Wednesday, October 18, 2017

College football's midseason awards, leading with Penn State RB Saquon Barkley

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SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports college football reporter George Schroeder breaks down the Red River Showdown between the Sooners and Longhorns.
USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the midpoint of the 2017 regular season. You’re not alone in feeling that this is moving too quickly — we wait months and months for the season to come and then it just flies by, unfortunately. Let that feeling be a reminder to make every game count.

As for more pressing information: The midpoint marks a good time to take quick stock of how things have played out across the FBS. Let’s do so by awarding a few halfway-there award categories, from the midseason Heisman leader through the nation’s most surprising and disappointing teams.

Heisman Trophy: Saquon Barkley, Penn State. There’s a strong case to be made for Stanford running back Bryce Love, who averages a first down every time he touches the ball, but Barkley’s production — not just as a runner but also a receiver and returner — for one of the nation’s top teams gives him the edge.

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Best quarterback: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma. While the Sooners did lose to Iowa State, Mayfield still leads the FBS in completion percentage, yards per attempt and efficiency rating, and heads into the heart of October with 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Best defender: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama. He dominates the field whether lined up at cornerback or safety, negating the passing game and sticking his nose into the running game, and does so at not only an elite level but for the best defense in the country.

Best coach: Kirby Smart, Georgia. You couldn’t go wrong with Alabama’s Nick Saban, TCU’s Gary Patterson or Washington State’s Mike Leach, but Smart should be recognized for his ability to quickly turn Georgia into a title contender while managing the Eason injury and resulting controversy over the starting job.

Best team: Alabama. Clemson is not far behind, but Alabama has asserted its will through the first half of the regular season.

Best Group of Five team: San Diego State. Though not the only unbeaten team among the Group of Five — there are three in the American Athletic Conference alone — San Diego State has climbed to No. 18 in the Amway Coaches Poll thanks to wins against Arizona State and Stanford.

Nicest surprise: Washington State. The Cougars were pegged as a borderline top-25 team in the preseason, but the growth and performance of its defense has lifted WSU into elite territory.

Biggest disappointment: Brigham Young. Rather than focusing on the sad sacks in the SEC — Tennessee, Florida and LSU — consider how BYU has followed up last year’s nine-win finish by losing five of its first six, with a sense of malaise and offensive ineptitude that could make this one of the program’s worst seasons in decades.

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