This week's top 10 list is about the best turnarounds in college football:
Colt McCoy, Texas QB: The junior was outstanding against Oklahoma, never rattling, always coming up with an answer for the Sooners as he again, performed with stunning efficiency, completing 80 percent of his passes. Last year, McCoy tried to do too much. This year, he has become much more patient. Thanks to diligent work in the UT weight room, he's also become stronger and tougher and more of a running threat.
Minnesota's defense: One thing you heard from a lot of folks inside the coaching world is how great of a recruiter Gophers coach Tim Brewster is. Well, the former Texas assistant not only infused his program with talent, especially quality JC players to boost the defense, but he also brought in former Duke coach Ted Roof to run the defense and that move looks brilliant right now. The 6-1 Gophers, who last year were 1-11 and absolutely wretched on defense, had what Brewster called a a "program-changing'' victory over Illinois as his D forced three turnovers and bottled up quarterback Juice Williams' running threat as they stopped Illinois on a fourth-and-goal from the 1. Roof's move mixing in some 3-4 defensive looks while also shifting speedy safety Tramaine Brock to corner at times kept the Illini attack out of sync for much of the game. The Gophers are for real and it doesn't hurt that they don't have Penn State or Michigan State on the schedule this year so it's no stretch to think they could go from one win to eight or nine.
FIU: The worst program in college football last season, one that had won one game in the previous two years, is on a three-game winning streak with victories over a Toledo team that had almost beat Fresno State and beat Michigan and a Middle Tennessee team that beat Maryland. Mario Cristobal and his staff of grinders have built a hard-nosed team with some dynamic young playmakers, led by the spectacular T.Y. Hilton; a freshman speedster who opted to stay home rather than play in the SEC. (Hilton joined his Godbrother Tony Gaitor, a slick DB who was a recruiting coup the previous year.) All Hilton has done is score four times on his nine catches and return a punt 74 yards for a TD the first time he touched the ball in college, just as he promised Cristobal when he signed with the team. The Golden Panthers defense also has matured nicely. "It's starting to kick in," says Cristobal, a former Miami O-lineman and Rutgers assistant. "It is really so similar to what we did at Rutgers only the climate is better and we have a better talent pool."
Aaron Maybin, Penn State, DE: The third-year sophomore has gone from promising to spectacular in one year. The 6-4, 238-pound Maybin had 12 tackles last year on defense and special teams and did register four sacks, but back in August he wasn't even on the PSU depth chart. Reportedly, Joe Paterno was waiting to make sure that Maybin's academics were in order pending one final summer session class. Good thing for PSU Maybin came through. He more than picked up the pace when Maurice Evans was suspended. Last weekend against Wisconsin's freshman LT Josh Oglesby, Maybin had his best showing yet, notching three sacks and forcing two fumbles. He now has 10 sacks on the season.
UNC: As Minnesota has made such a metamorphosis, so have the Tar Heels. Butch Davis has not only recruited well, but he has also gotten a lot of former coach John Bunting's recruits to buy in, something a lot of new coaches rarely have happen. Davis also snagged former Minnesota assistant Everett Withers to run his defense and take over as UNC's DB coach. That's working out pretty well. All UNC has done is gone from ranking 96th in turnover margin to No. 1 as the Tar Heels D have made 14 picks this season. UNC also has been fantastic on special teams.
Glen Coffee, Alabama, RB: We've heard so much about how great the Tide O-line has been. But it's time to give some praise to the junior running back. He was pretty average last season (545 yards, 4.2 ypc with a long of just 20 yards on 129 carries.) This year, behind an improved line, Coffee, a speedy back with surprising power, has become a game-breaker, averaging 7.5 yards per carry and already has eclipsed his yardage total with 708 and has ripped off runs of 51, 87 and 78 yards.
Notre Dame's offense: The Irish had the worst offense in America statistically in 2007, generating just 242 yards per game, 28 less than FIU, the second-worst. Things have changed quite a bit. ND is up to 57th in total offense. The biggest difference is that the Irish have some weapons outside in Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. QB Jimmy Clausen has settled down. The O-line isn't as awful any more, although the Irish still have major problems running the football (109th in the country), but the sacks are way down (43rd in the nation.)
Kerry Meier, Kansas WR: The former KU QB was productive last year, catching 26 passes for 274 yards in 2007, but now he's making a move at the Biletnikoff Award. His 53 receptions for 608 yards put him near the top of the NCAA leaders. The 6-3, 220-pounder has been dubbed "Old Faithful" by QB Todd Reesing because his hands are so reliable. But Meier's more than just a possession receiver. His athleticism is a lot better than more people give him credit for. According to one rival coach he's one of the few guys who plays faster in the second half than he does in the first. Most impressive of all is that the guy spends less than half of KU's practices working at receiver since he's still prepping as Reesing's understudy at QB.
Florida State's O-line: Rick Trickett deserves a ton of credit for the work he's done with a very inexperienced bunch especially when you consider how terrible the Noles O-line has been the past few years. The Noles have jumped from 41st in sacks allowed to 14th this year. They're also 14th in rushing offense. They were 91st in 2007. This isn't a great bunch right now, but considering three freshmen and two sophomores, it's been astounding how much better and how much more conditioned they are.
Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy's team got everyone's attention after the Cowboys went into Missouri and upset the Tigers. OSU is a physical team that can run the ball on anyone. Last season, they were 7-6 and got blown out by both Georgia and Troy on national TV. The OSU D had given up plenty of yards earlier this season, but they really shined last weekend, picking off Chase Daniel three times, which is two more INTs than he had had all season. They also forced the Tigers' starting offensive unit into its first three-and-out. (That actually happened twice.) The D has really emerged in recent weeks. They'd forced just three turnovers in the first three games, but in the last three games, they've generated 11 with seven INTs over that three-game stretch.
Through six games in 2007, he completed under 65% of his passes with 10 TDs and 10 INTs while running for 78 yards and a 2.1 ypc average. This year, through six games, he's completing over 79% with 17 TDs and 3 INTs while rushing for 348 yards and a 5.9 ypc average. The other thing that people also need to remember is this isn't a Texas offense loaded with first-round type talent. There is no 1500-yard rusher or a Roy Williams playmaking receiver. The great young tight end (Jermichael Finley) left early for the NFL and his replacement Blaine Irby is injured. The O-line is solid, but probably not as imposing as some of the fronts UT QBs a few years ago played behind. Special credit also should go to Horns offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who rarely gets his due, even when he had Vince Young, but the improvement McCoy and this attack have made in one year has been staggering.
David and McCoy had great plan for OU as the UT coach had believed that the Sooners struggled with tight end routes so he employed Jordan Shipley to work the creases of the Sooners D by making the 195-pound wideout their tight end for the day in a "10 personnel" package with one back and four receivers.
•I was really impressed by Brian Orakpo Saturday. Some of you might recall he topped last spring's Freaks list and he more than lived up to that against OU's mammoth Phil Loadholt. Orakpo is so explosive and has such a fast first step. He had four TFLs and two sacks and probably should've drawn a flag or two for holding after the big Sooner had to tackle him to stop him a few times.
•I didn't get a chance to see much of Ohio State's win over Purdue, but it didn't sound impressive, as Jon Spencer writes:
"Zero offensive touchdowns. Zero plays of 25-plus yards. Ten pass completions. Fourteen first downs -- against the nation's 108th-ranked defense. Don't need a calculator to monitor the Buckeyes' progress. Anyone with 10 fingers and 10 toes can do the math. Or nine healthy toes, if you're Chris "Beanie" Wells with a finger on the pulse of what's wrong.
"We've got to pass the ball," said Wells, after falling six rushing yards shy of his sixth straight 100-yard game. "Me being a running back, you don't expect me to say that, but it's the truth. We've got to pass the ball."
•The Stephen Garcia Era is finally underway, although Steve Spurrier's going to try to keep it on the D.L., writes Joseph Person:
Spurrier "will attempt to limit the distractions for Garcia by restricting media access to him. Garcia, who has been friendly and engaging in his dealings with reporters, will be available to the media once this week at the Gamecocks' Tuesday press day. "History just tells us the more attention they get, the worse they play. It's just a fact of life," Spurrier said. "I don't think that was Chris Smelley's problem. I hope it wasn't. I don't know what his problem was. But Chris just had a tough time throwing completions to guys that were open."
•Notre Dame's loss at UNC is a game Charlie Weis would love to have another crack at. Jeff Carroll writes that "for as much as Weis likes to fancy himself the captain of a tightly run ship, organization and game management issues may very well have cost the Irish a football game on Saturday.
"With less than six minutes to play in the third quarter, and the Irish still sitting on a 24-16 advantage, North Carolina faced a 2nd-and-1 at the Notre Dame 15-yard line. With the way the Tar Heels had been moving the football on the drive, it was difficult to envision a scenario in which they did not pick up a first down over the next two plays. The Irish, however, placed just 10 men on the field for the play. Worst of all, defensive tackle Ethan Johnson, ready to join the huddle, was pulled back at the last second. Because of inexcusable communication issues, Notre Dame had to burn a timeout. That timeout sure would have been valuable on the game's final drive. I truly believe that with another timeout in its pocket, Notre Dame would have won the game."
•This isn't a good sign for the embattled WVU program, blue-chip QB Tajh Boyd has decided to open his recruiting again, reports Dave Johnson:
"Boyd called the Mountaineers' coaches Sunday night and told them he was rescinding his commitment. Since WVU was the only official visit Boyd took, he has four more he'll be able to take. "I have a great deal of respect for West Virginia, the coaches and the fans, but I think I'm looking for an offense that fits my style a bit better," he said. "I'm not considering West Virginia anymore. I think it was best to make a clean break."
"He's still interested in Boston College and Tennessee," his HS coach Bill Dee said. "And Virginia and Virginia Tech, I've talked to them today. He should talk to the instate schools. And we're going to go from there.
•Is Washington State the worst team ever in the Pac-10? Jake Curtis suggests that might be the case.
My three cents: They might be. Then watch them go out and "knock off" a winless Washington team.