Coast to Coast: The unexpected undefeateds of college football

Four weeks into the 2022-23 college football season, 21 teams remain undefeated. Traditional football powerhouses such as the University of Alabama, Ohio State, University of Georgia, University of  Kansas and USC have led the way with  dominant victories and a few close scrapes. But one of these is not like the others. You may be thinking to yourself, “Did I fall asleep in August and wake up at the start of basketball season? Surely the Kansas football team isn’t undefeated, right? Not that Kansas?” Unbelievably, the Kansas Jayhawks remain undefeated in college football, alongside a couple of other sleeping giants with the Syracuse Orange and the Washington Huskies.

Syracuse Orange

Four Power-Five teams have messed around and found out what Head Coach Dino Babers is cooking up in upstate New York. A 31-7 shellacking of perennial enemies Louisville should’ve been a warning to University of Connecticut, who had the privilege of suffering a 48-14 beatdown on their home turf. Squeaking by University of Virginia and Purdue University by five total points, the Orange have proven their mettle at home.

What’s powering Syracuse to this quick start out of the gate? Junior quarterback Garrett Shrader has been effective on the ground, sitting at No. 7 in the country in expected points added through the run. On the other side of the ball, defensive back Garrett Williams is tied for No. 9 in the country in interceptions with two to boot. This week, Williams was recognized as the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Back of the Week  after forcing and recovering a fumble to go along with an interception.

Washington Huskies

The Huskies rumbled their way to 8 sacks in a show of strength for the defense in a home win over Stanford last week. Fifteen total sacks put the defensive unit at No.4 in the nation and No. 1 in the Pac-12, just ahead of USC’s 14. Sophomore edge rusher Bralen Trice can claim 4.5 of those sacks for himself as he sits second in the conference on the year. Trice anchors an imposing edge rushing group that managed 20 pressures against Stanford and will look to repeat that performance at UCLA this week.

You can’t talk about the Huskies without talking about their quarterback, Michael Penix Jr., who paces the country in passing yards with 1,388. He’s averaging 9.7 yards per attempt for the swashbuckling No. 4 offense in the country.

Kansas Jayhawks

Does Kansas have a legitimate Heisman candidate? Is wheat yellow? Their quarterback Jalon Daniels is currently on course for the highest quarterback rating of any quarterback in the country in the last 18 years. In the last two games the Jayhawks have played, Daniels has accounted for 688 total yards of offense and 10(!) touchdowns. The 19-year-old true junior burned his redshirt after throwing 3 touchdowns in an overtime win against University of Texas at  Austin last season, and he hasn’t looked back since. 

Head Coach Lance Leipold is the hottest name on the coaching market on the back of the Hawks’ 4-0 start. Nebraska sees him as a worthy Scott Frost replacement, Georgia Tech is sniffing around and Arizona State needs a new coach to take them to the promised land. Offensive Coordinator Andy Kotelnicki has helped him run some of the most innovative plays in the country, earning himself head coaching shouts as well. Against Houston, Kansas ran a two-quarterback look at one point, with the ball ending up in the hands of former walk-on tight end Jared Casey.

Look past the mercurial quarterback play and the shrewd play-calling, and you’ll see an incredible program turnaround. Kansas’ sellout vs. Duke marked just their second sellout in the last 13 years, a sign the fans are getting on board with this team. It’s been a rough decade out in the wilderness for this team, with Kansas failing to reach the four-win plateau a single time since 2009. In fact, this year’s Jayhawks’ four straight wins marks only the third time in Big 12 history the team has kicked off the year 4-0. Not since the halcyon days of Mark Mangino has Lawrence, Kan. seen a football team that ranks anywhere above completely inept. Can Lance Leipold bring back those good old days and take the Jayhawks bowling by surviving a tough conference gauntlet? That remains to be seen, but he can rest assured that America is watching.

Yoav Gillath is a sophomore writing about professional and college sports. His column “Coast to Coast” runs every other Thursday.