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You’re Nuts: Which non-Top 3 team has impressed you the most so far this season?

Who has risen above their preseason projections and is looking good through five weeks of play?

Duke v Kansas Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

This week’s topic: Which non-Top 3 team has impressed you the most so far this season?

Josh’s Take

Plenty of college football teams have surprised us during this still-early 2022 season, and I feel like most of them have done so in a negative manner. Notre Dame, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma specifically come to mind. Those teams have all suffered multiple losses, despite being ranked inside the preseason top-10. It’s almost as if setting huge expectations for inexperienced head coaches will occasionally come back to bite you in the butt. Same goes for grossly overpaid and wildly overrated coaches named Jimbo. Who would’ve thought, right?

But there have also been a few feel-good stories — or teams that have legitimately impressed us. And since my podcast co-host Gene and I always take an optimistic point on view (said nobody who listens to us), we thought this would be a good a week as any to dive into a few of those (AKA we emptied the tank of any postgame Rutgers topics). My non-powerhouse team has serious ties to the Ohio State Buckeyes, and was expected to take a step back after the loss of a defensive mastermind. I am of course referring to the seventh-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys, who own a 4-0 record and appear to be a real contender in the Big 12.

Mike Gundy’s team finished the 2021 season with a 12-2 record, significantly aided by one of the country’s top defenses. Their defensive coordinator was none other than current Ohio State DC Jim Knowles, and his exit could have sent this team into a bit of a tailspin —especially in the Big 12, a conference with more than a few high-powered offenses. However, that has not been the case. Oklahoma State’s defense has performed admirably, and their offense is torching opponents to the tune of 47.8 points per game.

Getting back to that Cowboy defense: The initial returns were not great. Without Knowles at the helm, they gave up 44 points to Central Michigan in Week 1. But they turned it around with back-to-back dominant performances against Arizona State and Arkansas Pine Bluff, before turning Baylor over twice and holding the Bears to 3-of-11 on third down conversions this past Saturday. While the secondary could still use some work, Oklahoma State is averaging three sacks per game and holding opponents to 3.3 yards per carry. Not bad for a unit that lost one of CFB’s most notable (coaching or otherwise) free agents.

On the other side of the ball, Spencer Sanders and his offense are rolling. The veteran quarterback has accounted for 15 total touchdowns through four games, and he has a bevy of receiving options to choose from. It may not be the aerial assault that we have seen in Columbus on a weekly basis, but Gundy’s skill group is a fun one to watch. They should continue to put up points in bunches.

So is Oklahoma State a national contender, or is this simply a hot start? I say it is too early to tell. Their schedule has certainly not been a murderer’s row of competition, but the offense is real, and just about every team in the Big 12 seems beatable during any given week. If the Cowboys are able to avoid the big letdown(s), maybe they make a run. But that is not the topic at hand. We are discussing impressive non-blueblood teams, and they certainly fit the bill. They have carried over positive momentum from last season, and played well on both sides of the ball — despite Knowles’ loss. I will keep an eye on the “other OSU’ throughout this season, to see if they can reign supreme in the suddenly-wild Big 12.

Gene’s Take

Coming into the season, we all believed that Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State would be the top three teams in the country in some order. Through five weeks of college football action, that does still appear to be the case, but that doesn’t mean other programs’ splendid beginnings to the 2022 campaign should be discredited or cast aside. There are a handful of schools that, while maybe not quite national title contenders just yet, have gotten off to really impressive starts that not many people saw coming. In that vein, the program that comes to the front of my mind right away is none other than the Kansas Jayhawks.

The 5-0 start for Lance Leipold’s team cannot be described as anything other than magical. A team that entered the year with a win total set at 2.5 is now unbeaten through five weeks of play, knocking off a trio of Power 5 opponents in West Virginia, Duke and Iowa State as well as one of the upper-echelon G5 schools in Houston. As a result, the Jayhawks have made their first appearance in the AP Top 25 Poll since 2009, ranking No. 19 in this week’s latest update. In addition, Kansas will get to host ESPN College GameDay for the very first time when they take on now 17th-ranked TCU at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

The aforementioned Leipold is a huge reason for this team’s stunning turnaround. After putting together three-straight winning seasons as the head coach at Buffalo, including a pair of bowl wins and an appearance for the Bulls in the AP Top 25 in 2020, the 58-year-old Wisconsin native is now in his second season in Lawrence. After finishing 0-9 in their final season under Les Miles in 2020, the Jayhawks saw slight improvement in year one under Leipold with a 2-10 mark in 2021 before this year’s insane 5-0 start. The five wins already matches the highest total the program has seen since their 5-7 campaign in 2009, and Leipold is looking to become the first head coach to lead Kansas to a positive record since Mark Mangino’s 8-5 season in 2008.

Of course, you can’t talk about Kansas without talking about the play from star quarterback Jalon Daniels. A three-star recruit in the 2020 class, the junior has completed 73 of his 107 pass attempts thus far for 983 yards and 11 touchdowns with just one interception. Daniels is also his team’s leading rusher, totaling 335 yards while averaging 7.3 yards per carry and tallying an additional five TDs with his legs. The combination of Leipold roaming the sidelines and Daniels carving it up on the field has helped Kansas average 41.6 points per game through five games — good for 12th best in all of FBS. Daniels also finds himself in the top 10 among Heisman favorites at +2800 odds, ahead of Clemson QB DJ Uiagelelei.

It is impossible not to root for this Jayhawks team, especially given how bad the program has been for the last decade. Leipold is a very likable guy at the top, Daniels is an electric quarterback as the leader of an exciting brand of offense, and it would add a ton of extra drama to an already dramatic college football season if Kansas becomes a legit contender for the Big 12 title. This upcoming Saturday’s matchup against the Horned Frogs is setting up to be one of the early games of the year, and if the Jayhawks pull off yet another upset to begin the season 6-0, the Kansas bandwagon is going to start to get mighty full. With Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas all seemingly down this season, maybe this magic can lead to more than just a fun early-season storyline.