The usual suspects appear atop the college football rankings, as Oklahoma, LSU and Alabama expectedly vanquished the competition thus far in 2011. Boise State and Stanford are sitting pretty too, led by Heisman-caliber quarterbacks in Kellen Moore and Andrew Luck, respectively. Oklahoma State and freakish wideout Justin Blackman could throw a major wrench into things as well after their comeback victory against Texas A&M last weekend. But with former Yankees minor-league pitcher Brandon Weeden at the helm and in the latter half of his 20s, it's not exactly surprising that the Cowboys have put themselves in prime position for success, either.
However, the bottom half of the Top 25 has a couple of major surprises. Illinois is off to its best start in more than 50 years, while Michigan has exorcized its defensive demons from a year ago en route to a 4-0 start. Meanwhile, perhaps the biggest surprise has been the South Florida Bulls, 10th overall in points scored at 45.5 per contest. Quarterback B.J. Daniels, a superior athlete, appears to have found his groove passing the ball. The resurrection of Darrell Scott has also been most welcome for USF; once a monster recruit for Colorado, Scott had an injury prone two years in Boulder before sitting out last year as a transfer. He is now fresh and averaging 6.6 yards per carry en route to 348 yards rushing and five touchdowns, and has become a must-start for fantasy purposes.
A lot can change, though, and quickly, as October looms, which means the meat of teams' respective conference schedules. Let's look at who's up and who's down in this week's College Football Barometer.
Lanear Sampson, WR, Baylor - Kendall Wright is a freak at wideout for the Bears, but if you need a secondary option and a sleeper, Sampson just might be your man. He has found the end zone in every game this season. He won't get a ton of receptions, averaging three per game, but that is still good for third on the squad. Robert Griffin is having a Heisman-like campaign thus far in 2011; with Kendall Wright expected to draw a ton of attention against Kansas State next week, Sampson could steal some thunder for BU.
Pat Shed, RB, UAB - Shed is one of the most versatile players in college football, but he missed the first game of the season at Florida due to a sports hernia and was used sparingly against Tulane on Sept. 17. He finally made his presence felt on Saturday at East Carolina, rushing 15 times for 59 yards, while catching 11 balls for 62 yards out of the backfield. With quarterback Bryan Ellis questionable for next week's contest due to a head/neck/shoulder injury suffered during the ECU game, the Blazers should lean heavily on Shed at Troy.
Dominique Whaley, RB, Oklahoma - Whaley splits carries with sophomore Brennan Clay but has been the more productive back for the Sooners. The junior is averaging 4.9 yards per carry en route to 270 yards and five touchdowns, four of which came in the season-opener against Tulsa. Against Missouri on Saturday, Whaley also caught five passes for 82 yards. The Sooners get lowly Ball State this week, meaning that Whaley should likely light it up for Oklahoma.
Ivan McCartney, WR, West Virginia - Normally, an offense's No. 3 wideout isn't the greatest fantasy play, but in the spread offense under new coach Dana Holgorsen, McCartney gets plenty of looks. He has caught at least six passes in each of the last two contests for the Mountaineers, including eight grabs for 101 yards against Maryland on Sept. 17. West Virginia gets Bowling Green on Saturday after receiving a spanking from LSU; quarterback Geno Smith figures to air it out with reckless abandon against the Falcons.
Cole Beasley, WR, SMU - The No. 1 receiver for the potent SMU offense, Beasley suffered a right knee injury against Memphis on Saturday after registering three catches for 50 yards. The senior had accumulated 21 grabs for 270 yards in the two previous games. Not only is Beasley's status in the air, but the Mustangs get the ranked TCU Horned Frogs in Fort Worth this week. When healthy, Beasley is a beast, but it could be risky if he's gimpy and facing a tough intra-state opponent.
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami - Miller has been torching the competition this season for the Canes, taking 62 carries for 409 yards and two touchdowns in just three games. However, he injured his left shoulder late against Kansas State. Although the injury is not considered serious, Miami gets lowly Bethune-Cookman this week, meaning the Hurricanes could choose to play it safe with Miller and limit his touches, particularly if the game gets out of hand quickly.
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson - Is Boyd for real? He's led the Tigers to a 4-0 start, accumulating 730 passing yards in his last two games, against Auburn and Florida State. He hasn't gone on the road yet, though, and he'll get a stiff challenge this week in Blacksburg from the Virginia Tech Hokies. VaTech went away from difficult non-conference opponents to begin the 2011 season but has still held opposing offenses to 10.0 points per contest, good for sixth in the nation. In an unfriendly environment, we will see if Boyd has some serious moxie, or if instead he succumbs to the overwhelming hostility.
John White IV, RB, Utah - White has feasted on lesser opponents in 2011, smoking BYU for 174 yards and three touchdowns on Sept. 17 and decimating Montana for 150 rushing yards in Utah's season opener. Nevertheless, he was held to just 2.8 yards per carry in a loss at USC, and the Utes get another Pac-12 foe this week in Washington. White has also not proven that he can be an effective receiver out of the backfield just yet. It's not that I don't believe in White, I would just like to see how he fares in conference play against bigger, faster, stronger defenses before anointing him a star at running back.
Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska - It might be tough to bench Burkhead with the way he's been running lately, but he has taken advantage of favorable matchups against Wyoming and Washington. Over those last two games, the junior has rushed 37 times for 290 yards and four touchdowns. Nebraska has not even had a conference game yet, though. That will change this week, when the 'Huskers travel to Madison for a date with the feisty Badgers of Wisconsin. Although the Badgers haven't faced much competition themselves, Wisconsin has allowed a staggering 8.5 points per contest through four games, good for third in the nation. Burkhead may find it supremely difficult to find space against the vaunted Wisconsin defense.
Stephen Garcia, QB, South Carolina - Some serious trust issues exist with Garcia, who can look like an elite gunslinger one game and then completely lost the next. Despite beating Vandy last week, Garcia tossed four picks. In fact, he was benched by coach Steve Spurrier, and the Ol' Ball Coach is uncertain as to whether Garcia or Connor Shaw will start against Auburn. The Tigers have proven to be no slouches themselves, losing only to what looks to be an uber-talented Clemson squad. It appears best to stay away from this quarterback situation until someone emerges.
Chris Rainey, RB, Florida - Rainey is averaging 6.5 yards per carry through four games this season. Surprisingly, though, that's his lowest rushing average in his career. He also splits carries with Jeff Demps, who exploded last week for 157 yards and two touchdowns at Kentucky. The Gators get fearsome Alabama this week, with Florida quarterback Jeff Brantley still struggling to find his footing under center. That means the Crimson Tide likely will stack the box against UF, and dare Brantley to beat them throwing the ball. Alabama has the athletes to contend with the speedy Rainey as well, meaning it might be better to go with another option this week.
Ronnie Wingo Jr., RB, Arkansas - Knile Davis was supposed to be here, and Wingo would have been a mere afterthought. However, a season-ending injury to Davis in camp meant that Wingo would see double-digit carries for the Razorbacks. All was well until the Hogs were stuffed by Alabama last week, with Wingo rushing 11 times for 35 yards against the stout 'Bama D. This week's opponent, Texas A&M, was torched by Oklahoma State through the air a week ago, but the Aggies allowed a ridiculously low 1.3 runs per carry. Wingo might not find much room to roam this week.