Senior College Football Columnist

Top 10: Most pleasant surprises of 2013

Boston College's Andre Williams is the nation's leading rusher. (USATSI)
Boston College's Andre Williams is the nation's leading rusher. (USATSI)

As we get closer to the midseason mark, it's a good time to spotlight some of the bigger surprises of 2013.

1. Tyler Murphy, Florida, QB: Forced into action three weeks ago against Tennessee after Jeff Driskel went down with a season-ending injury, the QB once ranked as a "two-star" recruit and the nation's 148th best wide receiver prospect in the country has been a godsend to the Gators. Murphy's completing over 75 percent of his passes and has a 5-1 TD-INT ratio. The 6-2, 210-pounder's also run for two more TDs and has had a carry of at least 15 yards in each of the three games he's played. Another telling stat: Murphy's averaging a robust 9.82 yards per attempt. That's more than three yards per attempt more than Driskel did in 2012.

2. Tulane: Curtis Johnson's sparked the Green Wave's best start in 15 years. Tulane's also 2-0 in Conference USA play, the first time that's happened in six seasons. It seems like a safe bet that the Green Wave surpasses the four-win barrier for the first time since 2004.

3. Texas Tech defense: People knew all about Kliff Kingsbury's offensive rep but he also made a few shrewd moves bringing in Matt Wallerstedt and his old pal Mike Smith to handle the Red Raiders D. Granted, Tech hasn't exactly faced anything close to Baylor yet, but still it is impressive that its defense has gone from allowing 32 ppg down to under 14. The Red Raiders, who under Tommy Tuberville gave up 50+ points in four of their final seven games of 2012, haven't allowed more than 23 yet

4. Zach Mettenberger, LSU, QB: No one's ever questioned the big QB's arm, but his focus and consistency had been a concern . . . till this season. New Tiger OC Cam Cameron has done wonders with LSU's offense and with Mettenberger especially. The 6-5, 230-pound senior's completion percentage is up almost 10 percent (up to 68 percent) and his TD-INT ratio is a sterling 15-2 up from 12-7 last year. In addition, his yards per attempt has jumped from 7.4 to 11.1. The one-time UGA QB is fourth in the country in passing efficiency, ahead of Johnny Manziel, Tajh Boyd, Aaron Murray and Marcus Mariota. Better still, LSU's scoring average has gone from 29.8 to 45.5 points per game this fall.

5. Arizona defense: It's no shock to see Michigan State, Alabama and Florida among the nation's stingiest defenses, but Arizona? In 2012, the Cats were No. 102 in scoring defense. This season, with more time in DC Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 system, Zona's up to No. 9 in the nation, allowing just 14.3 ppg.

6. Missouri: Start with QB James Franklin, who is healthy again and been very sharp. The 5-0 Tigers are averaging 47 ppg, up three TDs from last year. They're also coming off a nice SEC road win at Vandy last week, which enabled them to match 2012's win total by early October. Now the schedule gets much tougher, starting with a road trip to No. 7 Georgia, the first of three consecutive top 20 opponents. Michael Sam who had only 7 TFLs in 2012, already has 10 in five games to spark an improved defense that has become much more ferocious despite the loss of first-round D-lineman Sheldon Richardson.

“Michael Sam's crazy right now,” linebacker Donovan Bonner told Dave Matter. “He's a madman.”

7. Andre Williams, Boston College, RB: The nation's top rusher is averaging 154 yards per game up from 65 yards per game as new coach Steve Addazio has cranked up the toughness in the Eagles game.

8. UNLV: The Rebels, who didn't win more than two games in any of Bobby Hauck's first three seasons at UNLV, are 3-2 and on a three-game winning streak. They did get blown out in their two games against teams from AQ conferences, but at least they're winning some games, and with a visit from winless Hawaii up next, a 4-2 start looks likely. Senior QB Caleb Herring, 10th in the nation in passing efficiency, has thrown eight TDs and no picks.

9. John O'Korn, Houston, QB: Tony Levine had a rough debut season last year with the Cougars, and things didn't get any easier when he lost star RB Charles Sims, who would've been the American's top running back, on the eve of this season. Sims bailed on UH, and veteran QB David PIland had to retire due to concussions, but true freshman O'Korn, a 6-4, 205-pounder from Fort Lauderdale, has been a revelation, throwing 10 TDs against just one INT while also displaying some decent wheels in piloting a talented but young crew of receivers. Houston's also gone from No. 82 in turnover margin to No. 1.

10. Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State, OLB: The 6-2, 250-pounder ended up as a Ram after Nebraska-Omaha disbanded its program two seasons ago. In his first two seasons with CSU, Barrett, a former prep wrestling standout and National Honor Society member, had 12 TFLs. He's already surpassed that this fall with 12.5, which leads the nation, along with 6.5 sacks and 39 tackles in five games.

 
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