Originally Published: October 6, 2012

National title picture takes dramatic turn

By Heather Dinich

Why not West Virginia? What about Notre Dame?

On a night when three of the top five teams in the country toppled, it seemed anything could happen.

No. 3-ranked Florida State lost a stunner on the road to NC State; No. 4 LSU sunk deeper with its loss to No. 10 Florida; and No. 5 Georgia was beaten soundly up front by No. 6 South Carolina.

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Rob Kinnan/US PresswireFSU coach Jimbo Fisher knows that his team can't take Northern Illinois lightly during Orange Bowl preparations.

The national title picture took a dramatic turn this weekend, as the door opened for bubble teams like West Virginia and Notre Dame to make a serious push at the championship. The Mountaineers got another Heisman-worthy performance from quarterback Geno Smith in their 48-45 win over Texas, and the Irish remained unbeaten with their convincing win over Miami at Soldier Field.

The Seminoles and the ACC, meanwhile, replayed their tired, old storyline of falling below expectations, yet somehow, despite the predictability of the league's unpredictability, they were still Saturday's biggest surprise.

The SEC, though, took the lead in keeping the next few weeks interesting.

Georgia and LSU went down, but South Carolina and Florida should skyrocket right up. The SEC East looks like a two-man show, and Alabama had to have been drooling as it watched Florida dismantle LSU. Behind a strong running game and a disciplined defense -- you know, the old-school approach -- the Gators wore down LSU in the second half of a 14-6 win. The gap between LSU and Bama in the West became greater, while separation in the East began to occur.

South Carolina looked like the most complete team in the division, as its defensive line had the upper hand all night and stifled quarterback Aaron Murray and the Dawgs' running game. Georgia didn't even show up and was fortunate it lost only 35-7. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw put on another fearless performance as a runner while his offensive line gave him all day to throw.

The lesson to be learned on Saturday, though, is that this isn't only the SEC's show.

There was no hint of an upset in Oregon, which easily dispatched Washington in a 52-21 win. West Virginia has played only two games in its new conference, and during the Mountaineers' first trip to Texas  their first road game in the Big 12 -- they looked not only like they fit right in but also like the team to beat.

Just as Florida State did in the ACC a week ago.

Anything still can happen. It just did.

Not all unbeatens are created equal

By Ted Miller

EUGENE, Ore. -- There are 16 unbeaten teams, but not all unbeaten teams are created equal.

There's Alabama at No. 1. And Oregon at No. 2. Then there's everyone else.

If the Ducks and Crimson Tide win the rest of their games, they probably will play for the national title.

Oregon's position was further cemented after Nos. 3 (Florida State), 4 (LSU) and 5 (Georgia) lost over the weekend, while the Ducks rolled over No. 23 Washington 52-21.

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AP Photo/Don RyanAre Marcus Mariota and the Ducks the second-best team in the nation?

It's hard to believe the SEC champion wouldn't get one spot in the title game. And Oregon's upcoming schedule looks stout enough that voters would be unlikely to drop the Ducks, who played Auburn for the title after the 2010 season.

Although Oregon hasn't played the toughest nonconference schedule, it does own a trump card over a Big 12 team. Kansas State quit a scheduled game with Oregon, so that won't be much of a selling point for the Wildcats -- if they emerge as the unbeaten Big 12 champs.

Meanwhile, Oregon has been dominant. The Ducks' average margin of victory is 32.3 points. Their closest decision was in Week 2 against Fresno State, a 42-25 final. They dismantled Washington on Saturday.

The Ducks have plenty of firepower on offense, as they rank again in the nation's top 10 in scoring, rushing offense and total offense. But they also are strong on defense, which separates them from a team like West Virginia.

The big concern entering the season was how well the Ducks would play with a first-year starter at quarterback after Darron Thomas left the team with ultimately fruitless NFL visions. But redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota has showed plenty of poise and ability. He's extremely athletic and has thrown 15 touchdown passes.

The Ducks are in a good position. The only issue is winning the rest of their games. If they do that, they'll have another shot at the program's first national title.

Bama's toughest test? Try South Carolina

By Travis Haney
ESPN Insider

We started Saturday believing that the LSU Tigers, wobbly as they had been, were still likely the second-best team in the SEC.

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMarcus Lattimore's Gamecocks might have the best opportunity to knock off Alabama.

But the conversation had started to evolve so that perhaps the Georgia Bulldogs or South Carolina Gamecocks, or maybe Florida Gators, were creeping toward the Tigers.

We ended Saturday believing that the Gamecocks, who held a supposedly unstoppable Georgia offense to a touchdown in garbage time in a 28-point win, are the league's No. 2. Heck, they'll now be the nation's No. 3 thanks to FSU.

So Dec. 1, not Nov. 3, could be the date we should be circling for Alabama's toughest test: the SEC title game.

Saturday was a mechanical dismantling of Georgia, which was outscored 21-0 and outgained 177-39 in the first quarter, then never recovered. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt, often expressionless on the sideline, is now 2-15 against teams that finish the season ranked (presuming South Carolina does so).

It was the first time the Gamecocks and Bulldogs had met as top-10 teams. One looked as though it belonged.

To read the rest of Travis Haney's story, click here Insider.

Irish punish Hurricanes with ground game

By Matt Fortuna

CHICAGO -- Allow Cierre Wood to explain the difference between the defense that Notre Dame faced early on Saturday night and the one he faced in the second half.

"They were all upbeat and jumping and all that stuff in the beginning," Wood said of Miami, which held the Irish to 28 rushing yards in the first quarter.

And then?

"But when you smack a team so many times in the mouth, eventually they're going to want to stop playing, and that's what happened today."

This city's official marathon does not start until 7:30 local time Sunday morning, but Notre Dame got a running head start midway through its convincing 41-3 win over the Hurricanes at Soldier Field, a contest in which the Irish rushed for 376 yards.

A 10-point halftime lead gave way to a 31-point advantage to start the fourth quarter, and the Irish have their ground game to thank for that. Notre Dame rushed the ball on 19 of its 21 plays in the third quarter, amassing 197 yards on the ground. Exactly 100 of those yards belonged to Wood, who eclipsed the century mark for the first time this season and for the fourth time in his career.

The returning 1,100-yard back finished the day with 118 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, and he was not even the Irish's leading rusher.

That title belonged to George Atkinson III, whose 55-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter highlighted his 123-yard day and gave the Irish two single-game 100-yard rushers for the first time in 10 years. Theo Riddick had five carries for 21 yards but sat much of the second half with a bruised elbow.

"We feed off big runs, physical runs, things of that nature," Atkinson said. "It makes us want to one-up each other."

To read the rest of Matt Fortuna's story, click here.

Wait continues for Longhorns

By Carter Strickland

AUSTIN, Texas -- The long wait, the one that has lasted for more than two years, continues for Texas.

The No. 11 Longhorns (4-1, 1-1) are not back. Not yet. Not after getting beaten by a conference newcomer and national-stage neophyte, No. 8 West Virginia (5-0, 2-0), 48-45 in front of the largest crowd ever -- 101,851 -- at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Oh, sure, the Mountaineers have Heisman front-runner Geno Smith, a coach who goes with every wild hair he has on his head, and speed and swagger.

Wait, isn't all that what Texas used to have? (Minus the 'do, of course.)

It was.

But the Longhorns had more. They had tradition, moxie and a mojo that had been built up over a 12-year tenure that was witness to 10-win season after 10-win season and a national title. All of that seemingly has slipped through Texas' fingers, much like so many opposing runners this season.

Yep, the wait continues. Texas, which is 1-8 against ranked teams since the start of 2010, doesn't consistently win the big ones anymore.

To read the rest of Carter Strickland's story, click here.


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