Not quite the perfect fit, yet
Everyone loves the Cinderella story -- the team coming from nothing, here to crash the old boys' parties. Even at this point in the season, we attach that identity to teams that have showed just enough, mainly because there's something about those teams that makes it easy to root for them.
It's why we like storylines like Texas Tech and Missouri, both of which were unranked in the preseason but cracked the top 10 of the BCS rankings last week. It's why people root for UCLA, trying to make its mark on the West Coast in the midst of a Stanford and Oregon love fest.
But at some point, reality comes in. The clock strikes midnight, and these teams, wishing to prove they deserve a spot at the big boys' table, get sent back to the kids' table.
Now, don't get it wrong. They deserved to be at the ball; they have legitimacy.
Two weeks ago, Missouri went into Sanford Stadium and made No. 7 Georgia feel like a bunch of kids themselves. A 15-point win on the road created some notions that this Missouri team could actually be something serious in only its second season in the SEC. And the follow-up win last weekend over No. 22 Florida legitimized those thoughts.
Well, at least for a week.
They then blew a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead on Saturday against No. 21 South Carolina. Yes, the Gamecocks deserve some credit here. It takes a lot of fortitude to come back from that kind of deficit. It's a trait of more veteran teams. Blowing a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead? Well, leave that to the new kids.
Then there was Texas Tech. It had all the momentum in the world. Another preseason unranked team doing good in the world by making the top 10. Unfortunately, momentum doesn't always translate into meaningful wins. And when the Red Raiders were looking for a victory over a ranked opponent (they have just one this season -- against TCU in Week 3), they came up short.
They started slow. They turned the ball over three times. And even after a late-game surge, they couldn't close out and ultimately fell short. And two weeks after the Oklahoma Sooners got it handed to them on a silver platter by Texas, they picked up their first win over a ranked opponent this season thanks to Texas Tech's tenderfeet.
And let us not forget UCLA. The Bruins hung with Oregon in Eugene. For the first 30-40 minutes it was a game worth watching.
And then it wasn't. It really wasn't.
Because the Ducks know how to finish. They know how to score 28 unanswered points. They know how to make a little brother look like a little brother. And that's what UCLA looked like.
And so the Bruins join the Red Raiders and the Tigers at the kids' table this week, and the Gamecocks, Sooners and Ducks can have all the fun.
But not all hope is lost for these Cinderellas. All three still have legitimate chances to make their respective conference championship games. There's no reason to completely write them off after these rookie performances.
One nontraditional Cinderella is still left undefeated, though. Florida State wasn't disrespected in the preseason, landing at No. 11, but the Seminoles, with their redshirt freshman signal-caller, continue to outpace every expectation and refuse to come back down to earth.
Against NC State, Jameis Winston finished the night 16-of-26 for three touchdowns and 292 yards ... before he was pulled after about two and a half quarters. He's making a case for the Heisman, and his team, for a spot in the title game. He and the Seminoles are standing tall for all the Cinderella-storyline hopes this season.
Glass slipper, glass football ... Florida State could have it all this year.
And if that's the storyline you're really looking for, Famous Jameis' foot might be the right fit.
Stanford, Oregon eyeballing each other
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Stanford and Oregon both sputtered at times in their own specific ways Saturday. Ultimately, they both also asserted themselves and emerged victorious against ranked teams in ways that are typical of them and familiar to fans since they became the top dogs -- and top rivals -- in the Pac-12.
While No. 3 Oregon pressed its secret green button to engage ludicrous speed and dispatched No. 12 UCLA 42-14 with 28 unanswered points in the second half, No. 6 Stanford beat No. 25 Oregon State 20-12 with a rugged running game, gritty defense and a goal line stand in the waning moments.
Oregon, as is its wont, made things look easy after a first half that was, at times, sloppy. Stanford, as is its wont, wasn't as aesthetically pleasing. It played mostly successful smashmouth against the resilient Beavers, but a late fumble and a failure to convert a third-and-1 -- a Cardinal staple -- made things interesting at the end.
Oregon State, its potent passing game muted most of the game by a furious Stanford pass rush and blanketing secondary, was gifted life when running back Tyler Gaffney fumbled on the Cardinal's 20-yard line with 4:13 left and the Stanford lead 20-9. The Beavers had to settle for a field goal, but that made it a one-score game -- a touchdown and 2-point conversion.
Stanford took over with 2:53 left. Typically, the Cardinal and its touted and monstrous offensive line would take control of the line of scrimmage, grab a couple of first downs with running plays up the middle and then strike a pose in victory formation. Only the Beavers stopped Gaffney for no gain on third and 1.
After a 28-yard punt return from Brandin Cooks gave the Beavers the ball at Stanford's 43-yard line with 1:34 left, the Beavers quickly drove for a first and goal on the 7-yard line.
But four passes fell incomplete, and the Cardinal walked out of Reser Stadium murmuring to one another, "Too close."
It was a road win over a ranked team in the Pac-12 North Division, but it wasn't dominant or decisive by any stretch.
The reason these games and teams cannot help but be juxtaposed, of course, is because both the Ducks and Cardinal, the Pac-12's highest rated teams, are off this weekend before they meet in Stanford Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 7, with the North Division likely on the line.
To read Ted Miller's full story, click here.
FSU the only ACC team to earn style points
On a Saturday in which the ACC was its ever-unpredictable self, Florida State was once again a model of consistency.
The Seminoles, just one week after further distancing themselves from the rest of the ACC with a convincing road win against then-No. 3 Clemson, gave the conference exactly what it needed in Week 9 -- a chest-bumping, spear-throwing, old school national title contender. Florida State looked no different in its 51-14 dismantling of Clemson last week than it did in its 49-17 win over unranked NC State on Saturday, and that's what's different about the Seminoles this year.
While Florida State was laughing its way through a 35-point first quarter, the rest of the ACC was collectively holding its breath. No. 7 Miami needed a touchdown in the final minute against lil ol' Wake Forest to beat the Deacs at home. Pitt wasn't as fortunate and fell to Navy 24-21, fitting right into its new conference by losing a game it shouldn't have. Georgia Tech turned the ball over five times in Charlottesville and still beat Virginia 35-25. Clemson's offense was stagnant early against a depleted Maryland team, but the Tigers finally asserted themselves in a 40-27 win -- with three turnovers.
The biggest surprise, of course, was Duke.
The Blue Devils marched into Blacksburg, notoriously one of the most difficult places to play in the ACC, turned the ball over four times and beat the No. 14 Hokies, 13-10. It's the first time in school history that the program has been bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons. It was also the first time since 1971 that Duke beat a ranked team on the road.
And they did it without converting one third down.
To read Heather Dinich's full story, click here.
Oklahoma runs over Tech with eyes on Baylor
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma's game plan coming out of halftime Saturday night didn't include tailback passes, onside kicks or punt-return decoys.
Blake Bell and the Sooners found an offensive identity -- less than two weeks from a showdown at Baylor. The Sooners' scheme was sublimely simple. Get behind all-everything fullback Trey Millard and pound the ball between the tackles.
That wham-bam offensive style topped Kliff Kingsbury's wily bag of tricks in a 38-30 victory over Texas Tech, and it reestablished the Sooners as big a threat as any to unbeaten Baylor for the Big 12 title.
"I love our team and their attitude," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "Are we in great shape? No. Am I excited about our team and our opportunity and our willingness to fight and all of that? Yeah, I am."
The Sooners suffered yet another devastating injury, as Millard tore his ACL covering a kickoff in the fourth quarter. The Sooners had already lost their best linebacker (Corey Nelson) and best defensive lineman (Jordan Phillips) for the year. Now, they'll go to Baylor without their most valuable offensive player, too.
But even with more injury adversity, the Sooners also, for the first time in a month, looked like a team that could challenge for the Big 12 crown.
To read Jake Trotter's full story, click here.
Shaw brings South Carolina back from dead
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Connor Shaw walked wearily from the South Carolina locker room late Saturday night looking like he'd just gone 15 rounds with the heavyweight champion.
One of college football's gutsiest fighters, Shaw also wore a confident smile.
Already gimpy with a sprained knee and battling a nasty stomach virus that had him throwing up three hours before the game, Shaw came off the bench in the third quarter to bring South Carolina back from the dead in an improbable 27-24 double-overtime victory over No. 5 Missouri at Faurot Field.
"It's a relief more than anything, like a huge burden has been lifted off this entire team," Shaw said. "This is a game we had to have."
It's also a game that threw the SEC's Eastern Division race into a muddled mess and further punctuated the cannibalistic nature of the league this season.
As we head into the month of November, there's exactly one unbeaten team remaining in the SEC -- No. 1 Alabama. Missouri would have made it two, but couldn't make a 17-0 lead in the fourth quarter stand up and didn't have any answers for Shaw, who finished 20-of-29 for 201 yards and three touchdowns after entering the game at the 6:46 mark of the third quarter with his team reeling.
To read Chris Low's full story, click here.
Week 9 Takeaways
I had one coach tell me last week that Florida State would play for a national title. I had another tell me Oregon would.
Well, if Alabama wins out, it will not be both; it will be either the Seminoles or the Ducks. The tougher remaining schedule favors Oregon in the BCS formula, but who would have the better shot at beating the Tide?
That's where we begin the Week 9 Takeaways, which also include college football's toughest player, a debate over whether Baylor or Ohio State is the better team, and a messy day for the ACC Coastal.
1. Why FSU is the nation's second-best team, not Oregon
Our BCS expert Brad Edwards is projecting that the Ducks, following their 42-14 win over UCLA on Saturday, will jump the Seminoles in Sunday's BCS standings to the No. 2 spot. And with a road trip to Stanford next up on Oregon's schedule, it would appear as though the résumé advantage lies with the Ducks if both teams (along with Bama) finish the season undefeated.
But I'm going to use a different approach to differentiate between the two: Which has a better chance of beating Alabama?
To read Travis Haney's full story, click here .
Three weekend observations
1. Bad news: USC has played eight games and scored fewer than 20 points in four of them. Good news: After Saturday's 19-3 victory over Utah, USC is 2-2 in those games. The defense held the Utes to one field goal in three red zone visits, a combination of grit and the errant arms of quarterbacks Travis Wilson and Adam Schulz, who combined to go 12-for-31 for 130 yards and three interceptions. Two spread offenses (Arizona State and Arizona) scored 93 points on the depth-deficient Trojans. The other six opponents scored 61 points.
2. USC and Utah weren't as feeble on offense as Duke and Virginia Tech, which between them converted 4 of 29 third downs. The Blue Devils went 0-for-11 but that's not the most amazing stat. Duke upset No. 14 Virginia Tech 13-10. No big deal? The Blue Devils last beat a ranked team in 1994, a 28-25 upset of No. 13 Virginia. Since then, Duke had lost 48 consecutive games against ranked teams by an average margin of 28.5 points.
3. Nebraska's 34-23 loss at Minnesota underlined the difference between how the Huskers play at home and on the road in their new league. In three seasons, Nebraska is 8-1 at home in Big Ten play, and 6-4 in conference road games. The four losses have been by 31, 28, 25 and 11 points. That doesn't include the 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the 2012 championship game. The Huskers have games remaining at Michigan and at Penn State. That doesn't bode well for their hopes to get to Indianapolis.
Week 9 Impact Performances
GameDay crew final thoughts
A lot of times we overestimate what experience means, but this is that time of the year in which the tradition of your program and having players who have been through big games and tight situations and can play under pressure really starts to pay dividends. We saw it with the dominant performances by the BCS top four, but we also saw it in a couple of games where teams that weren't used to being in that situation felt the pressure.
Missouri certainly seemed to feel that after having its lead overcome. I don't know if Texas Tech did for sure but it experienced its biggest test so far and was unable to hold the lead. I think that programs that have competed for championships have a little bit of an advantage this time of the year. It doesn't trump talent but it can allow players to play more loose and relaxed and play their best.
That's why you have guys like AJ McCarron playing his best football of the year. It's why you have Braxton Miller playing perhaps his best game of the season against Penn State -- or certainly one of them. I think those are the types of things that help teams once the pressure really begins to turn up.
And it was a good day for all the SEC haters, because now that conference's chances of producing another national champion have been mathematically reduced to just three contenders with Alabama, of course, and Missouri and Auburn are long shots at best.
Helmet stickers go to ...
• RB Octavias McKoy, W. Connecticut St.
• RB Byron Marshall, Oregon
Bo Pelini is going to start feeling the heat at Nebraska for this Minnesota game particularly. The Huskers were out-strategized by an interim coach, and now Pelini's going to start feeling the heat from the fans and alumni.
The top four teams really took care of business Saturday. Some, like Oregon, started slow, while some did not. Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State all took care of business the way they should have.
Missouri found out what it's like to be the hunted rather than the hunter and to be in a pressure position, particularly in the fourth quarter, where it spit the bit and got outcoached and outfoxed by Steve Spurrier. The wheels just came off in that fourth quarter when it had a 17-point lead and blew it.
The Heisman Trophy race is starting to round itself together. Johnny Manziel played well again. Marcus Mariota played well in the second half. AJ McCarron did what he usually does -- a yeomans job, very workmanlike -- and got his win. Jameis Winston had another big game.
It was good to see Stanford come out of a hard-fought game with Oregon State with a win, ensuring that it'll have only one loss going into its big showdown with Oregon a week from Thursday. It was a hard-fought victory but the Cardinal really got after Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion, sacking him eight times. Their defensive line really brings it and that's what Oregon is going to have to account for.
Helmet stickers go to ...
Connor Shaw is a great competitor, and that was an incredible comeback by South Carolina. The top four teams in the BCS standings -- Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and Ohio State -- were all very impressive. It's hard to see who could possibly beat those schools with the way they're playing.
The ACC Coastal Division is really fouled up with Duke beating Virginia Tech. And over in the Big Ten, Minnesota beat Nebraska. Every week, you have to feel fortunate if you can find a way to win.
Right now, there are two types of teams: those that have a chance to really achieve something like a championship, and a certain segment of teams whose only salvation this year is to ruin somebody else's year.
Helmet stickers go to ...
• QB Connor Shaw, South Carolina
• Minnesota's coaching staff
What we learned in Week 9
Click below to see what our reporters learned in each conference after the ninth weekend.
Punctuated by its stunning 13-10 victory over No. 14 Virginia Tech, Duke has now won six games and is going to a bowl. And Florida State, which will mostly likely play in one of those bowls of the BCS variety, showed the nation that it is indeed back.ACC
Texas Tech may have lost to Oklahoma, but this team will be one to keep an eye on in the coming years. And Texas has turned its season around in a big way with another big win this week over TCU. Big 12
Ohio State needed all the style points it could get because of the way the three teams ahead of it in the rankings have been playing. The Buckeyes got plenty of those points against Penn State. Big Ten
It wasn't the typical start-to-finish domination Oregon is known for, but Oregon got it done against UCLA. Its division rival Stanford stuck to its nail-biting strategy, however, and wore down Oregon State for an eight-point win. Pac-12
Losing the way Missouri did in blowing a 17-point lead is hard on any team, but especially one that came into the game feeling so much momentum. Give credit to Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks, though. That's what a veteran team does. SEC
Photos from Week 9
Helmet stickers for Week 9
Every week our reporters will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.