Sunday, December 5

Arkansas, Michigan State, and September’s other big college football surprises


When isn’t it necessarily a bad thing to get picked near the end of the league at Media Days in the summer? The 2021 season.

This is not a piece to point out the flaws of preseason rankings or predictions. In general, the media does their homework, information is readily available, and teams that are expected to be good are often good, and teams that are expected to struggle tend to struggle.

But as college football fans know, September brought a higher volume of surprises and unexpected results than usual. Here’s a team from every Power 5 conference that has put together a surprisingly strong first month of the season after getting a little love at Media Days.

MORE: Picks Against Spread for Top 25 Games

ACC: Louisville

Media Days Prediction: Sixth on the ACC Coastal

September record: 3-1 (1-0)

Summer narrative: After a promising debut season for Scott Satterfield, Louisville fell to 4-7 (3-7 in ACC) in 2020. Quarterback Malik Cunningham had regressed, some offensive power was left to the NFL and Satterfield had to write an awkward letter of apology after he awkwardly interviewed South Carolina. The program was a bit messy.

What they have done: After being beaten by Ole Miss in the first game of the season, the Cardinals have won three games in a row. Louisville shocked UCF 42-35 in dramatic fashion, winning with a pick-six with 13 seconds remaining. Then the Cards built a 31-7 lead at Florida State before holding on to an eight-point victory. Cunningham has run for eight touchdowns (fourth in the nation), threw for five and has two interceptions a year after committing 15 turnovers in 11 games.

BIG TEN: State of Michigan

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Media Days Prediction: Last in the Big Ten East

September record: 4-0 (2-0), No. 17 in AP Poll

Summer narrative: Mel Tucker took over so late in the 2020 cycle that he missed the two Signature Days and, less than a month later, the sports world (and the rest of the world) essentially shut down. So his 2-5 debut was not unexpected. The Spartans needed a significant rebuild after the draft declined at the end of the Mark Dantonio era, and Tucker had the rep to do it. But it was going to take time. The 2021 season looked like it was going to be a long one.

What they have done: The Spartans are 4-0, with just one cupcake on the record. Victories over Northwestern, Miami and Nebraska have placed MSU in the top 25 with Western Kentucky leading the way. Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III leads the nation with 138.5 rushing yards per game and quarterback Payton Thorne has been surprisingly helpful with a TD-INT ratio of 10 to 1. The comeback win over Nebraska showed the team’s mettle in the fourth quarter and in overtime.

BIG 12: Baylor

Media Days Prediction: Eighth in the Big 12

September record: 4-0 (2-0), No. 21 in AP Poll

Summer narrative: Another “pandemic signing,” Dave Aranda came to Baylor and was unable to have spring drills in 2020, contributing to a 2-7 debut season. Veteran quarterback Charlie Brewer later transferred to Utah, leaving a big void for new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. The defense had some experience behind it, but that defense was ranked 63rd in points allowed in 2020, so there was no overwhelming optimism on either side of the ball.

What they have done: It wasn’t Murderer’s Row to start the season with Texas State, Texas Southern and Kansas, but when it came time to play a Big 12, the Bears were ready. Baylor beat Iowa State 31-29 on Saturday, denying the Cyclones a potential two-point conversion in the final minute. Gerry Bohanon, who had attempted 38 passes in three previous seasons, is completing 73 percent of his passes with seven TDs and no interceptions, and has run for four TDs. The schedule gets a lot tougher from here, but the Bears have some early momentum.

MORE: Where is “College GameDay” this week?

PAC-12: State of Oregon

Media Days Prediction: Fifth on the Pac-12 North

September record: 3-1 (1-0)

Summer narrative: Seven consecutive losing seasons does not lend itself to optimism. One of the team’s strengths with Jonathan Smith has been the rushing attack, and running back Jermar Jefferson missed out on the NFL Draft. There were some signs of progress in 2020, such as a 41-38 victory over Oregon, but history keeps expectations subdued in Corvallis.

What they have done: Oregon State battled Purdue for four quarters on the road in a 30-21 first weekend loss, but has won three straight games since. The loudest victory came Saturday in Los Angeles, where OSU beat USC on the road for the first time since 1960. Chance Nolan, who won the quarterback job in August when Tristan Gebbia struggled with a hamstring injury. hamstring, threw four touchdown passes and the Beavers defense forced four turnovers from USC. The state of Oregon looks like it will be tough all season on the Pac-12.

SEC: Arkansas

Media Days Prediction: Last in SEC West

September record: 4-0 (1-0), No. 8 in AP Poll

Summer narrative: Arkansas beat expectations in 2020 with three SEC wins after having none in 2018 and 2019 and hiring the unknown Sam Pittman just before the pandemic canceled spring practice. But the media still liked everyone else at SEC West in 2021 before the Razorbacks. Quarterback Feleipe Franks needed to be replaced, and while the defense returned nine starters, he was ranked 106th in total defense and surrendered more than 50 points three times. Pittman had made some waves on the recruiting trail, but Arkansas felt a few years away from climbing the brutal SEC West ladder.

BENDER: Georgia rises to No. 1 in Playoffs photo

What they have done: Arkansas has been the biggest upset in the nation, jumping into the Top 10 after ditching Texas and Texas A&M by double digits. QB KJ Jefferson has been a revelation running and pitching, and the defense has soared to No. 12 nationally. Four ranked teams still remain in the last eight games, starting this weekend at No. 2 in Georgia, but a spectacular September has Arkansas fans waiting for their Hogs to finish the season in the Top 25 for the first time since 2011. .




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