Biggest Surprises of the 2022 College Football Season So Far

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 23, 2022

Biggest Surprises of the 2022 College Football Season So Far

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    Marcus Freeman | Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The moment you believe you've figured out college football, be ready for a generous helping of humiliation.

    Without fail, the sport serves up perception-breaking and expectation-shattering results and changes. And in 2022, we haven't even reached the fourth week before these storylines—some positive, others less so—have started to shift opinions.

    Hey, this is what we love about college football. Besides, it's impossible to be completely correct about 131 teams and the thousands of matchups on the schedule. We don't expect perfection.

    But we didn't expect these developments, either.

How Quickly Nebraska Fired Scott Frost

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    Scott Frost | Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

    Look, a change felt inevitable in 2022. Nebraska had posted a 15-29 record in Scott Frost's first four seasons, and even a 6-6 run—which seemingly bordered on a best-case scenario this season anyway—might not have saved his job.

    But it only took three games!

    Perhaps the school should've waited until Oct. 1 and saved $7.5 million on his buyout, showing a little bit of fiscal responsibility. The loss to Northwestern was horrible, though, and falling to Georgia Southern clearly sped up the timeline.

    It's not like Nebraska will struggle to afford the decision that could hardly be avoided any longer. That sweet, sweet Big Ten media contract money is right around the corner.

    But, again, three games. I expected him to survive at least until Nebraska lost, like, a Friday night game at Rutgers in early October.

Notre Dame's Rocky Start

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    The Fighting Irish fell to Marshall in Week 2. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    Losing on the road at Ohio State with a quarterback in his first game as the full-time starter? No shame in that.

    At home against Marshall? Even as the Thundering Herd are a Sun Belt contender, that's a different story.

    The bigger problem for head coach Marcus Freeman is how thoroughly the visitors outplayed the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame mustered 3.5 yards per rush, while Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne combined for only 5.8 yards per pass attempt and tossed three interceptions. Notre Dame gained just 351 yards in the stunning 26-21 loss.

    Buchner's shoulder injury didn't help, but Marshall had already taken an 11-point lead at the time of his unfortunate exit. Given that Buchner is sidelined for the season, it might not get much better for the Irish—who barely held off Cal in Week 3.

    I'm not selling on the program's future under Freeman, who's an elite defensive mind and a masterful recruiter. The 2022 campaign may be awfully forgettable, though.

Stetson Bennett's Dominance

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    Stetson Bennett calls out a formation in the first half against Samford (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    Stetson Bennett led a game-winning drive in the national championship against Alabama. The question for 2022 was never whether he was a capable quarterback.

    But what exactly is his upside?

    While an efficient passer, Bennett didn't attempt many deep throws in 2021. Georgia trusted him to guide a run-focused offense, distribute the ball quickly and scramble when necessary. That formula led the Dawgs to a national title, so the expectation was more of the same in 2022. Don't fix what's not broken.

    So far, though, UGA has leaned on Bennett's arm more than anticipated.

    Through three games, he's completed 65 of 88 throws (73.9 percent) for 952 yards. Bennett, who's accounted for eight touchdowns, attempted 30-plus passes against both Oregon and Samford. He'd only reached 30 in two of his 14 games last season and more than 25 in two others.

    As a result, Bennett is suddenly in the thick of early Heisman Trophy conversations. Not bad for someone who opened the year as a massive long shot.

Kansas Is 3-0!

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    Kansas' Torry Locklin (left) and Luke Hosford celebrate after Locklin recovered a fumble during the second half against West Virginia. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)

    I'll happily take an early L on Kansas.

    Although the Jayhawks beat Texas and had competitive losses to TCU and West Virginia to close the 2021 season, it seemed Kansas would begin to make greater strides in 2023. As a general rule, the third year of a coach's tenure is when marked improvements arrive. The system is established, and the personnel have adjusted to the coach's preference.

    Forget that, the Jayhawks said. They've steamrolled Tennessee Tech, toppled West Virginia and upset Houston.

    Sure, I've been consistently complimentary of head coach Lance Leipold. That hardly matters in 2022, though, considering I projected Kansas to finish 2-10 with zero conference victories. Both are surpassed already.

    Kansas is officially on bowl-eligibility watch, and it would be the program's first postseason trip since 2008.

The Oddly Poor Openings

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    Phil Jurkovec | Brian Bishop/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Utah State celebrated a Mountain West title in 2021. This season, however, the Aggies have narrowly beaten UConn, didn't even put up a fight at Alabama and lost to FCS program Weber State 35-7. Technically, that hasn't altered Utah State's pursuit of back-to-back MWC titles. It's fair to suggest that optimism has, um, dipped, though.

    Boston College wasn't viewed as a threat to win the ACC, yet the program has three consecutive six-win seasons and quarterback Phil Jurkovec is a legitimate NFL prospect. But he's tossed three interceptions with a measly 6.1 yards per attempt in two FBS losses, which includes a letdown at home against Rutgers.

    Hawai'i, meanwhile, has surrendered 56.0 points per game in three contests opposite FBS opponents. I realize the defense had a subpar 2021, but it wasn't "do they actually have eight players on the field?" levels of horrendous.

    Similarly, Colorado's run defense has declined from a weakness to a fireable travesty. TCU rushed for 275 yards and four touchdowns in the opener, and then Air Force racked up 435 yards and five scores before Minnesota put up 334 yards and four touchdowns. Total disaster.

Sam Hartman's Return

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    Sam Hartman passes during a game against Vanderbilt (AP Photo/John Amis)

    That Sam Hartman put up 300 yards and four touchdowns in his return was no shocker. The guy accounted for 50 scores last season, after all.

    I wasn't sure if Hartman would play anytime in 2022, though.

    Not only am I most decidedly not a medical expert, but we also barely knew anything about his condition. In early August, Wake Forest announced the quarterback would be out indefinitely because of a non-football-related medical issue.

    Maybe you're not like me, but "out indefinitely" didn't feel like a promising sign for his availability in the opening month—and, in particular, Sept. 24 against ACC favorite Clemson.

    Hartman only missed a game.

    The best version of Wake Forest, the reigning ACC Atlantic winner, has Hartman behind center. His healthy return has made the ACC a more competitive league.

Rise of the Pac-12

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    Washington Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. passes during a game against Michigan State. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Week 1 was incredibly unkind to the Pac-12. Georgia ripped apart Oregon, and Utah dropped a heartbreaker at Florida. Not a great sign for what I expected would be two of the conference's top-three teams.

    And that's why you don't write obituaries after Week 1.

    Transfer-infused USC has surpassed its hype so far, averaging 50.7 points in three victories. Washington State won at 19th-ranked Wisconsin and is 3-0, and Washington smacked 11th-ranked Michigan State to reach the same record.

    Oregon State has tallied 45.7 points per game, toppled a pair of solid Mountain West foes and started 3-0 for the first time in eight seasons. UCLA hasn't played a tough schedule, but the Bruins are also 3-0.

    For good measure, Oregon has since beaten No. 12 BYU and Arizona edged FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.

    Sure, there are negatives with Colorado's implosion and Arizona State's firing of Herm Edwards. Nevertheless, the Pac-12 has plenty more positive developments.


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