Andrea AdelsonESPN Staff Writer
We have reached the midway point in the season, filled with the expected (Alabama dominance), the unexpected (Texas is back?) and everything in between. Here is a quick rundown of where things stand with seven weeks left to get (most) of our burning questions answered.
They are what we thought they were!
Oh, hey, Alabama. You’re 7-0 again. Except this time, with a legit Heisman contender at quarterback.
Meanwhile, the rest of college football heads to an escape room, where they have to solve this puzzle: Do we want Bama?
Clemson, you’re rolling along despite some quarterback drama. We are on track for Alabama-Clemson, Part IV … here’s hoping it’s as good as the ONLY part four worth anything: Rocky IV (don’t @ me).
Ohio State, yup in the CFP mix with a kinda, sorta (but not really) chastened Urban Meyer leading the way. Boy, this looks awfully familiar.
Each of these teams started in the preseason top three in the coaches’ poll. And they have combined for nine playoff appearances.
They are (not) what we thought they were!
Florida State. Sure, the Seminoles were coming off a fairly mediocre season in which they needed a game rescheduled because of a hurricane just to make it to a bowl game. But expectations skyrocketed when No. 1 choice Willie Taggart came onboard to replace Jimbo Fisher. He bragged about his “lethal simplicity” brand of offense and FSU started the season ranked in the top 25. After six games, Florida State is 3-3 and ranks No. 111 in total offense, No. 125 in rushing offense and No. 109 in sacks allowed.
Florida. Meanwhile, the rival Gators also went through a coaching change and their season also appeared to get off to a rough start with a loss to Kentucky. But unlike Florida State, Florida has found ways to win games in a variety of ways and upset LSU to turn its season around. The Gators started the season unranked but are now No. 11.
LSU. Aside from that loss to Florida, the Tigers might be the biggest surprise in college football. Going into the season, the talk surrounded Ed Orgeron and whether he deserved to be on the hot seat, with so many unanswered questions about his offense. But wins over Miami, Auburn and Georgia have turned the discussion from hot seats to College Football Playoff possibilities.
TCU. The Horned Frogs led Ohio State midway through the third quarter and looked like the faster team. Then, Shawn Robinson threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, TCU lost 40-28 and proceeded to lose two of its next three.
They’re baaaaaaaaack, Miami 2017 edition
Once upon a time, there was a team with a storied history filled with championships, but this team had lost its way over a decade. One average season after the next, people would ask, “When will this team be back?” or make statements like, “College football is so much better when that team is winning!”
Then after a while, a new coach comes in and fires up the fan base. Excitement runs high. Recruiting goes on a massive upswing. Year 2 rolls around and suddenly this team starts winning again! A big win against its biggest rival is widely celebrated! The stories start telling themselves. This team has (finally) made it back!
Taking the starring role in this year’s edition of “They’re baaaaaaaaack!” is Texas, grabbing the spotlight away from 2017 Miami. (Apologies to Notre Dame, runner-up in this category). Sure, that opening loss to Maryland sent Texas fans and message boards into meltdown mode, but wins over USC and Oklahoma have the Longhorns back in the top 10 for the first time since 2010.
So are they back? Let’s ask Miami, winner in this category a year ago. The Hurricanes started last season 10-0, climbed as high as No. 2 in the rankings, then lost three straight and opened 2018 with a loss to LSU. Restoring a championship tradition takes time. Texas appears to be on its way back. But just like Miami, we won’t know for sure until the championships start coming back.
(Same goes for you, resurgent, undefeated Notre Dame.)
Kentucky. At SEC media day in July, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was asked for the (approx.) five billionth time what it would take for his team to (finally) beat those (dastardly) Gators. His icy stare and clichéd answer gave nothing away (Bravo performance!). He had to at least feel good about his veteran team at that time, even if he had no way of knowing this would indeed be the year the Wildcats ended their long losing streak to Florida and became a legit top 25 team. Kentucky has been a delight to watch, if only because Benny Snell Jr., Terry Wilson and Josh Allen are appointment TV. It’s not basketball season quite yet in Lexington.
American Athletic Conference. One of the many things that galled UCF about the rankings last year was the feeling its entire conference wasn’t given enough respect, thereby not giving UCF enough respect. They can’t say that this year, though. In addition to undefeated UCF (owners of the nation’s longest winning streak), hated rival USF and Cincinnati are undefeated and ranked, a badly needed boost for a conference that wants to shatter the glass playoff ceiling and make it in as an outside … er Power 6 conference.
Colorado. The Buffs, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South, have been a revelation thanks to their super-charged passing game. And their supercharged passing game has been a revelation thanks to Laviska Shenault Jr., a big-play sophomore receiver who has the nation talking. Shenault showed a glimpse of what he could do a season ago, averaging 24 yards per catch, but coaches saw his potential for a big year in the spring, when he was awarded the team’s most improved receiver award. His size (6-2, 200 pounds) and strength (475-pound squat in the spring) have made him virtually unstoppable.
Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors started 6-1 for the first time since 2007 and have posted a 6-1 record or better only four times in school history. Nick Rolovich, in Year 4, has resurrected a program that hit bottom under his predecessor, Norm Chow.
Utah State. It’s Utah State, not Boise State, that stands atop the Mountain Division in the Mountain West, and coach Matt Wells has praised the maturity he has seen in his team so far this season. The Aggies lost in the closing minutes to Michigan State in the opener for their only loss this season. Quarterback Jordan Love has been terrific.
Duck, Duck, goose egg
Scott Frost worked for Chip Kelly for four years at Oregon. In that time, they won 46 games, three conference championships and lost just seven times. Kelly tried his hand at the NFL while Frost eventually led UCF to the national championship.* But now that Kelly is back in college football at UCLA and Frost took over his alma mater at Nebraska, it is hard to believe what has happened at their new schools at the midway point in Year 1. Even though the two took clear rebuilding jobs, Nebraska remains winless and UCLA just picked up its first win in Week 7, over Cal. In Nebraska’s case, every week seems to bring a new “rock bottom.” Frost looks like he hasn’t slept in 341 days. A loyal ESPN.com reader in Nebraska emailed me the other day to say she is depressed and hopes Frost has a plan for next year. Chin up, sad Nebraska fans. I can confidently say there is a plan. But whether it works as fast as everybody wants? That’s another story.
*Colley Matrix No. 1 ranking to end 2017
At Alabama, Nick Saban went with Tua Tagovailoa, whom he used as a true freshman to win the Tide the national championship. Jalen Hurts quietly took the backup job, believing it best to hang around for another year before transferring for a fresh start. It doesn’t often work that way. Over at Clemson, Dabo Swinney went with true freshman Trevor Lawrence over Kelly Bryant going into Week 5. Bryant decided to leave the team, using a new rule that would allow him to take a redshirt and transfer with one year of eligibility remaining. Clemson now has zero experienced backups.
Meanwhile, Georgia coach Kirby Smart has played both Jake Fromm and true freshman Justin Fields this season, but took heat after a loss to LSU for not playing Fields more to give the offense a spark. USC coach Clay Helton decided to go with true freshman JT Daniels, and the Trojans have had an up-and-down season as a result.
Miami has played its own bit of musical quarterbacks, going with veteran Malik Rosier, then benching him for redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry, then going back to Rosier this past weekend after Perry threw two early interceptions against Virginia. Quarterback is the most vexing position to try to figure out on every single team. Sometimes when coaches play two, they legitimately have two players capable of winning. Other times, they are just as puzzled about what to do as everyone else.
Coach of the year: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame. Runner-up: Ed Orgeron, LSU.
Player of the year:Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama. Runner-up: Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State.
Play of the year: North Texas fake fair catch
North Texas punt returner Keegan Brewer pretends that he called a fair catch, then takes it to the house.
Runner-up: Catch, drop, scoop, score
— #MACtion (@MACSports) October 13, 2018
Game of the year: Ohio State 27, Penn State 26. Runner-up: Stanford 38, Oregon 31.
Players to watch, second half
QB Tagovailoa, Alabama: How bad is his knee injury, and will he play in any fourth quarter this season?
WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado: Shenault and his Buffs teammates didn’t have the best day this past weekend against USC, but his emergence has been a revelation. He’s the only receiver in the nation averaging 10 catches per game and already has 780 yards receiving in six games.
RB Darrell Henderson, Memphis: Henderson is the only running back to go over 1,000 yards rushing already, leading the nation in both total rushing yards, rushing yards per carry (10.3) and second in rushing touchdowns (14).
DT Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame: He has been unblockable.
RB Travis Etienne, Clemson: As the Tigers have worked through switching quarterbacks, Etienne has been the one constant. He ranks second behind Henderson in yards per carry (9.2). Make sure you use the “in-the-know” lingo: It’s ETN for short.