What we learned: Florida State, K-State, Notre Dame jump into BCS title conversation

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On Sept. 15 it was No. 2 Southern California losing to Stanford. Then it was No. 6 Oklahoma losing at home to Kansas State this past Saturday. Then on Sunday it was Oregon jumping over No. 2 LSU because the Ducks dominated Arizona and the Tigers slopped through a 12-10 win at Auburn.

Oh yeah, it's on.

It was another crazy weekend. So what did we learn?

'Noles, ACC in BCS title race

Yes, I know, we've seen this movie before: ACC team gets excited (like Clemson's 8-0 start last season) and looks like a contender only to stumble at the finish (9-4). But this Florida State team looks different. The Seminoles fell behind to Clemson in the second half and past FSU teams would have packed it in when the going got tough. Florida State took complete control of the game and dominated in the fourth quarter.

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Now there are some stumbling blocks between Florida State and the ACC title game in Charlotte on Dec. 1. After four straight home games there are now trips to South Florida, North Carolina State, Miami (Fla.), Virginia Tech, and Maryland. There is a home game against the quickly-rising Florida Gators on Nov. 24. Florida State could prove once again that it is not quite ready for prime time. But its goal, and that of the ACC, is to get to November with one of its teams at least in the discussion for the national title. The ACC hasn't done that since 2000, when the Bobby Bowden dynasty was coming to a close.

Changing Big 12 race

Do you know the date of the Kansas State-West Virginia game? It's Oct. 20 in Morgantown. How about Kansas State vs. Texas? That's Dec. 1 in Little Manhattan. Those dates have now become very important in the wake of K-State's 24-19 win over Oklahoma in Norman. How big of a win was this for the Wildcats and Bill Snyder? It was historic. Before Saturday the Wildcats had played Oklahoma teams ranked in the Top 10 a total of 32 times. They were 1-31 in those games.

Now we have to start thinking about Kansas State as a realistic contender to win the Big 12, which means the Wildcats could reach the BCS championship game. I'm not real big on absolutes when it comes to coaching because there are so many variables. But when listing the top five best coaching jobs of all time -- taking a program that was beyond rags to riches -- what Bill Snyder has done in both tours of duty at Kansas State has to be in the top five.

Jeff Long's next big decision

The Arkansas athletics director received praise -- and he should have -- for the no-nonsense way he dispatched coach Bobby Petrino in April when Petrino violated state law and hired a woman (who was not his wife) with whom he had an ongoing relationship. Despite taking the ethical high ground, Long knew he would get criticized, especially if Arkansas lost to Alabama on Sept. 15. But even Long could not have envisioned the total collapse that has ensued with consecutive losses to Louisiana-Monroe, Alabama (52-0), and Saturday night to Rutgers.

And it's about to get worse. Arkansas front-loaded its schedule with four home games, which means the back end of the slate looks pretty rough with trips to Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State capped off by a home game with No. 2 LSU. We're looking at a best-case scenario of 6-6 in a year when fan base thought the Hogs would be in the mix for the national championship.

So the question becomes: How long will Jeff Long let the bleeding continue before he steps in and fires John L. Smith? At some point both sides need to be put out of their misery.

As right as the decision was to let Petrino go, Long, not John L. Smith, is now the guy who is feeling the heat.

Shaw, South Carolina rolling

After taking a hit on his bad shoulder against UAB on Sept. 15, there were questions about how effective Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw would be against Missouri. We shouldn't have wondered. Shaw's first pass of the day was incomplete and then he proceeded to complete 20 straight passes in South Carolina's overwhelming 31-10 win over Missouri. Shaw's hot streak was only four shy of the NCAA record of 24 consecutive passes completed by Tennessee's Tee Martin over two games in 1998. Shaw will break the record if he completes his first five passes against Kentucky on Saturday. Expect the 'Ol Ball Coach (Steve Spurrier) to give Shaw every opportunity to make that happen.

When you look closely at this South Carolina team you now see a bunch of difference makers: The South Carolina front seven, led by DE Jadeveon Clowney, was unblockable at times against Missouri. They harassed Missouri QB James Franklin all day. You know about Marcus Lattimore, who broke George Rogers' school record for rushing touchdowns on Saturday with 32. South Carolina has found its big-play guy to replace Alshon Jeffery in the person of Ace Sanders, who had a 49-yard punt return where he looked like Barry Sanders. So if Shaw, whose biggest assets are his leadership and his ability to run, suddenly becomes a better than average passer, the Gamecocks are going to be tough to beat.

We'll find out soon. After hosting Kentucky this week (Spurrier has never lost to Kentucky), there are consecutive games vs. Georgia at home, at LSU and at Florida.

Notre Dame can win them all

I was asked during Saturday's CBS pregame show if I thought Notre Dame could win 10. I was skeptical. Notre Dame has Stanford at home and Stanford has a nasty front seven on defense. But the Notre Dame defense looks like it is a lot better than a year ago after grabbing five interceptions against Michigan.

Notre Dame has to go to Oklahoma on Oct. 27. But we saw Saturday night that the Sooners can be beaten (at home) by a rugged team that can run the ball like Kansas State. Notre Dame has to go to USC on Nov. 24. But USC proved to be mere mortals against Stanford and by the time we get to November depth is going to be an issue with the Trojans. I'm not prepared to drink the Kool-Aid and talk about Notre Dame as a national championship contender, but the Irish are clearly better.

Brian Kelly finally has a defense with big-time players like Manti Te'o and a group of guys who are obviously close. Let's revisit the issue after the Stanford game on Oct. 13.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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