Brian Kelly and Manti Te'o have helped revive Notre Dame
We have now officially reached the halfway point of the 2012 college football season.
It's been a pretty wild and entertaining ride so far. Now, as we delve deeper into conference play, the action is only going to continue to heat up and get more intense in the coming weeks.
We saw two Top Five teams—South Carolina and West Virginia—both get picked off in Week 7, but this past weekend didn't really offer up many dramatic surprises.
As always, though, there was a lot of new information we learned about some of the top teams and players in the country.
Here's a look at the 50 lessons we learned from Week 7.
Notre Dame has annually been one of the most overrated teams in college football in recent years. But now, it finally looks like the Irish are ready to actually return to national prominence this season.
After back-to-back eight-win campaigns, Brian Kelly's team has started off the 2012 season 6-0, and it's already picked up notable wins over Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State and Miami.
The Irish defense, which is led by budding star sophomore pass-rusher Stephon Tuitt and All-American-caliber linebacker Manti Te'o, is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense and No. 11 in total defense.
If Notre Dame can survive upcoming tough tests against BYU, Oklahoma and USC, the team should make it back to its first BCS bowl game since the 2007 season.
Texas routinely racked up double-digit-win campaigns from 2001 to 2009. However, since then, the team has become just another also-ran in the Big 12.
During the offseason, there was talk that this could be the season that the Longhorns climb back up the conference ladder.
Judging from the team's embarrassing 63-21 blowout loss to rival Oklahoma, it doesn't seem likely.
That's the third straight loss that the Longhorns have experienced to the Sooners in the Red River Rivalry.
After putting up some eye-popping passing numbers in his first five games of the season, West Virginia QB Geno Smith gained the title of early Heisman front-runner. However, Smith certainly didn't look like a Heisman-worthy player in a 49-14 loss to Texas Tech on Saturday.
The normally accurate senior signal-caller did not throw the ball well in a windy Jones AT&T Stadium, as he completed just 29 of his 55 passes.
One bad performance certainly won't knock Smith completely out of the race.
Last year's Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III, had a few less-than-stellar games, most notably in a 59-24 blowout loss to Oklahoma State, yet he still won the award.
Still, Smith is going to have some work to do in order to prove that his shaky showing against the Red Raiders was just a fluke.
Geno Smith may not have played very well against Texas Tech, but the true reason why West Virginia got blown out was that the defense just did not show up at all.
We already knew that the Mountaineers had some glaring weaknesses on defense following the unit's poor performances against Baylor and Texas. However, the fact that the team lacked any type of toughness or physicality against the Red Raiders is a major concern.
You can blame the defense's severe struggles on having young and inexperienced starters at key positions, or the fact that the unit has changed schemes from a 3-3-5 to a 3-4 front this year. But there's simply no excuse for playing the soft brand of football that West Virginia did on Saturday.
New coordinator Joe DeForest better come up with some answers quickly, or things will only continue to get worse as the opponents get tougher.
West Virginia's defense may have played awful on Saturday, but Texas Tech's defense stepped up in a major way.
The Red Raiders held the normally explosive Mountaineers offense to just 408 total yards and 14 points.
Following that performance, Texas Tech currently has the top-ranked defense in the Big 12.
It will be interesting to see if the unit can keep playing at a high level in the coming weeks against teams like TCU, Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
Following West Virginia's loss to Texas Tech, it now appears that Kansas State and Oklahoma are the two teams to beat in the Big 12 this season.
Both squads have experienced veteran quarterbacks, solid running games and strong defenses, which are the type of ingredients that will certainly help a team in its quest to win a conference championship.
The Wildcats got an early leg up on the Sooners after beating them on their home field back in Week 4. But Oklahoma is still capable of rising up and contending for a conference crown in 2012.
LSU proved this past weekend that it didn't need first-year starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger to put up big passing numbers in order to win a crucial conference clash.
Mettenberger completed just 12 of his 25 passes and finished with just an 89 passer rating for the second week in a row, yet the Tigers still managed to beat South Carolina 23-21 in Death Valley.
Obviously, it would be great if the junior signal-caller could help out through the air. But given the type of depth and talent in both the backfield and on defense that LSU has this year, Mettenberger definitely doesn't have to be a star in order for the Tigers to win a lot of games in 2012.
Move over Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon, because there's another freshman running back to watch out for in the SEC this season.
LSU's Jeremy Hill put on a show against South Carolina's defense on Saturday, rushing for 124 yards and scoring two touchdowns in the 23-21 victory.
Hill had carried the ball just 13 times for 71 total yards in the previous six games, but he proved that he was ready to handle a big workload against the Gamecocks.
The Tigers already had plenty of talent in the backfield with standouts such as Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford, Spencer Ware and the injured Alfred Blue. But now it seems that they've found yet another back who can do serious damage to a defense when called upon.
Following South Carolina's big 35-7 win over Georgia in Week 6, QB Connor Shaw started to gain some serious Heisman buzz. But that didn't last all that long, as Shaw failed to step up and shine when given the opportunity to prove himself against a tough LSU defense.
The dual-threat junior signal-caller threw for just 177 yards and finished with a negative rushing total in a losing effort.
Shaw can still rebound and have a strong end to the season. But he's going to need to put up some big numbers and lead South Carolina to an SEC championship if he wants to earn an invitation to New York City for the Heisman ceremony.
One player that did look like a legitimate Heisman contender in Week 7 was Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o.
Te'o racked up 11 tackles and helped keep the Stanford offense in check, as the Irish defeated the Cardinal 20-13 in overtime in South Bend.
The inside 'backer's choice to return for his senior year was certainly a wise decision, as he's currently having the best season of his outstanding college career.
If Tyrann Mathieu was considered a Heisman finalist for his performance in 2011, Te'o definitely deserves consideration for the type of campaign he's having this season.
It took Eddie Lacy a few games to heat up this season. But now Lacy is starting to prove that he absolutely belongs in the same conversation as his predecessors Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram.
The big, powerful 6'1'', 220-pound junior had the best game of his career on Saturday, as he rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-10 win over Missouri.
Lacy is currently averaging six yards per carry, and he appears to be a perfect fit for Alabama's downhill rushing attack.
With Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon running behind the best offensive line in college football, Alabama once again has one of the most potent ground games in the country.
Unfortunately, Oregon State lost its budding star sophomore signal-caller Sean Mannion to a knee injury against Washington State.
The Beavers still managed to go on the road to BYU without him and keep their undefeated record alive with a 42-24 win over the Cougars.
Mannion's replacement, Cody Vaz, stepped in and had no trouble getting in sync.
Vaz completed 20 of his 32 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns.
It should be interesting to see how Vaz plays against Pac-12 foes such as Utah, Washington, Arizona State, Stanford, Cal and Oregon in the coming weeks.
Northwestern only has one bowl win in its history, and that was back in the 1948 Rose Bowl.
The Wildcats will get the chance to end that drought this season, as they've already become bowl eligible following their sixth win of the season against Minnesota on Saturday.
If you had polled fans around the Big Ten before the season started and asked which conference team would be the first to become bowl eligible, I have a felling that not many would have said Northwestern. But you have to give credit where credit's due.
Pat Fitzgerald definitely deserves to be on the short list of coach of the year candidates this season.
One of the keys to Northwestern's success has been the play of running back Venric Mark.
Mark has been one of the most underappreciated players in the country so far this season.
The 5'8'', 175-pound junior has had a breakout campaign in 2012, as he's rushed for 732 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns.
Hopefully, Mark will soon start to receive more national attention for the outstanding season he's having this year.
Another player who's having a huge breakout season in 2012 is Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel.
Manziel is quickly developing into one of the most electrifying players in college football.
The athletic redshirt freshman put up some huge numbers in the Aggies' first five games. But he truly exploded in a 59-57 win over Louisiana Tech this past Saturday.
The dual-threat signal-caller completed 24 of his 40 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns, and added another 181 yards and three touchdowns on the ground as well.
With Manziel leading the way, you can bet that no opponent will want to have to deal with Texas A&M's offense this season.
The Big East has received plenty of criticism in recent years, and many still consider it to be a distant sixth in the BCS pecking order.
This season, however, the league currently has three undefeated teams—Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati, who are all ranked in the first BCS top 25 standings.
Whether you like the Big East, you have to admit that this year's conference race has the chance to be very entertaining.
A week after nearly upsetting Michigan State, Indiana put a scare into another prominent Big Ten team. This time it was undefeated Ohio State, who got all it could handle from the Hoosiers in Bloomington.
The Buckeyes were able to survive a late push from Indiana, which included two touchdowns in the final two minutes, as they hung on to win 52-49.
The Hoosiers may not win a whole lot of games this season, but it won't be because of a lack of effort. Kevin Wilson has his players ready to give the big boys of the Big Ten a tough test this year.
Florida State suffered an inexcusable collapse against N.C. State in Week 6, which cost the Seminoles a shot at a national championship this season.
It wouldn't have been surprising to see a lingering hangover effect after such a disappointing defeat. But the Seminoles didn't show any signs of losing their focus, as they came out and took out their frustrations in a 51-7 beat down of Boston College.
Sure, in the grand scheme of things, a win over a hapless 1-5 team midway through the season doesn't mean much. However, it does show that Florida State is still motivated and still hungry for an ACC championship in 2012.
Michigan may be 4-2, but when you consider that those two losses came at the hands of two teams that are currently ranked in the Top Five, Alabama and Notre Dame, it's a bit more understandable.
After a rough start to the season, the Wolverines are beginning to put it together as they get ready for some huge conference matchups with Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State.
The team had its best performance of the season this past Saturday, when it obliterated Illinois 45-0.
The Wolverines are now 2-0 in the conference, and they look like they could potentially make a run all the way to the Big Ten championship game this season.
Michigan may be making a move up, but Illinois—the team the Wolverines destroyed 45-0 on Saturday—is heading in the complete opposite direction.
The Illini could only total 134 yards of offense on Saturday.
By comparison, that was 125 yards less than an 0-6 UMass team, who is competing in its first year at the FBS level, was able to total against the Wolverines in a 63-13 blowout loss back in Week 3.
Tim Beckman's first season at Illinois is officially turning into a nightmare.
While it looks like Wisconsin shouldn't have much trouble winning the Big Ten Leaders division this season. The Legends division is a completely different story.
Five of the six teams—Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern—appear to have a legitimate chance to win the division and make it to Indianapolis this season.
Before its win over Auburn on Saturday, it had been just over two full years since Ole Miss had last felt the thrill of beating an SEC team.
QB Bo Wallace helped the Rebels snap their 16-game losing streak against conference foes, as he totaled 290 yards of offense and accounted for four touchdowns (one passing, two rushing and one receiving) in the 41-20 win.
With a schedule that includes matchups with Arkansas, Georgia, Vanderbilt, LSU and Mississippi State in the second half of the season, sadly, it doesn't look like Ole Miss will be adding many more wins to its conference record this season.
Gene Chizik's wife, Joanna, made headlines last week when she wrote a bizarre Facebook post that quickly went viral. The confusing message called for Auburn fans to unite and snatch back what Satan stole from the team.
Well, judging from the Tigers' 41-20 loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, I guess the "All In" movement didn't work that well.
The loss has dropped Chizik's squad to 1-5 this season, and it still has three games against ranked opponents left on the schedule.
If Chizik can't come up with a few miracles, his wife may not have to worry about rallying the Auburn fans for much longer.
The Pac-12 certainly isn't a conference that's known for dominant defenses, so any time a team finishes next to last in the league in both scoring defense and total defense, you know that unit is about as pitiful as it gets.
That's exactly what Washington's defense did last season.
This year, however, the Huskies have managed to turn things around and tighten up on the defensive side of the ball.
After giving up 40 points and 426 yards of offense to USC in 2011, Washington was able to hold the Trojans to just 24 points and 371 yards in this year's meeting.
The Huskies defense is currently allowing almost 100 yards less per game than it did last season, which is obviously a drastic improvement.
Oklahoma backup quarterback Blake Bell won't get an opportunity to start for the Sooners until 2013, but that doesn't mean that he can't play a big role in the offense's success this season.
Bell, or the "Belldozer" as he's been affectionately dubbed, looked like a human wrecking ball against Texas on Saturday, as he plowed his way for four rushing touchdowns in the 63-21 win.
The 6'6'', 254-pound sophomore is a big, powerful and athletic runner, who can present a ton of problems for opposing defenses.
Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton is starting to show NFL scouts that he's got the type of speed and playmaking ability to be a game-changing wide receiver at the pro level.
Patton has had a great start to his senior season, and his best performance of the year came this past Saturday against Texas A&M
The explosive receiver hauled in 21 passes for 233 yards and scored four touchdowns in a 59-57 loss to the Aggies.
Performances like that have helped give a big boost to Patton's soaring NFL draft stock.
Following a big 41-31 win over Tennessee on Saturday, Mississippi State is now 6-0 and ranked in the top 15 of the first BCS standings.
You have to commend coach Dan Mullen for the job he's done in Starkville, turning the Bulldogs into a relevant program in the loaded SEC West.
While Mullen's squad probably doesn't have the proper pieces to actually win the conference just yet, Mississippi State certainly has enough difference-makers on both sides of the ball to give the division's two top teams, Alabama and LSU, a real scare in the the coming weeks.
Florida QB Jeff Driskel has backed up his lofty blue-chip recruiting ranking in his first season as a starter, as he's helped guide the Gators to an undefeated record and the No. 2 ranking in the first BCS standings.
Driskel hasn't exactly lit up defenses with his arm, but he has showed some intriguing mobility and athleticism to create big plays with his legs.
The athletic sophomore signal-caller toasted Vanderbilt's defense on Saturday, rushing for 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-17 win.
Driskel has added a nice new dynamic that the Florida offense lacked when John Brantley was under center last year.
One of the most controversial calls of the weekend occurred on a deciding 4th-and-goal run by Stanford in overtime against Notre Dame.
At first glance, RB Stepfan Taylor appeared to be stopped by the defense, but replays showed that Taylor had twisted his body and actually cleared the goal line with the ball.
Luckily for the Irish, Taylor's forward progress was deemed short of the goal line, and even after a replay, the officials decided to stick with the call.
Still, you have to wonder if the Cardinal actually did deserve a touchdown in that situation.
Iowa is proving that it doesn't need Marcus Coker to have a successful rushing attack this season.
Bruising 6'0'', 225-pound sophomore Mark Weisman has taken over in the backfield and flourished in the past few weeks.
Weisman proved to be the type of workhorse back that the Hawkeyes needed against Michigan State, as he carried the ball 21 times for 116 yards and scored a crucial touchdown in the 19-16 victory in East Lansing.
Virginia Tech was down by nearly three touchdowns to Duke before the Hokies even blinked. However, unlike in previous games against Pittsburgh and North Carolina, this time, they fought back.
QB Logan Thomas led the team back from the early 20-0 deficit. Eventually, Virginia Tech prevailed on its home field after scoring 41 unanswered points.
Virginia Tech needed that win to move to 2-1 in the conference with important games against Clemson, Miami and Florida State coming up.
The offensive MVP of Virginia Tech's win over Duke was freshman RB J.C. Coleman.
During the first few weeks of the season, Coleman was forced to defer most of the carries to fellow freshman Michael Holmes. However, when he finally got his shot to prove himself against the Blue Devils, he certainly made the most of it.
Coleman totaled 183 yards on the ground and scored two touchdowns on just 13 carries in the 41-20 win.
The freshman back should now expect to see plenty more touches in the weeks to come.
If Louisiana Tech had converted on a late two-point conversion and gone on to beat Texas A&M in Shreveport on Saturday, we would potentially be talking about the Bulldogs right now the same way we were talking about Houston at this point last season.
That didn't happen, though. Instead, the wild 59-57 loss to the Aggies has officially knocked Sonny Dykes' squad out of the BCS bowl conversation and out of the Top 25.
Still, you have to appreciate what Louisiana Tech's offense is capable of. The Bulldogs are currently averaging 53 points and 538 yards per game.
John L. Smith
Arkansas seemed like it was on the verge of a meltdown after a disastrous 1-4 start to the season. But you do have to give the Razorbacks credit for rebounding and winning their past two games, even if they were against two of the weakest teams in the conference: Auburn and Kentucky.
John L. Smith's squad is now 3-4, which means a postseason berth is still within reach.
The Razorbacks should be able to take care of business at home against Ole Miss and Tulsa. But they're going to need to pull off a big upset over either South Carolina, Mississippi State or LSU if they want to become bowl eligible.
The Kentucky Wildcats are the team that Arkansas destroyed 49-7 on Saturday. The Wildcats are now just 1-6.
Unless they can pull off an upset in the final weeks, it looks like they'll probably win just one more game against Samford.
Ultimately, a 2-10 season will likely earn coach Joker Phillips the pink slip.
Phillips now has a 12-20 overall record during his time in Lexington.
Another SEC coach who could be spending his last season on the sideline at his current school is Tennessee's Derek Dooley.
The Volunteers' 41-31 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday dropped the team to 3-3 this season, and it dropped their league record to 0-3.
Dooley now has a 4-15 record against SEC opponents during his time in Knoxville.
It's clear that the fans are finally fed up with the team's lack of progress under Dooley's watch.
Tyler Bray is also fed up with Tennessee's losing ways, and his frustration has begun to show.
After the loss to Mississippi State on Saturday, Bray made the mistake of letting his anger get the best of him, as he put out a tweet accusing some of the Volunteer faithful of being bandwagon fans.
Bray apologized for the accusation, but it's clear that he's not a happy camper.
Even though he hasn't played up to expectations this season, it wouldn't be surprising if the talented junior signal-caller left school early and declared for the 2013 NFL draft unless a new coach comes in and convinces him to stay.
Going into Saturday, Boise State had beaten Fresno State nine out of the last 10 times the two teams met.
The Broncos extended their streak of dominance with a 20-10 win on the blue turf.
So far this season, Boise State hasn't looked nearly as dominant as we were used to seeing them look during the Kellen Moore era. But the fact is, the Broncos are now 5-1, ranked No. 22 in the BCS standings and they seem like they're ready to make another big run at a Mountain West title.
Now that he's out of the Heisman conversation and now that Wisconsin is out of the national championship race, Wisconsin RB Montee Ball has probably second-guessed himself for not cashing in on his tremendous success in 2011 and heading to the NFL when he had the chance.
Recently, however, Ball has been able to repair his damaged NFL stock with a few impressive performances.
His best game of the season came this past weekend against Purdue. The senior once again looked like the highly productive back we were used to seeing in 2011, as he rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-14 victory over the Boilermakers.
That type of showing should help endear Ball to NFL scouts.
Virginia decided to tempt fate by kicking to Maryland's explosive freshman star Stefon Diggs on the opening kickoff on Saturday.
Diggs made the Cavs pay for their mistake, as he took the kick back 100 yards for a touchdown.
The dangerous returner currently ranks fifth in the nation with an average of 33 yards per kickoff return.
I doubt that many other teams will be foolish enough to kick to Diggs the rest of the season.
Tommy Rees may not be Notre Dame's starting quarterback any longer, but that doesn't mean Rees hasn't played a crucial role in the team's success this season.
The junior signal-caller led a game-winning drive against Purdue back in Week 2, and he once again came in and helped the Irish close out a win this past weekend against Stanford.
Rees took control of the offense in overtime and helped lead Notre Dame to the game-winning touchdown, which was a seven-yard scoring strike to TJ Jones, in the 20-13 victory.
Missouri's move to the SEC may prove to be very beneficial in the long-term. But so far, it's turned out to be a disaster.
The Tigers have gotten stomped on by some of the league's powerhouses such as Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia, and they're now 0-4 in conference play.
With road games against Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M left on the remaining schedule, things could get a lot worse before they get any better.
North Carolina should have beaten Miami by at least 20 points on Saturday, but instead the Tar Heels barely beat the Hurricanes by a score of 18-14.
A big reason that the score was closer than it should have been had to do with the fact that North Carolina had 14 penalties, which cost the team 140 total yards of field position.
The Tar Heels are currently averaging 8.7 penalties per game, which makes them one of the most penalized teams in the country.
First-year coach Larry Fedora has a talented team to work with, but he has to instill some more discipline if he wants to continue winning games against ACC competition.
When the conversation about who the best wide receiver in college football pops up, players like Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee, Tavon Austin and Keenan Allen are usually the first to be mentioned.
One receiver that never gets talked about, though, is Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews.
It's true, Matthews doesn't play for a premier program, but that doesn't make him any less talented.
The junior receiver had a huge performance against Florida on Saturday, hauling in eight passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. He's now caught 43 passes for 617 yards and three touchdowns in 2012.
If Matthews continues to have games like that in the second half of the season, hopefully he can start to garner the respect he deserves as one of the top wide receivers in college football.
TCU may have lost QB Casey Pachall for the season, as the troubled signal-caller has left school to deal with some personal issues. However, all hope may not be lost.
Pachall's replacement, freshman Trevone Boykin, lost his first career start against Iowa State in Week 6. However, he bounced back against Baylor this past weekend, leading the Horned Frogs to a 49-21 win.
Boykin completed 22 of his 30 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns against the Bears.
The team is now 5-1 and ranked No. 23 in the current BCS standings, but Boykin is going to have to really step his game up in the coming weeks if the Horned Frogs want to stick around in the Top 25.
The second half of TCU's schedule is absolutely brutal.
It will be interesting to see how the freshman quarterback fares against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma.
Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene hasn't gotten much national publicity this season. But he definitely deserves some serious praise for the season he's had so far in 2012.
Greene had his best game of the year on Saturday against Syracuse. The senior weak side 'backer was an absolute monster, racking up 14 tackles, including nine solo stops, forcing three fumbles and picking off a pass in the 23-15 victory.
Rutgers currently has the third-ranked scoring defense in the country, which is giving up an average of just 11 points per game. Greene has been a major part of the unit's early success.
If you watched the Notre Dame-Stanford game on Saturday, then you know who the best two tight ends in college football really are.
Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz each led their respective teams in receiving, catching a combined eight passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.
The two athletic junior tight ends both have the look of future high NFL draft picks.
Eifert and Ertz have proven this season that they are a cut above the rest of the tight ends in college football.
Dayne Crist was expected to be a star at Notre Dame, but instead, he turned out to be a failure in South Bend.
This season, Crist has tried to revive his career at Kansas under his former coach Charlie Weis, but he's once again been a bust.
The senior has won just won game—against FCS opponent South Dakota State—in six starts. He's completed less than 50 percent of his passes, thrown seven interceptions compared to just three touchdowns and been sacked 14 times.
Weis finally decided that he had seen enough this past weekend when the Jayhawks hosted Oklahoma State. After watching the offense struggle mightily with Crist at the helm, the coach decided to send in freshman Michael Cummings.
Cummings helped the Jayhawks score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, as they climbed back into contention before ultimately losing 20-14.
After that performance, hopefully Weis has to now realize that Crist is not Kansas' best option at quarterback. Cummings deserves the opportunity to prove himself for the remainder of the season.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Oregon Ducks
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
4. Florida Gators
5. LSU Tigers
6. Ohio State Buckeyes
7. Kansas State Wildcats
8. South Carolina Gamecocks
9. Oklahoma Sooners
10. Florida State Seminoles
1. QB Collin Klein, Kansas State
2. QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State
3. QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
4. RB De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon
5. QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
6. LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
7. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
8. RB Mike Gillislee, Florida
9. QB EJ Manuel, Florida State
10. WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia