The following two statements can both be true.
1. The Big 12 does not have a great team capable of winning a national title this season.
2. The Big 12 is the best conference in college football, and I would like it injected directly into my veins every Saturday.
Now, the first statement could be proven false over the next few months. Anything remains possible in a college football season where every weekend reminds us that the three dominant teams we've come to know and love (OK, so some loathe) might not be as dominant as we all thought. Of the three, only Ohio State seems to be firing on all cylinders at the moment. Still, in the Big 12, it is possible that TCU or Oklahoma State could run the table, reach the College Football Playoff, and win it all. It's not likely, but it's possible.
But that shouldn't matter right now, anyway. It's not even officially mid-October yet. There's a lot of football left to be played and a lot of things that could go right or wrong. What should matter is the second statement.
The Big 12 is awesome. It's an odd statement to make considering where we were just over a year ago, with Oklahoma and Texas shocking the world and announcing a move to the SEC, but that doesn't make it any less accurate. At that point, all we could do was wonder about the viability of the league, but while that might still be true in the offices of television executives, on the field, it's been incredible.
While I've been enjoying the league all season, it didn't truly hit me until Saturday morning, waiting for the games to start. The Big 12 had four games on the schedule, and I realized I wanted to watch all four because I didn't know what would happen in any of them. That's not common in this day and age of college football. Yes, upsets happen every weekend, and they're all beautiful surprises, but when you go conference by conference looking at a week's schedule, there are always one or two (and sometimes three or four) games in which you're reasonably confident of the outcome. You might not know who will cover the spread, but you know who will win.
Now that Kansas is good (#BelieveInKansas), that's not the case in the Big 12. It's a conference in which everybody can beat anybody else in the league on any given Saturday (OK, maybe not Oklahoma at the moment, but more on them in a bit). While it isn't scientific, my Fornelli Ratings which I use to submit my ballot for the CBS Sports 131 and in my Bottom 25 rankings, are a perfect tool to point out how good the league is at the bottom.
For the uninitiated, my Fornelli Ratings are as unbiased as possible. They rank teams based on nothing but their performance in the current season. There is no influence from outside polls, preseason expectations, history, or recruiting rankings. Every team in the country begins the year with the same rating, which changes based on what you do on the field. It's a mathematical formula using various stats that correlate with winning football games, but no statistic used has a greater weight in the formula than wins and losses.
Well, after this week, the lowest-ranked team in the Big 12 is West Virginia at No. 69. The SEC has four teams ranked No. 70 or worse. So does the Pac-12. The ACC has four ranked outside the top 90, and the Big Ten has six outside the top 70 (though only one outside the top 85).
In other words, the Big 12's "worst" team is better than 18 other Power Five teams. Unfortunately for the Big 12, its greatest strength is what will likely prove to be its Achilles' heel when it comes to the College Football Playoff. It has six teams in the top 26 of the Fornelli Ratings and plays a round-robin schedule. That will make it extremely difficult for anybody in the conference to emerge from the fray without a loss or two by the time the season ends. That's unfortunate for a league that deserves recognition for its strength, but it's also the reality.
But that doesn't matter to me, and it shouldn't matter to you. What matters is the Big 12 is the best league in the country from top to bottom, and if you don't believe me, watch it and find out.
Free-falling Team of the Week
Ayo somebody tell Brent Venables to pass the joystick….this ain’t it— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) October 8, 2022
OK, so the Big 12 is great, and it doesn't have a bad team, but it has a team that looks pretty bad right now. A team that is most certainly Down Bad. The Oklahoma Sooners were annihilated by rival Texas 49-0. It's their third consecutive loss and their second blowout loss in a row. The good news -- I know you're looking for anything to cling to, Sooners -- is that Oklahoma is still ranked No. 65 in the Fornelli Ratings, so overall, it hasn't been as bad as the last couple of weeks have made you feel. The bad news is you were No. 7 three weeks ago, so that's quite the precipitous fall.
But just how bad has it gotten? Oklahoma fans may want to shield their eyes or skip to the next portion of the column. The 49-0 loss to Texas was Oklahoma's largest margin of defeat to the Longhorns. The previous was a 40-7 loss in 1941, two months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was also the first time Texas had shutout the Sooners since a 19-0 loss in 1965 and the first time anybody shut them out since a 29-0 loss at Texas A&M in 1998. The Sooners finished 5-6 that season, which was the last time Oklahoma missed a bowl game. The good news is that season led to the firing of John Blake and the hiring of Bob Stoops.
It is not out of the question that Oklahoma could miss a bowl game this year. I don't think it's possible, but while Dillon Gabriel's injury is the injury that's received the most attention, it isn't the only one the Sooners are dealing with. I just wrote 800 words explaining how tough the Big 12 is from top-to-bottom, and while the Sooners have already played three of the league's top teams, there are still a lot of tests left on the schedule.
The second half of the season will be a major test for first-year coach Brent Venables.
Catch of the Week
Excellent play. Excellent execution. ‼️ @KU_Football @JalonDaniels6 x @fairchild_mason pic.twitter.com/MEWdQkd96Y— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 8, 2022
When I say that this catch by Kansas' Mason Fairchild vs. TCU is more impressive than any of the one-handed catches we see on a weekly basis, I mean it (I told you last week receiver gloves are PEDs). The ability to adjust, look away from the ball, turn your body and then find the ball in time to catch it is not one most of us have. Not in that short amount of time, anyway. Of course, there was a lot of luck involved here too, which Fairchild would readily admit. But that doesn't make it any less impressive.
Hottest Take of the Week
It's a great time for QB play in college football and has been for a few years. We've got C.J. Stroud orchestrating an incredible Ohio State offense. Hendon Hooker is balling out for a resurgent Tennessee squad. Alabama's Bryce Young is banged up, but when healthy, we all know what he can do. And those are just three of many great QBs in the country. But you know what? As good as they all are, there's one who is better than them all. One who hasn't seen nearly as much action overall, but what I've seen has been enough to convince me.
Texas' Quinn Ewers is the best quarterback in the country. There are throws he's making that look so easy that have absolutely no right to look as easy as they do. Throws I don't think any other QB in the country is capable of making.
And while I know a lot of you are raising eyebrows reading this, try to remember what Ewers was doing to Alabama before he got hurt. He had completed 9 of 12 passes for 134 yards and was tearing that defense apart. If Ewers doesn't get hurt, Texas wins that game, and you're a lot more likely to agree with me. But that's not what happened. Instead, Ewers missed three games, returned this weekend, and resumed tearing teams apart. He threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns against Oklahoma, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. He also threw an awful interception, but that was a byproduct of youth and inexperience, and it's something he'll learn to avoid. I think.
Anyway, he's incredible, and when I say he's the best QB in the country, it is not a knock on Stroud, Young, Hooker or anybody else. It's just a comment about Ewers and how impressive he is. If he stays healthy, he will be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Dancing Coach of the Week
Climate check 😎 pic.twitter.com/z9yv0lY14e— Gamecock Football (@GamecockFB) October 9, 2022
OK, it's time to break up the Big 12's dominance of this week's column. A dancing Shane Beamer seems like an excellent reset if I've ever seen one. The Gamecocks pulled off a 24-14 upset of the Will Levis-less Kentucky Wildcats.
Heisman of the Week
ABANIKANDA TIES THE ACC A SINGLE GAME TOUCHDOWN RECORD WITH 6‼️‼️‼️— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) October 8, 2022
ABANIKANDA TIES THE ACC SINGLE GAME TOUCHDOWN RECORD WITH 6‼️‼️‼️@Pitt_FB | #ACCFootball pic.twitter.com/hHNvWNbEhI
Any time you have the kind of performance that has you mentioned with the likes of Tony Dorsett and Ricky Williams, you had a good day. Pitt running back Israel Abanikanda had himself a good day against Virginia Tech. Abanikanda led Pitt to a 45-29 win by rushing for 320 yards and six touchdowns.
The 320-yard performance broke Tony Dorsett's single-game mark at Pitt. Abanikanda also became the first Power Five running back to rush for at least 300 yards and six touchdowns in a game since Ricky Williams did so against Rice in 1998. The last FBS running back to do it was Buffalo's Jaret Patterson (409 yards and eight TDs!) against Kent State during the 2020 season.
Worst Fake FG of the Week
Bowling Green’s fake field goal did not go as planned … 😳— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) October 8, 2022
Buffalo’s scoop and score was called back. @ESPNPlus pic.twitter.com/fq4LpwFpwj
College football is a wonderful sport filled with all manner of beautiful moments.
Cinderella Story of the Week
It was a game of grit. #Illini // #HTTO // #famILLy pic.twitter.com/xuUnWH6UOh— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) October 9, 2022
Last week Kansas cracked the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009, ending the longest AP Top 25 drought among Power Five programs. With Kansas breaking the streak, it left Illinois with the longest drought among Power Five programs, as the Illini hadn't been ranked since Oct. 2011.
Well, that drought ended this week too. After beating the Iowa Hawkeyes 9-6 in an offensive shootout the likes of which we'll never see again, the 5-1 Illini appeared at No. 24 in this week's AP Poll. Also, fun fact (unless you're an Iowa fan), the Hawkeyes have now held their opponents to 10 points or fewer in five of six games this season. They are 3-2 in those games.
As for poll droughts, Rutgers is now the proud owner of the longest drought in the Power Five, having not appeared in the rankings since November 2012. Considering the Knights are 3-3, lost to Nebraska Friday night, fired their offensive coordinator Sunday, and still have games remaining against Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State, odds are that streak won't end in 2022. Maybe next year.
Best Ending You Missed While Sleeping of the Week
PAC-12 AFTER DARK!#Pac12FB | @BeaverFootball pic.twitter.com/thluowfq9k— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) October 9, 2022
I fell asleep before the end of Oregon State's win over Stanford. I was on the couch watching the game after doing the live Cover 3 Podcast reaction show, and the last thing I remember was Tanner McKee throwing a touchdown pass to Brycen Tremayne to make it a 24-10 Stanford lead late in the third quarter. The next thing I knew, it was 3 a.m., and there was a commercial with doctors shaming a CGI wolf in a hospital on the television. I remember feeling empathy for the wolf.
I didn't know about Tre'Shaun Harrison's touchdown catch in the final seconds to win the game until Sunday morning. I'm sure many of you didn't see it until now.
College Football Playoff Projection of the Week
Until the next Monday After!