- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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This week's top 20:
20. Biggest surprise of the half season
• Florida State eliminated from national championship race before the leaves turn (NC State 17, FSU 16).
• Notre Dame wore those Boise State-like unis in public.
• USC quarterback Matt Barkley 30th in passing efficiency, 38th in passing, 44th in passing yards and clinging to Heisman Trophy relevancy.
• Baylor, West Virginia and Texas defenses declare early for the Lingerie Football League. Yeah, a cheap shot, but BU Bears ranked last (120th) in total defense, Mountaineers 114th and Longhorns 99th.
• Notre Dame 6-0, Penn State 4-2.
And the half-season winner is FSU. The Seminoles are out of BCS title chase by Oct. 6 and trail Maryland in the ACC's Atlantic Division.
19. Coach of the half season
• Notre Dame's Brian Kelly.
The unbeaten record is nice, but Kelly's real impact has been his insistence that the Fighting Irish become mentally and physically tough. You can see the difference in Year 3 of his tenure.
• Alabama's Nick Saban.
I know it's Bama, but there's a reason the Tide can handle injuries, expectations, road games and everything else that comes with being No. 1.
• Oregon State's Mike Riley.
• Penn State's Bill O'Brien.
O'Brien hasn't had to overcome much. Just NCAA sanctions, defections, the Paterno legacy, calls for the program to be shuttered should I go on? Nittany Lions are 4-2 and very easily could have been 5-1.
• Kansas State's Bill Snyder.
The more you see what he does and how long he has done it, the more you appreciate it.
And the half-season winner is O'Brien. No coach has had to deal with as much adversity as this guy.
18. Best win of the half season
• Kansas State 24, Oklahoma 19 at Norman. (Overcame crickets and Sooners' history of whooping opponents at home.)
• Florida 20, Texas A&M 17 at College Station. (Gators were in early season fragile state, but found themselves in second half against Aggies, who were pumped for first-ever SEC game.)
• NC State 17, FSU 16. (Seminoles led 16-0 at half.)
• Oregon State 42, BYU 24 at Provo. (42 points against the No. 3-ranked scoring defense in the country and a team that had won 10 consecutive home games -- and did it with a backup QB.)
• Notre Dame 20, Stanford 13. (In many ways, a season-defining victory: in the rain, in OT, despite turnovers, despite losing starting QB, against high-quality opponent.)
And the half-season winner is Kansas State win over OU. And it wasn't as close as the score says it was.
17. Flop of the half season
• Poll voters.
Twenty-eight percent of the teams in the AP Top 25 preseason poll (Arkansas, Michigan State, Texas, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and Nebraska) are now no-shows, while 32 percent (add Auburn) of the coaches' preseason poll are gone. AP voters had USC No. 1, Michigan No. 8, Arkansas No. 10, Kansas State No. 22, Florida No. 23 and didn't have Notre Dame in the Top 25. Coaches had LSU No. 1, Michigan No. 8, Arkansas No. 10, Kansas State No. 21, Florida No. 23 and Auburn No. 25. Auburn!
• Texas' defense.
D-coordinator Manny Diaz might not want to put this year's stats on his résumé.
• Big Ten.
The Big East has three teams ranked in the Top 25 of the BCS standings. The Big Ten has zero. I repeat, zero.
Lost to Arkansas at home. Could very easily end the season without an SEC victory.
In four consecutive losses (Louisiana-Monroe at home, Bama at home, Rutgers at home, at Texas A&M), the Razorbacks were outscored, 179-67.
And the half-season winner is Arkansas.
16. Best predictions of the half season
In the Aug. 28 preseason BMOC column, I had Notre Dame starting 6-0, foresaw Arkansas' implosion, knew West Virginia's Geno Smith was the guy to watch, had a bad feeling about Wisconsin and thought FSU was wayyyy overrated.
15. Biggest liar of the half season
The truth is, I actually had Arkansas interim coach John L. Smith on my preseason list of Coach of the Year candidates.
On my list of Surprise Teams of the Year, I included Tennessee (Surprise -- the Vols are likely to begin November without an SEC win!).
I had Wisconsin ranked No. 8 in my preseason top 10.
In my defense, I did have Bama vs. USC in the BCS Championship Game. I had Florida ranked No. 9. I didn't have West Virginia in my top 10. I had Geno Smith as a close, second-tier Heisman candidate.
14. Worst loss of the half season
• Tulane 27, SMU 26. (I mean this in the nicest possible way, but Tulane, which ranks among the worst in every meaningful statistical category, is dreadful this season. And SMU lost to it.)
• Army 34, Boston College 31. (Army hadn't won a game until it played BC.)
• Oklahoma 63, Texas 21. (If I were Mack Brown, I'd send his defense to the Chris Spielman Football Camp for some remedial tackling lessons. The Longhorns were laughably horrible.)
• Texas Tech 49, West Virginia 14. (The Mountaineers can get some extra Spielman brochures from Texas.)
• Arkansas 24, Auburn 7. (Tigers coach Gene Chizik apologized after the loss. That's how bad it was.)
And the half-season winner is Texas.
In the past two meetings, the Longhorns have lost to OU by a combined 118-38. Call it the Red River Routs.
13. Best unanswered question at the half season
• Will Chizik be Auburn's coach in 2013?
• Will Derek Dooley be Tennessee's coach in 2013?
• Can Notre Dame really finish the regular season 12-0?
• Can LSU still play for a national championship?
• Could Texas actually fire Mack Brown?
And the half-season winner is Notre Dame.
The pressures and expectations continue to build with each victory. Maybe that's why ND's Kelly said he and his staff will "over-communicate the message" of staying focused and grounded as the Irish enter the second half of their schedule. That means avoiding a trap game this week against BYU as Notre Dame tries not to look ahead to the Oct. 27 game at Norman. Games against Pitt, at BC and against Wake Forest shouldn't provide a huge threat. But waiting on Nov. 24 is USC at the Coliseum.
Are the Irish capable of beating OU and USC on the road? Absolutely.
Are they capable of going 0-2 against those guys? Absolutely.
12. Coach under the most duress at the half season
• Arkansas' Smith.
Two consecutive wins (against Auburn and Kentucky) have helped calm the piggies. But the last three games of the season aren't going to be much fun for Smith (at South Carolina, at Mississippi State, LSU) as the Razorbacks try to somehow become bowl eligible. Whatever happens, Smith is gone at season's end.
• Auburn's Chizik.
Has a huge buyout and geez, didn't he win a national title a couple of years ago? Will any of that matter to AD Jay Jacobs and power boosters?
• Tennessee's Dooley.
Mississippi State loss could be the beginning of the end. Vols are a 21-point dog to Bama this week. At home! Tennessee could still finish 7-5, but it would likely be without a signature win (it has lost to Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, is a huge underdog to Bama, and will be the same at South Carolina). Will that be enough for Dooley to see a Year 4 in Knoxville?
• Boston College's Frank Spaziani.
Now that BC has hired a new athletic director (Brad Bates), it will only be a matter of time before Spaziani is pink slipped.
• Texas' Brown.
Brown is a big-ticket salary item, but you can't ignore his impact at Texas during his 15 seasons there. But he's 5-9 against Bob Stoops at OU. They just got blown out again by the Sooners. And even the staunchest Brown defenders are beginning to wonder about their man as Texas has lost its past nine games to AP Top 25 teams.
And the half-season winner is Chizik.
You would think a national championship would give Chizik enough sweat equity to survive the season, but this is Auburn, after all.
11. Team of the half season
I probably should have included Will Muschamp on my Coach of the Half Season finalists. Muschamp's team is as exciting as a cheese pizza, but the Gators are resilient, tough and growing more confident by the week. There is obvious talent on the roster, but more important, everyone has bought into Muschamp's philosophy.
• Notre Dame.
ND is going to be a tough out. They won three games on the road in the first half (at Dublin, at East Lansing, at Chicago). Their defense is top drawer (though the secondary will be tested by OU and USC). And Kelly has done a nice job of keeping the Fighting Irish in the moment.
The Tide get taken for granted, but don't underestimate just how difficult it is to take everybody else's best shots.
• Kansas State.
The Wildcats just plug along.
You can talk about the Ducks' offense all you want, but Oregon is better because its defense is better. (Not Bama-great, but better than it has been in the past.)
And the half-season winner is Florida.
10. Player of the half season
• West Virginia's Smith.
The semi-stinker against Texas Tech notwithstanding, Smith's numbers remain RG3-ish.
• Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.
The heart and soul of a defense that has yet to give up a rushing touchdown this season.
• Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.
He throws. He runs. He runs you over. He wins. What's there not to like?
• Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.
There are a handful of reasons the Buckeyes are undefeated. Miller is reason No. 1.
• Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Freshmen quarterbacks aren't supposed to do what he's doing, right? Johnny Football already has two games with 550-plus total offensive yards (Louisiana Tech, Arkansas). He's second in the country in total offense and points responsible for.
And the half-season winner is Smith.
But it was closer than you think.
9. Worst personnel loss of the half season
Lost quarterback Casey Pachall to rehab.
We lost Beano Cook.
• Florida State.
Lost cornerback and return specialist Greg Reid to a laundry list of off-field troubles.
Lost cornerback and return specialist Tyrann Mathieu to rehab.
• Penn State.
Lost nine players to transfer.
And the half-season loser is Penn State.
8. Best one-loss team of the half season
No dishonor in losing to Florida. But offense and quarterback play are still a major concern.
No dishonor in losing at Stanford. Trojans looked disengaged at beginning of season. More focused now.
No dishonor in losing to K-State. Bounce-back wins at Texas Tech and against Texas show Sooners are still a major player.
• South Carolina.
No dishonor in losing at Death Valley. It was always going to be tough for the Gamecocks to go 3-0 against Georgia, at LSU and at Florida. But anything less than 2-1 and they're doomed.
How many times do you think Jimbo Fisher has thought about that loss to NC State? A thousand? More?
And the half-season winner is OU.
Each of these teams has its flaws, but I like the way the Sooners are trending.
7. Quote of the half season
--"I would guess that if you were a red-blooded American man, you'd like to play today. I'm guessing we'll play well."
LSU coach Les Miles to CBS's Tracy Wolfson shortly before the Tigers played (and lost to) Florida in the Swamp.
--"I'm so excited, I'm ready to call my mama."
Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix after overtime win against Stanford.
--"&*@%!" (Rhymes with singular Oregon mascot.)
Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas as he walked angrily up the stadium tunnel after a controversial Notre Dame goal-line stand cost the Cardinal the game in overtime.
--"We kind of got basically humbled today."
USC linebacker Hayes Pullard (to the Los Angeles Times) after the Trojans' loss at Stanford, their fourth consecutive defeat to the Cardinal.
--"In retrospect, we probably bit off a bit more than we could chew. I think embarrassment lasts a lot longer than $860,000."
Savannah State coach Steve Davenport on his athletic director's decision to schedule consecutive road games at Oklahoma State and Florida State for $860,000 of appearance money. Savannah State lost by a combined score of 139-0 -- and it would have been worse had the FSU game not been called with 24 minutes remaining in the second half because of thunderstorms.
And the half-season winner is The red-blooded American Hatter.
6. The picks
Still trying to understand what possessed me to pick Baylor over TCU. Dumb.
And even though I warned West Virginia to be careful about that trip to Lubbock, I didn't have the guts to pick the upset. Pathetic.
This week's choices:
Oregon over Arizona State, Penn State over Iowa, Alabama over Tennessee, Michigan over Michigan State, Notre Dame over BYU, LSU over Texas A&M, Florida over South Carolina, Stanford over Cal, North Carolina over Duke, NC State over Maryland, Cincinnati over Toledo, Texas Tech over TCU, Rutgers over Temple, Clemson over Virginia Tech, Oregon State over Utah, Kansas State over West Virginia, Louisville over South Florida, Oklahoma State over Iowa State, Vanderbilt over Auburn.
(Last week's record: 13-2. Overall: 85-27)
5. Why Vegas sends a limo for me
Swung and whiffed on South Carolina over LSU. Overestimated the Gamecocks' defense, underestimated the Tigers' running game.
This week I thought hard about: Texas A&M over LSU (the game is in Aggieland, but I've learned my lesson); Temple over Rutgers (road game for Rutgers); and South Carolina at Florida (desperation -- and Gamecocks have to win this game -- can come in handy).
Went with: Northwestern over Nebraska.
Ryan Field isn't exactly Death Valley, but in Pat Fitzgerald, I trust.
(Last week's record: 0-1. Overall: 2-5.)
4. Trending up
Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville, Collin Klein's Heisman chances, Braxton Miller's Heisman chances, Notre Dame merchandise sales, Army (it's favored at Eastern Michigan), USC, Oregon State's Vaz, OU, LSU, Iowa, Johnny Football and La Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton.
3. Trending down
Mack Brown (said Monday he isn't going anywhere, except back to work), Derek Dooley, anybody playing defense at Texas, Ohio State and West Virginia defenses, Geno Smith's Heisman front-runner status, those hideous all-black unis that are becoming a fashion cliché, Michigan State, South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
2. If there were a playoff
(And there will be in two more years )
Shoulder Pad Bracket:
Alabama vs. Notre Dame.
First one to 10 points wins.
Chin Strap Bracket:
Florida vs. Oregon
Smashmouth vs. Mach 2.
1. The BMOC top 10
No. 10: USC (5-1)
The Trojans get to play everyone's favorite Pac-12 feather pillow -- Colorado. Thing is, USC still has an outside, outside chance of reaching the BCS championship. But it will take a 6-0 finish and lots of luck.
No. 9: Ohio State (7-0)
The only two 7-0 teams in the country are in the same state: Ohio State and Ohio. Only one of those teams is eligible for the postseason -- and it isn't the Buckeyes. Purdue shouldn't provide much of a problem this week, though who knows after what happened against Indiana, right? That explains the come-to-Jesus talk coach Urban Meyer had with his defense this week.
No. 8: LSU (6-1)
Next: at Texas A&M.
The Tigers put a leash on South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw. Now they face the turbo-charged version of Shaw: A&M's Manziel. LSU is still in the national championship discussion -- as long as it keeps winning. Can't afford a letdown after big win against Gamecocks.
No. 7: South Carolina (6-1)
Next: at Florida.
If the Head Ball Coach wants any chance of playing in the SEC championship, he has to beat his alma mater and the program he helped turn into a national power as a coach. And he'll have to do it on the road and against a Gators team that just got a How-To-Beat-The-Gamecocks manual from LSU.
No. 6: Kansas State (6-0)
Next: at West Virginia.
The Wildcats already have one signature win (at Oklahoma last month) and another quality road win last week (at Iowa State). Now the Wildcats go the land of couches, ottomans and Geno Smith. Second of five consecutive toughies (at Iowa State, at WVU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, at TCU).
No. 5: Oregon State (5-0)
Coach Mike Riley and star wide receiver Markus Wheaton nailed it when they told me last week that Oregon State fans shouldn't sweat the unexpected quarterback switch. In the impressive road win at BYU on Saturday, backup Cody Vaz, subbing for the injured Sean Mannion, didn't play like a guy who hadn't taken a single snap since 2010. When I visited with Vaz in Corvallis, he acted like a guy without a worry in the world. Now I see why.
No. 4: Notre Dame (6-0)
The BCS computers are sweet on the Fighting Irish, putting them at No. 2. ND is 6-0 for the first time since 2002 and it hasn't given up an offensive TD in the past four games. That's probably not a good thing for sometimes offensively challenged BYU.
No. 3: Oregon (6-0)
Next: at Arizona State on Thursday night.
The Ducks' goal is to run plays until you drop. And their new and improved defense does the rest. They're 10½-point road favorites against ASU. Win this one and they get the equivalent of a bye week or glorified scrimmage (Colorado) before the Nov. 3 biggie at USC.
No. 2: Florida (6-0)
Next: South Carolina.
Those same BCS computers want to take the Gators to the homecoming dance. Florida beats you the old-school way: with defense, a running game and a roster full of athletes. And they get a handful of starters back this week.
No. 1: Alabama (6-0)
Next: at Tennessee.
The computers don't like Bama as much as us humans do. That's because the computers don't actually have to play the Tide, or coach against Nicky Ballgame. Bama should expect the best Tennessee can give it in this former glorious rivalry game.
(Five on the fringe: Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida State, Clemson, Mississippi State.)
The BMOC surveys the midseason's best players and coaches, surprises and flops.