Honoring the best of the best so far in 2015.
The first half of the 2015 college football season is officially in the books. And at the midpoint of 2015, it’s time to look back at the first seven weeks, revisit preseason predictions and take a glimpse at what the second half of the season has to offer.
With half of a season still to go, plenty of changes, surprises and disappointments should be expected. The playoff picture is just starting to clear, and the November slate is loaded with key matchups and critical games to shape the top four teams.
The first half of 2015 has been the Leonard Fournette show. The LSU running back has been the best player in the nation through the first seven weeks and is the frontrunner to win the Heisman. Outside of Fournette and the overall uncertainty at the top of the rankings, some of the nation’s biggest storylines at the midway point are Utah and Iowa, coaching changes at South Carolina and USC, along with new coaches at Michigan and Florida.
Let’s take a look back at some of the top players, coaches and freshmen from Weeks 1-7.
Midseason Reviews and Second-Half Predictions
College Football’s 2015 Midseason Awards
Coach of the Year
1. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Whittingham continues to raise the bar for Utah in the Pac-12. After recording its first winning conference record (5-4) since joining the league in 2011, the Utes are the favorite to win the South Division and earn a playoff spot in 2015. Whittingham is the driving force behind Utah’s emergence and has the Utes ranked among the nation’s best after a 6-0 start, including wins against Michigan, California, Oregon and Arizona State.
2. Jim McElwain, Florida
3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
4. Justin Fuente, Memphis
5. Matt Rhule, Temple
Offensive Player of the Year
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette has been college football’s best player through the first seven weeks. The sophomore has rushed for 1,202 yards and 14 scores on 150 carries, averaging a healthy 8.01 yards per carry. Fournette also rushed for three consecutive 200-yard efforts and has posted at least 158 yards in every game.
2. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
3. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
4. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
5. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
6. Seth Russell, QB/Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Garrett has been unstoppable off the edge for new coordinator John Chavis, recording 30 tackles (11.5 for a loss) and 8.5 sacks through six games. The sophomore also has three forced fumbles and two pass breakups. With Garrett and Daeshon Hall coming off the edge, Texas A&M ranks third in the SEC with 20 sacks so far this year.
2. Carl Nassib, DE, Penn State
3. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
4. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
5. Jeremy Cash, S, Duke
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette is the clear frontrunner, but Boykin and Cook will have opportunities to close the gap in November. The key game in Fournette’s Heisman resume is the Nov. 7 showdown against Alabama.
2. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
3. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Best Assistant Coach Hire of Offseason
1. D.J. Durkin, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan
Durkin is one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks and joined coach Jim Harbaugh’s staff after spending five years at Florida. The Wolverines are tied for first nationally in scoring defense (9.3 points per game) and have allowed only two plays of 40 yards or more in 2015.
2. Gene Chizik, Defensive Coordinator, North Carolina
3. John Chavis, Defensive Coordinator, Texas A&M
4. Barry Odom, Defensive Coordinator, Missouri
5. Lincoln Riley, Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma
Related: 10 Coordinators on the Rise in 2015
Best First-Year Coach
1. Jim McElwain, Florida
It’s a close call between McElwain, Harbaugh and Herman for this award at the midpoint of the season. The Gators lost their first game last Saturday, but McElwain still has this team on track to win the SEC East. Talent wasn’t an issue at Florida. However, the Gators had major question marks on the offensive line and at quarterback. Even though the line is still an issue, and quarterback Will Grier is suspended for the rest of the year, Florida is the favorite to win the East and has a chance to finish the regular season with wins over rivals Georgia and Florida State.
2. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
3. Tom Herman, Houston
4. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
5. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
6. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
Best True Freshman
1. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Kirk is another dynamic addition to Texas A&M’s offense. The true freshman leads the team with 39 catches for 609 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 15.6 yards per reception. Kirk also averages 25.1 yards per punt return and has scored on two opportunities this season.
2. Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
4. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
5. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
6. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Best Redshirt Freshman
1. Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan
Peppers helps to anchor one of the nation’s top defensive backfields, recording 23 tackles (4.5 for a loss) and five pass breakups through the first seven games of 2015. The Wolverines’ secondary has allowed only three passing scores this season. Peppers has also played a limited role on offense, catching two passes for 35 yards versus Michigan State and averages 10.3 yards per punt return.
2. Walter Brady, DL, Missouri
3. Mike Warren, RB, Iowa State
4. T.J. Edwards, LB, Wisconsin
5. Brent Stockstill, QB, MTSU
Biggest Surprise (Team)
Not only is Utah’s Kyle Whittingham our pick for coach of the year at the midway point of the season, the Utes are also the biggest surprise. While Utah was expected to be a factor in the South Division, no one predicted this team would be in the playoff hunt.
Biggest Disappointment (Team)
Auburn started the year as a playoff contender, but the Tigers are 4-2 and nearly lost to FCS opponent Jacksonville State. Both sides of the ball have been problematic for coach Gus Malzahn. The offense is averaging only 5.3 yards per play and has only nine plays of 30 yards or more. New coordinator Will Muschamp was supposed to fix a defense that surrendered 32.8 points per game in SEC contests last season. However, Auburn isn’t much better in 2015, as this defense is giving up 29.7 points in league games and 5.8 yards per play.
4. Georgia Tech
Coach on the Hot Seat
1. Mike London, Virginia
London likely needs to get Virginia to a bowl to return in 2016, and the odds are stacked against the Cavaliers after a 2-4 start. London’s tenure started with a lot of promise after an 8-5 record in 2011, but Virginia has recorded three consecutive losing seasons and has only four ACC wins over the last three years.
2. Al Golden, Miami
3. Kyle Flood, Rutgers
4. Darrell Hazell, Purdue
5. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
1. Carl Nassib, DE, Penn State
Penn State coaches were high on Nassib’s potential entering 2015, and the former walk-on has been one of the nation’s top defenders through the firsts even weeks. Nassib leads all defenders with 11.5 sacks, 15.5 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles.
2. Greg Ward, QB, Houston
3. C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame
4. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss
5. Luke Falk, QB, Washington State
Head Coaches on the Rise
1. Justin Fuente, Memphis
Fuente inherited a program that went 3-21 in two seasons (2010-11) under Larry Porter and has transformed Memphis into one of the American Athletic Conference’s top teams over the last two years. The Tigers are 16-3 since the start of 2014, finished No. 25 in last year’s final Associated Press poll and just scored a huge non-conference victory over Ole Miss. Prior to taking over at Memphis, Fuente worked for five seasons as an assistant under Gary Patterson at TCU.
2. Tom Herman, Houston
3. Matt Wells, Utah State
4. Matt Campbell, Toledo
5. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Related: 10 Coaches on the Rise in 2015
Best Catch From the First Half: Stanford’s Francis Owusu Against UCLA
Stanford pulls off the play of the year: pic.twitter.com/Z4I5OvzViY— Deadspin (@Deadspin) October 16, 2015
Best Finish From the First Half: Michigan State Shocks Michigan
This really just happened. Unbelievable. pic.twitter.com/59ut12F1W7— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) October 17, 2015
10 Must-See Games for the Second Half
1. LSU at Alabama (Nov. 7)
2. Baylor at TCU (Nov. 27)
3. Michigan State at Ohio State (Nov. 21)
4. Ohio State at Michigan (Nov. 28)
5. Florida State at Clemson (Nov. 7)
6. Notre Dame at Stanford (Nov. 28)
7. Florida State at Florida (Nov. 28)
8. Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville – Oct. 31)
9. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Nov. 28)
10. TCU at Oklahoma (Nov. 21)
5 Must-See Games from Group of 5 Conferences
1. Houston at Memphis (Nov. 14)
2. Bowling Green at Toledo (Nov. 17)
3. Memphis at Temple (Nov. 21)
4. Navy at Houston (Nov. 27)
5. Navy at Memphis (Nov. 7)
Others to Watch: Notre Dame at Temple (Oct. 31), BYU at Utah State (Nov. 28), Utah State at Air Force (Nov. 14), Georgia Southern at Appalachian State (Oct. 22), Arkansas State at Appalachian State (Nov. 5), Utah State at San Diego State (Oct. 23)