Remember waaaay back one week ago? When the SEC had returned to its old BCS bus-with-no-brakes self? Remember waaaay back three weeks ago? When the Pac-12 was going to be the only force in the college football universe with enough firepower to match that broken-down bus that was the SEC? Remember waaaay back nine months ago? When the Big 12 was going to get not one but two teams into the inaugural College Football Playoff?
And remember just before all of that, when the Big Ten was a wrecked, smoldering shell of its old self, about to be left behind by everyone to its south, west and southwest?
Well, um, yeah, welcome to Week 3.
You don't have to take my word for it. Just take a look at the late Saturday night face of the man who'd just led Michigan State to a revenge victory over Oregon.
"In my mind, this is a stepping-stone game," head coach Mark Dantonio said after the emotional, to-the-mat 31-28 victory, the first matchup of top-10 teams in East Lansing since the coach was a 10-year old kid, growing up south of the border in Zanesville, Ohio. "This is a game that pays dividends at the end of season. This is a game that promotes this brand and this program, and it's exciting for everybody involved. We need to continue on."
He could have easily been speaking on behalf of the entire conference. Well, most of it anyway. Down the road in Ann Arbor, Jim Harbaugh earned his first win as Michigan's head coach, Dantonio's biggest rival vanquishing Oregon's biggest rival, Oregon State. Minnesota rallied to beat Colorado State in OT. Iowa broke away from a tie game to defeat Iowa State. Wisconsin and Northwestern eased into the lower regions of the AP Top 25.
All of this took place while the SEC's bus caught fire. Auburn won embarrassingly in OT over FCS opponent Jacksonville State, and Arkansas lost embarrassingly to Big Ten backyard little brother Toledo. Then the self-cannibalization of the SEC West began in Starkville, Mississippi, on Saturday night with LSU's two-point win over Mississippi State. Meanwhile, the SEC East already looks like it's still the same old spaghetti pile it has been for the past decade.
In the Big 12, we still don't know who Baylor really is, we still don't know what Oklahoma's win over Tennessee really means, Texas is an episode of "The Young and the Restless" and TCU's defense should've been written into "General Hospital."
In the Pac-12, USC and UCLA are in the AP's Top 10, Oregon has fallen out, and once-upon-a-time playoff contenders Stanford and Arizona State have been replaced by Arizona and Utah. Sure, it's early. Sure, the Big Ten is top-heavy with an increasingly confusing middle and an awful caboose. Sure, its juggernauts won't cross paths for another couple of months. But all of that might work out just fine when it comes College Football Playoff time, thank you very much.
Just ask the SEC.
During that conference's amazing run of seven consecutive BCS titles, its model was essentially the same. Each season typically featured two dominant teams, Alabama and someone else. There were always enough bad teams to ensure wins. Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Arkansas and Florida all had awful streaks, and in the early part of that stretch, so did the Magnolia State schools. A big cross-conference win always meant big early attention, a climb into the top tier of the standings. A big in-conference win late would cement that ranking. Add that to a win in the conference championship game -- sometimes even a close loss in that game -- and the résumé was undeniable.
That model was not a mistake. It was a plan. A successful plan. That's why we call it a model.
Which brings us to today in the Midwest. For Ohio State and Michigan State, the road looks familiar. The high-profile Power 5 wins are out of the way (thank you Hokies and Ducks). Now the goal will be to survive mid-fall without a letdown, bulldozing the bad teams (Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue, take your pick) and knocking out good-but-not-great, big-brand-name opponents (Michigan and Nebraska for MSU, Penn State and Minnesota for OSU) before the Nov. 21 showdown in Columbus, Ohio.
In the meantime, both MSU and OSU need to root for their opponents to do well as they meander through the middle of the conference schedule. Particularly Wisconsin and Northwestern, the pair that moved into the AP Top 25 when three SEC schools fell out. Neither one of those teams is on the regular-season schedule of the Spartans or the Buckeyes. Defeating one more top-25 team in the Big Ten title game, no matter how low they might be, would simply add to the all-powerful "strength of schedule" factor when the committee prepares to blow their white smoke from the tower in Grapevine, Texas.
"Conference perception has always been huge," outgoing SEC commissioner Mike Slive explained to me over the winter. "But now the impact of that perception is tangible. It isn't a computer. It's a group of people sitting in a room who have watched the games and know what kind of a gauntlet a team endured throughout a season. The impressions made in the biggest of those games can't be measured."
After just two weeks, the Big Ten's big two have made their first impressions. See you in November, boys.
What can one say about BYU's old-man freshman who has now won two games with mountain-air prayers? First, you need to read Mitch Sherman's look at the post-mission miracle worker. Then you need to know I shared the following tweet with both admiration and anger that I didn't think of it first. Before kickoff of the Boise State game, USA Today writer Paul Myerberg speculated, "I bet Tanner Mangum *could* actually throw a ball over them mountains. He's a real-life Uncle Rico."
The Frank Reich Backup QB of the Week Award: DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
If the Cougars keep doing what they're doing, we might have to rename this the Tanner Mangum Award. But on Saturday, the hero off the bench was Kizer, the redshirt freshman who took over when Malik Zaire broke his right ankle late in the third quarter at Virginia. On Kizer's first play, he handed off to running back C.J. Prosise, who immediately cranked out a 24-yard TD run. Kizer finished 8-of-12 passing for 92 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 39-yarder to Will Fuller that daggered UVA's comeback hopes. Head coach Brian Kelly said of Kizer: "I want to win a championship with him. We need to get him to the next level."
The Comeback of the Week Award (also named for Frank Reich): Oklahoma
This is where you say, "no duh, McGee." But the Sooners' rally past Tennessee was actually more impressive than you think, even in the middle of a congregation of comebacks. The number colliders from ESPN Stats & Information have this nifty formula known as Win Probability. You might recognize the term from all of our pregame coverage, but you might not know the numbers slide as the games roll on. So, whereas Oklahoma arrived in Knoxville, Tennessee, with a not-too-bad 41 percent win probability, they spent most of the game hovering around 19 percent. As the Sooners trailed 17-3 on the final play of the third quarter, that number was down to 3 percent. So, not good ... until they won in double overtime, which was very good. It was a week full of remarkable recoveries. To the numbers!
MINIMUM WIN PROBABILITY
Oklahoma over Tennessee: 3 percent
Washington State over Rutgers: 6 percent
Auburn over Jacksonville State: 11 percent
BYU over Boise State: 15 percent
Minnesota over Colorado State: 16 percent
Notre Dame over Virginia: 16 percent
"Luke, you switched off your targeting computer!"
This weekend's college football Twittersphere was on fire early and often thanks to a slew of player ejections due to targeting penalties. There were nine in FBS games, including two in the USF-FSU game, one on each side and one in each half. A targeting penalty is a 15-yard personal foul and, starting in 2013, they cause ejections, which can carry over into the next game. Ole Miss defensive back Tee Shepherd will miss the first half of next weekend's game at Alabama because his targeting ejection came in the third quarter of the Rebels' win over Fresno State. While the perception might be that there have been more targeting ejections this year, that's not the reality. In Week 1, there were five targeting calls (none were reversed via replay), bringing it to a total of 14 over the first two weekends. That's an average of seven per week, a pace that would equal 98 over the entire season. That's exactly what we saw one year ago when there were 99 targeting calls throughout the entire 2014 FBS season (800-plus games). The men who oversee college football officiating believe that because the rule is still relatively new, the upcoming years will see a decline in targeting penalties thanks to education and familiarity. "I do think the trend will be less as players, coaches and the officials continue emphasis and education." Those are the oft-repeated words of Doug Rhoads, longtime ACC official, officiating coordinator and now ESPN rules expert. "That's common with any rules change but particularly one that has to be taught on the field."
The Guy You Should Know About but Probably Don't: Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA
Because he took his handoffs from superstar QB Brett Hundley and now wunderkind Josh Rosen, you might not realize Perkins led the Pac-12 in rushing one year ago or he's already in October form after two weeks. On Saturday, he hammered admittedly bad UNLV for 151 yards and two TDs, including a lightning-quick 58-yarder that iced the game in the third quarter. "He's a blue-collar guy," UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said of his tailback. "You don't always notice him, but yeah, he wears guys down."
The Team You Should Know About but Probably Don't: Houston
The Cougars earned a seesaw upset win at Louisville to make new head coach Tom Herman 2-0. And, yes, this is the same Tom Herman who steered Ohio State's offense through a trio of quarterbacks to win the College Football Playoff last season. Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. looked downright Buckeye-ish, manufacturing 334 yards of offense, 236 passing and 98 rushing. The winning should continue. Their next six games: Texas State, Tulsa, SMU, Tulane, UCF and Vanderbilt.
The Game You Should Be Psyched for but Probably Aren't: Florida State at Boston College.
The Eagles haven't exactly played BYU's schedule, whipping Maine and Howard, but there's no question BC 2015 is a better team than BC 2014. And there's no question FSU 2015 isn't as a good as FSU 2014. And last year, Jameis Winston had to conjure late heroics so the Noles could kick a field goal to win 20-17 with three seconds left. I mean, y'all do remember this, right?
Extra Point: This week's Extra Point is literally an extra point. Kent State's April Goss became just the second woman to score in a major college football game when she kicked a PAT against Delaware State. The first was Katie Hnida, who in 2003 kicked a pair of extra points for New Mexico. Hnida had actually attempted a kick in the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl against UCLA, but it was blocked. I once chatted with a couple of the officials from that game who admitted they didn't realize it was that big of a deal until it was over. "We knew she was on the roster," one said. "But no one really noticed it when she was out there. The play was done and we were talking during the TV timeout and we were like, 'Wait...was that the woman?'"