After horrible openers, these 5 college football teams are now on the upswing
GETTING THEIR ACT TOGETHER
There were some notable Week 1 flops, and they were followed by the usual visceral reactions. But a few of the teams that looked really bad in their debuts look a lot better now. The Dash list:
What happened in the opener: The Longhorns were taking on a Maryland team presumed to be in disarray after the suspension of head coach D.J. Durkin and an investigation of the program culture. Instead the Terrapins came out inspired and upset Texas, 34-29, in a weather-delayed marathon.
What’s happened since then: Texas is 3-0 and looking better with every game. After a struggle to beat Tulsa 28-21, the ‘Horns thumped USC 37-14 and then dominated the second half in a 31-16 upset of TCU.
What’s changed: After being a minus-three turnovers against Maryland, Texas is plus-five since (quarterback Sam Ehlinger hasn’t thrown an interception after two in the opener). The Longhorns’ secondary has made significant strides, creating turnovers and making big plays.
Is it real: Check back Oct. 6, after Texas plays Oklahoma in Dallas. But signs are promising in Tom Herman’s second season.
What happened in the opener: The Wolverines fell behind Notre Dame immediately and never recovered, losing 24-17. The offense looked every bit as punchless as it did when they finished last season with consecutive losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State and South Carolina.
What’s happened since: Michigan is 3-0 against admittedly soft competition, beating teams the Sagarin Ratings place 88th (Western Michigan), 104th (SMU) and 77th (Nebraska). But they have been beatdowns: 46, 25 and 46 points, with the Wolverines scoring 45 or more in each game — last year they never scored more than 36.
What’s changed: A beleaguered running game has come to life, producing 790 yards in the three wins. That has reduced the burden on Shea Patterson to carry the offense with his arm — after throwing it 30 times against Notre Dame, he’s averaged 19 attempts per game since. That’s clearly more in Jim Harbaugh’s comfort zone — the last six times his starting quarterback has attempted 30 or more passes, Michigan is 0-6.
Is it real: All talk is cheap with the Wolverines until they beat a quality opponent. An eight-game losing streak against ranked teams has to be dealt with before anyone buys into Michigan. That means the three-game stretch against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State Oct. 13-Nov. 3 looms large. That said, this has been Michigan’s most authoritative stretch of football since a bad night in Iowa City in November 2016 changed the trajectory of Harbaugh’s tenure.
Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines are looking much better after dropping their opener to Notre Dame. (AP)
What happened in the opener: The Hurricanes were dominated by LSU, trailing 33-3 before scoring a couple of late touchdowns to make it look better. Team Turnover Chain failed to produce a takeaway, quarterback Malik Rosier threw two interceptions, and the Hurricanes were outmuscled in the trenches.
What’s happened since: Miami has coasted past Savannah State, Toledo and Florida International — not exactly a gauntlet, but the ‘Canes have taken care of business. Toledo was a trap game on the road, and they took a 21-0 lead and extinguished any comeback hopes in the fourth quarter. Miami also led FIU 31-0 through three quarters before coasting to a 31-17 win.
What’s changed: The quarterback. Mark Richt tossed the keys to freshman N’Kosi Perry on the third series against FIU, and he responded by throwing three touchdown passes. Richt hasn’t said whether Perry will start Thursday in the ACC opener against North Carolina, but that seems probable. Beyond that intrigue, Miami’s ability to run the ball — three straight games of more than 200 yards for the first time since 2014 — has made a big difference.
Is it real: In a wide-open ACC Coastal, Miami may be the team to beat. Which doesn’t necessarily translate to challenging Clemson.
Texas Tech (14).
What happened in the opener: The Red Raiders were boat-raced out of Houston by Mississippi, 47-27. Tech gave up 24 points in the first quarter and 546 yards for the game, continually being gouged for big plays.
What’s happened since: Texas Tech is 3-0, lighting up Lamar and Houston for 140 points and then shocking Oklahoma State in Stillwater, 41-17. That ended a nine-game losing streak against the Cowboys, and dramatically altered the perception of Kliff Kingsbury’s team.
What’s changed: The Red Raiders are actually balanced offensively, running it 138 times the past three games and throwing it 140. That’s compared to 39 runs and 56 passes against Ole Miss. Outrushing Oklahoma State by 96 yards was a statement — it was the first time in seven games that Tech had out-rushed a Big 12 opponent. Freshman quarterback Alan Bowman is good, but the team is better off if he isn’t throwing it 50-plus times per game.
Is it real: If Texas Tech can back up the win in Stillwater by beating undefeated West Virginia Saturday in Lubbock, it may be time to buy in.
What happened in the opener: The Huskies lost a red-zone battle of futility against Auburn in Atlanta, 21-16. It was hardly a discouraging loss beyond the fact that Washington had multiple chances to beat a quality opponent and couldn’t secure the game.
What’s happened since: Washington is 3-0 and 2-0 in the Pac-12, with wins over a pair of solid teams in Utah and Arizona State. Since the opener, the Huskies have allowed just one touchdown drive after the first quarter.
What’s changed: A defense that surrendered 420 yards to Auburn hasn’t given up more than 268 in a game since. Since the Tigers threw the game-winning touchdown pass Sept. 1, Washington has allowed a single TD through the air. Washington also has improved its running production and gotten Myles Gaskin more involved in the offense — he had 17 touches against Auburn, then 33 against Utah and 24 against ASU.
Is it real: Real enough to compete in the Pac-12? Yes. Losing to Auburn was never a sign of major trouble. This still isn’t a high-octane offense, but it probably doesn’t need to be to compete for division and league titles.
Five breakout QBs with eyes on Baker Mayfield's NCAA record
Yahoo Sports national columnist Pat Forde runs down the list five highly efficient quarterbacks with strong starts to the 2018 season.
NEW QBS, BETTER RESULTS
Coaches love nothing more than experience at quarterback, but what if that’s overrated? It’s been a spectacular September for some new (or relatively new) QBs on the scene. Five who are either first-year starters or first-year collegians who are threatening to rewrite the history books at their schools:
Tua Tagovailoa (16), Alabama. Current pass efficiency rating: 230.47, which leads the nation and would destroy the NCAA record of 198.90, set last year by Baker Mayfield. Alabama’s single-season record: Gary Rutledge, 222.36, in 1973. The caveat there: Rutledge threw just 88 passes while operating Bear Bryant’s wishbone offense and sharing time with Richard Todd. The school record for a minimum 100 attempts is AJ McCarron’s 175.28 in 2012. Tagovailoa may not have the three-year body of work that McCarron did as the ‘Bama starter, but he’s launched a great starting argument to be considered Nick Saban’s best quarterback ever.
Dwayne Haskins (17), Ohio State. Current pass efficiency rating: 207.04, which is third nationally and also ahead of Mayfield’s record. Ohio State’s single-season record: J.T. Barrett, 169.8, in 2014 — before Barrett’s passing productivity began to decline. The Buckeyes have wisely shelved Urban Meyer’s long-cherished quarterback run game to focus on Haskins’ passing — he’s run it just 10 times while throwing it 115 times. Haskins is working on a streak of 88 straight passes without an interception.
Kyler Murray (18), Oklahoma. Current pass efficiency rating: 203.01, which also is slightly ahead of Mayfield’s national and school record. Mayfield also has the NCAA single-season record for most yards per attempt with a minimum of 700 passes at 11.5, and Murray currently is clocking in at 11.7. (It’s a star-studded record list: behind Mayfield in 2017 is Michael Vick in 1999 at 11.3, Mayfield in 2016 at 11.1, Ty Detmer in 1989 at 11.1, Robert Griffin III at 10.7 in 2011 and James Winston at 10.6 in 2013. All but Vick won the Heisman Trophy.)
Trevor Lawrence (19), Clemson. Current pass efficiency rating: 191.83. Clemson single-season record: Deshaun Watson’s 188.6 in 2014, when he played just eight games. Lawrence has been backing up Kelly Bryant, but on Monday Dabo Swinney made the inevitable move to his five-star freshman as the starter against Syracuse on Saturday. Lawrence has thrown nine touchdown passes in just 60 attempts, and both those numbers should rise significantly as he assumes greater command of the Tigers’ offense.
Brady White (20), Memphis. Current pass efficiency rating: 189.80. Memphis’ single-season record: The school media guide doesn’t keep track of its all-time leaders in that category, but the record appears to belong to Riley Ferguson last year at 161.18. White transferred in from Arizona State and has raised the bar, at least for the time being, completing 72 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and only one interception.