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Forde-Yard Dash: Surprising Starts Abound in Unusual Places

Kansas, Rutgers and Duke are all 2–0. And they’re not the only ones showing life.

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where stubborn old Iowa can rank last in the nation in yards per play (2.8) and still not feel the need to make a quarterback change:

MORE DASH: Frost Fired | Who’s Next? | Scenic Stadiums



There are some early stirrings of success in unusual locales, and some comebacks from forgotten people and places. A Dash breakdown of what’s going well that we might not have seen coming:

The Atlantic Coast Conference (21) has eight undefeated teams and a 19–4 nonconference record. Last year, just five ACC teams made it to 2–0. For a league known for many years as Clemson or Bust, it’s good to have some more schools making headlines. (Three other ACC teams are ranked, after the No. 5 Tigers: No. 13 Miami, No. 16 North Carolina State and No. 19 Wake Forest.)

On Saturday the ACC took the show on the road and held up well, going 5–1 in nonleague play. That included upset victories by Duke and Louisville, plus the return of Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman earlier than some had expected to lead the Demon Deacons past Vanderbilt. North Carolina won consecutive road games and is averaging 51.3 points despite leading receiver Josh Downs missing the past two contests (freshman quarterback Drake Maye is legit).

The most surprising ACC teams to date:

Florida State (22). The Seminoles very nearly blew a sure victory against LSU in the final minute Labor Day night, but nevertheless held on for a rare ACC victory over the SEC. (Last year the record was 8–1 in favor of the SEC.) FSU is off to its first 2–0 start since 2016, which tells you how bad it’s been in Tally in recent seasons. Quarterback Jordan Travis is off to a good start, and there are several transfer portal additions making an immediate impact.

Duke (23). The Blue Devils dragged an eight-game losing streak into this season and have turned that around emphatically, starting 2–0 under new coach Mike Elko. The former defensive coordinator at Texas A&M has immediately upgraded that side of the ball at Duke: The opening shutout of Temple was the program’s first in seven years, and first against an FBS opponent since 1989. The Blue Devils haven’t yet trailed this season, and with an upcoming game against FCS North Carolina A&T they should be 3–0 heading to Kansas on Sept. 24 for a rare meaningful contest between the two schools not involving round balls and hardwood. Speaking of which …

Kansas football celebrates its overtime win at WVU

The Jayhawks are coming off a big overtime win at West Virginia.

The sight of Kansas (24) at 2–0 is enough to make you want to get your eyesight checked. That hasn’t happened since 2011, and the Jayhawks haven’t won their Big 12 opener since ’09. Yet here we are, with Lance Leipold working a reformation of America’s worst Power 5 football program. This is the first time Kansas has scored more than 50 points in each of its first two games since the ’07 team, which was the best in program history. Kansas’s 7.53 yards per carry is third nationally, trailing only Alabama and Air Force.

The state of Washington (25) is off to a brisk beginning, with both Washington and Washington State 2–0 for the first time in five years. The Cougars scored the big win, upsetting Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium and making the promotion of 2021 interim coach Jake Dickert look better with each passing week. Perhaps the best news so far for Wazzu is that it is winning without prize transfer quarterback Cameron Ward playing lights-out yet.

Washington, meanwhile, is getting very good play from its transfer QB. Indiana import Michael Penix Jr. is back, after a rough 2021 season. The competition hasn’t been stellar (Kent State and FCS Portland State), but Penix has an efficiency rating of 183.47 so far, good for 12th nationally. The Huskies struggled to score points against any semblance of defense last year, which is why Kalen DeBoer is now the coach. Putting 97 of them on the board the first two games brought some welcome enthusiasm to Seattle. But the challenge steps up appreciably Saturday with Michigan State—a familiar opponent for Penix—coming to town.

Clay Helton (26), Georgia Southern. Most Sun Belt coaches are rising up the ranks. Helton is going the other way, but the fired USC coach may have found his comfort zone in the South and in the Sun Belt. He’s led the Eagles to a 2–0 start capped by the upset of Nebraska—a fireable offense for Scott Frost but a validating victory for Helton. He added Buffalo transfer quarterback Kyle Vantrease to an experienced returning offense, and the early returns have been a vastly improved passing attack. In a loaded Sun Belt East, don’t overlook Georgia Southern and Helton.

The entire Big Ten East (27) is undefeated, a combined 14–0. While that isn’t a surprise at the top it is notable at the next tier, where Indiana, Rutgers and Maryland are simultaneously 2–0 for the first time in a decade. The highlights were dramatic, late-game touchdown drives by the Hoosiers to beat Illinois and the Scarlet Knights to beat Boston College—Indiana going 75 yards to score in the final 30 seconds, and Rutgers going 96 yards entirely on the ground. Maryland has had no need for late drama yet, rolling over Buffalo and Charlotte. There’s a long way to go for those programs to threaten the establishment, but those powers might not have any walkovers within the division.

Mohamed Ibrahim (28), Minnesota running back. The workhorse’s Achilles tendon tear in the season opener against Ohio State last year was one of the biggest bummers of 2021. Now he’s back and battering defenses again, producing two nearly identical stat lines: 21 carries for 132 yards and two touchdowns against New Mexico State; 23 carries for 130 yards and two TDs against Western Illinois. The Gophers haven’t played anyone with a pulse yet but might be the new favorite in the smoking crater that is the Big Ten West.

Charlie Jones (29), Purdue wide receiver. A receiver going from Iowa’s offense to Purdue’s is like sending a child accustomed to liverwurst to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Jones caught 21 passes all last season as a Hawkeye; he has a nation-leading 21 in two games as a Boilermaker. Injuries and graduations left a big opening in the Purdue receiving corps, and Jones has filled it ably.

The Army passing game (30). The Cadets threw for 304 yards Saturday against UTSA, which is merely the most shocking statistic of the last 20 years in college football. Last time the most ground-bound program in FBS passed for more yardage than that was 2001. Think of it this way: Army threw for 361 yards the entire season in ’17, and only four times in the previous 13 seasons had even thrown for 200 in a game. The rest of the story: Army is 0–2 for the first time since ’15. But blame that more on the competition than a sudden betrayal of all that Jeff Monken considers holy—Coastal Carolina and UTSA are high-quality Group of 5 programs.

MORE DASH: Frost Fired | Who’s Next? | Scenic Stadiums