15 Biggest Surprises So Far in College Football
College Football's 15 Biggest Surprises So Far
As we get ready to enter Week 10 action in the 2012 college football season, there have been plenty of surprises so far-- players rising to the occasion, standing out in smaller markets, teams exceeding expectations, and some playing well below them.
It's these surprises that keep loyal college football fans coming back for more from one season to the next, and that make the game what it is-- one of America's favorite fall-to-winter past-times.
As the summer ended, and pre-season polls were released and the pre-season Heisman race was considered, there were many foregone conclusions which began to spread around the Internet and social media as fact, when, in reality, we would find out within a few month's time they were far from it.
Some of these conclusions were based on severe misevaluations of the talent not only of entire rosters, but of specific units and, in some cases, players within those units. It's always easy to crown "paper players" with pre-season awards given how dominant they look before the first snaps are made, and the first hits happen in pads. It's a whole different thing to take a look at how these guys have actually played 10 weeks into the season, at a point where things have become clear not only for individual players, but also in the National Championship and bowl picture.
There have been plenty of surprises so far, but the following are the 15 biggest in our opinion. Enjoy!
College Football’s Best Running Back Plays for the Nevada Wolfpack
If I asked you who the nation's best running back was-- guess what-- you'd probably be wrong. It's not a guy on the tip of everyone's tongue, but regardless, is a guy who NFL scouts are drooling over. That guy? Nevada Wolfpack junior Stefphon Jefferson, who, statistically isn't just the nation's best RB, he's the best BY FAR.
Through 10 games, Jefferson leads the nation in rushing with 1,341 yards on 271 carries, and has already tallied 16 touchdowns. While his production has been slowed somewhat in recent weeks as teams have stacked the box to take him away, there's no doubting Jefferson's talent. He should be the first RB taken in the 2013 draft should he choose to declare himself eligible and forego his final season of eligibility.
Duke Became the ACC’s First Bowl-Eligible Team
So the Florida State Seminoles were the first ACC team to become bowl-eligible right? Wrong. That honor actually belongs to the Duke Blue Devils who hit the six win mark with a 33-30 win over in-state rival North Carolina on October 20th, becoming the ACC's first bowl-eligible team, and earning a short stint at the top of the ranks in the conference, albeit short, given their 48-7 loss to the Seminoles the following week. Duke can play some football, folks, they're not a novelty.
AIRBHG Apparently Has a Cousin Named AMQBHG
AIRBHG, the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, has torn the ACLs of multiple Iowa running backs over the course of the past few seasons, while forcing others into off-field, extra-curricular havoc. For a long-time, I believed that AIRBHG was a stand-alone god, not working in tandem with anyone else. Wrong again.
It turns out that AIRBHG may indeed have an accomplice. Let's call him AMQBHG-- the Angry Maryland Quarterback Hating God. Since the start of the season, the Terrapins have lost four quarterbacks to various injuries, and are now down to their fifth-- a linebacker by trade who is the definition of an "emergency replacement". Go away AMQBHG-- you're not welcome here.
UCLA Bruins Are Back on the Map
After a few seasons of futility, the once-proud UCLA Bruins are back on the college football map. Behind new head coach Jim Mora who has injected some great energy into the baby blue, the Bruins are ranked in the top 30 in the country in both rushing and passing offense and are off to a 6-2 start.
UCLA welcomes the always-dangerous Arizona Wildcats to town on Saturday, in what could be one of their biggest tests of the season, and a good watermark for just how far they have progressed in 2012. USC isn't the only show in town anymore, folks.
Texas Longhorns Defense Has Played Well Below Expectations
Every summer, the same proclamation is made in Austin, Texas: "This Texas Longhorns defense will be the best we've ever seen!". More often than not, that proclamation falls flat-- with 2010 perhaps being the exception-- and this season is an example. In short, the Texas defense has been horrendous due to terrible tackling, poor schematics, and an overall disconnect between the trenches and secondary due to awful linebacking play.
As expected, all fingers are pointing at once-anointed Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz as the culprit, and you can bet the Texas Board of Regents will not hesitate to call for his dismissal if things don't improve during the Longhorns' last 5 games of the 2012 season. Now this is a foregone conclusion.
Michigan State Spartans Were Vastly Overrated
Most pre-season college football polls for 2012 had the Michigan State Spartans ranked somewhere from 12 on the low-end, to 5 on the high end. Uh, no, wrong. As it turns out, the Spartans have become arguably the most over-rated team in college football, limping to a 5-4 run through the team's first nine-games, and needing a win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday just to become bowl-eligible.
The Spartans' defense, on paper, is solid-- they're ranked 10th in total offense given up (15 points per game), but they cannot score to save their lives. Averaging only 19.2 points per game, the offense is spiting the defense, and the results have been predictable accordingly. Things aren't so sunny in East Lansing these days.
Louisiana Tech Emerging as the New Boise State
Only One Coach Has Met Their Maker as of Week 10
Usually by Week 10 in the college football season at least a few Division I coaches have bit the proverbial dust. In 2012, however, this honor goes to only one: Idaho Vandals head coach Robb Akey. Akey "led" an awful Vandals squad through the first part of this season-- currently at 1-7 and giving up 42 points per game-- and was the first head man in 2012 to be shown the door.
Trust in this, though, Akey won't be the last. Plenty of guys, including Boston College's Steve Addazio, Cal's Jeff Tedford, Tennessee's Derek Dooley, and Auburn's Gene Chizik have very crispy backsides as we speak and could soon be the next to be basking on the beaches of college football coaching unemployment.
Kansas State Has a Legitimate Shot at a National Championship
Many assumed the Big 12 Conference race in 2012 would be wide-open, but that assumption was book-ended with the fact that the Oklahoma Sooners would be the class of the conference. Wrong. Again.
It turns out the Kansas State Wildcats are not only the class of the Big 12 through nine weeks and entering Week 10, but in fact they have the chance to control their own destiny and perhaps slide into the National Championship game sideways if certain cards fall during November.
The Wildcats are the classic Bill Snyder success story-- workmanlike, but not boring, precise, but electrifying. If Collin Klein maintains his Heisman front-runner pace, and the Wildcats run the Big 12 table, they are going be very hard to keep out of Miami on January 7, 2013.
Manti Te’o Has Emerged as the Country’s Best Defensive Player
If you were to ask a knowledgable college football fan who was the country's best defensive player prior to the 2012 season, you might have gotten several different answers: Alex Okafor, Jadaveon Clowney, Sam Montgomery, Keke Mingo, Jarvis Jones etc. One name you probably would have never heard was Manti Te'o. You should have.
With 78 total tackles and five interceptions in eight games, the Notre Dame linebacker has established himself as the best individual defensive player in the country and a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, earning him the chance to be the first defensive player to win the award since Charles Woodson in 1997.
Te'o is a first-class gentleman, on and off the field, who has proven his mettle not only as a football player but as a man given adversity has been his constant companion in 2012.
Auburn Tigers Have Fallen Flat
My how things have changed for the once-mighty Auburn Tigers. Auburn is 1-7 through eight games and has the toughest four-week stretch of it's schedule still ahead. After winning the national championship with Cam Newton at the helm, the tide has turned on Gene Chizik as the Tigers have struggled and all signs point to him being out of a job sooner than later. With a first-tier recruiting class slated to arrive in Auburn for 2013, the school's athletic administration won't have a choice but to make a change and save face if the season ends as poorly as it has started. Who would've thunk it?
Notre Dame Irish Are Back in the Mix
Whether you like it or not, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are back. Over the past few years, folks have started to question whether the once-proud team had finally seen it's best days and had fallen prey to the Southern migration of college football talent. That question has been answered with the arrival of Brian Kelly, and the pride he has taken in bringing the Irish back to prominence with a blue-collar work ethic focused on defense-first and offense second-- in short, the old-school Notre Dame way.
Alabama Crimson Tide Have Shown Balance
The Alabama Crimson Tide are the best team in college football. This isn't really debatable. That doesn't mean the team is without surprises, however. The balance which Nick Saban's squad has achieved this season is scary for SEC coaches and the rest of college football as well. The Crimson Tide not only have the nation's best defensive unit-- giving up a measly 8.1 points per game-- they also have the country's 11th best scoring offense at 40.6 points per game, which has vaulted QB A.J. McCarron into Heisman consideration and made the Tide virtually impossible to beat.
Texas A&M Aggies Have Held Their Own in Inaugural SEC Campaign
As any of you who read my work consistently know, I'm far from a Texas A&M apologist. I was positive the Aggies would limp their way through 2012, especially during SEC play. Again. Wrong.
Fresh off a 63-21 thrashing of the Auburn Tigers on the road, the Aggies are in the top 20 nationally in passing yards (305.3 per game), rushing yards (237.6 per game), and points scored (45.5 per game). In short, their offense has been explosive, and Johnny Manziel has become an SEC defensive coordinator's biggest nightmare. The Aggies are here to stay, ladies and gentlemen, the only question is just how bright their future will be.
Collin Klein, Not Matt Barkley, is the Heisman Front-Runner
In our eyes, the biggest surprise of the 2012 college football season so far is the Heisman Trophy front-runner: Collin Klein. In everyone's eyes, USC quarterback Matt Barkley would waltz his way to the trophy in 2012 without a serious challenger. After all, Barkley came back to USC to "finish unfinished business" and forewent what was certain to be huge money in the NFL. In reality, Barkley has been solid, but not outstanding, and Klein has ceded the seat as the country's best signal-caller.
The Hesiman race is a fickle thing, as we know, and Collin Klein has made it as interesting as it has been in years.