Seven biggest surprises after the first seven weeks of the college football season
Bryce Love's video game season and early-season turnarounds lead our group
We've reached the halfway point of the the 2017 college football season, and of course, almost nothing outside of Alabama punishing opponents with football's version of medieval torture has gone according to plan. That's what makes college football so much dang fun, though. The unpredictable is the best part about this sport. It's almost essential, too. It's the oxygen filling its lungs.
With that unpredictability comes surprises,. In this piece, we'll focus on the good. From breakout seasons with Heisman implications to great coaching jobs both large and small, here's a look at the major storylines developing as October makes way to November and beyond.
With seven weeks of season in the books, here are the seven biggest surprises from across the landscape.
TCU: The Horned Frogs are 6-0, sit alone atop the Big 12 standings at 3-0 and rank No. 4 in both major polls. Did you have them doing all of that two months ago? Oh you did? Stop lying. This is classic Gary Patterson. He tends to bounce back from losing seasons like no other. Oklahoma was the preseason Big 12 title favorites and Oklahoma State was the trendy dark horse pick. That didn't leave much room for TCU, but as the win over the Cowboys showed, this team has legitimate playoff aspirations. An experienced defense with a rock-solid D-line? Check. A big-play quarterback? Check. A supporting cast on offense? Check. A top-five coach of the non-blue-blood variety? Check. The Frogs have some tough road games in November that will determine whether this team goes to the Big 12 Championship Game and beyond, but this team has already surpassed national expectations.
Stanford running back Bryce Love: The successor to Christian McCaffrey turned out to be every bit as explosive as the Heisman runner-up from two seasons ago. Love's numbers as the nation's top running back are absurd. Love not only leads the FBS in yards per game (198.1) and total rushing (1,387 yards) by almost a full three bills, he barely misses the lead for yards per attempt (10.27). That's still far and away the best average of any back with over 100 carries. Eight of his 11 rushing touchdowns have been 40 yards or longer. These are truly "NCAA Football" Road to Glory numbers (#RIP #HeavenHasAnotherAngel). ? We'll have to find out in the final half of the season.
UCF: I'll go ahead and put myself on the chopping block. I pegged UCF as . Not because the Knights were actually bad or anything, just that this program is two years removed from a winless season. While coach Scott Frost did a great job in Year 1 turning things around, to be this far ahead of schedule is a little bit unexpected. There are still some difficult games ahead at Navy (Saturday), at SMU and against South Florida. But with the nation's top scoring offense at 50 points per game, this team has a good chance to be favored in every single one of them. Even a 10-win season -- and the Knights are certainly capable of that -- would represent at least a +10 in the win column in two years' time. That's a giant leap forward and a New Year's Six bowl spot is within reach.
West Virginia receiver David Sills V: Sills' story is one heck of a journey. You probably know by now that he was offered a scholarship to play quarterback at USC at age 13 by Lane Kiffin. Then Sills enrolled at West Virginia, transitioned to receiver, caught seven passes as a freshman, left the program, came back this past season, and now leads the country with 12 touchdown receptions. It's not easy making a transition from a position you loved and thriving in a new role. Our has gone from the subject of recruiting folk lore to the most dangerous possession receiver in major college football.
Cal coach Justin Wilcox: Picking a coach of the year is always difficult because coaches are asked to do so many different things. Nick Saban, Gary Patterson and Wilcox could all be a coach of the year for varying reasons. But if Cal makes a bowl game, Wilcox would be my coach of the year. It would likely only mean the difference in one or two more wins from a season ago, but the way this team looks compared to 2016 is night and day. This is especially true on defense, where the Golden Bears are giving up 16 points fewer per game after ranking dead last in the Pac-12 last year. They're also a full yard (and then some) better in yards per play allowed. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter should be a Broyles Award finalist. There may not be a first-year coaching staff doing a better job anywhere than what Wilcox and Co. are doing in Berkeley.
Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond: I'm choosing Mond based on part of a larger narrative on coach Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies. Sumlin was as good as gone after the Week 1 collapse against UCLA, but since then, A&M has turned into a different team and Mond a different quarterback. The true freshman is accounting for 265 yards of total offense per game in SEC play -- third best in the conference. He's taken steps forward as a passer, which complements his athleticism. Compare that to the UCLA game when he couldn't move the offense at all (2.53 yards per play). Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has low-key done a nice job developing Mond. There are good games and not as good games, but the overall trend is upward. And now at 3-1 in conference play, the Aggies are tied for second in the SEC West. Not to absolve Sumlin of blame for the UCLA loss, but blowing a 34-point lead in 17 minutes is a bit of a fluke. It's a .1 percent outcome. And the loss to Alabama was respectable. Yes, there's still November, but after a mortifying start, a nine-win season is very much in play. That would be more than acceptable with a true freshman quarterback.
Virginia: The Cavaliers are 5-1 and what in the wide world of sports. Of all the turnarounds at the Power Five level, this has to be one of the least expected. Virginia won two whole games last year with an average point differential of -11.3. The only loss this season is to a decent Indiana team and molly-whopping Boise State on the road was an eye-opener. Quarterback Kurt Benkert has been slinging the magic bean and this offense is actually fun to watch with him behind center. Virginia's schedule gets almost unreasonably difficult in November, so there's a chance the Hoos slide into a bowl appearance. Still, a 7-5-ish season is reasonable and would be a five-game net swing from last year. Bronco Mendenhall can coach, y'all. Now can he capitalize on recruiting? As of now he has just two in-state commits for the 2018 class, either of which are anywhere near the top players in the state. And that's on top of just eight in-state commits from the 25-member 2017 class. Perhaps a turnaround season will lead to better recruiting success.
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