Pleas­ant sur­prises, flops, half­way Heis­man

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Ralph D. Russo

The first half of the 2016 col­lege foot­ball fea­tured the emer­gence of a new star quar­ter­back, the re-emer­gence of an old Pac-12 power and the end of an era at LSU. Texas is back! Nope. Hous­ton to the play­off! Nah. Tom Her­man to LSU? Tom Her­man to Texas? Tom Her­man to the Chicago Bears? This, un­for­tu­nately, has only just be­gun. With seven weeks of the sea­son in the books, we as­sess the best and the worst of the first half. MOST SUR­PRIS­ING UN­DE­FEATED TEAM No. 6 Texas A&M The Ag­gies were un­ranked and ap­peared to be an un­set­tled pro­gram to start the sea­son. As­sis­tant coaches made off­sea­son head­lines for the wrong rea­sons . The five-star quar­ter­backs had fled and were re­placed by for­mer in­con­sis­tent Ok­la­homa quar­ter­back Trevor Knight. There is no more hot-seat talk about coach Kevin Sum­lin as the Ag­gies head to No. 1 Alabama for a game that could de­cide the SEC West on Satur­day. There is still po­ten­tial for things to go side­ways for Sum­lin and the Ag­gies, but so far A&M has re­placed the swag with sub­stance. MOST DIS­AP­POINT­ING TEAM Notre Dame There are some se­ri­ous can­di­dates here. Ore­gon, but the Ducks were show­ing signs for crash­ing com­ing into 2016. Michi­gan State, but the Spar­tans were prob­a­bly due for a re­set sea­son. Notre Dame, how­ever, is a big hot mess . Seven games in and coach Brian Kelly has fired his de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and cre­ated an un­nec­es­sary quar­ter­back con­tro­versy. Even al­low­ing the Fight­ing Ir­ish some lee­way for over in­flated ex­pec­ta­tions, 2-5 and scram­bling to get bowl el­i­gi­ble is un­ac­cept­able. BEST COACH­ING JOB-HEAD COACH Nick Sa­ban, Alabama, and Ur­ban Meyer, Ohio State. We of­ten re­ward the coaches who ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions and do the most with the least. That’s all well and good, but sus­tained ex­cel­lence is re­ally where it’s at. No. 1 Alabama won the na­tional cham­pi­onship last year and is bet­ter this sea­son with a fresh­man quar­ter­back . No. 2 Ohio State lost one of the great NFL draft classes from one school of all time and the Buck­eyes have not missed a beat. BEST TURN­AROUND Colorado It has been a long hard road back to rel­e­vance for the Buf­faloes, but Mike MacIn­tyre has Boul­der in­ter­ested in its col­lege foot­ball team again. CU has not won more than six games since 2004 and had just two Pac-12 vic­to­ries in MacIn­tyre’s first three sea­sons. Now the Buffs (5-2) are a win away from bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity and 3-1 in con­fer­ence with a le­git chance to take the Pac-12 South. Props also to de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and for­mer USF coach Jim Leav­itt for the most im­proved part of the team. BREAK­OUT PLAYER-OF­FENSE (NOT NAMED LA­MAR JACK­SON) Dede West­brook, WR, Ok­la­homa Lots of good can­di­dates here among re­ceivers, most no­tably Cal’s Chad Hansen and Syra­cuse’s Amba Etta-Tawo. West­brook was the Big 12’s of­fen­sive new­comer of the year last year so it’s not as if he is com­ing out of nowhere. His re­cent surge (26 catches for 574 yards), though, has him play­ing like an All-Amer­i­can and he has al­ready sur­passed last year’s num­bers for re­cep­tions and yards. BREAKOUR PLAYER-DE­FENSE Joe Mathis, LB, Wash­ing­ton Mathis has gone from solid player to an ab­so­lute force for the fifth-ranked Huskies in his se­nior sea­son. He has al­ready topped his ca­reer to­tal for sacks with five and nearly dou­bled his ca­reer tack­les for loss with 7.5 this sea­son. Ore­gon coaches could still be search­ing game tape for play in which the Ducks han­dled Mathis. BEST GAME Clem­son 42, Louisville 36. Two great quar­ter­backs do­ing spec­tac­u­lar things. Tal­ented play­ers ev­ery­where. Huge swings in emo­tion and mo­men­tum. Come­backs on both sides and clutch per­for­mances . All played in one of the best venues in col­lege foot­ball. And it came down to 1 yard. Sure it was sloppy at times, but so much fun. WORST GAME Michi­gan 78, Rut­gers 0 Maybe the most non­com­pet­i­tive con­fer­ence game in the last 25 years of col­lege foot­ball. WORST OFFICIATING The of­fi­cials who worked the Cen­tral Michi­gan-Ok­la­homa State. It is one thing to blow a judg­ment call. It is quite an­other to badly mis­in­ter­pret a rule and that have that mis­take cost a team a game. Both the MAC of­fi­cials on the field and Big 12 re­play of­fi­cials earned sus­pen­sions. HALF­WAY HEIS­MAN 1. La­mar Jack­son, QB, Louisville 2. Jake Brown­ing, QB, Wash­ing­ton 3. Greg Ward Jr., QB, Hous­ton Three more to watch Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State J.T. Bar­rett, QB, Ohio State Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama TOP FOUR NOW (DOESN’T MAT­TER) 1. Alabama; 2. Ohio State 3. Michi­gan;; 4. Clem­son TOP FOUR ON DEC. 4 (MAT­TERS) 1. Alabama; 2. Ohio State 3. Clem­son; 4. Wash­ing­ton

Fol­low Ralph D. Russo at www.Twit­ter.com/ ralphDrus­soAP

MICHAEL CONROY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Coach Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame team has been one of the most dis­ap­point­ing this sea­son.

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