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Column: Biggest surprises in CFB (including Ohio State) at midseason

College football is wild every year, but I have a feeling this is the year we will finally have a shakeup in the final four.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

This has been a year in college football unlike any other. This past Saturday’s slate of games was one of the craziest I’ve seen in a while. Bama LOST, which therefore means Tennessee WON, TTUN might actually be good, Illinois is legit... and obviously Ohio State is (arguably, I guess) the best team in the nation. Pure anarchy — I love it.

Could THIS be the year Bama misses the CFB Playoff?

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

This year’s Crimson Tide simply isn’t the same dominant force that we are used to seeing. It’s not really making sense, either. They did lose seven players to the draft, with one of them being WR Jameson Williams, but besides that, there weren’t any major losses. Plus, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is still their quarterback.

Clearly, defense is a huge issue for the Tide. They gave up 52 points to the Vols, their most points allowed since 1907. Between the struggling defense and not having a great receiver (their team leader has 302 yards, in comparison to Ohio State’s Emeka Egbuka, who has 655 and Marvin Harrison Jr., who has 536), it seems like Bama is going to have to shape up quick if they want to be a title contender.

Now with one loss under their belt, they still have to go through No. 7 Ole Miss and No. 24 Mississippi State. If they win both of those, they will most likely have to face Georgia in the SEC Championship, and I don’t see them winning that game with the way they are playing right now. Therefore, it’s going to be a very tough road for Bama to make the playoff.

Big Ten showing up

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How about Illinois?! I, for one, did not expect Bret Bielema to turn around the program this quickly after being hired in 2020. I mean, they’re sitting at the top of the Big Ten West with a 6-1 record! They have two solid wins over Wisconsin and Minnesota, two formidable conference foes. The Fighting Illini are the real deal.

Another team, as much as I hate to admit it, is actually good. TTUN really proved themselves with a win over Penn State Saturday. I can’t lie, I was very skeptical of the Wolverines up until this game. I know they’re undefeated, but the scores are a bit of a misnomer. They’re definitely a second half team, as the Nittany Lions, along with Maryland and Indiana, kept it close in the first halves.

Solidifying J.J. McCarthy as QB1 and Blake Corum emerging as one of the best backs in country has propelled the Wolverines’ offense tremendously. Good thing Ohio State’s defense has skyrocketed, too. However, I must say, I think TTUN might actually deserve their current No. 4 ranking. Ugh.

Buckeyes surprises

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Honestly, there aren’t a ton of big surprises on offense. I would classify them as little, exciting surprises. One of them being Xavier Johnson. What a unexpected talent who has proven to be critical this season. Another would be how much Miyan Williams has improved. We all knew how good he was last season, but he has taken his play to another level this year. Five touchdowns in one game? Enough said.

Stroud is running a little more (sorta), Egbuka, Marv and Julian Fleming all look amazing (not really a surprise) and TreVeyon Henderson is still a beast. Personally, I am a bit surprised at how well the offense is performing without Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Obviously the WR room is loaded, but you would think there would be even a little bit of a drop-off with the best player out. Nope!

The best surprise on the team is clearly the defense. Although the secondary could still use some improvement, the defensive line and linebacker play has been outstanding. Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg have been playing lights out. The Buckeyes are fifth in the nation in yards per game allowed, compared to being 53rd in team defense in the country in 2021. I’d say that’s the greatest surprise of all.