Dr. Saturday

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Pleasant surprises and bitter disappointments at the turn

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

The season's biggest surprises at midseason.

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THE GOOD. Teams that have come out of nowhere…

Clemson (7-0). Initially, the Tigers' fast start seemed like a bit of a fluke because they hadn't left home, but after beating Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to go 5-0 and capture their third consecutive win over a ranked team, Clemson officially cemented its place as one of the nation's surprise teams. And the legend has continued to grow. Even after struggling with Maryland last week, the Tigers are 4-0 and firmly atop the ACC Atlantic with just a few more roadblocks in the way of a perfect season.

Kansas State (7-0). No one could have predicted Kansas State standing shoulder-to-shoulder atop of the Big 12 standings with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but the ageless Bill Snyder has the Wildcats calling on their late-nineties selves. And he's done so by getting the Wildcats back to their roots and doing the little things like having the third-fewest penalties in the Big 12 and the fewest turnovers in the conference. A win against Kansas this weekend sets up a defining visit from Oklahoma that will either put the Wildcats in their place or in the thick of the Big 12 championship race.

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Illinois (6-1). Ron Zook was thrown a life preserver after last year's bowl win, and he's done more than just stay afloat: The Illini are off to their first 6-1 season since 2001 when they played in the Sugar Bowl. However, their ineffectiveness against an Ohio Sate team that completed just one pass is a little troublesome, especially with Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin still ahead.

Louisiana-Lafayette (6-1). While the Sun Belt isn't exactly the toughest league in college football, Lafayette's turnaround under first-year head coach Mark Hudspeth is actually quite remarkable. The Ragin' Cajuns are coming off a 3-9 campaign and haven't have a winning season since 2005. In fact, they haven't won more than six games since 1993. They've already beaten the preseason favorites Florida International and Troy and have just Arkansas State standing between them and the school's first Sun Belt title and first bowl game as an FBS team.

Arkansas State (5-2). Similar to Louisiana-Lafayette, the winning seasons have been few and far between for the Red Wolves. They've won four games in each of the past two seasons and haven't had a winning season since going 6-5 in 1995. Arkansas State did play in a bowl game in 2005 and figure to be en route to their second as a member of the Sun Belt if the season continues to go as well as it has.

Washington (5-1). Jake Locker's replacement — and budding superstar — Keith Price has the Huskies chasing down Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 North standings with games against those teams still to play in the next few weeks (Stanford is this weekend). Price is currently completing 69.4 percent of his passes, ranks fifth nationally in quarterback rating and has thrown at least three touchdown passes in every game. Could the Pac-12 have another future Heisman candidate in its midst?

Rutgers (5-1). On paper, the Scarlet Knights are a 3-3 team at best. They're one of the worst rushing offenses in the country and their total offense produces a meager 332-83 yards per game. Passing efficiency is bad and special teams are pretty terrible, too. Still, Rutgers is a mere two points from being undefeated this season and they've accomplished this feat by being fantastic defensively. The Scarlet Knights rank first nationally in turnover margin, second in sacks, fourth in tackles for loss and are holding opponents to just 16 points per game.

THE BAD. Teams that have made us ashamed…{YSP:MORE}

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Central Florida (3-3). The Knights were widely picked to repeat as Conference USA champs, but instead have fallen uncharacteristically flat. After last season, it looked like coach George O'Leary's team had turned a corner and finally had the potent offense to match their dominating defense, but that offense and special teams have let the team down and consequently, the Knights have suffered losses to Florida International, BYU and SMU last week. Luckily for UCF, Conference USA East is weak and with an opportunity to get back on track with games against East Carolina and Southern Miss, the Knights could find themselves back playing for the title again.

TCU (4-2). The Horned Frogs are proof that a good thing can't last forever. After having the nation's top defense for each of the past three seasons, TCU has been woefully bad on that side of the ball and consequently, it has lost more games already this season than it had in the previous two seasons combined. The Horned Frogs are coming off a bye week, which has given them a chance to sort some things out as they head into the thick of the conference season, but winning the Mountain West in its final season in the conference might be a stretch.

Utah (3-3). Moving to the Pac-12 has not been an easy transition for the Utes, who are 0-3 in conference play. Fortunately for Utah, it's in the weaker half of the conference and will have an opportunity to right the ship as the schedule gets a little easier from here on out. In fact, none of the teams remaining on the Utes schedule have winning overall records.

Mississippi State (3-4). Remember when Mississippi State was ranked and talking all sorts of noise to in-state rival Ole Miss after two straight wins in the Egg Bowl? Those were good times. And while the Bulldogs can still talk mess to Ole Miss, the national ranking ship has sailed. From preseason No. 20 to one of the biggest flops this season, Mississippi State has lost to every ranked team it's faced, Auburn and needed extra time to beat Louisiana Tech. The next three weeks are a welcome respite with a bye, Kentucky and Tennessee-Martin on the slate. That should give the Bulldogs a little confidence before it faces Alabama and Arkansas ahead of the Egg Bowl.

Florida State (3-3). Every season we embrace Florida State as one of the nation's elite, only to realize a few weeks into the season that we were duped — again. The Seminoles were perched in everyone's top 10 this summer with a legitimate shot at playing for a national championship, but, like they have in many recent seasons, they failed to live up to expectations and are now below .500 in conference play. The Seminoles do have the good fortune of playing the three worst teams in the Atlantic during the next three weeks, but catching up to Clemson, or even Wake Forest, will be a big challenge.

AND THE UGLY. Break out the paper bags…

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Ole Miss (2-4). No one had Ole Miss blowing the doors off their competition this year, but few thought the year would be worse than last year's 4-8 debacle. It's been worse: The Rebels' only wins have come against an FCS cupcake (Southern Illinois) and a lackluster edition of Fresno State, and there aren't many wins in sight down the stretch. After a couple nine-win seasons, the Ole Miss seems to be trending downward, which could mean the end for coach Houston Nutt.

Hawaii (3-3). The WAC was wide open this season with the departure of Boise State to the Mountain West, leaving the Warriors with a golden opportunity to end their final season in the WAC on a high note. Instead, Hawaii fallen flat on its face with losses against some of the nation's worst teams (UNLV, San Jose State). It's especially disappointing because the Warriors were touting quarterback Bryant Moniz as a Heisman hopeful and he looked every bit the part in the opening game against Colorado and at times against other inferior competition. Overall, though, Hawaii has lacked the consistency to be considered the WAC favorite anymore. And let's be honest: Sans Boise State and former Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the entire conference leaves a lot to be desired.

Colorado (1-6): While fans thought the Dan Hawkins years were the worst, it turns out the first year cleaning up after him might be the absolute low point in the school's history. Colorado could be 3-4, but end-of-game losses to Cal and Washington State sunk this team into a bigger pit and as injuries to key players begin to mount, it's getting more difficult to get out of it. While there are a couple winnable games remaining on the schedule, the next three weeks against Oregon, Arizona State and USC could get pretty ugly.

Oregon State (1-5): Mike Riley's team went into this season with a lot of players either returning or not quite back from major injuries. And even though a lot of those players have been folded back into the starting lineup, the team hasn't quite gelled the way many had hoped. Even the fans are turning on their team, keying players' cars and leaving them nasty notes. Oregon State hasn't had many low points during Riley's tenure, but the last two seasons have not been pretty.

Minnesota (1-5): Nothing has gone quite right for the Golden Gophers this season. The team has been terrible — really terrible — it's coach has spent a great deal of time in the hospital and when he's been out, he's criticized the lack of athleticism he inherited. And things won't be getting better anytime soon. Coach Jerry Kill has a long way to go to get this team to where it needs to be to be a competitive. Kill may have been a rehabilitator at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois, but he's definitely not a miracle worker.

Boston College (1-5): Boston College doesn't know much about losing seasons, because it hasn't suffered through one since 1998. In fact, the Eagles have won at least eight games in all but two seasons in that span. So it's hard to for the B.C. faithful to wrap their brains around how absolutely terrible the Eagles have been this season. They're not even competitive. The Eagles' only win came against UMass and its closest loss was a one-point decision against Duke. (Duke!) Otherwise, the Eagles have lost by an average of 16 points. And there aren't many opportunities left to make things better. It's very possible Boston College is plummeting toward its worst season since going 0-11 in 1978.

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Graham Watson is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham.

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