Arkansas may have dropped a close game to Texas A&M in Week 5 but coach Bret Bielema's squad looks much improved from last season. Same goes for QB Clint Trickett and West Virginia. Athlon Sports lists the seven Power 5 teams that have ramped it up most.
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Arkansas, Record: 3-2
It may seem odd to call Arkansas improved at just 3-2, but the Razorbacks are making significant progress in coach Bret Bielema’s second year. Arkansas held its own against Auburn in the first half and led Texas A&M 28-14 in the fourth quarter. While both were losses, it’s a clear sign Bielema has the program on the right track – he just needs more talent. The rushing attack leads the way for Arkansas on offense, averaging 316.6 yards per game, with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams both ranking among the top five backs in yards per game in the SEC. There’s also progress on defense, where first-year coordinator Robb Smith helped Arkansas lower its points allowed per game to 25.8 after giving up 30.8 in 2013.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsMatthew Emmons
Cal, Record: 3-1
The Golden Bears slumped to 1-11 in Sonny Dykes’ first season, but due to better luck in the injury department and improvement on both sides of the ball, California is off to a 3-1 start. And if it wasn’t for Arizona’s Hail Mary connection on Sept. 20, the Golden Bears would be 4-0. Quarterback Jared Goff is off to a fast start (17 TDs, 3 INTs), guiding the offense to an average of 7.1 yards per play. Injuries hit the defense hard last season, but new coordinator Art Kaufman was a needed addition after Andy Buh’s struggles in 2013. California is allowing only 35.8 points per game after giving up 45.9 in 2013.
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY SportsCasey Sapio
Kentucky, Record: 3-1
Kentucky is off to its best start since 2010. The Wildcats have made considerable progress under second-year coach Mark Stoops, snapping a 16-game SEC losing streak by defeating Vanderbilt 17-7 and nearly winning at Florida (36-30 3 OT) on Sept. 13. Stoops’ recruiting efforts are paying off with an upgraded roster, and the offense features a handful of young players poised to make an impact over the next couple of years. After scoring over 20 points only three times in 2013, the Wildcats have already reached that total in 2014. Kentucky’s offense is averaging 31.5 points per game – a clear improvement from last season’s 20.5 mark.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY SportsMark Zerof
NC State, Record: 4-1
The Wolfpack nearly shocked the college football world with an upset over Florida State last Saturday. Even though NC State’s upset bid fell short, second-year coach Dave Doeren has the Wolfpack on track to make a bowl after a 3-9 record last season. The key cog in the turnaround has been the play of quarterback Jacoby Brissett. After sitting out 2013 due to transfer rules, Brissett has thrown for 13 touchdowns to just one interception and is completing 68.9 percent of his passes.
TCU, Record: 3-0
Considering the three opponents on TCU’s schedule (Samford, Minnesota and SMU), this team is still a mystery. However, for a team that lost six games by 10 points or less last year, there are positive signs the Horned Frogs have turned things around and can contend for eight wins in 2014. After scoring just 25.1 points per game last year, TCU is averaging 44.7 through three contests. Of course, competition is a question, but quarterbacks Trevone Boykin and Matt Joeckel have combined for 10 passing touchdowns, which nearly equals the team’s total from 2013 (14). And as usual, Gary Patterson’s defense is slated to be one of the best in the Big 12.
Virginia, Record: 3-2
Mike London entered 2014 squarely on the hot seat with an 18-31 record over the last four years. So far, London is on track to save his job, as the Cavaliers are 3-2 through the first month of the season. Virginia lost to UCLA by eight in the opener and fell by eight on the road at BYU. The Cavaliers have already exceeded their win total from last year and are squarely in the mix to compete in a wide-open Coastal Division.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY SportsGeoff Burke
West Virginia, Record: 2-2
A tough schedule and quarterback uncertainty led many to project West Virginia to finish at the bottom of the Big 12 this year. The tough schedule remains, but the Mountaineers found an answer at quarterback in senior Clint Trickett, and coach Dana Holgorsen’s high-scoring offense is back in Morgantown. Trickett has thrown for nine touchdowns and 1,600 yards through four games, while the emergence of Kevin White has provided the passing attack with a go-to target. West Virginia’s defense still needs some work, but after playing Oklahoma and Alabama tough, Holgorsen’s team has showed it is ready to easily surpass last year’s 4-8 record.
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY SportsMitch Stringer
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