Every week here at Flipping the Field, we like to give out awards. And we still will. Our old standards include The Frank Reich Backup QB of the Week, the guy you should know about but probably don't and the Tommy West Best Coach News Conference Award. Our regular weekly accolades are coming shortly.
But as we make the turn on the 2015 college football season, it's time to stop by the snack shack, ask Judge Smails if he'll buy us a hamburger (no, a cheeseburger) and reflect back on the weirdly wonderful first seven weekends of the year. What worked? What didn't? What are we still unsure about?
Welcome to FTF's Just Past Halfway Awards, presented by Old Glory Insurance, which would like to remind you that once you're just past halfway, the end is nearer than it used to be.
The Jimmy The Greek Preseason Prognostication Award: To all those who had Ohio State, Baylor, TCU, Michigan State, Alabama and Florida State in their preseason top 10, congrats. Even though that was pretty much everyone. But those schools are all still there.
The Jimmy The Geek Preseason Imperfection Award: To all those who also had Auburn, USC, Oregon and Georgia in their preseason top 10. And that also was pretty much everyone. Nice effort, folks. Those three are not only missing from the top 10, they aren't even in the Top 25.
The Mitch From "Old School" Shouldn't Have Left the Conference in San Diego Early Award: The national preseason polls were wrong, but not as wrong as the individual conference awards. The SEC media picked Auburn to win it all, and the Tigers are already 1-2 in conference play. The American Athletic Conference media gave Cincinnati a whopping 22 of its 30 votes, but the Bearcats are 3-3, while Memphis (five votes), Houston (two votes) and Temple (zero votes) are all undefeated and ranked. Some dummy even threw UCF a vote. The Knights are ranked ... in the ESPN Bottom 10. But it was the Pac-12 media corps that now looks more off-target than me trying to hit a green with a pitching wedge. They tabbed USC to win the Pac-12 South. The Trojans are now 3-3 and without a head coach. They picked Oregon to win the Pac-12 North. The Ducks are now 4-3 and unranked. Meanwhile, Utah, which is 6-0 and No. 3 in the nation, was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South.
The Huddled Hospital Award, presented by Ace Bandages: TCU Horned Frogs
During a season slashed by high-profile injuries, starting with BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and most recently Georgia Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb, no one has had a more ridiculous run of hurt than the Horned Frogs. Just the ailing four wide receivers would be enough to make coach Gary Patterson go bonkers. But it's the defensive side of the ball where TCU's injuries have been so baffling, missing seven key members. Secondary starters Ranthony Texada and Kenny Iloka barely got the season started before they were out with year-ending knee injuries. Same for linebacker Sammy Douglas and defensive end James McFarland. The only player from the 2014 defense who hasn't graduated, left for the NFL or been sidelined is safety Derrick Kindred. He has been joined on defense by 14 players making their first collegiate starts, tops in the nation. Just behind them is UCF, which has fielded 13 rookies on defense and are 0-7. TCU is 7-0.
The Peyton Manning Halfway Mark Heisman Award: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
The big bronze trophy feels like it has been all but engraved, even though it's still nearly two months away from being awarded. And why not, right? After his 180-yard performance against Florida's stout run defense, Fournette now has 1,202 yards through six games. (Imagine what he'd have had the Tigers' opener against McNeese State not been cancelled!) But just because you are the runaway leader in October does not mean you'll receive the most votes in December, especially with a potential Heisman-finalist showdown against Alabama's Derrick Henry slated for Nov. 7 and a whole pack of other tailbacks (not to mention TCU QB Trevone Boykin) on Fournette's heels. Front-runner fatigue is a real thing. Just ask Manning, who spent most of 1997 as a foregone conclusion but was stiff-armed by Charles Woodson in the Big Apple.
They Weren't Exactly Who We Thought They Were Award, brought to you by my ex-girlfriend: This is shared among a few different teams, all of whom posted big early wins that have carried less value with time. Michigan State's win over Oregon, though epic then, has lost steam as the Ducks have done the same. Ditto for Ohio State's early domination at Virginia Tech, Alabama's dismantling of Wisconsin and BYU's early thrillers over Nebraska and Boise State.
The Atari 2600 Game of the Year: Florida 28, Tennessee 27
As painful as UT's collapse still is for Big Orange nation, the game was epic. People will long talk about the blown lead for Tennessee, but the Gators also engineered a thrilling comeback -- and the game ended on a do-over, midfield field goal attempt that only missed by inches.
The Mr. Wexler's Woodworking Class Finish of the Year: Michigan State 27, Michigan 23
Well, duh. Even my old shop teacher, Mr. Wexler, could have called this. And I'm pretty sure he had significant brain damage from inhaling too many lacquer fumes. But, boy, he knew how to put a finish on some wood.
The Lee Greenwood Most 'Merican Americans Award: American Athletic Conference
Everyone who predicted the American would have the same number of teams in the midseason AP Top 25 (Memphis, Houston and Temple, all at 6-0) as the Pac-12 (Utah, Stanford and Cal), please stand up. OK, Commissioner Aresco, we see you, please sit down. God bless.
OK, enough of that. Our trophy-manufacturing budget won't allow us to hand out any more awards. Besides, the Michigan State equipment crew keeps putting them outside the wrong locker room.
Let's get on with Flipping the Field.
The Frank Reich Backup QB of the Week Award: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
He's so great in his red zone role, going 4-for-4 with a pair of TDs (including a Tim Tebow jump-ball special), not to mention rushing for 102 yards and another two scores. So, and I'm just spitballing here, wouldn't you think he'd be pretty good between the 25s, too? Honestly, this isn't even close.
Ohio State by QB on Saturday vs. Penn State
Jones: 34 plays, 141 total yards, 0 TDs, 4.1 yards per play
Barrett: 32 plays, 270 yards (240 rushing), 5 TDs, 8.4 yards per play
The Comeback of the Week Award (also named for Frank Reich): Rutgers Scarlet Knights
It has not been a fun year in New Brunswick, New Jersey, between player arrests, the suspension of coach Kyle Flood for leaning on professors and, oh yeah, heartbreaking losses to Washington State and Michigan State. When Saturday's game at Indiana started, it all felt like just another chapter in the bad book that has been 2015. The Scarlet Knights trailed the Hoosiers by 25 points late in the third quarter but scored the final 28 of the game to win 55-52. They were led by quarterback Chris Laviano, who has been listening to cries for his head all year, especially after last week's fourth-down spike versus Michigan State. The sophomore drove Rutgers on a grinder 13-play, 59-yard, 4-minute, 47-second drive to set up the game-winning 26-yard field goal as time expired, the capper on a 386-yard, three-TD day.
The Lloyd Christmas "So you're saying there's a chance" Award: Michigan State Spartans
Rutgers may have pulled off the biggest comeback scoreboard-wise, but the atomic calculators at ESPN Stats & Information say the Spartans had the highest hill to climb. Just prior to Michigan's botched punt with 10 seconds remaining in the game, the ever-sliding Football Power Index scale said that MSU's chances of winning at the Big House were down to .2 percent, after peeking above 50 percent only twice the entire game.
The Fred Astaire Dance Studios Coach is Busting a Move! of the Week Award: Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Because coaches dancing in the locker room have totally become a weekly thing now, and Bobo (who really bounces more than dances) got in on the craze after the CSU upset of Air Force to nab the Ram-Falcon Trophy.
As the sign in the student section says: "D-Fence!"
In the four games since their 43-37 loss to Ole Miss, Alabama has surrendered just 11.75 points per contest. And if you watched the Texas A&M game, then you know special teams were responsible for a big chunk of that. How have the Tide gone on opponent lockdown? By making QBs curl up into a fetal position. Over those four games, they have allowed an opponent QBR of 4.2. For those of you uninitiated in the ESPN Stats & Information quarterback rating scale, it's 0-100. So that's, like, really good and stuff ... unless you're a quarterback.
Defense is great, but you still gotta score...
Northwestern rolled to a 5-0 record thanks to America's then-top-ranked defense. It was so good it shut down the likes of Stanford and Duke and shut out Minnesota. But over the past two games, against Michigan and Iowa, the Wildcats have been outscored 78-10. Now, not surprisingly, they are 5-2.
But maybe scoring is bad?
Wake Forest lost to North Carolina 50-14, bringing coach Dave Clawson's ACC record to 0-9 in games when the Demon Deacons score a touchdown and 2-1 when they do not.
The Shane Falco Great off the Bench but Still Lost Award: Treon Harris, Florida
Harris, the Gators' former starter, stepped in for the suspended Will Grier in the harshest of environments, LSU's Death Valley on a Saturday night. Harris, who himself was suspended just last month and had taken only three snaps since, threw for 271 yards and two TDs in a 35-28 loss in the battle of SEC division leaders. A would-be, 35-yard-touchdown dagger to Antonio Callaway was knocked away in the end zone by defender Dwayne Thomas midway through the fourth quarter, setting the stage for the game-winning fake field goal.
Speaking of that fake field goal from LSU...
Les Miles has run gigantic fake field goal plays against South Carolina in 2007, Florida in 2010 and Florida again in 2015. So, as LSU beat writer Glenn Guilbeau wondered aloud Saturday night, someone on the Tigers' 2019 schedule might want to be on the lookout for the fake.
But Les Miles wasn't the most famous person at the Florida-LSU game...
Anyone eyeing their Twitter feed on Saturday might have noticed Tom Cruise trending around dinnertime. Does he have a new movie coming out? Nope. The 53-year-old Syracuse, New York, native was, amazingly, attending his first college football game. His attendance inspired a scramble to photograph him from his Death Valley skybox and even had one writer live-tweeting Cruise's side-by-side trough chat with Maverick in the press box men's room. Ross Dellenger of The Baton Rouge Advocate reported that Cruise's latrine description of the game was "Memorable. Exciting. Everything else will pale in comparison." Of course, anyone who experienced Cruise's performance in 1983's "All The Right Moves" will be happy to know that Stef Djordevic finally made it to a college football game after Coach Nickerson tried to screw him out of all his scholarship opportunities.
The guy you should know about but probably don't: Wendell Smallwood, RB, West Virginia
The Mountaineers have become the official tough out of the Big 12, pushing big-name opponents to big scores but ultimately coming up short. Their 62-38 loss to Baylor was no different, a game they hung in through the midway point of the third quarter. Smallwood rushed for 89 yards, including a 52-yard gasher right up the center of the Bears' defense. The junior has rushed for at least 88 yards in all six WVU games, including a pair of 147-yard games (Maryland, Oklahoma State) and a 111-yd performance against Oklahoma. With only five TDs, he's the guy who gets the Mountaineers into the red zone but sees little action within it.
The guys you should know about but probably don't: The Tar Heel Three
Since dropping a gross season opener to South Carolina, the other Carolina has won five straight thanks to the offensive output of quarterback Marquise Williams, running back Elijah Hood and emerging wide receiver Mack Hollins. Against Wake Forest, Williams threw for 282 yards and rushed for 59, including a 33-yard TD dash. Hood rushed for 101 yards and a TD on only eight carries, while Hollins produced 103 yards receiving on just three catches, all for touchdowns. He has been the team's fourth receiving option this year, but that would appear to be changing, a fact that has NFL scouts taking notice of the junior and his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame. During the five-game win streak, the Heels have averaged 46 points per contest. No, it hasn't exactly been against an SEC West schedule, but it might have provided the kind of momentum Larry Fedora's team needs as it crashes into the heart of the ACC schedule. And speaking of the ACC...
The team you should know about but probably don't: Pittsburgh Panthers
The Panthers defeated Georgia Tech for the first time since 2009, running their record to 5-1. How big a win was it for Pitt? Dancing, singing, throwing-drinks-around-the-locker-room big! Their only blemish is a 27-24 defeat at Iowa, a loss that's looking better all the time. Next week, Pitt travels to Syracuse for a "Remember when this was a Big East game?" matchup before a pair of suddenly huge ACC Coastal division games against UNC on Oct. 29 and at Duke two weeks later, with a visit from Notre Dame in between.
The game you should be psyched for but probably aren't: Texas A&M at Ole Miss (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
A team that beat Alabama is hosting a team that just lost to Alabama in a game that is all kinds of big for... Alabama. This is essentially an elimination game in the SEC West, and if A&M loses, it's an elimination game for them in the College Football Playoff race. However this contest winds up, it will have a significant input on the résumé that the Tide hopes to bring to the committee, should they continue to steamroll their way toward December. And, oh yeah, the team Alabama's still chasing, LSU, finishes the season with a trip to Oxford and a visit from the Aggies.
Extra Point: Vander Laan is the Maan! When Ferris State quarterback Jason Vander Laan busted off a 53-yard touchdown run against Ohio Dominican, he didn't just break a 7-7 tie in a revenge match against the team that knocked them out of the Division II playoffs last year, he broke a mark that at one time people said would never be topped. Vander Laan's sideline dash smashed the NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback at any level, a bar set 23 years ago by legendary Wofford QB Shawn Graves. That mark was 5,128 and Vander Laan came into the game needing 71 to top it. He got 161, setting a new mark of 5,218 yards. By the time he's done, it might truly be unreachable. He's just a junior! See his record-breaking rumble here, via the good folks at the Big Rapids Pioneer.