Point/Counterpoint: Who is college football's biggest mid-season surprise?

BY DI STAFF | OCTOBER 09, 2012 6:30 AM

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

West Virginia (5-0, 2-0 Big 12)

The West Virginia Mountaineers have pushed themselves into the BCS championship conversation, with much thanks to a Heisman hopeful.

The Mountaineers have started off the 2012 season with a 5-0 record, with wins coming over then-No. 25 Baylor and then-No. 11 Texas in the past two weeks. With those marquee wins, West Virginia has jumped to No. 5 in the Associated Press’latest top-25 poll. The Mountaineers are one of seven undefeated and bowl-eligible teams — sorry, undefeated but bowl-banned Ohio State.

Part of the reason West Virginia has reached the national title race is its potent offense.

The Mountaineers are second in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards per game with 406.8. with QB Geno Smith at the helm. The senior is doing his best Robert Griffen III 2011 Heisman impression by stealing the show from the preseason favorite, USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Through five games, Smith has passed for 1,996 yards and 24 touchdowns with 0 interceptions. Smith’s 202.4 QB rating is the best in the nation. And he has weapons to go along with it.

West Virginia has two wideouts ranked in the top-10 in receiving — Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Bailey is third in reception yards — Austin is sixth — and is tied for first in scoring overall with 78 points.

If the offense can continue its dominance and the defense can prevent a shootout every game, the Mountaineers will be in good shape come January. With all these parts and a pair of wins over top-25 teams, West Virginia looks poised to build on the momentum created by Smith and his peers.

— by Carlos Sosa

Florida (5-0, 4-0 SEC)

The biggest surprise of the college football season hails from the SEC, and it’s nowhere near Tuscaloosa, Ala., or South Carolina.

Go farther south, and you’ll find the resurgent Gators, who have quietly been tearing through their conference schedule. They’re 5-0, including a 4-0 beginning in SEC play, and it’s something you, as a college football fan, should take note of.

Give all the credit to Will Muschamp, who in less than two years has thrust Florida back into SEC title talks, which coincides with BCS chatter. He’s removed the spread offense that led to Urban Meyer’s success, and has installed a ground game that only former Florida coaching legend Vince Dooley would be proud of.

This return to 1980 Gator football, if you will, emphasizes a tough running game, physical defense, and above all else, a belief that as the game goes on, Florida will only get stronger.

They’ve proven this. On the road against conference foes Tennessee and Texas A&M, Florida dug itself a first-half hole, but was then able to come back in spectacular fashion.

The Gators’ most recent game against last season’s BCS title game runner-up LSU was no different. Florida trailed at halftime, 6-0, and it had mounted only 47 yards on the ground.

The second half saw the Gators run for 190, including two 12-yard touchdown scampers from Mike Gillislee. He had 146 total yards on the ground against an LSU defense that routinely ranks up with the nation’s best. Florida garnered 237 total rushing yards against LSU, running 58 times while only throwing 12 times.

If that doesn’t grab your attention, then maybe this will: All 34 of Gillislee’s runs went for positive yardage. Not once was he stopped in the backfield for a loss.

But it’s all right if you don’t believe in the Gators. Muschamp said not a lot of people do. It speaks to their strength and character, and is proven by their success, that the only people who need to believe in Florida are the Gators themselves.

— by Cody Goodwin

Louisiana Tech (5-0, 0-0)

The Bulldogs are ranked for the first time this millennium, coming in at No. 23 in this week’s AP poll, despite minimal preseason attention or expectations. In a depleted, eight-team Western Athletic Conference, Louisiana Tech has to play a schedule that’s literally half nonconference. But instead of scheduling easy wins, head coach Sonny Dykes’ side has faced, and defeated, five solid schools.

Louisiana Tech’s lowest offensive output thus far was 44 points in a 6-point win at Virginia. The Bulldogs also throttled Illinois in Champaign and defeated usually bowl-bound teams Houston, Rice, and UNLV.

The school from Ruston, La., ranks third in the country with an unfathomable 53.2 points per game, which compensates for a defense that allows slightly more than 35 points per game.

But even with poor defending, Louisiana Tech seems to be legitimate. It currently hold the nation’s longest regular-season winning streak, having won 12 games in a row dating back to last year.

The Bulldogs will have their toughest test of the season when they welcome No. 22 Texas A&M to Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La., this weekend. If Louisiana Tech can score its biggest upset since a 2004 victory over then-No. 17 Fresno State, then an undefeated season, and perhaps even a major bowl bid, could be in order.

Didn’t expect that to be the case just six weeks ago.

— by Ian Martin

Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten)

There’s always an underdog that starts the season hot. Every year, you see some team pull off an early upset and jump out to an undefeated record and a high ranking. It really shouldn’t even be surprising anymore.

But you don’t always see a team look completely punch-less after back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances.

That’s what makes Wisconsin college football’s biggest surprise this season. The Badgers entered the season as one of the favorites — if not the favorite — to win the Big Ten. They lost a standout quarterback to the NFL, but they brought in another highly regarded senior transfer in Danny O’Brien through the same loophole that brought Russell Wilson to Madison.

Running back Montee Ball was back as the leading returning Heisman vote getter. Jared Abbrederis is one of the Big Ten’s top returning receivers. Wisconsin, by all means, should have been one of the conference’s most explosive offenses.

Instead, they’re dead last.

The Badgers are managing just 328 yards per game. Every Big Ten team — even Illinois and Iowa —moves the ball better.

Wisconsin barely hung on against Northern Iowa in its opener. It lost to Oregon State, scoring just 7 points, the next week. Utah State missed a last-second field goal that would’ve beaten the Badgers in Week 3. And they blew a 17-point lead against Nebraska in their Big Ten-opener.

During the Utah State game, O’Brien, the presumed starting quarterback, performed so poorly he was benched. Ball has suffered two concussions this season and is averaging fewer than 100 rushing yards per game.

Again: It wouldn’t have been that shocking before the season to hear that West Virginia or Florida were among the nation’s best teams. But Wisconsin being totally unable to move the ball, benching its quarterback, and struggling with the likes of Utah State?

That’s the biggest surprise so far this season.

— by Sam Louwagie

In today's issue:

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.