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What we learned: LSU lacks grit, ACC's irrelevant, Notre Dame is for real

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Well, well, well.

The calendar turns to October and all hell breaks loose.

The first BCS standings are just six days away, which, of course, is when the sport of college football should turn upside down. Teams ranked No. 3 (Florida State), No. 4 (LSU), and No. 5 (Georgia) all lost on the road. The SEC now has three of the top four teams and, with LSU dropping to No. 9, four of the top 10.

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And we still have 14 undefeated teams ranked in the Top 25. Crazy. So when the smoke cleared early Sunday morning, what had we learned?

LSU lacks toughness

The narrative about the SEC changed last Saturday when No. 10 Florida beat No. 4 LSU 14-6 in the Swamp. Until Saturday the book on the conference was that Alabama and LSU were in a world by themselves when it came to talent, coaching and sheer physical play.

No more. Florida stood toe to toe with LSU for four quarters and frankly, in the second half, the Gators were taking it to LSU and were the tougher, more physical team. Florida was the team that was in great shape and wearing down the opposition.

Remember that a year ago Florida was outscored 72-22 in the fourth quarter by its eight SEC foes. That, Will Muschamp told me, was a function of fatigue and a lack of depth. Muschamp changed the strength and conditioning program to promote strength, size, and endurance. Then he told his new offensive coordinator (Brent Pease) in no uncertain terms that Florida would be able to run the ball in the fourth quarter to protect the lead.

And that is exactly what Florida did behind Mike Gillislee, who now has 548 yards in five games. He wants to become only the eighth back in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards. This season Florida has outscored its five opponents 41-0 in the fourth quarter.

I don't know what to tell you about LSU other than the offensive line isn't blocking well and the new quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, can't feel pressure in time to get rid of the ball. LSU can still win out and get to Atlanta so the Tigers are not out of this thing. But they need to play a lot better on offense to beat South Carolina on Saturday in Baton Rouge.

Noles title hopes are over

If a one-loss team is going to get into the BCS championship game, it won't be the one-loss team whose nonconference schedule included three-quarters of a game with Savannah State (55-0) and full games with Murray State and South Florida (2-4).

Florida State couldn't help scheduling Savannah State because West Virginia bailed on them. The Seminoles' loss to North Carolina State in Raleigh was a crushing blow to the ACC, which has not been to a BCS title game since 2000 and is basically out of the national championship conversation.

Florida State can still win the ACC Atlantic if it wins out and N.C. State loses again. So that means the Seminoles can still win the conference championship and a spot in the Orange Bowl. But all of that national championship conversation, which was premature at best, is over.

Two more firsts for Spurrier

There is nothing Steve Spurrier likes more than doing something at a school that has never been done before. In the past two seasons he has led South Carolina to its first-ever 11-win season and taken the Gamecocks to their first-ever SEC championship game. Saturday night's thorough 35-7 beat down of previously No. 5 Georgia gave the Gamecocks their third straight win over the Bulldogs, another thing the school has never done. It was also the school's 10th straight victory dating back to last season, which is something South Carolina had never done until Spurrier.

"Yep, we kinda like to do things for the first time around here," Spurrier said. "This was a special one."

But Saturday's win was the first test in a three-game stretch that could put the Gamecocks, now ranked No. 3, in the middle of the national championship race. They travel to wounded LSU on Saturday where, if South Carolina wins, it would create the mother of all showdowns at Florida, his old stomping grounds, on Oct. 20.

O'Brien is Big Ten coach of the year

When Penn State lost its first two games to Ohio (24-14) and Virginia (17-16), the players on that team would have been forgiven had they just packed it in. No young person should have to endure the heartbreak they felt for the victims of Jerry Sandusky, what it has done to their college experience, and what it has done to their dreams of football success. But they have now found a way to win four straight after Saturday's 39-28 comeback victory against Northwestern. The Nittany Lions trailed 28-17 going into the fourth quarter and outscored the Wildcats 22-0 in the final 15 minutes.

Now you have to understand that no matter how well or how hard Penn State plays it won't be going to a bowl and will not be eligible for the Big Ten championship game. So all these guys are playing for is each other.

"I don't know what's going to happen the rest of this year, but there will be no quit in that locker room," O'Brien said.

That's good coaching.

Notre Dame is for real

Despite my admiration for Brian Kelly, who is a helluva football coach, and linebacker Manti T'eo, who is a world class human being, I just was not prepared to say that Notre Dame is one of the elite teams in college football. I frankly did not believe that the Fighting Irish belonged in the Top 10. Well, may Knute Rockne forgive me, I'm now on board. They have handled five straight opponents and simply imposed their will on Miami, beating them 41-3 at Soldier Field.

This team can run. They had two 100-yard rushers against Miami. They have two quarterbacks, Tommy Rees and Everett Golson, who bring different skill sets to the table. And they finally know how to play defense, something we haven't been able to say about Notre Dame for a long time now. Notre Dame is No. 2 nationally in scoring defense (7.8 ppg) behind Alabama. Notre Dame leads the nation in touchdowns allowed with only three in five games.

And now what first looked like the toughest schedule in the world looks a bit different. They get Stanford on Saturday in South Bend. They go to Oklahoma on Oct. 27 and the Sooners are simply not as good on defense as they need to be. They play at Southern California on Nov. 24 and the Trojans now look vulnerable. Notre Dame probably won't win them all, but 11-1 or 10-2 would get the Irish a very nice bowl trip.

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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