Can Michigan get back on the right track in Week 6?
As we reach the midway point of the college football season, more attention will be focused on certain head coaches, players and teams.
Some will make headlines due to a string of losses and negative performances. Others will do so on the heels of unexpected wins and surprising successes.
Either way, these coaches, players and teams are worth keeping an eye on in Week 6.
Bell has the Sooners looking better than they expected at this point in the season.
Week 6 Matchup: vs. TCU (2-2), Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Blake Bell has been one of the early-season highlights for the Sooners. He’s also a big reason why the team turns the page on September at 4-0.
With the junior in the huddle, Oklahoma’s offense has regained its swagger, racking up 528.5 yards per game over the last two games. In comparison, the team failed to top 450 yards of total offense and 120 yards of passing in its first two contests.
In a pair of starts, Bell has thrown for 683 yards and six touchdowns (0 INT) on 71.2 percent passing. He’s also registered a QB rating of 176.9 while rushing for 104 yards.
Furthermore, Bell ranks No. 8 in the nation in QB rating while being one of only seven quarterbacks in college football with at least six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Sure, the Horned Frogs have had one of the stingiest defenses in years past. However, 2013 isn’t one of those years.
The team enters this weekend ranked No. 76 against the pass. TCU has allowed 250 yards of passing in three of its four games. Only FCS-foe Southeastern Louisiana has thrown for less, and even they scored 17 points.
Without quarterback Casey Pachall (broken arm), the Horned Frogs offense shouldn’t put up much trouble. It also means the Sooners offense should expect to be on the field a lot.
That can only mean good news for Bell.
Edsall and his Terrapins have been one of this year's biggest surprises.
Week 6 Matchup: at No. 8 Florida State (4-0), Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
Many didn’t expect Terrapins head coach Randy Edsall’s tenure with the program to last much longer.
Throughout his first two years with Maryland, the team compiled a lousy 6-18 record. So, it didn’t come as a surprise when CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd had Edsall at a 3.5 rating (on the bubble, feeling pressure) during his preseason Coach Hot Seat Ratings.
Then again, what else would you expect when you have to start a linebacker at quarterback?
However, this season has been an entirely different story.
The Terrapins have now won four-straight games for the first time since 2006. Furthermore, you’d have to go back to 2001 for the last time the team started 4-0.
Along the way, Maryland’s defense has proven to be no joke, ranking No. 3 in scoring defense (10.3 PPGA), No. 6 in total defense (263.8 YPGA), No. 13 against the run (98.5 YPGA) and No. 14 against the pass (165.3 YPGA). The unit also ranks No. 9 in third-down defense, limiting opponents to a conversion rate of just 25.4 percent.
The Terrapins offense isn’t too far behind.
Quarterback C.J. Brown has been a large reason for the success. While the season has been outstanding through the air (1,043 YDS, 7 TD), he’s been even more impressive on the ground (283 YDS, 6 TD).
Running backs Brandon Ross (332 YDS, 2 TD) and Albert Reid (116 YDS, 1 TD) have helped as well.
It’s amazing how quickly Edsall has turned around this program. He has given his team the belief that it can win any game on any given day.
That will all be put to the test when Maryland travels to face the undefeated, No. 8-ranked Seminoles on Saturday.
Mark (left) should help boost the Wildcats' rushing attack.
Week 6 Matchup: vs. No. 4 Ohio State (5-0), Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET
If there wasn’t already enough attention on this pivotal Big Ten showdown, the appearance of College GameDay should push it over the top.
But while it may be easy to dismiss the Wildcats as pretenders based on their opposition thus far, it would also be quite foolish. This is a game that will be a lot closer than many people think.
Sure, Northwestern doesn’t boast a great defense, ranking No. 52 in scoring defense (23.8 PPGA). However, the team has made the most of its opponents' mistakes, ranking No. 12 in turnovers gained with 11 (1 FUM REC, 10 INT).
Then there’s the news that the Wildcats will get back last year’s leading rusher Venric Mark for the contest via ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg. The senior rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors.
Combined with the trio of Treyvon Green (404 YDS, 5 TD), Kain Colter (237 YDS, 3 TD) and Mike Trumpy (203 YDS, 2 TD), Mark will give Northwestern one heck of a rushing attack.
If the Buckeyes aren’t careful, they could be bidding farewell to the nation’s longest win-streak come Saturday.
Thompson will be entrusted to take on a bigger role over the next few weeks.
Week 6 Matchup: vs. Kentucky (1-3), Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
If the Gamecocks are without Connor Shaw, it'll hurt them more than they know.
Through four games, the senior had thrown for 665 yards and six touchdowns (0 INT) while accumulating 252 yards on the ground. More importantly, he’s the main reason South Carolina is averaging its highest total yards of offense (482.2 YPG) at this point of the season since the school began keeping the statistic in 1962.
It’s not like Dylan Thompson will be feeling the pressure or anything.
To his credit, the junior came in ready to play during last weekend’s 28-25 victory over UCF. After falling behind 10-0 in the first half, Thompson led the Gamecocks to four consecutive touchdown drives.
However, he was just 15-of-32 (46.9 percent) through the air for 261 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
Luckily for Thompson, South Carolina hosts the struggling Wildcats next. Sophomore running back Mike Davis (508 YDS, 6 TD) should be enough to carry them through that contest unscathed.
But if Shaw’s original timetable to return (two-to-three weeks) holds up, Thompson will have a lot more difficulty maneuvering the Gamecocks road trips to Arkansas and Tennessee. Then again, head coach Steve Spurrier surprised many people by announcing that Shaw is healthy enough to play earlier Tuesday via The Greenville News' Willie Smith.
It will be interesting to see if Spurrier will risk playing his starting quarterback against a struggling Kentucky squad.
Pelini (right) may not be walking those sidelines for long if he doesn't switch it up.
Week 6 Matchup: vs. Illinois (1-2), Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
Nobody is happier to bid farewell to September than Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pelini.
Following a 2-0 start, things looked to be heading in the right direction as the team held a 21-3 lead over then-No. 16 UCLA in the second quarter. Two quarters and 38-unanswered Bruins points later, Pelini was staring down his first loss of 2013.
Things didn’t get any better when the Cornhuskers trailed 17-14 after the first quarter against FCS-foe South Dakota State the next week.
Sure, Nebraska ultimately won that game 59-20. But anytime you allow a FCS school to rack up 465 yards on your defense, that’s something to be concerned about.
Pelini also struggled off the field during September, as an expletive-laden tirade he made in 2011 was released soon after the UCLA loss. Furthermore, the head coach even traded barbs with Cornhusker legend Tommie Frazier.
That’s not exactly the formula of how to win at one of college football’s most-storied programs. Nebraska hasn’t won a bowl game since 2009. If Pelini doesn’t change that in 2013, his time in Lincoln might be up.
It’ll be interesting to see if a bye week helped Pelini get his affairs in order.
The Cardinal will have their hands full on Saturday.
Week 6 Matchup: vs. No. 16 Washington (4-0), Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
After losing both their starting quarterback and head coach to the NFL, the Cardinal finished 2012 12-2, capped off by a victory in the Rose Bowl, making the team easily one of the biggest surprises in college football.
Ironically, Stanford could be one of the most overrated teams this time around.
Sure, the Cardinal are sitting pretty at 4-0. However, their opponents have a combined record of just 9-9. Furthermore, neither Stanford’s defense nor its offense will strike fear in the hearts of opponents this season.
On defense, the team ranks No. 77 against the pass (288.5 YPGA), No. 58 in first-down defense and No. 83 in turnovers-gained with six. Offensively, the Cardinal ranks No. 33 in rushing (218.0 YPG) and No. 77 in passing (221.3 YPG).
Those aren’t the numbers you expect from a Top Five team. But even worse, that doesn’t bode well for a team set to play host to the No. 11 overall defense and No. 5 overall offense in the Huskies this weekend.
Stanford is definitely fortunate that the contest will take place at home, but that’s about all that is looking to be in the team’s favor. Washington quarterback Keith Price (1,044 YDS, 9 TD) and running back Bishop Sankey (607 YDS, 5 TD) would be a handful for any defense to handle.
This very well could serve as a litmus test to determine whether the Cardinal are worthy of a Top Five spot in the rankings.
Atkinson III gave the Irish faith that they might rediscover a rushing attack.
Week 6 Matchup: vs. No. 22 Arizona State (3-1), Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Before the Irish’s 35-21 loss to Oklahoma last weekend, the team’s rushing attack was deemed a weakness. Rightly so, as Notre Dame ranked No. 93 in the nation, averaging 134.6 yards per game on the ground.
However, behind strong play from running back George Atkinson III, the team gashed a stout Sooners defensive line for 220 rushing yards.
On the day, Atkinson III rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. The junior has 269 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries (7.1 YPC) through the Irish’s five contests.
Against the Sun Devils, expect Atkinson III to be run into the ground.
As bad as Notre Dame was thought to be at running the ball, Arizona State was even worse at stopping it. The team comes in ranked No. 92 in the nation, allowing an average of 192.3 rushing yards per game.
Not only that, but the Sun Devils have also allowed opposing offenses to rack up 30 points or more in three straight games. That even includes conceding 41 to USC’s abysmal offense last weekend.
Believe it or not, it’s quite possible that the Irish top their 220-yard performance on the ground on Saturday.
Things will only get worse for Brown (center).
Week 6 Matchup: at Iowa State (1-2), Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Everything’s bigger in Texas. Even the disappointment.
This was supposed to be the year the Longhorns turned things around. Instead, head coach Mack Brown is staring at a 2-2 record and will be lucky to finish the season with five losses or less.
Yes, this is the same man who led Texas to a 101-18 record, two Big 12 titles and a BCS championship from 2001-09. However, since then, the team is just 22-16.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
After an impressive 57-6 win in Week 1, the Longhorns lost a 40-21 shocker to BYU the following week. It was a game in which Texas conceded a school-record 550 rushing yards.
It didn’t help stop those calling for Brown’s head when the team lost its next contest to Ole Miss 44-23—the Longhorns were outscored 27-0 in the second half.
Now, everyone from the fans, the media and even former Texas and NFL legend Earl Campbell have called for the end of Brown’s tenure at the program. Even Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds has had enough, announcing he will retire on Aug. 31, 2014, via ESPN.
With games still remaining against Oklahoma, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor, things look to get much worse before they get better in Austin.
Brown may need to win most, if not all, of those games to save his job. But even then, it might not be enough.
Gardner (left) must step up his play if he hopes to keep the Wolverines unbeaten.
Week 6 Matchup: vs. Minnesota (4-1), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
No team needed a bye week last weekend more than the Wolverines.
In Week 4, the team fell behind 21-7 to a 0-2 Connecticut squad, before relying on a second-half rally to pull out the victory. That was just a week after Michigan needed a goal-line stand to squeak out a 28-24 win against lowly Akron.
Whatever the case, the Wolverines need some newfound motivation after dropping from No. 11 in the AP Poll to No. 19 without losing a game.
For starters, the team could benefit from better play by quarterback Devin Gardner.
Through Michigan’s first two games, the junior had thrown for 456 yards and five touchdowns (3 INT) on 64.6 percent passing. Over the last two contests, he’s thrown for just 345 yards and two touchdowns (5 INT) on 50.9 percent passing.
Sure, Gardner has been effective with his legs, rushing for 301 yards and five touchdowns. However, the Wolverines need a quarterback, not another running back.
Three weeks ago, this matchup with the Gophers may have been considered a walk in the park. But given Minnesota’s 4-1 record and Michigan’s recent play, it’ll be anything but that.
The Wolverines can’t expect to get through the entire schedule like they have the past two games.