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Marcus Mariota has Oregon poised for an unbeaten regular season.
The first half of the 2013 college football season is officially in the books. And at the midpoint of 2013, it’s time to look back at the first seven weeks, examine preseason predictions and take a glimpse at what the second half of the season has to offer.
Alabama is still the favorite to win the national championship, but Oregon, Ohio State, Clemson, Florida State and LSU are in the mix. The Ducks still need to navigate a tough road date at Stanford before thinking about an unbeaten season. Ohio State won’t have the strength of schedule of Oregon, so the Buckeyes need some help in order to get to the No. 2 spot. The winner of Florida State-Clemson will remain in the national title mix, but both teams face key tests against SEC rivals in late November.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is our pick as the midseason Heisman winner, while Missouri’s Gary Pinkel takes coach of the year honors.
Much will change in the second half of the year, but here’s our first-half awards for 2013.
2013 College Football First-Half Awards
Heisman frontrunner/Offensive POY: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
A strong case could be made for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel here, but the edge for now goes to Mariota. The sophomore has simply been flawless through the first six games, guiding the Ducks to a 6-0 start and easing the transition from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich. Mariota has thrown for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 426 yards and eight scores. The sophomore has not thrown an interception in 165 attempts this year and ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency at 182.4.
Next Three Candidates After Seven Weeks:
2. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
3. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
4. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Barr is a lock to be a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft, and the senior continues to wreck havoc on opposing Pac-12 offenses. In five games, Barr has 26 tackles (10 for a loss), four sacks and three forced fumbles. The senior’s best performance of the year came against Nebraska, forcing three fumbles and recording 11 tackles. Barr’s explosive ability off the edge is a big reason why UCLA ranks third in the Pac-12 in total defense and is holding opponents to just 18.2 points a game.
Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
Coach of the Year: Gary Pinkel, Missouri
From the hot seat to coach of the year. That’s the season it has been for Pinkel. Missouri finished 5-7 in its first year in the SEC but is off to a 6-0 start, which includes road wins over Vanderbilt and Georgia. The Tigers are clearly improved in 2013, and Pinkel has pushed the right buttons on both sides of the ball. Missouri’s schedule will get tougher, and it will be difficult to win the East Division without quarterback James Franklin. However, even if the Tigers finish 7-5 or 8-4, it would be quite a turnaround after Missouri’s offseason was filled with questions about whether or not 2013 could be Pinkel’s last in Columbia.
Art Briles, Baylor
Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
Randy Edsall, Maryland
Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Best Coaching Hire: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn has made quite a difference in just six games. Auburn finished 3-9 last year and failed to win a SEC game. However, the Tigers are clearly improved, sporting a 5-1 record heading into a showdown at Texas A&M. The win column isn’t the only place where Auburn has showed marked improvement, as the Tigers are drastically better on the stat sheet. After averaging just 305 yards and 18.7 points a game last season, the Tigers average 474.2 yards and 34.3 points a game in 2013. The defense has improved under coordinator Ellis Johnson and leads the SEC with 49 tackles for a loss. Games against Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama will provide a better barometer of how far this team has come since last season. But even if Auburn loses those three games, an 8-4 record would be a solid finish in Malzahn’s first season.
Steve Addazio, Boston College
Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Biggest surprise: Tulane
Missouri is certainly a worthy candidate here, but let’s give this honor to Tulane. The Green Wave is quietly 5-2, with one of their losses coming by just two points against South Alabama. Beating Jackson State, ULM and North Texas may not have raised too many eyebrows, but Tulane’s victory over East Carolina last Saturday showed this team has made considerable progress under second-year coach Curtis Johnson. And at 3-0 in conference play, it’s not unreasonable to think this team can make a run at the Conference USA West Division title, especially with winnable games against Tulsa, FAU, UTSA and UTEP remaining. With one more victory, Tulane will be bowl eligible and should play in its first postseason game since 2002. The Green Wave won’t overwhelm on the stat sheet but are +9 in turnover margin and are holding conference opponents to 23 points a game.
Most-Improved Player: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Under the direction of new coordinator Cam Cameron, Mettenberger looks like a completely different player than the one that finished 2012. Through seven games, the senior has thrown for 1,890 yards, 15 touchdowns and just two picks. Mettenberger is completing 66.7 percent of his passes and averages 16.3 yards per completion. And Mettenberger has been sharp in some of LSU’s biggest tests, as he completed 39 of 69 for 623 yards and four touchdowns against Georgia and TCU combined. Mettenberger’s continued growth at quarterback should allow LSU to push Alabama for the SEC West title in November.
Biggest disappointment: North Carolina
The Tar Heels have faced a difficult schedule (South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech), but this isn’t the same team that finished in a three-way tie atop the Coastal Division in 2012. Both sides of the ball have been problematic for coach Larry Fedora. The offense, which was expected to be one of the best in the ACC, is ranked ninth in the conference in total yards per game. Replacing three starters on the offensive line and running back Giovani Bernard has been a challenge, as the Tar Heels rank last in the ACC in rushing offense. The defense has allowed at least 20 points in every game this season, and opponents are averaging 5.6 yards per play. An easier schedule in the second half will allow North Carolina to make up some ground on the rest of the Coastal. However, the Tar Heels – as some predicted in the preseason – won’t challenge for the division title in 2013.
Top Freshman: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
After five games, it’s clear Winston is already one of the best quarterbacks in college football. The redshirt freshman opened his career with an impressive performance at Pittsburgh, completing 25 of 27 throws for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Since then, Winston’s play hasn’t slipped any, as he has only two picks this year and has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in four out of Florida State’s five games. Winston ranks fourth nationally in yards per play (9.9) and second in passing efficiency (213.9).
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech
Addison Gillam, LB, Colorado
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Coach on the Hot Seat: Ron English, Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan might be the toughest job in college football. The Eagles have just one winning season since 1990 and one bowl appearance in program history. English guided Eastern Michigan to a 6-6 mark in 2011, but the program has regressed, as the Eagles are just 3-15 over their last 18 games. Despite the difficulty of coaching in Ypsilanti, Eastern Michigan should be more competitive, and unless the Eagles make progress over the second half, it’s hard to envision English returning for 2014.
Mack Brown, Texas
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
Mike London, Virginia
Top JUCO Transfer: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
The Arizona State coaching staff was counting on Strong to be a significant contributor in the passing attack, and so far, the junior hasn’t disappointed. Through six games, Strong has 42 receptions for 678 yards and four scores. Strong has five consecutive 100-yard games, including a standout performance against Stanford, catching 12 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown. Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory deserves a mention in this space too.
Head Coach on the Rise: Pete Lembo, Ball State
If you are looking for a coach that could be quite popular this offseason, take a look in Muncie, Ind. Lembo is in his third season at Ball State and has guided the Cardinals to a 21-11 mark during that span. Ball State stumbled on the road against North Texas earlier this year but defeated Virginia 48-27 on Oct. 5. Under Lembo, the Cardinals have four wins over BCS teams and with a favorable schedule the rest of the way, could finish 11-1 or 10-2. Lembo’s success isn’t limited to Ball State, as he went 44-14 at Lehigh and 35-22 at Elon.
Dave Clawson, Bowling Green
Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette
Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Top-10 Must-See Games
Florida State at Clemson (Oct. 19)
Miami at Florida State (Nov. 2)
Oregon at Stanford (Nov. 7)
Virginia Tech at Miami (Nov. 9)
LSU at Alabama (Nov. 9)
Florida at South Carolina (Nov. 16)
Texas A&M at LSU (Nov. 23)
Florida State at Florida (Nov. 30)
Clemson at South Carolina (Nov. 30)
Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 30)
The Next Group:
Florida at Missouri (Oct. 19)
UCLA at Stanford (Oct. 19)
Michigan State at Nebraska (Nov. 16)
Michigan at Michigan State (Nov. 2)
UCLA at Oregon (Oct. 26)
South Carolina at Missouri (Nov. 16)
Florida vs. Georgia (Nov. 2)
Oklahoma at Baylor (Nov. 7)
Louisville at Cincinnati (Dec. 5)
Texas at Baylor (Dec. 7)
Non-BCS Games to Watch:
Toledo at Bowling Green (Oct. 26)
Fresno State at Wyoming (Nov. 9)
Ohio at Bowling Green (Nov. 12)
Ball State at Northern Illinois (Nov. 13)
Wyoming at Boise State (Nov. 16)
Northern Illinois at Toledo (Nov. 20)
East Carolina at Marshall (Nov. 29)
Bowling Green at Buffalo (Nov. 29)
Tulane at Rice (Nov. 30)
Army vs. Navy (Dec. 14)