Midseason Surprises & Duds
27. The 14th SEC Team Should Be?.
Oct. 4. Overranked and Underranked teams
Who's the most overrated, overranked team in the top
ten, and who's the most undervalued team outside of
the top ten?
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The Tigers looked like they'd be fantastic ... in
about two years. Tajh Boyd grew up in a hurry and
Sammy Watkins is making a big for Freshman of the
Year. The flake factor of past seasons doesn't seem
to be there.
2. Kansas State
In a league full of high-powered attacks, Kansas
State has the worst offense in the Big 12 and is
still 5-0 with wins over Miami, Baylor, and
Missouri. The balloon might pop in a big hurry with
more nasty games coming up, but the first half of
the season has been special. Bill Snyder has rebuilt
I didn't believe Jarrett Lee could get the job done.
LSU still hasn't had to throw a truly important
forward pass, but it hasn't mattered. The Tigers are
bullying everyone with a nasty defense and an
effective offense that doesn't screw up. Lee has
everything to do with that.
3. Boston College
It's not like the Eagles have a world of talent, but
it's Boston College; you can set your watch to it
every year to overachieve and be a factor in the
ACC. Luke Kuechly can't do everything for the
defense, although he's trying, and the offense has
been a mess without a healthy Montel Harris in the
backfield. The biggest problem is an O line,
normally a BC strength, that can't seem to do
Based on the returning talent, had Blaine Gabbert
come back, Missouri would've had a legitimate claim
to be a top five team, if not No. 1 overall. James
Franklin has been more than fine in Gabbert's place,
but the receiving corps has been disappointing and
the defense hasn't been nearly stout enough in key
moments. The Arizona State game was a major
disappointment, but the Kansas State loss will hurt
1. Ohio State
There's no excuse. The offense might have a slight
beef with all the lost stars, but the defense should
be the Ohio State defense and it's not. The Miami
game was embarrassing on offense, the collapse at
Nebraska was embarrassing on defense, and despite
having more talent than anyone else in the
conference, the Buckeyes are also-rans.
3. Georgia Tech – When the season began, the Yellow Jackets had a new backfield and a marginal D. Six games into 2011, No. 12 Tech leads the ACC in total and scoring offense.
2. Kansas State – What head coach Bill Snyder is doing in Manhattan—again—is simply remarkable. While he doesn't have the requisite talent to be ranked, his no-name Wildcats are No. 17 in the AP following three straight surprising wins over Miami, Baylor and Missouri.
1. Clemson – From the hot seat to the ACC throne, head coach Dabo Swinney has led the Tigers to improbable heights so far in 2011. Beating Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech in consecutive weekends transformed tons of skeptics into believers.
3. Missouri – On paper, it appeared that the development of young QB James Franklin was all that separated Mizzou from being a Big 12 sleeper this fall. Franklin is getting there, but it hasn't been enough for a Tigers team that's dropped three in-a-row to FBS opponents.
2. Mississippi State – It wasn't that long ago that the Bulldogs were considered a bona fide nuisance out of the SEC West. However, Dan Mullen's kids have failed to deliver, starting 0-3 in conference games, and regressing badly on offense.
1. Florida State – Hands down. Sure, injuries have been a factor, but the consensus favorite to roll through the ACC is already unranked, and is likely no longer even a contender for the Atlantic Division. It'll be interesting to see how Jimbo Fisher handles adversity for the first time as the Seminoles head coach.
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me on Twitter @russmitchellcfb
We have grown accustomed to them choking away one, if not a handful, of games, but at the top of the list – at the top of everyone's list – has to be Clemson. The Tigers were coming off a very disappointing 2010…a season which saw head man Dabo Swinney make some significant changes. There were questions all over this roster, not the least of which at perhaps the most important position – quarterback. Thanks to the emergence of redshirt sophomore Tahj Boyd and his fellow newcomer, the sensational freshman Sammy Watkins, Clemson is undefeated and a serious contender to win the ACC, if not more. Yes, Clemson.
Illinois. My brother is an Illini grad, and like many he's already counting the minutes until Midnight Madness. Just keep it respectable until basketball season, he always says, and once every five or six years give us something special. Illinois sits 6-0 for the first time since water turned to ice; we'd call that special.
Hail to the Victors. You're lying if you thought Michigan would be undefeated . Most hoped for an improvement with Michigan man Brady Hoke, but few saw this beyond the mentally speculative. 6-0 and playing well, though games still remaining at Michigan State, at Iowa (Kinnick Stadium is never a simple trip), at Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State. Yes, we include the Buckeyes – end of the year rivalries as passionate as that one are often tougher than records may suggest.
Runners up: Auburn (was expecting more of a step back given the number of starters being replaced; might happen now that they move into the meat of the SEC West); Kansas State (we'll be true believers after a brutal three game stretch of Oklahoma, OSU and A&M, which ends November 12); Arizona State (yes, the Pac-12 is down this year, and yes, particularly the Pac-12 South. And the Devils skip Stanford AND, it would appear, LaMichael James. Still, ASU is Clemson West; some how they always disappoint. The Illinois road loss notwithstanding, so far this year the Devils have looked mighty tall).
Mississippi State. Yes, the injuries have been brutal, particularly to the offensive line...but in week six everyone has injuries. To be down at the half to UAB is bad enough – that it was the first time the Blazers had led at the half for the entire season, that's just too much. Fifth year senior quarterback Chris Relf appears to have lost his confidence, after showing so much improvement down the stretch in 2010, and senior running back Vic Ballard can't block for himself. We would begin to question this team's heart, if not for the injuries to the offensive line...though we are starting to question their pride.
We can put Florida State in the same triage boat as it relates to injuries, one in particular. Losing your star quarterback in a week three loss to Oklahoma, then losing to Clemson with a back-up, is not especially disgraceful. However, following that up by losing to Wake Forest after getting E.J. Manuel back, particularly after a bye week and by giving up not one, not two but five turnovers, is disgraceful. At 2-3, with nothing material to show for the season, the Seminoles have dropped out of the top 25. Midway through the season, FSU's run offense is dead last in the ACC and 112th in the nation. It's also dead last in Turnover Margin and 114th in the nation. Can't run. Can't hang onto the ball. Oh yeah, and can't protect your quarterback.
The entire state of Mississippi football, if not for Southern Miss. But particularly Ole Miss. Houston Nutt is great for our business, but he might not be good for the Rebs. Nutt's team is falling apart at the seams, and after an absolutely disgraceful performance at Vandy, one can question whether this team is still with Nutt. Despite some hefty recruiting classes, Ole Miss seems to have depth and health issues across the board. You can have depth issues, and you can have health issues, but you cannot have both. Nutt might have kept his job with a 38-28 road win against Fresno State, though to emphasize the direction this team is heading, Boise State rolled into Fresno the following week rang up a 57-7 blowout win against the Bulldogs – and it wasn't even that close. After a week off to get his affairs in order, Nutt's team hosts Bama and Arkansas (where there still are some frayed feelings), before traveling to the Plains of Auburn. If Houston can win just one of the three AAA's, he may just save his job. Don't hold your breath.
Runners up: Arizona (no, we weren't expecting greatness, but with a stud QB and some depth, we were expecting better than this. This team has given up on Mike Stoops, and now Arizona has given up on him as well); Maryland (what a tease week one turned out to be; maybe the Terps should play in those uniforms every weekend).
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The Tigers made it through half the season A) without a loss and B) without suffering a
complete meltdown. Those are two HUGE steps for the Clemson football program.
I expected Wisconsin to flirt with the crystal football with Russell Wilson taking the snaps, but I
didn't expect the Badgers look this good in the process. Style points matter in the Big Ten, and
Wisconsin is getting lots of them.
3) Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets are just churning out yards and points. Yeah, they don't have much of a
defense; but at this rate, they may not need one.
1) Florida State
Three losses by a combined 20 points is agonizing. Sure, two of those losses are two Oklahoma
and Clemson - two national title contenders, but the other is to Wake Forest. That's just
2) Mississippi State
I wasn't high on the Bulldogs before the season and wrote that they'd barely make a bowl
game, but I at least expected the offense to be reasonably functional. It's not, and Dan Mullen's
honeymoon is coming to a screeching halt.
3) Ohio State
You're Ohio State. Players being suspended and an ongoing NCAA issue aren't excuses for
looking THIS bad.
The three most surprising teams
Improvement was to be expected, but not this much improvement. The Wolverines have been dynamic as expected on offense, but surprisingly, the defense has also come to join the party. The Wolverines are 6-0 for the first time since 2006 under the new leadership of Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
The Tigers are routinely in the team picture for underachieving, but his year it seems to be coming together. They have done it without being dominant in any one aspect of the game, but by being solid in total offense (19th), scoring defense (24th), and turnovers (21st). Tajh Boyd has been a dynamic playmaker.
Usually all the talk surrounds the Fighting Illini's inability to mesh talent, but this year it has been a topic of overachieving rather than sleepwalking through the season. Nathan Scheelhaase has been the steady hand to operate the offense and Ron Zook has his off the radar team undefeated and up to 16th in the latest AP poll. Stiffer competition is on the horizon.
The three most disappointing teams
Jimbo Fisher had his team in the pre-season top ten, but three straight losses to Oklahoma, Clemson, and un-ranked Wake Forest have dropped the Seminoles out of the top 25. The culprit: A non-existent running game in combination with a suddenly porous pass defense. What began as high expectations at the beginning of the season have now become one of still waiting for FSU to return to prominence.
Nobody expected the Buckeyes to be in its usual catbird seat this year, but the shocking development has been how far they have fallen. OSU started out in the top twenty, but now it might find it hard to even make a bowl game. The offense has been horrid, the defense inconsistent, and the coaching decisions suspect. There's always next year--it's just not clear whether that's a good or bad thing.
The Aggies have been another falling star. They started the season in the top ten and are on the verge of appearing in the others-receiving-votes column of the poll after blowing double digit leads to both Oklahoma State and Arkansas. The offense has been plenty explosive, but the defense has not been unable to stop anyone with the chips down as the competition level has heated up. Good luck correcting the problem in the SEC next year.
Please follow Phil Harrison on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN.
By Terry Johnson
The biggest surprise of the season so far is the Clemson Tigers. After finishing 6-7 last season, Head Coach Dabo Swinney hired offensive coordinator Chad Morris to run the offense. While many expected some growing pains this season, the Tigers have had no trouble adapting to the offense rolling to a 6-0 record with wins over Auburn, Florida State, and Virginia Tech. If QB Tajh Boyd can remain healthy, Clemson could enter the BCS title game discussion.
Kansas State has also surprised this season. While the Wildcats posted a 7-6 record last season, they got most their wins over mediocre teams. However, this season, K-State has defeated Miami, Baylor, and Missouri en route to a 5-0 start. Coach Snyder's team will not win the Big 12 this season, but they will finish towards the top of the division, and earn a nice bowl game by virtue of this surprising start.
Even if you consider all of the trouble that LSU experienced in the offseason, their 6-0 record probably does not qualify as a surprise. However, no one could have expected the success of the Tiger offense. After losing starting QB Jordan Jefferson days before the season, the offense has not skipped a beat under Jarrett Lee, scoring 40 points 4 times over the first six games, which doubles their total from last season.
Which teams have failed to meet expectations?
Minnesota earns the moniker of "most disappointing team" for the first half of the season. No one expected the Gophers to contend for the Big Ten title this season. However, Minnesota should have (easily) won home games New Mexico State and North Dakota State. While Jerry Kill will eventually turn the Golden Gophers into a winner, it will not happen anytime in the near future.
Oregon State is not far behind the Gophers. With 8 starters returning on offense, the Beavers expected to improve on last season's 5-7 record. However, injuries decimated the team in the preseason, and the high-octane offense never materialized. In fact, things were so bad in the preseason that OSU lost it's opener to FCS opponent Sacramento State! The Beavers finally earned their first win of the season by beating Arizona, but still have a lot of work to do to reach the postseason.
Despite a 3-3 record, Mississippi State has been the biggest disappointment in the SEC this season. With 16 starters returning from last season's 9-4 team, this season was supposed to be a breakthrough year for MSU. However, the Bulldogs stumbled of the gate, dropping its first three conference games. With tough contests against South Carolina, Alabama, and Arkansas remaining, they will not equal last year's 4-4 SEC mark.