For all the joy and excitement it brings, college football also breeds a great deal of impatience.
Teams fire coaches in year two, coaches bench the starting quarterback in game three, and Rutgers fans beg God to put them out of their misery while they’re still in the prime of their life.
But believe it or not, some teams are actually right on pace. Others are even ahead of schedule! Let’s run through some teams to discern whether you as a fan should be upset or should learn a little patience — as if that’s going to happen anytime soon.
Ahead of schedule: No. 3 Tennessee (beat No. 6 Alabama 52-49)
It feels like Tennessee shouldn’t have nearly enough depth to compete with Alabama after all its outgoing transfers and recruiting violations the last couple years, but here we are. Quarterback Hendon Hooker, who is something between a cagey veteran and Heisman contender, diced Crimson Tide defense for 385 yards and five touchdowns through the air.
I understand if you’re a Vols fan who’s worried that this is all just a mirage, especially given the messy nature of former coach Jeremy Pruitt’s firing. For all we know, in a few weeks The Athletic will run an exposé detailing how Tennessee lured its recruits with illicit funds from a Saudi oil fracking scheme and the Volunteers will be hit with years of NCAA sanctions. But even then, the NCAA can never fully vacate a win like this from fans’ hearts.
Right on schedule: The entire ACC
Clemson has emerged as the clear conference favorite. Florida State is marching confidently toward 7-5. North Carolina head coach Mack Brown has centered his offense entirely around his quarterback and truly nobody else. A historically mediocre team in Syracuse is randomly getting feisty, and NC State is absolutely refusing to live up to preseason expectations.
Is it 2022? 2017? Nobody knows, but it just feels right regardless. We’re only a panic-fueled, swag-hungry Miami coaching change away from this being the most ACC season ever.
Behind schedule: No. 16 Penn State (lost to No. 4 Michigan 41-17)
Don’t get me wrong, Penn State should have a really good year. That 9-3 finish with a non-New Year’s Six bowl is just on the horizon. But if the Nittany Lions want to join the sport’s elite, they either need to start winning games like Saturday’s or start tanking hard enough to justify moving on from a pretty good head coach in James Franklin.
Yes, you might fire Franklin, miss out on a better coach, and completely torpedo your program for the next few decades, a la Nebraska. But that’s major college football. You must believe you can do what Nebraskan’t.
Ahead of schedule: The future Big 12
If you’re a fan of a Big 12 team not named Oklahoma or Texas, you’re probably loving this season. Despite picking up wins last weekend, neither the Sooners nor the Longhorns look substantially better than the Big 12’s supposed leftovers.
For now, TCU carries the Big 12’s Playoff hopes, with Kansas State and Oklahoma State also in the hunt. But really, who cares if they make it or not? Have you seen Texas and Oklahoma lately? Yeah, TCU and Oklahoma State might not make the Playoff in 2026. So? Oklahoma might not make the Birmingham Bowl in 2026.
Right on schedule: No. 12 USC (lost to No. 15 Utah 43-42)
USC is a very good team and has an extremely bright future, but everyone knew a loss to a more physically imposing opponent was coming. Utah’s stellar 6-foot-4, 240-pound tight end Dalton Kincaid snagged 16 catches for 234 yards and a touchdown, smearing USC defenders across the turf of Rice-Eccles Stadium all night.
The Trojans’ approach of bringing in a buttload of high-profile transfers over the offseason has worked better than most could have imagined. However, Utah posits a different strategy — what if they had just gotten a remarkably beefy tight end instead?
Behind Schedule: The Big Ten West
Originally, I was going to frame this as Illinois (6-1 after beating Minnesota) being ahead of schedule. Then I remembered — Illinois lost to Indiana. Indiana.
Wisconsin just gifted Michigan State its only Big Ten win, Minnesota and head coach PJ Fleck are about to #RowTheBoat straight to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, and Iowa is making the FCC strongly reconsider what is appropriate to show to children on television.
If things don’t get spicier soon, I am going to punt on Big Ten West football from here on out. But you’d love that, wouldn’t you? You sick, sick division.