Hard as it is to hear or rationalize, we're past the midway mark of the college football season right now. Following a wild Week 8 on the calendar that helped whittle down the field of undefeated teams even more, it's as good a time as ever to take stock of what has happened in the sport so far. Thanks to a very large sample size of games, we certainly have enough information on teams, players and coaches now to figure out some of the biggest under (and over) achievers in college football in 2019 relative to early expectations.
So we decided to take a look at Athlon Sports' preseason All-America teams (along with Sports Illustrated, ESPN, The Athletic and others) and the initial AP top 25. With a slew of midseason All-America teams released in recent days, it's time to compare and contrast to find out just who makes up the All-Underachiever team — the one squad you won't find press releases on — and who was flying under the radar in August but is now a household name in mid-October.
QB — D'Eriq King, Houston
The dynamic signal-caller was touted as a potential Heisman dark horse given how many touchdowns he put up the year prior and the fact that his Cougars were well-positioned to make a move in the AAC under a new coaching staff. Nothing of the sort has happened in Houston as the team is mired in mediocrity and King has chosen to redshirt in 2019 for non-medical reasons.
RB — Joshua Kelley, UCLA
A great story for the Bruins in Chip Kelly's first season, the former walk-on tailback has been largely unheard of this year due in part to injuries. He topped the 120-yard mark six times in 2018 but has only managed to do the same twice in '19 as UCLA has taken a step back on the field.
WR — Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
Injuries have once again plagued the Buffaloes star, who entered this year's campaign looking like a possible top-10 pick who was finally healthy. He's crossed the 100-yard receiving mark just once in 2019 while being well off his numbers from last year and generally not having the kind of impact you would expect when tuning into CU games.
OL — Ben Bredeson, Michigan
Offensive line play is typically hard to judge but there's little question that most of the Wolverines in the trenches have underperformed relative to preseason expectations. Bredeson earned plenty of praise in August but Michigan has given up a lot pressure up the middle and struggled to run the ball effectively behind him at the same time.
DL — Reggie Walker, Kansas State
An early-season ankle injury put him behind the eight-ball and the All-Big 12 pick has seemingly never recovered. The senior is no longer a mainstay up front and has managed just half a tackle for loss and zero sacks on the year.
LB — Dylan Moses, Alabama
It was somewhat difficult to find a big-name linebacker who really underachieved relative to preseason expectations this year but Moses being lost to a knee injury in August at least qualifies as the most disappointing player we haven't seen after being named to pretty much every first-team All-American squad coming into the year. The Tide have filled in for him as best as they can but they lost a terrific playmaker and perhaps the best at his position prior to the injury.
DB — Paulson Adebo, Stanford
After a terrific 2018, he was primed to become the Cardinal's topflight lockdown corner and head off to the NFL as a first-round pick. Things have not turned out that way when games got underway this year however as he's been picked on by opponents and given up his fair share of big plays that have far outweighed his ability to pick off a pass.
Coach — Chris Petersen, Washington
Petersen was ranked No. 3 in Athlon Sports' annual ranking of all 130 head coaches — just behind Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban. This year at least, he's nowhere near that kind of lofty company. The Huskies offense, his specialty, is uncreative and bland despite having a strong-armed quarterback in Jacob Eason and the No. 13 team in the AP preseason poll has all but been eliminated from their Pac-12 division race two weeks before Halloween.
Team 1: Washington State
Gardner Minshew, where art thou? Generally considered a top 25 team before the season, the Cougars are lucky to be above .500 on the year and just notched their first conference victory after nearly winning the Pac-12 North in 2018. Their defensive coordinator resigned before October and the team blew a huge lead in the second half to lowly UCLA to boot. Mike Leach has worked wonders on the Palouse but he's really unhappy with this year's bunch.
Team 2: Nebraska
The Cornhuskers were the pick to win the Big Ten West and head coach Scott Frost didn't downplay those high expectations coming into the year. They were blown off the field by Minnesota, could barely beat Northwestern and Illinois and have been outclassed by Ohio State in a season where one step was taken forward but three were taken back.
Team 3: Michigan
Things haven't been quite as bad as some would lead you to believe in Ann Arbor in 2019 but the Wolverines still earn a place on here after plenty of talk this offseason about a new offense and finally winning the Big Ten (preseason Athlon Sports ranking: No. 4). QB Shea Patterson and the new-look attack under OC Josh Gattis have failed to produce much of anything and even Don Brown's normally dependable defense has let the team down. Jim Harbaugh has earned a ton of deserved criticism about breaking through on the national stage the way the team has looked so far.
QB — Joe Burrow, LSU
Transfers are all the rage in college football nowadays but Burrow's play has elevated him from solid quarterback into bona fide Heisman contender. He has delivered darts under pressure and already set several school passing records before we've even come close to Halloween.
RB — Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
Patrick Taylor was named Athlon Preseason second-team All-AAC but he's been relegated to a supporting role thanks to the dynamic redshirt freshman for the Tigers. Against Tulane, he became the first player in the FBS since 1997 to post 200 receiving yards and 100-plus rushing and ranks No. 2 in the country in all-purpose yardage, including 8.6 yards per touch.
WR — Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
N'Keal Harry cast a big shadow over the rest of the Sun Devils receiving corps but in his absence, Aiyuk has thrived and turned into the Sun Devils' big-play machine. He's done it all despite playing with a true freshman quarterback and is among the best in the nation in yards after the catch.
OL — Penei Sewell, Oregon
The Ducks' offensive line was widely billed as one of the best in the country coming into the year but the sophomore's teammates received a lot higher billing in August. Not only has he done a great job protecting Justin Herbert, but he's brought a unique attitude in the run game and been a menace with whatever he's tasked to do.
DL — Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma
The Sooners defense has been transformed under new DC Alex Grinch but the play of their stud in the middle has been just as big of a factor. A preseason Athlon Sports third-team All-Big 12 pick, he's been borderline unblockable with his quick first step and ability to get to the quarterback.
LB —Chris Orr, Wisconsin
Prior to the upset by Illinois (see below), the Badgers defense was on a historic pace in clamping down on opponents with four shutouts in 2019. The leader of the team for sure on that side of the ball, Orr has far exceeded expectations chasing down opponents after recording just 27 tackles a year ago.
DB — Luq Barcoo, San Diego State
Darren Hall typically got most of the press in the Aztecs secondary but Barcoo has been fantastic in helping the team quietly get to 6-1 on the year. He's third in the nation in interceptions and at one point picked off three passes in a row during a game.
Coach — Matt Rhule, Baylor
The Bears have made a steady climb in recent years toward respectability after Rhule took over an absolute mess in Waco. The defense is for real in the wild Big 12 and there's a surprising amount of depth on the other side of the ball filled with playmakers. Rhule has navigated a tough situation better than anybody could have imagined to go from 1-11 in Year 1 to 7-0 by Year 3 and turned into Central Texas' biggest celebrity in charge of fixer-uppers in the process.
Team 1: SMU
The Mustangs are the highest-ranked Group of 5 team in the polls after throttling Temple on Saturday, a crazy statement to make on its own given the school's recent history and the rather lengthy climb back from the Death Penalty into the top 25. Sonny Dykes has smartly nabbed playmaking transfers to help power this run, which just gets better by the week.
Team 2: Minnesota
The Gophers had a razor-thin margin at the beginning of the year and came close to an 0-4 start. Instead, they're No. 16 in the Coaches Poll at 7-0 and probably are the current Big Ten West favorite. P.J. Fleck has done a phenomenal job but Minnesota's most impressive accomplishment is simply the strides they make in getting better from week to week.
Team 3: Wake Forest
Dave Clawson is a really good program builder and he's getting a lot of pieces to come together for a perfect storm in Winston-Salem this year. There's no doubt that the ACC is down overall but that's no matter to the Demon Deacons, who are using an opportunistic defense to pair quite well with their, uh, Clawfense. Despite most foreseeing a 7-5 type of campaign and a finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Division, this just might be the ACC's second-best team behind Clemson.
Other thoughts from a wild weekend in college football:
2. Fear the Beard as Illinois notches biggest upset of the season
Week 8 might have been the craziest weekend in this sport in a long time.
If you were watching nearly any sports show that covered college football on Thursday or Friday, chances are you probably heard the host discussing the Big Ten and say something along the lines of, "Assuming Wisconsin takes care of business against Illinois..."
Well, about that.
The Badgers not only didn't take care of business, they were exposed on both sides of the ball by an Illinois team that had lost to Eastern Michigan on that same field just weeks earlier. It was easily the most inexplicable loss by a team that had positioned itself as a national title contender in a long while and made South Carolina's upset of Georgia look like child's play. Wisconsin had never trailed at any point this season and yet most of their sideline was there staring off into the distance with a look of shock as soon as James McCourt's 39-yard field goal sailed through the uprights with zeros on the clock.
You could certainly place blame on the fact that a bulk of the UW team was looking ahead to their meeting with Ohio State or that they simply had an off day execution-wise… but the number of missed chances was downright galling. The team led 20-7 at one point, which probably should have been enough right there for a team that had posted four shutouts this year.
Yet it wasn't. They missed a field goal, their Heisman candidate at running back fumbled, and quarterback Jack Coan reverted to the mean and threw an interception. Instead of seizing the day like a great team would have, they opened the door for a mediocre one to walk though.
To make matters worse, now it's not even a lock that Wisconsin winds up in Indianapolis for the conference title game. The loss, which one can add to a penciled-in one at the Horseshoe next week, seriously threatens their path to a Big Ten West banner. Iowa played both Michigan and Penn State tough and gets the Badgers off a bye. The road in the division might actually run (or rather row) through... undefeated Minnesota? The Gophers host the Nittany Lions off a bye and travel to Kinnick but if they can nab a split of those two then the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe may be for nothing but the rivalry trophy itself.
We'll see how Wisconsin can regroup but they're afforded no breathers the rest of the way. We may yet see the team snap back into form as a top-10 squad the rest of the way this year but that increasing talk of finally breaking through that glass ceiling and winning the conference or making the College Football Playoff was pretty much put to bed in Champaign.
On the other hand, Saturday's result was truly worth going crazy for if you're an Illinois fan and served as easily the biggest highlight of the Lovie Smith era — the head coach's beard being an exception all to its own. The win broke a nine-game losing streak to Wisconsin and easily perked up the fan base after early progress was dampened by losses to EMU and Nebraska plus a blowout at the hands of Minnesota. To make the victory even sweeter, McCourt's game-winner was the first walk-off field goal in Illinois' long history and was the biggest upset by point spread (-30.5) in the conference since 1982 according to ESPN.
So yeah, history made.
The result also confirmed that for all the hot seat talk surrounding Smith and this season, the program has at least raised its ceiling a bit in recent years. Those freshmen that had to be leaned on several seasons ago are now used to the Big Ten rigor and capable of making timely plays. Transfers brought in have made an impact on both sides of the ball and the coaching staff has even evolved to meet some of the challenges of the college game as well. It remains to be seen if it all comes together the rest of the way to allow the administration the leeway to bring back the head coach for another year but it certainly keeps the foot jammed in the door to make things tougher to decide at the end of the year.
Most of all though, Illini football after Saturday was known far more for their play on the field in a positive light than they were for the head coach's magnificent facial hair. Fear the Beard being taken from the press conference to the gridiron isn't quite what we all expected coming into the weekend but that was certainly the case amid the shocking result at Illinois.
3. ACC Coastal chaos continues
ACC fans may tire of hearing about it — though a few masochists (or is it mACCsocists?) may relish it — but Coastal Chaos is very much a thing along the eastern seaboard pretty much every week at this point. The old coach's saying that anybody can beat anybody rings truest in the conference and it seems every program is completely capable of winding up on either side of the coin no matter what they accomplished the previous week.
Just ask Georgia Tech, whose transition under Geoff Collins from option football to something more modern has been predictably painful in 2019. It's not just that the Yellow Jackets have been bad in losing to The Citadel or scoring only two points at Temple, it's that they've been completely uncompetitive in league play (closest loss: 16 points).
Yet there they were, giving Miami everything they could handle in a game you thought would eventually get away from them. Only it never did as GT came up lucky on pretty much every bounce. They ran a fake punt that resulted in a perfectly thrown ball from hefty punter Pressley Harvin III and they nabbed a fumble in the end zone for another score. Then they capped off a truly disastrous day for the Hurricanes' kicking game by blocking a game-winning field goal.
And in the end, one of the worst Power 5 teams by any metric we've seen so far this season delivered a stunning overtime win. It would be extra shocking had it not occurred where it did in the ACC Coastal.
As much as Collins and his staff should celebrate the result, the outcome was far more meaningful for those on the other side. Just as Miami looked as though they had built some momentum over their last six quarters of play, the team was uninspired and unable to execute the simplest of tasks. There's little doubt that UM had a talent advantage on Saturday and were playing at home to boot but it was all rendered useless as they trudged through four quarters and lost in overtime.
It's hard to say if this is truly rock bottom for the Hurricanes but one won't get any arguments on South Beach if you say it is. Miami is 3-4 overall for the first time since 1997 and the notoriously fickle fan base has already moved on to other things. Manny Diaz had a ton of hope and goodwill built up among the Canes faithful when he was hired but now the doubts are more than real and the panic has set in much as it did during the tenures of Al Golden and others.
To make matters worse, even going 6-6 and making a bowl game is far from a lock, which should never be the case given the amount of talent on the team and the amount of talent it has in the backyard to recruit from. It's not time to give up on Diaz, OC Dan Enos and others just yet but it's pretty clear that it's much more of a Year Zero situation in Coral Gables than anybody could have predicted in August.
Elsewhere in the division, North Carolina and Virginia Tech staged a piece de resistance of ACC Coastalness by becoming the first college football game to showcase the sport's new overtime rules by going six extra frames. This game truly had a bit of everything, from defensive stands to mind-bending offense. At one point in overtime, the two teams combined to miss four straight field goals (one of which was blocked) and it all came down to third-string Hokies redshirt freshman QB Quincy Patterson eventually punching it in to set off a celebration after a four-plus hour game.
That UNC should find themselves in a close game at all was hardly surprising given that's been the M.O. under Mack Brown this season. Freshman signal-caller Sam Howell was impressive for large stretches in keeping his team in it but that final finishing kick from the Tar Heels to actually get over the hump remains elusive (2-4 in six games decided by less than six points). They had a real chance to take pole position in the division race but instead may have handed the baton over to their opponent.
That Virginia Tech is even in this position is a credit to Justin Fuente and his team's resiliency. The Hokies were pretty much written off by their own fan base (to say nothing of others outside Blacksburg) after they were blown out at home by Duke but low and behold they've suddenly duct-taped three wins in a row and can now rest up on their bye week. They probably won't be favored in either of their next two after that break but the closing stretch features three very winnable games and you have to think that they might have found something that can work in the young Patterson given his dual-threat ability.
How it may all play out remains to be seen but one thing is for sure: even unconnected observers better circle the ACC Coastal games on their calendar to tune in for because it's weird, it's whacky and it perfectly encapsulates the craziness of college football.
4. Les Miles almost gets it done in Austin
Coming into this season, much of the skepticism about Miles' hire in Lawrence centered on whether the set in his ways head coach would adapt to what college football — especially in the Big 12 — has become on the offensive side of the ball. Aside from a truly uncharacteristic thumping of Boston College early in the year though, the early returns were that he really hadn't changed for the most part.
Then, a little out of nowhere, Miles decided to fire offensive coordinator Les Koenning (and have the school eat his big contract) and promote little known Brent Dearmon, who had been serving as an analyst and was mostly known for running a high-scoring offense at the NAIA level. The move probably shouldn't have been as surprising as it was given that the team ranked in the 100s in most offensive categories but with the talent deficiencies at Kansas, you probably still didn't expect a change of Miles' hand-picked OC in favor of somebody completely foreign to play in the Big 12.
Yet it's hard to say the move didn't work out in the short term after the Jayhawks nearly pulled off the second-biggest shocker of the day in nearly knocking off Texas 50-48 in Austin.
KU had a counterpunch at nearly every turn of the game and played quite inspired down the stretch despite the long odds. The offense, in particular, seemed to have the Longhorns on their heels nearly every snap and nobody seemed to blink despite having never won on the 40 Acres before.
Any coach will tell you that they're not in this for moral victories but Miles, who gambled on going for two late after a touchdown, sure seemed like he was fine with one afterward given the way they pushed the No. 15 team in the country to the brink.
"They fought their heart out," Miles said afterward. "They gave everything they had."
As for Texas, there has to be growing concerns that the injury situation on defense keeps getting worse and that the playmakers on that side of the ball aren't showing up in a timely manner like had happened last season. Sam Ehlinger's stellar play does help cover up a few warts on the other side of the ball but he can only be asked to play hero so many times in a long Big 12 season. Perhaps the program spent licking their wounds a bit too long from that loss to Oklahoma and looking ahead to other opponents but the underlying issues just are not going away. At this point the team doesn't look close to the kind of product Baylor is putting out on the field and it's telling that they opened a road underdog at TCU for the coming week according to the folks in the desert.
That's just the state of the Longhorns right now, which might not be in full-on panic mode but are certainly far from being "back" like they loudly proclaimed at the end of last year.
5. Pac-12 title comes into focus
Though most conference title races won't have a ton of clarity until November rolls around on the calendar, things seem pretty focused out West in the Pac-12 after a weekend that we might look back at as being more of a coronation for the two division winners than anything.
In the North Division, Oregon went up to their bitter rivals and accomplished a few things we're not used to seeing out of Mario Cristobal's crew in recent years: winning on the road and pulling games out in the second half. The Ducks were down 28-14 at one point and seemed a bit rattled after getting punched back by the Huskies. Their normally stout defense was letting receivers run free down the middle of the field and offensively there wasn't much push up front in the ground game.
But like a switch being flipped, suddenly Justin Herbert came alive and the offensive creativity that was missing for stretches of the first half returned in flourishes. The defense didn't allow a point in the fourth quarter and seemed to have an answer for whatever strong-armed QB Jacob Eason tried to throw at him too. Oregon 35, Washington 31 and division title all but locked up as a result.
The Ducks also kept their slim College Football Playoff hopes alive in the process, though their stretch run may still prove tricky in the always inexplicable Pac-12. Still, a trip to Santa Clara for the conference title game seems all but assured at this point given that they have head-to-head results over Stanford, Cal and Washington and can knock off Washington State at home next. Add that to a two-game lead in the standings already and the league office can feel safe in readying all the UO logos ready for Levi's Stadium.
As for the Pac-12 South, things aren't quite as assured as they are in the North but still on track for Utah to live up to their preseason billing in the division after dispatching Arizona State. The Utes won in one of the ugliest games of the year out West given the state of the two offenses involved and wet conditions in Salt Lake City but as they always say, a win is a win.
Zack Moss and Tyler Huntley both got knocked out for stretches and turnovers were an issue for the offense in general but when your defense is playing like that, you'll still be hard to beat. Bradlee Anae was a beast and he and his teammates made life miserable for ASU freshman QB Jayden Daniels (4-for-18, 25 yards). While it's not shocking to see the Sun Devils struggle like they did, the performance served notice that this is likely one of the few Pac-12 teams that can go toe-to-toe with the Ducks.
The only thing that does give one pause is that Utah doesn't completely control their own destiny in owing to that loss at USC that looks more and more like an outlier for both sides. A trip to Seattle in early November looms against Washington but their remaining slate is the easiest among the contenders in the South and they own a win over the only other ranked team in Arizona State. The Trojans, sitting at 4-3 overall after thumping Arizona, still have to go to Tempe and also host Oregon the week prior. That trip to Cal prior to hosting their crosstown rivals also could prove tricky.
It has taken some unforeseen twists and turns to get to this point but as we inch closer to Halloween though, the matchup that prognosticators tabbed for the first weekend in December in the Pac-12 looks awfully close to reality already. The conference has a way of throwing a few curveballs late in the year but as we stand now, the chase for the crown out West seems like it's pretty much over just as it's supposed to be getting underway.
6. Tua's ankle and Bama's future
The Third Saturday in October's final score was about what most expected out of the rivalry but the game itself was marked by two incidents that had both fan bases upset.
Let's start with the more pressing of the two as Tua Tagovailoa injured his ankle while scrambling, forcing the thousands of Alabama fans that lit up cigars after the game to do so in a much more somber mood. The issue cost the QB the rest of the night and he was already ruled out for Saturday's upcoming contest against Arkansas.
Afterward, Nick Saban tried to downplay things a bit and even the signal-caller himself was caught in the locker room telling teammates he'll be back for the looming mega-matchup with LSU. Tagovailoa may indeed be back in the lineup for that game against the Tigers but even with an off week beforehand, it seems certain that he'll be far from 100 percent in it.