We love college football for nothing if not the belief—hope even—that at any moment the unexpected could happen. Young as it is, this season has already provided its share of jaw-droppers and head-scratchers.
• The Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.
So far this season, ULM has beaten one SEC team (then No. 8 Arkansas) by three points in overtime, lost to another by three points in OT (Auburn) and traded leads all night with a Big 12 team only to fall by five (Baylor). There may be no more beloved 1--2 team in America right now, nor any season in which otherwise disinterested viewers have clamored so anxiously for the start of Sun Belt Conference play. Name to remember: quarterback Kolton Browning, currently sitting pretty in the top 5 of the FBS's total offense standings, against top-shelf opponents no less.
• John L. Smith.
If coaching prowess were judged on personality, Smith would stay with the Razorbacks forever, but it's judged on wins, which means forever is upon us. Hiccups were to be expected after Bobby Petrino's acrimonious departure, especially when the Hogs sat across the table from Alabama on Sept. 15, but not against Louisiana-Monroe a week earlier. Losing Tyler Wilson in that game didn't help, but it wasn't Wilson giving up 550 yards of offense to a Sun Belt team. The Hogs' strongest performance may actually have been last Saturday's loss to Rutgers. There's still time to cobble together a respectable season—Arkansas has just the one conference loss—but it won't be easy.
• David Ash, QB, Texas.
He and Case McCoy competed for the starting job all last year, yet the duo started the season sharing the gig. Ash finally pulled ahead in the first game, and he hasn't looked back. After having twice as many interceptions as touchdowns last year, the sophomore has thrown seven touchdowns and no picks through three games in 2012. He's on pace for 2,800 yards, but he's likely to amass more than that given some of the snuggly-soft defenses that lie ahead in the Big 12.
• Stanford's D.
This was USC's year, we said. No, for real this time, we said. The Matt Barkley narrative was irresistible: golden-haired, golden-armed Heisman front-runner who turned down NFL riches for a genuine national title shot. Five of SI.com's Crystal Ball panelists slotted the Trojans into the BCS championship game. Enter the Cardinal, which sacked Barkley four times, intercepted him twice, disrupted his chemistry with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, repeatedly mowed down the Trojans' offensive line and held USC to 26 rushing yards. Bring on the Ducks.
• Wisconsin's O.
Coming off the 2012 Rose Bowl, the Badgers needed to replace offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, quarterback Russell Wilson and three starters on the offensive line. But if there's one thing Wisconsin should excel at, it's unearthing large beefy boys from America's heartland and teaching them to block, right? (Right ... ?) Plus, the Badgers still had Heisman finalist Montee Ball and veteran QB transfer Danny O'Brien. Fast-forward a month, and Ball is averaging 90 yards a game (he left last week's game in the second quarter with a head injury), O'Brien has been benched for a redshirt freshman and first-year offensive line coach Mike Markuson has been fired. The Badgers beat UTEP last week, but they gained a total of 423 yards against a team that gave up 538 yards to Ole Miss. Two months of Big Ten play lie ahead. Gulp.
• Florida's offensive line.
Early-season chomps to new O-line coach Tim Davis. The Gators averaged fewer than 150 rushing yards per game last season. Three games into SEC play this year they're averaging more than 220. And that's without running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, who are both in the NFL now. The unit has given up a high number of sacks (12), but eight of those came against Texas A&M, when freshly hatched starting quarterback Jeff Driskel regularly held the ball too long. Driskel will have to start turning the ball loose a lot faster for the sack stats to improve—especially before LSU comes to town on Oct. 6—but the run blocking looks great.
• Mid-major moment.
Ohio University has one of the clearest shots in the country—and certainly the clearest shot among non-AQ teams—at an undefeated season. But while the Bobcats were coasting past Norfolk State on Saturday, the rest of the conference showed off its depth. Central Michigan beat Iowa, Western Michigan beat UConn, Ball State beat South Florida, Northern Illinois beat Kansas, Akron put a three-quarter scare into Tennessee and Eastern Michigan hung in for three quarters against No. 21 Michigan State. It'll be a shame, from an entertainment standpoint, to see those wacky MAC teams start beating up on each other rather than playing David against all those AQ Goliaths.
Geno Smith continues to lead the pack after another strong week, and the way West Virginia's offense is humming, it's hard to see him losing ground. Elsewhere, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein beat Oklahoma and jumped onto the chart, replacing Montee Ball, who left his game with an injury.
2012 169.8 143.0
RYAN A. MILLER/ICON SMI (JOHN L. SMITH)
ROASTED PORK Smith and the Razorbacks began the season in the top 10, but have so far lost all but one of their games.
CHARLES LECLAIRE/US PRESSWIRE (GENO SMITH)