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Seven-Step Drop: Florida State, Sam Darnold Headline the All-Underachiever Team

Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo Fisher

USC Trojans QB Sam Darnold

We’re well past the midway mark of the college football season by this point and it really seems like Week 8 helped crystallize some of the biggest under (and over) achievers in the sport in more ways than one.

After all, Saturday afternoon saw Florida State lose once (again) in the final few minutes as a James Blackman fumble turned into points the other way to deny a revenge opportunity. Then that evening, the one-time prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite Sam Darnold was shellacked by the shillelagh-wielding Irish. Mix in other disappointments like BYU dropping its seventh straight to an awful ECU squad or Michigan getting rolled in Happy Valley and the weekend really seemed to reinforce who’s doing a great job and whose adjustments might need to be thrown into the trash can.

So we decided to take a look at Athlon Sports’ preseason All-America teams (along with Sports Illustrated, ESPN, AP and others) and the AP Top 25. With just about everybody releasing mid-season All-America teams by now, 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 October.

All-Underachiever Team

QB: Sam Darnold (USC)

Athlon’s preseason second-team All-American is completing 64 percent of his passes (down from 67 percent las year) to go along with a 17:10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He did not make anyone’s midseason All-American team.

RB: Derrius Guice (LSU) and Bo Scarbrough (Alabama)

Guice has not been healthy in the first half of the year and the unanimous All-American has only three 100-yard outings to show for it. Scarbrough made several second-team All-SEC and All-America lists in the preseason but is third on the team in rushing (377 yards) and is the only Crimson Tide player under five yards a carry, with only one run over 20 yards. Neither has been bad by any stretch but they haven’t come close to living up to preseason expectations either.

WR: Calvin Ridley (Alabama)

It’s tough to find an underachieving receiver deserving of this spot but Ridley made just about every preseason first- or second-team All-America squad. He’s been solid (leads Tide in receiving yards), but only two TDs and no games of more than 100 yards while missing national midseason selections.

OL: Connor Williams (Texas)

Consensus first-team All-American was injured early in Week 3 and is out for the year.

DL: Harold Landry (Boston College)

Unanimous first-team All-American has just five sacks and eight TFLs.

LB: Azeem Victor (Washington)

Made several preseason first-team All-America lists. Was suspended for season opener and benched at times this year.

DB: Tarvarus McFadden (Florida State) and Jaire Alexander (Louisville)

The ACC corners made several preseason All-America teams but have not followed through on the field. McFadden hasn’t played well for the Seminoles (Pro Football Focus doesn’t have him among the 250 best players in the country), while Alexander hurt his knee against Purdue and hasn’t been the same since.

K: Eddy Pineiro (Florida) and Gary Wunderlich (Ole Miss)

Both made several second- and third-team All-America lists in the preseason. Wunderlich has been hurt, made only 75 percent of his field goal attempts (missed only once last year), has not made anything over 40 yards and missed two extra points. Pineiro has just six made field goals all year long.

P: J.K. Scott (Alabama)

Admittedly doesn’t punt much, but the preseason Athlon second-team All-American is averaging just 39.4 yards per punt — the worst mark by nearly five yards in his career and good for 91st in FBS if he had enough kicks to qualify.

Coach: Kalani Sitake (BYU)

The Cougars won nine games in Sitake’s debut campaign last year but despite bringing back QB Tanner Mangum and a fairly experienced defense, they are now 1-7 after getting blown out in all but one FBS game. This is the worst BYU team in decades overall and perhaps the most inept offensively in school history.

Team No. 1: Florida State

Preseason No. 3, which is one number higher than what is in the Seminoles’ win column right now.

Team No. 2: USC

Preseason No. 4, has a single win away from home and are all but out of the playoff race at 6-2.

Team No. 3: Michigan

Preseason No. 11 is unranked after getting beat up at Penn State, wins over teams that are a combined 14-21.

All-Overachiever Team

QB: Luke Falk (Washington State)

Sports Illustrated second-team All-American after being Athlon preseason third-team All-Pac-12.

RB: Bryce Love (Stanford)

Unanimous midseason All-American has rushed for at least 150 yards every game and had at least one 50-plus-yard run in each too.

Stanford Cardinal RB Bryce Love

WR: David Sills (West Virginia)

Consensus midseason All-American after failing to make any Athlon preseason All-Big 12 team, leads the nation in TD catches with 15.

OL: David Edwards (Wisconsin)

Athlon midseason All-American, didn’t make any preseason All-Big Ten teams.

DL: Hercules Mata’afa (Washington State)

Athlon midseason All-American as the leader of one of the more surprising defensive units.

CB: Jalen Davis (Utah State)

Consensus midseason All-American nationally after being Athlon Second-Team All-MWC in preseason, tied for FBS lead with five interceptions.

DB: DeShon Elliott (Texas)

Consensus midseason All-American after not making any preseason All-Big 12 team, also tied for FBS lead with five interceptions.

K: Quinn Nordin (Michigan)

Sophomore has been the lone source of offensive consistency for the Wolverines, midseason second-team All-American by Athlon.

P: Corey Bojorquez (New Mexico)

Third-team All-MWC by Athlon in the preseason is third in the country in punting average at a whopping 47.8 yards per kick.

Coach: Jeff Tedford (Fresno State)

See item No. 6 below.

Team No. 1: Michigan State

Mark Dantonio’s team isn’t winning pretty but the Spartans are winning a lot more than expected. Anything less than 9-3 would be a bit disappointing right now.

Team No. 2: Iowa State

The Cyclones have their sights set much higher than just making a bowl game and are in the top 25 for the first time in 12 years.

Team No. 3: UCF

The Knights might be the best team in the state of Florida and are the favorite for the Group of 5 bid two years after being winless.

More takeaways from a wild week:

2. Florida State’s bowl streak is in danger

Coaches always joke about loving to see players move on to the NFL but few mean it more deep down than Jimbo Fisher when comes to Lamar Jackson moving on to play on Sundays. The Heisman Trophy winner was great once again in another win over the Seminoles, recording more than 300 yards of offense and two touchdowns. Those numbers weren’t quite as good as they were in last year’s thrashing but it was still plenty to get the job done in Tallahassee — especially after James Blackman fumbled and the Cardinals marched right down for the game-winning field goal.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: FSU

That dropped Fisher’s team to 2-4 on the season and suddenly that NCAA-record streak of 35 bowl appearances is in real jeopardy for the first time in forever. Not only is FSU playing terribly on both sides of the ball and well below its talent level, there’s a chance that things keep spiraling and sitting the postseason out is very much a possibility. Part of it is the schedule down the stretch. The Seminoles have a short week before having to go to (a very improved) Boston College, still have to play Syracuse, Clemson and rival Florida. You can pencil in a win over Delaware State but even then, hitting six wins could be a stretch — especially if the team’s not all that motivated. Suddenly that ULM game that was cancelled due to a hurricane is looming large over the streak the program is proudest of.

3. Notre Dame could have the resume for the No. 2 seed

As I’ve been saying for a few weeks now, the Irish are in the College Football Playoff mix and firmly announced their arrival with that emphatic win over USC on Saturday night. While they will have their hands full with their next five opponents, Notre Dame figures to be favored in every one from here on out and have the overall talent advantage in each contest.

Brian Kelly College Football

Which brings us to the possibility of winning out and making the final four. But remember, the committee values wins far more than losses (though the Irish have the “best” loss of anybody right now, a one-point margin to No. 3 Georgia). If — and this is a big if given the team, circumstances and schedule — Brian Kelly’s squad could run the table, the Irish might have as good of a claim to the No. 2 spot as anybody but an undefeated Georgia or Penn State. When the final tally comes up, they could have five top 25 wins at the end of the year, as many as six victories over teams with at least eight wins, and the potential for victories over two conference champions (USC or Stanford, plus Miami or NC State). You don’t think that would convince the committee to slide them in at No. 2?

Assuming the SEC champ of Alabama or Georgia sticks at No. 1 and goes to the Sugar Bowl semifinal that would mean a trip to the Rose Bowl for the Irish. It’s a long ways until then but a potential Notre Dame vs. Ohio State/Penn State/Clemson/Oklahoma game at the Granddaddy of Them All has to have ESPN executives drooling over the possibility of a second Christmas on New Year’s Day.

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Related: Notre Dame's Statement Win over USC Puts Fighting Irish in College Football Playoff Discussion

4. Bottom dwellers on a hot streak

More proof this is a whacky college football season and early predictions are meaningless:

- UConn was picked dead last in the AAC East, but are now on a two-game winning streak after beating Tulsa on Saturday. They’re in third place behind undefeated UCF and USF.

- Boston College was picked dead last in the ACC Atlantic. The Eagles have their first two-game winning streak in conference play in three years after crushing Virginia. They have the same league record as the preseason pick to win it all, Florida State.

- Iowa State was picked ninth out of 10 in the Big 12 during the preseason. They are on a three-game conference winning streak and tied for second place.

- Rutgers was picked dead last in the brutal Big Ten East. They now own their first-ever Big Ten winning streak and have the same conference record as Michigan.

- Fresno State was picked dead last in the MWC West division. They dominated San Diego State and are a perfect 4-0 in league play, two games up in the division with the tie-breaker over second place.

- Arizona (6th) and Arizona State (5th) were both picked at the bottom of the Pac-12 South. Each has won at least two games in a row in conference play and are a half game behind the division leader they’ll play in the next few weeks.

5. Pac-12 seems resigned to missing playoff

Larry Scott’s issues with DirecTV are starting to pale in comparison to the uphill climb his league is facing to make it to the College Football Playoff. In fact, after Saturday, one might come close to completely writing the entire Pac-12 off in terms of making the final four and start to realize that a two-loss champion playing in the Fiesta Bowl with nothing on the line could be about all that is left to play for given the way things are trending.

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Nobody is undefeated in the Pac-12 and just two teams have fewer than two losses on the year. Just four are ranked and the high-water mark is sitting outside the top 10 at No. 12 Washington. The entire conference has a total of just four wins over teams in the current top 25 and none of those came in the non-conference slate.

In short, the league is not only losing big games but they have no good wins to speak of either. That is going to be a huge hindrance for the committee and could lead to the Pac-12 being out of the playoff running by the time the selection committee releases their first top 25. And there’s not even the prospect of a Rose Bowl appearance to dangle this year either.

6. Jeff Tedford, Lane Kiffin and a rush to judgements

Two of the most eye-popping scores on Saturday? How about Fresno State 27, San Diego State 3 and Florida Atlantic 69, North Texas 31. Go ahead and re-read those again. Now do it one more time just to make sure they register.

Let’s start in Boca, where Lane Kiffin’s Owls put up a Conference USA-record 804 yards and scored on their first 11 drives. The outcome was decided in the first quarter and tailback Devin Singletary has already set the school record for rushing touchdowns in a season in mid-October. The Mean Green were no slouches as far as CUSA teams go and they were completely obliterated from the get go.

Heck, FAU has given Wisconsin one of the stiffest tests of anybody on the Badgers’ schedule and are probably an inexplicable loss to Buffalo away from being ranked in the top 25.

Out West, Jeff Tedford is putting together a coach of the year type of resume this season. Taking over a 1-11 squad that was easily one of the five worst teams in all of the FBS in 2016, the Bulldogs are suddenly on the door of a bowl game. What’s more, the team’s only two losses were both on the road (at Alabama, at Washington) and now find themselves two games up in the division with a tie-breaker over the Aztecs. The offense, which ranked 119th or worse in three of the four major categories last season, is suddenly fairly efficient behind Oregon State transfer QB Marcus McMaryion. The defense has taken a bunch of strides too — with a defensive coordinator that has only six seasons in the CFL as his only coaching experience.

There was a lot (A LOT) of snark on social media and in various columns over the hire of both Tedford and Kiffin by their respective schools last year. It was not surprising and seemed fitting in the moment. Given that both coaches are well on their way to some solid bowl bids and are now the front-runners for their respective conferences, it’s time to take it all back.

Both are doing a great job and a reminder that maybe those outside-the-box hires are not so puzzling at first glance if there’s a turnaround plan in place.

7. War on I-4 looking bigger and bigger

Given the loss by San Diego State, it seems almost a lock that the Group of 5 bid will come from the winner of the American Athletic Conference this season. Specifically, it seems, the winner of the East Division.

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That’s the result of both UCF and USF passing some fairly important road tests on Saturday with flying colors. The Knights went up to Navy and saw the two-headed monster of McKenzie Milton and Adrian Killins rack up the yards. It’s the first ever 6-0 start at the school and Scott Frost is not just a hot coaching name being talked about at Nebraska but the real deal it seems.

Elsewhere, the Bulls went to Tulane and posted another solid effort in a tricky spot (the game was not as close as the 34-28 final indicated). QB Quinton Flowers had three touchdowns and the team set a new NCAA record (24) for most games scoring 30-plus points, beating… Frost’s old 2011-12 Oregon teams. Charlie Strong’s squad has the longest winning streak in the country at the moment at 12 too. This still isn’t a team living up to its potential given the talent on the roster but things are getting there.

All of which is to say that this could be the biggest “War on I-4” ever. It would be a massive upset if both were not undefeated come time for kickoff on Black Friday given how they’re playing and what lies ahead prior to the game in Orlando. The Bulls do host Houston next week, while UCF could find some resistance at SMU in two weeks. Either way, the combined record of remaining opponents? It’s just 17-20.

Yes, circle that calendar for Nov. 24 and the game of the year in the American is probably going to be for all the marbles. 

Stat(s) of the Week

Princeton beat Harvard 52-17 on Friday night, which leads us to these two eye-openers:

Tweet of the Week

Superlatives of the Week

Wisconsin Badgers RB Jonathan Taylor

Best player: Princeton QB Chad Kanoff

Heisman five: 1. Saquon Barkley (Penn State), 2. Bryce Love (Stanford), 3. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), 4. Josh Adams (Notre Dame) 5. Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)

Projected final four: 1. Alabama, 2. Notre Dame, 3. Ohio State, 4. Clemson

Team of the week: Rutgers

Honorary Les Miles goat of the week: Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern

Quote of the week:

Play of the Week

Super 16

I’m a voter in the FWAA/National Football Foundation Super 16 Poll and will be releasing my ballot here every week. Here’s my ballot heading into Week 9.

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. TCU

4. Penn State

5. Notre Dame

6. Clemson

7. Ohio State

8. Wisconsin

9. Oklahoma

10. Oklahoma State

11. Miami (FL)

12. NC State

13. UCF

14. Virginia Tech

15. Stanford

16. Auburn

Best of the rest: Texas A&M, Washington, Washington State, LSU, USF, Michigan State, Iowa State, Memphis, Georgia Tech

Pre-snap Reads

Penn State at Ohio State

The easy pick for Big Ten game of the year has the makings of a terrific contest given how the two teams are playing lately. The Nittany Lions turned everybody’s heads with the way they throttled Michigan in perhaps their best performance of the year, while Ohio State’s offense is starting to click like we all expected. Revenge is a dish best served cold and it’s supposed to be chilly in Columbus with bouts of rain, so the Buckeyes win a close one thanks to a fourth-quarter rally.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Penn State

Georgia vs. Florida (Jacksonville, Fla.)

On paper, this has all the makings of a blowout. Georgia has everybody talking national title and College Football Playoff while there are questions about Florida even making a bowl game at this point. This is a rivalry game however so throw all that out the window and expect a close game for three and a half quarters before the Bulldogs eventually come out on top.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Florida
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Georgia

NC State at Notre Dame

The Irish are understandably running high after that big win over rival USC but that was just the start of a brutal second-half stretch in which they will have their hands full on a weekly basis trying to run the table and make the final four. That is particularly true this Saturday as the Wolfpack come to town well rested and excited over the prospect of boosting their own playoff chances. Notre Dame emerges victorious in the end but this one will be closer than some expect just seeing the team names.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Notre Dame
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— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.