College Football Teams, Players Surprise Many
As the college football regular season winds down, there have been a number of surprises so far in terms of teams, as well as individual players. Probably the most surprising performance of the year so far comes from the University of Miami Hurricanes. The team is led by second year head coach Mark Richt. In the span of just two years, Richt has taken the program from rebuilding to a team that resembles the Miami dynasty of the early 2000s.
The team is 9-0, and is one of the few remaining undefeated teams in Division I. In the initial College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings, the Hurricanes had some doubters. Originally, Miami was ranked eighth. Moving up one spot in the second week, the ‘Canes were in position to prove themselves against No. 3 Notre Dame, another surprisingly successful team. They did so in dominating fashion, securing a 34-0 lead in the third quarter before cruising to a 41-8 victory. With this signature win, and its new ranking of No. 3, Miami has proven itself as a contender that is here to stay.
Another surprise, this time in a negative way, is the performance of the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans. The Trojans began the year ranked as No. 4, with an “NFL-ready” quarterback and leading Heisman candidate in Sam Darnold. Given Darnold’s talents along with the skilled players around him, many football fans thought of USC as a title favorite.
However, within the first few weeks, it was clear the Trojans were not competitive enough to compete for a national title. They barely escaped with an overtime win against Texas, a team that is rebuilding themselves, and two weeks later lost to Washington State before getting demolished by Notre Dame. Even though the Trojans have worked their way back up to No. 11 in the CFP rankings, their once promising title hopes have been dashed.
One of the most successful surprises of the season is the Georgia Bulldogs. Ranked 15th at the beginning of the season, the Dawgs have worked their way up the rankings by blowing out highly-ranked teams like Mississippi State and Notre Dame. The team is led by the core of true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm and running backs Nick Chubb, D’Andre Swift and Sony Michel, as well as a stellar defense with linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Roquan Smith.
Georgia peaked at No. 1 before suffering a letdown loss to No. 10 Auburn last week. Despite the loss, the team still has the tools and schedule, as well as the ranking (No. 7), to make a strong playoff push.
The University of Oklahoma, while originally expected to be good this season, has surprised sports fans by just how good they are. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has garnered impressive numbers such as 598 passing yards and five touchdowns against Oklahoma State, thrusting himself yet again into the Heisman conversation. In doing so, he has taken his team into playoff consideration.
Beginning the season at No. 7, the Sooners used a quality win against Ohio State to boost their consideration as an elite team. While suffering a setback in a loss versus Iowa State (ranked No. 21 at the time), they have rebounded with back-to-back quality wins against No. 10 Oklahoma State and No. 6 TCU, therefore solidifying their case to be a playoff team, taking over the No. 4 spot in the CFP ranking.
Many surprises this season have not come from teams but rather individual players. A great example is Khalil Tate, the quarterback for the University of Arizona. Tate, who started the season as the backup, was thrust into the spotlight and has not disappointed. In just eight games, he has rushed for 1530 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s also thrown for 1241 yards and 11 more touchdowns, for 2,771 total yards and 23 total touchdowns. He has become so dominant that Oregon coach Willie Taggart, when asked how he planned to stop Khalil Tate, simply responded, “pray.” With these stats and his elevated stature with coaches and fans, Tate has turned himself from a backup quarterback into a true Heisman contender.
Yet another player who surprised everyone is Stanford University’s running back Bryce Love. Stanford was not expected to do much this season after losing their star running back and Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey to the NFL. However, the Cardinal are ranked No. 22 in the CFP rankings. Love, who has logged 2630 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing as well as 364 yards and two touchdowns receiving after stepping into the role that McCaffrey left, has made himself a prominent Heisman contender.
With such dominant performances this season from various players, the question that remains is, “Who will take home the Heisman trophy come December?”