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Grading the Top 5 College Football Offenses Heading into Week 4

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2013

Grading the Top 5 College Football Offenses Heading into Week 4

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    The more things change, the more they stay the same, with one or two notable exceptions. 

    Three weeks into the 2013 college football season, a handful of the best offenses from 2012 are once again sitting atop the rankings. Even with modest turnover on the depth chart—and one drastic change on the sideline—the highest-powered attacks from last season have carried over. 

    But that's not true in every case. Some of last year's best units have struggled to open the new season—not in the grander scheme of things, but at least relative to expectation. They've been good, but they haven't lived up to the lofty precedent of 2012.

    It's still early, so there's no reason to sound the alarm. But if they want to catch up to their peers, who haven't missed a beat, they need a quick return to form.

    Note: The five offenses graded were the BCS leaders in yards per game last season.

Baylor Bears

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    Best Opponent: Buffalo

    Points Per Game: 69.5 (1st)

    Yards Per Game: 736.5 (1st)

    Yards Per Play: 9.69 (1st)

    The quality of opponent leaves a lot to be desired, but what the Bears have done in their first two games is still nothing short of remarkable.

    Baylor leads the FBS in points per game, yards per game and yards per play, throttling Wofford—a decent team by FCS standards—and Buffalo in back-to-back weeks. Art Briles' offense has translated seamlessly to the Bryce Petty era, as the new Baylor quarterback leads America in passer rating.

    Behind the arm of Petty, the legs of Lache Seastrunk and the everything of Tevin Reese, Baylor's first-team offense has scored a touchdown on 14 of 17 possessions (83 percent) and still hasn't been forced to punt.

    If Oregon suffers a loss—say, at Stanford on Nov. 7—and Baylor wins a wide-open Big 12, there's a chance the two could meet in a BCS bowl game.

    That would make last week's 'Bama-A&M game look like the Ice Bowl.

    Grade: A+

Texas A&M Aggies

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    Best Opponent: Alabama

    Points Per Game: 53.0 (4th)

    Yards Per Game: 609.3 (3rd)

    Yards Per Play: 8.16 (4th)

    Nick L. Saban—the Nick L. Saban—spent close to a year fuming about Johnny Manziel, figuring a new system and tailoring a new game plan that would slow down the man who embarrassed him in Tuscaloosa.

    So much for that.

    Johnny Football ripped Alabama apart last Saturday, losing the game but re-winning the heart of a country that was starting to sour on him. He danced around Tide defenders, coming one or two dumb plays shy of pulling the upset, and consistently made them pay for trying to force him into being a pocket passer.

    In the process, Mike Evans emerged as more than just a very good target, looking like a future NFL Pro Bowler. He ran past Alabama's secondary like Calvin Johnson (minus the 40-time) and should only get better as he and Manziel continue to build a rapport.

    The running game was a disappointment, but behind a very good offensive line, Ben Malena & Co. should be able to get back on track in SEC play.

    That's the only thing keeping A&M from an A and +.

    Grade: A

Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Best Opponent: Mississippi State

    Points Per Game: 45.3 (15th)

    Yards Per Game: 6.59 (33rd)

    Yards Per Play: 487.7 (37th)

    It was a slow start to the year for Oklahoma State's offense, which looked confused and discombobulated in the first half of its Week 1 game with Mississippi State.

    But once J.W. Walsh subbed in at quarterback, replacing fall-camp favorite Clint Chelf, the entire dynamic changed. Now it looks like a traditional, upbeat Cowboys offense.

    And that's bad news for the Big 12.

    OSU's defense looks much better than it has in recent years, too, and if it can slowly catch up with the other side of the ball, the 'Pokes might be less a mere Big 12 favorite and more a national dark horse. 

    A lot of that rests on Walsh's shoulders, but with proven playmakers like Josh Stewart, Charlie Moore and Blake Jackson around him, the young QB should be just fine.

    Grade: B

Oregon Ducks

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    Best Opponent: Virginia

    Points Per Game: 61.3 (2nd)

    Yards Per Game: 672.0 (2nd)

    Yards Per Play: 9.33 (2nd)

    Oregon has outclassed all three of its opponents, and only one, FCS Nicholls State, was an actual cupcake. Though after watching the Ducks annihilate Virginia and Tennessee, those two might as well have been.

    Baylor is a roadblock to Oregon's statistical supremacy, placing first to its second in points per game, yards per game and yards per play. But what the Ducks have done is actually much more impressive, given the ACC and SEC teams they have played.

    Virginia, after all, held BYU to just 16 points, one week before the Cougars rushed for 550(,000) yards against Texas. That game was rainy, sure, but the Cavs still looked big and physical against a good BYU offense.

    Then Oregon came in and took their milk money.

    Mark Helfrich has picked up right where Chip Kelly left off, punishing opponents with a deadly combination of ground and aerial assaults. Marcus Mariota might be the new Heisman frontrunner, and De'Anthony Thomas, if anything, has actually gained a step from 2012.

    Watch out, America. This might finally be Oregon's year.

    Grade: A++

Arizona Wildcats

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    Best Opponent: UNLV

    Points Per Game: 43.7 (19th)

    Yards Per Game: 431.0 (61st)

    Yards Per Play: 6.31 (42nd)

    Arizona gets a mild pass, since All-American running back (and reigning NCAA rushing champ) Ka'Deem Carey was suspended in Week 1; but otherwise, the Wildcats have failed to impress.

    Against three cupcakes—seriously, UNLV was by far their toughest game—Arizona has managed to post 44 points per game, but it hasn't maneuvered with the same efficiency as 2012.

    Quarterback Matt Scott is gone, and in his stead, senior B.J. Denker has taken the reins of Rich Rodriguez's offense. But through three easy games, he's thrown for just 326 yards and a QB rating of 118.15, among the lowest for full-time BCS starters.

    Rodriguez's offense is run-oriented, and Carey (149.5 yards per game) has at least looked good enough since returning from suspension. But with the Pac-12 looking as strong, if not stronger, than it's ever been, "good enough" won't be good enough to cut it.

    And Arizona's defense certainly won't carry the load.

    Grade: C

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