CFB Midterms: Missouri, Mariota, Manziel get "A's"
Time for midterms.
The college football season has reached the halfway mark and it's time to assess what's happened and what's ahead.
So far there haven't been a many surprises. Alabama is No. 1. No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State are national title contenders. No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Florida State are the class of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Louisville is plowing through a weak schedule. Johnny Manziel has been at his Johnny Football best, a leading Heisman Trophy contender, along with a group of star quarterbacks that includes Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota and Tajh Boyd. Florida State's remarkable redshirt freshman Jameis Winston has also been added to the list.
Utah's victory against No. 13 Stanford on Saturday represents the only victory by an unranked team against a top-10 team.
It isn't terribly surprising that Southern California and Connecticut are looking for new coaches, though the timing Lane Kiffin and Paul Pasqualoni were fired before October was startling.
The offensive revolution has now engulfed the Southeastern Conference, thought by its loyalists to be the last bastion of good defense. Only three SEC teams (Florida, Alabama, South Carolina) rank among the top-25 total defenses in the country. The SEC is still, however, the best conference in the country. This week it set a record with eight teams ranked in the AP Top 25. Its only real challenger: the Pac-12, led by Oregon, No. 9 UCLA, Stanford and No. 20 Washington.
No. 12 Baylor is the new Oregon, with its warp-speed offense threatening to smash records and maybe even win the Big 12.
The targeting rule that now includes ejections for illegal hits to the heads has been more of a nuisance than a game-changer so far. It's also still a work in progress.
Jadeveon Clowney's Heisman campaign didn't make it past the opening night of the season. There's been much debate and chatter about South Carolina's sensational defensive end, who has played hurt and below lofty expectations. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier didn't help the situation by letting the world know Clowney made himself a late scratch for a game. More drama than sacks for Clowney at this point but still few NFL teams would pass on him.
Remember when Manziel was considered the problem child of college football?
The best and worst of the first half.
1. No. 14 Missouri (6-0). Gary Pinkel came into the season on the hot seat. Now the road to the SEC East title runs through Columbia, Mo.
2. Tulane (5-2). The Green Wave already have more wins than they did the last two years combined. Second-year coach Curtis Johnson has a program that was all but washed away by Hurricane Katrina in 2007 on course for its first winning season since 2002. If the Wave can keep it up, they'll be one of the best stories in college football.
3. No. 16 Texas Tech (6-0). Former Red Raiders quarterback Kliff Kingsbury proves as a coach he's more than just a pretty face.
1. North Carolina (1-4). The Tar Heels were expected to contend with Virginia Tech and Miami in the ACC. Injuries have played a role, but getting blown out by East Carolina does not suggest a turnaround is coming.
2. Vanderbilt (3-3). James Franklin has set a new standard at Vandy, so no more treating the Commodores with kid gloves. They've won three games against terrible teams and lost three against good ones. More was expected.
3. Texas (4-2). Sure the Longhorns just beat Oklahoma, but are we supposed pretend those epic beatdowns by BYU and Mississippi didn't happen?
BEST TRUE FRESHMEN
1. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida. The Gators' secondary is full of studs and Hargreaves might be the most talented. He has three interceptions and five pass breakups, both lead the team.
2. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder has 32 catches, second-best on the team, and has quickly become one of the team's most reliable weapons.
3. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State. Leads the Big Ten at 278 yards per game. Needs to become more accurate, but at 18 he's more than held his own.
Honorable mention: Baker Mayfield, QB, Texas Tech, who has gone from walk-on to starter.
COACHES IN TROUBLE(asterisk)
(asterisk)Mack Brown not included
1. Jim Grobe, Wake Forest. Beating NC State last time out got the Demon Deacons to 3-3. Bowl-eligible might be good enough for Grobe, but a fourth season in the past five with no postseason might be too much even at a place where expectations are modest.
2. Mike London, Virginia. The Cavaliers (2-4) are heading toward a third losing season in four under London. They play the next three at home (Duke, Georgia Tech and Clemson), when they're done we'll probably have a good idea about London's future.
3. Ron English, Eastern Michigan. In 2011, English led the perpetually downtrodden Eagles to a 6-6 season. Seems like a long time ago. EMU is 1-5, with no wins against FBS teams and English is 11-43 overall.
Both have been spectacular, producing crazy stats and endless highlights. Manziel has been a little more careless (five interceptions) than Mariota (zero picks), so for now, the Ducks' QB is on top.
3. Winston. Ranks second in the country in passer rating and yards per attempt, and if he can lead Florida State to a win at Clemson on Saturday he might take the lead in the Heisman race.
Honorable mention: Pryce Petty, QB, Baylor. The numbers are crazy, but the schedule has been too cushy.
Rose Bowl UCLA vs. Ohio State.
Orange Bowl Florida State vs. Louisville.
Sugar Bowl South Carolina vs. Wisconsin.
Fiesta Bowl Baylor vs. Clemson.
National championship Alabama vs. Oregon.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP