Halfway into the 2012 college football season, let’s take a look at some of the big surprises, some not-so-surprises, and biggest flops yet so far. After winning a national title and losing four players to the first round of the NFL Draft, Alabama was thought by many to have lost just a little too much to continue their dominance. At the midpoint of the season, the Tide is clearly the best team in the country with a bruising running game, solid QB play from A.J. McCarron, and the nation’s best defense.
Surprisingly, the Florida Gators are not far behind and are looking to make a run through the SEC East in order to take the Tide for the SEC title come December. Coach Will Muschamp, in just his second year, has brought the Gators back into the national title picture with a strong dose of RB Mike Gillislee and what may be the nation’s second-best defense. In a 44-11 blowout win over then No. 7-ranked South Carolina, it was the Florida defense and special teams that forced four turnovers. The Gators are already 5-0 in SEC play, with three of those wins coming on the road against ranked opponents.
Notre Dame (6-0) surely has surprised many sweeping Big Ten rivals Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue, then destroying Miami and beating a very good Stanford team in overtime. And the Irish did all of this with some pretty shaky quarterback play. The Irish still have two big tests remaining on their schedule (Oklahoma, USC), but could find themselves in the thick of the BCS championship picture at season’s end.
Maybe the two biggest surprises are Oregon State and Kansas State. Both are unbeaten, but the Beavers are coming off a disastrous 3-0 campaign a year ago. So far, they have beaten Wisconsin, hammered BYU and have destroyed three Pac-12 opponents. Kansas State, which has always been good under Bill Snyder, has just been phenomenal. Quarterback Collin Klein may be the nation’s best player and the Wildcats play great defense and just don’t make many mistakes. KSU still has some big games remaining, but they are another team that could find themselves in that BCS title picture should they win out.
On the other end of the college football stratosphere is Auburn. Just two years removed from a national championship, head coach Gene Chizik finds his Tigers sitting at 1-5 with one of the country’s worst offenses. Their QB play has been horrendous and the Tigers may have trouble winning another game this season.
Right beside Chizik is John L. Smith at Arkansas. The Hogs were ranked in the preseason Top Ten and after former coach Bobby Petrino’s bout with motorcycle mayhem cost him his job, Smith walked in ready to ride Petrino’s wave to an SEC title. Five weeks into the season, Arkansas stood at 1-4 losing to mid-major Louisiana-Monroe, then getting trounced at home by Alabama the following week. The Hogs are now 3-4 with consecutive wins over Auburn and Kentucky, neither of which is very good.
With the recent success of school’s like Michigan State and Wisconsin, and even Michigan’s 11-2 season a year ago, one would have thought that the Big Ten might rival the SEC for college football dominance. Not so. Michigan and Wisconsin each have two losses thus far and Michigan State sits at 4-4 going into the ninth week of the season. Northwestern has been a surprise, rattling off six straight wins to start the season, but from top to bottom, the conference is nowhere near the SEC or even the Big 12.
With another eight weeks to go, there is still plenty of football left. What remains to be seen is how the BCS title picture plays out and, who will move to the forefront in the race for the Heisman Trophy.