by Bruce Marshall, TGS EXTRA!!! Editor

The college football season moves into mid-October this week. And when the campaign annually reaches its midway point, we usually like to hand out “grades” to the teams for their efforts. For even if such a review is subjective, it can provide a useful barometer on how teams have performed, and, perhaps, what they’re likely to do in the last half of the campaign. And an examination of the following “grades” could always help to uncover some useful info for the serious handicapper seeking to identify overachieving, and underachieving, pointspread performers.

We don’t use our midseason checkups to grade teams in relation to one another. Rather, we have weighed how they have performed against preseason expectations, with concessions for extraordinarily good, or bad, performances.

And pointspread performance (good or bad) can often be a more-revealing element of such a progress report than pure straight-up records. For example, we’re not saying Louisiana-Lafayette or Utah State or Western Michigan are on a par with Oklahoma or Alabama. But, when comparing their performances vs. preseason expectations, the Ragin’ Cajuns, Utags, and Broncos have achieved just about as much as the Sooners, Crimson, Tide, or other highly-ranked teams in the polls.

Keep in mind that these grades are subject to weekly review and can change quickly. We’ll provide another update later iont he regular season. Following are the five traditional grading categories—A, B, C, D, & F, with “+” and “-” addendums on each level—and the teams we believe fit into those categories thru the games of last weekend.

A...Outstanding performance, or far beyond preseason expectations: A+...Clemson, Oklahoma State, Stanford; A...Alabama, Boise State, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rutgers, Temple Utah State, Wake Forest, Western Michigan, Wisconsin; A-...Arkansas State, Baylor, Cincinnati, Illinois, Washington, Washington State. Notes...Plenty to talk about here. Clemson might rate as the nation’s surprise team, although we would watch closely the status of QB Tajh Boyd, whose ability to quickly master the aggressive spread looks installed by new o.c. Chad Morris (from Tulsa) keyed the early-season Tiger surge but now could be in jeopardy with his hip injury suffered last week. As for Oklahoma State and Stanford, we just believed each was worth a special commendation for having performed so flawlessly this season. Of the teams in the A- group, pay close attention to Washington State, which could be a candidate t move down a grade to the “Bs” if the Cougs begin to take some attrition and start to wear down. Thus far, however, Wazzu has been one of the nice storylines of the season, sitting at 3-2 even without starting QB Jeff Tuel, who went down in the opener vs. Idaho State with a broken collarbone and might be redshirted. Senior backup Marshall Lobbestael has been near-heroic in relief.

B...Above-average performance, or generally exceeding preseason expectations. B+...Michigan State, Oregon, SMU, Southern Miss, Texas; B...Arizona State, Arkansas, Duke, Georgia, Houston, Marshall, Nevada, San Jose State, South Florida, Toledo, UTEP, Vanderbilt, West Virginia; B-...Auburn, Ball State, Hawaii, La Tech, Missouri, New Mexico State, North Carolina, North Texas, Notre Dame, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee. Notes...Texas was in the “A” category until getting whipped 55-17 last week by Oklahoma. Still time for the Longhorns to move back up, but maybe not this week with potent Oklahoma State on deck. Making a strong move the past few weeks is surging Georgia, now on a 4-game win streak after losing its first two to start the season. Oregon has also been climbing its way back to the top level after the opening loss vs. LSU; a win this week over Arizona State likely puts the Ducks into the top category, where, by the way, the Sun Devils would also surely leap should they pull the upset in Eugene. We’d also keep an eye on La Tech, which might be ready to make a move as frosh QB Nick Isham gets more comfy with HC Sonny Dykes’ offense. Slipping quickly could be MAC reps Ball State and Ohio, both wobbling a bit after encouraging starts, and Tennessee, which might have to go without QB Tyler Bray for the next month if early reports are accurate regarding the hand injury he suffered late in last week’s loss vs. Georgia.

C...Average performance; not much better or worse than initial expectations; or lack of consistency in efforts. C+...Buffalo, Iowa State, Pitt, Central Florida; C...Bowling Green, BYU, California, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisville, Miami-Ohio, Nebraska, North Carolina State, Northwestern, Purdue, Rice, Southern Cal, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Western Kentucky; C-...Army, Iowa, Kansas, Miami-Florida, Middle Tennessee, Penn State, San Diego State, UCLA. Notes...A couple of teams have fallen into this group via bad circumstances; Florida’s shortage of QBs has been a huge negative for the Gators, who were traversing “A” territory a couple of weeks ago before crushing back-to-back losses vs. Alabama and LSU. Northwestern has only had QB Dan Persa available for a couple of weeks and figured to rate a little more highly had he been in the lineup all season. Pitt has fallen back into the “C+” range after moving into the “Bs” and being poised to move higher after the previous week’s win over South Florida; the lopsided loss at Rutgers, however, has undone that earlier good work vs. the Bulls. Potential movers “upward” in the next few weeks could be Miami-Ohio, which finally found some offense last week vs. Army, and perhaps Tulsa, which is rebounding from a brutal September slate that featured Oklahoma, oklahoma State, and Boise State but should be back into bowl contention by the end of the month. Virginia Tech might also be on the ascent if soph QB Logan Thomas proves last week’s 23-for-25 passing effort vs. the Miami Hurricanes was no fluke. Heading the other way? Bowling Green, hit hard by injuries, could be fading fast, and Tulane must be watched closely with HC Bob Toledo on shaky footing. Iowa and Kansas are also not impressing lately.

D...Below-average performance, or falling significantly short of preseason expectations, for any assortment of reasons. D+...Colorado, Colorado State, Maryland, Navy, Northern Illinois, Oregon State, TCU; D...Air Force, Akron, Connecticut, East Carolina, Fresno State, Kent State, Mississippi State, Ohio State, Troy; D-...Utah. Notes...A variety of underachievers and troubled teams compose this group. Maryland has not retained the momentum for new HC Randy Edsall that it had at the end of last season for predecessor Ralph Friedgen, and now Edsall had to yank underachieving QB Danny O’Brien last week at Georgia Tech. Navy has hit a 3-game slump, can’t reclaim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, and might have to scramble to get eligible to claim its spot in the Military Bowl at nearby Washington, D.C. Fresno State has disappointed and is off another 50-point allowance (its fourth consecutive) vs. Boise State. Utah has been a big false alarm in its new adventure in the Pac-12, its stagnant offense only effective once all season (at BYU) and with sore-armed QB Jordan Wynn probably out for a couple of more weeks. On the way up could be TCU, which is a long way from its BCS level of the past two seasons. But the Horned Frogs could be ready to shake off a pair of bitter losses vs. old SWC rivals Baylor and SMU in the first month of the season as Gary Patterson’s rebuilt squad gains some traction behind soph QB Casey Pachall. Meanwhile, Oregon State shows signs of progress, winning its first game of 2011 last week vs. Arizona as RS frosh QB Sean Mannion starts to feel comfy at the controls of the attack.

F...Failure, or not remotely approaching preseason expectations. Arizona, Boston College, Florida Atlantic, Florida State, Kentucky, Memphis, Minnesota, New Mexico, UNLV. Notes...This is a slightly more-expansive list than we usually have in the “F” category at this stage of the season, but there has truly been some wretches performances across the board in this bunch. Whatever excuses Arizona might have about a rebuilt offensive line and lack of balance for the Nick Foles-led offense do not pardon the Cats from their continuing underachievement, as they’ve now lost ten in a row vs. FBS-level foes. The defense has also been wretched, al contriuting to HC Mike Stoops' dismissal last week. Boston College has some injury excuses (top RB Montel Harris in particular) but the Eagles, at 1-5, are well on their way to missing a bowl for the first time in 13 years, perhaps putting HC Frank Spaziani under the gun. Florida State, considered by some to be a stealth BCS title game candidate, instead nears midseason at 2-3 and beginning to wonder about getting bowl eligible. Kentucky’s season has completely unraveled thanks to a sluggish offense that cannot hope to compete vs. the rugged SEC schedule the Cats must endure.

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