College football, at its worst, is predictable. The same handful of teams in the Playoff, the same conference champions, pretty much any third-down call by the Iowa offense.
But then something unexpected occurs. Cincinnati cracks the top four, Michigan wins the Big Ten, Iowa still calls the same thing on third down but fails in a uniquely laughable way.
Surprises aren’t inherently good, but they’re always welcome in a sport that may or may not be hurtling toward a homogenized corporate entity. From buried diamonds to buried hopes, let’s commemorate the teams and individuals making this season worth watching.
Pleasant surprise: ancient Big 12 quarterbacks
Spencer Sanders (Oklahoma State) only threw one interception against Baylor after averaging 3.5 picks per game against the Bears last year. Max Duggan (TCU) restored Oklahoma’s defense to vintage form. And Adrian Martinez is probably more deserving of tenure than most of Kansas State’s academic faculty.
Look, if my digital marketing professor taught half the semester with a broken jaw, maybe I would celebrate him as much as I do Martinez. Then again, my digital marketing professor could probably also rush for 171 yards against the Texas Tech defense, so perhaps the two aren’t so different after all.
Quiet disaster: Michigan State (lost to Maryland 27-13)
The Spartans gained another crucial inch in the heated race to the bottom of the Big Ten East on Saturday. Quarterback Payton Thorne averaged a blistering five yards per pass while the Spartan defense single handedly raised Michigan’s State’s admission rate a few percentage points.
Head coach Mel Tucker will most likely do really cool things in Lansing. That said, Tuck may be comin’ back down to Earth a bit this year.
Pleasant surprise: Georgia Tech (beat Pitt 27-21) didn’t disintegrate
Few things inject hope in a floundering program like firing your head coach and immediately notching an upset victory. The next coach will likely face a rebuild of epic proportions, but for now Tech is one game out of first place in the ACC Coastal. All that seemingly stands in the Yellow Jackets’ way now is Duke’s staunch defense, North Carolina’s electric offense, and Georgia Tech’s inevitable self-immolation.
Quiet disaster: Oklahoma (lost to TCU 55-24)
It is somewhat unfair to criticize a team whose starting quarterback nearly got decapitated in the second quarter. Frankly, for ethical reasons, I would only do it if that same team had allowed 371 yards of offense and gotten outscored 34-10 by the time the QB got hurt.
Like Tucker at Michigan State, head coach Brent Venables will see success at Oklahoma. But sometimes, success comes later, not Sooner.
Pleasant surprise: the top of the Pac-12 looks pretty solid
Between USC, Utah, and Oregon, Pac-12 football is pretty great this year. Yes, Utah and Oregon’s performances against great and not-so-great SEC teams in Week 1 leaves something to be desired. Still, it’s been a while since the West Coast garnered this large a spotlight.
I don’t particularly care if any of these teams make the Playoff, but it will be a joy watching them all beat one another to ensure it doesn’t happen.
Quiet disaster: Wisconsin (lost to Illinois 34-10 and then fired Paul Chryst)
There may be no lover more toxic than Illinois head coach Bret Bielema. He gave Wisconsin some of its best years a decade ago, left for greener pastures, failed miserably, then returned to Wisconsin and reminded the Badgers why he left in the first place. I realize Wisconsinites have their own, often fermented means of dealing with trauma, but I strongly recommend serious therapy.
You are worthy of love. Even if your team absolutely isn’t.
Pleasant surprise: Kansas (beat Iowa State 14-11) is still here!
You ask: what happens in this game if Iowa State’s special teams aren’t a DEFCON 1-level nuclear meltdown? I ask: who cares?
The Jayhawks are 5-0, ESPN’s College GameDay is coming to Lawrence for the first time, and virtually nobody in the Big 12 beyond Oklahoma State looks untouchable. Kansas is legit.
In hindsight, it was frankly silly of me to ever doubt the team that went 21-100 the last 12 seasons.
Quiet disaster: Texas A&M (lost to Mississippi State 42-24)
I probably come across as someone who loves to see Texas A&M fail, but that’s only because I love to see Texas A&M fail. The millions of dollars, the dozens of five-star recruits, the eights of wins — it’s the type of schadenfreude I live for as a fan of a team with no chance of obtaining any of those things this year.