BEST OF TIMES: A snapshot of teams, coaches and players at their peak…
THE BIG 12. Three weeks ago, the conference was on life support, bracing itself for the tremor that would send its various parts scattering in at least three different directions. Since, the conference has staved off extinction, fired its lightning rod of a commissioner, agreed to share television revenue equally, convinced the Longhorn Network to stay out of high school sports altogether, and filled Texas A&M's place at the table with a very thrilled TCU. It's pledged to survive with or without Missouri, and the longer the Tigers are left hanging in their complex mating dance with the SEC, the less likely it is to be "without."
Oh, and the Big 12 still has the No. 1 team in the Coaches' poll and more teams currently ranked in both mainstream polls (6) than any other conference. I mean, if anyone's still paying attention to that sort of, you know, "on field" thing.
KANSAS STATE. Of the conference's unlikely success stories, none is unlikelier than Kansas State's run to its first 5-0 start since the glory days of the first Bill Snyder administration in 2000, especially considering this one has come against an even tougher schedule: The Wildcats have taken out Miami, Baylor and Missouri in consecutive weeks thanks to the conference's No. 1 total defense, each time as an underdog. If it can get past Texas Tech on Saturday — once again, K-State is a three-point underdog in Lubbock — win No. 7 at Kansas should be a piece of cake before things start to get really hairy against the top half of the conference down the stretch.
WAKE FOREST. Speaking of unlikely: Saturday's 35-30 upset over Florida State was the Demon Deacons' fourth win in a row and third straight in ACC play, officially waking up the echoes of 2006 and leaving them tied with Clemson atop the Atlantic Division. Even weirder: They're only a fourth-quarter collapse at Syracuse from the most head-explodingly perfect start since Citizen Kane.
WORST OF TIMES: …and of the ones way down in the hole.
KENTUCKY'S OFFENSE. We knew the Wildcats were bad: This is the same team, after all, that very nearly murdered the concept of offensive football in an opening night escape against Western Kentucky. Sadly, despite repeated warnings, police protection was nowhere to be found Saturday when they returned to finish the job in a 54-3 massacre at South Carolina.
For the game, Kentucky quarterbacks combined to complete 4 of 24 passes for 17 yards and three interceptions, not including a fourth interception from the arm of freshman tailback Josh Clemons — that's right: as a team, the Wildcats completed as many passes to the Gamecock defense as they did to their own receivers — resulting the exceedingly rare negative pass efficiency rating. For the season, UK ranks dead last in the SEC (and among the bottom five nationally) in passing offense, total offense, scoring offense, pass efficiency, sacks allowed and turnovers.
ARIZONA. Right, right, I know. Last week was supposed to be rock bottom for Arizona, on the heels of its fourth consecutive loss as a double-digit underdog to close out the toughest four-week stretch — back-to-back-to-back games against opponents ranked in the top 10, followed by a trip USC — any team will face this season. In fact, with winless Oregon State arriving on the schedule last Saturday, I promised Wildcat fans "it's going to get better."
A week later, the losing streak now sits at five games and 'Zona is officially without a head coach. Needless to say, it did not get better. With six more games to play and nothing in particular to play for before a full-fledged coaching change in December, it looks like it's about to get a lot worse before things start to turn around.
On the bright side, Wildcats fans, you'll always have "really hot White chicks."
CONNECTICUT. One offseason removed from the euphoria of a BCS bid, reality has descended on the Huskies in the form of a deeply unpopular new coach, a 1-4 record against teams that aren't Fordham and a public admission that ESPN effectively vetoed their bid to join the ACC. Not only is UConn not likely to switch conferences anytime soon: It may be on the fast track to the basement of the one it's in now.