By STEVE MEGARGEE
The same six teams occupied the first six spots in the Top 25 poll all the way up until Georgia lost 20-17 in overtime to South Carolina last week, causing the Bulldogs to tumble from No. 3 to No. 10.
That does not mean there hasn’t been the unexpected during the first half of the college football season.
The lower rungs of the Top 25 include quite a few teams making giant leaps while other teams have slipped into mediocrity — and out of the rankings. A number of players have stepped up their games or have capitalized on increased roles to make unexpected contributions.
Some of the surprising teams and players (and some disappointments, too):
No. 6 Wisconsin: After posting a disappointing 8-5 record last year, Wisconsin has beaten its first six opponents this year by an average of 37.7 points. Jonathan Taylor is on pace to rank in the top three in rushing for a third straight year. The Badgers have allowed just 4.8 points per game to lead all Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring defense.
No. 18 Baylor: Baylor was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 this year after going 7-6 last season. The Bears are undefeated and have shown their ability to win close games by edging Iowa State 23-21 and Texas Tech 33-30 in overtime.
No. 19 SMU: The undefeated Mustangs are in the Top 25 for the first time since 1986 and haven’t been held below 37 points all year. Not bad for a team that was picked to finish fourth out of six teams in the American Athletic Conference’s West Division.
No. 20 Minnesota: Minnesota is 6-0 for the first time since 2003 and nearly has matched the win total from its 7-6 campaign last year. Quarterback Tanner Morgan ranks fourth nationally in passing efficiency.
Syracuse: The Orange opened the season ranked 22nd after going 10-3 and finishing ranked 15th last year. Syracuse (3-3) has now lost its three Atlantic Coast Conference games by a combined score of 120-36 and a bowl game is not a sure thing.
Washington State: The Cougars went 11-2 last season with a No. 10 ranking but are .500 at the midway point despite opening the year at No. 23. Washington State continues to lead the nation in passing even after losing Gardner Minshew to the NFL, but the Cougars can’t stop anyone. They’re 0-3 in Pac-12 play and blew a 32-point lead against UCLA.
LSU QB Joe Burrow: His emergence has helped LSU become the nation’s highest-scoring team this year (52.5). Burrow has improved his completion percentage from .578 last year to an FBS-leading .796 this season. He has thrown 25 touchdown passes already after having just 16 all of last year.
Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell: The team’s main running back this season was supposed to be Patrick Taylor Jr., who rushed for 1,122 yards last season. When Taylor hurt his lower leg in the season opener, Gainwell took over and has responded by rushing for 726 yards and seven touchdowns. He ranks fifth among all FBS players in yards rushing per game.
North Carolina LB Chazz Surratt and Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt: Each of the Surratt brothers is delivering remarkable results. Chazz Surratt is a former North Carolina quarterback who switched positions and now is the Tar Heels’ leading tackler. Sage Surratt leads the ACC in receiving with 46 catches for 711 yards and nine touchdowns, already improving upon his 2018 totals in each of those three categories.
Florida QB Kyle Trask: This career backup has stepped in for the injured Feleipe Franks and made sure the Gators haven’t missed a beat. Trask helped Florida come from behind to win at Kentucky the night Franks got hurt. He has thrown for 10 touchdowns while completing 68.4% of his passes.
Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano: He was Tennessee’s starter for the second half of 2017 and all of 2018, and he was considered one of the Volunteers’ top players going into the year. But he struggled with turnovers and lost his starting spot after Tennessee lost three of its first four games. He did perform well in relief last week after Brian Maurer sustained a concussion in a 20-10 victory over Mississippi State.
Vanderbilt TE Jared Pinkney: He was a second-team selection on the Associated Press preseason All-America team, but has caught just 13 passes for 143 yards and no touchdowns. Pinkney’s lack of production reflects how much the entire Vanderbilt offense has fizzled during its 1-5 start.
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