Note: the college football programs featured in A Coach at Heart belong to the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences.
While many observers are criticizing the Pac-12 because its schools are beating each other up and ignoring the Mountain West after Boise State lost to Mississippi, the fact is that teams in both leagues associated with the A Coach at Heart programs are showing tremendous resiliency.
It wasn’t for no reason that I wrote before the season that Oregon could potentially have a down year — which for them is something like three losses. The Ducks lost a lot of pieces from recent seasons and were a little beat-up coming into the season. But they survived the test at Michigan State and followed the loss to Arizona by downing UCLA, Washington and Cal. Few teams would roll through that three-week stretch undefeated.
Arizona State suffered that Thursday night blowout loss to UCLA and followed it up with wins over USC, Stanford and Washington. Again, few teams win three in a row over those opponents.
The Sun Devils also overcame the loss of QB Taylor Kelly by sending out a backup who might be a better passer.
In the Mountain West, San Diego State has overcome injuries to its starting quarterback, best wide receiver and two top linebackers to take the lead in the West Division — thanks in large part to the depth of talent pointed out here before the season.
Air Force is one win from being bowl eligible after last year’s 2-10, 0-8 disaster, and has wins over Boise State and Navy. With Army and UNLV still on the schedule, they should have no problem exceeding the six-victory mandate.
That loss to the Falcons is Boise’s only setback since losing the opener to Ole’ Miss. The Broncos put up 41 points on BYU the other night — in the first half.
Utah State is 5-3, with wins over Air Force and BYU. While the Aggies season looks unimpressive from afar, consider that they’ve had some success despite losing three quarterbacks to injury.
Best Team – Oregon, unless Stanford says no this week. Some pundits want to load the new four-way playoff with SEC West teams, but the Ducks will take a spot if they win out.
Best Surprise – Arizona State. The Sun Devils had an excuse for mediocrity coming into the season after losing its top running back and entire defensive line. Then Kelly got hurt and the UCLA disaster happened. But here they are at 6-1. National credibility test is Nov. 8 vs. Notre Dame.
Worst Surprise – UCLA. The Bruins followed up that rout of ASU by losing to Utah and getting routed at home by Oregon — the game wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. In the last two weeks, they needed a last-second interception to beat Cal and double-overtime to get past the league’s worst team, Colorado. For a team expected to be a playoff contender, that’s not good.
Best Player – Oregon QB Marcus Mariota. No shock here. He leads the nation in passing efficiency and is ahead of the Pac-12 in that category by a long way. What else do you need but 24 TDs to 1 INT? Other nods go to Colorado WR Nelson Spruce, USC RB “Buck” Allen, Arizona LB Scooby Wright III, Washington LB Shaq Thompson.
Conference Championship: Stanford-Oregon winner vs ASU.
Best Team – Colorado State. The Rams are 7-1, have defeated power conference teams in Colorado and Boston College, and lost only at Boise State, which is nothing to be embarrassed about. The preseason questions have been answered.
Best Surprise – Air Force. For the reasons mentioned above. While they haven’t done a whole lot of impressive things — you won’t find the Falcons atop any national stats or anything, they were shockingly bad last year. So this is a huge and welcome improvement.
Worst Surprise – There really aren’t any bad surprises this year. But if there’s anything to be frustrated about, look no further than Nevada. The Wolf Pack have lost three one-score games to Arizona, Boise State and Colorado State. Their wins include victories over Washington State of the Pac-12 and BYU. So close from having a great season. If they beat San Diego State this weekend, they will have wins over the top teams in the West Division.
Best Player – Colorado State QB Garrett Grayson. Leader of the best team. He’s fifth in the nation in passing efficiency and yards per attempt, 11th in yards, and tied for 9th in passing TDs. Very close behind is SDSU RB Donnell Pumphrey, who is 12th nationally in yards per carry, tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns, and is eighth in rushing yards per game.
Conference Championship – Nevada, SDSU and San Jose State are all still in contention in the West Division. Says here the Nevada-SDSU winner Saturday night takes the crown. In the Mountain Division, Boise’s schedule from here on out looks a hair easier than CSU’s, and the Broncos hold the tiebreaker.