What's hot (and not) at the midseason point

Updated: October 13, 2006, 3:56 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

OK, so who knew Notre Dame wasn't that hot? Or Florida State? Who knew Phillip Fulmer and Lloyd Carr would learn to coach again? Or that the heat would actually turn up on Miami's Larry Coker? At least I was right about Duke, the rest of the ACC and John L. Smith. Here's my midseason mulligan (I usually take at least two a side) on my preseason list of what's hot and what's not in college football this season.

What's Hot and Not Halfway Through the College Football Season
Florida. Urban Meyer. Chris Leak. Tim Tebow. Reggie Nelson. Defense. The only thing that stands between the No. 2 Gators claiming the SEC East in Meyer's second season is winning at Auburn on Saturday and then beating Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla., which always seems too easy. But don't forget about South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's return to Gainesville, Fla., on Nov. 11. Florida State. Among the biggest disappointments in the country, the Seminoles already have lost to Clemson (again) and N.C. State (again). FSU's offense is as dry as corn starch, and the defense hasn't been much to brag about, either. At this point, FSU is the fifth-best (or sixth?) team in the ACC's Atlantic Division. At least the 'Noles have company; for the first time since 1982, neither FSU or Miami is ranked this week.
Steve Mariucci. The former Cal coach took a year off after he was fired by the NFL's Detroit Lions, but is still living in Michigan and might not be unemployed for long. His best friend is Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo, and the Spartans might be in the market for a new coach very soon. Mariucci likes the area and the idea of coaching against Ron Zook once a year. Also available: former Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis, who figures to be another hot commodity. John L. Smith. The Michigan State coach watched his team blow a 17-point lead to Notre Dame in the fourth quarter, then got Zooked the following week when Illinois spoiled the Spartans' homecoming game. After getting drubbed by rival Michigan last week, Smith admits his team probably has to play in a bowl game to save his skin. With a 3-3 record, the Spartans would have to win at least three of their remaining games to become bowl eligible. But is a 6-6 record enough when coaches such as Mariucci might be available?
Other hot seats. These coaches better win in the second half: John Bunting (North Carolina), Dennis Franchione (Texas A&M), Ted Roof (Duke), Larry Coker (Miami), Hal Mumme (New Mexico State), Phil Bennett (SMU), Sylvester Croom (Mississippi State) and Chuck Amato (NC State -- Hey, there's a lot of football left to be played!). Previously warm seats. These coaches probably have done enough to save their jobs, for another season, at least: Tommy Bowden (Clemson), Lloyd Carr (Michigan), Gary Pinkel (Missouri), Bill Doba (Washington State), Rich Brooks (Kentucky), Phil Fulmer (Tennessee), Houston Nutt (Arkansas).
Boise State. The Broncos are poised to snag a BCS at-large berth if they can win their last six games. The offense hasn't skipped a beat under first-year coach Chris Peterson, who already has delivered impressive wins over Oregon State, Hawaii and Utah. Quarterback Jared Zabransky is making better decisions, and tailback Ian Johnson might be the best player you've heard very little about. Boise State has three road obstacles left: at Idaho on Sept. 21, at San Jose State on Nov. 11 and at Nevada on Nov. 25. Winless teams. There are eight left in Division I-A: Duke, Colorado, Florida International, San Diego State, Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio), Temple and Stanford. Only five teams, most recently New Mexico State in 2005, have lost 12 games or more in a season. The first team to 12 losses this year gets to play in the ACC championship consolation game.
Teams better than expected. Missouri. Rutgers. Kansas State. Georgia Tech. Pittsburgh. Syracuse. Wake Forest. Wisconsin. Kentucky. Kent State. BYU. Washington. Arkansas. San Jose State. Teams worse than expected. Florida State. Miami. Arizona State. Michigan State. Memphis. Oklahoma. Central Florida. Minnesota. Akron. Ole Miss. Fresno State.
Old guys. Former NFL coaches Dennis Erickson and Bobby Ross are turning around the programs at Idaho and Army, respectively. Former Arizona coach Dick Tomey has done something many imagined never would be possible at San Jose State: winning games. The Spartans already have beaten Stanford and San Diego State and nearly upset Washington in their opener. The Black Knights almost upset Texas A&M and did beat Baylor. Idaho is 3-3 and gave Michigan State fits in Week 1. New guys. Three new coaches -- Colorado's Dan Hawkins, San Diego State's Chuck Long and Temple's Al Golden -- might want their old jobs back. Their teams are a combined 0-17 so far and it seems plausible that all three squads could finish winless. Not much was expected from the Aztecs, and nothing is ever expected of Temple. But who would have imagined the Buffaloes would lose to Division I-AA Montana State and Baylor in the same season?
Big East showdown. No. 5 West Virginia and No. 7 Louisville have lived up to their lofty rankings with 5-0 records, setting up a Nov. 2 showdown at Louisville's Papa John's Stadium. The winner should win the Big East and the corresponding BCS automatic berth (sorry, Rutgers). But the loser also might stay in the BCS picture. The Cardinals have a better résumé so far, having beaten Kentucky (don't laugh; Cats going to a bowl), Kansas State and Miami. The Mountaineers have beaten Marshall and Maryland, hardly two juggernauts. Give the edge to the Cardinals at home, with or without quarterback Brian Brohm. Egg Bowl. With Illinois/Indiana behind us, let's turn our attention to the Nov. 25 finale between Ole Miss and Mississippi State in Oxford, Miss. Thank goodness this game is no longer televised nationally on Thanksgiving night. Christmas Day morning might be more appropriate; then no one would watch. The Bulldogs have lost 37 of their last 43 SEC games, which is what happens when you let the previous coach stay far too long. The Rebels have lost 14 of their last 19 games in league play, and they're still blaming former coach David Cutcliffe for the mess.
Michigan-Ohio State. If things shake out the way they should, the Nov. 18 game between these bitter Big 10 rivals could be this season's true national championship game. With that much on the line, Wolverines fans surely will feel confident about Lloyd Carr's chances against Jim Tressel. BCS. Even with Auburn out of the picture, we're betting the thing is still going to be a mess. Who gets left out of BCS title game? Undefeated Ohio State or Michigan? Undefeated Florida? Undefeated USC? Unbeaten Louisville or West Virginia?
Impact freshmen. P.J. Hill (Wisconsin), Damion Fletcher (Southern Miss), Reggie Arnold (Arkansas State), Nate Davis (Ball State), Tim Tebow (Florida), Mitch Mustain (Arkansas), Colt McCoy (Texas), C.J. Spiller (Clemson). Javarris James (Miami). Injuries to big-time players. Michael Bush (Louisville). Brian Brohm (Louisville). Chansi Stuckey (Clemson). Anthony Waters (Clemson). Justin Harrell (Tennessee). Zackary Bowman (Nebraska). Dwayne Jarrett (USC). Ben Olson (UCLA). Javon Ringer (Michigan State). Mario Manningham (Michigan).
Short tailbacks. Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe, Rutgers' Ray Rice and Kent State's Eugene Jarvis, all shorter than 5 feet 9, are playing much bigger than their size. Wolfe and Rice are among the country's leading rushers, and Jarvis has helped spark the Golden Flashes to one of the best turnarounds in Division I-A. Don't be surprised if Wolfe or Rice is among the Heisman Trophy finalists in New York in December. SEC tailbacks. They were supposed to dominate the league this season, but Auburn's Kenny Irons, Alabama's Kenneth Darby and Georgia's trio of Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware all have failed to produce for one reason or another. Florida's DeShawn Wynn, Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Kentucky's Rafael Little have been plagued by injuries, although McFadden sure looked healthy against Auburn last week.
Big East. Three of the nine undefeated teams left in Division I-A -- Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia -- hail from the much-maligned conference, and Pittsburgh and Syracuse are among the most improved teams in the country. South Florida might go bowling again, too. Mountain West. MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson suggested his league be given the Big East's automatic BCS spot, but Mountain West teams are struggling mightily. Texas Christian, once a BCS hopeful, has lost consecutive games to BYU and Utah. MWC teams have lost 6 of 11 games against teams from the WAC, and only BYU, Colorado State, TCU and Utah have winning records.
Pete Carroll. The USC coach still has a boatload of talent, but he has done a masterful job in replacing Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Throw in injuries to receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Chris McFoy and safety Josh Pinkard and maybe we should be surprised the Trojans are 5-0 and in position to play in another BCS title game. But with games remaining against California, Oregon and Notre Dame can USC stay unbeaten? Dirk Koetter. Once again, Arizona State failed to live up to its lofty hype with two bad losses in September. It might get worse at No. 3 Southern Cal on Saturday night. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Koetter, who might have lost his team when he abruptly flip-flopped quarterbacks during preseason camp. Senior Sam Keller left for Nebraska, and sophomore Rudy Carpenter has looked thoroughly confused with nine interceptions and 14 sacks.

Michigan defense. Lloyd Carr elevated secondary coach Ron English to defensive coordinator before the season and the Wolverines are as tough as ever before. Michigan is allowing only 40.3 rushing yards per game, tops in college football, and only one opponent has scored more than 17 points. The defense is littered with future NFL players: tackle Alan Branch, ends LaMarr Woodley and Rondell Biggs, linebacker David Harris and cornerback Leon Hall. Oklahoma defense. The Sooners returned seven defensive starters from last season, but the unit has played woefully inept at times this year. Oklahoma is allowing more than 300 yards and nearly 20 points per game and has only six sacks, tied for fewest in the Big 12. Oregon scored 34 against the Sooners, and Texas put 28 on the scoreboard. Bob Stoops sure misses younger brother and former defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, now coach at Arizona.
I-AA upsets. Montana State stunned Colorado. Portland State beat New Mexico. Richmond blanked Duke. New Hampshire stunned Northwestern. Maybe I-A coaches will think twice about scheduling I-AA cupcakes.

Big upsets. Only four unranked teams upset ranked teams in the first five weeks of the season, the fewest since The Associated Press poll expanded to 25 teams in 1989. The previous low was eight in the first five weeks of the 2004 season. Come on, somebody has to choke.
Great finishes. Oklahoma-Oregon. LSU-Auburn. Notre Dame-Michigan State. Boston College- Clemson. Boston College-N.C. State. Arkansas-Alabama. Deflating games. Notre Dame-Michigan. Texas-Oklahoma. Ohio State-Texas. Florida-LSU. California-Tennessee. Florida State-Miami. Oregon-California.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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