10 early surprises in college football so far in 2018
by John Luke McCord
The college football season is young, but plenty of teams are quickly off to surprising starts. Some have made positive waves, while others are already taking on water. Let’s take a look at 10 teams who have made a strong early impression.
For the Tigers, the question mark coming into the season was offense. We knew that if the Bayou Bengals could get just enough on that side of the ball, their defense could anchor them towards the type of season we’ve come to expect from the program.
In week one LSU shocked the CFB world by shellacking the then #8 Miami Hurricanes, and tuning them up with 33 points. Southeastern Louisiana was no road block in week two, but the Tigers did again notch 30-plus points while pitching a shutout. Furthermore, Nick Brossette has gone well over 100 yards on the ground in each of the first two games. He, along with quarterback Joe Burrow, will have to step it up against the daunting Auburn defensive front this Saturday, but the Tigers are a certainly a positive surprise two-games into the 2018 season.
This is a worn out phrase by now, but “you play to win the game,” right? Well, two games into his college football head coaching tenure, that’s all that Herm Edwards has done. And when he was hired to take over the Sun Devils, there were questions as to whether he could do that.
So far he’s beaten a team in UT-San Antonio that Frank Wilson has improved the talent with, and Michigan State of the vaunted Big Ten East. Sure, the schedule has more challenges coming - namely Washington on September 22nd - but Edwards has an offense that appears to be up to the challenge. QB Manny Wilkins, RB Eno Benjamin and WR N’Keal Harry all have legit all-league talent. And the defense has surrendered just 20 points through two games.
This is definitely the Rainbow Warriors of the 2000s. The program that produced some of the most historical passers of the BCS era. Now, in 2018, the new sheriff on the island is Cole McDonald. The sophomore has thrown for 1,165 yards and 13 TDs in just three games this season, amassing over 400 yards in each of the first two games. He’s also added two addition scores on the ground.
Riding that strong passing game, Hawaii has run up 43, 59 and 43 points against the likes of Colorado State(more on them in a minute), Navy and Rice. That’s good enough for an average of 48 points per game, and plenty of Colt Brennan flashbacks for Rainbow Warrior fans.
Just this past Saturday night the Wildcats went into The Swamp and broke a 31-game losing streak to the Florida Gators. After Mark Stoops’s defense allowed 20 to Central Michigan in week one, they surrendered just 16 to a Dan Mullen-led offense in week two.
In doing so, the Wildcats also revealed they may have just the perfect complimentary weapon alongside Benny Snell in JUCO QB transfer Terry Wilson. He fired touchdown strikes of 29 and 54 yards, while running one in from 24 yards out and finishing with 105 yards on the ground. Snell added 175 yards of his own on the ground. And the Wildcats look like a dangerous spoiler in the SEC East.
Most felt the combination of Mike Leach and East Carolina QB transfer Gardner Minshew would equal aerial bliss when the Mississippi native picked the Cougars as the destination for his final college campaign this offseason. So far, things have gone to script.
Wazzu is 2-0, and that includes a shutout pitched against San Jose State this past Saturday. It also includes scoring totals of 41 and 31 in their first two contests. Minshew has tossed three touchdowns apiece in each of those games, while airing it out for 319 yards in week one and 414 in week two. Minshew won the JUCO National Title with Northwest Mississippi Community College in 2015, and he brings that type of pedigree to the field each Saturday. With him slinging it, the Cougars have a real shot to beat USC in two weeks.
The Seminoles opened as only three-point favorites over Syrcause this week. That’s how far things have fallen for FSU in a season that was supposed to be a total rebound from 2017 under new head coach Willie Taggart. Instead, Bud Foster’s Virginia Tech defense mauled them and allowed just three points in the opener. And last week Samford QB Devlin Hodges slung it around for 475 yards on the Noles’ defense.
Cam Akers is a star in the backfield, and there are two talented options at quarterback. But the Noles must be better along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball if things are going to get back on track for them.
It’s unlikely that head coach Chad Morris will lose his team in year one, but losses like Arkansas suffered last Saturday to Colorado State won’t be acceptable for long. Sure, the Rams feature a combination at of former SEC guys in QB KJ Carta-Samuels and WR Preston Williams but that isn’t a team the Hogs should lose to, even on the road.
As late as three minutes left in the third quarter the Razorbacks held a 27-9 lead. Heading into the fourth quarter Arkansas led 27-17, but they would surrender 17 points in the final period - 35 unanswered - to end the game and pick up hopefully their worst loss of the season.
After catching blowback for injecting his two cents on the connection between CTE and football at ACC Media Days, Larry Fedora may be feeling heat for a whole new reason soon. The Tar Heels are 0-2 after being mauled for a half by the Cal Golden Bears in week one and left for dead by East Carolina Pirates just this past Saturday.
Sure, UNC suspended 13 players just prior to the opener. Some for one game, some for two and a host for four - including leading returning passer Chazz Surratt and stud d-linemen Malik Carney and Tomon Fox. But considering those players have been suspended for selling team-issued shoes. While Fedora ponders issues that are out of his control, his players seem to falling out of it, as well.
Tom Herman settled on Sam Ehlinger as his quarterback and things were supposed to flow from there. But so far, they’re starting a bit rocky. In week one, a Maryland program facing all kinds or turmoil and being led by interim head coach Matt Canada in DJ Durkin’s absense due to suspension beat the Longhorns to pour cold water on the start to their 2018 season.
Just last week Tulsa was able to take punches by stand tall in the ring against the Longhorns. Though UT kept the Golden Hurricane at a comfortable distance late, the final was still 28-21. This week USC comes to town to provide their biggest non-conference power 5 test of the season.
The Hurricanes kicked off as the lone game on Sunday of college football’s opening weekend, and so their blowout loss to LSU was made even more embarrassing. Many expected the Hurricanes to be a big success again in 2018, and our own projections even had them in the Sugar Bowl matched up against Mississippi State.
Last week Hurricanes put some aloe vera on their burns with a 77-point thrashing of Savannah State. But the burn of realizing they could have QB problems and depth issues when facing the top teams on their schedule is a major concern for those who once had high hopes for Mark Richt’s third season in Coral Gables.