Posted: Saturday October 9, 2010 4:00PM ; Updated: Sunday October 10, 2010 2:44AM
Stewart Mandel

Another LSU 'Milecle', 'Bama blues, Shoelace hits the wall, more Snaps

Story Highlights

Alabama isn't out of national-title picture, but Tide may not be best in SEC

Denard Robinson was bound to run into a defense capable of slowing him

After Illinois' big win, Ohio State's performance against Illini isn't so alarming

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QB Jordan Jefferson ran for 42 yards and two TDs in LSU's thrilling win over Florida.

Another week, another LSU game that came down to last-second game management, a crucial replay booth decision and a few inches -- only this time, Les Miles came out the genius on all fronts.

Miles and the 12th-ranked Tigers are 6-0 after a 33-29 win at No. 14 Florida that involved yet another wild finish -- highlighted by an incredibly ballsy play-call by LSU's widely criticized coach. Down three with 35 seconds left, facing a 4th and 1 at the Florida 36, Miles dialed up a vintage fake-field goal play (he ran it against South Carolina during the Tigers' 2007 title season). The only problem: Holder Derek Shelton's over-the-shoulder lateral to kicker Josh Jasper bounced first, making it dangerously close to an incomplete forward pass.

After a lengthy review, officials upheld the first down, and given new life, quarterback Jarrett Lee completed a long slant pass to Terrence Toliver, then, three plays later, a game-winning touchdown throw to Toliver. Even though it took another "Milecle," LSU's offense played its best game since the opener against North Carolina. Lee, alternating with Jordan Jefferson, finished 8-of-9 for 94 yards and two scores. The defense played well, too, with Florida doing most of its damage on a kick return and on short-fields created by LSU turnovers.

The Tigers are still far from a finished product -- but who is in the SEC this year? Who knows -- maybe The Mad Hatter will just keep marching on to Atlanta.

USC heartbreak continues

Two sophomore quarterbacks dueled for 3 hours Saturday in Palo Alto, and a senior placekicker ultimately decided which one prevailed.

In a back-and-forth shootout between USC and Stanford, in which no team ever led by more than a touchdown, Trojans QB Matt Barkley (28-of-45, 385 yards, three TDs) delivered his finest performance to date, with help from studly true freshman receiver Robert Woods (12 catches, 219 yards, three TDs). After Stanford's Nate Whitaker missed an extra point to leave the margin at six, Barkley led a touchdown drive to put USC up 35-34 with just 1:08 left.

No matter. Cardinal star Andrew Luck (20-of-24, 285 yards, three TDs) swiftly led his team down the field (helped in part by a foolish 15-yard personal foul on USC linebacker Chris Galippo) and gave Whitaker a shot at redemption with a game-winning 30-yard field goal at the final gun. Remarkably, it was the second straight week the Trojans lost on a game-ending field goal.

The Pac-10 is incredibly competitive this year, and as both this and the Arizona-Oregon State game showed, it's going to be decided with a whole lot of shootouts featuring a whole bunch of potent passers. Stanford, having already lost to Oregon, would have been pushing its Luck had it lost again this week. The win should be a huge momentum boost, while Lane Kiffin's probation-hampered Trojans need to shake it off and stay motivated.

Sunshine State monopoly

Florida State (5-1) came into the season touting quarterback Christian Ponder as a Heisman candidate. It turns out the Seminoles' biggest strengths are a much-improved defense and running game.

FSU flat-out mauled archrival Miami, 45-17, with tailbacks Chris Thompson and Jermaine Thomas combining for 233 yards on 30 carries, and the defense holding Miami QB Jacory Harris to 19 of 47 completions. FSU's stunning domination shows either the team has come a long way since its blowout loss Sept. 11 at Oklahoma -- or the Sooners should be ranked even higher than sixth.

In recent years, this game has become a measuring stick as both once-proud programs try to build their way back to national prominence. As such, first-year 'Noles coach Jimbo Fisher should gave his fan base a huge boost of enthusiasm, while a lot of folks in Miami figure to be grumbling about fourth-year coach Randy Shannon.

Beaver power

No. 4 Boise State and No. 5 TCU both handled Oregon State -- but No. 9 Arizona couldn't.

The Beavers (3-2), notorious for their slow starts and midseason surges, notched a huge road win Saturday in Tucson, 29-27, behind a breakout performance from first-year starting quarterback Ryan Katz (30-of-42, 398 yards, two TDs, one INT). Oregon State racked up 486 yards against the nation's second-ranked defense.

In addition to boosting the BCS busters' strength-of-schedule ratings, Mike Riley's team showed it will be a force once again in the Pac-10 race, which many had already reduced to Oregon, Stanford and Arizona. The win came with one huge thorn, however: Star receiver James Rodgers -- after putting up 102 receiving yards -- went out with what looked like a serious knee injury. He spent the second half on the sideline on crutches. Even in his absence, Katz orchestrated an 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to go up 29-20, but it's hard to fathom Oregon State playing the rest of the season without its dynamic all-purpose guy.

Don't count out the Wildcats. They've beaten Iowa and Cal. There's a lot of football between now and Thanksgiving, but keep in mind, the third-ranked Ducks' last two games will come against Arizona and Oregon State.

Shoelace hits the wall

I can't say I'm surprised by Saturday's Michigan State-Michigan result, a 34-17 Spartans victory (RECAP | BOX). Sooner or later, Wolverines star Denard Robinson was going to run into a defense capable of slowing him down. And when that happened, Michigan's defense was bound to be its downfall.

As has been the case all season (actually, for two years now), big plays doomed the Wolverines, as Michigan State's first three touchdowns came on a 61-yard Edwin Baker run, a 41-yard Le'Veon Bell run and a 41-yard Kirk Cousins pass to Mark Dell. Sparty ran up 532 yards on the nation's 102nd-ranked defense.

For the most part, Robinson didn't have a bad day statistically. He just wasn't otherworldly, as he'd been to this point. He ran for 84 yards and threw for 217. He did, however, throw two costly interceptions in the Michigan State end zone, and a third pick later on. Most notably, MSU's defense held him without a truly "big" run -- his longest rush went for 16 yards.

In coach Mark Dantonio ' s first game back, State notched its first three-game winning streak over its rival since 1967 and asserted itself as a legitimate Big Ten title contender. (Unfortunately, the Spartans and Ohio State don't play this year.) With a powerful rushing attack and solid defense, this looks like the best Michigan State team since Nick Saban coached there.

Down goes No. 1

The golden rule of college football: As soon we start thinking a team is "unbeatable..."

Seven days after No. 1 Alabama garnered every possible form of hyperbole for throttling Florida, Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks brought us all back down to earth. All the factors were there for a "trap" game -- the Tide facing their third straight ranked opponent, the Gamecocks coming off a bye week -- but there was nothing fluky about South Carolina's 35-21 victory (RECAP | BOX). The Gamecocks thoroughly suffocated Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, while their own rushing sensation, freshman Marcus Lattimore, proved the rare physical runner capable of wearing down Alabama's defense.

But the Gamecocks' undisputed MVP was Spurrier's longtime headache, quarterback Stephen Garcia, who, just a game after being benched late in the fourth quarter at Auburn, was a near-flawless 17-of-20 for 201 yards and three touchdowns. His one miscue, taking an intentional safety early in the third quarter, gave the Tide (down 21-11 at the time) momentum, but South Carolina's defense ultimately squashed it.

It's a long season, and I'd hardly rule 'Bama out of the national-title picture. Remember, one- or two-loss SEC teams have won rings three of the past four years. However, the extent of the Gamecocks' dominance Saturday leaves room to wonder whether 'Bama is even the best team in the conference -- or its own state, for that matter. There are a lot of happy folks in Auburn right now -- not to mention Columbus, Ohio; Eugene, Ore.; and, yes, Boise.
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