With the Big Ten and Mountain West conferences joining the original six conferences, the CFB season is starting to resemble the college football slates we've come to know and love.
Here are some of the most intriguing performers from Week 7.
Carson Strong - QB - Nevada
Heading into 2019, third year HC Jay Norvell chose perennially disappointing former four-star recruit Malik Henry, of Last Chance U infamy. That experiment did not last long, as Henry predictably flamed out and Nevada was forced to turn the keys of OC Matt Mumme’s air raid offense over to true freshman QB Carson Strong.
The fledgling freshman held his own, but experienced the kinds of growing pains that are to be expected when breaking in a neophyte quarterback. He went through an early four game stretch where he threw zero touchdowns to six interceptions before settling in and finishing out the year with an 8-1 ratio including three, 300-yard performances in his last five games. Clearly the young quarterback was learning from his previous mistakes and getting more comfortable running the air raid.
There was much reason for optimism in 2020, as Nevada returns 10 starters on offense, including their top six offensive linemen who combine for 77 line starts among them. Throw in talented wide receivers Elijah Cooks and Romeo Doubs and you’ve got a recipe for a drastic improvement over their 2019 average of 21.3 points per game. The Wolfpack offense opened their season against a stout Wyoming defense that averaged a superb 17.4 PPG in 2019. Not the best team to open up with for a still developing offensive attack like Nevada.
None of those PPG metrics mattered once Strong took the field, as the sensational sophomore completed 39-of-52 passes for 420 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions in a 37-34 victory over the Cowboys. He set career highs for completions, yardage and touchdown passes, as the Nevada offense appears to finally be hitting it’s stride in HC Norvell’s fourth season.
Strong should continue to light up an amazingly appealing schedule that features @UNLV/Utah State/@UNM/SDSU/@Hawaii/Fresno/@SJSU. They somehow manage to dodge MWC bully Boise State and only SDSU possesses a defense that is considered “good”. He stands to put up some absolutely gaudy statistical performances in the coming weeks.
Deneric Prince - RB - Tulsa
Similar to Nevada, sixth year Tulsa HC Scottie Montgomery has a deep and talented roster heading into 2020 with nine returning starters and an offensive line that returns four starters with 65 total line starts among them. Incumbent senior RB Shamari Brooks was fresh off a season in which he rushed 227 times for 1,046 yards and six touchdowns as the Golden Hurricane’s bell-cow running back.
There was much reason for optimism on the plains of Oklahoma, however a wrench was thrown into the running game when Brooks tore his ACL in fall camp, leaving Montgomery scrambling for his replacement. The first man up appeared to be Corey Taylor, but it became clear early-on that Taylor is best suited for short-yardage duty, as he has only averaged 4.8 YPC on 26 carries, while breaking only 3 tackles and recording 4 rushes over 10-yards.
Enter Deneric Prince, the 6’1/196 pound sophomore who was rated as a top-75 RB prospect from the 2019 recruiting class. The” Prince of Tulsa” has rushed 36 times for 232 yards and a 6.4 YPC in his first three games of the year. The counting stats are solid of course, but when you peel back the layers and analyze the advanced data, his performance has been even better than his stats indicate.
In his 36 carries, Prince has averaged an excellent 4.1 yards after contact, rushed for over 10 yards eight times and broke a tackle on 33 percent of his carries. These are all well above-average trends that are bolstered by his 15 carry, 109 yard, two touchdown showing against South Florida on Saturday in which he averaged a sterling 7.3 YPC on the day. Make no mistake about it, Prince is Tulsa’s RB1 and will continue to rack-up impressive performances as the season rolls on.
Mike Harley - WR - Miami
Miami’s offense was a certifiable catastrophe last year, as the Hurricanes suffered humiliating defeats to Florida International as well as being shut out in their bowl game by Louisiana Tech. Clearly something had to be done, so defensive wizard HC Manny Diaz hired former Auburn and SMU OC Rhett Lashlee to take over the offense and remold it in his image.
Just as importantly, the Canes transferred in star QB D’Eriq King from Houston to take over as their starting signal caller. Clearly the previous QB room of N’Kosi Perry, Tate Martell and Jarren Williams was insufficient for a team that wants to compete for an ACC title.
The wide receiver group King has to work with is a motley crew of unproven talents behind starting TE Brevin Jordan, with Mke Harley being the leading returning receiver with 38 receptions for 485 yards and three touchdowns last year. So far in 2020 Harley is on pace to surpass last year’s 65 target load, as he has already seen 42 looks through six games, despite a passing game that is still finding it’s sea legs.
It appears that King is finally hitting his passing stride in South Beach, as he peppered the dynamic wideout with 12 targets, catching 10 of them while posting 170 yards and a touchdown, as eight of his catches went for first downs. His 20.2 yards per catch average over the last two games illustrates his explosiveness, as Harley is rapidly becoming King’s favorite target. Miami’s schedule lightens up considerably, as the play @NC State/VT/GT/Wake and UNC to round out their regular season slate. Expect Harley to put up a few more productive games before the year is out.
Marvin Mims - WR - Oklahoma
A 6’0” and 180-pound four-star prospect from Frisco, TX, Mims was graded by 247Sports as the 29th best WR and the 26th overall recruit from the talent-rich state of Texas from the 2020 recruiting class. In high school testing he posted a 4.67 40-yard dash and a 37-inch vertical, showing his promising measurables. However that’s just how the scouting community views his potential. When it comes to demonstrable production, it’s important to understand that Mims set the all-time Texas single-season receiving record with 2,483 yards.
Apparently, he even unofficially broke the national record for receiving yards by surpassing J.P. Shohfi of San Marino, CA who had the previous record at 2,464 yards. Not sure why it’s “unofficially” the record, but I am left to assume it has something to do with Texas and California’s decades old rivalry with each other.
Fast forward to Saturday’s contest against TCU, as Mims caught long touchdowns of 61 and 50 yards, showing off his speed and deep target acumen. Mims went on to catch four of his six targets for 132 yards and two touchdowns, proving he is a player to be taken seriously in 2020.
Jadan Blue - WR - Temple
Heading into this season Jadan Blue had the distinction of being the nation’s most-targeted returning receiver from 2019, as he was on the receiving end of 144 targets that resulted in 95 receptions for 1,067 yards. However despite the heavy target load, Temple’s top wideout only managed to score four touchdowns on the year.
Through three games this year Blue has seen a similarly heavy load, averaging 12 targets per game while catching nine of them and reeling in 75 percent of his targets, only dropping one pass . The biggest area of improvement we’ve seen so far is with the Temple wideout’s scoring output, as he has already caught more touchdowns, 5, than he did all of last season.
Saturday’s game against Memphis was his breakout performance, catching 13-of-18 targets for 115 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-29 loss. He has clearly established himself as the WR1 in Temple’s pass-heavy offense.