2012 Who's Hot ... The Week 3 Stars

Posted Sep 16, 2012

Along with the Irish D, the hot players and teams in Week Three.

2012 Who's Hot & Not

Week 3

 By Richard Cirminiello 

- 2012 Who's Not ... Week 3

Who's Hot ...

10. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel

Just two games into his college career, Manziel already looks as if he's going to bloom into a bona fide superstar at this level. The rookie showed flashes in his debut against Florida last Saturday before taking flight in Saturday's encore against SMU. The dual-threat, with the uncommon poise, accounted for more than 400 total yards and six touchdowns, setting Texas A&M rookie records along the way. He led the team in rushing, threw for 294 yards and took another baby step toward becoming one of the game's most exciting young quarterbacks.

9. Pitt (vs. ranked Virginia Tech)

Against Youngstown State, the Panthers are apparently in over their heads. Bring on the Hokies, though, and Pitt looks like a Big East contender. Without any warning, Paul Chryst earned his first win as a head coach. It was also Pittsburgh's fourth straight victory over Virginia Tech, all when the Hokies were ranked. Pitt played surprisingly well on both sides of the ball, creating turnovers, and getting banner offensive efforts from QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham and rookie RB Rushel Shell. If the Panthers have indeed turned the corner, there's more than enough time for this program to regroup.

8. The Connecticut Pass Rush

The Huskies have been bringing the heat from every angle over the first three games. In fact, they've gotten to ACC quarterbacks 13 times in the last two games alone. Up front, DE Trevardo Williams has set the tone with his speed and burst off the snap. However, in Saturday's key win over Maryland on the road, it was the linebackers who were responsible for most of the havoc. Yawin Smallwood and Sio Moore were unstoppable, combining for 21 tackles, seven stops for loss and a half-dozen sacks.

7. Northwestern

For just the second time in the last half-century, the Wildcats have opened the season with three straight wins over FBS opponents. While Northwestern hasn't quite run the gauntlet to get here, beating Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College is still a huge achievement for head coach Pat Fitzgerald. The ‘Cats won the opener with offense, but have battled back in the last two games on the strength of LB Chi Chi Ariguzo and the rest of the upstart defense. With South Dakota, Indiana, Penn State and Minnesota up next, this team is liable to amass a head of steam by midseason.

6. Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater

The sophomore—along with third-year head coach Charlie Strong—has become the face of the Cardinals revival. Bridgewater brings a certain poise, precision and competency to the program that's begun to rub off on the teammates around him. He was razor-sharp in a key win over North Carolina this past weekend, going 23-of-28 for 279 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. The sharp-shooting Miami product hasn't thrown an interception this season, while completing almost 82% of his throws.

5. The Florida State D

Okay, so the Seminoles have started the year against a tissue-soft schedule, but three points allowed over a dozen quarters is still cause for a celebration. Mark Stoops' defense put on a clinic against Wake Forest, holding a decent offense to 126 total yards, seven first downs and 1-of-16 on third downs. Led by linemen Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine, Florida State swarmed to the ball, rarely letting the Deacons up for air. It's worth noting that the D is dominating without DE Brandon Jenkins and CB Greg Reid, who were supposed to be two of its best stoppers.

4. The Alabama D

How do Nick Saban and Kirby Smart do it? The Crimson Tide lost seven defensive starters, most to the NFL, from last year's incomparable unit, yet has not skipped a beat. Sure, Arkansas played without QB Tyler Wilson on Saturday, but would his presence have made that much of a difference? After holding the Hogs to a ridiculous 137 yards of total offense, ‘Bama is once again an immovable object, going more than nine quarters without allowing a single point.

3. The Notre Dame Front Seven

The Irish are off to their best start since 2002 in large part because of the play of their linemen and linebackers. Notre Dame owns the line of scrimmage, blowing up opposing offenses, and keeping its own questionable secondary from being exploited. Coordinator Bob Diaco is the leader of a menacing unit littered with next-level defenders, like DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix and linebackers Manti Te'o and Prince Shembo. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell was pedestrian in the face of the Irish, as was a Spartans offense that never even reached the red zone in a 20-3 loss.

2. Florida Late

The Gators are one of the nation's hottest programs in large part because of their ability to finish with a wicked kick. In the opener with Bowling Green, Florida scored the final 13 points to pull away. Last week at Texas A&M, it erased a second-half deficit by again hanging up 13 unanswered points. And Saturday in Knoxville, the Gators were responsible for the game's final 24 points. Will Muschamp's team is the real deal, an up-and-comer about to displace South Carolina as Georgia's scariest threat in the SEC East.

1. Stanford

The Cardinal has now defeated USC four straight times, the latest while Andrew Luck prepared to take on the Minnesota Vikings. Saturday night's upset was validation for head coach David Shaw and a program that was overlooked all off season because its headliner had left for the NFL. Stanford went old school on the Trojans, hammering RB Stepfan Taylor between the tackles, and preventing Matt Barkley form setting his feet or surveying the field from the pocket. If Luck successor Josh Nunes can continue to grow as the starter, the Cardinal has to be considered on par with Oregon in the race for Pac-12 supremacy.

- 2012 Who's Not ... Week 3