Ryan Mayer

Every college football weekend is jam packed with games starting on Thursday night and running through the early morning hours of Sunday. You probably didn’t have a chance to watch all the action, nobody does. So, we’re here every Monday to recap some of the highlights (or lowlights) of the weekend.

When the first official rankings were released last Tuesday, the hot topic of debate was whether or not Texas A&M deserved to be in one of the four playoff spots instead of an undefeated Washington team. Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies made that conversation a moot point on Saturday, while Nick Saban and company stayed undefeated with a superb defensive performance in Baton Rouge.

Mississippi State 35 Texas A&M 28

The Aggies made things easy on the committee for this week’s rankings by coming out sluggish against the Bulldogs. They got down 28-7 before a Christian Kirk punt return made it 28-14 at the half. However, they were unable to dig out of that hole. The biggest problem for the Aggies was the loss of Trevor Knight in the first half to an apparent shoulder injury.

That left the quarterbacking duties up to Jake Hubenak, who filled in capably (11/17, 222 yards 2 TD 1 INT), but the Aggies offense clearly isn’t the same without Knight’s ability to run. With their hopes of the playoffs now definitely dashed, Aggies fans are hoping that Knight isn’t seriously injured. If he is, it will likely be a rough end to the year for this team.

USC Is Right Back In The Pac-12 Race

The Trojans didn’t make the best first impression this season. They were run out of the stadium by Alabama 52-6 in Week 1, then opened Pac-12 play with consecutive losses to Stanford and Utah. Sitting at 1-3, the rumblings began about coach Clay Helton and whether or not he would last the season. Aside from those conversations, the Trojans have largely been left out of the national spotlight.

Well, since being discarded following that rough start, the Trojans have found their rhythm. After a 45-20 romp over Oregon Saturday, they have now won five straight. In the five wins, they’ve averaged 40 points per game as opposed to the 22 points per game they averaged over their first four games.

The main difference? Freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold got his first major action against Utah and since then, he has lit it up throwing for 1,485 yards 18 touchdowns against just three interceptions while completing 68-percent of his passes. The Trojans are 5-2 in Pac-12 play, just one game in the loss column behind Colorado (5-1) in the Pac-12 South. Should the Buffs slip up while USC wins out, the Trojans would play in the conference title game by virtue of their head-to-head win against Colorado in September.

However, the Trojans face a major test this Saturday when they travel to Seattle to take on undefeated Washington. The Trojans opened as 7.5 point underdogs for Saturday, but they’ll have a national audience watching once again as the game will air at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Fox.

Alabama Survives Trip To LSU

Heading into this game on Saturday night, everyone knew it would be a defensive struggle. For all the talk of a reinvigorated Tigers offense and a Tide offense that has looked impressive at times this year, these are defense-first football teams. That showed Saturday night. It took until the fourth quarter for the game’s first points to be scored and they came via the legs of the Tide’s freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Hurts was the leading rusher in the game carrying 20 times for 114 yards and that touchdown. As for LSU star running back Leonard Fournette? The Tide once again stuffed him as he managed just 35 yards on 17 carries. In his three games against Alabama in his career, Fournette has carried the ball 57 times for 145 yards. That’s a 2.5 yards per carry average. Fournette’s career YPC is 6.3. Saban and the Tide just seem to know how to bottle up this offense and keep Fournette from gashing them.

More importantly for Tide fans, the way Hurts played Saturday night should make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside despite his struggles. The numbers weren’t eye popping by any stretch. But, in a high pressure environment, against a tough defense, he made just one big mistake (the interception) and still led his team to a win. He continues to show poise that belies his age which is good news for the Tide and awful news for any Alabama hater hoping they’ll slip up. The next biggest test? The Iron Bowl on November 26th when Auburn comes to town.

Sixth Power Conference?

Any fan of college football understands that there are five “power” conferences. The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12. As the last round of conference realignment and the most recent Big 12 expansion drama showed, being a member of one of these conferences means you are among college football’s elite. The gap between these conferences and the so called “Group of 5” is seen as being fairly wide.

Don’t tell that to American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco. The commissioner and his member schools tried to make a statement this weekend with a helmet decal declaring themselves the sixth power conference.

Bold move. I respect the commissioner and conference trying to stake a claim as another top conference. The American may be the best Group of Five conference from top to bottom but, the conference as a whole isn’t on the same level as the weakest of the Power 5. The American is good and its teams have proven they can pull an upset or two. But, let’s hold off on calling it a power conference.

Player You Need To Know: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt wasn’t able to pull off the upset against Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, but that’s not for lack of Zach Cunningham’s effort. Cunningham is a junior linebacker for the Commodores and he kept the game alive with this blocked field goal.

Cunningham is a player that NFL fans should become acquainted with because he will be playing on Sundays either next fall or in 2018. The junior is second in the SEC in tackles for loss with 13.5, behind only Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett, and that comes after posting 14 TFL and 4.5 sacks last year in 12 games. Vandy still has three games left to play and if you’ve got some free time, take a chance to watch them. Number 41 will jump off the screen at you soon enough.

Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.