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Midseason Report: Pleasant Surprises, Flops, Halfway Heisman

Associated Press

The first half of the 2016 college football season featured the emergence of a new star quarterback, the re-emergence of an old Pac-12 power and the end of an era at LSU.

Texas is back! Nope.

Houston to the playoff! Nah.

Tom Herman to LSU? Tom Herman to Texas? Tom Herman to the Chicago Bears? This, unfortunately, has only just begun.

With seven weeks of the season in the books, we assess the best and the worst of the first half.

Most surprising undefeated team: Texas A&M

The Aggies were unranked and appeared to be an unsettled program to start the season. Assistant coaches made offseason headlines for the wrong reasons. The five-star quarterbacks had fled and were replaced by former inconsistent Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight. There is no more hot-seat talk about coach Kevin Sumlin as the Aggies head to No. 1 Alabama for a game that could decide the SEC West on Saturday. There is still potential for things to go sideways for Sumlin and the Aggies, but so far A&M has replaced the swag with substance.

Most disappointing team: Notre Dame

There are some serious candidates here. Oregon, but the Ducks were showing signs of crashing coming into 2016. Michigan State, but the Spartans were probably due for a reset season. Notre Dame, however, is a big hot mess. Seven games in and coach Brian Kelly has fired his defensive coordinator and created an unnecessary quarterback controversy. Even allowing the Fighting Irish some leeway for overinflated expectations, 2-5 and scrambling to get bowl eligible is unacceptable.

Best coaching job (head coach): Nick Saban, Alabama, and Urban Meyer, Ohio State

We often reward the coaches who exceed expectations and do the most with the least — that's all well and good — but sustained excellence is really where it's at. No. 1 Alabama won the national championship last year and is better this season with a freshman quarterback. No. 2 Ohio State lost one of the greatest classes of all time from one school to the NFL draft, and the Buckeyes have not missed a beat.

Best coaching job (coordinator): Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin

Could go back to Alabama for Lane Kiffin or Ohio State for Greg Schiano, but Wilcox is the pick as he re-establishes himself as one of the better defensive coordinators in the country. He took over a well-stocked group after Dave Aranda left for LSU, but the Badgers are as feisty as ever.

Best turnaround: Colorado

It has been a long, hard road back to relevance for the Buffaloes, but Mike MacIntyre has Boulder interested in its college football team again. CU has not won more than six games since 2004 and had just two Pac-12 victories in MacIntyre's first three seasons. Now the Buffs (5-2) are a win away from bowl eligibility and 3-1 in conference with a legit chance to take the Pac-12 South. Props also to defensive coordinator and former USF coach Jim Leavitt for the most improved part of the team.

Breakout player (offense, not named Lamar Jackson): Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma

Lots of good candidates here among receivers, most notably Cal's Chad Hansen and Syracuse's Amba Etta-Tawo. Westbrook was the Big 12's offensive newcomer of the year last year so it's not as if he is coming out of nowhere. His recent surge (26 catches for 574 yards), though, has him playing like an All-American and he has already surpassed last year's numbers for receptions and yards.

Breakout player (defense): Joe Mathis, LB, Washington

Mathis has gone from solid player to an absolute force for the Huskies in his senior season. He has already topped his career total for sacks with five and nearly doubled his career tackles for loss with 7.5 this season. Oregon coaches could still be searching game tape for plays in which the Ducks handled Mathis.

Best game: Clemson 42, Louisville 36

Two great quarterbacks doing spectacular things. Talented players everywhere. Huge swings in emotion and momentum. Comebacks on both sides and clutch performances. All played in one of the best venues in college football. And it came down to 1 yard. Sure it was sloppy at times, but so much fun.

Worst game: Michigan 78, Rutgers 0

Maybe the most noncompetitive conference game in the last 25 years of college football.

Worst officiating: The officials who worked the Central Michigan-Oklahoma State game.

It is one thing to blow a judgment call. It is quite another to badly misinterpret a rule and then have that mistake cost a team a game. Both the MAC officials on the field and Big 12 replay officials earned suspensions.

Worst firing: Les Miles, LSU

LSU athletic director Joe Alleva wanted Miles out last season, but botched it and allowed Miles to gain a groundswell of support. So at first chance this season, after an ugly loss at Auburn dropped the Tigers to 2-2, Alleva canned Miles before the coach could go out and save himself again. It was time for a change in Baton Rouge. And if handled properly it could have been done 10 months earlier.

Hot-seat coaches

Warm: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech; Mark Helfrich, Oregon; Gus Malzahn, Auburn.

Warmer: Mark Stoops, Kentucky; Steve Addazio, Boston College; Charlie Strong, Texas.

Toasty: David Bailiff, Rice

Cooked: Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State

Hot coaches in the Group of Five (not named Tom Herman)

Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky; P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan; Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State; Willie Taggart, USF

Halfway Heisman

1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville; 2. Jake Browning, QB, Washington; 3. Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston

Three more to watch

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State; J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State; Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama

Top four teams now (doesn't matter)

1. Alabama 2. Ohio State 3. Michigan 4. Clemson

Top four on Dec. 4 (matters)

1. Alabama 2. Ohio State 3. Clemson 4. Washington

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