Half-way through the 2018 college football season and two teams fall into the "major surprise'' category--Florida State and Texas.
Let's start with FSU. The Seminoles are a not-in-the-good way surprise. In fact, they are downright baffling and disappointing.
Let's start with their latest performance, a 28-27 loss to arch ACC rival Miami. On the surface, this doesn't look all that stunning. Going into Saturday's game at Miami, a total of 17 points had decided their last five meetings.
But check a little further and you see the symptoms of what has been ailing FSU all season and back to last year, in fact.
Early in the third quarter, FSU had a 27-7 lead over the Hurricanes and it looked like the Seminoles who had stumbled and fumbled their way to a 3-2 start had solved their problems.
Not so fast. Miami, which is starting to look like the Miami of a year ago (early in the season at least) scored and then scored again and finally again to pull out its first home victory against FSU since 2004.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
What was even more stunning was to listen to first year FSU coach Willie Taggart make the following assessment of his team. "Our guys know how to play football, ''said Taggart, who left Oregon after only one season." We have to teach them how to win.''
This is FSU, not FIU or FAU or even UCF or USF. This is a program that going into this season had compiled a 54-13 record over the past five seasons. This a program which won a national championship in 2014. This is a program which was ranked in the Top 5 in the pre-season polls last season before an opening game season ending injury to starting quarterback Deondre Francois began a free fall which ended in a 7-6 season. This is a program that began this season ranked in the Top 25 with a healthy Francois and an enthusiastic young coach in Taggart, who was going to energize the program after Coach Jimbo Fisher took a 75 million offer and ran off to Texas A&M.
The Seminoles know how to play and how to win, but they simply aren't doing it. They started off the season with a stink bomb effort in their home opener against Virginia Tech, they followed it with a lackluster effort against FCS opponent Samford, in which they had to come from behind to win. That was followed by another flop at Syracuse, which left them at 0-2 in the ACC.
On Saturday, they seemed to have found their identity against Miami and just like that It was gone. There are more questions about Taggart's ability to coach than there are compliments.
The Seminoles have a week off and a home game against Wake Forest before they host Clemson. It doesn't get any easier after that, back-to-back road games against North Carolina State and Notre Dame who are a combined 11-0.
In the Big 12, Texas has been the surprise team in a very good sense. The Longhorns have been MIA from the Top 10 for almost a decade. In fact, going into this season they have been downright mediocre with a 31-32 record over the past five seasons.
That was supposed to change when Texas ended the Charlie Strong experiment and hired Tom Herman as its coach. Herman was a hotshot assistant at Ohio State and had turned Houston into a more successful program than Texas, compiling a 22-4 record in his two seasons.
So anxious was Texas to get him, they gave him a contract paying him $5.2 million a year.
Herman’s debut a year ago was a 51-41 loss to Maryland, a bottom feeding Big Ten team. What followed was a season which turned into a ho-hum 7-6 season.
This season was supposed to be different, but began with another loss to Maryland, which dropped the Longhorns out of sight once again.
Not any more. On Saturday, Texas built a huge lead against Oklahoma in their annual Red River clash in Dallas, gave it away and then came back to pull off a stunning 48-45 win over the then unbeaten and No. 7 ranked Sooners.
Suddenly, Texas was 5-1. The Longhorns jumped to No. 9 in the rankings, its highest place in the polls since 2010.
Herman knows better than to gloat or assume anything. "I've got to tread lightly on this one, Dennis,'' Herman told CBS sports.com Dennis Dodd after the win over Oklahoma. "It's irrelevant to us is the best way to put it. It would be foolish for me not to understand the bigger picture. We've taken some really big steps here the last few weeks. I'm not going to deny that or downplay that for these players. They have taken some very important steps in this program's development and its progress.''
There you have it, a tale of two programs headed in opposite directions going into the second half of the season.
It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
An outsider's view of what is going on at Boston College, aka The Heights
The good news for Boston College is that they play Louisville on Saturday at Alumni Stadium. The Cardinals are 0-3 in the ACC, losing to Virginia by 24, Florida State by 4 and Georgia Tech by 35 in a 66-31 debacle which was as much as an embarrassment as it was a loss.
BC, even without running back AJ Dillon is better than the Cardinals and should win.
But let's kick it up a notch. BC MUST win on Saturday. There is no wiggle room. A loss drops them to 4-3 and then all bets are off on whether the Eagles reach the 6-game minimum required for a post season bid.
Post a winning record.
Reach the 8-game level which was set as the goal this summer by not only BC coach Steve Addazio, but BC athletic director Martin Jarmond, as well.
The Eagles dropped a 28-23 decision at North Carolina State last week in which a second half comeback (they trailed 21-3 at halftime) came up short.
They played the game without Dillon, who didn't even make the trip because of a sprained left ankle. Whether Dillon is healthy enough to play on Saturday has yet to be determined, but if there is any question at all about his condition, Addazio might be wise to be cautious and hold him out for a week. The Eagles have a bye week after Louisville, which would give Dillon more than enough time to be ready for a Friday night game at Alumni Stadium against Miami.
BC is good enough to beat Louisville without Dillon. Certainly, back-up Ben Glines has been more than adequate.
After Saturday, there are no givens. In fact, the Eagles might be underdogs in each of their remaining games (Miami, at Virginia Tech, Clemson, at FSU) other than Syracuse, who must come to BC for the regular season finale on Nov. 24.
At 5-2, BC can still put things back together.
At 4-3, the task becomes much more difficult.[/membership]