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State of the Association: Analyzing NCAA Football at Its Halfway Point

The leaves are changing colors, pumpkin flavored treats are occupying the counters of coffee shops, the cool wind is bringing boots and vests back out from a long summer slumber. This all means just one thing: it’s college football’s halfway point. With most teams having played six or seven of their twelve regular season games, the landscape of college football is beginning to take shape. Some of the pre-season favorites have been disappointing (looking at you PAC-12), while others have matched the hype. New teams have joined the picture as well.

The College Football landscape is ever changing, but it’s about time to take an in depth look at who the real contenders are, whether it be for the National Championship, the New Year’s Six, or the Heisman trophy.

Most Disappointing Teams:

The most disappointing teams this year have been (in no particular order) the USC Trojans, the Oregon Ducks, the UCLA Bruins, and the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Ducks, a perennial Pac-12 powerhouse who have won their last four division titles, are sitting at 4-3. Oregon has two very respectable losses in Michigan State and Utah, but an embarrassing third loss to Washington State has kept the1m out of the past two AP Polls altogether.  The Utah game wasn’t even close.

USC has been in the national spotlight a lot recently due to the alcohol problems of now ex-head coach Steve Sarkisian, who was fired after a bad loss to Washington. The Trojans have dropped two straight, and are essentially out of divisional contention. Both USC and Oregon started this year in the AP Top 10, and were expected to make runs at a playoff berth.

UCLA is yet another PAC-12 team that had title aspirations, but recent losses to Arizona State and Stanford have knocked the Bruins out of the Top 25, and knocked them out of the PAC-12 driver’s seat altogether. The Arkansas Razorbacks started the year ranked 18th after a strong finish last season but have been dreadful all season and are now 2-5.

Most Overachieving Teams:

From starting the year unranked to now sitting in the Top 15, these teams have exceeded anyone’s expectations for this year: Florida, Michigan, Iowa, and Utah. Iowa and Utah remain undefeated, and Utah has a serious shot at making the College Football Playoff this December.

Florida finds themselves at 6-1 after losing a heartbreaker in Baton Rogue to the LSU Tigers 35-28 this past Saturday. New head coach Jim McElwain has done a tremendous job revamping the once desolate offense, while maintaining a solid defensive unit. Florida still sits in the driver’s seat for the SEC East, and will probably get a shot at winning the SEC this year in Atlanta.

The biggest story of the year in College Football thus far though might just be the job Jim Harbaugh is doing at Michigan. The Wolverines have two losses, one to the #3 ranked Utah Utes, and one to their #7 ranked in state rival, undefeated Michigan State. That loss will live in Michigan infamy as the Wolverines lost in literally the last second on a botched punt attempt that resulted in a Spartan touchdown. It was a truly horrific sight to watch unfold on live television.

Nonetheless, Harbaugh has shown that he can absolutely bring Michigan back to national relevance and have them contending again. Michigan owns the nation’s second best defense (behind Boston College) and had three straight shutouts. If that punt was run another 100 times, Michigan wins the game about 95 of those times. The Wolverines can still realistically win the Big Ten East if they can beat the hyper-talented Ohio State Buckeyes in their annual end of regular season rivalry game.

Heisman Trophy Outlook:

The Heisman Trophy has a clear front-runner at the moment in LSU’s otherworldly running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette leads the nation in rush yards, with a whopping 1202, and has 14 touchdowns on top of that. Honestly, barring a major drop off in performance, Fournette should have this trophy locked up before rivalry weekend in late November. Some other candidates include TCU’s QB Trevone Boykin who has 2,539 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions with a 66.4% completion percentage. Those stats are dominant numbers, but his wide receiver Josh Doctson, who has 12 of those TD’s and 1,067 of those yards, is making a case for himself as well.

Baylor wide-out Corey Coleman (16 TD’s), running back’s Derrick Henry of Alabama (901 yards and 12 TD’s), Ezekiel Elliot of Ohio State (988 and 11), and Dalvin Cook of Florida State (955 and 10) could all very well be finalists this year as well. In the end, I predict Fournette will be the winner, followed by Boykin in a respectable second place.

New Years Six Outlook:

Part of the still new college football playoff structure is a system of rotating bowl games that will comprise the playoff.   The Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Peach Bowl rotate between hosting the two smi-final games every three years. In 2014, the Rose and Sugar Bowls hosted the semi-finals; this year it will be the Orange and Cotton Bowls, and next year the Fiesta and Peach Bowls. During years that a bowl does not happen to be a College Football Playoff Semi-Final, they still host a bowl game on the New Years Day Weekend when the semi-finals take place. These remaining four games are the four most prestigious bowl games excluding the playoff. One G5 (lower respected conferences) team gets a rotating bid each year.

My predictions for how the bowls will be filled are:

Rose Bowl (Big 10/PAC-12 ties): Michigan State vs. Stanford

Sugar Bowl (Big 12/SEC ties): Baylor vs. LSU

Fiesta Bowl (G5/at-large ties): Memphis vs. Clemson

Peach Bowl (two at-large ties): Notre Dame vs. Florida State

Predictions for the Semi-Finals:

Orange Bowl (#1 vs. #4): Ohio State vs. Utah

Cotton Bowl (#2 vs. #3): Alabama vs. TCU

These predictions are obviously incredibly hard to gauge as Alabama/LSU, TCU/Baylor, Clemson/Florida State, and Ohio State/Michigan State all still have regular season scheduled matchups (and Utah and Stanford could still possibly meet in the PAC-12 title game). At this point, these are my best guesses and predictions.

That about covers the main talking points of this year’s CFB season through the midway point, so buckle your seat belts and get ready for what is sure to be a wacky and wild few weeks as the playoff selection nears. Until then, go Eagles, and please become bowl-eligible.

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