A little more than a month into his tenure as USC's interim head coach and Ed Orgeron has earned a chance to stay beyond this season.
The turnaround at Southern California has been nothing short of remarkable.
This past week, USC went to Corvallis, Ore. and beat the Beavers, 31-14. It was USC's first win at Reser Stadium since 2004. Trojans' QB Cody Kessler was an efficient 17-of-21 for 247 yards with a touchdown and one interception. Standout wide receiver Marquise Lee returned from injury to score a 71-yard touchdown on SC's first play, running back Javorius Allen shredded Oregon State for 133 yards and three majors, and Silas Redd added another 140 yards on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, the Trojan defence was just as lethal. USC held Oregon State to 369 total yards, and the Beavers went just 2-for-11 on third downs. QB Sean Mannion, who led the nation in passing coming in with a 30-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, threw for just 277 yards, and a season-worst three interceptions.
The Trojans are 3-1 under Orgeron, and 3-0 in conference play. A defensive line coach for most of his career, Orgeron's team is eighth in the nation with 29 sacks, ranks 13th in rushing defence, and sits 12th in total defence allowing just over 230 yards per game.
Now the Trojans are 6-3 and Bowl-eligible, something that seemed out of the realm of possibility when Lane Kiffin was fired in the wee hours of September 29th. With games remaining against Cal, Stanford, Colorado and UCLA, it's likely the Trojans will finish 8-5, and even plausible they could finish 9-3. Outside of Kiffin's Bowl-banned 10-2 season, 9-3 would be the Trojans best record since the Pete Carroll era. And with a 3-2 conference record, USC is still very much alive in the Pac-12 South.
Coach "O" has a history at Southern California. He was the Trojans defensive line coach from 1998 to 2004, and as Carroll's top assistant, became the program's recruiting coordinator. Following USC's back-to-back AP National Championships, he got the chance to go out on his own. In 2004, Orgeron took the head coaching job at Ole Miss, and in three seasons in Oxford, Miss., led the Rebels to a disappointing 10-25 record.
Now back at the Coliseum, it's a wiser Orgeron who's learned from his failures that's roaming the sidelines. Harkening back to the Carroll era, he's fostered the loose, rah-rah atmosphere at USC that disappeared under Kiffin. He shortened practices, and opened them up to the LA media. Unlike Kiffin, Orgeron increased media access and has shied away from talking about sanctions. He took away yellow practice jerseys from quarterbacks, eliminating barriers between teammates, and even brought cookies back to team meals, previously banned under Kiffin.
When Kiffin was fired, Orgeron was the longest of shots to become the permanent head coach. One month and a 3-0 conference record later, and he deserves to be the frontrunner.
Some other notes from around the NCAA:
Is there any turnaround more stunning than Auburn's? Last season, the Tigers were 3-9, and 0-8 in the SEC. This season, Auburn has won five straight games and sports an 8-1 record. The offence has scored 41 touchdowns in nine games, after scoring just 24 all of last year. Ninth in the BCS standings, Auburn's Iron Bowl date with Alabama looms large. Win, and the Tigers could get an SEC title shot. A remarkable turnaround in the program's first year under Gus Malzahn.
There may be no hotter player in the country than QB Jordan Lynch. Last week in the Huskies' rout of UMass, the senior threw for a touchdown, and ran for four more. The week before, Northern Illinois' pivot threw for four touchdowns, rushed for one, and even caught one against Eastern Michigan. In the last three games, Lynch has been responsible for 14 total touchdowns running and passing. That's more than 106 teams have scored in any way over that same span. Even playing in a conference like the MAC, Lynch deserves serious consideration from Heisman voters.
Logan Thomas' season of disappointment continues at Virginia Tech. Thomas turned the ball over four times in the Hokies' 34-27 loss to Boston College last week. It was Tech's second loss in as many weeks, and Thomas has now thrown 11 touchdowns to 12 interceptions on the season. The senior leads the FBS with 33 turnovers since the start of last season, a remarkable fact for a former 4-star recruit. Most concerning for Frank Beamer's team, the Hokies are 10-12 when Thomas throws an interception, 14-0 when he doesn't.
The performance of Michigan State's defence in last Saturday's 29-6 win over Michigan was simply historic. The Spartans held the Wolverines to 168 total yards en route to Michigan's worst loss in the rivalry since 1967. On the strength of seven sacks, Michigan finished with minus 48 yards rushing, their worst output on the ground in the history of the program. Even without the sacks, MSU held the Wolverines to just a single yard on 22 carries. Michigan State leads the nation in total defence, and ranks 3rd and 4th in scoring and passing, respectively. They're allowing 43.4 yards rushing per game, a number that isn't just best in the country, but would also be tied for best in the last decade. With a 5-0 mark in the Big Ten, and an 8-1 record on the season, the Spartans should be headed to the conference championship, setting up an intriguing matchup with Ohio State.