Mailbag: Best-kept secret of season's first month; Terps on rise?
Is Maryland's fast start in 2013 a mirage? How much heat should be on Florida's Will Muschamp? And who is the most underrated player in the country?
Here is this week's mailbag. As always, send your questions to me via Twitter to @BFeldmanCBS:
From @Jacktogo: What has been the best kept secret of the first month of the season?
This certainly would qualify as a bit off-the-radar but it's interesting what's going on at Wyoming, the place some joke as the "farthest, highest and coldest" in college football. The Cowboys are 3-1 with their only loss by three points at Nebraska, 37-34, in the opener. Last week, they went up to Air Force and blasted the Falcons 56-23. I talked a little about them earlier this week on Fast Football (you can see that in the clip above), focusing on just how much faster the Cowboys are playing this year.
The excellent website, Football Studyhall had a good piece on an advanced stat, Seconds per Play, where Wyoming trails only BYU in tempo, running a play every 18 seconds (Oregon is No. 3 in the country). Last year, Wyoming ran a play on average every 24.2 seconds, which obviously is a pretty dramatic difference and in 2012 they were ranked No. 70 in total offense. The updated stat for Wyoming isn't quite ramped up to over six seconds per play faster after last week's game, but it's still at an eye-catching 18.5 seconds per play.
What's changed? For starters, coach Dave Christensen says this year he's calling the plays. The former Mizzou OC, who calls Time of Possession "the most overrated stat in football," says they're trying to run plays faster than we ever have.
Christensen told me earlier this week he's not calling plays based on the what the defense is doing. "We're gonna call our plays and believe in our plays and make the defense stop it," he said, adding that unlike a lot of other spread teams, his quarterback is not checking at the line of scrimmage.
His quarterback, Brett Smith, also may be the most underrated player in college football. Just ask Nebraska, which saw him throw for 382 yards and run for 92 more in a performance that, turns out, was just average by his standards. Last week against Air Force, Smith had 511 total yards -- second most this season only to Johnny Manziel's showing against Alabama. For the season, Smith's completing 69 percent of his passes with a 13-3 TD-INT ratio while also rushing for 300 more yards and an 8.3-yard average. Last season, Smith missed two full games and part of another due to two concussions. The Cowboys lost those three games by six points combined so a 4-8 mark could've been 7-5.
The 6-3, 205-pound junior, who clocked a 4.59 40 in the spring, has one of those curious stories of a kid who just seems to get lost in the shuffle of big-time recruiting. He grew up in Oregon -- 40 minutes from Oregon State and an hour from Oregon, his dream school. But neither was interested in him even though he was the state's Gatorade Player of the Year. (Oregon signed Marcus Mariota that year. OSU signed Peter Ashton.) No program from a major conference showed much interest in Smith no matter how many camps and combines he went to.
Smith told me on Monday the defining moment for him as a player came in May 2010, when he and his parents flew to northern California so he could compete at the Elite 11 regional at Cal. Before getting to the camp, Smith had read up on all the supposed big-name QBs who were expected to be at the camp, Cody Kessler, Michael Bercovici, Kyle Boehm and underclassmen Zach Kline, Conner Brewer and Bart Houston. "I was so excited and pumped, and I thought I had the best day throwing of my life," Smith recalled.
Toward the end of the afternoon, the regional's top quarterbacks were called out. Smith heard the names of all the guys he'd read about online. He waited to hear his name called out. He never heard it. "Instead, I was sent to throw with the freshmen," he said. "I had tears in my eyes."
Smith said something changed inside him that day. He vowed he'd stop worrying about other quarterbacks and just focus on his own skills. And yeah, he's still got that chip on this shoulder. "I believe I am supposed to be here," he said. "I've embraced that. I loved being here."
From @icfinnegan: What can we expect from Maryland in its first B1G season? Is early success a mirage?
Things finally seem to be trending up for Randy Edsall and the Terps after two brutal seasons. They're 4-0 and really haven't been challenged although it's doubtful they've faced anyone who is within sniffing distance of being a Top 40 team this season. We'll find out a lot more about Maryland next week when they visit Florida State.
The biggest reason for optimism is they have some firepower, especially at receiver led by Stefon Diggs. Right now, this team looks like it should win at least seven games this fall, probably not do worse than 8-4. As for building on that momentum for the Big Ten debut, I'd say the ACC is comparable, if not a touch better this year. The top three teams in the ACC (Clemson, FSU and Miami) match up quite well with the best of this year's Big Ten (Ohio State, Michigan and Northwestern) and the rest seems pretty even. Better still, Maryland only is starting one senior on the O-line and starts three freshmen and sophomores. Granted, that O-line is pretty suspect, but it figures to get much better with more seasoning and with the arrival of former blue-chip recruit Derwin Gray, who's spending this fall at prep school. Also, don't bet against Mike Locksley reeling in local five-star recruit Damian Prince.
QB C.J. Brown is one of the other few seniors on the offense but, I've heard, he could stay for another season if he wanted to. Behind him, Caleb Rowe, my Maryland sources think would be the next option. Defensively, almost the entire D should also be back with only two seniors listed as starters. This all bodes pretty well although the conference schedule seems to be about as rough as possible with road trips to Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan along with a home date with the Buckeyes.
From @Roynouis: Do you see any teams currently ranked outside the top 10 that could make it to the national title game?
I'd say the best best to make that big jump would have to come from the Big 12 and that probably means either one of the Oklahoma schools or Baylor. We'll find out a lot more about OU this weekend at Notre Dame.
As I've said many times before, I'm intrigued by Baylor, but the Bears haven't been tested yet. UCLA at No. 13 has been impressive but I don't like how the Bruins' schedule shapes up next month with the back-to-back road double of Stanford and Oregon, especially in that order.
From @ZDDspecial: this is the second time Will Muschamp's start QB has gone down in the 1st 1/2 of a season. How long does WM get 2 prove himself
If you're asking whether Muschamp is on the Hot Seat, I'd say he's not. Or not really close to it. Remember, he went 11-2 last season and the Gators finished No. 9 in the country. Obviously, it made a lot of Gators wince when they got soundly beaten in a bowl game by a Big East team (Louisville), but this was still a young team that beat No. 4 LSU last year, hammered No. 9 South Carolina and won at No. 10 FSU, their arch-rival. UF also beat a Texas A&M team on the road that turned out to be very good.
This year, they've had a horrible run of injuries. UF not only lost Jeff Driskel for the season, but perhaps their most dangerous receiver, Andre Debose and now their best player, DT Dominique Easley. They also lost OT Chaz Green and LB Matt Rolin to other season-ending injuries. Barring a 6-6 or worse kind of collapse (and given the personnel still on D, I doubt they'll completely wilt), I think Muschamp will--and should get a pass.
Muschamp, by all accounts, has and is recruiting well, but a big key will be for him to develop a top QB. People inside the program thought Driskel was that guy, but prior to his injury, he was shaky at best. His career TD-INT ratio is just 14-10. We'll see if Tyler Murphy can build off a nice debut last week. Incoming QB recruit Will Grier was very impressive when I saw him at the Elite 11 camp this summer, but then again, Driskel was too a few years back.
From @CurtisJones77: Do you think Texas Tech can make it to a BCS bowl this season?
I like what Kliff Kingsbury has done thus far, but I feel like the Red Raiders are too young to go 11-1 or 12-0 this year. But I do like their chances to open up 7-0 before the road trip to OU. That's where I think they'll stumble and then they have to come right back to face a talented Oklahoma State squad.
From @r_tarasiewicz: Does Brett Hundley leave for the NFL after this season?
My hunch is no, he won't jump to the NFL after just two seasons of action. I think he'll sense he's not quite ready to leave UCLA just yet. The one thing that could change that is if there is some coaching turnover on the Bruins staff, whether that means Jim Mora is offered a bigger job or even if OC Noel Mazzone leaves for the chance to run his own program.
BTW, if you haven't seen this segment on Hundley, you should watch it. It's really compelling.
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