Three-Point Stance: Surprising failures, coordinators, freshmen
Rivals national columnist Mike Farrell is here with the five most surprising disappointing teams this season, some coordinators whose stock is up and down, and some freshmen who just missed the Midseason Farrell Freshman 15.
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1. FIVE SURPRISING FAILURES
The 2021 season was something to look forward to for any fans of college football teams. After the COVID season of 2020, things had to get better, right? Not for these surprising failures.
Clemson - The near-consensus pick to win the ACC for the seventh consecutive season, the Tigers have swooned this season, especially offensively. Most people figured that they would take a little step back offensively this year, but few expected things to be this bad. D.J. Uiagalelei has not played with the same demeanor as he did last year, and the offensive line can't get any push in the run game. They're effectively two games back in the ACC Atlantic, having lost to NC State which remains unbeaten in conference play, and their chances of even making a New Year's Six bowl game are pretty slim.
Wisconsin - The Badgers entered the season ranked 12th in the AP poll, and with the early promise shown by Graham Mertz last season, hopes were high in Madison that they would have a breakthrough year and potentially make the playoff. So while the defense has been outstanding - it is second behind Georgia in total defense - the Badgers have been killed by poor offensive play and tons of turnovers. They are dead last in all of FBS in turnover margin and 126th in passing efficiency. The typically mighty offensive line has also performed poorly all season, and while they technically have the ability to make it back to Indianapolis, they would have to win out to do so, and that’s not happening.
Florida - Everyone knew that it would be tough to replace Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney on offense, but Dan Mullen managed to shift this team from the pass-happy attack of a year ago to a dominant run game. But the Gators' defense has struggled to stop the run, as evidenced by LSU's performance this past weekend, and they've now lost three of their past five games. They are second to last in the SEC in turnover margin, having thrown more interceptions than any team in the country, and Mullen can't seem to decide between Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson behind center.
Missouri - There was some buzz around Columbia entering the season, as the Tigers had exceeded expectations in Eli Drinkwitz's first season, and Connor Bazelak returned at QB. But Mizzou's defense has been downright atrocious this year, ranking dead last in the country against the run, and fourth worst overall, giving up more than 488 yards per game. Teams are averaging 26 first downs per game against them, also dead last in the country. Until they find a defense, they're not going to be able to compete in the SEC.
Washington - After a truncated 2020 season in which the Huskies only played four games, they returned with high expectations in Jimmy Lake's second season. But after a season-opening loss to FCS Montana and a shellacking at the hands of Michigan, they have never really recovered. They barely beat a struggling Cal team, lost to perpetual Pac-12 cellar-dwellers Oregon State, and got completely outplayed by UCLA. Their offense has not been up to snuff, ranking 97th in the country, and Dylan Morris has thrown eight picks already. There's already buzz about Lake being on the hot seat, and it's warranted.
2. COORDINATOR STOCK REPORT
The stock of coordinators in college football fluctuates all the time. Here are a few examples of risers and fallers so far this season.
Dan Lanning, Georgia - The architect behind one of the best defenses we've ever seen, Lanning is one of the hottest young names in the coaching game. UGA's defense is first in the country in total defense, scoring defense, passing yards allowed, and second in rushing yards allowed and passing efficiency against. The Bulldogs are a simply dominant unit in large part due to Lanning's leadership and ability to put their elite athletes in the best position to perform. He's going to be getting a lot of looks by top-level programs, and at only 35 years old, he's got a lot of football in front of him.
Josh Gattis, Michigan - There were a lot of questions about Gattis' offense last season, as Michigan struggled mightily to consistently move the ball. But he has done an outstanding job remaking this unit in the offseason. The Wolverines rank seventh in the nation in rushing offense and 14th in scoring offense, and have a genuinely scary 1-2 punch at running back with Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum both performing very well. Like Lanning, he's still very young at only 37 years old, and will definitely garner attention from Power Five programs looking for a young, enthusiastic head coach.
Mark Whipple, Pitt - Unlike the previous two coaches, Whipple is getting up there in age. At 64, he's got more than 40 years of coaching experience. But what he's done to evolve the offense for the Panthers is nothing short of a miracle. Kenny Pickett has turned into a real Heisman contender under his watch, and Pitt ranks fifth in the nation in total offense at more than 530 yards per game, and third in scoring offense, averaging 48.3 points per game. So while he's probably not a high-level head coach candidate at this point, he deserves credit for how he's turned this team into an offensive juggernaut.
Tony Elliott, Clemson - The Tigers' offensive coordinator has long been considered one of the top names for many open positions, but he always elected to stay at Clemson. This year however his stock has taken a major hit, as the Tigers have not only the worst offensive unit of his tenure but one of the worst in the country. They're in the bottom 20 nationally in total offense, passing offense, passing efficiency, scoring offense, first downs, and time of possession. D.J. Uiagalelei is not performing at nearly the same level as he did last year when he stepped in for an injured Trevor Lawrence.
Todd Grantham, Florida - Florida's defensive struggles all lead back to Grantham, who remains employed despite the continually sub-par results. While the raw numbers aren't as bad, they're padded by the fact that they shut out a hapless Vanderbilt squad and had easy games against Florida Atlantic and South Florida early in the season. But anyone who has watched the Gators over the past couple of years knows that their defense, especially their run defense, is a liability. "Third and Grantham" is a real thing, and it's only getting worse as they play better competition.
Brian Ferentz, Iowa - Even when the Hawkeyes were ranked No. 2 in the country, most people who followed the program knew that that ranking was tenuous at best considering the state of the offense. They currently sit 118th in the country in total offense, and in the bottom 30 of rushing, passing and red zone offense. Spencer Petras has regressed in his second year as the starter for the Hawkeyes, and their playcalling is uninspired. Unfortunately for Iowa fans, Ferentz is the head coach's son, so a change seems unlikely going forward.
3. MORE STANDOUT FRESHMEN
Finally, after my midseason Farrell Freshman 15 last week I had a lot of names left that didn’t make the list. Here are some other freshman standouts on the offensive side of the ball.
RB Donovan Edwards, Michigan — Despite the amazing running back combo in Ann Arbor the true freshman has been making the most of his carries.
RB Raheim Sanders, Arkansas — Sanders has been a big part of a powerful Arkansas rushing attack with nearly 400 yards.
RB Caleb “JuJu” McDowell, South Carolina — He’s been a nice addition rushing and receiving.
RB Gabe Ervin, Nebraska — He had two touchdowns and showed promise before an injury sidelined him in September.
RB Anthony Tyus, Northwestern — Averaging nearly five yards a carry he has a nice future.
RB Corey Kiner, LSU — Kiner has shown he’s college football ready in his 36 rushing attempts.
RB Joshua McCray, Illinois — He’s been very impressive as a big, powerful back in the Big Ten.
WR JoJo Earle, Alabama — He’s electric at times from the slot.
WR Rara Thomas, Mississippi State — He’s going to be a big part of the Air Raid offense down the line.
WR Adonai Mitchell, Georgia — Since a strong spring he’s been an impact guy and in the mix.
TE Jack Bech, LSU — He’s already one of their most reliable targets.
OL Marcus Tate, Clemson — The Clemson offensive line hasn’t been great but he’s a starter already.
OL Wyatt Milum, West Virginia — Milum has been in the mix as a starter at tackle for a while.
OL Blake Fisher, Notre Dame — He earned a starting role at the beginning of the season.