Ahhh. What a nice, relaxing offseason that was.

At least, I assume so. I sort of unplugged after the National Championship and spent the majority of the last three months working a corporate internship, honing myself into a value-extracting weapon of capitalism the likes of which your freshman-year econ professor could only dream.

But all that focus on money has made me miss life’s more wholesome institutions. The kind that don’t constantly tear down and rebuild themselves in the name of the almighty dollar. You know, like college football!

So, in that spirit of unfettered hope, let’s walk through how some of the Power 5’s biggest underdogs could wind up atop their conferences come December.

Duke

Duke is pretty awful at football. I would joke about how it doesn’t take a Duke student to know that, but they’re probably too busy cracking cold fusion or buying quarter-zip fleeces to care about the Blue Devils’ two deep.

Fortunately, Duke has something very few teams in the ACC do — the possibility of a remotely competent defense. Head coach Mike Elko has done nothing but suffocate offenses throughout his career, giving the Blue Devils immense half-team potential. Even if they aren’t all that good, the sheer shock of seeing a defender within 10 yards of their receivers might be enough to make a few ACC quarterbacks see ghosts.

And hey, if that doesn’t work, I guess Duke fans can always hope alumnus Tim Cook decides to offer five-star recruits a minority share of Apple if they come play for his alma mater’s garbage football team.

West Virginia

West Virginia certainly wasn’t the only Big 12 team with a losing record in 2021, but it might be the one with the least hype around it. Texas Tech and TCU have the excitement of new coaches. Kansas is only five years away from a bowl berth at this rate, and I’m fairly certain the belief held by Texas fans that this is totally our year! could function as a form of renewable energy.

The 2022 Mountaineers feature head coach Neal Brown, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, and quarterback JT Daniels, easily making them the hottest up-and-coming team of January 2019.

But in some ways, that lack of visceral excitement is a perfect fit for the modern Big 12. The days of Baker Mayfield versus Patrick Mahomes are long behind us. Now, it’s all about Oklahoma State trying to strangle the life out of Baylor while Spencer Sanders throws roughly 46 interceptions to the Bears’ defense.

A stout, experienced Mountaineer defense plus a barely passable offense? Brother, that’s a 2022 Big 12 champ if I’ve ever seen one.

Indiana

This one’s simple. It’s all about regression — or rather progression — to the mean. If you average the all-time winning percentage of every current FBS team, you end up with 54.1%. The Hoosiers presently boast a slightly less impressive 42.1%.

Eventually, something’s gotta give, and this could be the year. If we use our statistical model to map out Indiana’s rise to the average, they should be on course to win — let me check my notes real quick — 147 games this year.

Now, you might say, “Indiana’s mediocrity is a byproduct of repeated institutional failures, not random chance” or, “You can’t apply your C-level high school statistics knowledge to real-life college football,” or perhaps even, “You know there are only 12 games in a season, right?”

But have you ever fully considered what’s possible when you simply learn to #LoveEachOther?

Listen to our Big Ten East Preview

Arizona State

Everyone outside Tempe thinks the Sun Devils should be mediocre at best. They should fail to sufficiently replicate the production of several assistant coaches and even more outgoing transfers. But what does Arizona State do when told what it should do? That’s right — double down on the opposite.

No recruiting allowed during the COVID-19 dead period? We’ll bring them to our campus. Hire a youthful up-and-comer who’s well-adapted to the pace of today’s game? Here’s Herm Edwards, a baby boomer so Catholic he once appeared flummoxed by the idea of his school’s mascot including the word “devil.”

Look, someone’s gotta clumsily derail the Pac-12’s Playoff aspirations, and it might as well be the most unapologetically sloppy administration in the country. If you don’t believe me, I’m sure ASU athletic director Ray Anderson — Edwards’ former agent, by the way, which is very cool and normal and not at all indicative of a larger issue of accountability — will happily explain that simply because everything appears to be on fire, doesn’t mean anything’s actually wrong.

Auburn

To be fair, Auburn isn’t even that bad. It just happens to be the only school in a ridiculously stacked division that recently tried — and failed — to orchestrate a character assassination and subsequent firing of its head coach.

Last year, Auburn proved it can beat LSU, Arkansas, and both the Mississippi schools — so long as it doesn’t blow a 28-3 lead to State again.

The Iron Bowl is always tough, but Auburn has the only quarterback who defeated Alabama during the 2021 regular season in Zach Calzada. Somehow. Speaking of Calzada, what about his former school, Texas A&M? Sure, the Aggies are loaded with talent, but the Tigers don’t even need to beat them to end up higher in the conference standings — as we’ve learned, the Aggies go with unmet expectations like 8 goes with 4.

Really, if you’re an Auburn fan you have every reason to be optimistic — I’ve never seen the Tigers play better than when their fans are begging the athletic department to fire the coach.

And there you have it. That’s how five possibly very bad football teams might taste a fleeting dribble of happiness this fall. Or not. Probably not.

I almost can’t believe I’m going to hungrily watch eight consecutive hours of it every Saturday for the next three months. Disgusting.

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