Only half a season, but it's been full of surprises

Chris Dufresne / Los Angeles Times /


Published Oct 18, 2012 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

LOS ANGELES —

USC would break offensive air-speed records, Matt Barkley was a lock for the Heisman Trophy and Oregon State coach Mike Riley needed thicker pants for the hot seat he was sitting on.

Arkansas was the team to beat in the SEC West — it seems so silly now — and Johnny Manziel was Johnny Who?

Heck, what did we know way back in August?

This must be why they don’t hand out achievement awards the Wednesday before Labor Day.

Let’s take a halfway look at some developing stories:

• The Southeastern Conference is a blood-sucking beast — again.

The first BCS standings release has two SEC teams on top, Alabama and Florida. The SEC owned half of the BCS top 12.

The league has won six straight BCS titles and eight of the 14 played. Last season’s title game featured two SEC teams and, guess what, it could happen again.

If you want to know just how good the SEC is, tune in “Verne and Gary” on CBS every Saturday right after the morning cartoons.

• Nobody plays defense anymore and pass-crazy offenses have taken over the game.

Alabama coach Nick Saban likens this trend to an alien invasion and fears these Oregon-type, up-tempo offenses threaten the safety of his 300-pound All-Americans.

“Is this what we want football to be?” Saban said.

True?

Actually, no, it’s false.

A review of this week’s BCS standings show the top 10 schools have an average national offensive ranking of 52.4.

The only two schools in the national top 15 are Oregon (8) and Oklahoma (15).

No. 1 Alabama ranks No. 52 and Florida is No. 82.

So, defense is winning? Yep.

The BCS top 10 owns a national defensive average of 19.7. The worst of the group is Oregon State at 45.

• The biggest surprise so far is Notre Dame, Oregon State or Kansas State.

Notre Dame is the biggest story because it’s Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish sitting at No. 5 in the BCS elicits equal pangs of anger and joy. Notre Dame has a hard time moving the ball with its No. 76 offense, but it knows how to move the needle. Viewership on NBC through four home games is at a six-year high.

National title talk is premature, as Notre Dame must navigate trips to Oklahoma and USC. Mark this down, though: The Fighting Irish are locks for a BCS bowl if they get to nine wins.

Kansas State is the most sentimental yarn because of Bill Snyder. The former patriarch of paranoia has softened over time and, at age 73, done a remarkable job in getting Kansas State to 6-0. The Wildcats’ upset at Oklahoma is this year’s so-far signature win. Kansas State is a win at West Virginia this weekend away from changing the BCS computer calculus.

Oregon State, though, is the surprise team of the half-season. The Beavers are 5-0 and No. 8 in the BCS following a 3-9 season that left many wondering if Riley was running out his Corvallis coaching clock.

Beating Wisconsin was impressive and Riley made folksy, national news when he took the entire team to In-N-Out after the win at UCLA.

The measure of Oregon State’s possible staying power, though, was winning at Brigham Young last week with backup quarterback Cody Vaz.

• Biggest disappointments: the Big Ten, Auburn, Arkansas, USC’s offense, Texas’ defense.

The Big Ten, how to put this delicately, stinks. How can a league add Nebraska and get worse? The Big Ten has as many teams in the BCS top 25 as the Big Sky. Ohio State (7-0), granted, is ineligible, but even the Buckeyes’ No. 69 defense is in semi-crisis after giving up 87 points the past two weeks.

“It’s been absurd how many big plays we give up,” coach Urban Meyer said. “How do you do that?”

Auburn, which won the BCS title two years ago, is 1-5 overall and winless in the SEC West — behind Mississippi! Arkansas has won two straight after a 1-4 start but no one has scheduled a parade for a team that started the season ranked No. 10.

And what in Lane Kiffin’s playbook has gone wrong with USC? The Trojans built a national preseason case based on an explosive offense that somehow ended up in West Virginia.

At No. 57 this week, USC ranks one spot behind California in national offense.

Remove stat-padded wins over Hawaii and Syracuse and USC is averaging 25.75 points in its past four games. Colorado, in its past four, is averaging 20 points.

That, statistically, makes the game Saturday at the Coliseum a tossup.

Nothing, though, has been more combustible than Texas’ defense. The Longhorns finished sixth last year in rushing defense. The line was billed No. 3 in Athlon’s preseason unit rankings behind Louisiana State and Florida State.

LSU and Florida State are top six in rushing defense this week. Texas is No. 103.

• Half-year Heisman: Geno Smith, West Virginia. We can’t dismiss last week’s ugly loss at Texas Tech, nor forget Smith has thrown 25 touchdown passes this year with no interceptions. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III won last year’s Heisman despite losing consecutive games to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State by the cumulative score of 114-52.

• Game: Texas A&M 59, Louisiana Tech 57.

• Stat: West Virginia gave up 159 points in its first three games as a Big 12 member ... and went 2-1.

• Second-half team you don’t want to play: Oklahoma.

• Newcomer: Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. He gained 576 total yards last week. Wins over LSU and Alabama could prompt a nickname change from “Johnny Football” to “Johnny Heisman.”

• Quote: Washington State coach Mike Leach on the “zombie-like” leadership from his seniors: “Some of them quite honestly have an empty corpse quality.”