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Adam KramerOctober 18, 2023College Football’s Biggest Surprises at the Halfway Point0 of 8

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The halfway point of the college football season is squarely in the rearview, which is always a jarring reality to come to terms with.

College Football Playoff rankings are weeks away, and the Heisman race is materializing. The process of hiring and firing coaches is starting to ignite.

In short, things are moving.

The blueprint of the season hasn’t fully formed, but the picture is defined enough to dissect. As we approach Halloween, we’re taking inventory of the biggest surprises—good or otherwise—heading into college football’s home stretch.

From individual players and coaches to the way certain hype has (or hasn’t) been realized, here’s a look at some of the more jarring takeaways two months into the season.

Jayden Daniels vs. the Universe1 of 8

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Forget about the possibility that Daniels could win the Heisman before the season began. There were murmurs out of LSU before games were played that he might lose the starting job.

Since then, one could make an argument that there has been no better college football player this year.

Daniels has accounted for 26 touchdowns and thrown only four interceptions. He’s also third in the nation in passing yards and rushed for 515 yards. That’s more than any quarterback in the nation.

In short, he’s been superb. And while LSU’s defense has been the opposite of superb, Daniels has taken his game to an entirely different level.

Can he win the Heisman? If he stays healthy, his numbers will be Heisman-worthy. But that defense could ultimately prevent him from winning.

Still, what a year in the making.

The All-Hype Teams Have Delivered…Thus Far2 of 8

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Being an offseason champion is different than being an in-season champion. Duh.

This much we know. And each year, a handful of teams garner out-of-season praise that ultimately comes undone swiftly.

Florida State, Washington, Penn State and Texas, at least in these eyes, were the most discussed teams of the offseason. Thus far, it’s safe to say that all four have delivered.

Sure, the Longhorns lost to Oklahoma. Of the four teams, this would be the only loss. Even still, it’s abundantly clear that Texas is significantly better at football than it has been in some time.

Not all four teams, of course, will fully realize the hype by the end of the year. In the end, this becomes a numbers game of sorts. But for now, kudos to the masses for supporting teams that clearly deserved it.

Iowa’s Ugly B1G Takeover3 of 8

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Currently, Iowa owns the nation’s No. 115 scoring offense, averaging 20.9 points per game. This is actually a slight improvement over last year, which says a lot about both seasons.

A lot to unpack.

Still, the Hawkeyes are 6-1, ranked in the AP poll and are coming off a truly brilliant (and oftentimes grotesque) win at Wisconsin. While most teams ranked near Iowa offensively will struggle to make a bowl, the Hawkeyes are thriving.

Well, sort of.

In fairness to the offense and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, injuries have played a significant role. Thus far, they have been able to overcome those injuries. And with games against Minnesota, Northwestern, Rutgers, Illinois and Nebraska still to come, that win total is likely to grow.

Wisconsin’s B1G Flop4 of 8

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While Iowa has won ugly, Wisconsin has lost ugly.

Given all the additions to the coaching staff and the roster, it’s somewhat shocking that this team is 4-2 heading into Week 8.

Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Phil Longo were supposed to completely remake this program in months. Given the schedule and the talent, that was the feel at least.

It simply hasn’t come together, and it never felt quite right. Although 4-2 isn’t a terrible record heading into the backstretch, the optics say otherwise.

With quarterback Tanner Mordecai out for the foreseeable future from hand surgery, immediate relief might not be on the horizon.

Oklahoma’s Balanced Domination5 of 8

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The expectation was that Oklahoma would be better this year. After finishing with the nation’s No. 99-ranked scoring defense in 2022, it couldn’t get much worse.

Brent Venables’ second year has been a masterpiece thus far. The Sooners currently have the nation’s No. 7 scoring defense and the No. 4 scoring offense. While there are a handful of teams with balance on both sides, few have looked this good.

A win over Texas, of course, recalibrated all expectations. That victory gave Oklahoma a clear path to the Big 12 championship and a direct line to the playoff. Now, it must finish the deal. If quarterback Dillon Gabriel can stay healthy, the Sooners should have a real shot.

Again, improvement was anticipated. But this kind of showing on both sides is not something many, including this writer, saw coming.

Colorado’s Rapid Rise (and Subsequent Fall)6 of 8

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The Colorado catalog has been nothing short of extraordinary in 2023. From the highs to the lows, it’s hard to compartmentalize exactly what has transpired in Boulder since Deion Sanders arrived.

This surprise now works in two parts, starting with the shocking debut of a team that won a grand total of one game last year. Colorado parlayed Sanders’ arrival—along with a remade roster—into three thrilling wins.

It has since lost three of its last four games, which includes blowing a 29-point lead against Stanford on Friday.

All of it has been a bit shocking, in some ways. We didn’t expect Colorado to perform as well as it did. We also didn’t expect it to come undone as quickly and violently as it has.

What’s in store next? Stay tuned.

Mortal (and Largely Successful) Alabama7 of 8

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Did you see the movie Logan? The one where Wolverine, played by the superb Hugh Jackman, lost his powers but still managed to be a darn good superhero?

That’s the one, and that’s a bit how Alabama has looked thus far this year.

The football Death Star that has controlled the sport for the better part of the past decade struggled against South Florida earlier this year. Alabama also played tight games against Texas A&M and Arkansas.

Oh, and the Crimson Tide lost by double digits to Texas. Let’s not forget that.

While the roster is still compiled of elite recruits, this team feels very mortal. The fact that it’s finally vulnerable certainly is a tad shocking, The fact that it’s vulnerable and still somehow holding it together is that much more so.

Maybe a loss is coming—perhaps as soon as this week against Tennessee. But this feisty, beatable version of Alabama has been a superb watch thus far.

Texas A&M’s Continued Mediocrity8 of 8

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So perhaps this isn’t a surprise to all.

After all, with the exception of one season, Jimbo Fisher has largely been a disappointment at Texas A&M. That hasn’t stopped them from giving him many millions of dollars, but the results are still very real.

Those results, however, are still mysterious in many ways. This roster is overflowing with talent at seemingly every position after years of recruiting brilliance. The fact that the Aggies are 4-3 with a handful of losable games remaining is still somewhat baffling.

Sure, this is how it’s been. But at some point it felt like that flood of talent would translate into something more. The fact that it hasn’t has created a rather sticky situation for a program that fully guaranteed its head coach’s football contract.

Pay many, many, many millions of dollars to make him leave, or try one more time? To be continued.

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