This was billed as the weekend that would separate contenders from pretenders. With half of the best teams in the SEC playing one another, and some great match-ups scattered across the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac 12, everyone suspected that we would have a much more definitive picture of where the nation’s top squads stood come Sunday morning.
They were right.
First and foremost – Geno Smith and his West Virginia Mountaineers are legit. Prior to this latest outing, West Virginia recorded victories against Marshall, James Madison, Maryland and Baylor. That Baylor win, however impressive it may have been offensively, came by a mere seven points. Basically, the Mountaineers scored 70 points and still almost lost. That’s why there were questions about them heading into this weekend. They ultimately answered all of those questions (and then some) with a strong 48-45 victory over a very underrated Texas unit.
Smith was his usual dominant self, putting up 268 yards and four touchdowns (and no interceptions) – but that wasn’t the story of the game. No, the story of the game was how balanced West Virginia’s attack was. Andrew Buie rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries. Tavon Austin recorded 102 yards and a score on ten receptions. David Ash was limited to 269 yards and one touchdown – totals that appear far more impactful in the box score than they did during the game. And Joe Bergeron got completely bottled up, putting up 45 yards on 17 carries.
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That was probably the difference in this one, by the way. Bergeron's output. He usually averages 4.3 yards per carry. He had 2.7 yards per carry in this one. If you want to know how significant the difference is, compare the way Ash played in this game to the way he played in prior games. That will tell you everything you need to know.
West Virginia proved a lot with this win, but they aren’t out of the woods yet. Next week’s showdown versus Kansas State is going to be huge. If the Mountaineers can pull that one out, going undefeated becomes a much more realistic possibility than it currently is. Texas, meanwhile, finds itself in a very tough position. With games against Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State still on the agenda, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see them end up with three losses on the year now.
As far as the SEC: South Carolina had a lot of doubters following that unimpressive first week victory over Vanderbilt, but nobody doubts the Gamecocks anymore. That said, this squad has a tough two-game stretch ahead. Beating LSU and Florida back-to-back, particularly with the Tigers coming off a loss, is no easy feat. If Steve Spurrier and Co. can pull off those wins, though, pencil them in for a date with Alabama.
Along the same lines, Florida’s win was huge. What makes it all the more important is that, unlike South Carolina, the Gators don’t have as many difficult games left on their schedule. So long as they can get past the Gamecocks in two weeks, they have a much smoother road to the National Championship game than anyone else in the conference. (Maybe even including Alabama.)
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On the Pac 12 side of things – nobody really thought Washington was going to beat Oregon, however, if any non-USC team had a chance to do it, it was the Huskies. So much for that. Circle Nov. 3 on your calendars, folks. Meanwhile, the Trojans picked up another unimpressive victory last week, this time against a vastly inferior Utah squad. USC has a lot of talent at the skill positions but, man, the lines on both side are ridiculously thin.
Finally, the Big Ten is still awful, in case anyone was wondering. Michigan killed Purdue. Ohio State embarrassed Nebraska. Michigan State barely beat an awful Indiana squad. Wisconsin destroyed Illinois. And Penn State kept rolling by taking out college football’s biggest pretenders – the Northwestern Wildcats.
Keep an eye on Notre Dame next week. This team has admittedly been great thus far, however, an undefeated record up to this point isn’t as impressive as it sounds. If the Fighting Irish lose to Stanford this weekend, games against Oklahoma and USC over the next couple of months could easily turn this into a three-loss season.
3. South Carolina
5. West Virginia
6. Kansas State
7. Notre Dame
8. Ohio State
10. Oregon State
12. Florida State
19. Mississippi State
22. Texas A&M
23. Louisiana Tech
24. Boise State
3. South Carolina
4. West Virginia
5. Kansas State
7. Notre Dame
11. Florida State
14. Oregon State
18. Mississippi State
21. Texas A&M
22. Boise State
24. Louisiana Tech
25. Iowa State