SEC bowl projections: Week 11

November, 11, 2014
The No. 1 postseason question facing the SEC is obviously whether the conference will get two teams into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 5 Alabama are both lurking, but one of those teams will likely drop after they meet this weekend. Thus we’ll project one SEC club making the playoff field, and it will be the winner of Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa.

A secondary question will be how many SEC clubs will appear in the postseason. The conference already has eight bowl-eligible teams: Mississippi State (9-0), Alabama (8-1), Ole Miss (8-2), Auburn (7-2), Georgia (7-2), Missouri (7-2), LSU (7-3) and Texas A&M (7-3).

Florida (5-3, with games left against South Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and Florida State) and Kentucky (5-5, with games left against Tennessee and Louisville) could reach bowl eligibility with a win in any of their remaining games. Meanwhile, Tennessee, South Carolina and Arkansas (all at 4-5) each need to win two of their final three games to reach the six-win plateau and appear in a bowl game.

We’re projecting 10 teams to reach six wins, with Florida and Tennessee (which must beat two of three against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt) achieving bowl eligibility.

Here’s the full list:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual): Alabama
Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Citrus Bowl: LSU
TaxSlayer Bowl: Ole Miss
Outback Bowl: Georgia
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Missouri
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Florida
Belk Bowl: Tennessee

TCU moves into CFP first four

November, 11, 2014

TCU still has Baylor beat in the College Football Playoff rankings -- even though the Bears got the better of the Horned Frogs on the field.

The Horned Frogs moved up to fourth in the rankings released Tuesday night, while the Bears were up to seventh, closing the gap between themselves and their Big 12 rivals.

"For the third consecutive week, the committee looked at the overall body of work, their strength of schedule, and looked at the number of top 25 wins," committee chairman Jeff Long said. "TCU has two top 25 wins and Baylor has one. And TCU's loss is a top-10 loss. When you put all those factors together, we still think at this time TCU has a better resume and was voted that way ahead of Baylor. "

Oregon (9-1) jumped undefeated Florida State and moved into second. The Seminoles (9-0) slipped to No. 3. Mississippi State remained No. 1.

The Ducks now have three wins against teams currently in the top 25 (Michigan State, UCLA, Utah). Florida State has beaten two teams in the top 25 (Notre Dame and Clemson).

Long said the committee had a long discussion about the merits of the Ducks and Seminoles, and decided to look beyond the record.

"It was a very close call, but the committee placed significant value on Oregon's quality of wins against three top 25 teams, two of which were on the road," Long said.

The 12-person selection committee will choose the four playoff teams on Dec. 7.


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As season evolves, views change

November, 10, 2014

It's time to re-evaluate.

As the season progresses and teams change, so does the perception of wins and losses.

Wins that once looked impressive now do nothing for a team's playoff résumé, and losses that were once acceptable are now a dagger in playoff hopes. Here's an updated look at how certain games have changed some résumés:

Wins That Look Better

• UCLA 62, Arizona State 27: A Thursday night road win against what is now a top-10 team stands out as one of the season-defining games in the Pac-12 South race. The Sun Devils' recent victory over Notre Dame made it look even better for the Bruins.

• Baylor 61, TCU 58: The Bears beat what could be a top-four team, a critical win in what will be a down-to-the-wire Big 12 race and the most controversial debate in the inaugural playoff. The win kept Baylor in the CFP race and ultimately gave it control of its destiny in the Big 12.

• Marshall 63, Southern Miss 17: This is the closest way to gauge how undefeated Marshall stacks up against the big boys, because both Mississippi State and Alabama also played the Golden Eagles and got similar results. Marshall had to win with style, and in spite of a slow start, it did.

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For the second time in three seasons, Texas A&M went into the state of Alabama and pulled off a shocking upset. The first one -- a 29-24 win over No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 10, 2012 -- changed the outlook of the program and the national perception of the Aggies.

The latest one -- a 41-38 thriller over No. 3 Auburn on Saturday -- salvaged the Aggies' season by halting a downward spiral that had some wondering if they'd win any of their final six SEC games.

It had quite the 2012 feel to it. The Aggies were decided underdogs, going into a hostile atmosphere. They were facing a top-five team with hopes of a title run. The similarities extended all the way down to the tone of the pregame tweet posted by the team's star freshmen: Johnny Manziel then, Myles Garrett now.

Calling it a big win is an understatement, but it means nothing if the Aggies don't build on it.

"To come here and win it should be a great lesson for a team," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "How do you grow out of this?"

The Aggies (7-3, 3-3 SEC) had marked success early this season but handled it poorly. They raced to a 5-0 start but followed that up with three awful performances against elite teams: Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama. The last one of those three was a jarring loss for the program, a 59-0 embarrassment in Tuscaloosa.

For the first time since Sumlin arrived, there appeared to be cracks in the foundation.

Even after a much-needed off week, the Aggies squeaked by less-talented Louisiana-Monroe, 21-16. Naturally, everyone from Las Vegas oddsmakers to traditionally optimistic A&M fans doubted they could pull off a win over an Auburn team that had yet to lose in Jordan-Hare Stadium under Gus Malzahn.

Saturday's victory and the way it occurred -- with a scorching offensive start, key turnovers on defense and a big play on special teams -- has been witnessed in Aggieland before.

That formula cannot be cast aside as the Aggies' bask in victory's glow. The reason Saturday shocked the country was because of A&M's preceding four games. One win doesn't erase more than a month's worth of poor play.

"We won five in a row and we lost three in a row," Sumlin said. "During that stretch we didn't handle things very well.

"Now the challenge is, 'OK, this is a really good win for this team and for this program, but how do you handle it moving forward? How are we going to handle this week? Are we going to handle this week, as players, off the field, on the field, the way we handled it last week?' If we can do that, then you know your team is growing up."

Growth is critical for this team. Entering this season, the Aggies had few outsider expectations placed on them. With a new starting quarterback, new receivers and a still-young defense that was coming off a horrific 2013, it was understood that 2014 shaped up to be a transitional year. Excellence is difficult to maintain when three first-round NFL draft picks (Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and Manziel) depart.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Williams
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBrandon Williams rushed for a season-high 68 yards against Auburn.
Expectations changed when the Aggies ramrodded South Carolina, a team with a preseason top-10 ranking, on Aug. 28. Time has proven the significance of that win to be fool's gold, but the subsequent 5-0 start raised expectations anyway, which turned out to be impossible for these Aggies to fulfill. Their first-time starter at quarterback, Kenny Hill, cooled from a hot start and eventually gave way to another first-time starter, true freshman Kyle Allen, who threw four touchdowns on Saturday.

The offensive line and receiver play was inconsistent and often erratic during the losing streak, but both units excelled against the Tigers. The running game was non-existent at times but has seen vast improvement the last two weeks. The defense, which started strongly, showed flashes of its 2013 self at times and showed no resistance against Alabama but came up with critical turnovers on Saturday and did just enough to help secure a win while continuing to mesh new personnel.

In the aftermath of the Alabama debacle, Sumlin preached getting back to the core principles of his program: Play hard, play smart, be physical. The Aggies did all three against Auburn.

"We just looked at it as we have nothing to lose," senior cornerback Deshazor Everett said. "Coming into this game we were just like, ‘Let’s cut everything loose and just go out there and play together and give it our all.' ... We had the mentality that if we were going to make mistakes, we were going to make mistakes going full speed. Don’t go out there and try to hold anything back."

Questions remain. Is this the effort that can be expected from the Aggies moving forward or will old issues resurface in the homestretch? Can they show some defensive improvement, after giving up 582 yards, including 363 rushing, to Auburn? Can the offensive line and receivers replicate Saturday's effort? Can the 18-year-old Allen continue to direct the ship?

How the Aggies look in their final 120 minutes inside Kyle Field will speak volumes. Sumlin is working to build this program for SEC contention in 2015, 2016 and beyond.

For the foundation to be strong and recruiting success to continue, the Aggies must finish their final two games with the type of effort seen Saturday, regardless of whether they win or lose. The ugliness of October can't resurface and must prove simply to be a bump in the road in otherwise upward trajectory.

"How you play matters," Sumlin said. "And that's the lesson to be learned tonight for young players."
The SEC isn't winning any beauty contests this season.

Though the conference has ruled the sport for the better half of the past decade, this season's internal domination has proven that even though the league is stronger from top to bottom than it has been in recent years, style points will be limited going forward.

Like the sport in general, there is no dominant entity, and making it out of Atlanta means someone will be clawing, kicking and punching its way down Peachtree Street.

Unless we see a Texas A&M-South Carolina performance during the final stretch, the country is just going to have to accept that the SEC is just a rugged, gruff league with clumps of dirt on its face and a tattered wardrobe. Routs of the Oregon and TCU variety just aren't likely.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen, Will Redmond
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisMississippi State is unbeaten, but has tough games against Alabama and Ole Miss remaining.
That is not to say that the conference champion won't get in to the College Football Playoff -- unless it's one of the more homely looking teams from the East -- but anyone waiting for an SEC team to wow us in every phase of the game against a league foe should stop wasting his or her time. Teams are too busy pounding each other, and leaving the door open for a chaotic scenario featuring four two-loss teams.

The SEC's grit hasn't really affected the league in the first two College Football Playoff rankings, but as the league continues to beat up on itself in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how the playoff committee views the conference champion that will likely have at least one loss.

Yes Mississippi State, even you are susceptible to 2014 heartbreak.

The No. 1 Bulldogs (9-0, 5-0 SEC) still play Alabama and Ole Miss on the road, and according to ESPN's Football Power Index, they have a 4.9 percent chance of winning out. Mississippi State has slowed some in the past few weeks, and has two slugfests remaining that will likely come down to the wire.

Still, if the Bulldogs win out, they are in the playoff. But a loss at any point could be tricky because of an awful nonconference slate and a couple of recent close calls against Arkansas and Kentucky. You also have to consider the idea of Alabama winning out and securing a spot with the conference championship. Will the committee still favor Mississippi State over a few other one-loss teams that have thrashed opponents in recent weeks? Teams like, Oregon, TCU and Baylor? All of which are ranked higher than Mississippi State (11th) in ESPN's FPI.

The SEC has roughed itself up while other conferences have shown quality at the top. We've seen utter chaos in the SEC West this season, and though it has been incredibly entertaining, it's putting more pressure on the top teams to keep pushing forward.

SEC teams are having problems with each other, and elite teams in other conferences are rolling.

Alabama just had to grind out an incredibly tough overtime win against a much-improved LSU team on the road. Hours earlier, Auburn, the No. 3 team in the nation before Saturday, imploded in a mistake-riddled 41-38 loss to an A&M team that had lost its past three SEC games by a combined score of 142-51.

A week prior, Auburn was in the playoff after a thrilling win at Ole Miss, which is still alive in the West. But Ole Miss travels to Arkansas this weekend and hosts Mississippi State this month.

Georgia appears to be the only viable option out of the East, even with bad losses to South Carolina and Florida. When the Dawgs have their talent clicking, they look like the most well-rounded team in the SEC. Plus, Todd Gurley is coming back, so wins against Auburn and the West champ could entice the selection committee.

However, the real playoff hope for the SEC lies in the West. Elegance has never really been the SEC's strength, but you would think the committee has already taken that into account. Still, with external praise for teams convincingly rolling through their conferences, the SEC is at least on notice, but don't expect it whip out the mascara.

Teams and coaches that need to win 

November, 10, 2014
These are bizarre-yet-enlightening times in the Lone Star State. All right, so a Republican last week won the governorship and brisket is still King with a capital K, so some normalcy exists. But in the college football realm, Baylor and TCU are battling for a playoff spot while Texas A&M and Texas scramble for bowl eligibility.

The Aggies got there with a win against Louisiana-Monroe, and the Longhorns are a step closer after a surprising home win over West Virginia. Texas will make the postseason with a win against either Oklahoma State or TCU.

The tilted balance of power, though, is putting a strain on the state’s football royalty. The pressure is building to perform, and the coaches of A&M and UT lead the list of those who need to win in 2015 to stave off the heat:

SEC morning links

November, 10, 2014
Good Monday to you all. It's another big week in the SEC highlighted by the biggest game to date this season on the docket: No. 1 Mississippi State at No. 5 Alabama. Both teams control their own destiny in the playoff race considering the strength of their schedules in the final weeks of the season. What an afternoon it should be. Mississippi State is eager. You can believe that Alabama will be, too, although the Crimson Tide are coming off a more taxing affair, having to grind out a 20-13 overtime win over LSU in Death Valley, one that prompted a lot of OMGs to one Terry Saban. It was a night that wasn't pretty for Blake Sims, until the end when it mattered most, when he got the job done. Quarterback play is always critical but is even more magnified in big games and close games. Expect the same Saturday when Sims and Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott square off.

This season hasn't turned out as planned for South Carolina. A preseason top-10 ranking which followed three consecutive seasons of at least 11 wins set expectations high, but the Gamecocks have come nowhere near meeting them, limping along at 4-5 (2-5 in the SEC). One can only wonder the affect it has on veteran coach Steve Spurrier, whose frustration was visible after the normally talkative coach left his news conference after his team's loss to Tennessee after less than a minute. What of the 69-year-old coach's future? Spurrier declined to elaborate on his plans for next season when asked Sunday, saying he's going to "quit commenting on that." (For what it's worth, he told last week that he plans to return in 2015). Next up for the Gamecocks is a clash with Florida, a team that has won two straight.

It was only one performance, but it was a memorable one for Texas A&M true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen. All he did was throw four touchdowns and lead the Aggies to a 41-38 win over No. 3 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Allen was the top-ranked pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class. He showed why he was so highly regarded on ”That is why we recruited him and that is why he is here,” Texas A&M receiver Malcome Kennedy said afterward. Based on his play Saturday, Allen likely earned himself the chance to start the Aggies' next game against Missouri and perhaps the rest of the season. And the win? It salvaged a season that was turning ugly.

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SEC plays of the week: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Another exciting week of SEC football and plenty of great plays to choose from. Here's our five favorites from the weekend that was:

Dandy catch for Dupre
Malachi Dupre is an SEC star in the making. The heavily-recruited true freshman displayed his skills with a nifty one-handed catch near the sideline for a 14-yard touchdown catch with a Alabama defensive back, Cyrus Jones, following step-for-step with him. The call was initially ruled an incompletion but upon an official review, it was shown that Dupre got a foot in bounds with control of the ball for the Tigers' touchdown.

Is that a catch? Yes it is
Vanderbilt was fighting to try to make it a game with Florida late and Davis Dudchock showed some impressive effort. When quarterback Johnny McCrary rolled left and fired a deep pass to Dudchock, the well-covered tight end fended off a defensive back and hauled in the pass with one hand, diving to the turf. It was perhaps the best catch seen in the SEC on Saturday.

video Twice is nice for McKenzie
Georgia was dominant vs. Kentucky and that included on special teams where Isaiah McKenzie had himself a day. He returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, then in the third quarter had this nifty 59-yard punt return for his second touchdown of the day. McKenzie made two nice moves to make the Wildcats miss early, split a couple defenders, got a huge block from a teammate, then hit the gas to sprint to the end zone.

video Tabor's one-handed interception
Florida rolled to a 34-10 win against Vanderbilt and it included big plays on both sides of the ball. Though the game was mostly out of reach for the Commodores late, that didn't keep Florida from making plays like this one-handed interception by Jalen Tabor in the end zone.

video Special teams score for Texas A&M
In what turned out to be a huge play, the Aggies showed off their special teams skills in their upset win at Auburn. With the Tigers lining up for a field goal to end the half, true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett got his hand on the football to block it and cornerback Deshazor Everett, who was playing with a torn elbow tendon, picked it up and sprinted 65 yards to the end zone for a score. It was a 10-point swing right before the half.

Auburn falls to No. 9 in AP poll

November, 9, 2014

Baylor, Arizona State and Ohio State all took big steps forward in The Associated Press college football poll after big wins, and Auburn dropped out of the top five after being upset.

For the fifth straight week, the top two are Mississippi State (9-0) and Florida State (9-0). The No. 1 Bulldogs received 49 first-place votes Sunday. The second-ranked Seminoles have 12.

Oregon jumped to No. 3 past Alabama, which remained No. 4. No. 5 TCU also moved up a spot.

Baylor climbed four places to sixth after romping at Oklahoma

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SEC Power Rankings: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
It was a Saturday in which Auburn and Les Miles both ran out of magic, Mississippi State and Alabama set up an epic showdown next week, and two young quarterbacks, Texas A&M's Kyle Allen and Florida's Treon Harris, gave their teams hope for the future. How does it all affect this week's power rankings? Let's find out.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Separation Saturday lived up to its billing in the SEC with a shocking upset followed by an overtime thriller. It also provided plenty of memorable individual performances across the conference. Here are five who we think are most deserving of a helmet sticker.

Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M: He might only look 16, but Allen played a heck of a game on the road at Auburn in his first ever SEC start. The true freshman went 19 of 29 for 277 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. He was the primary reason the Aggies jumped out to a 35-17 halftime lead as he threw four touchdowns to three different wide receivers in the first 30 minutes. The offense got more conservative in the second half, but he still showed poise down the stretch, protecting the football in a hostile environment and helping his team escape with a 41-38 upset victory.

Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn: The loss stings, but Artis-Payne had a game to remember. The senior, who had rushed for over 100 yards in six of Auburn’s first eight games, eclipsed the 200-yard mark Saturday against Texas A&M. He finished with 30 carries for a career-high 221 yards and two touchdowns. He now has 1,190 yards on the season, becoming the 18th different Auburn player to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. Had he gained one more yard late in the fourth quarter, the Tigers might have won.

Treon Harris, QB, Florida: Who says Florida can’t pass? A week after attempting six passes in the blowout win over Georgia, Harris went 13 of 21 for 215 yards on the road at Vanderbilt. The freshman quarterback also rushed for 49 yards and two touchdowns to help lead the Gators to a 34-10 win, their second win in as many weeks, but what stood out was Harris' accuracy. He showed he could make throws if called upon. It was easily the best performance of his young career at Florida, and maybe a sign of things to come for Gators fans.

Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia: Take your pick from this game. Hutson Mason threw for 174 yards and four touchdowns. Nick Chubb rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown. But McKenzie was a human highlight reel in Georgia’s 63-31 win over Kentucky. The freshman wide receiver took the opening kickoff back 90 yards for a touchdown and later returned a punt 59 yards for his second score of the game. He is believed to be the first Bulldog in the modern era to do both in the same game. McKenzie finished with 187 all-purpose yards.

Blake Sims, QB, Alabama: It wasn’t pretty for three-and-a-half quarters, but when the game was on the line, Sims came through. The senior orchestrated a terrific drive in the final minute to set up a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, and his touchdown pass to DeAndrew White in the first overtime session proved to be the game-winner in Alabama’s 20-13 win over LSU on Saturday. Sims finished 20 of 45 for 209 yards and two touchdowns, but it was his late-game heroics that stood out in a classic defensive battle.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Another eventful Saturday in the SEC. Here’s what we learned:

Bama is still alive but needs work: It wasn’t pretty, but Alabama’s playoff hopes are still intact after the Crimson Tide survived a thriller in Death Valley 20-13 in overtime. Despite a critical T.J. Yeldon fumble in the final minutes of regulation, the Tide were able to hold LSU to a field goal then benefited from a special-teams miscue as Trent Domingue booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Blake Sims came up big by directing a game-tying drive then threw a picturesque pass to DeAndrew White for the game-winning touchdown in overtime. With No. 3 Auburn losing on Saturday, Alabama looks poised to move into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, and with No. 1 Mississippi State coming to town next week and the Iron Bowl in three weeks, the Crimson Tide control their own destiny. One thing is clear though: They can’t make the mistakes they did Saturday if they’re going to win out. Sims has to be better in the earlier portions of the game (he missed some open receivers), they can’t drop the football (Amari Cooper had one in crunch time) and surviving a late turnover like the one they had Saturday is hard to replicate against elite teams. They were fortunate to win Saturday; now they must turn the page and improve before the Bulldogs come to Tuscaloosa.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTexas A&M's Kyle Allen helped diminish Auburn's playoff hopes with a four-touchdown effort.
Auburn’s playoff hopes are likely done: There are a lot of quality one-loss teams remaining in the field; a second loss is a killer for Auburn -- especially coming at home to an unranked team that hadn’t played well since September. For a little bit, it looked like the Tigers would pull off some of the late-game magic that has become a signature trait of theirs in the Gus Malzahn era, but two late fourth-quarter fumbles squashed their hopes and left them with a 41-38 loss. “It hurts,” Malzahn said. “It hurts our team. We have goals and dreams, and we did not get it done tonight.” The turnovers on offense late were one factor, but there were others: the first-half defense was poor and the secondary was torched in the first two quarters. On special teams, an Auburn field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown to end the first half. The Tigers were sloppy quite a bit on Saturday and they paid for it in the end. Now the Tigers must turn around and head to Georgia next week and close out at Alabama in three weeks, so the road remains tough down the stretch.

No hangover for Georgia: If you thought the Bulldogs were going to let the upset loss to Florida affect them moving forward, think again. Mark Richt’s crew responded emphatically, jumping out to a quick three-touchdown lead in Lexington and rolling to a 63-31 win over Kentucky. Georgia had success in all three phases, rolling up 559 offensive yards, holding Kentucky to 139 passing yards on 16 of 31 attempts and scored two special-teams touchdowns -- a kickoff return (90 yards) and punt return (59 yards) for scores by Isaiah McKenzie. Nick Chubb had another great performance at running back (13 carries, 170 yards) and Hutson Mason threw for four scores. The Bulldogs still need help from Missouri in the form of a loss, but they’re still very much alive in the SEC East.

Treon Harris can throw it around: Last week, the Florida quarterback attempted only six passes versus Georgia but on Saturday, the Gators trusted their true freshman more and Harris delivered, completing 13 of 21 passes for 215 yards. There were no touchdown passes, but more importantly, no interceptions and Harris was accurate and showed off his deep ball with this 59-yard beauty to Quinton Dunbar. Harris did solid work on the ground, too, rushing for 49 yards and two touchdowns in Florida’s 34-10 win over Vanderbilt. The Gators need to continue to win and need help from others, but they still have a pulse in the SEC East race.

Kevin Sumlin can still pull a rabbit out of his visor: Texas A&M was a 23-point underdog going into Jordan-Hare Stadium, lost its past three SEC games, had a true freshman quarterback, a beat up offensive line and a defense with a lot of youngsters starting. All the Aggies did was jump out to a 35-17 halftime lead and hang on for dear life to upset the No. 3 team in the nation in its own house. Sumlin’s Aggies pulled off a similar stunt almost two years to the day when they went into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and took down the No. 1 Crimson Tide 29-24 behind freshman quarterback and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Is Kyle Allen (four touchdown passes) the next star quarterback in Aggieland? It’s too early to say but he had a memorable performance on Saturday at Auburn and he gives the seemingly left-for-dead Aggies some reason for optimism in the final weeks of the regular season. Sure, Auburn made a lot of mistakes, but Texas A&M played better than it had in more than a month, showing flashes of the team that started 5-0 this season.

Saturday's top plays in the SEC

November, 9, 2014


Look back at an exciting week 11 in the Southeastern Conference.

Auburn's run of luck finally ran out, and two uncharacteristic fumbles late in the game allowed Texas A&M to get the upset.

AUBURN, Ala. -- It had the makings of another epic win for Auburn. The Tigers trailed by two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter. They cut it to three and had two chances to take the lead, but it wasn't meant to be. Not this time. Texas A&M recovered two fumbles late and hung on to upset No. 3 Auburn 41-38 on Saturday.

How the game was won: Texas A&M came out firing on all cylinders offensively, jumping out to a 35-17 lead. Miscommunication cost Auburn its chance to complete the comeback win, though. First, with the Tigers knocking on the door to score, quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne bobbled a handoff, and Marshall put it on the turf at the Texas A&M 2 with 2:37 remaining. On the next drive, Reese Dismukes snapped it to Marshall, who wasn't looking, and the Aggies recovered again with 54 seconds left to end Auburn's hopes.

Game ball goes to: The Texas A&M defense made two big stops late in the game, but freshman quarterback Kyle Allen was terrific in his first SEC start and second overall career start. He came out of the gate firing with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Malcome Kennedy on his third throw, and he finished 19-of-29 for 277 yards and four touchdowns. He showed serious moxie on the road.

What it means: This was Gus Malzahn's first loss at home since taking over at Auburn prior to last season, and his first loss as an FBS head coach in the month of November.

Playoff implication: If any two-loss team has a chance to get back in the playoff picture, it's Auburn, based solely on strength of schedule. The Tigers still have road games left at Georgia and Alabama that could boost their résumé. But Saturday's loss makes it mighty tough for Malzahn's bunch to return to the national championship game.

What's next: Auburn will see where it winds up in the latest playoff committee rankings on Tuesday and must regroup before heading to Athens for a battle with Georgia. Texas A&M returns home to host SEC East-leading Missouri.


Ranking the new SEC defensive coordinators
Greg McElroy ranks the best new defensive coordinator hires in the SEC.