in this week's Takeaways are items on Texas' big win, the shake-up in the Pac-12 and the continued rise of Baylor and Clemson, but we'll start with the wide-open SEC race and one team in particular that looks like it has what it takes to win the league.

1. LSU is a legitimate challenger to Alabama in the SEC

As he cycled through film of his own offense and Florida's defense Friday afternoon, LSU first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron looked over at me.

"You know," he said, "we aren't trying to have the No. 1 offense in the country. We're trying to win games."

Cameron knew that the Tigers were going up against Florida's highly rated defense the next day. He knew that something like what happened, a no-frills 17-6 victory, was a distinct possibility for a team and offense that was averaging a gaudy 45 points a game.

To read Travis Haney's full story, click here.

Travis Haney

ESPN Staff Writer

• Insider national college football writer since 2012
• Graduate of the University of Tennessee


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