There was a point in time Saturday that Northwestern was alone atop the Big Ten West with a 1-0 conference record. That soon changed when the Wildcats were beaten by Penn State — and it set the stage for the day to end with six teams in the division tied at 1-1 in the league with no clear idea who the favorite is.
Should it be Purdue, which Saturday knocked off Minnesota, the prohibitive favorite when Week 5 began? What about Illinois, a winner at Wisconsin? The Badgers were the preseason pick to finish on top of the league but are now the only 0-2 team in the division.
It could possibly be Iowa, which finally got some flickering of offense in a loss to Michigan. Northwestern is 1-4 overall, but its one win is against Nebraska, which got its first league victory Saturday against Indiana.
It's anybody's guess at this point.
The lack of clarity likely will remain for the next several weeks as it is hard to imagine any of these teams can play with the consistency needed to string together a significant win streak.
That means the West winner surely will have multiple — if not three or four — losses, making the Big Ten title game anticlimactic for whichever team wins the East. At some level that's good for the conference as its strongest team would seem assured of a College Football Playoff spot that can't be stolen on the final weekend of the regular season.
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However, it won't make for a compelling game and could hasten the move for the league to transform into one 16-team division when Southern California and UCLA join in 2024 to resolve the competitive differences between the East and West.
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The Big 12 might be the most fun conference
Oklahoma State is setting itself up for one of its sweetest seasons in its long history. While rival and soon-to-be former conference foe Oklahoma is struggling, the Cowboys are unbeaten after an impressive win at Baylor that establishes them as the favorite for the conference. But the road is not going to be easy.
First, there are the surprising unbeatens that have also put themselves into contention. Kansas is now 5-0 with two league wins after besting Iowa State in a nail-biter. TCU, which demolished the aforementioned disappointing Sooners, looks dynamic on offense under first-year coach Sonny Dykes and the defense is doing enough to slow down opposition.
And there's also Kansas State, which beat Oklahoma last week before handling Texas Tech, one week after the Red Raiders beat Texas. Speaking of the Longhorns, let's not count them out either. They have just one league loss and there's plenty of time to get back in the mix. Baylor, too, can be a factor. It's going to be a wild ride.
Lane Kiffin is doing a masterful job at Mississippi
Remember when the Rebels played fast and ran up and down the field with their offense and the defense couldn't stop anyone? They produced some wild shootouts as recently as last year.
Those days are long gone this season. Kiffin, recognizing the strengths and limitations of his offense, has relied more heavily on the running game as he works in Southern California transfer Jaxson Dart at quarterback. Entering this week the offense was averaging 48.5 rushing attempts and just 26 passes per game. That's three more runs than last year and seven fewer passes. The split Saturday in a defeat of No. 8 Kentucky was 39-29 in favor of run plays and the ball control and shortening the game continued to help an improved defense that has allowed just 59 points in five victories.
Kiffin's social media and other antics might draw the attention from media and fans, but it shouldn't be lost on anyone that's he's developed into an outstanding coach.
Utah hitting its stride as USC game looms
The transitive property in sports is an inexact science for many reasons, so don't read too much into the Utes blowing away Oregon State by 26 points one week after the Beavers almost beat Southern California.
However, it was an impressive performance for Utah as Cam Rising continued to play well at quarterback and the Utes forced four interceptions in getting some revenge against the only team to beat them in the Pac-12 last year.
The Trojans didn't suffer any ill effects from their close game in Corvallis as Caleb Williams rebounded against Arizona State after an inconsistent showing last week.
Utah and USC will have their anticipated meeting in two weeks. It could be the first of two matchups with the conference no longer utilizing divisions. While the Trojans are unbeaten, they'll likely enter the game as underdogs. The game could be one of the best of the season.
For one day, Georgia Tech can celebrate
The Yellow Jackets had gone almost a calendar year since their last defeat of a Bowl Subdivision team and their coach was fired six days before their game at No. 24 Pittsburgh. Enter interim coach Brent Key, who was able to get his team mentally ready to play on the road against a ranked team.
The victory wasn't pretty. Jeff Sims managed just 102 passing yards on 26 attempts. The running game wasn't particularly great until the second half. But Georgia Tech was opportunistic, turning three turnovers into 13 points with the help of its error-free play that had not been the norm early this season.
— Georgia Tech Football (@GeorgiaTechFB) October 2, 2022
The future remains dark for the Yellow Jackets. Key probably won't get the job permanently and whomever is hired has a long rebuilding job. They may be able to eke out a few more wins, but a bowl trip seems unlikely. Still, the plane ride back to Atlanta had to be a satisfying flight after such a long week.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Big Ten, Big 12 races top things missed in college football's Week 5