Mid-season Georgia # 1 a rock amid upheaval
There is no defensive revolution in college football this season.
Just in Georgia.
The dominant defense of the top-ranked Bulldogs was one of the biggest storylines of the first half of a season which was highlighted by upheaval and unpredictability. Simply put, 2021 has been a lot of fun after the pandemic altered season in 2020.
In seven weeks, 47 ranked teams lost and more than half of them lost to unranked teams. Those 25 unranked team wins make this season the fourth since the poll expanded to 25 teams in 1989 to have at least 50 unranked team wins over ranked teams, according to research from The Athletic.
All of the teams that made previous college football playoffs (Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Clemson) had lost by the end of Week 6, the oldest of the CFP era. Clemson lost twice in September and came out of the rankings for the first time in seven years.
Georgia, meanwhile, rolls behind this defense.
Georgia are allowing 3.55 yards per play, which would be the least for a full season since Alabama in 2011 (3.32). Georgia coach Kirby Smart was the defensive coordinator for Crimson Tide at the time. The Bulldogs allow 6.6 points per game, which would be the lowest since Oklahoma in 1986 (6.6).
It doesn’t seem to be a trend outside of Athens.
Nationally, FBS teams are averaging 28.9 points per game, which is consistent with the past decade. Offenses are averaging 5.81 yards per game. It’s up a bit from last season (5.78) but a check mark below 2019 (5.83, which was just short of a record set in 2016).
The secret to Georgia’s success?
“I love the way they go against each other between games and games,” Smart said of his defense at ESPN’s “College GameDay” last Saturday. “They love to play the game. They love each other.”
Most notable stars are defensive tackle Jordan Davis, a 6-foot-6, 340-pound wrecking ball, and linebacker Nakobe Dean. Both were voted for the AP mid-season All-America team.
It’s time to hand over more mid-season awards and take a look at what might happen to us.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM (tie)
The two Big Ten Michigan teams have won just two games in an abridged 2020 season. In Michigan, coach Jim Harbaugh put himself in the spotlight by accepting a pay cut. At Michigan State, sophomore coach Mel Tucker looked like he had a long rebuild ahead.
The No.6 Wolverines and No.9 Spartans enter the second half of the season with a 13-0 total.
Things are about to get real in the Big Ten East. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State No.6 and Penn State No.7 will start a round robin on October 30. Disappointing endings could be ahead for all, but the Michigan-Michigan State winner looks well positioned to finish no worse than 9-3.
Honorable mentions: Baylor, Kentucky, Pitt, UTSA, Wake Forest.
THE MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM
Look, it’s not Mack Brown’s fault, North Carolina was a top 10 team in the preseason.
“I expect to win every game so three times we met him and three times we didn’t,” said Brown said the Tar Heels lost to Florida State earlier this month. . “The expectation of the national media, the expectation that we were a top 10 team, was wrong. So I guess we should all be criticizing the media for picking us so high.”
Brown is right. Promoting a team that went 8-4 last season and had to replace two NFL running backs was an overkill. But North Carolina (4-3) have already lost three games to mediocre Atlantic Coast Conference teams, making the Tar Heels a mediocre ACC team. Even the most cautious UNC fans didn’t see it coming.
Dishonorable Mentions: Clemson, Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington.
FIRST HALF COACH
Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
Expectations were high and one mistake was all it would have taken for the Bearcats’ hopes of a dream season to fizzle out.
Fickell has done a good job of getting his team to embrace the big goals while focusing on the small ones. The defense did not miss a step after losing coordinator Marcus Freeman to Notre Dame. The involvement of quarterback coach Gino Guidugli in the play call seems to have boosted the offense.
Fickell’s stock continues to rise.
Honorable mentions: Mike Gundy, State of Oklahoma; Kirby Smart, Georgia; Mel Tucker, State of Michigan.
HEISMAN HALF WAY
The race appears to be wide open and, as usual, the big games of the season are likely to tip the vote one way or the other.
This creates an advantage for the teams in the mix for the playoffs and their quarterbacks. It is preparing potentially well for CJ Stroud of Ohio State and Bryce Young of Alabama.
Halfway through, here’s an unconventional Heisman Five:
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia. Best player of the best unit of the best team.
Drake London, WR, USC. One reason to watch out for Trojans.
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh. In the super senior season he was the best.
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa. The best offensive lineman in the country.
Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas. The best running back in the country.
THE BIGGEST MEETING
Texas A&M 41, Alabama 38
The Aggies are good and playing at home, but they’ve scored almost as many points against the Crimson Tide as in their previous three games against the Power Five competition combined.
They also ended Alabama’s 100-game winning streak against unranked opponents and a 106-game winning streak by No.1 teams against unranked teams dating back to 2008.
Additionally, A&M coach Jimbo Fisher became Nick Saban’s first former assistant to beat the master in 25 tries.
Honorable mentions: Purdue on the Iowa No.2; Stanford on No. 3 in Oregon; Louisiana-Monroe against Liberty, the 33-point favorite; State of North Carolina on Clemson.
Predicting this season hasn’t gone very well. Wisconsin in the CFP? DJ Uiagalelei for Heisman? On the other hand, Georgia winning the national title looks pretty good. Let’s try again:
Orange Bowl Semi-Final – Georgia vs. Cincinnati.
Cotton Bowl Semi-Final – Ohio State vs. Oklahoma.
Rose Bowl – Penn State vs. Oregon.
Sugar Bowl – Alabama vs. State of Iowa.
Peach Bowl —- Clemson vs. Kentucky.
Fiesta Bowl —- Texas A&M vs. Michigan.
National Championship – Georgia vs. Ohio State.
Champion – Georgia.
Follow Ralph D. Russo on https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen on http://www.appodcasts.com
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