Auburn edges Miss. State

Auburn stops No. 16 Mississippi State at the goal line to preserve wild 41-34 victory.

Midseason Awards: The Best and Worst of College Football's First Half

We’re at the midway point of the season, and the first seven weeks have been as chaotic as we’ve come to expect from college football, the sport that never disappoints. We have seen the return of some old powerhouse programs, as Miami, Georgia and Penn State remain among the eight undefeated teams, and we witnessed the chaos of twin Friday the 13th stunners when Syracuse took down Clemson and Cal blasted Washington State, two Fridays after the Cougars knocked off USC. The closest thing you get to predictable in college football is Alabama. Everything else requires a double take. Mississippi State crushes LSU, then turns around and gets blown out by Georgia and Auburn; LSU barely escapes Syracuse and loses to Troy, only to defeat Florida in The Swamp and rally past Auburn after falling behind 20–0. Surprised? Just wait till the second half of the season when the real craziness kicks in.

Below, we hand out some awards both conventional and unconventional, recognizing the most memorable performances of the season’s first half.

Best player: Penn State RB Saquon Barkley

Just ask anyone who watched the Iowa game. Barkley leads the nation in all-purpose yards at 217 per game—five more than Christian McCaffrey’s average that led the country a season ago.

2. Stanford RB Bryce Love. He’s averaging a hefty 10.3 yards per carry and gaining nearly 29 yards per game more than the nation’s No. 2 rusher, Navy quarterback Zach Abey.

3. Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick. The best player on the country’s best team, Fitzpatrick does everything for Nick Saban’s defense. He’s second on the Tide defense with 4.5 tackles for loss, and he also has an interception, a blocked kick and four pass breakups.

Best Group of Five Heisman candidate: San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny

Now that NCAA all-time rushing leader Donnel Pumphrey has moved on to the NFL, Penny has proven to be a lot more than just a great return man for the Aztecs. He’s averaging 168 yards from scrimmage per game.

2. Navy QB Zach Abey. The Middies are 5–1 and Abey trails only Love for the national lead in rushing at the helm of Navy’s option offense. He has also thrown five TDs.

3. Western Michigan KR/DB Darius Phillips. The MAC special teams player of the year in 2016 is working his magic again, averaging 36 yards per kick return with two touchdowns. On defense, he has three tackles for loss, two interceptions, one forced fumble and five pass breakups.

Biggest Flop: Oregon State

The Beavers weren’t supposed to win the Pac-12, but they were’t supposed to be this bad, either. Head coach Gary Andersen bailed after an abysmal start that began with a blowout loss at Colorado State, a close win over FCS Portland State four straight losses by no fewer than 28 points.

2. Florida State. The Seminoles dropped from the preseason top five to a hard-fought 2–3 with the nation’s No. 109 offense in yards per game as Jimbo Fisher tries to pick up the pieces once quarterback Deondre Francois was lost for the season in Week 1.

3. The Wyoming offense. Senior quarterback Josh Allen had been the talk of the offseason and entered the fall with plenty of NFL draft hype. He’s athletic and has a cannon for an arm, but he’s still very raw, and the departure of three skill guys from last year’s team who are now on NFL rosters have hurt the Cowboys, who sit 126th in yards per game. Allen has a modest 7–4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has thrown three picks and no TDs in his two games against FBS teams with winning records.

Most Pleasant Surprise: Northern Illinois DE Sutton Smith

Smith came to Dekalb as a running back but was moved to defense and had two tackles for loss last season. This year, he’s been a six-foot, 225-pound terror, leading the nation in TFLs with 14.5 in just five games.

2. TCU. Gary Patterson’s team is the Big 12’s lone unbeaten, with two wins over ranked opponents including an impressive win at Oklahoma State after the Cowboys whipped the Horned Frogs last year.

3. UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton. An unheralded Hawaiian quarterback prospect has blossomed into a star under the direction of Knights coach Scott Frost. Sound familiar? Frost was a Chip Kelly assistant for the Marcus Mariota years at Oregon. Now he has the Knights sizzling, averaging 50.6 points per game. Milton has a 15–2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and only Baker Mayfield has a higher QB rating.

Best Freshman: Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor

Taylor, who was once a Rutgers commit before ultimately choosing the Badgers, ranks No. 3 in the country with 164.3 rushing yards per game.

2. Virginia Tech QB Josh Jackson. He opened the year with a flourish, running for 101 yards and passing for 235 in a win over West Virginia. On the season he’s completing 65.6% of his passes with an impressive 13–4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

3. Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins. When Mike Weber’s hamstring injury provided him an early opportunity, Dobbins emerged as a star. He’s second in the Big Ten behind Taylor in total rushing yards, averaging 7.8 per carry and 8.3 on first downs.

Biggest Mystery: What happened to BYU?

The 1–6 Cougars are anemic on offense and have been blown out by at least 16 points in five of their six losses, only one of which came against a team now ranked in the Top 25 (Wisconsin rolled to a 40–6 win in Provo).

2. Will the reinstatement of a conference championship game really help the Big 12 now that both Oklahoma teams have a loss already?

3. Why do Maryland quarterbacks keep getting injured?

Weirdest story: ESPN vs. Chris Petersen

This went off the rails in a hurry after the Washington coach lamented the harm late-night kickoffs did to his team’s national exposure, then got ripped on College GameDay and during one of the Huskies’ games for filling his non-conference schedule with cupcakes.

2. The disappearance of quarterbacks from the Heisman race. USC’s Sam Darnold has nine interceptions and five fumbles, UCLA’s Josh Rosen still tries to do too much and Lamar Jackson’s Louisville team has two losses by 14 points or more already.

3. Gary Andersen walking away from Oregon State, leaving his buyout of just under $13 million on the table.

Best Coordinator: Don Brown, Michigan

The Wolverines returned one starter from last year's defense and still lead the nation.

2. Mel Tucker, Georgia. The Bulldogs’ defense is No. 3 in yards allowed and hasn’t yielded more than 312 yards in a game—and they’ve faced three teams that have been ranked at some point.

T–3. Sonny Cumbie, TCU. For the past three seasons, Cumbie shared the offensive coordinator role with Doug Meacham, who is now at Kansas. The one-voice method is working well for senior quarterback Kenny Hill this year, and the Horned Frogs’ 56.7% conversion rate on third downs leads the nation. Cumbie’s play-calling and feel for working in trick plays has been sharp, as evidenced by the two gadget plays TCU pulled off to beat a good West Virginia team in Week 6.

T–3. Alex Grinch, Washington State. The Cougars’ two-deep is filled with two- and three-star recruits, but Grinch has still fielded the No. 10 defense in the nation and shut down USC two weeks after losing the quarterback of the unit, linebacker Peyton Pelluer, for the year.

Best Coordinator, New Hire Division: Jedd Fisch, UCLA

Fisch has lifted the Bruins’ offense to eighth nationally in yards per game after it finished 91st last season. In addition, they’ve improved to No. 24 in third-down offense after ranking No. 103 in 2016.

2. Tim DeRuyter, Cal. His defense has 20 takeaways in seven games—two more than it had all of last year—and two more sacks (20) than last season’s total as well. The Bears have also gone from 122nd to 52nd in yards per play allowed.

T–3. Jake Spavital, West Virginia. Dana Holgorsen handed the offensive playcalling reins over to his protegé who came over from Cal, and it has paid off: West Virginia is No. 5 in total offense (up from No. 17 in 2016), gashing people with its Justin Crawford–led run game and hitting big plays downfield in the passing game.

T–3. Jim Leavitt, Oregon. He turned a dreadful defense at Colorado into a formidable one, and he’s pulled the same trick early on in Eugene. The Ducks rank 28th in yards per play allowed, up from 115th last season.

Best coaching job: Gary Patterson, TCU

There’s one unbeaten in the Big 12 and it’s the Horned Frogs who handled Oklahoma State in Stillwater and found enough ways to beat West Virginia.

2. Jeff Tedford, Fresno State. He took over a team that won one game last year and has them 4–2—and those two losses came against Alabama and Washington. Tedford’s specialty is offense, and he has lifted the Bulldogs from 125th to 45th in scoring offense.

3. Kirby Smart, Georgia. His defense is nasty, and the Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat when they were forced to turn to true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm in the season opener.

Best coaching job, New Hire Division: Jeff Tedford, Fresno State

2. Jeff Brohm, Purdue. He has wasted little time exciting a fan base that had been stuck with a lot of bad football in recent years. The Boilermakers are 3–3, and they led Michigan in the third quarter and had Louisville on the ropes in Week 1.

3. Willie Taggart, Oregon. The Ducks are extremely young and pretty banged up, but they’re 4–3 and have already matched last season’s win total, looking like a much more physical and energetic operation.

Best coaching job, Hot Seat Division: Dave Doeren, NC State

After a season-opening loss to South Carolina that seemed to spike an entire summer’s worth of enthusiasm, the Wolfpack have won five in a row, knocking off both Louisville and FSU.

2. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are much improved on defense, and their offense still gives opponents nightmares even after losing star quarterback Pat Mahomes to the NFL. Kingsbury briefly got Tech back in the Top 25 for the first time since 2013.

3. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame. He shook up his staff and made some very shrewd hires, including defensive coordinator Mike Elko. Despite breaking in a new quarterback in Brandon Wimbush, the Irish are just a narrow loss to top-five from being undefeated.

Upset of the Year: Syracuse 27, Clemson 24

Dino Babers has made the Orange interesting again. Last Friday his team came in as 24-point underdogs and stopped the defending champs’ 12-game winning streak away from Death Valley, outgaining the Tigers 440–317. That put an abrupt stop to the talk that a third straight Clemson-Alabama matchup in the national title game was a veritable lock.

2. Iowa State 38, Oklahoma 31. The Cyclones had to rely on one quarterback making his first college start in Kyle Kempt and another who had switched to starting middle linebacker in Joel Lanning to take down the Sooners, who entered as 31-point favorites.

3. Cal 37, Washington State 3. Defeating a top-10 team was one thing, but leaving a Mike Leach team in the dust by 34 points was another.

Worst Play: Third-and-93

On its way to a blowout loss to Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech started in the red zone and ended with the most hopeless third-and-goal situation you’ll see, thanks to a bad snap that sailed past quarterback J’Mar Smith, then was booted and batted backwards before Louisiana Tech recovered at its own seven-yard line.

2. Georgia Tech’s failed two-point conversion attempt that sealed an overtime loss to Tennessee. Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson said it should’ve been an easy walk-in score, but it fell apart because one of his guys blew an assignment.

3. Kansas’s cut blocks. The Jayhawks lost to Ohio on an afternoon low-lighted by a play in which the entire Kansas O-line attempted a cut block and failed to keep the Bobcats from swarming quarterback Peyton Bender for an easy sack.

Mayfield, Love, Barkley lead AP midseason All-America team

File-This Sept. 30, 2017, file photo shows Auburn defensive back Carlton Davis (6) breaking up a pass intended for Mississippi State wide receiver Jesse Jackson (86) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

File-This Sept. 30, 2017, file photo shows Auburn defensive back Carlton Davis (6) breaking up a pass intended for Mississippi State wide receiver Jesse Jackson (86) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

File-This Sept. 30, 2017, file photo shows Auburn offensive lineman Braden Smith (71) lining up against Mississippi State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

SEC Making the Case to Be the Playoff Era's First Two-Bid Conference

While the Pac-12 and ACC were thrown into a state of upheaval by the upsets that felled four top-10 teams last weekend, the SEC merely took a glancing blow. Auburn’s loss to LSU casts a little more doubt on its ability to knock Alabama off its perch atop the SEC West on the final Saturday of the regular season (the victorious Tigers’ Nov. 11 trip to Tuscaloosa had already largely been written off), but it seems clear now that the Crimson Tide’s only true obstacle on their way to a fourth consecutive College Football Playoff is Georgia, which could take a matching 12–0 record into the SEC title game. If that game comes down to the final minute, the committee would be hard-pressed to leave the loser out of the playoff.

The SEC’s middle and bottom tiers might be weaker than usual, but that shouldn’t take away from what Georgia and Alabama have done to their competition so far in league play, reaching a combined 8–0 record by a total score of 363–76. If the ACC and Pac-12 continue to cannibalize their leading contenders while the Bulldogs and Tide continue to cruise, we could see a two-bid league for the first time in playoff history.

Below, the latest look at the projected (but far from official) matchups for all 39 bowl games leading up to the College Football Playoff national championship in Atlanta on Jan. 8.

Saturday, Dec. 16

R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans (1 p.m., ESPN)
Sun Belt vs. C-USA
Louisiana-Monroe vs. UAB

AutoNation Cure Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (2:30 p.m., CBSSN)
AAC vs. Sun Belt
Temple vs. Georgia State

Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas (3:30 p.m., ABC)
?MWC vs. Pac-12
Colorado State vs. Oregon

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
C-USA vs. MWC
UTSA vs. Wyoming

Raycom Media Camelia Bowl, Montgomery, Ala. (8 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Akron vs. Troy

Tuesday, Dec. 19

Boca Raton Bowl, Boca Raton, Fla. (7 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. C-USA
Tulane vs. Western Kentucky

Wednesday, Dec. 20

Frisco Bowl, Frisco, Texas (8 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. C-USA/MAC/MWC/BYU
Houston vs. North Texas

Thursday, Dec. 21

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, St. Petersburg, Fla. (8 p.m., ESPN)
C-USA vs. AAC
Marshall vs. South Florida

Friday, Dec. 22

Bahamas Bowl, Nassau, Bahamas (12:30 p.m., ESPN)
C-USA vs. MAC
Florida Atlantic vs. Northern Illinois

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise (4 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. MWC
Ohio vs. Boise State

Saturday, Dec. 23

Birmingham Bowl, Birmingham, Ala. (12 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. SEC
Memphis vs. Tennessee

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Texas (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Army vs. C-USA
Army vs. Southern Miss

Dollar General Bowl, Mobile, Ala. (7 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Toledo vs. Appalachian State

Sunday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu, (8:30 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. MWC
SMU vs. San Diego State

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dallas (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. Big Ten
Kansas State vs. Nebraska

Quick Lane Bowl, Detroit (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Duke vs. Western Michigan

Cactus Bowl, Phoenix (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. Pac-12
Texas Tech vs. Utah

Wednesday, Dec. 27

Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. SEC
Boston College vs. Mississippi State

New Era Pinstripe Bowl, New York (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Syracuse vs. Purdue

Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara, Calif. (8 p.m., FOX)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Northwestern vs. Washington

Texas Bowl, Houston (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. SEC
Texas vs. Texas A&M

Thursday, Dec. 28

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman, Annapolis, Md. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. AAC
Wake Forest vs. Navy

Camping World Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big 12
Georgia Tech vs. Oklahoma State

Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Pac-12 vs. Big 12
Washington State vs. West Virginia

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, San Diego (9 p.m., FS1)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Michigan vs. Stanford

Friday, Dec. 29

Belk Bowl, Charlotte, N.C. (1 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. SEC
Virginia vs. South Carolina

Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas (2 p.m., CBS)
ACC vs. Pac-12
Florida State vs. Arizona

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Nashville, Tenn. (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
Vanderbilt vs. Iowa

Arizona Bowl, Tucson, Ariz. (5:30 p.m., CBSSN)
Sun Belt vs. MWC
Arkansas State vs. Fresno State

Saturday, Dec. 30

TaxSlayer Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
Florida vs. Virginia Tech

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (12:30 p.m., ABC)
Big 12 vs. SEC
Iowa State vs. LSU

Monday, Jan. 1, 2018

Outback Bowl, Tampa, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN2)
Big Ten vs. SEC
Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (1 p.m., ABC)
SEC vs. ACC/Big Ten
Auburn vs. NC State

New Year's Six Bowls

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Arlington, Texas (Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz. (Dec. 30, 4 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
Ohio State vs. USC

Capital One Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, Fla. (Dec. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame
Clemson vs. Wisconsin

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Atlanta (Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-Large
Miami (FL) vs. UCF

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual, Pasadena, Calif. (Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Penn State vs. Georgia

Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Alabama vs. TCU

College Football Playoff National Championship, Atlanta (Jan. 8, 8 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinal winner vs. CFP semifinal winner

Week 8 Power Rankings: Contenders to Pretenders? Making Sense of the Weekend's Wreckage

After a crazy weekend that saw four top-10 teams lose, the conference and playoff picture got a little clearer for the eight unbeatens and 19 one-loss teams still left in the FBS.

Lining up the four top teams that lost next to each other, it appears some will have a tougher time getting back in the playoff mix than others.

Clemson: The Tigers found out in the second half on Friday night in Syracuse that if quarterback Kelly Bryant misses extended time with a concussion, they could be on the outside looking in when the playoffs arrive. There is plenty of time and quality opponents left on the schedule for Clemson to right the ship.

Auburn: The Tigers’ chances of winning any title took a hit with their ninth straight loss in Death Valley, bringing LSU back into the SEC West race. The threat to archrival Alabama has not materialized, as transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham has been inconsistent throwing the ball.

Washington: The Huskies' loss to Arizona State was simply mind-blowing. The Sun Devils had allowed quarterbacks to find open receivers all season, but on Saturday night they held Jake Browning to just 139 yards. The Huskies' schedule down the stretch (Stanford, Utah, Washington State) won’t do them any favors.

Washington State: Perhaps the most fraudulent top-10 ranking heading into this week belonged to the Cougars, who decided to have Christmas in October by giving the ball away seven times in a 37–3 loss to Cal. This kind of blowout could derail the rest of the season, so it’s on Mike Leach to get his team to bounce back ahead of a home stretch packed with tough road games.

Now, on to this week’s Top 25:

1. Alabama (7–0, 4–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Arkansas, 41–9
Next week: vs. Tennessee

Alabama’s dominance of Arkansas probably started during the pregame warmups, but it officially began with the Tide’s first play from scrimmage, when Damien Harris ran 75 yards for a touchdown. It was business as usual after that for Bama, which ran for 308 yards and put Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s job further in jeopardy.

2. Penn State (6–0, 3–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 3
Last week: Off
Next week: vs. Michigan

The week off comes at a great time for the Nittany Lions, whose two biggest games await next in division rivals Michigan and Ohio State. Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley could put some distance between him and the rest of field with two big games.

3. Georgia (7–0, 4–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat Missouri, 53–28
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)

Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm helped out his loaded stable of running backs with 326 yards passing, and the Bulldogs woke up after a slow start to cruise to an easy victory at the expense of Missouri’s woeful defense. It was an atypical defensive performance for the Bulldogs, who allowed 28 points—their first time giving up 20 or more this season—and did not sack Tigers quarterback Drew Lock. Pressuring the quarterback has been that unit’s relative weakness: Georgia sits in a three-way tie for last in the SEC with just 10 sacks so far.

4. Ohio State (6­–1, 4–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Nebraska, 56–14
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. Penn State

J.T. Barrett threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns, and J.K. Dobbins added 106 of his team’s 276 rushing yards as Ohio State continue to torment the bottom tier of the Big Ten with another blowout victory. After scoring eight touchdowns in Lincoln, it seems the Buckeyes’ struggles on offense are a distant memory. Ohio State gets a week off before the Big Ten game of the year against Penn State.

5. TCU (6–0, 3–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Kansas State, 26–6
Next game: vs. Kansas

Kansas State’s offense, or lack thereof, was on full display without starting quarterback Jesse Ertz, as TCU held its hosts to 216 yards, 70 yards rushing and a 2-of-15 mark on third down in Manhattan. Kenny Hill threw for 297 yards and scored a touchdown on the ground. TCU can add to its Big 12 lead next week when it hosts Kansas, which has lost 42 straight on the road but has given the Horned Frogs trouble of late.

6. Wisconsin (6–0, 3–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Purdue, 17–9
Next week: vs. Maryland

Jonathan Taylor continued his impressive freshman campaign, running for 219 yards to ensure Wisconsin stayed on track to have the Big Ten West wrapped up by early next month. The Badgers held the ball for nearly 40 minutes and limited Purdue to 221 yards. They own a two-game lead in the Big Ten West, and their next three conference opponents have one conference win between them.

7. Oklahoma (5–1, 2–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat Texas, 29–24
Next week: at Kansas State

Oklahoma has a problem on its hands: Not only do the Sooners give up big plays in the passing game, they also can’t seem to hold on to substantial leads, having blown double-digit advantages in each of their last three games. This week, they lost a 20-point lead over Texas and failed to score at least 30 points for the first time in 15 games, but the nation’s top offense by yards per play rolled up 518 against the Longhorns to keep playoff hopes alive in Norman.

8. Clemson (6–1, 4–1 ACC)

Previous ranking: 2
This week: Lost to Syracuse, 27–24
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. Georgia Tech

While Clemson is not out of the national championship or ACC title picture by any stretch, it was surprising to see the defense give up big plays and the Tigers take 11 penalties in an upset loss to Syracuse. The Orange had six plays of over 20 yards and contained the Clemson offense after quarterback Kelly Bryant went down with a concussion late in the first half. How badly Bryant has been banged up at midseason has to be a cause for concern moving forward.

9. Miami (FL) (5–0, 3–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat Georgia Tech, 25–24
Next week: vs. Syracuse

For the second straight week, Miami needed a last-minute play to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Malik Rosier led the Hurricanes on a 15-play, 85-yard drive in the game’s final 2:26, capped off by an incredible catch by Darrell Langham off a tipped pass on fourth down that led to Michael Badgley’s 24-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. The Hurricanes held Georgia Tech to 225 yards rushing, 170 yards below the Jackets’ season average.

10. Oklahoma State (4–1, 1–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 14
Last week: Beat Baylor, 59–16
Next week: at Texas

Oklahoma State had a school-record 747 yards of total offense in an absolute destruction of winless Baylor, which had won three straight against the Cowboys. The Mason Rudolph–to–James Washington connection deserved its personal own highlight reel, as Rudolph passed for 459 yards and three touchdowns and Washington finished with six catches for 235 yards, with a receiving and rushing touchdown.

11. USC (6–1, 4–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat Utah, 28–27
Next week: at Notre Dame

USC needed a failed two-point conversion to sneak past Utah, but the Trojans know there is no room for error to keep their playoff hopes alive. Sam Darnold went 27 of 50 for 358 yards and three touchdowns but again had trouble holding on to the ball, losing three fumbles. Running back Ronald Jones had 111 yards and a touchdown for USC, which plays three of its next four games on the road.

12. Virginia Tech (5–1, 1–1 ACC)

Previous ranking: 16
This week: Off
Next week: vs. North Carolina

Virginia Tech were ruled out of the ACC title conversation after a convincing loss to Clemson, but Tigers don’t look to be invincible anymore. Of course, the Hokies need to win out to make their way to Charlotte for a potential rematch.

13. South Florida (6–0, 3–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 17
Last week: Beat Cincinnati, 33–3
Next week: at Tulane

South Florida’s 23rd straight game with more than 30 points led to its 11th straight win—the nation’s longest winning streak. Quinton? Flowers had 264 total yards to lead the Bulls’ balanced attack, and the defense spent most of the night in the Cincinnati backfield, recording eight tackles for loss.

14. Michigan (5–1, 2–1 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat Indiana, 27–20 (OT)
Next week: at Penn State

Not sure what to make of Michigan after it blew a 10-point lead to Indiana in the final four minutes before surviving in overtime. If all else fails, the Wolverines can keep handing the ball to Karan Higdon, who ran for 200 yards and scored twice, including the game-winner. Quarterback John O’Korn had just 58 yards on 20 pass attempts, which is not going to cut it if the Wolverines want to realize their Big Ten title hopes.

15. Washington (6–1, 3–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 5
This week: Lost to Arizona State, 13–7
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. UCLA

Maybe there was a reason that most of the East Coast preferred not to stay up late to watch Washington. The Huskies turned in an uninspired performance against an Arizona State team that couldn’t stop anyone before this weekend, allowing 30 or more points in 11 straight games. Now the Huskies must get their act together just to have a chance in the Pac-12 North, as games against Stanford and Washington State still lie ahead.

16. North Carolina State (6–1, 4–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 19
This week: Beat Pittsburgh, 35–17
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. Notre Dame.

The Wolfpack find themselves atop the Atlantic Division, but winning out to secure their spot in the ACC title game will be no easy task. Nyheim Hines saved the day with an 83-yard TD run and a 92-yard punt return touchdown. Ryan Finley has gone 313 passes without an interception, and NC State is on its longest winning streak in 15 years.

17. Notre Dame (5–1)

Previous ranking: 20
This week: Off
Next game: vs. USC

A rash of upsets this past week has the Irish sitting pretty in the playoff picture. With the difficulty of their upcoming schedule, they have a chance to make a statement. Up next is USC, which has split its last eight meetings with Notre Dame.

18. Stanford (5–2, 4–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 22
This week: Beat Oregon, 49–7
Next week: vs. Oregon State

Bryce Love had only one carry in the second half before being sidelined by a minor injury, but he still finished with 147 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The Heisman candidate should have an even bigger day next week if he’s healthy enough to go against Oregon State, which gives up 200 yards a game on the groung and has surrendered 18 rushing touchdowns so far this season. Keller Chryst had an efficient game, throwing for 181 yards and three scores for Stanford, which has won four straight.

19. Washington State (6–1, 3–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 8
This week: Lost to California, 37–3
Next week: vs. Colorado

Everything that could go wrong for Washington State did go wrong as it was thumped in its attempt to prove it belongs amongst the Pac-12 elites. Cougars quarterback Luke Falk was picked off five times, lost a fumble and was sacked nine times, and Cal cashed in on those mistakes all night, scoring a win over a top-10 foe for the first time in 14 seasons.

20. Central Florida (5–0, 3–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 23
This week: Beat East Carolina, 63–21
Next week: at Navy

Central Florida’s blowout of East Carolina helped it keep pace with South Florida in the AAC and padded the numbers of the Knights’ nation-leading scoring offense. Possibly the best quarterback you have never heard of, UCF’s McKenzie Milton, had 324 yards passing and two touchdown passes and also ran for another score.

21. Auburn (5–2, 3­–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Lost to LSU, 27–23
Next week: at Arkansas

Blowing nearly three-touchdown leads seemed to be the theme of Saturday, as Auburn let an offensively challenged LSU team back in the game and ultimately didn’t make the plays that the homestanding Tigers did. Jarrett Stidham completed only nine of his 26 passes for 165 yards, and Kerryon Johnson provided the other half of the offense by running for 156 yards on 31 carries.

22. West Virginia (4­–2, 2–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: ­—
This week: Beat Texas Tech, 46–35
Next week: at Baylor

Will Grier threw for 352 yards and five touchdown passes to lead the Mountaineers back from an 18-point deficit. West Virginia scored the game’s final 29 points after the defense withstood an initial flurry from Texas Tech’s explosive offense. Grier basically had to complete the comeback himself, as conference rushing leader Justin Crawford was held to 47 yards, but the Red Raiders helped him out by missing three field goals and committing 16 penalties.

23. Memphis (5–1, 2–1 AAC)

Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Navy, 30–27
Next week: at Houston

Riley Ferguson had 279 yards and three touchdowns and the defense used five Navy turnovers to hand the Midshipmen their first loss and throw a wrench in the AAC West standings. Ferguson has been on fire lately, throwing 13 touchdowns in his last four games.

24. Texas A&M (5–2, 3–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Florida, 19–17
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. Mississippi State

Left for dead just a couple of weeks ago, the Aggies have bounced back in a big way, winning four of their last five games. Freshman quarterback Kellen Mond did just enough in the victory, completing only eight of his 24 passes for 180 yards but added 52 yards rushing and a touchdown. The Aggies only had 263 yards of offense, but they put themselves back in major bowl contention with the victory.

25. Michigan State (5–1, 3–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Minnesota, 30–27
Next week: vs. Illinois

Michigan State running back L.J. Scott ran for 194 yards and two touchdowns in his return from injury, and the Spartans nearly squandered a 17-point lead before holding on against Minnesota. Madre London added 74 yards on the ground for the Spartans, who beat the Gophers for the fifth straight time. The Spartans already have two more wins than their 2016 total.

Out: San Diego State, Texas Tech, Navy, Utah. Maybe next week: LSU, Virginia, Marshall. By conference: Big Ten (5), Big 12 (4), SEC (4), ACC (4), Pac-12 (4), AAC (3), Independent (1).

How to Watch Arkansas vs. Alabama Online: Live Stream, TV Channel, Broadcast Info

After Alabama struggled to put away Texas A&M last week, a renewed focused from Nick Saban and the Tide could spell doom for visiting Arkansas.

Before beating the Aggies 29–17 last week, Alabama had scorched its previous two opponents 125–3.

Arkansas lost 48-22 at South Carolina in which its running game was non–existent and the problems were compounded by turning the ball over four times.

Alabama has beaten Arkansas nine straight times.

How to watch

Game time: Saturday, Oct. 14, 7:15 p.m. ET

TV channel: ESPN

Live stream: The game can be watched online using WatchESPN.

Next Three Games:

Alabama: vs. Tennessee (10/21), vs. LSU (11/4), at Mississippi State (11/11)

Arkansas: vs. Auburn (10/21), at Mississippi (10/28), vs. Coastal Carolina (11/4)

How to Watch Texas A&M vs. Florida: Live Stream, TV Channel, Time

Texas A&M will face Florida in Gainesville, Florida in a primetime matchup Saturday night, the first meeting between the two since 2012.

The Aggies (4-2) are coming off a 27-19 loss to No. 1 Alabama. Freshman quarterback Kellen Mond was 19-for-29 with 237 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

The Gators (3-2) are coming off a 17-16 Homecoming loss to LSU. A missed field goal was the deciding factor in the game for the Gators. Florida will wear green gator themed jerseys that have caused a bit of a social media frenzy.

In the team's 2012 matchup, the Gators beat the Aggies 20-17 in the Aggies first contest as a member of the SEC.

How to Watch

Time: 7 p.m. EST

TV channel: ESPN2

Live stream: Watch online with Fubo TV. Sign up now for a free seven-day trial.

Next Three Games

Texas A&M: vs. Mississippi State (10/28), vs. Auburn (11/04), vs. New Mexico (11/11)

Florida: vs. Georgia (10/28), at Missouri (11/04), at South Carolina (11/11)

Resurgent offense propels streaking Auburn into top 10

FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8) throws a pass against Mississippi State during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Auburn, Ala. No. 10 Auburn's offense has made huge strides since the Clemson game with the progress of quarterback Jarrett Stidham and the touchdown tear of tailback Kerryon Johnson. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8) throws a pass against Mississippi State during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Auburn, Ala. No. 10 Auburn's offense has made huge strides since the Clemson game with the progress of quarterback Jarrett Stidham and the touchdown tear of tailback Kerryon Johnson. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

Among New Year's Six Hopefuls, Not All Losses Are Giant Setbacks

When you’re doing an exercise as inherently speculative as mapping bowl matchups two months in advance, it can be easy to wildly overreact to one week’s worth of results this time of year, since every loss drops a team from the ranks of the unbeaten. This week’s projection tries to keep some perspective for at least one of the top-10 teams that went down last Saturday: Oklahoma’s bad loss to Iowa State may hurt the Sooners if they’re one of a handful of one-loss teams vying for one playoff spot, but with a Heisman candidate under center in Baker Mayfield and the toughest games left on their schedule against TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia, they can at the very least get themselves back in the middle of the New Year’s Six picture by late November.

Michigan has the same opportunity, but the Wolverines’ primetime loss to Michigan State raised some concerns about their offense that need answering before they can think seriously about toppling their other major Big Ten East contenders, Penn State and Ohio State. Whereas Oklahoma has the horses to pad its résumé on the road back to Big 12 contention, at this point Michigan doesn’t seem to have the firepower to navigate the conference play gantlet ahead. Of course, that could all change by next week.

Below, a look at all 39 bowl matchups leading up to the College Football Playoff natioinal championship on Jan. 8 in Atlanta.

Saturday, Dec. 16

R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans (1 p.m., ESPN)
Sun Belt vs. C-USA
Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Western Kentucky

AutoNation Cure Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (2:30 p.m., CBSSN)
AAC vs. Sun Belt
Tulane vs. Marshall

Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas (3:30 p.m., ABC)
?MWC vs. Pac-12
Colorado State vs. UCLA

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
C-USA vs. MWC
UTSA vs. Boise State

Raycom Media Camelia Bowl, Montgomery, Ala. (8 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Ohio vs. Arkansas State

Tuesday, Dec. 19

Boca Raton Bowl, Boca Raton, Fla. (7 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. C-USA
SMU vs. UAB

Wednesday, Dec. 20

Frisco Bowl, Frisco, Texas (8 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. C-USA/MAC/MWC/BYU
Houston vs. Appalachian State

Thursday, Dec. 21

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, St. Petersburg, Fla. (8 p.m., ESPN)
C-USA vs. AAC
Southern Miss vs. Memphis

Friday, Dec. 22

Bahamas Bowl, Nassau, Bahamas (12:30 p.m., ESPN)
C-USA vs. MAC
Florida Atlantic vs. Northern Illinois

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise (4 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. MWC
Western Michigan vs. Utah State

Saturday, Dec. 23

Birmingham Bowl, Birmingham, Ala. (12 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. SEC
USF vs. Georgia Tech

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Texas (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Army vs. C-USA
Army vs. Louisiana Tech

Dollar General Bowl, Mobile, Ala. (7 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Toledo vs. Troy

Sunday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu, (8:30 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. MWC
UCF vs. Wyoming

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dallas (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. Big Ten
North Texas vs. Minnesota

Quick Lane Bowl, Detroit (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Duke vs. Purdue

Cactus Bowl, Phoenix (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. Pac-12
Kansas State vs. Utah

Wednesday, Dec. 27

Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. SEC
Virginia vs. South Carolina

New Era Pinstripe Bowl, New York (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Wake Forest vs. Maryland

Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara, Calif. (8 p.m., FOX)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Iowa vs. Oregon

Texas Bowl, Houston (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. SEC
Texas vs. Mississippi State

Thursday, Dec. 28

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman, Annapolis, Md. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. AAC
Louisville vs. Navy

Camping World Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big 12
Virginia Tech vs. Texas Tech

Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Pac-12 vs. Big 12
USC vs. Oklahoma State

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, San Diego (9 p.m., FS1)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Nebraska vs. Stanford

Friday, Dec. 29

Belk Bowl, Charlotte, N.C. (1 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. SEC
Florida State vs. Tennessee

Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas (2 p.m., CBS)
ACC vs. Pac-12
NC State vs. Washington State

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Nashville, Tenn. (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
Vanderbilt vs. Indiana

Arizona Bowl, Tucson, Ariz. (5:30 p.m., CBSSN)
Sun Belt vs. MWC
Louisiana-Monroe vs. Fresno State

Saturday, Dec. 30

TaxSlayer Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
Florida vs. Notre Dame

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (12:30 p.m., ABC)
Big 12 vs. SEC
West Virginia vs. Kentucky

Monday, Jan. 1, 2018

Outback Bowl, Tampa, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN2)
Big Ten vs. SEC
Michigan State vs. LSU

Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (1 p.m., ABC)
SEC vs. ACC/Big Ten
Texas A&M vs. Michigan

New Year's Six Bowls

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Arlington, Texas (Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
TCU vs. Ohio State

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz. (Dec. 30, 4 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
Oklahoma vs. San Diego State

Capital One Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, Fla. (Dec. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame
Miami vs. Auburn

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Atlanta (Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-Large
Wisconsin vs. Georgia

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual, Pasadena, Calif. (Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Clemson vs. Washington

Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Alabama vs. Penn State

College Football Playoff National Championship, Atlanta (Jan. 8, 8 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinal winner vs. CFP semifinal winner

After Tumultuous Week, Winning Is All That's Needed to Stabilize Ed Orgeron and LSU

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — LSU coach Ed Orgeron sweated through his postgame interview, but not because of the questions. They were simple compared to the Gordian knots he’d been asked to untangle the previous two weeks. The moisture poured from Orgeron because Florida’s football program had somehow managed to create a room more humid than the actual swamps a few miles away and the figurative Swamp on the other side of the wall. When Orgeron finished talking, he wiped his brow and walked out into the cool evening breeze. A bear hug stopped him.

“How about that?” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva yelled as he embraced the football coach he hired last November after firing Les Miles two months earlier.

LSU’s 17–16 win meant so much for these two. Alleva tried to be the people’s AD last year when Hurricane Matthew forced the Florida game to be postponed, but he botched a game of chicken against outgoing Florida AD Jeremy Foley and wound up staring down two consecutive years in Gainesville after the Gators came into Baton Rouge and won in November. Alleva did the will of the people again that month when he hired Orgeron permanently, but he gave him a massive buyout that wasn’t necessary to lure him to the job. That became a major talking point after Orgeron’s Tigers got whipped by Mississippi State on Sept. 16 and after Orgeron broke a campaign promise with a move that wound up getting LSU beat by Troy on Homecoming. Orgeron and Alleva had tied themselves together, and while Alleva would go first—Orgeron would be safer longer thanks to that buyout Alleva gave him—they would both eventually get run out of their jobs if they couldn’t engineer a turnaround.

So last week, everyone met. Players and coaches. Players and players. Alleva and Orgeron and the coordinators. Air was cleared and ground rules were set. “I’ve never been on a team that had so many meetings,” linebacker Devin White said. “But it was well worth it.” The older players impressed upon the younger ones that practices needed to be more intense. Orgeron impressed upon the coordinators that he wouldn’t do what he did a week earlier when he asked offensive coordinator Matt Canada to cut out the pre-snap motion and shifts that make his offense what it is. That decision, which called back to Orgeron’s disastrous tenure as the Ole Miss coach from 2005 to ’07, led to zero points in the first half against Troy. At halftime, Orgeron realized he’d made a mistake. It didn’t save the Tigers from an embarrassing loss, but it might have kept one loss from becoming two.

Saturday might have been the first step out of danger and toward a brighter tomorrow. Or it might have been a mirage. After all, it was a one-point win where the margin was provided by a missed extra point from a kicker who had never missed one. It came on a day when LSU’s offensive coaches basically admitted by their play selection that the Tigers couldn’t throw the ball against a competent defense. But it happened nonetheless, and sometimes all it takes is one win to make a team believe. If the LSU defense hadn’t stuffed the Gators on three consecutive fourth-quarter drives (24 yards allowed on 13 plays) and Florida had squeezed off just one fourth-quarter field goal, the sky might still be falling in Baton Rouge.

But it isn’t.

LSU’s defense did come through. LSU’s offense did just enough, even though quarterback Danny Etling struggled to throw and the line included as many as three true freshmen at times. Tailback Derrius Guice, limited by a knee injury much of the season, looked more comfortable as the game wore on. Defensive end Rashard Lawrence, who fought through an ankle injury, helped lead a group that now has 20 sacks through six games. The challenge grows on Saturday when LSU gets a visit from an Auburn team that shredded the SEC’s Mississippi schools in consecutive weeks, but LSU’s players see a path to the kind of improvement that will make them competitive in the SEC.

To win this week, LSU defenders will have to extend their fourth-quarter performance in Gainesville for another four quarters. Florida pounded the Tigers on the ground for 112 yards on two third-quarter touchdown drives, but LSU’s defense responded in the fourth. White, who led LSU with 13 tackles, said he blocked out the negativity all week. Sort of. “I saw Tim Tebow say that Troy’s linebackers were better than ours,” he said. “I took offense to it.” That noise would only get louder if the defense buckled one more time against the Gators. Instead, White found himself leaping as Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks’s final pass hung in the air. White had ripped Franks when he decommitted from LSU and flipped to Florida in 2015. “I just wanted to back all those words up,” White said. “I know that at the end of the day he was saying, ‘I want to make him eat those words.’” White knocked down the pass, backing up his criticism and ending the threat.

For seniors such as defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, the win meant this group of veterans had not let the locker room get away from them. They had demanded more during the week, and they had gotten it from everyone. They just had to fight through the fatigue and secure the victory to prove what they wanted would work. LaCouture loved the fact that the defense needed to finish out the Gators. “It gives you this type of buzz,” he said of the final possessions. And after? “It’s probably the best feeling I’ve had in a long time,” he said.

The same went for Orgeron, who isn’t in any real danger of getting fired this season barring complete disaster. Though Orgeron was—and is—relatively safe, he heard the chatter. He knows one of the nation’s most demanding fan bases can turn quickly if the Tigers don’t play to a high standard. He knew he couldn’t protect his players or assistants from the noise. They had all brought it upon themselves. “I know what happens when they go home,” Orgeron said. “It’s tough for everybody.”

The only way to quiet the criticism was to win. The only way to keep it from coming back is to keep winning. This is the simple reality, and Orgeron understands that when it comes to his dream job, pressure is part of the benefits package. “Every day I’m a Tiger is going to be a great time,” he said. “This is a wonderful place to coach. Although it’s been a rough week, I can’t have a bad day as long as I’m the head coach at LSU. I refuse to have one.”

Some days are better than others, though. Saturday was one of them. The pressure will return this week, but as Orgeron and wife Kelly walked hand-in-hand toward LSU’s bus, it still felt like a dream come true.

FELDMAN: Top 10 shaken up after Week 6 | Five leading Heisman candidates

A Random Ranking

Tom Petty died last week at age 66. These are my top 10 Petty songs. Your list may differ wildly, which is a testament to just how many great songs he and the Heartbreakers made.

1. “Learning to Fly”*

2. “Free Fallin’”

3. “The Waiting”

4. “American Girl”

5. “Even The Losers”

6. “I Won’t Back Down”

7. “Southern Accents”

8. “Don’t Do Me Like That”

9. “Walls (No. 3)”

10. “Breakdown”

*This wasn’t my favorite until I saw Petty live in Gainesville in September 2006. This stripped down arrangement—mostly acoustic guitar, piano and Stevie Nicks helping sing backup—is one of my favorite musical memories. The embedded clip is that performance.

Projected Playoff

1. Alabama

Nick Saban is mad that media members pointed out the fact that the Crimson Tide beat Vanderbilt and Ole Miss by a combined score of 125–3. Fortunately for Saban, he’ll have a lot more teachable tape after a 27–19 win at Texas A&M. Alabama’s toughest game of the year so far did expose a few weaknesses for the Crimson Tide, but more than anything it should give Aggies fans a reason to be excited about what freshman quarterback Kellen Mond can become. And if any Heisman Trophy voters were watching, hopefully they noted that Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick might be the best pure football player in college right now.

?

2. Clemson

The ankle injury quarterback Kelly Bryant suffered in a 28–14 win against Wake Forest is cause for concern, but Clemson has depth at quarterback. The Tigers need to get through a Friday visit to Syracuse. Then they’ll have 15 days to get healthy before they start the toughest stretch of their schedule.

3. Penn State

The Nittany Lions rolled into their bye week with a 31–7 win at Northwestern. They can relax this week, and then they must prepare for the three-game stretch that could define their season and the Big Ten East title race. They get Michigan at home on Oct. 21. Then they face Ohio State and Michigan State on the road in consecutive weeks.

4. TCU

The Horned Frogs survived a visit from West Virginia that could potentially be the first of two TCU–West Virginia meetings in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex this season. Oklahoma’s loss to Iowa State throws the Big 12 into a serious state of uncertainty, but the Frogs are probably O.K. if they keep winning. I seriously considered putting Washington in this spot, but the Huskies’ soft non-conference schedule (which they control) and their backloaded Pac-12 schedule (which they don’t control) has left them with no quality wins at this point. If they keep playing the way they have, those quality wins will come, though. Then there will be a serious debate.

Big Ugly of the Week

This week’s honor goes to LSU center Will Clapp, who went down in the first half of Saturday’s win but came back after only one play to help lead a line that had to play three true freshmen (guard Ed Ingram and tackles Austin Deculus and Saahdiq Charles) for much of the game. “Just a little injury,” Clapp said with a grin.

Clapp kept the line steady in spite of the personnel fluctuation and helped LSU build a lead that Florida couldn’t overcome. And the experience can only make the freshmen who were forced into action that much better in the future. “They made freshman mistakes, but they didn’t back down from the challenge,” Clapp said. “I couldn’t be prouder of those three.”

Three and Out

1. While many of you were sleeping, two backs who should be seriously considered for the Heisman Trophy were working their magic.

Here’s San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who carried 27 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a 41–10 win at UNLV.

And here’s Stanford’s Bryce Love, who carried 20 times for 152 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinal’s 23–20 win at Utah. Love’s 7.6 yards per carry average on Saturday dropped his season average to only 10.5 yards a carry.

2. Western Michigan beat Buffalo 71–68 in seven overtimes on Saturday in a game that broke the NCAA record for highest combined score, but the game’s best moment came in the first overtime when Broncos tight end Donnie Ernsberger scored and his sister engaged in a solo field-storming.

3. Miami coach Mark Richt led the Hurricanes to their first win against Florida State since 2009 on Saturday. Afterward, Richt—a longtime offensive coordinator at Florida State under Bobby Bowden—noticed some of his players celebrating on the Seminoles’ logo at midfield. Richt didn’t let that celebration last long.

For Your Ears

In this episode, Patrick Meagher and I discuss why the Buyout Bus may be a little less crowded than we thought. Also, a College Football Playoff scenario involving Notre Dame that would be a nightmare for everyone but the SEC and one other league.

What’s Eating Andy?

Ole Miss officially posted its head football coach job opening last week. It requires work on “some evenings and weekends,” apparently. The last time the Rebels posted this job was 2011. I applied, laying out my plan to raise the program from the depths to which it had fallen at the tail end of the Houston Nutt era. I didn’t even get a call back, but judging by what happened, the Rebels liked some of my ideas a lot.

What’s Andy Eating?

For some reason, decades passed between this idea…

Hey, if I open a restaurant that has a bunch of TVs showing sports, lots of people will come to buy beer and food while watching sports.

… and this idea ...

If I serve food that actually tastes good at my restaurant that has a bunch of TVs showing sports, even more people might come. Maybe they’ll even come when there are no games to watch.

The second idea hasn’t reached every town in America, but it’s spreading quickly. And thank goodness for that. Just because I want to watch a game while I eat doesn’t mean I should have to be limited to Coors Light and wings purchased from the freezer section of the local wholesale club. The trend of sports bar/gastropubs—let’s call them sportstropubs—has broken the sports bar out of this rut, and those of us who love sports and food are happier for it.

If an aspiring restaurateur wanted to know how to create the perfect sportstropub, I’d just send that person to Tallahassee, Fla., to visit Madison Social. It is exactly what that genre should be. The rustic-meets-industrial vibe is hip but approachable. It’s more upscale than a Buffalo Wild Wings—because the target market is people who want something better than Buffalo Wild Wings—but it’s not too upscale. Its prices are reasonable, probably owing to the fact that it serves the area around Florida State and college students won’t frequent a place that wipes out their wallets. But most importantly, the food is excellent. It’s sports bar fare designed with an attention to detail most sports bars wouldn’t bother employing.

A typical sports bar would offer a bacon cheeseburger with beef, choice of cheese and bacon between two buns. It might try to jazz it up by putting barbecue sauce or onion strings on the burger. Madison Social offers the MadSo Burger. It has bacon, but it’s thick-sliced maple pepper bacon. It has onions, but they’re caramelized in whiskey. It has aged cheddar. It also has a piece of fried avocado, which I now believe should come as an option on every burger. This combination—which includes excellent fresh-cut fries—runs $12. That’s only $1.51 more than the equivalent Buffalo Wild Wings burger (the Big Jack Daddy, with pulled pork and onion rings atop the patty and just-O.K. fries) for a vastly superior experience.

Also, at Madison Social, dessert can be a real cocktail such as the Madison Mule (a Moscow Mule with cucumber and agave added) or a sweet treat. When I visited, I finished with the Cast Iron Cookie, a giant chocolate chip cookie baked in a small cast iron skillet and covered with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and whipped cream. This isn’t a complicated dish by any stretch, but the extra effort to bake it to order in the mini skillet to produce a warm cookie that pairs perfectly with ice cream is the difference between an average dessert and a wonderful one. Hopefully Madison Social keeps making this extra effort, because it makes all the difference.

After Tumultuous Week, Winning Is All That's Needed to Stabilize Ed Orgeron and LSU

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — LSU coach Ed Orgeron sweated through his postgame interview, but not because of the questions. They were simple compared to the Gordian knots he’d been asked to untangle the previous two weeks. The moisture poured from Orgeron because Florida’s football program had somehow managed to create a room more humid than the actual swamps a few miles away and the figurative Swamp on the other side of the wall. When Orgeron finished talking, he wiped his brow and walked out into the cool evening breeze. A bear hug stopped him.

“How about that?” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva yelled as he embraced the football coach he hired last November after firing Les Miles two months earlier.

LSU’s 17–16 win meant so much for these two. Alleva tried to be the people’s AD last year when Hurricane Matthew forced the Florida game to be postponed, but he botched a game of chicken against outgoing Florida AD Jeremy Foley and wound up staring down two consecutive years in Gainesville after the Gators came into Baton Rouge and won in November. Alleva did the will of the people again that month when he hired Orgeron permanently, but he gave him a massive buyout that wasn’t necessary to lure him to the job. That became a major talking point after Orgeron’s Tigers got whipped by Mississippi State on Sept. 16 and after Orgeron broke a campaign promise with a move that wound up getting LSU beat by Troy on Homecoming. Orgeron and Alleva had tied themselves together, and while Alleva would go first—Orgeron would be safer longer thanks to that buyout Alleva gave him—they would both eventually get run out of their jobs if they couldn’t engineer a turnaround.

So last week, everyone met. Players and coaches. Players and players. Alleva and Orgeron and the coordinators. Air was cleared and ground rules were set. “I’ve never been on a team that had so many meetings,” linebacker Devin White said. “But it was well worth it.” The older players impressed upon the younger ones that practices needed to be more intense. Orgeron impressed upon the coordinators that he wouldn’t do what he did a week earlier when he asked offensive coordinator Matt Canada to cut out the pre-snap motion and shifts that make his offense what it is. That decision, which called back to Orgeron’s disastrous tenure as the Ole Miss coach from 2005 to ’07, led to zero points in the first half against Troy. At halftime, Orgeron realized he’d made a mistake. It didn’t save the Tigers from an embarrassing loss, but it might have kept one loss from becoming two.

Saturday might have been the first step out of danger and toward a brighter tomorrow. Or it might have been a mirage. After all, it was a one-point win where the margin was provided by a missed extra point from a kicker who had never missed one. It came on a day when LSU’s offensive coaches basically admitted by their play selection that the Tigers couldn’t throw the ball against a competent defense. But it happened nonetheless, and sometimes all it takes is one win to make a team believe. If the LSU defense hadn’t stuffed the Gators on three consecutive fourth-quarter drives (24 yards allowed on 13 plays) and Florida had squeezed off just one fourth-quarter field goal, the sky might still be falling in Baton Rouge.

But it isn’t.

LSU’s defense did come through. LSU’s offense did just enough, even though quarterback Danny Etling struggled to throw and the line included as many as three true freshmen at times. Tailback Derrius Guice, limited by a knee injury much of the season, looked more comfortable as the game wore on. Defensive end Rashard Lawrence, who fought through an ankle injury, helped lead a group that now has 20 sacks through six games. The challenge grows on Saturday when LSU gets a visit from an Auburn team that shredded the SEC’s Mississippi schools in consecutive weeks, but LSU’s players see a path to the kind of improvement that will make them competitive in the SEC.

To win this week, LSU defenders will have to extend their fourth-quarter performance in Gainesville for another four quarters. Florida pounded the Tigers on the ground for 112 yards on two third-quarter touchdown drives, but LSU’s defense responded in the fourth. White, who led LSU with 13 tackles, said he blocked out the negativity all week. Sort of. “I saw Tim Tebow say that Troy’s linebackers were better than ours,” he said. “I took offense to it.” That noise would only get louder if the defense buckled one more time against the Gators. Instead, White found himself leaping as Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks’s final pass hung in the air. White had ripped Franks when he decommitted from LSU and flipped to Florida in 2015. “I just wanted to back all those words up,” White said. “I know that at the end of the day he was saying, ‘I want to make him eat those words.’” White knocked down the pass, backing up his criticism and ending the threat.

For seniors such as defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, the win meant this group of veterans had not let the locker room get away from them. They had demanded more during the week, and they had gotten it from everyone. They just had to fight through the fatigue and secure the victory to prove what they wanted would work. LaCouture loved the fact that the defense needed to finish out the Gators. “It gives you this type of buzz,” he said of the final possessions. And after? “It’s probably the best feeling I’ve had in a long time,” he said.

The same went for Orgeron, who isn’t in any real danger of getting fired this season barring complete disaster. Though Orgeron was—and is—relatively safe, he heard the chatter. He knows one of the nation’s most demanding fan bases can turn quickly if the Tigers don’t play to a high standard. He knew he couldn’t protect his players or assistants from the noise. They had all brought it upon themselves. “I know what happens when they go home,” Orgeron said. “It’s tough for everybody.”

The only way to quiet the criticism was to win. The only way to keep it from coming back is to keep winning. This is the simple reality, and Orgeron understands that when it comes to his dream job, pressure is part of the benefits package. “Every day I’m a Tiger is going to be a great time,” he said. “This is a wonderful place to coach. Although it’s been a rough week, I can’t have a bad day as long as I’m the head coach at LSU. I refuse to have one.”

Some days are better than others, though. Saturday was one of them. The pressure will return this week, but as Orgeron and wife Kelly walked hand-in-hand toward LSU’s bus, it still felt like a dream come true.

FELDMAN: Top 10 shaken up after Week 6 | Five leading Heisman candidates

A Random Ranking

Tom Petty died last week at age 66. These are my top 10 Petty songs. Your list may differ wildly, which is a testament to just how many great songs he and the Heartbreakers made.

1. “Learning to Fly”*

2. “Free Fallin’”

3. “The Waiting”

4. “American Girl”

5. “Even The Losers”

6. “I Won’t Back Down”

7. “Southern Accents”

8. “Don’t Do Me Like That”

9. “Walls (No. 3)”

10. “Breakdown”

*This wasn’t my favorite until I saw Petty live in Gainesville in September 2006. This stripped down arrangement—mostly acoustic guitar, piano and Stevie Nicks helping sing backup—is one of my favorite musical memories. The embedded clip is that performance.

Projected Playoff

1. Alabama

Nick Saban is mad that media members pointed out the fact that the Crimson Tide beat Vanderbilt and Ole Miss by a combined score of 125–3. Fortunately for Saban, he’ll have a lot more teachable tape after a 27–19 win at Texas A&M. Alabama’s toughest game of the year so far did expose a few weaknesses for the Crimson Tide, but more than anything it should give Aggies fans a reason to be excited about what freshman quarterback Kellen Mond can become. And if any Heisman Trophy voters were watching, hopefully they noted that Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick might be the best pure football player in college right now.

?

2. Clemson

The ankle injury quarterback Kelly Bryant suffered in a 28–14 win against Wake Forest is cause for concern, but Clemson has depth at quarterback. The Tigers need to get through a Friday visit to Syracuse. Then they’ll have 15 days to get healthy before they start the toughest stretch of their schedule.

3. Penn State

The Nittany Lions rolled into their bye week with a 31–7 win at Northwestern. They can relax this week, and then they must prepare for the three-game stretch that could define their season and the Big Ten East title race. They get Michigan at home on Oct. 21. Then they face Ohio State and Michigan State on the road in consecutive weeks.

4. TCU

The Horned Frogs survived a visit from West Virginia that could potentially be the first of two TCU–West Virginia meetings in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex this season. Oklahoma’s loss to Iowa State throws the Big 12 into a serious state of uncertainty, but the Frogs are probably O.K. if they keep winning. I seriously considered putting Washington in this spot, but the Huskies’ soft non-conference schedule (which they control) and their backloaded Pac-12 schedule (which they don’t control) has left them with no quality wins at this point. If they keep playing the way they have, those quality wins will come, though. Then there will be a serious debate.

Big Ugly of the Week

This week’s honor goes to LSU center Will Clapp, who went down in the first half of Saturday’s win but came back after only one play to help lead a line that had to play three true freshmen (guard Ed Ingram and tackles Austin Deculus and Saahdiq Charles) for much of the game. “Just a little injury,” Clapp said with a grin.

Clapp kept the line steady in spite of the personnel fluctuation and helped LSU build a lead that Florida couldn’t overcome. And the experience can only make the freshmen who were forced into action that much better in the future. “They made freshman mistakes, but they didn’t back down from the challenge,” Clapp said. “I couldn’t be prouder of those three.”

Three and Out

1. While many of you were sleeping, two backs who should be seriously considered for the Heisman Trophy were working their magic.

Here’s San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who carried 27 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a 41–10 win at UNLV.

And here’s Stanford’s Bryce Love, who carried 20 times for 152 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinal’s 23–20 win at Utah. Love’s 7.6 yards per carry average on Saturday dropped his season average to only 10.5 yards a carry.

2. Western Michigan beat Buffalo 71–68 in seven overtimes on Saturday in a game that broke the NCAA record for highest combined score, but the game’s best moment came in the first overtime when Broncos tight end Donnie Ernsberger scored and his sister engaged in a solo field-storming.

3. Miami coach Mark Richt led the Hurricanes to their first win against Florida State since 2009 on Saturday. Afterward, Richt—a longtime offensive coordinator at Florida State under Bobby Bowden—noticed some of his players celebrating on the Seminoles’ logo at midfield. Richt didn’t let that celebration last long.

For Your Ears

In this episode, Patrick Meagher and I discuss why the Buyout Bus may be a little less crowded than we thought. Also, a College Football Playoff scenario involving Notre Dame that would be a nightmare for everyone but the SEC and one other league.

What’s Eating Andy?

Ole Miss officially posted its head football coach job opening last week. It requires work on “some evenings and weekends,” apparently. The last time the Rebels posted this job was 2011. I applied, laying out my plan to raise the program from the depths to which it had fallen at the tail end of the Houston Nutt era. I didn’t even get a call back, but judging by what happened, the Rebels liked some of my ideas a lot.

What’s Andy Eating?

For some reason, decades passed between this idea…

Hey, if I open a restaurant that has a bunch of TVs showing sports, lots of people will come to buy beer and food while watching sports.

… and this idea ...

If I serve food that actually tastes good at my restaurant that has a bunch of TVs showing sports, even more people might come. Maybe they’ll even come when there are no games to watch.

The second idea hasn’t reached every town in America, but it’s spreading quickly. And thank goodness for that. Just because I want to watch a game while I eat doesn’t mean I should have to be limited to Coors Light and wings purchased from the freezer section of the local wholesale club. The trend of sports bar/gastropubs—let’s call them sportstropubs—has broken the sports bar out of this rut, and those of us who love sports and food are happier for it.

If an aspiring restaurateur wanted to know how to create the perfect sportstropub, I’d just send that person to Tallahassee, Fla., to visit Madison Social. It is exactly what that genre should be. The rustic-meets-industrial vibe is hip but approachable. It’s more upscale than a Buffalo Wild Wings—because the target market is people who want something better than Buffalo Wild Wings—but it’s not too upscale. Its prices are reasonable, probably owing to the fact that it serves the area around Florida State and college students won’t frequent a place that wipes out their wallets. But most importantly, the food is excellent. It’s sports bar fare designed with an attention to detail most sports bars wouldn’t bother employing.

A typical sports bar would offer a bacon cheeseburger with beef, choice of cheese and bacon between two buns. It might try to jazz it up by putting barbecue sauce or onion strings on the burger. Madison Social offers the MadSo Burger. It has bacon, but it’s thick-sliced maple pepper bacon. It has onions, but they’re caramelized in whiskey. It has aged cheddar. It also has a piece of fried avocado, which I now believe should come as an option on every burger. This combination—which includes excellent fresh-cut fries—runs $12. That’s only $1.51 more than the equivalent Buffalo Wild Wings burger (the Big Jack Daddy, with pulled pork and onion rings atop the patty and just-O.K. fries) for a vastly superior experience.

Also, at Madison Social, dessert can be a real cocktail such as the Madison Mule (a Moscow Mule with cucumber and agave added) or a sweet treat. When I visited, I finished with the Cast Iron Cookie, a giant chocolate chip cookie baked in a small cast iron skillet and covered with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and whipped cream. This isn’t a complicated dish by any stretch, but the extra effort to bake it to order in the mini skillet to produce a warm cookie that pairs perfectly with ice cream is the difference between an average dessert and a wonderful one. Hopefully Madison Social keeps making this extra effort, because it makes all the difference.

After Tumultuous Week, Winning Is All That's Needed to Stabilize Ed Orgeron and LSU

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — LSU coach Ed Orgeron sweated through his postgame interview, but not because of the questions. They were simple compared to the Gordian knots he’d been asked to untangle the previous two weeks. The moisture poured from Orgeron because Florida’s football program had somehow managed to create a room more humid than the actual swamps a few miles away and the figurative Swamp on the other side of the wall. When Orgeron finished talking, he wiped his brow and walked out into the cool evening breeze. A bear hug stopped him.

“How about that?” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva yelled as he embraced the football coach he hired last November after firing Les Miles two months earlier.

LSU’s 17–16 win meant so much for these two. Alleva tried to be the people’s AD last year when Hurricane Matthew forced the Florida game to be postponed, but he botched a game of chicken against outgoing Florida AD Jeremy Foley and wound up staring down two consecutive years in Gainesville after the Gators came into Baton Rouge and won in November. Alleva did the will of the people again that month when he hired Orgeron permanently, but he gave him a massive buyout that wasn’t necessary to lure him to the job. That became a major talking point after Orgeron’s Tigers got whipped by Mississippi State on Sept. 16 and after Orgeron broke a campaign promise with a move that wound up getting LSU beat by Troy on Homecoming. Orgeron and Alleva had tied themselves together, and while Alleva would go first—Orgeron would be safer longer thanks to that buyout Alleva gave him—they would both eventually get run out of their jobs if they couldn’t engineer a turnaround.

So last week, everyone met. Players and coaches. Players and players. Alleva and Orgeron and the coordinators. Air was cleared and ground rules were set. “I’ve never been on a team that had so many meetings,” linebacker Devin White said. “But it was well worth it.” The older players impressed upon the younger ones that practices needed to be more intense. Orgeron impressed upon the coordinators that he wouldn’t do what he did a week earlier when he asked offensive coordinator Matt Canada to cut out the pre-snap motion and shifts that make his offense what it is. That decision, which called back to Orgeron’s disastrous tenure as the Ole Miss coach from 2005 to ’07, led to zero points in the first half against Troy. At halftime, Orgeron realized he’d made a mistake. It didn’t save the Tigers from an embarrassing loss, but it might have kept one loss from becoming two.

Saturday might have been the first step out of danger and toward a brighter tomorrow. Or it might have been a mirage. After all, it was a one-point win where the margin was provided by a missed extra point from a kicker who had never missed one. It came on a day when LSU’s offensive coaches basically admitted by their play selection that the Tigers couldn’t throw the ball against a competent defense. But it happened nonetheless, and sometimes all it takes is one win to make a team believe. If the LSU defense hadn’t stuffed the Gators on three consecutive fourth-quarter drives (24 yards allowed on 13 plays) and Florida had squeezed off just one fourth-quarter field goal, the sky might still be falling in Baton Rouge.

But it isn’t.

LSU’s defense did come through. LSU’s offense did just enough, even though quarterback Danny Etling struggled to throw and the line included as many as three true freshmen at times. Tailback Derrius Guice, limited by a knee injury much of the season, looked more comfortable as the game wore on. Defensive end Rashard Lawrence, who fought through an ankle injury, helped lead a group that now has 20 sacks through six games. The challenge grows on Saturday when LSU gets a visit from an Auburn team that shredded the SEC’s Mississippi schools in consecutive weeks, but LSU’s players see a path to the kind of improvement that will make them competitive in the SEC.

To win this week, LSU defenders will have to extend their fourth-quarter performance in Gainesville for another four quarters. Florida pounded the Tigers on the ground for 112 yards on two third-quarter touchdown drives, but LSU’s defense responded in the fourth. White, who led LSU with 13 tackles, said he blocked out the negativity all week. Sort of. “I saw Tim Tebow say that Troy’s linebackers were better than ours,” he said. “I took offense to it.” That noise would only get louder if the defense buckled one more time against the Gators. Instead, White found himself leaping as Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks’s final pass hung in the air. White had ripped Franks when he decommitted from LSU and flipped to Florida in 2015. “I just wanted to back all those words up,” White said. “I know that at the end of the day he was saying, ‘I want to make him eat those words.’” White knocked down the pass, backing up his criticism and ending the threat.

For seniors such as defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, the win meant this group of veterans had not let the locker room get away from them. They had demanded more during the week, and they had gotten it from everyone. They just had to fight through the fatigue and secure the victory to prove what they wanted would work. LaCouture loved the fact that the defense needed to finish out the Gators. “It gives you this type of buzz,” he said of the final possessions. And after? “It’s probably the best feeling I’ve had in a long time,” he said.

The same went for Orgeron, who isn’t in any real danger of getting fired this season barring complete disaster. Though Orgeron was—and is—relatively safe, he heard the chatter. He knows one of the nation’s most demanding fan bases can turn quickly if the Tigers don’t play to a high standard. He knew he couldn’t protect his players or assistants from the noise. They had all brought it upon themselves. “I know what happens when they go home,” Orgeron said. “It’s tough for everybody.”

The only way to quiet the criticism was to win. The only way to keep it from coming back is to keep winning. This is the simple reality, and Orgeron understands that when it comes to his dream job, pressure is part of the benefits package. “Every day I’m a Tiger is going to be a great time,” he said. “This is a wonderful place to coach. Although it’s been a rough week, I can’t have a bad day as long as I’m the head coach at LSU. I refuse to have one.”

Some days are better than others, though. Saturday was one of them. The pressure will return this week, but as Orgeron and wife Kelly walked hand-in-hand toward LSU’s bus, it still felt like a dream come true.

FELDMAN: Top 10 shaken up after Week 6 | Five leading Heisman candidates

A Random Ranking

Tom Petty died last week at age 66. These are my top 10 Petty songs. Your list may differ wildly, which is a testament to just how many great songs he and the Heartbreakers made.

1. “Learning to Fly”*

2. “Free Fallin’”

3. “The Waiting”

4. “American Girl”

5. “Even The Losers”

6. “I Won’t Back Down”

7. “Southern Accents”

8. “Don’t Do Me Like That”

9. “Walls (No. 3)”

10. “Breakdown”

*This wasn’t my favorite until I saw Petty live in Gainesville in September 2006. This stripped down arrangement—mostly acoustic guitar, piano and Stevie Nicks helping sing backup—is one of my favorite musical memories. The embedded clip is that performance.

Projected Playoff

1. Alabama

Nick Saban is mad that media members pointed out the fact that the Crimson Tide beat Vanderbilt and Ole Miss by a combined score of 125–3. Fortunately for Saban, he’ll have a lot more teachable tape after a 27–19 win at Texas A&M. Alabama’s toughest game of the year so far did expose a few weaknesses for the Crimson Tide, but more than anything it should give Aggies fans a reason to be excited about what freshman quarterback Kellen Mond can become. And if any Heisman Trophy voters were watching, hopefully they noted that Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick might be the best pure football player in college right now.

?

2. Clemson

The ankle injury quarterback Kelly Bryant suffered in a 28–14 win against Wake Forest is cause for concern, but Clemson has depth at quarterback. The Tigers need to get through a Friday visit to Syracuse. Then they’ll have 15 days to get healthy before they start the toughest stretch of their schedule.

3. Penn State

The Nittany Lions rolled into their bye week with a 31–7 win at Northwestern. They can relax this week, and then they must prepare for the three-game stretch that could define their season and the Big Ten East title race. They get Michigan at home on Oct. 21. Then they face Ohio State and Michigan State on the road in consecutive weeks.

4. TCU

The Horned Frogs survived a visit from West Virginia that could potentially be the first of two TCU–West Virginia meetings in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex this season. Oklahoma’s loss to Iowa State throws the Big 12 into a serious state of uncertainty, but the Frogs are probably O.K. if they keep winning. I seriously considered putting Washington in this spot, but the Huskies’ soft non-conference schedule (which they control) and their backloaded Pac-12 schedule (which they don’t control) has left them with no quality wins at this point. If they keep playing the way they have, those quality wins will come, though. Then there will be a serious debate.

Big Ugly of the Week

This week’s honor goes to LSU center Will Clapp, who went down in the first half of Saturday’s win but came back after only one play to help lead a line that had to play three true freshmen (guard Ed Ingram and tackles Austin Deculus and Saahdiq Charles) for much of the game. “Just a little injury,” Clapp said with a grin.

Clapp kept the line steady in spite of the personnel fluctuation and helped LSU build a lead that Florida couldn’t overcome. And the experience can only make the freshmen who were forced into action that much better in the future. “They made freshman mistakes, but they didn’t back down from the challenge,” Clapp said. “I couldn’t be prouder of those three.”

Three and Out

1. While many of you were sleeping, two backs who should be seriously considered for the Heisman Trophy were working their magic.

Here’s San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who carried 27 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a 41–10 win at UNLV.

And here’s Stanford’s Bryce Love, who carried 20 times for 152 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinal’s 23–20 win at Utah. Love’s 7.6 yards per carry average on Saturday dropped his season average to only 10.5 yards a carry.

2. Western Michigan beat Buffalo 71–68 in seven overtimes on Saturday in a game that broke the NCAA record for highest combined score, but the game’s best moment came in the first overtime when Broncos tight end Donnie Ernsberger scored and his sister engaged in a solo field-storming.

3. Miami coach Mark Richt led the Hurricanes to their first win against Florida State since 2009 on Saturday. Afterward, Richt—a longtime offensive coordinator at Florida State under Bobby Bowden—noticed some of his players celebrating on the Seminoles’ logo at midfield. Richt didn’t let that celebration last long.

For Your Ears

In this episode, Patrick Meagher and I discuss why the Buyout Bus may be a little less crowded than we thought. Also, a College Football Playoff scenario involving Notre Dame that would be a nightmare for everyone but the SEC and one other league.

What’s Eating Andy?

Ole Miss officially posted its head football coach job opening last week. It requires work on “some evenings and weekends,” apparently. The last time the Rebels posted this job was 2011. I applied, laying out my plan to raise the program from the depths to which it had fallen at the tail end of the Houston Nutt era. I didn’t even get a call back, but judging by what happened, the Rebels liked some of my ideas a lot.

What’s Andy Eating?

For some reason, decades passed between this idea…

Hey, if I open a restaurant that has a bunch of TVs showing sports, lots of people will come to buy beer and food while watching sports.

… and this idea ...

If I serve food that actually tastes good at my restaurant that has a bunch of TVs showing sports, even more people might come. Maybe they’ll even come when there are no games to watch.

The second idea hasn’t reached every town in America, but it’s spreading quickly. And thank goodness for that. Just because I want to watch a game while I eat doesn’t mean I should have to be limited to Coors Light and wings purchased from the freezer section of the local wholesale club. The trend of sports bar/gastropubs—let’s call them sportstropubs—has broken the sports bar out of this rut, and those of us who love sports and food are happier for it.

If an aspiring restaurateur wanted to know how to create the perfect sportstropub, I’d just send that person to Tallahassee, Fla., to visit Madison Social. It is exactly what that genre should be. The rustic-meets-industrial vibe is hip but approachable. It’s more upscale than a Buffalo Wild Wings—because the target market is people who want something better than Buffalo Wild Wings—but it’s not too upscale. Its prices are reasonable, probably owing to the fact that it serves the area around Florida State and college students won’t frequent a place that wipes out their wallets. But most importantly, the food is excellent. It’s sports bar fare designed with an attention to detail most sports bars wouldn’t bother employing.

A typical sports bar would offer a bacon cheeseburger with beef, choice of cheese and bacon between two buns. It might try to jazz it up by putting barbecue sauce or onion strings on the burger. Madison Social offers the MadSo Burger. It has bacon, but it’s thick-sliced maple pepper bacon. It has onions, but they’re caramelized in whiskey. It has aged cheddar. It also has a piece of fried avocado, which I now believe should come as an option on every burger. This combination—which includes excellent fresh-cut fries—runs $12. That’s only $1.51 more than the equivalent Buffalo Wild Wings burger (the Big Jack Daddy, with pulled pork and onion rings atop the patty and just-O.K. fries) for a vastly superior experience.

Also, at Madison Social, dessert can be a real cocktail such as the Madison Mule (a Moscow Mule with cucumber and agave added) or a sweet treat. When I visited, I finished with the Cast Iron Cookie, a giant chocolate chip cookie baked in a small cast iron skillet and covered with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and whipped cream. This isn’t a complicated dish by any stretch, but the extra effort to bake it to order in the mini skillet to produce a warm cookie that pairs perfectly with ice cream is the difference between an average dessert and a wonderful one. Hopefully Madison Social keeps making this extra effort, because it makes all the difference.

LSU Sheds 'Soft' Label Long Enough to Hold Off Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — LSU and its first-year coach badly needed a win. The Tigers almost gave it away, but their defense stood tall at the end. Here are three thoughts from LSU’s 17-16 win Saturday against Florida.

1. It felt like a moment of truth for Ed Orgeron and his team. The LSU coach, whose physique, voice and mannerisms scream TOUGH, had put a soft team on the field since he was promoted from interim to full-time head coach. Finally, the Tigers had a chance to prove they aren’t the team that got walloped by Mississippi State and pushed around by Troy.

Facing fourth-and-three against an offense that had gashed them on the ground for an entire half and nursing a one-point lead thanks to a first-time missed PAT by a reliable kicker, the Tigers waited for the snap. If Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks handed off, the drive might continue. After all, the Gators had fought back thanks to two third-quarter touchdown drives led by the trio of Lamical Perine, Malik Davis and Kadarius Toney, who combined for 112 yards on 14 carries on those possessions. But it was fourth down, mostly thanks to the fact that LSU’s Donte Jackson had made Franks rush a throw on the previous down. Running might be too risky.

Franks took the snap and dropped back. The Tigers’ line surged. Franks let it fly. In the middle of the field, LSU linebacker Devin White swatted it down. The Tigers would run out the clock and survive. They would leave The Swamp with a 17-16 win. When they had needed to bow up Saturday, they had.

That, among a few other factors, was the good news for LSU.

The win will make the bad news—such as the possibility that LSU isn’t capable of throwing the ball against a competent defense—much easier to take. Plus, the win can be a building block for improvement in the future. Of course, if LSU plans to keep winning, that improvement must come quickly.

Auburn, which has beaten Mississippi State and Ole Miss by a combined score of 93-33 in its past two games, is headed to Tiger Stadium next week.

2. For Florida, the loss feels like a regression to the mean. The Gators escaped with close wins against Tennessee and Kentucky, but they didn’t seem appreciably better than either team. On Saturday, LSU didn’t seem appreciably better than Florida, but the Tigers came out on top.

Eddy Pineiro’s wide left extra point, his first miss in 48 tries as a Gator, wound up providing the margin of defeat. The loss is not the fault of Pineiro, though. Florida could not get out of its own way even after discovering an offensive formula that worked.

Florida’s extended quarterback competition ended last week when Luke Del Rio was lost for the season with a broken collarbone. That left redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks as the only viable starter. It didn’t really matter who played quarterback for Florida on Saturday, though. By the third quarter, the Gators discovered that their best chance to move the ball was on the ground. They were gashing the Tigers with Perine and Davis out of the backfield and Toney as a wildcat quarterback. Those three helped the Gators turn a 17-3 game into a 17-16 game, but Florida could get no closer.

A holding penalty got the Gators behind the sticks on one drive. An incomplete pass got them behind the sticks on the next one. A false start on first down was the culprit on the final drive.

Saturday felt like the opposite of the rest of the season for the Gators. For once, they seemed to hit upon a reliable offensive formula. But this time, they didn’t win the game.

3. Orgeron admitted last week that he had asked offensive coordinator Matt Canada to cut down on some of the pre-snap shifts and motion that define his scheme. Later, LSU players would admit that they were running some plays that the Tigers ran last year—when Canada was the offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh. The result of that change was a 10-0 halftime deficit against Troy. Orgeron told Canada to run the full offense at halftime, but it was too late. The Tigers floundered to a 24-21 Homecoming loss to a Sun Belt Conference team.

Orgeron’s decision to truncate the offense violated one of the key promises he made while campaigning for the full-time job while he was the interim coach last season following the firing of Les Miles. Orgeron said then that one of the reasons he had failed as the Ole Miss coach from 2005-07 was a micromanaging style that suffocated his assistants. He said if he got the full-time job, he would hire good coordinators and let them do their jobs. After multiple meetings this week — players and coaches, coaches and coaches, players only and athletic director Joe Alleva with Orgeron and his coordinators — it was decided that Orgeron would do that from this week forward.

Saturday, the Tigers ran the full Canada offense from the start. Multiple players—including offensive linemen on occasion—shifted before nearly every play, and those shifts provided a few early opportunities to gain big yardage on jet sweeps. LSU scored its first touchdown on such a sweep. After LSU had run several sweeps to the right, quarterback Danny Etling handed to receiver Russell Gage, who was running toward the left sideline while the rest of LSU’s team blocked what appeared to be another run to the right. Florida’s entire defense followed the play action and Gage coasted in for a 30-yard score.

The Tigers continued using the offense the rest of the day, but their success dwindled as Florida’s defense figured out the sweeps and came to the realization that LSU wouldn’t throw unless absolutely necessary. Etling is not the quarterback Canada had last year at Pittsburgh in Nathan Peterman. That’s quite obvious. But Canada’s task this week is finding some way to make Etling comfortable throwing the ball so Auburn doesn’t shove 10 defenders in the box next week.

How to Watch Auburn vs. Ole Miss: Live Stream, TV Channel, Time

Auburn hosts Ole Miss on Saturday in their yearly SEC West matchup.

The No. 12 Tigers are 4-1 and coming off a blowout win over Mississippi State. In the 49-10 victory that lifted Auburn to 2-0 in conference play, quarterback Jarrett Stidham went 13-of-16 for 264 yards and a pair of touchdowns while running back Kerryon Johnson ran for 116 yards and three scores. In five games, Auburn's defense has not allowed more than 14 points in any game.

The Rebels are 2-2 and looking to pick up their first SEC win of the season. Last week, Ole Miss suffered a pummeling at the hands of Alabama as the Rebels failed to convert on third or fourth down in the 66-3 loss. After two blowout victories in which the team scored at least 45 points in each, Ole Miss has now lost two straight games and has combined for just 19 points in the losses.

Last year when these two teams met in Oxford, Miss., Auburn came away with a 40-29 win.

How to Watch

Time: Noon ET

TV channel: SEC Network

Live stream: The game can be watched online here.

Next Three Games

Auburn: at LSU (10/14), at Arkansas (10/21), at Texas A&M (11/4)

Ole Miss: vs. Vanderbilt (10/14), vs. LSU (10/21), vs. Arkansas (10/28)

The Pressure Gauge: Sam Darnold Among Those Feeling the Heat in Week 6

Going into the season, USC quarterback Sam Darnold was the hottest name in college football after his insane performance in the Rose Bowl, when he threw for 453 yards and five touchdowns in the Trojans’ win over Penn State. The sophomore entered 2017 as one of the favorites to win the Heisman trophy, but six weeks into the year, his stock has fallen. USC, which started the season 4–0, did plenty to compensate for its quarterback’s inconsistent performance early, but after it suffered its first loss last Friday to Washington State, the onslaught of criticism arrived.

At face value, it’s warranted. Against the Cougars, Darnold completed just 51.7% of his passes, a mark that ties the season low he first hit in the Trojans’ double-overtime win over Texas on Sept. 16. In addition, he threw an interception, and despite rushing for two scores, he didn’t complete a touchdown pass. It was Darnold’s worst outing of 2017, but it’s not as if the game represented some sort of dramatic about-face. Instead, it was just a low point of an already shaky season.

The most alarming thing about Darnold’s performance thus far has been his ratio of touchdowns to interceptions; he’s thrown just one fewer pick (eight) than he has touchdown pass (nine). Still, the kid is talented, and it’s not as if the player he was last season has up and vanished. Instead, teams are familiar with him, and he’s been prone to turnovers, and he’ll course-correct eventually. Still, USC’s playoff hopes rest largely on Darnold being the player he was in the Rose Bowl, and if he wants to keep his name in the Heisman race, he’d better turn things around quickly.

This weekend’s game against Oregon State will provide just that opportunity. The Beavers are among the worst teams in the Pac-12, and their defense can be downright horrible. That level of competition might be just what Darnold needs to hit his stride again, and if he can go out and throw for a handful of touchdowns and, say, 350 yards, he’ll get the shot of confidence he needs. That said, if he continues to be so turnover-happy against Oregon State—even in a USC win—the criticism will ring even truer.

Kevin Sumlin: The Aggies coach should be riding (relatively) high after his team won its fourth straight game on Saturday. But such early-season streaks aren’t exactly a thing of novelty in College Station—Texas A&M has gone at least 5–0 in each of its past three seasons, all of which saw eventual 8–5 finishes—and October and November could be make-or-break months for the coach whose seat seems perpetually hot. Saturday’s matchup against Alabama marks the beginning of a four-game streak in which the Aggies face the Crimson Tide, then Florida, Mississippi State and Auburn, all of which are or have been ranked this season. Is it reasonable to predict a Texas A&M win Saturday? Absolutely not. But Sumlin’s team needs to at least threaten Alabama to set the tone for a strong midseason run, something it hasn’t been able to do since the Johnny Manziel days.

Feleipe Franks: The redshirt freshman will be back under center for Florida against LSU after Luke Del Rio broke his collarbone—ending his season—against Vanderbilt last week. Franks opened the year as Florida’s starter but was relieved of those duties after a shaky start to the year, although it’s possible to argue that the Gators’ offensive woes go far beyond their quarterback. Regardless, coach Jim McElwain seemed quick to pull the trigger on a change after Week 4, when Florida barely edged Kentucky, but Franks’s time on the bench was short-lived. After Del Rio’s injury, he quarterbacked the Gators in the second half of last Saturday’s win, and he went 10 of 14 for 185 yards as the Gators outscored the Commdores 21–7 over the game’s final two quarters.

Florida still has Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire—who many assumed would start this fall—waiting in the wings, and Franks may not have the longest leash. He certainly didn’t earlier in the year. Still, Florida has yet to find a coherent plan on offense, but if Franks can stabilize the Gators’ attack, he’ll get a ton of credit come season’s end.

Bryce Love: The speedy Stanford running back is coming off a September in which he ran for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns. Through five games, he’s averaging an impressive 11.1 yards per carry, and after rushing for 301 yards and three touchdowns last week against Arizona State, he’s firmly established himself in the Heisman conversation. Relatively unknown outside the Pac-12 before the season, Love is becoming a household name, but for him to keep his name among college football’s best, he’ll have to keep up his frenetic pace against Utah’s athletic front seven—and pull the Cardinal along with him.

Florida State: The Seminoles came close to entering October winless, but thanks to a late touchdown they edged Wake Forest on Saturday, 26–19. Now, No. 13 Miami comes to town, and though Florida State’s playoff hopes are close to nil, it still has a reputation to uphold. Beating a ranked team would go a long way toward setting the Seminoles on a path to respectability and confirming what many people believe: that this is a team better than its bizarre early record.

FILE - In this Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) walks the sidelines towards the end of their 49-10 loss to Auburn in an NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala. Mississippi State has a chance to regroup during its bye week after back-to-back losses to Georgia and Auburn. The Bulldogs need better play from just about everyone, including Fitzgerald (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

FILE - In this Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, second from right, reacts after an offsides penalty was called during the second half of their 49-10 loss to Auburn in an NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala. Mississippi State has a chance to regroup during its bye week after back-to-back losses to Georgia and Auburn. The Bulldogs need better play from just about everyone, including Fitzgerald (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

How Will the Early Signing Period Affect Who Gets Fired and When?

As we get closer to the first spin of the coaching carousel, a rule change enacted this spring is adding some drama…

From Paul: Will the new early signing period make schools more likely to fire coaches in season?

Athletic directors already routinely fire coaches in season. The operative question here is whether the new mid-December signing period for high school players will cause ADs to fire coaches earlier in the season than usual. Will they go the other direction, waiting to pull the trigger until the last possible moment?

I explored this in a column about the choice Tennessee athletic director John Currie faces with Butch Jones, but this circumstance is not unique to Tennessee. Every program that might change coaches this year is a guinea pig. There is no consensus among the athletic directors I’ve spoken to about the best way to handle this situation, but I can make a case for two different philosophies.

Fire Him Earlier

If the entire world already knows you’re going to make a coaching change and your recruiting for the class of 2018 is average to poor, fire the current coach as early as possible and get your ducks in a row so that you can bring the new guy aboard the morning after his last game and get him recruiting that afternoon. The AD will have more than a month to vet candidates and assess interest. That way, when the season ends, the AD can conduct an in-person interview with the top choice and—if all works out—the deal is done with more than two weeks before the signing period begins.

Chances are the new coach isn’t going to want some of the recruits the old coach had committed. This gives the new coach a chance to do the right thing by those high schoolers and give them two months to find a new school. (Remember, players can still sign in February as well.) This feels like the tack most struggling programs looking to make a change will take.

Fire Him At The Last Possible Moment

For programs with good recruiting classes—and this is where Tennessee falls—it might make more sense to keep the window between the firing of the current coach and the hiring of the new coach as tight as possible. Though Texas didn’t have a great recruiting class last November, the Longhorns did keep that window tight. The time elapsed between the official firing of Charlie Strong and the official hiring of Tom Herman was less than seven hours. That doesn’t give rival coaches much time to raid the class.

Of course, if a team just lost by—let’s just throw out a number here—41 points to a division rival in a must-win game, then rival coaches are already smelling blood and tugging at those committed recruits. If that good class is the reason the AD is waiting and that good class starts falling apart, then there is no sense in waiting.

From @jclowers5: Why in the world is Butch Jones still employed by Tennessee? [Answer linked here, and in the video atop this story.]

From @tyfeddy: Why all the UGA love? Isn’t it possible Tennessee and Mississippi State aren’t that good?

It’s possible, but it’s also likely that Georgia has a dominant defense and is the best team in the SEC East (whatever that means). Remember, Georgia also has a road win against Notre Dame that looks better every time the Fighting Irish take the field.

I’m with Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason on the Georgia quarterback situation. Jake Fromm is the guy the players respond to, and it would be silly to yank him now even though Jacob Eason is back healthy. Kirby Smart might enjoy being cagey, but the truth is he’s now in the enviable position of having two capable quarterbacks and a defense that allows a scant 3.8 yards a play. That’s good for fourth in the nation and only three hundredths of a yard behind Auburn for best in the SEC.

From Paul: Will we see anything like the FBI investigation into basketball recruiting on the football side? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

From Timothy: Tell me a better fit than Mike Leach at LSU? And would they ever lose a game with that talent and him coaching?

Leach would be a fit at a lot of places, including in his dream job at Key West High School. But barring a complete disaster—like losing every remaining game—Ed Orgeron is going to get a chance to improve at LSU.

Interim coaches who get the full-time gig tend to get a shorter leash than coaches hired from the outside, but not that short. Orgeron has a buyout that when prorated for what he’s already made this year would cost LSU about $8.5 million to fire him. Why did LSU agree to this when no one else was trying to hire Orgeron as a head coach? Orgeron’s agent would say that rival coaches would use any contract that didn’t look like theirs against LSU in recruiting. Common sense would say LSU AD Joe Alleva isn’t the shrewdest negotiator.

I get that everyone is upset about the loss to Troy, but let’s not forget the next-to-last interim coach given the full-time job at a major program. This time last year, we had USC’s Clay Helton fired. He turned things around. Maybe Orgeron can as well.

Orgeron’s best bet is to stick to what got him the job. He promised that unlike during his disastrous tenure as Ole Miss’s head coach, he would do what he does well (recruiting and motivating) and let his coordinators do their jobs. Last week, he told offensive coordinator Matt Canada to eliminate motions and shifts to help some younger players adjust to their first playing time. The result was a goose egg on the scoreboard at halftime and a lesson that Orgeron had told everyone he’d already learned. He said this week that Canada will have free rein to run his offense Saturday at Florida. That’s good, because that’s the reason Orgeron hired Canada. It’s also the only way this thing will work.

From @cookppp3: Is Mike The Tiger really crying? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

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In SEC, blowouts raise questions about competitive balance

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn walks around during warmups before an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Auburn, Ala. Auburn has scored 100 points combined in its first two SEC games for the first time in school history. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn walks around during warmups before an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Auburn, Ala. Auburn has scored 100 points combined in its first two SEC games for the first time in school history. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

No. 12 Auburn trying to sustain hot streak; Ole Miss up next

Auburn linebacker Jeff Holland (4) celebrates with fans after defeating Mississippi State 49-10 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

No. 12 Auburn trying to sustain hot streak; Ole Miss up next

Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8) and Auburn wide receiver Kyle Davis (11) celebrate with fans after defeating Mississippi State 49-10 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

No. 12 Auburn trying to sustain hot streak; Ole Miss up next

Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson (21) dives over the top for a touchdown in an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8) and wide receiver Kyle Davis (11) celebrate with fans after defeating Mississippi State 49-10 in an NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala. No. 12 Auburn has ridden quarterback Jarrett Stidham and a resurgent offense to back-to-back blowout SEC wins. Now, can the Tigers keep it up against Mississippi? (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

Bowl Projections: Which Teams Need to Make Their Move in October?

Before November, bowl projections are 25% educated guess, 75% overreaction to early-season results. The final month of the regular season features all the conference showdowns and rivalry games that shape each team’s final résumé; they just have to make it there in one piece. Before we get into this week’s bowl matchup predictions, let's take a quick look at some notable teams who can set themselves up for a surprising finish as long as they take care of business in October.

Notre Dame (4–1): The Irish close out their regular season with two of their usual rivalries—Navy and Stanford—and two games against upstart ACC teams who might be better than most thought in the preseason in Miami and Wake Forest. Notre Dame’s lone loss so far came to Georgia, which has since moved into the top five, so its playoff case could get stronger by the week if the Bulldogs keep winning and Brian Kelly avoids any no-show performances. The Irish go to North Carolina this weekend, then get a bye before hosting No. 14 USC and No. 24 NC State to close out the month. If they hold serve against those two ranked opponents in South Bend, it should be safe to adjust their postseason expectations well up the bowl hierarchy.

Maryland (3–1): The Terrapins badly needed Week 5’s 31–24 win at Minnesota to stabilize a hot start that was in danger of being hijacked by quarterback injuries. Expectations will be low when they travel to Ohio State and Wisconsin in the next three weeks, but if they can use home games against Northwestern and Indiana to get to five wins by the end of the month, they would only need to beat Rutgers (Nov. 4 at home) or Michigan State (Nov. 18 in East Lansing) to become bowl eligible, then grit their teeth through probable losses to Michigan and Penn State down the stretch.

Pitt (2–3): The Panthers deserve their record after putting up little resistance against top-10 foes Penn State and Oklahoma State and crumbling late in a road loss to Georgia Tech. But the schedule lightens up considerably this month: at Syracuse, NC State, at Duke, Virginia. Take three of those four, and Pitt will get to play for its bowl bid against UNC before closing out the year against the ACC Coastal’s two ranked teams, Virginia Tech and Miami.

Colorado (3–2): Like Pitt, the Buffaloes got off to a discouraging start in conference play and now need to pick up some victories before confronting their ranked division foes (USC and Utah) at the end of November. A trip to Pullman to take on red-hot Washington State on Oct. 21 may not be cause for much optimism, but Colorado can still get bowl-eligible before the month is out if it sweeps Arizona, Oregon State and Cal.

Oklahoma State (4–1): TCU has back-burnered the Cowboys’ playoff hopes for now, but their season still swings on their performance against Oklahoma on Nov. 4. Successive games against Baylor, Texas and No. 23 West Virginia should allow Oklahoma State to ramp back up to the Sooners’ level, and a Bedlam win coupled with a Big 12 title would put it right back into the playoff discussion. Mason Rudolph & Co. did well to not let one loss snowball in Week 5’s tight win at Texas Tech.

Kentucky (4–1): You may have assumed Kentucky’s football program folded after it choked away a historic win over Florida two weeks ago, but the Wildcats are a sneaky 4–1, with wins by 11 points or fewer against Southern Miss, Eastern Kentucky, South Carolina and Eastern Michigan. Each of their three October SEC opponents—Missouri, Mississippi State and Tennessee—all may be on a similar tier as their September wins by the time those winnable contests arrive.

Without further ado, the post-Week 5 bowl picture ...

Saturday, Dec. 16

R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans (1 p.m., ESPN)
Sun Belt vs. C-USA
Louisiana Monroe vs. Southern Miss

AutoNation Cure Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (2:30 p.m., CBSSN)
AAC vs. Sun Belt
Tulane vs. Appalachian State

Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas (3:30 p.m., ABC)
?MWC vs. Pac-12
Colorado State vs. Utah

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
C-USA vs. MWC
UAB vs. New Mexico

Raycom Media Camelia Bowl, Montgomery, Ala. (8 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Western Michigan vs. Arkansas State

Tuesday, Dec. 19

Boca Raton Bowl, Boca Raton, Fla. (7 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. C-USA
Memphis vs. Florida International

Wednesday, Dec. 20

Frisco Bowl, Frisco, Texas (8 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. Sun Belt
SMU vs. New Mexico State

Thursday, Dec. 21

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, St. Petersburg, Fla. (8 p.m., ESPN)
C-USA vs. AAC
Marshall vs. Houston

Friday, Dec. 22

Bahamas Bowl, Nassau, Bahamas (12:30 p.m., ESPN)
C-USA vs. MAC
North Texas vs. Buffalo

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise (4 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. MWC
Ohio vs. Wyoming

Saturday, Dec. 23

Birmingham Bowl, Birmingham, Ala. (12 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. SEC
UCF vs. Arkansas

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Texas (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Army vs. C-USA
Army vs. Louisiana Tech

Dollar General Bowl, Mobile, Ala. (7 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Toledo vs. Troy

Sunday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu, (8:30 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. MWC
South Florida vs. Hawaii

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dallas (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. C-USA
Colorado vs. UT-San Antonio

Quick Lane Bowl, Detroit (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Duke vs. Indiana

Cactus Bowl, Phoenix (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. Pac-12
Texas vs. UCLA

Wednesday, Dec. 27

Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. SEC
Louisville vs. Mississippi State

New Era Pinstripe Bowl, New York (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Virginia vs. Minnesota

Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara, Calif. (8 p.m., FOX)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Purdue vs. Oregon

Texas Bowl, Houston (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. SEC
Texas Tech vs. LSU

Thursday, Dec. 28

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman, Annapolis, Md. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. AAC
Wake Forest vs. Navy

Camping World Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big 12
Georgia Tech vs. Kansas State

Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Pac-12 vs. Big 12
Stanford vs. West Virginia

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, San Diego (9 p.m., FS1)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Iowa vs. USC

Friday, Dec. 29

Belk Bowl, Charlotte, N.C. (1 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. SEC
Florida State vs. Kentucky

Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas (2 p.m., CBS)
ACC vs. Pac-12
Notre Dame vs. Washington State

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Nashville, Tenn. (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
Vanderbilt vs. Maryland

Arizona Bowl, Tucson, Ariz. (5:30 p.m., CBSSN)
Sun Belt vs. MWC
Idaho vs. Boise State

Saturday, Dec. 30

TaxSlayer Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
Florida vs. NC State

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (12:30 p.m., ABC)
Big 12 vs. SEC
Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M

Monday, Jan. 1, 2018

Outback Bowl, Tampa, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN2)
Big Ten vs. SEC
Michigan State vs. Tennessee

Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (1 p.m., ABC)
SEC vs. ACC
Auburn vs. Virginia Tech

New Year's Six Bowls

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Arlington, Texas (Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
TCU vs. Ohio State

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz. (Dec. 30, 4 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
Washington vs. San Diego State

Capital One Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, Fla. (Dec. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame
Miami vs. Wisconsin

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Atlanta (Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-Large
Michigan vs. Georgia

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual, Pasadena, Calif. (Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Clemson vs. Oklahoma

Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Alabama vs. Penn State

College Football Playoff National Championship, Atlanta (Jan. 8, 8 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinal winner vs. CFP semifinal winner

Week 6 Power Rankings: What Should We Make of the SEC After Alabama?

Outside of Alabama and Georgia, is there much to talk about when it comes to the Southeastern Conference? True to the league’s recent reputation, it has three teams that rank in the top 10 in scoring defense through five weeks, but its claim to being the best conference in college football is long gone.

The only other undefeated teams in conference play besides Alabama and Georgia are Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M, and those three have done little to suggest they have a chance to play for the title in Atlanta on Dec. 2.

Florida continues to slide by without anything that resembles an offense that could compete for championship. The reins are now in the hands of quarterback Feleipe Franks, who started the first three games of the season before being benched in favor of Luke Del Rio, then re-entered Saturday’s win over Vanderbilt after Del Rio suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

Auburn looks to have the best chance to dethrone Alabama in the wake of an impressive win against a suddenly slumping Mississippi State team, but the Tigers won’t play another home game until a huge matchup against Georgia on Nov. 11.

Texas A&M has rebounded nicely from its collapse in the season opener against UCLA, escaping with wins against Arkansas and South Carolina to cool the seat of coach Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies will be tested this weekend when Alabama comes to town.

FELDMAN: How the Top 10 looks after Week 5 | New faces near front of Heisman race

Now on to this week’s Top 25:

1. Alabama (5–0, 2–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Ole Miss, 66–3
Next week: at Texas A&M

There isn’t much left to say about Alabama, who has turned every team on its schedule into a personal punching bag. The Rebels, the most recent SEC team to have beaten Alabama (back in 2015), found themselves down 35–3 at halftime on Saturday. Quarterback Jalen Hurts had 297 yards as part of a 613-yard effort by the Tide offense.

2. Clemson (5–0, 3–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat Virginia Tech, 31–1
Next week: vs. Wake Forest

Clemson’s third victory over a top-15 team in September has the Tigers set up to roll through the remainder of their ACC schedule. Usually careful with the ball, the Hokies turned it over three times, mistakes that Clemson has been forcing its opponents to make all season. Clemson ranks in the top 20 in five major defensive categories.

3. Oklahoma (4–0, 1–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 2
This week: Off
Next week: vs. Iowa State

Oklahoma’s use of time during its bye week should have focused on two things: shoring up its secondary and building off its renewed interest in running the football. Both improvements will bode well as the Sooners move further into Big 12 play.

4. Penn State (5–0, 2–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 4
Last week: Beat Indiana, 45–14
Next week: at Northwestern

Although Penn State earned an easy victory over Indiana, it’s clear the Nittany Lions won’t be allowed to ride their superstar to a repeat Big Ten East title. Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff for a score and also threw a touchdown pass, but he didn’t have any running room all day, finishing with 56 yards on 20 carries. DaeSean Hamilton caught three touchdown passes from Trace McSorley, who threw for 315 yards but was sacked five times.

5. Washington (5–0, 2–0 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Oregon State, 42–7
Next week: vs. California

The Huskies broke open a close game against struggling Oregon State in the third quarter by scoring three touchdowns and limiting the Beavers’ already undermanned offense to eight first downs and 184 total yards. Jake Browning had 293 yards and three touchdowns, each of them to wideout Dante Pettis. Oregon State is allowing an average of 50 points a game in its four losses this season.

6. Georgia (5–0, 2–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Tennessee, 41–0
Next week: at Vanderbilt

The absolute shellacking of Tennessee might say more about the state of the Volunteers than it does about the Bulldogs, who shut down a rudderless offense and created four turnovers. Georgia’s running backs did whatever they wanted without much resistance, and Jake Fromm only had to put the ball in the air 15 times. Georgia’s next big test comes at the end of the month against Florida.

7. Ohio State (4­–1, 2–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 8
This week: Beat Rutgers, 56–0
Next week: vs. Maryland

The Buckeyes, who beat Rutgers 58–0 last year, repeated that dominant performance in embarrassing the Scarlet Knights, who have lost 16 straight conference games. J.T. Barrett’s 275 yards through the air made him Ohio State’s all-time passing leader, with 7,622 yards. The Buckeyes have two slightly more difficult but still manageable games (Maryland, at Nebraska) before they face defending conference champion Penn State on Oct. 28.

8. TCU (4–0, 1–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 9
This week: Off
Next game: vs. West Virginia

The Horned Frogs’ statement to the rest of the Big 12 was profound after a 13–point victory over Oklahoma State in Stillwater. To sustain that momentum, Gary Patterson’s group will have to continue to be sharp on the offensive end with quarterback Kenny Hill playing efficient, mistake-free football.

9. Michigan (4–0, 1–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 10
This week: Off
Next week: vs. Michigan State

Michigan spent much of its bye week in a back-and-forth with Purdue over the allegedly outdated facilities at the Boilermakers’ Ross-Ade Stadium. (Jim Harbaugh’s next road trip? Indiana on Oct. 14.) Regardless, that stingy Wolverines defense has them in prime position once their Big Ten schedule gets real.

10. Wisconsin (4–0, 1–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat Northwestern, 33–24
Next week: at Nebraska

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw for 197 yards and a touchdown but was picked off twice, and freshman Jonathan Taylor ran for 80 yards and two scores in an ugly, turnover-filled victory over Northwestern. The Badgers, who only gave up 244 yards, are in firm control of the Big Ten West and are the division’s only team without a loss.

11. Washington State (5–0, 2–0 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat USC, 30–27
Next week: at Oregon

What in the world is happening on the palouse? Washington State has a defense to go along with its Air Raid, and in beating USC and snapping its 13–game winning streak, the Cougars have thrown themselves into the thick of the College Football Playoff discussion.

Luke Falk, who broke the Pac-12’s all-time completions record, threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns, and the running game picked up a respectable 122 yards on the strength of a big night from Jamal Morrow.

12. USC (4–1, 2–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 5
This week: Lost to Washington State, 30–27
Next week: vs. Oregon State

The Trojans suffered a rash of injuries and ran into a team that cashed in on their mistakes. USC tried to do what it could in the limited time it had the ball, but Sam Darnold’s two turnovers, especially the fumble that killed a last-minute drive, sealed the Trojans’ fate.

13. Miami (FL) (3–0, 1–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat Duke, 31–6
Next week: at Florida State

The Hurricanes’ defense starred on Friday night—ridiculous, unnecessary turnover chain aside—completely stifling Duke’s offense, especially the passing game. Miami recorded five sacks and 11 tackles for loss in a dominant performance. Duke quarterback Daniel Jones only managed 166 yards on 41 passing attempts and the Blue Devils converted only five of their 19 third downs. Miami’s favorable home schedule could have it looking at an ACC title bid.

14. Oklahoma State (4–1, 1–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 14
Last week: Beat Texas Tech, 41–34
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 14 vs. Baylor

Mason Rudolph’s 16-yard scamper with just over a minute left helped the Cowboys avoid a second straight loss and keep their playoff dreams alive. Rudolph threw for 376 yards, James Washington had 127 receiving yards and Justice Hill ran for a career-high 164 yards to help pace the Cowboys, who held the prolific Tech offense to 384 total yards.

15. Auburn (4–1, 2­–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 17
This week: Beat Mississippi State, 49–10
Next week: vs. Ole Miss

After thrashing Mississippi State, Auburn might be the team that everyone expected it to be in the preseason after all. The Tigers used a balanced attack (244 rushing yards, 267 passing), led by quarterback Jarrett Stidham and lead back Kerryon Johnson, who had 113 yards and three touchdowns. The Bulldogs, after getting off to an impressive 3–0 start, have been blown out two weeks in a row to essentially end any hope of a division title.

16. Florida (3–1, 3–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 16
This week: Beat Vanderbilt, 38–24
Next game: vs. LSU

Florida’s streak of scoring in 365 straight games continued with its victory over a game Vanderbilt squad coming off a 59–0 beatdown at the hands of Alabama. The Gators will have to go the rest of the season with Week 1 starter Feleipe Franks, who was pulled in last week’s win over Kentucky but replaced Luke Del Rio after he injured his non-throwing shoulder. Malik Davis rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns, and Lamical Perine added three rushing touchdowns.

17. Utah (4–0, 1–0 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 18
This week: Off
Next game: vs. Stanford

Utah doesn’t have a quarterback controversy, but backup Troy Williams, who started 13 games last year, can certainly keep the offense moving if Tyler Huntley misses significant time due to an arm injury suffered in a victory over Arizona. The quarterback position may be the least of the Utes’ concerns as Bryce Love and Stanford pay a visit to Salt Lake City this week.

18. South Florida (5–0, 2–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 19
Last week: Beat East Carolina, 61–31
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 14 vs. Cincinnati

This is how bad East Carolina has been this season: The 575 yards of total offense that the Pirates yielded to South Florida were the least they have given up all year. Quinton Flowers threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns and added another score on the ground for the Bulls, who ran for 390 yards and won their school-record 10th straight game.

19. Louisville (4–1, 1–1 ACC)

Previous ranking: 20
This week: Beat Murray State, 55–10
Next week: at NC State

Lamar Jackson had another stat-stuffing performance, throwing for 249 yards and three touchdowns and adding 100 yards rushing and another score in Louisville’s scrimmage against Murray State. The Racers gained a grand total of 80 yards, had five first downs and averaged three yards per passing attempt.

20. Virginia Tech (4–1, 0–1 ACC)

Previous ranking: 12
This week: Lost to Clemson, 31–17
Next week: at Boston College

The Hokies’ loss to Clemson was their fifth straight in the series. Josh Jackson threw for 251 yards and a touchdown, but was picked off twice, including a third-quarter pick-six by Dorian O’Daniel that put the game out of reach.

21. San Diego State (5–0, 1–0 MWC)

Previous ranking: 22
This week: Beat Northern Illinois, 34–28
Next week: at UNLV

The Aztecs haven’t started a season this well since the Ford administration. Christian Chapman had two touchdown passes, and Heisman dark horse Rashaad Penny ran for 107 yards and had to leave the game after being deliberately poked in the eye. San Diego State used a kickoff return touchdown to open the game and four turnovers, including a six-pick, to hold off Northern Illinois. The thick of a manageable Mountain West schedule awaits.

22. Kansas State (3–1, 1–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 21
This week: Beat Baylor, 33–20
Next week: at Texas

Kansas State can afford to have an inefficient passing offense against the likes of Baylor, but it better find a passing game in a hurry with Texas, TCU and Oklahoma coming up on the schedule in the next three weeks. For now, Jesse Ertz’s 214 total yards were good enough to get past Baylor, which has lost 10 of its last 11 games.

23. West Virginia (3–1, 1­–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 24
This week: Off
Next game: at TCU

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen spent part of the bye week commenting on the states of various visitors locker rooms. He gave this week’s opponent TCU no bulletin board material, calling the visitors’ locker room at Amon G. Carter Stadium one of the best in the Big 12. The teams have split the last four meetings.

24. Notre Dame (4–1)

Previous ranking: 25
This week: Beat Miami (OH), 52–17
Next game: at North Carolina

Brandon Wimbush’s four touchdowns led the Irish, and running back Josh Adams ran for 159 yards and two scores on only eight carries, all in the first quarter, before leaving the game with an injury. Wimbush completed seven of his 18 passes, but three of them went for touchdowns. The much-improved Irish defense has now forced 11 turnovers this season after totaling just 14 a season ago.

25. Central Florida (3–0, 1–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Memphis, 40–13
Next week: at Cincinnati

You’re running out of time to hop on the UCF bandwagon. McKenzie Milton threw for 253 yards and added 88 yards on the ground as the Knights racked up 603 total yards in handing Memphis its first defeat of the year. The Knights’ defense forced four turnovers and completely shut down an offense that had scored at least 37 points in its previous three games.

Out: Mississippi State. Maybe next week: Troy, Stanford, NC State.

As Butch Jones's Job Hangs in the Balance, Tennessee Has Unique Circumstances to Weigh

As Georgia’s demolition of Tennessee continued Saturday, the game kept feeling more like Clemson’s win at Miami in 2015. That was the game in which it became apparent Al Golden could not get the job done as Hurricanes coach, and Miami responded the following day by firing Golden.

Tennessee did not respond Sunday by firing Jones—much to the chagrin of a vocal and growing segment of the fan base that has checked out on the football program’s current administration and awaits new leadership. The Volunteers, who are now effectively eliminated from the SEC East title race unless they can pull off a miracle win against an Alabama team smashing everything in its path, have a bye week before they face South Carolina. Jones will remain the coach. Ultimately, Jones will decide how long he remains the coach by the way he and his staff respond to a historic loss.

The difference between the game that got Golden fired and the one that Jones has (so far) survived may be nothing more than the date. Jones’s 41–0 loss to Georgia came on Sept. 30. Golden’s 58–0 loss to Clemson came on Oct. 25. Tennessee is 3–2 with a healthy chunk of season remaining. Thanks to an SEC that seems down besides Alabama, Georgia and maybe Auburn, every game save the Oct. 21 visit to Tuscaloosa looks potentially winnable. So Jones either has a chance to save his job, or he has enough line to create his own tripwire.

Watching closely will be Tennessee athletic director John Currie. Currie, who served on Mike Hamilton’s staff at Tennessee before leaving in 2009 to become the AD at Kansas State, did not want to be in this situation his first year back in Knoxville. No AD wants to have to decide whether to keep or a fire a football coach a few months into the job. But this particular situation is especially complicated. There is no instruction manual, though the inscription on the cover of the (unfortunately fictional) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy provides useful advice: DON’T PANIC.

Like Nebraska’s administration in 2014, Georgia’s administration in 2015 and LSU’s administration last year, Tennessee’s administration—led by Currie—must choose whether a reasonably successful coach is the correct person to lead the program where the fan base expects it to go. In the cases of Nebraska, Georgia and LSU, the coaches in question were fired. At the moment, the Bulldogs seem quite pleased with the decision to part with Mark Richt and hire Kirby Smart. Smart’s second Georgia team looks like the best of the SEC East. The Cornhuskers are far less pleased. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who fired Bo Pelini and hired Mike Riley, was fired five days after the Nebraska lost to Northern Illinois on Sept. 16. That doesn’t bode particularly well for Riley, whose team faces Big Ten West favorite Wisconsin on Saturday in Lincoln. At LSU, athletic director Joe Alleva fired Les Miles last season and elevated interim coach Ed Orgeron to head coach in November. That choice has been a disaster so far; the Tigers got crushed by Mississippi State on Sept. 16 and lost to Troy at Homecoming on Saturday. This week, LSU must play Florida in Gainesville instead of Baton Rouge. That’s also Alleva’s fault after he bungled a game of chicken with outgoing Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley last October. Orgeron is probably safe no matter what because LSU would owe him about $8.5 million for firing him after this season—thanks to a buyout Alleva agreed to even though no one else was trying to hire Orgeron to be a head coach—but Alleva could be in danger if the Tigers keep looking as listless as they did against Troy.

Deciding whether to fire a coach who has won nine games the previous two seasons is tough enough, and the first football hire of an AD’s tenure also starts the clock on said AD’s tenure. As Eichorst can attest, one unpopular football hire can doom an AD. So it pays to not be impulsive. What makes this situation even more complex for Currie and the other ADs considering changing coaches this year is the institution of an early signing period in football. The ability to sign high schoolers to national letters of intent in December adds an entirely new dynamic to the annual coaching hire-fire cycle. Will schools fire coaches earlier to get their ducks in a row to make a hire and have the new coach recruiting the Sunday after Thanksgiving with two weeks to secure a class? Or will schools wait to fire their coaches when as little time as possible can elapse between the announcement that the old coach is fired and the announcement that the new coach is hired? In terms of keeping a recruiting class together, the ideal window might be the length of time Texas went between firing Charlie Strong and hiring Tom Herman.

Though the news leaked by a few hours in both cases, the Longhorns went six and a half hours between the official announcement of Strong’s firing and the official announcement of Herman’s hiring. If Texas had a highly ranked recruiting class—which it didn’t—that wouldn’t have left much time for rival coaches to poach. Tennessee does have a highly regarded class at the moment: It has 23 players committed and ranks No. 6 in the 247Sports.com composite. Firing Jones now would give rival coaches almost two months to try to poach those players before Tennessee hires a new coach. And when the Vols made a hire, that coach would have only two weeks to salvage the class.

One thing that probably won’t happen at Tennessee or anywhere else is the choice to keep a head coach past the December signing day and then fire him immediately after. That timetable would force an AD into a situation that turns out badly no matter what he/she decides. The AD could enforce the letter of intent, committing public relations suicide by not allowing players to change their minds after being bamboozled into signing. Or the AD could release the entire class, which could lead to a mass exodus that sets back the program for years. Meanwhile, the next coach might not appreciate walking into a situation with a full, signed class. That coach will want a chance to decide whether the committed players fit and encourage them to look elsewhere if they don’t. If they’re signed, he’s stuck with them.

Currie must consider these factors as he evaluates Jones. He also must consider the bottom line. One of the final straws in the Phillip Fulmer era was a visit from Alabama in ’08 that featured Alabama fans taking over large swaths of Neyland Stadium. As Saturday’s beautifully executed human checkerboard illustrated, Tennessee fans weren’t giving away or selling their tickets even though they were already complaining about Jones in large numbers. It will be interesting to see whether those people all show up when the Gamecocks visit a week from Saturday. If they don’t, that’s another strike against Jones.

Though Currie will be the one who executes the decision, Jones ultimately will make it. If he rallies his team to eight or nine wins in the regular season, Currie can make a strong case to keep him. If in the coming weeks the Vols look as lifeless on offense as they did Saturday, Jones will be gone by November.

Currie gets paid well to make the tough decision that would lie ahead if Tennessee goes 4–3 or 5–2 the rest of the way. After Saturday’s pounding by Georgia, the more relevant question is whether Jones can win enough to force Currie to have any choice at all.

Bruce Feldman’s Heisman Five | Florida State needs to adjust its expectations

A Random Ranking

Star Trek: Discovery debuted last week, making it five televised iterations of Gene Roddenberry’s universe. So now seems like a fitting time to rank the top 10 Starfleet officers. Let’s make it so.

1. Jean-Luc Picard

2. Spock

3. James Tiberius Kirk

4. Worf

5. Kathryn Janeway

6. Data

7. Montgomery Scott

8. Nyota Uhura

9. William Riker

10. Deanna Troi

Projected Playoff

1. Alabama

The Crimson Tide could have named a score against Ole Miss. Alabama settled for a 66–3 win. Even with Georgia and Auburn looking better, the gap between the Tide and everyone else in the SEC is massive.

2. Clemson

The Tigers went on the road to face a team they might see in the ACC title game and had no trouble in a 31–17 win against Virginia Tech.

3. Penn State

The Nittany Lions escaped Iowa City last week. Saturday, they throttled Indiana, shutting out the Hoosiers in the second half of a 45–14 win.

4. TCU

The Horned Frogs remain a placeholder for an undefeated or one-loss Big 12 champ. (This, of course, could be TCU.) USC’s loss at Washington State makes the road more difficult for the Pac-12. The Trojans’ schedule doesn’t get any easier, and they have no bye week. Meanwhile, Pac-12 North favorite Washington played a subpar non-conference schedule and may need to go undefeated to make the playoff. If it comes down to one-loss Washington and one-loss TCU or Oklahoma, the Big 12 team likely gets the nod.

Big Ugly of the Week

Yes, Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant has already won this award once this year. But this isn’t second grade; we don’t have to name a different winner every week. The guy who earns it gets it, and Bryant earned it in the Virginia Tech win. He made six tackles (2.5 for loss). He (successfully) covered a receiver. He also did this…

Bryant’s head coach certainly was impressed.

“He’s an honorary member of Wide Receiver U,” Dabo Swinney told reporters Saturday night.

Three and Out

1. Troy’s 24–21 upset of LSU was a new low for the Ed Orgeron era in Baton Rouge. In case you’re wondering, Orgeron isn’t in any trouble unless the Tigers want to cough up $12 million. (Hint: They don’t.)

“We were outcoached and outplayed tonight,” Orgeron said. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to keep this team together. They’re hurting in there. And we’ve got to find out why we don’t make the plays that we’re supposed to make.”

The Tigers have serious depth issues on both lines of scrimmage, which seems highly unusual for a program that is typically as stocked as LSU. The loss sucks much of the air out of Saturday’s visit to Florida—which took on new meaning after the schools engaged in a game of chicken regarding where and when they’d face one another last year in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The Gators ran for 218 yards and five touchdowns Saturday in a 38–24 win against Vanderbilt. Florida lost starting quarterback Luke Del Rio, but he was replaced capably by redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who had been benched the previous week at Kentucky. The Tigers, meanwhile, toggled between starter Danny Etling and freshman Myles Brennan. Neither one worked as LSU dropped its homecoming game to a Sun Belt team.

This week, the Tigers will travel to Gainesville to be a homecoming guest. If the Tigers don’t want to lose a second consecutive homecoming, they’ll have to get better. “We need to do some soul-searching,” Orgeron said.

2. San Diego State tailback Rashaad Penny is one of the best players in America, and one Northern Illinois linebacker tried to slow Penny with a completely bush-league move Saturday. Antonio Jones-Davis was caught on video gouging Penny in the eye at the bottom of a pile Saturday. On Sunday, Northern Illinois announced that Jones-Davis would be suspended for one game.

3. Two Mike Leach interviews sum up Washington State’s win against USC.

This one is from halftime…

And this one came after the game…

For Your Ears

In this episode, Patrick Meagher and I discuss the impact of Washington State’s win against USC, what comes next for Jones and Tennessee and the possibility of Alabama-Clemson III.

What’s Eating Andy?

Rest in peace, Joe Tiller, who died Saturday at age 74. The former Purdue coach brought the spread offense to the Big Ten, reached the Rose Bowl with Drew Brees slinging the ball around and basically was 10 years ahead of his time.

What’s Andy Eating?

When I was in elementary school, the best part of eating a bowl of cereal was the moment when I got to raise the bowl to my lips and drink the remaining milk. Count Chocula created chocolate milk. Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes made it taste like thin melted ice cream. I loved this moment so much that when I was six, I declared I would only drink milk from a bowl. Clearly the vessel created the effect and not the diabetes-in-a-box cereals that lovable cartoon characters had convinced me to beg my mom to buy.

I’ve since learned the true reason why the milk tasted that way, and so have restaurateurs across the country. The hottest trend the Dessert Industrial Complex has cranked out in the past few years is the cereal milk shake. A few months ago, I tested Burger King’s Lucky Charms shake for SI Eats. The base of the shake tasted like a creamier version of that milk at the bottom of the bowl. Still, it underwhelmed because it couldn’t utilize the best part of Lucky Charms—the marshmallows—and still be consumable through a straw.

Tailpipes in Morgantown, W.Va., has figured out that the best cereal-based milkshakes are the ones that use cereals that don’t rely on marshmallows. They have a Crunch Berries shake. They have a Fruity Pebbles shake. Most important, they serve a shake that celebrates the cereal that produced the best bottom-of-the-bowl milk: Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

The cinnamon-sugar milk that serves as the encore for each bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a delectable dessert in its own right. Now imagine adding a few scoops of vanilla ice cream to this concoction and pressing Frappe. That’s the Cinnamon Toast Crunch shake at Tailpipes. And the only thing that can make it better is a double Charger burger on the side.

What’s the Charger? It’s a half-pound patty with bacon, pepper jack, fried banana and peanut butter. Doubling adds a second half-pound patty, which isn’t necessary but certainly doesn’t hurt. In this iteration, it’s Elvis Presley’s favorite sandwich with a pound of beef and bacon complementing the savory peanut butter and the sweet bananas. The basic sandwich caught Presley in a trap from which he couldn’t walk out. The bacon burger edition? I love it too much.

Now combine that with the ice-cream enhanced version of the best part of a six-year-old’s breakfast. It might be the perfect greasy spoon meal.

As Butch Jones's Job Hangs in the Balance, Tennessee Has Unique Circumstances to Weigh

As Georgia’s demolition of Tennessee continued Saturday, the game kept feeling more like Clemson’s win at Miami in 2015. That was the game in which it became apparent Al Golden could not get the job done as Hurricanes coach, and Miami responded the following day by firing Golden.

Tennessee did not respond Sunday by firing Jones—much to the chagrin of a vocal and growing segment of the fan base that has checked out on the football program’s current administration and awaits new leadership. The Volunteers, who are now effectively eliminated from the SEC East title race unless they can pull off a miracle win against an Alabama team smashing everything in its path, have a bye week before they face South Carolina. Jones will remain the coach. Ultimately, Jones will decide how long he remains the coach by the way he and his staff respond to a historic loss.

The difference between the game that got Golden fired and the one that Jones has (so far) survived may be nothing more than the date. Jones’s 41–0 loss to Georgia came on Sept. 30. Golden’s 58–0 loss to Clemson came on Oct. 25. Tennessee is 3–2 with a healthy chunk of season remaining. Thanks to an SEC that seems down besides Alabama, Georgia and maybe Auburn, every game save the Oct. 21 visit to Tuscaloosa looks potentially winnable. So Jones either has a chance to save his job, or he has enough line to create his own tripwire.

Watching closely will be Tennessee athletic director John Currie. Currie, who served on Mike Hamilton’s staff at Tennessee before leaving in 2009 to become the AD at Kansas State, did not want to be in this situation his first year back in Knoxville. No AD wants to have to decide whether to keep or a fire a football coach a few months into the job. But this particular situation is especially complicated. There is no instruction manual, though the inscription on the cover of the (unfortunately fictional) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy provides useful advice: DON’T PANIC.

Like Nebraska’s administration in 2014, Georgia’s administration in 2015 and LSU’s administration last year, Tennessee’s administration—led by Currie—must choose whether a reasonably successful coach is the correct person to lead the program where the fan base expects it to go. In the cases of Nebraska, Georgia and LSU, the coaches in question were fired. At the moment, the Bulldogs seem quite pleased with the decision to part with Mark Richt and hire Kirby Smart. Smart’s second Georgia team looks like the best of the SEC East. The Cornhuskers are far less pleased. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who fired Bo Pelini and hired Mike Riley, was fired five days after the Nebraska lost to Northern Illinois on Sept. 16. That doesn’t bode particularly well for Riley, whose team faces Big Ten West favorite Wisconsin on Saturday in Lincoln. At LSU, athletic director Joe Alleva fired Les Miles last season and elevated interim coach Ed Orgeron to head coach in November. That choice has been a disaster so far; the Tigers got crushed by Mississippi State on Sept. 16 and lost to Troy at Homecoming on Saturday. This week, LSU must play Florida in Gainesville instead of Baton Rouge. That’s also Alleva’s fault after he bungled a game of chicken with outgoing Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley last October. Orgeron is probably safe no matter what because LSU would owe him about $8.5 million for firing him after this season—thanks to a buyout Alleva agreed to even though no one else was trying to hire Orgeron to be a head coach—but Alleva could be in danger if the Tigers keep looking as listless as they did against Troy.

Deciding whether to fire a coach who has won nine games the previous two seasons is tough enough, and the first football hire of an AD’s tenure also starts the clock on said AD’s tenure. As Eichorst can attest, one unpopular football hire can doom an AD. So it pays to not be impulsive. What makes this situation even more complex for Currie and the other ADs considering changing coaches this year is the institution of an early signing period in football. The ability to sign high schoolers to national letters of intent in December adds an entirely new dynamic to the annual coaching hire-fire cycle. Will schools fire coaches earlier to get their ducks in a row to make a hire and have the new coach recruiting the Sunday after Thanksgiving with two weeks to secure a class? Or will schools wait to fire their coaches when as little time as possible can elapse between the announcement that the old coach is fired and the announcement that the new coach is hired? In terms of keeping a recruiting class together, the ideal window might be the length of time Texas went between firing Charlie Strong and hiring Tom Herman.

Though the news leaked by a few hours in both cases, the Longhorns went six and a half hours between the official announcement of Strong’s firing and the official announcement of Herman’s hiring. If Texas had a highly ranked recruiting class—which it didn’t—that wouldn’t have left much time for rival coaches to poach. Tennessee does have a highly regarded class at the moment: It has 23 players committed and ranks No. 6 in the 247Sports.com composite. Firing Jones now would give rival coaches almost two months to try to poach those players before Tennessee hires a new coach. And when the Vols made a hire, that coach would have only two weeks to salvage the class.

One thing that probably won’t happen at Tennessee or anywhere else is the choice to keep a head coach past the December signing day and then fire him immediately after. That timetable would force an AD into a situation that turns out badly no matter what he/she decides. The AD could enforce the letter of intent, committing public relations suicide by not allowing players to change their minds after being bamboozled into signing. Or the AD could release the entire class, which could lead to a mass exodus that sets back the program for years. Meanwhile, the next coach might not appreciate walking into a situation with a full, signed class. That coach will want a chance to decide whether the committed players fit and encourage them to look elsewhere if they don’t. If they’re signed, he’s stuck with them.

Currie must consider these factors as he evaluates Jones. He also must consider the bottom line. One of the final straws in the Phillip Fulmer era was a visit from Alabama in ’08 that featured Alabama fans taking over large swaths of Neyland Stadium. As Saturday’s beautifully executed human checkerboard illustrated, Tennessee fans weren’t giving away or selling their tickets even though they were already complaining about Jones in large numbers. It will be interesting to see whether those people all show up when the Gamecocks visit a week from Saturday. If they don’t, that’s another strike against Jones.

Though Currie will be the one who executes the decision, Jones ultimately will make it. If he rallies his team to eight or nine wins in the regular season, Currie can make a strong case to keep him. If in the coming weeks the Vols look as lifeless on offense as they did Saturday, Jones will be gone by November.

Currie gets paid well to make the tough decision that would lie ahead if Tennessee goes 4–3 or 5–2 the rest of the way. After Saturday’s pounding by Georgia, the more relevant question is whether Jones can win enough to force Currie to have any choice at all.

Bruce Feldman’s Heisman Five | Florida State needs to adjust its expectations

A Random Ranking

Star Trek: Discovery debuted last week, making it five televised iterations of Gene Roddenberry’s universe. So now seems like a fitting time to rank the top 10 Starfleet officers. Let’s make it so.

1. Jean-Luc Picard

2. Spock

3. James Tiberius Kirk

4. Worf

5. Kathryn Janeway

6. Data

7. Montgomery Scott

8. Nyota Uhura

9. William Riker

10. Deanna Troi

Projected Playoff

1. Alabama

The Crimson Tide could have named a score against Ole Miss. Alabama settled for a 66–3 win. Even with Georgia and Auburn looking better, the gap between the Tide and everyone else in the SEC is massive.

2. Clemson

The Tigers went on the road to face a team they might see in the ACC title game and had no trouble in a 31–17 win against Virginia Tech.

3. Penn State

The Nittany Lions escaped Iowa City last week. Saturday, they throttled Indiana, shutting out the Hoosiers in the second half of a 45–14 win.

4. TCU

The Horned Frogs remain a placeholder for an undefeated or one-loss Big 12 champ. (This, of course, could be TCU.) USC’s loss at Washington State makes the road more difficult for the Pac-12. The Trojans’ schedule doesn’t get any easier, and they have no bye week. Meanwhile, Pac-12 North favorite Washington played a subpar non-conference schedule and may need to go undefeated to make the playoff. If it comes down to one-loss Washington and one-loss TCU or Oklahoma, the Big 12 team likely gets the nod.

Big Ugly of the Week

Yes, Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant has already won this award once this year. But this isn’t second grade; we don’t have to name a different winner every week. The guy who earns it gets it, and Bryant earned it in the Virginia Tech win. He made six tackles (2.5 for loss). He (successfully) covered a receiver. He also did this…

Bryant’s head coach certainly was impressed.

“He’s an honorary member of Wide Receiver U,” Dabo Swinney told reporters Saturday night.

Three and Out

1. Troy’s 24–21 upset of LSU was a new low for the Ed Orgeron era in Baton Rouge. In case you’re wondering, Orgeron isn’t in any trouble unless the Tigers want to cough up $12 million. (Hint: They don’t.)

“We were outcoached and outplayed tonight,” Orgeron said. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to keep this team together. They’re hurting in there. And we’ve got to find out why we don’t make the plays that we’re supposed to make.”

The Tigers have serious depth issues on both lines of scrimmage, which seems highly unusual for a program that is typically as stocked as LSU. The loss sucks much of the air out of Saturday’s visit to Florida—which took on new meaning after the schools engaged in a game of chicken regarding where and when they’d face one another last year in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The Gators ran for 218 yards and five touchdowns Saturday in a 38–24 win against Vanderbilt. Florida lost starting quarterback Luke Del Rio, but he was replaced capably by redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who had been benched the previous week at Kentucky. The Tigers, meanwhile, toggled between starter Danny Etling and freshman Myles Brennan. Neither one worked as LSU dropped its homecoming game to a Sun Belt team.

This week, the Tigers will travel to Gainesville to be a homecoming guest. If the Tigers don’t want to lose a second consecutive homecoming, they’ll have to get better. “We need to do some soul-searching,” Orgeron said.

2. San Diego State tailback Rashaad Penny is one of the best players in America, and one Northern Illinois linebacker tried to slow Penny with a completely bush-league move Saturday. Antonio Jones-Davis was caught on video gouging Penny in the eye at the bottom of a pile Saturday. On Sunday, Northern Illinois announced that Jones-Davis would be suspended for one game.

3. Two Mike Leach interviews sum up Washington State’s win against USC.

This one is from halftime…

And this one came after the game…

For Your Ears

In this episode, Patrick Meagher and I discuss the impact of Washington State’s win against USC, what comes next for Jones and Tennessee and the possibility of Alabama-Clemson III.

What’s Eating Andy?

Rest in peace, Joe Tiller, who died Saturday at age 74. The former Purdue coach brought the spread offense to the Big Ten, reached the Rose Bowl with Drew Brees slinging the ball around and basically was 10 years ahead of his time.

What’s Andy Eating?

When I was in elementary school, the best part of eating a bowl of cereal was the moment when I got to raise the bowl to my lips and drink the remaining milk. Count Chocula created chocolate milk. Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes made it taste like thin melted ice cream. I loved this moment so much that when I was six, I declared I would only drink milk from a bowl. Clearly the vessel created the effect and not the diabetes-in-a-box cereals that lovable cartoon characters had convinced me to beg my mom to buy.

I’ve since learned the true reason why the milk tasted that way, and so have restaurateurs across the country. The hottest trend the Dessert Industrial Complex has cranked out in the past few years is the cereal milk shake. A few months ago, I tested Burger King’s Lucky Charms shake for SI Eats. The base of the shake tasted like a creamier version of that milk at the bottom of the bowl. Still, it underwhelmed because it couldn’t utilize the best part of Lucky Charms—the marshmallows—and still be consumable through a straw.

Tailpipes in Morgantown, W.Va., has figured out that the best cereal-based milkshakes are the ones that use cereals that don’t rely on marshmallows. They have a Crunch Berries shake. They have a Fruity Pebbles shake. Most important, they serve a shake that celebrates the cereal that produced the best bottom-of-the-bowl milk: Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

The cinnamon-sugar milk that serves as the encore for each bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a delectable dessert in its own right. Now imagine adding a few scoops of vanilla ice cream to this concoction and pressing Frappe. That’s the Cinnamon Toast Crunch shake at Tailpipes. And the only thing that can make it better is a double Charger burger on the side.

What’s the Charger? It’s a half-pound patty with bacon, pepper jack, fried banana and peanut butter. Doubling adds a second half-pound patty, which isn’t necessary but certainly doesn’t hurt. In this iteration, it’s Elvis Presley’s favorite sandwich with a pound of beef and bacon complementing the savory peanut butter and the sweet bananas. The basic sandwich caught Presley in a trap from which he couldn’t walk out. The bacon burger edition? I love it too much.

Now combine that with the ice-cream enhanced version of the best part of a six-year-old’s breakfast. It might be the perfect greasy spoon meal.

As Butch Jones's Job Hangs in the Balance, Tennessee Has Unique Circumstances to Weigh

As Georgia’s demolition of Tennessee continued Saturday, the game kept feeling more like Clemson’s win at Miami in 2015. That was the game in which it became apparent Al Golden could not get the job done as Hurricanes coach, and Miami responded the following day by firing Golden.

Tennessee did not respond Sunday by firing Jones—much to the chagrin of a vocal and growing segment of the fan base that has checked out on the football program’s current administration and awaits new leadership. The Volunteers, who are now effectively eliminated from the SEC East title race unless they can pull off a miracle win against an Alabama team smashing everything in its path, have a bye week before they face South Carolina. Jones will remain the coach. Ultimately, Jones will decide how long he remains the coach by the way he and his staff respond to a historic loss.

The difference between the game that got Golden fired and the one that Jones has (so far) survived may be nothing more than the date. Jones’s 41–0 loss to Georgia came on Sept. 30. Golden’s 58–0 loss to Clemson came on Oct. 25. Tennessee is 3–2 with a healthy chunk of season remaining. Thanks to an SEC that seems down besides Alabama, Georgia and maybe Auburn, every game save the Oct. 21 visit to Tuscaloosa looks potentially winnable. So Jones either has a chance to save his job, or he has enough line to create his own tripwire.

Watching closely will be Tennessee athletic director John Currie. Currie, who served on Mike Hamilton’s staff at Tennessee before leaving in 2009 to become the AD at Kansas State, did not want to be in this situation his first year back in Knoxville. No AD wants to have to decide whether to keep or a fire a football coach a few months into the job. But this particular situation is especially complicated. There is no instruction manual, though the inscription on the cover of the (unfortunately fictional) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy provides useful advice: DON’T PANIC.

Like Nebraska’s administration in 2014, Georgia’s administration in 2015 and LSU’s administration last year, Tennessee’s administration—led by Currie—must choose whether a reasonably successful coach is the correct person to lead the program where the fan base expects it to go. In the cases of Nebraska, Georgia and LSU, the coaches in question were fired. At the moment, the Bulldogs seem quite pleased with the decision to part with Mark Richt and hire Kirby Smart. Smart’s second Georgia team looks like the best of the SEC East. The Cornhuskers are far less pleased. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who fired Bo Pelini and hired Mike Riley, was fired five days after the Nebraska lost to Northern Illinois on Sept. 16. That doesn’t bode particularly well for Riley, whose team faces Big Ten West favorite Wisconsin on Saturday in Lincoln. At LSU, athletic director Joe Alleva fired Les Miles last season and elevated interim coach Ed Orgeron to head coach in November. That choice has been a disaster so far; the Tigers got crushed by Mississippi State on Sept. 16 and lost to Troy at Homecoming on Saturday. This week, LSU must play Florida in Gainesville instead of Baton Rouge. That’s also Alleva’s fault after he bungled a game of chicken with outgoing Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley last October. Orgeron is probably safe no matter what because LSU would owe him about $8.5 million for firing him after this season—thanks to a buyout Alleva agreed to even though no one else was trying to hire Orgeron to be a head coach—but Alleva could be in danger if the Tigers keep looking as listless as they did against Troy.

Deciding whether to fire a coach who has won nine games the previous two seasons is tough enough, and the first football hire of an AD’s tenure also starts the clock on said AD’s tenure. As Eichorst can attest, one unpopular football hire can doom an AD. So it pays to not be impulsive. What makes this situation even more complex for Currie and the other ADs considering changing coaches this year is the institution of an early signing period in football. The ability to sign high schoolers to national letters of intent in December adds an entirely new dynamic to the annual coaching hire-fire cycle. Will schools fire coaches earlier to get their ducks in a row to make a hire and have the new coach recruiting the Sunday after Thanksgiving with two weeks to secure a class? Or will schools wait to fire their coaches when as little time as possible can elapse between the announcement that the old coach is fired and the announcement that the new coach is hired? In terms of keeping a recruiting class together, the ideal window might be the length of time Texas went between firing Charlie Strong and hiring Tom Herman.

Though the news leaked by a few hours in both cases, the Longhorns went six and a half hours between the official announcement of Strong’s firing and the official announcement of Herman’s hiring. If Texas had a highly ranked recruiting class—which it didn’t—that wouldn’t have left much time for rival coaches to poach. Tennessee does have a highly regarded class at the moment: It has 23 players committed and ranks No. 6 in the 247Sports.com composite. Firing Jones now would give rival coaches almost two months to try to poach those players before Tennessee hires a new coach. And when the Vols made a hire, that coach would have only two weeks to salvage the class.

One thing that probably won’t happen at Tennessee or anywhere else is the choice to keep a head coach past the December signing day and then fire him immediately after. That timetable would force an AD into a situation that turns out badly no matter what he/she decides. The AD could enforce the letter of intent, committing public relations suicide by not allowing players to change their minds after being bamboozled into signing. Or the AD could release the entire class, which could lead to a mass exodus that sets back the program for years. Meanwhile, the next coach might not appreciate walking into a situation with a full, signed class. That coach will want a chance to decide whether the committed players fit and encourage them to look elsewhere if they don’t. If they’re signed, he’s stuck with them.

Currie must consider these factors as he evaluates Jones. He also must consider the bottom line. One of the final straws in the Phillip Fulmer era was a visit from Alabama in ’08 that featured Alabama fans taking over large swaths of Neyland Stadium. As Saturday’s beautifully executed human checkerboard illustrated, Tennessee fans weren’t giving away or selling their tickets even though they were already complaining about Jones in large numbers. It will be interesting to see whether those people all show up when the Gamecocks visit a week from Saturday. If they don’t, that’s another strike against Jones.

Though Currie will be the one who executes the decision, Jones ultimately will make it. If he rallies his team to eight or nine wins in the regular season, Currie can make a strong case to keep him. If in the coming weeks the Vols look as lifeless on offense as they did Saturday, Jones will be gone by November.

Currie gets paid well to make the tough decision that would lie ahead if Tennessee goes 4–3 or 5–2 the rest of the way. After Saturday’s pounding by Georgia, the more relevant question is whether Jones can win enough to force Currie to have any choice at all.

Bruce Feldman’s Heisman Five | Florida State needs to adjust its expectations

A Random Ranking

Star Trek: Discovery debuted last week, making it five televised iterations of Gene Roddenberry’s universe. So now seems like a fitting time to rank the top 10 Starfleet officers. Let’s make it so.

1. Jean-Luc Picard

2. Spock

3. James Tiberius Kirk

4. Worf

5. Kathryn Janeway

6. Data

7. Montgomery Scott

8. Nyota Uhura

9. William Riker

10. Deanna Troi

Projected Playoff

1. Alabama

The Crimson Tide could have named a score against Ole Miss. Alabama settled for a 66–3 win. Even with Georgia and Auburn looking better, the gap between the Tide and everyone else in the SEC is massive.

2. Clemson

The Tigers went on the road to face a team they might see in the ACC title game and had no trouble in a 31–17 win against Virginia Tech.

3. Penn State

The Nittany Lions escaped Iowa City last week. Saturday, they throttled Indiana, shutting out the Hoosiers in the second half of a 45–14 win.

4. TCU

The Horned Frogs remain a placeholder for an undefeated or one-loss Big 12 champ. (This, of course, could be TCU.) USC’s loss at Washington State makes the road more difficult for the Pac-12. The Trojans’ schedule doesn’t get any easier, and they have no bye week. Meanwhile, Pac-12 North favorite Washington played a subpar non-conference schedule and may need to go undefeated to make the playoff. If it comes down to one-loss Washington and one-loss TCU or Oklahoma, the Big 12 team likely gets the nod.

Big Ugly of the Week

Yes, Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant has already won this award once this year. But this isn’t second grade; we don’t have to name a different winner every week. The guy who earns it gets it, and Bryant earned it in the Virginia Tech win. He made six tackles (2.5 for loss). He (successfully) covered a receiver. He also did this…

Bryant’s head coach certainly was impressed.

“He’s an honorary member of Wide Receiver U,” Dabo Swinney told reporters Saturday night.

Three and Out

1. Troy’s 24–21 upset of LSU was a new low for the Ed Orgeron era in Baton Rouge. In case you’re wondering, Orgeron isn’t in any trouble unless the Tigers want to cough up $12 million. (Hint: They don’t.)

“We were outcoached and outplayed tonight,” Orgeron said. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to keep this team together. They’re hurting in there. And we’ve got to find out why we don’t make the plays that we’re supposed to make.”

The Tigers have serious depth issues on both lines of scrimmage, which seems highly unusual for a program that is typically as stocked as LSU. The loss sucks much of the air out of Saturday’s visit to Florida—which took on new meaning after the schools engaged in a game of chicken regarding where and when they’d face one another last year in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The Gators ran for 218 yards and five touchdowns Saturday in a 38–24 win against Vanderbilt. Florida lost starting quarterback Luke Del Rio, but he was replaced capably by redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who had been benched the previous week at Kentucky. The Tigers, meanwhile, toggled between starter Danny Etling and freshman Myles Brennan. Neither one worked as LSU dropped its homecoming game to a Sun Belt team.

This week, the Tigers will travel to Gainesville to be a homecoming guest. If the Tigers don’t want to lose a second consecutive homecoming, they’ll have to get better. “We need to do some soul-searching,” Orgeron said.

2. San Diego State tailback Rashaad Penny is one of the best players in America, and one Northern Illinois linebacker tried to slow Penny with a completely bush-league move Saturday. Antonio Jones-Davis was caught on video gouging Penny in the eye at the bottom of a pile Saturday. On Sunday, Northern Illinois announced that Jones-Davis would be suspended for one game.

3. Two Mike Leach interviews sum up Washington State’s win against USC.

This one is from halftime…

And this one came after the game…

For Your Ears

In this episode, Patrick Meagher and I discuss the impact of Washington State’s win against USC, what comes next for Jones and Tennessee and the possibility of Alabama-Clemson III.

What’s Eating Andy?

Rest in peace, Joe Tiller, who died Saturday at age 74. The former Purdue coach brought the spread offense to the Big Ten, reached the Rose Bowl with Drew Brees slinging the ball around and basically was 10 years ahead of his time.

What’s Andy Eating?

When I was in elementary school, the best part of eating a bowl of cereal was the moment when I got to raise the bowl to my lips and drink the remaining milk. Count Chocula created chocolate milk. Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes made it taste like thin melted ice cream. I loved this moment so much that when I was six, I declared I would only drink milk from a bowl. Clearly the vessel created the effect and not the diabetes-in-a-box cereals that lovable cartoon characters had convinced me to beg my mom to buy.

I’ve since learned the true reason why the milk tasted that way, and so have restaurateurs across the country. The hottest trend the Dessert Industrial Complex has cranked out in the past few years is the cereal milk shake. A few months ago, I tested Burger King’s Lucky Charms shake for SI Eats. The base of the shake tasted like a creamier version of that milk at the bottom of the bowl. Still, it underwhelmed because it couldn’t utilize the best part of Lucky Charms—the marshmallows—and still be consumable through a straw.

Tailpipes in Morgantown, W.Va., has figured out that the best cereal-based milkshakes are the ones that use cereals that don’t rely on marshmallows. They have a Crunch Berries shake. They have a Fruity Pebbles shake. Most important, they serve a shake that celebrates the cereal that produced the best bottom-of-the-bowl milk: Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

The cinnamon-sugar milk that serves as the encore for each bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a delectable dessert in its own right. Now imagine adding a few scoops of vanilla ice cream to this concoction and pressing Frappe. That’s the Cinnamon Toast Crunch shake at Tailpipes. And the only thing that can make it better is a double Charger burger on the side.

What’s the Charger? It’s a half-pound patty with bacon, pepper jack, fried banana and peanut butter. Doubling adds a second half-pound patty, which isn’t necessary but certainly doesn’t hurt. In this iteration, it’s Elvis Presley’s favorite sandwich with a pound of beef and bacon complementing the savory peanut butter and the sweet bananas. The basic sandwich caught Presley in a trap from which he couldn’t walk out. The bacon burger edition? I love it too much.

Now combine that with the ice-cream enhanced version of the best part of a six-year-old’s breakfast. It might be the perfect greasy spoon meal.

New-look OL for win over MSU

Auburn debuted its third different starting offensive line against Mississippi State.

Auburn's Stidham living up to his billing with 3 big games

Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8), wide receiver Kyle Davis (11), and wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers (3) celebrate with fans after defeating Mississippi State 49-10 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Auburn's Stidham living up to his billing with 3 big games

Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8) throws a pass against Mississippi State during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Auburn safety Tray Matthews on big win against Mississippi State

Auburn safety Tray Matthews discusses a 49-10 victory against Mississippi State.

Auburn safety Tray Matthews on big win against Mississippi State

Auburn safety Tray Matthews discusses a 49-10 victory against Mississippi State.

Auburn safety Tray Matthews on big win against Mississippi State

Auburn safety Tray Matthews discusses a 49-10 victory against Mississippi State.

Auburn safety Tray Matthews on big win against Mississippi State

Auburn safety Tray Matthews discusses a 49-10 victory against Mississippi State.

Mississippi State fails at challenging Auburn