NCAA Football: 5 Questions From the First Half of the Season
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The college football season has reached its midpoint.
Through the first two months of the season, there have been some pleasant surprises and there have been some monumental letdowns.
Here are five questions from the first half of the season:
1) Which team has been more surprising in the Big Ten: Michigan State or Penn State?
This question is a bit tough.
Obviously, the first thought upon hearing the question is Michigan State. I mean, who truly believed they would be 6-0 (2-0) and ranked No. 13 nationally after two months?
But when taking a closer look, it has to be Penn State.
The Nittany Lions were expected to be 5-1 at this point in the season. No one expected them to travel to Tuscaloosa and beat the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on the road. No one.
However, through six games, Penn State has a 3-3 record, including an embarrassing loss to Illinois last week. At home. By 20!
Freshman quarterback Robert Bolden was supposed to be to Penn State what Denard Robinson has been to the Michigan Wolverines. He was supposed to take the college football world by storm and step onto the national stage without so much as a hint of freshman nerves.
Through six games, Bolden has a total of four touchdowns, while throwing seven interceptions. Those are not numbers you expect from someone who was supposed to lead his team to the Rose Bowl.
Joe Pa's offense ranks outside the top 100 nationally in points per game, just behind Western Kentucky and Ball State.
2) Which quarterback has been the most surprising thus far?
Here is a question that could have a dozen answers.
On one hand, you have the likes of Denard Robinson, Jake Locker and Darron Thomas, players who showed flashes of brilliance last season (or in Thomas' case, two seasons ago) and were expected to play better, even with an increased responsibility.
Those are not the type of players that win the distinction of being the "most surprising quarterback."
The most surprising player in my eyes has been Cameron Newton of Auburn.
Newton, the No. 1-rated junior college player in America last season after leaving Florida, transferred to Auburn in the offseason and has immediately made his presence felt on the field. Newton has guided the Tigers to their first 6-0 start since 2004, and has led the team in both passing and rushing touchdowns, all while having been on campus for less than one year.
It seems as if Newton is one big game away from officially throwing his name into serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy, and he has a chance this weekend against Arkansas.
Oh, and they play some team named Alabama on the road to end the season.
That may not be such a bad place to announce his candidacy.
3) Which team survives (and wins) the SEC West?
So far, the most intriguing division race in college football has to be the SEC West.
Five teams are within one loss of the leader, with four—LSU, Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas—seeming to have a legitimate shot at walking away with the division race.
Two teams—LSU and Auburn—are tied at the top of the division with flawless conference records. LSU leads the divison over Auburn because they have played four conference games as opposed to Auburn's three.
Both LSU and Auburn still have to play the other top three teams in the divison, so it seems that each will have plenty of opportunities to prove their own supremacy.
Behind the Tigers . . . and the other Tigers . . . is Alabama (2-1) followed by Arkansas (1-1). The Crimson Tide have already knocked off the Razorbacks, giving them the upper hand in the division.
The next game that will have a potential division-altering impact on the teams is this weekend, when Arkansas travels to Auburn for what promises to be an instant classic. If Arkansas wins, they will move Auburn into fourth place in the division behind themselves along with LSU and Alabama.
But if Auburn wins, it will most likely be the straw, or in this case the game, that broke the camel's back for the Razorbacks. They will fall to 1-2 in the SEC and will be two games back of three teams.
Following their cupcake matchup with McNeese State this weekend, LSU has to travel to Auburn, and host Alabama in consecutive weeks. A stretch that should be telling of where the Tigers are going this season.
With two upset wins, LSU could potentially be in the hunt for a national title. Two losses would doom the Tigers like it could for Arkansas.
At this point, the favorite has to be Alabama. The Crimson Tide have not lost to an SEC West opponent since November 2007 (Auburn), and I would not be surprised if they handled both LSU and Auburn down the stretch.
Let's not forget that ten days ago, everyone was saying how unbeatable Nick Saban's bunch was. But after a loss at South Carolina, all of that confidence has been thrown out the window.
4) Which highly-ranked team will collapse in the second half of the season?
While the "smart money" may be on a Cinderella team like Michigan State or Stanford, I think the answer has to be LSU.
The Tigers, as I discussed earlier, have a brutal set of games to finish the season, three of which are against top-12 opponents.
Though they defeated Florida in Gainesville last weekend, the Tigers have struggled against subpar competition this season.
Against a severely undermanned North Carolina team, the Tigers had to withstand a late rally to survive in Week 1.
They defeated a mediocre Tennessee team by two points on their home field. The same Tennessee team that lost to the previously 1-4 Georgia Bulldogs by four touchdowns last week.
In last week's game against Florida, head coach Les Miles benched quarterback Jordan Jefferson, a move that does not happen to top-tier teams.
I would not be surprised if LSU loses all three of their tough games in the next two months and finishes 9-3 and unranked.
5) Who will win the individual/team awards?
Despite each team only having played six games so far this season, I have seen enough football to determine who will win each award.
Individually, here is how it breaks down:
Heisman Memorial Trophy (Outstanding Player)—Terrelle Pryor, QB Ohio State
Despite the hype surrounding Denard Robinson and his fantastic start, I see the Wolverines losing a couple more games.
Frankly, in this day-and-age, players do not win the Heisman when they are on losing teams.
There is no doubt in my mind that Ohio State will run the table in the regular season and enter the National Championship ranked No. 1.
Maxwell Award (Outstanding Player)—Denard Robinson, QB Michigan
The Maxwell Award usually goes to the player who accumulates the biggest stats and leads his team each and every week. Robinson, like past winners Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow, is the darling of college football and should win the award.
Doak Walker Award (National Running Back Award)—LaMichael James, RB Oregon
James has been unbelievable in his five games this season.
Currently leading the nation in rushing, James has amassed 225+ yards in two games this season, and has at least one rushing touchdown in every game that he has played. James, only a sophomore, has a chance to be the Pac-10's all-time leading rusher when his career in Eugene is done.
Fred Biletnikoff Award (Outstanding Wide Receiver)—Alshon Jeffery, WR South Carolina
Alshon Jeffery, a sophomore out of Saint Matthews, SC, has been more than impressive in his second collegiate season. Not only does Jeffery lead the SEC in receiving yards per game, he leads it by nearly 45 yards.
Jeffery has posted some monster numbers against the nation's top defenses. In the last two games, South Carolina has faced Auburn and Alabama, both statistically great defenses.
Against the Gamecocks, Jeffery totaled 192 yards and two touchdowns. Against Alabama he had 127 yards and two touchdowns, including a SportsCenter Top-10 catch in the second half.
Chuck Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year)—Patrick Peterson, CB LSU
If you watched the first week of the college football season, you're already familiar with this junior corner.
He returned a punt for a touchdown and finished with 257 total return yards. Against Mississippi State, Peterson had two interceptions despite the Bulldogs showing their reluctance to throw to his side of the field.
Home Depot Award (Coach of the Year)—Chip Kelly, HC Oregon
The No. 2-ranked Ducks have been through a lot already since last season.
After dismissing their starting quarterback from last season, and suspending star tailback LaMichael James for the season opener, the Ducks were many fans' pick to struggle early and fall out of the top-25.
Coach Chip Kelly has taken a team led by three redshirt sophomores to the No. 2 ranking in the country. The Ducks lead the nation in scoring, and rank fourth in rushing.
Truly a testament to the terrific system that Kelly has installed in Eugene.
It appears that Oregon could be headed for a magical season if they continue playing terrific on both sides of the ball. The Ducks do not face another top-15 team for the rest of the season, highlighting their opportunity to run the table en route to a national championship appearance.
Freshman of the Year—Marcus Lattimore, RB South Carolina
Yes, Alshon Jeffery can take some of the credit for the incredible start for the Gamecocks this season, but a lot of the praise must be centered around freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore.
The top running back in high school football last season, Lattimore has rushed for over 450 yards and eight touchdowns this season while adding a touchdown catch as well.
Last week against Alabama, Lattimore reached the end zone three times, totaling 109 yards on 25 touches. In the first SEC game of his career against Georgia, Lattimore ran the ball 37 times for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
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