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These 9 teams are helping make the college football season weird and enjoyable

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Northwestern is going to the Big Ten championship game, UAB is 9-1 after not existing four years ago, and more!

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 college football season hasn’t been nearly as weird as a year like 1984 or 2007 (hey, it’s a high bar), but it’s still solid proof of why college football is the best and weirdest sport.

We know Alabama is the team to beat. We know Clemson is the lone second tier. The third tier is just a few teams, and pretty much everyone else is in the fourth.

But within that fourth tier are some great surprises. Most of us didn’t see these coming.

On Saturday, Northwestern won the Big Ten West.

The Big Ten West has been one gigantic mess this season that somebody had to win at some point, right? Technically? Well, it turns out that team is the Northwestern Wildcats.

They went into Iowa City Saturday against the No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes as underdogs. Northwestern came out with a 14-10 victory, making them a smooth 6-1 in conference play.

That means they’ll face either Ohio State or Michigan for the Big Ten title in Indianapolis, Northwestern’s first-ever trip.

Here’s a pumped-up Pat Fitzgerald informing his team that the standings just broke Northwestern’s way:

And this is a real photo, no ‘shop:

Which, yes, means that if Northwestern were to win said Big Ten Championship game, they’d be in the Rose Bowl. Wild, I know.

Mind you, Northwestern started the season 1-3, including a loss to the Zips of Akron! Which means ...

Akron can kinda claim the Big Ten West crown.

At least, in our hearts. Akron’s first Big Ten win EVER turned out to be a win over the West’s champ, Northwestern. It was a 39-34 win, a game that Northwestern was a 21-point favorite in.

Their only other win over a Big Ten team came in 1894 against Ohio State, when Akron was Buchtel College, a Unitarian institution. That’s also when the Big Ten wasn’t even a thing:

What would eventually become known as the Big Ten wasn’t founded until 1896, two years later. They called it the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, which seems like a silly name, until you remember that these people eventually thought Leaders and Legends would make swell division names.

Times have changed. Also, thank goodness we don’t have Leaders and Legends anymore.

Pitt will probably make it to the ACC Championship!

And they’d have as many ACC divisional championships as Miami. There’s been a race between everybody in the ACC Coastal this season to be the division’s clear cut best team and representative in the championship game. It’s gone from Virginia Tech, to Virginia, and now to Pitt, who can clinch the division next week with a win against Miami.

I’m going to let my colleague Alex Kirshner describe this division, because it would be useless for me to attempt to do it any more accurate and concise than this:

North Carolina (now 1-8 on the season, weirdly with its only win coming against Pitt) has stood out for being bad. But otherwise, the league’s been a mess:

- Virginia’s been good for Virginia, but lost to Pitt at home in Week 10 and likely lost its chance to have a truly special season.

- Virginia Tech’s defense is anything other than a Virginia Tech defense.

- Miami’s struggling epically.

- Duke’s Duke.

- Georgia Tech’s had some great games that have gotten a lot of attention, but the Yellow Jackets have lost plenty and not been in contention.

Yeah, lol.

But after a 52-22 rout of Virginia Tech on Saturday, Pitt is making their case to be that team. A win over Wake next week, and there really won’t be any more discussion to be had. Pitt is in.

Wazzu remains the Pac-12’s last Playoff hope.

The Cougs are coming off of a week when it took far too long for them to beat Cal at home in a 19-13 game, but they got it done. This week was a much easier story for Mike Leach’s squad after Gardner Minshew completed 35 of his 58 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-7 win against Colorado.

After the game, Minshew put one of the fake mustaches fans wear for him on Leach:

Another look at This Thing:

If your team is out of the mix, the Cougs aren’t a bad team to root for the rest of the way. They are a long shot, but a fun one.

They’re also a reason to drink Fireball, so why not.

UAB has nine wins after not existing four years ago.

The entire program shut down in December of 2014, and they’re somehow 9-1 just four years later, which seems like shouldn’t be a thing. And yet, here we are!

Against Southern Miss, well, the broadcast met the bare minimum at a point:

That doesn’t minimize the Blazers’ win on Saturday though, which came in overtime. After the Golden Eagles got a field goal on the first possession of overtime, Spencer Brown sealed the victory for UAB on the ensuing possession with a 17-yard touchdown run.

The Blazers’ run is impressive, not just because of the way the program was rebuilt after its demise, but the way in which it was built. Coach Bill Clark explained to SB Nation that part of it took turning big JUCO individual talents and turning that into team chemistry:

“Just that lifestyle of ‘go get mine,’” Clark said. “It’s really about each individual more than it’s about the team at those junior colleges, so we had to change that mindset. It was a total overhaul of mindset, being a team, being a family. They did embrace it, though.”

Clearly things are working out in Birmingham. In just four years, it’s hard to overstate just how impressive that turnaround is.

SMU and Tulane are very much alive in the AAC West.

The AAC East is still in the hands of defending national champs UCF. That’s no surprise. But in the AAC West, SMU and Tulane are giving Houston fits for a spot in the championship game.

In 2017, SMU went 4-4 in conference play, and Tulane 3-5. Simply, they weren’t good.

In 2018, both are 4-2 after Saturday’s games. Tulane gets a crack at Houston on Thursday, Nov. 15. SMU beat the Cougars on Nov. 3 at home 45-31.

So while we expect UCF to play for the AAC title, who they may face is still up in the air among a trio of teams.

The biggest game of Week 12 might be one involving Syracuse.

The Orange became the latest team to demolish Bobby Petrino’s Louisville on Friday night, setting up what might be Notre Dame’s hardest remaining game: a trip to Yankee Stadium while dressed up like the New York Yankees.

With a win (and maybe even with a loss), Cuse can go from no bowl at all over the last four years to a New Year’s Six bowl in Dino Babers’ third year.

There’s plenty of season left, and things can get even weirder. We’re here for it.