Rivals national columnist Mike Farrell is here with the most interesting 4-0 teams so far this season, the most disappointing teams so far and five puzzling questions to which no one seems to have an answer.
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1. Most surprising teams
With a 4-0 start, including going 2-0 in conference, the Demon Deacons have shown that they are one of the most well-balanced teams in the country. Sam Hartman has been great, throwing for nine TDs to only one pick, and as a team they’ve done a great job taking care of the ball. They have the fourth-best turnover margin in the country. However, they finish the year out with three straight tough games, against NC State and then at Clemson and at Boston College. But there’s a good chance that they enter those last few weeks 9-0.
Speaking of Boston College, the Eagles have looked great even with a season-ending injury to Phil Jurkovec. Pat Garwo III has stepped up at running back, and Dennis Grosel has done enough to keep the rest of the offense above water behind their outstanding offensive line. Zay Flowers is still one of the best-kept secrets in the country at wide receiver, and as a team, they convert 57% of their third downs, good for fourth in the country. They’ve got back-to-back games against ranked opponents coming up, with games at Clemson and against NC State, but they control their own destiny in the Atlantic, which is all you can ask for.
It’s crowded atop the Big Ten East, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Mel Tucker and his merry band of transfers have looked fantastic to open the season. Kenneth Walker is a legit Heisman contender, Payton Thorne has been efficient with 10 TDs and only one interception, and the defense gets stops when needed.
You can’t really start a discussion about surprising 4-0 teams without talking about the Razorbacks. If the season ended today, Sam Pittman would probably get my vote for coach of the year, considering that he’s beaten both Texas and Texas A&M handily, and they can move the ball both on the ground with their stable of backs and through the air. Treylon Burks has been one of the best receivers in college football, and KJ Jefferson is playing above his head. This week’s game with UGA is the biggest this program has seen in a long time. And if they’re able to pull off the upset, all bets are off.
The best team that no one is talking about, the Roadrunners are 4-0 and have wins over Illinois and Memphis on their resume. Led by tailback Sincere McCormick and a strong defense, Jeff Traylor has UTSA in a position to go to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history. They’re clearly the top team in C-USA at the moment, and Traylor is going to become a hot coaching commodity in the near future.
With Zach Wilson gone to the NFL, a lot of people anticipated the Cougars taking a step back, but they’ve done the exact opposite so far this season and after defeating three consecutive Pac-12 South teams as well as South Florida, they’re up to No. 13 in the polls with good reason. They’re not blowing anyone out, but Kelani Sataki has them playing as hard as ever.
It wasn’t pretty against Rutgers this past weekend but the Wolverines have looked dominant otherwise and many expected a 2-2 start. The running game has been very good and the defense looks fast.
Mike Gundy continues to do a great job for the Cowboys with little to no national praise. They beat a solid Boise State team and downed a ranked Kansas State program as they head toward some key showdowns.
The jury is still out on Dave Aranda for me as a top-level Power Five coach but you can’t argue with the start this season including the upset win over Iowa State last weekend. After last season I expected a much worse start.
It hasn’t been pretty and there have been some adjustments made with a new offense but wins over Missouri and South Carolina are okay and being undefeated with a new quarterback and so many changes is a good thing.
2. Most disappointing teams
While the 4-0 teams above are a nice story, it’s not so nice being a fan of these teams who have been a disappointment so far.
We knew that the offense was going to take some sort of step back without Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Amari Rodgers and others, but no one could have anticipated this. In three games against FBS opponents, the Tigers have scored 38 points total. DJ Uiagalelei looks lost and is clearly overthinking things. But the real cause for concern is the offensive line, which is a sieve allowing nine sacks already and getting zero push in the run game. That’s where they need to improve most if they’re going to salvage this season and get back to a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Yes, the Sooners are 4-0 and still in shape to make the playoff, but this offense has been incredibly underwhelming. Spencer Rattler is in his second year in this system, they’ve got a bevy of high-end playmakers at receiver and tight end, and the return of Kennedy Brooks and the addition of Eric Gray in the backfield should have meant a truly explosive offense. Yet, they’ve struggled to move the ball and score points. OU is averaging only 26 points per game versus FBS teams and scoring 16 against a West Virginia team that is not world-beaters on defense by any stretch.
When Graham Mertz arrived on campus, it was supposed to mark a turning point for the program. He was the first elite, nationally recruited QB to ever choose the Badgers. But he has looked awful this season, with only one TD and six INTs, including two backbreaking pick-sixes in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame at Soldier Field. While the defense has done yeoman’s work holding other teams at bay, the offense is in shambles. This is a team that was supposed to be a big favorite in the Big Ten West and now it looks very unlikely that it’ll get back to the conference title game considering how well Iowa is playing.
We knew that Clay Helton was perpetually on the hot seat heading into this season, but this was still a team that looked loaded. But the Trojans have been discombobulated all season, and the only time they got sustained offense was with Jaxson Dart playing QB at Washington State (a team that is a mess in its own right). Losses to Stanford and Oregon State at home, both by double-digits, show just how far the men of Troy have fallen. They’re going to need to hit a home run with their next hire especially as crosstown rival UCLA keeps ascending.
The Tar Heels came into the season with about as much fanfare as they have in decades, with Sam Howell being a Heisman favorite and Mack Brown still at the helm. Well, Howell can be pretty sure that he won’t be headed to New York in December at this point after getting absolutely worked by a pedestrian Georgia Tech squad over the weekend to pair with their loss at Virginia Tech. They’ve given up 84 combined points in their last two games to UVA and Georgia Tech, and currently rank 95th in the country in scoring defense.
We should have known that the loss to Arkansas was coming after an extremely lackluster performance at Colorado two weeks prior. A darkhorse national title contender in the preseason due to their defense and skill positions, the Aggies have scored a grand total of 20 points in two games against Power Five opponents. They are getting next to nothing from the quarterback position in those games.
While there weren’t a lot of people saying that the Seminoles were going to be in the ACC title hunt this year, I doubt anyone predicted just how bad they would be. They’ve started 0-4 for the first time since 1975, including losses to FCS Jacksonville State, Wake Forest and Louisville. Nothing is going right for this team right now. It can neither block on the offensive line nor stop anyone with a competent offense. The Seminoles should be happy that they’ve got UMass on their schedule in Week 7 because that’s probably the only game they’re going to be favored in for the rest of the season. It could take a miracle for Mike Norvell to still have his job by the end of the year.
The Cyclones were a preseason top 10 team and while I didn’t buy into that hype, many others did. They are now 2-2 after a drubbing by Iowa and a bad loss against Baylor and this season could be headed into a tailspin.
The Hoosiers were supposed to make a run at Ohio State and others this season but a crushing loss to Iowa early indicated otherwise. Cincinnati destroyed them and they barely beat Western Kentucky last week.
And finally here are five questions I honestly can’t figure out the answer to. Maybe you can help.
1. What is with Clemson’s play-calling? When Dabo Swinney has to come out and defend his offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, you know things aren’t going well offensively for Clemson. The play-calling is astonishingly bad and predictable, maybe because DJ Uiagalelei can’t handle the offense or the offensive line stinks. But I do know this — this Clemson offense is unoriginal and easily schemed against this season and that has nothing to do with personnel. It’s coaching.
2. Why is the Oklahoma offensive line so bad? I can’t figure this out. Yes the Sooners lost some key players to the NFL, most notably center Creed Humphrey. But Bill Bedenbaugh is a great offensive line coach and there are four-stars across the line. But yet they are getting dominated at the line of scrimmage, can’t create a crease for the run game and quarterback Spencer Rattler is running for his life on many plays. This has been the strength of the OU team in many ways for so long, but why is it so bad this year?
3. Why haven’t certain quarterbacks been benched? Maybe I can see why Uiagalelei is still the starter at Clemson. But what about Graham Mertz at Wisconsin? Or Tanner Morgan at Minnesota? Jarret Doege at West Virginia? Michael Penix at Indiana? There are many examples where it appears a better answer has to be on the roster somewhere.
4. Why is Ohio State’s defense so porous? Is there any reason for Ohio State to be second-to-last in the Big Ten in yards given up per game and ahead of only Illinois and Indiana in points given up per game? With all the recruiting success the Buckeyes have had, there is no excuse for this at all. I’ve seen poor interior line play, an erratic pass rush, a ton of missed tackles and a secondary led by a true freshman in Denzel Burke, who looks better than anyone else by far.
5. Why is Iowa ranked so high? This is not a shot at the Hawkeyes as they are winning the games on the schedule but No. 5 in the country? We’ve seen that Indiana and Iowa State aren’t great teams and a struggle over Colorado State does not make for a top five program to me. The Iowa offense ranks 122nd out of 130 teams in total offense, 119th in yards per play, 113th in passing and 104th in rushing. And the Hawkeyes are top five. Again, why?