The best college football player you don’t know, a different kind of rivalry week and more for Week 13

Mack Brown was standing on the sideline at Kenan Stadium in April 2019, watching his new North Carolina football team run through a spring scrimmage. Next to him was Urban Meyer, the former Ohio State coach, in town to speak at a clinic. The two chatted casually, Brown openly wondering what the future might hold for a team he still knew little about after taking over the program just a few months earlier.

“You’re going to be OK,” Meyer interrupted, pointing toward the field. “No. 8 and No. 25 — they’re special.”

No. 8 was tailback Michael Carter, and Meyer’s praise came as little surprise. Carter was the state of Florida’s offensive player of the year as a senior, and he’d already totaled more than 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career before Brown arrived.

But No. 25 — Javonte Williams — was more of a mystery.

ESPN ranked Williams the 53rd-best running back in the Class of 2018. He played sparingly as a freshman in 2018, generally used in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

But Meyer saw something more. Williams could pass block, was quick to hit the hole and showed nice hands out of the backfield. Meyer didn’t see a short-yardage back. He saw the total package.

ESPN ranked Javonte Williams (No. 25) the 53rd-best running back in the Class of 2018. He leads the nation with 18 touchdowns and ranks fifth with 1,115 yards from scrimmage. Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Two years later, the rest of college football is getting a taste of what Meyer noticed during that spring scrimmage in Chapel Hill — even if most of the country has yet to take notice. Williams, the UNC tailback, might just be the best player in the country no one seems to be watching. But that’s likely to change Saturday when the No. 25 Tar Heels host No. 2 Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN App).

“This is a chance for us to show how good we really are,” said Williams, who leads the nation with 18 touchdowns and ranks fifth with 1,115 yards from scrimmage. “But it’s been so long since I’ve had any recognition that it doesn’t faze me. The only recognition I want is a conference championship.”

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Williams, who said his goal entering 2020 was to finish with 10 touchdowns, hit that mark in Carolina’s fifth game. He has finished with more than 100 yards from scrimmage six times this year. He’s averaging 7.2 yards per carry, second best in the nation among backs with at least 70 rushes. His broken tackle rate of 40% is easily the best in the country, nearly four times the national average.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Brown said. “And like all the great ones, he gets better as the game goes on.”

A different kind of rivalry week

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College football at the (kind of) midway point — Awards watch and unbelievable moments

The word “midseason” is almost useless this year in college football. Of the 127 teams endeavoring to play FBS football this fall, only 12 have played half of their intended schedule (13 if you include UMass having played its only scheduled game to this point), while another 50 have yet to get started.

Still, we are indeed at a sort of midpoint: seven weeks down, eight to go to before conference championship games. As the Big Ten and other conferences get underway, we might forget some of the odder moments of this, the oddest first half of a season ever. So let’s commemorate what has happened thus far as we look toward what happens next.

Things that actually happened in the first seven weeks of the season

K.J. Costello, Heisman front-runner. In Mike Leach’s first game as Mississippi State coach, Costello utterly torched LSU for 623 yards and five touchdowns on 60 passes in a 44-34 upset win. In the three games since, all losses, Costello has thrown 136 times for 644 yards, MSU’s offense has scored a total of 21 points, and Costello has gotten benched in favor of freshman Will Rogers. Oh yeah, and LSU also got torched for 586 yards and 45 points in a loss to Missouri.

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Coastal Carolina and Central Arkansas, ESPN darlings. A thinner schedule of early-season games offered brand-building opportunities for smaller schools who could take advantage (and were willing to put up with obvious risks). Central Arkansas crafted an “anyone, anywhere” brand by setting up a 10-game schedule that included three FBS opponents, plus the season opener against Austin Peay and the Trey Lance Showcase Game against North Dakota State.

Coastal, meanwhile, has won twice on ESPN in prime time — against Campbell on a Friday night in mid-September and against Louisiana last Wednesday. The Chanticleers also cleaned Kansas’ clock on Fox Sports 1 and whipped Arkansas State on ESPN2, and they are unbeaten and ranked for the first time ever.

Tennessee held the longest winning streak in the country. At halftime in Week 6, the Volunteers were winners of eight games in a row — they hadn’t lost in nearly a full calendar year — and held a 21-17 lead over Georgia in Athens. In the six quarters that followed, they got outscored 61-7. Georgia surged past them, then they lost at home to Kentucky for the first time in 36 years.

The opponentless Houston Cougars. When the season is over, Houston will have played a run-of-the-mill nine games or so, with maybe a bowl game of some sort at the end as well. But never forget the utter ridiculousness the Coogs endured while trying to get on the field for the first time. Rice, Memphis, Baylor and North Texas all canceled or postponed. Houston finally kicked off on Oct. 8 against Tulane and almost immediately gave up a pair of defensive touchdowns before settling down and winning by 18.

The best teams of the first seven weeks


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