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Senior College Football Columnist

Big Picture: So much for SEC East being college football's best division


OK, so maybe we jumped the gun last week with all that talk about how the SEC East has overtaken the West as the best division in college football. LSU, despite its beleaguered offensive line, handled No. 3 South Carolina while undefeated Mississippi State was impressive in its first real test, taking down Tennessee. For good measure, Alabama drilled hapless Mizzou, 42-10 and Arkansas blew out lowly Kentucky 49-7. In all, a resounding 4-0 for the West against the East.

LSU's victory, which actually was really powered by that battered O-line, triggers the "one-loss-team-with-the-best-shot-of-sneaking-into-the-BCS" banter that usually surfaces around this time every year.

Saturday night's big win was delivered by the Tigers' power ground game, which rolled up 258 rushing yards against the SEC's No. 2 run defense that had only been allowing 84 rushing yards per game. The O-line, using a freshman making his first start at right guard (Trai Turner), also did its part to render hollow Jadeveon Clowney's pregame threat that LSU QB Zach Mettenberger wouldn't finish the game.

"You look at it, we only have two guys starting that started the first game with La'el [Collins] and P.J. [Lonergan]," Mettenberger said of his O-line. "I thought the old man at left tackle [Josh Dworaczyk] had a hell of a game, he was on [Jadeveon] Clowney all night. The two young guys, Vadal [Alexander] and Trai [Turner] played lights out. I think they're going to be a good combo in the future on the right side for sure."

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On defense, LSU limited South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore to 35 yards, the third-lowest output of his career.

"Tonight I realized why LSU was preseason No. 1," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "They're a big, strong team. They can run the ball and stop the run. That was the biggest difference in the game probably. I don't know how many rushing yards they had, but I know we didn't have many at all. I give those guys credit."

True, Les Miles' team got run over last weekend in Gainesville, but after LSU's win over the Gamecocks, they're in good position to make a run at another trip to the BCS title game. Do they hold their own destiny? No, but there's still almost two months worth of attrition waiting to boost their cause.

In front of LSU: a visit to a ranked Texas A&M team before mighty Alabama visits. If the Tigers beat A&M then knock off the Tide, they'll be in great position. After that, unbeaten Mississippi State heads to Death Valley before LSU finishes vs. Ole Miss and at Arkansas. Get through all of that and they'd get a shot at the SEC East champ, which could mean a chance to avenge the loss to Florida. Short of a Florida rematch, the Tigers still would face Georgia or South Carolina again -- providing one more chance to fatten up the BCS resume.

Reasons why LSU doesn't technically control its own destiny: as long as Oregon stays unbeaten, the Tigers aren't trumping the Ducks. It's also probably a similar story when comparing LSU to undefeated Kansas State and Notre Dame. That said, it seems like a stretch to think the latter two will emerge from the second half of the season unscathed. Then again, who really figured either of them would still be unbeaten at this point?

Oregon State also remains unblemished. The Beavers get archrival Oregon in Corvallis. Win out and Mike Riley’s team likely would face USC in the Pac-12 title game. My hunch is an undefeated Pac-12 champ, whether it's Oregon or Oregon State, is still going to the BCS title game (more on the Beavers in a minute).

As for those remaining Big East unbeatens (Rutgers, Louisville, Cincy) and Ohio, I think they'd get squeezed out by all of the above. In fact, a one-loss Oklahoma team or one-loss USC team probably trumps them too. Fair or unfair, that's how far the Big East brand has fallen, and when your nonconference schedule is suspect, it's going to be problematic.

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I thought Tennessee would knock Mississippi State from the unbeaten ranks. I underestimated the Bulldogs' talent. QB Tyler Russell is playing very well. He now has a 12-1 TD-INT ratio (7-0 in SEC play). He impressed me Saturday night, and State's secondary also was as good as advertised.

Earlier in the week, a source told me that NFL scouts had been through Starkville and were curious how the Bulldogs CB tandem of Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay would handle the Vols’ freakish WR combo of Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Word was, with a strong showing it'd boost Banks' stock as a top-10 pick and elevate Slay into first-round consideration.

The Bulldogs' secondary ended up holding the two big wideouts to a pair of catches each and only 66 combined receiving yards. Impressive stuff for MSU. Keep in mind that the Bulldogs essentially had to beat Holmes Junior College for Banks, a small-school recruit from Mississippi years ago that has blossomed into a long, rangy big-play man in Starkville. Remember, Banks was that MSU freshman DB that had two pick-sixes on Tim Tebow. Against the Vols, he made a big strip that helped swing momentum.

Slay, who may be MSU's fastest guy, is even more physical than Banks and no doubt, his stock is soaring. Just like Dan Mullen's.

 There is no getting around this stat: Derek Dooley is now 0-20 lifetime against ranked teams. My hunch is barring a big upset of Bama or at South Carolina, he's getting canned after this season. The Vols are only 1-10 in SEC play the past two years and that lone win was against Vanderbilt in overtime.

 Hats off to Oregon State and Mike Riley. Even without standout QB Sean Mannion, the Beavers keep rolling. Playing against one of the country's better defenses, BYU, the Beavers also lost their best RB Storm Woods in the game to a knee sprain. No worries. Backup QB Cody Vaz shined. Riley opted to come out throwing and the Beavers hung 42 on a team that had only allowed a combined 10 points in its previous three games and had been No. 3 in the nation in defense. OSU is now 5-0 for the first time since 1939.

 Gene Chizik didn't make last Tuesday's Hot Seat Top 10, but after losing at Ole Miss, he's moved onto really shaky ground. As Ross Collings notes, if Auburn loses Saturday at Vandy, the Tigers will drop to 1-6 for the first time in 62 years. Losing to Ole Miss and Vandy back-to-back would be devastating for Chizik's job prospects.

 Sorry Stanford fans. Was there any doubt that play wasn't getting overturned in South Bend? To me, it sure looked like on replay one of the officials was coming in from the side to whistle the play dead, as ND players began to celebrate before Stepfan Taylor wiggled the ball across the goal line.

Johnny Manziel leads Texas A&M to 59-57 win over Louisiana Tech. (US Presswire)  
Johnny Manziel leads Texas A&M to 59-57 win over Louisiana Tech. (US Presswire)  
 I don't care if a Texas A&M game kicks off at 4 a.m. ET, if Johnny Manziel, aka "Johnny Football" is playing, I'm watching. His 577 yards of total offense in the Aggies’ 59-57 win over No. 23 Louisiana Tech is a new SEC record. And I'm sure he'll break it many more times over his A&M career.

"He is a very special player," Tech coach Sonny Dykes said. "We knew coming in he was going to be hard to stop. We had a hard time adjusting to his speed early in the game. I thought our guys got more settled in and made some adjustments and made some plays in the second half. We just couldn't stop him in critical situations. That's what good players do, they make plays."

 The Broyles Award goes to the nation's top assistant. New Texas Tech DC Art Kaufman is making quite a case for that it. A program that was No. 117 in scoring D last year is No. 7 so far this season, and you can no longer question the competition it has faced. Kaufman's Red Raiders shut down Geno Smith and West Virginia in shocking fashion Saturday in Lubbock.

Smith, who had been completing more than 80 percent of his passes before visiting Lubbock, barely completed more than 50 percent of them Saturday. The Red Raiders were at their best in clutch situations, limiting WVU to 2 of 7 in fourth-down tries a week after the Mountaineers went 5 of 5 at Texas.

 Great insight by analyst Chris Spielman during the WVU-Texas Tech game. The former Ohio State linebacking legend was successfully predicting WVU run plays by Mountaineer LT Quinton Spain's body language and foot placement pre-snap.

 I realize Texas misses LB Jordan Hicks, but this is ridiculous. Texas looks like the worst tackling team in major college football right now. Texas, which was No. 6 in the nation in run defense last year, is No. 103 now after getting annihilated by Oklahoma. Opponents also are 10 of 13 against Texas on fourth down. Last season, Texas was No. 4 in the nation in toughest fourth-down D at 5 of 17.

 The wizardry of 73-year-old Bill Snyder continues: Kansas State escaped Iowa State with a 27-21 win, improving Snyder's record to a ridiculous 10-1 in games decided by seven points or less in the past year and a half.

 New team, same results for Montel Harris, who has a habit of piling up 100-yard rushing games. The former BC star ran for 142 yards as Temple beat UConn in overtime.

 As I've said a hundred times before, never underestimate Hugh Freeze. Ole Miss is 4-3, that 16-game SEC losing streak is only a memory -- and now Freeze really has something to tout on the recruiting trail. More reason to party in Oxford. I'm not saying Freeze is going to lead the Rebels to SEC titles, but he might just make them nationally relevant.

 Ohio State's defense has been awful, allowing 87 points the past two weeks. The good news: The Buckeyes still won both games, although Indiana deserves credit for putting a major scare into Urban Meyer's team. If there's a positive spin for the Buckeyes' D it's that converted FB Zach Boren led the team with eight tackles in his first time playing defense in college -- and on a defense coping with attrition.

 Bob Davie's second act as a head coach is going a lot better than his first. New Mexico is 4-3 after winning at Hawaii. If not for a three-point loss against Boise State, the Lobos would have a four-game winning streak.

 TCU didn't miss Casey Pachall on Saturday night against Baylor. The Horned Frogs, led by Trevone Boykin, went 14 of 19 on third-down conversions as the young QB accounted for five TDs in the 49-21 win.

 Stat of the Day: Baylor, which has surrendered 119 points its past two games, is allowing opponents to hit on 64 percent of its third-down tries. That's almost 10 percent worse than the next-worst defense in the country (Kentucky).

 Stat of the Day, Take II: Opponents are 0-6 on fourth-down tries against Rutgers this season.

 Sweet moment: Florida sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball, who had brain surgery in 2011, recovered a Vandy fumble in the fourth quarter of the Gators’ win in Nashville.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for CBSSports.com and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.

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