Where the winning streak meets the wall
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.
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
>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?
>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.
The Big 12 crown is up for grabs
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.
Week 7 Takeways
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.
Three weekend observations
1. Upset Saturday arrived weeks late, but in good health. No. 5 Stanford, No. 7 Georgia and No. 18 Michigan all lost conference games. However, there is a silver lining for Stanford and Michigan, which control their destiny in their conference races. And with Missouri quarterback James Franklin suffering a separated shoulder on Saturday, the Dawgs know that the No. 25 Tigers hardly have a firm grip on the SEC East. And none of them looked as bad as No. 12 Oklahoma in its neutral-site loss to archrival, given-up-for-dead Texas.
2. Lane Kiffin sounded all the right notes in his "College GameDay" interview Saturday morning with Chris Fowler. Kiffin sounded humbled, even as he pointed out the difficulty of coaching under NCAA penalties. A few hours later, Penn State, dealing with harsher NCAA sanctions, delivered an improbable 43-40, four-overtime upset of Michigan. O'Brien, unlike Kiffin, has not exacerbated the sanctions by creating controversy at every turn. O'Brien acknowledges the problems when asked. What he really does is keep grinding. So does his team. That's why the Nittany Lions are 4-2, 1-1 in the Big Ten.
3. Even after the 41-38, last-play loss to No. 9 Texas A&M, Hugh Freeze and his up-tempo spread offense have injected life and hope into Ole Miss (3-3, 1-3). But live with the spread, die with the spread. After the Aggies tied the game at 38 with 3:07 to play, Ole Miss threw three incomplete passes. Not only did the Rebels punt, but they gave Johnny Manziel the ball with 2:33 to play. That's all but an unconditional surrender. Manziel took Texas A&M down the field to win the game.
Week 7 Impact Performances
GameDay crew final thoughts
A week to go until the BCS standings come out. We've been looking for the shake-up day. We spend so much energy sometimes early in the season looking forward to the showdowns that are coming later in the year and don't anticipate where the land mines might be.
Looking forward to Stanford-Oregon all year. It's still going to be a great game, but now it certainly takes on a very different feel. On the flip side, you have LSU having navigated most of its hurdles and now it's pointing toward a major showdown with Alabama in a few weeks.
But you always have to be careful looking ahead. You never know where you might lose focus, where you might lose concentration, where you might be coming off a particularly tight game and have a difficult time getting up emotionally again the following week, which could cause you to trip up -- as we saw with Stanford and Georgia, coming off consecutive emotionally tough games and really battered and bruised physically.
Helmet stickers go to ...
Impressed with Marcus Mariota going on the road and Oregon winning a physical game, its biggest challenge of the year, and it still ended up winning by 21 points. He had another spectacular game -- over 300 yards passing and almost 100 yards rushing.
The Stanford game: I was surprised the way the Cardinal came out and were sluggish in the game. Utah was beating them on the punch a lot and the defense struggled, which surprised me. It almost looked like they were playing in sand. The decisions at the end of that game really surprised me, when they got 8 yards on the first two downs rushing and then decided to throw it on third down, forcing them to throw again on fourth down on the 6-yard line with a chance to take the lead late in the game.
Mack Brown and Texas, you have to hand it to them. Who are these guys and what did you do with the Texas Longhorns -- especially on defense, since this isn't what we've seen from them all season long? They won at the point of attack and in the trenches, doing a great job stopping the run. If Texas continues to play like this, it'll be extremely difficult to beat the remainder of the way, but it has to bring it every single week.
It was a great, great victory for Missouri to go on the road and between the hedges to beat Georgia. I thought the Tigers had a chance to do it, but unfortunately they lost quarterback James Franklin in the game. That's going to be instrumental for them down the road. They're the first team to become bowl eligible in the SEC, but losing Franklin for the rest of the season is going to put a lot of pressure on backup Maty Mauk.
Helmet stickers go to ...
You knew this week would happen, you just didn't know when there'd be a lot of upsets and several undefeated teams going down.
I'm not that surprised with Stanford, since I know it's in midterm exams and I know how difficult that is for a football team at a strong academic institution. Their focus, their attention, they're up all night, etc.
I wasn't surprised about Georgia -- not because the Bulldogs have had so many injuries on offense, but because they don't play very good defense and it's come back to haunt them. Aaron Murray has to try to make too many plays.
I think Alabama is a very impressive team, but it won't be challenged outside the LSU game and maybe the SEC championship game.
Oregon beating a top-20 team by 21 at home is very impressive. They're very explosive and do a lot of good things.
I thought that LSU played its finest football game of the year by far. It has been struggling on defense. Its offense is very solid, but its defense has been what's hurting it in recent weeks.
I was shocked that Texas beat Oklahoma. I thought that Oklahoma looked so impressive at Notre Dame. But then again, Notre Dame has lost to Oklahoma and Michigan, and neither of those teams have been very impressive. The Wolverines had been getting by not-very-impressively, and it caught up to them this week.
There's going to be some more strange things happening as we continue to go, but I think that Florida State is the best team in the ACC, Ohio State is the best in the Big Ten, Alabama and Oregon are the best in their conferences and there's nobody in the Big 12 that really stands out. I think Louisville is a very good football team, but it isn't going to be challenged.
If I were picking the four teams with the best chance to be standing at the end of the season, it would be Oregon, Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State.
Helmet stickers go to ...
• QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
• RB Terry Baggett, Army
What we learned in Week 7
Click below to see what our reporters learned in each conference after the seventh weekend.
Clemson's offense struggled against Boston College, but the good news for the Tigers is they showed they can win with their defense. ACC
Not many people gave Texas a chance against Oklahoma, but the Longhorns showed they aren't dead yet, while OU showed it has work to do to be the Big 12's go-to team. Big 12
Michigan finally ran out of luck. In the Wolverines' third down-to-the-wire game of the season, they couldn't pull out the victory. Meanwhile, Michigan State showed it can be the Big Ten's No. 2 team with a good showing against Indiana. Big Ten
Oregon smoothed out any doubt of it not being the Pac-12's best team by playing a complete four quarters of football in its win over Washington. Now everyone else is just competing for second place. Pac-12
Upset Saturday took its toll on Georgia and almost took Texas A&M as well. Don't expect much different in the weeks to come as injuries to high-profile SEC players continued to hurt the league this weekend. SEC
Photos from Week 7
Helmet stickers for Week 7
Every week our reporters will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.