Week 9 College Football preview: The whole nine yards with Mia O'Brien

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By MIA O'BRIEN
College Contributor Network

Harry Houdini, you have some competition

... because after his latest performance, people should be paying Jameis Winston for the magic tricks he pulls off (and not signed merchandise).

Did Florida State answer every Notre Dame score on Saturday? Yes. But did Notre Dame "lose" the game? Absolutely not. The Fighting Irish had 26 first down conversions as compared to FSU's 18. They also went seven for 18 on third down conversions, as compared to the Seminoles' two-for-eight ratio.

Of course the big tell-all for those stats: the dismal Florida State running game, which averaged 1.9 yards per rush. Oh, and a grand total of 50 yards on the day. That's the former No. 1 -- and current No. 2 team -- in the country for those of you keeping score at home.

Yes, Winston had 273 yards on the day, but Everett Golson had 313 and the Notre Dame offense as a whole amassed 470 yards on the day. Which means, looking at the other side of the coin, the Florida State defense gave up 470 yards. Until this team becomes a complete team, I'm not picking Florida State to do anything outside winning the ACC.

Happy trails: playoff edition

Halfway through the 2014-2015 season, several teams have already been ruled out of playoff contention for the inaugural College Football Playoff. Who surprisingly is out of contention and who managed to avoid the chopping block for this long?

The biggest names dropping this week ranged from three teams in the Pac-12 race (Oregon State, Stanford, and Washington) to the free-falling Aggies of Texas A&M. To be quite frank, all might have still been in the playoff conversation if they had different schedules. The Aggies in particular had the daunting task of taking on Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Alabama in back-to-back-to-back weeks; even before the state of Mississippi proved to be the "holy grail" of college football, on paper, that was no small task. The Aggies' downfall, much like the LSU Tigers, was playing in the SEC West.

Similar was the tale of those three Pac-12 teams as well as Oklahoma State, who also was eliminated this past week. The only major contest Florida State has faced not named Notre Dame, the Cowboys had it rough from the get-go-and playing West Virginia and Kansas State the next two weeks definitely wouldn't have helped the cause.

Oh, and Rutgers was eliminated this weekend. The fact that the latest addition to the Big Ten (who fell to Ohio State 56-17) was still hanging around by Week 8 tells you where that conference is at.

They're backkkkk!

Don't count out these perennial powerhouses just yet: from the looks of it, Alabama and Oregon are just about to hit their stride.

This time last week, I predicted Week 8 would tell us if the Crimson Tide and the Ducks had any life left in them. This week, we're talking about just how much life and energy these two squads have after winning in big ways (Alabama eliminated Texas A&M with a 59-0 shutout, while Oregon beat Washington 45-20).

Both play in the two hardest conferences in the country, but, at least for the next few weeks, it's relatively smooth sailing. 'Bama has Tennesee and LSU before a mammoth meeting with No. 1 Miss. State on Nov. 15; Oregon's only remaining ranked opponent is Utah on Nov. 8. Not saying the now-eliminated Stanford's, Oregon State's, and LSU's of the world couldn't hand either of these teams their second loss of the year (and seal their postseason fates), but, at least after their performances last weekend, it seems like these two are still very much in it to win it.

Stayin' alive

As the Crimson Tide and Ducks jump back into the playoff race, several teams are still managing to hang around.

The notables still hanging around heading into Week 9: TCU and Arizona State. With several of their conference opponents suffering big losses this past weekend (Stanford, Washington and Oklahoma State are out; Baylor and Oklahoma both lost) there's still very much a chance both these teams could be playing for hardware come January -- even if they do not play in the SEC West.

As much as I may bash the Big Ten in this column, there just might be a pulse from a team not named Michigan State in the Midwest: Nebraska. The Cornhuskers' lone loss may be to the Spartans, but a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way -- and since MSU still needs to play Michigan and Ohio State- -- could keep them in the conversation up until playoff time.

Speaking of the Buckeyes, they're also a team that's been flying under the radar, coming in at unlucky No. 13 in this week's AP poll. They're 5-1, and do have that showdown with the Spartans on Nov. 8, but a win there could push them into the Top Ten -- and maybe even the playoffs.

What to watch for

It doesn't even matter that the Wolverines are 3-4: Michigan-Michigan State is always a good one to watch -- and I wouldn't rule out the chance of an upset. At the same time, the Spartans do have home field advantage in this one. Michigan snapped a three-game skid with a big win over Penn State last week.

In terms of games with playoff/conference implications, USC-Utah is one of two games this weekend between ranked opponents. The 5-2 Trojans will have to pull off a win in this one to stay in the postseason conversation -- or at least survive until their back-to-back meetings with UCLA and Notre Dame to end the season. For Utah, it's the start of a tough stretch: following this matchup, the Utes face ASU, Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona in consecutive weeks. A win, though, would keep the surprise Utes among the nation's best: junior quarterback Travis Wilson and the Utah offense are averaging nearly 38 points a game.

Who to watch for

Quietly, Ohio State's freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has thrown for over 1,600 yards through the first half of the season and a 65.5% completion percentage. His touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't too shabby either for a first-year starter (20 touchdowns to five interceptions). Don't know if it's been the play of Barrett or that, quite frankly, all eyes have been on the SEC, but the name "Braxton Miller" has quickly been forgotten on the national scene.

As mentioned, the Buckeyes have had a pretty easy schedule thus far, and have yet to take on Michigan State, but key wins over these next three weeks (Penn State, Illinois, and then the Spartans) could lift Barrett and the Buckeyes to the next level.

Is there a Beast from the East (at any level?)

If you couldn't tell by now, the Big East is more or less a thing of the past -- and no team from the American Athletic Conference has made a splash this season. The ACC has scooped up the likes of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and Rutgers has left for the Big Ten (which, well, has been at least in 2014, the Big Ten).

But even beyond the FBS Division I-A teams, a drop off in the power of East Coast teams has been seen. At the Division III level, the former "Beast from the East" has all but fallen from the national rankings, receiving only four votes in the most recent, D3Football.com poll. Their NJAC opponents have not done much better: SUNY Cortland has yet to win a game this season, while the Prof's biggest competition has been Montclair State and Morrisville State-who finished 4-6 and 3-7 respectively, last season.

Meanwhile, with Ithaca's recent two-game skid (and the combination of St. John Fisher-Salisbury-Buffalo State continuing to attempt to knock one another off), the strength of what many (including myself) believed to be the third-strongest conference in the nation is being questioned.

Thus, could it be said that a team from the "First State," the Wesley Wolverines, currently ranked fourth in the country (and with a high-flying offense that could challenge several Division I-A teams) is the premier football destination in the Northeast? The Wolverines returned basically everybody and are the only team threatening the stronghold Wisconsin-Whitewater, Mary Hardin-Baylor, and Mount Union have in Division 3 football. You decide.

The last laugh

Does LSU really need a quarterback next year anyways?

On second thought...

A double feature of the "Last Laugh" this week... after all, it might be one of the brightest things to come out of the Big Ten this year...


Mia O'Brien is a senior at Ithaca College's Roy H. Park School of Communications, where basically everyone calls her "Mobrien." She's a fan of country music, a good debate, and French dressing -- in no particular order. For sports updates, random musings, and many a creative hashtag, follow her on Twitter: @OBSportsLive16
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