Smack in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, Max Duggan jumped in his car and drove three hours from his Council Bluffs, Iowa, home to a city park in Prairie Village, Kansas. He was met that May 2020 day by Wisconsin's Graham Mertz, Rutgers' Noah Vedral (transferring from Nebraska) and Minnesota's Jacob Clark.
They were united by their throwing coach, Justin Hoover, head of Spin It Quarterback Academy in suburban Kansas City. It was that and the longing just to do something again with a football in their hands.
"That was the most work you could get in during COVID," Duggan said. "The world was shut down. The only spot you could get a workout in was with Justin in a park."
There were no lines. The grass was a bit overgrown. Kids played nearby on swing sets. But it was pure joy.
Duggan was the best player on the field that day following a season in which TCU's quarterback was honorable mention for Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.
The memories came flowing back this week of the Kansas game. Duggan has gone from city park to becoming the nation's most efficient passer (202.18) ahead of better-known names like Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, Coastal Carolina's Grayson McCall and North Carolina's Drake Maye. Kansas' Jalon Daniels (177.45) is seventh in the category nationally.
If Duggan's number holds up, he would be in the same company as Baker Mayfield, Tua Tagoviola and Joe Burrow as pass efficiency leaders since 2015. Thanks to the touch of quarterback-maker Sonny Dykes, Duggan has become a low-key assassin in an offense that just put up 55 points on Oklahoma.
Get used to these kinds of games with these kinds of participants becoming more common on the national scene in the realigned Big 12. That point is hammered home this week as the Red River Showdown might as well be an afterthought. Oklahoma and Texas, both 3-2, both meet unranked for the first time since 1998.
Not only that, it's a reminder for the Sooners and Longhorns how tough things are going to be the SEC. Hey, somebody has to dominate the Big 12 with Texas and Oklahoma headed South.
That's a discussion for another time. There's not much of a discussion in anointing Dykes the coach of the best program in Texas at the moment.
"Not a lot of people predicted or thought this for this program," Duggan said.
No. 17 TCU and No. 19 Kansas have zoomed into the rankings with unlikely quarterbacks. Daniels has been the key to KU's ascension. Duggan is here, in part, by fortune. Oklahoma transfer Chandler Morris started the season but injured his knee in the opener. Duggan, a senior, has led the team since.
Last Saturday against Oklahoma, he starred. In an epic 55-24 win over the Sooners, Duggan threw for 302 yards, ran for 136 more and scored five total touchdowns. OU apparently forgot he could play. In four seasons, he has now thrown for almost 7,000 yards.
"We have kind of surprised a couple of people outside the program," Duggan said.
That's an understatement. During his career, Duggan -- the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2019, according to 247Sports -- has fought off a host of challengers. His world was turned upside down last year when TCU legend Gary Patterson left the program. Jerry Kill, the special assistant hired to oversee the offense, was named interim coach. Patterson is now an analyst at Texas, and Kill is the New Mexico State coach.
It's just strange to see Saturday's matchup develop. Duggan's offensive coordinator is Garrett Riley, brother of USC coach Lincoln. TCU is the reason Dykes left crosstown rival SMU. That is why Texas Tech got rid of Matt Wells after eight games last season hoping to get in line ahead of TCU for Dykes.
This is why Duggan's hopes went up when he saw Dykes was Patterson's replacement. Dykes, 52, is the son of Texas Tech coaching legend Spike Dykes. Sonny's quarterback development is legendary. He became a discipline of Mike Leach's Air Raid joining Texas Tech in in 2000. As a Red Raiders co-offensive coordinator in 2005-06, he oversaw Cody Hodges and Graham Harrell. Dykes was Super Bowl quarterback Jared Goff's coach at California.
After being fired at Cal, Dykes was brought into TCU by Patterson as an offensive analyst in 2017. The Horned Frogs offense had followed consecutive top-10 seasons in total offense by dropping to 29th in 2016.
In four seasons at SMU, Dykes led the Mustangs to post-death penalty heights. Dykes' 30 wins tied June Jones for the most Mustangs victories over a four-year span since the NCAA brought the hammer down in 1987. SMU was ranked under Dykes for the first time since 1986.
"He does let you play free, be yourself," Duggan said.
Week 6 storylines
'Splainin' The Sprain: Nick Saban remains optimistic about Bryce Young playing against Texas A&M. On Thursday, Alabama's coach said Young would be a game-time decision. Speaking with sources familiar with shoulder sprains this week in an attempt to get insight into Young's situation, some unique views were shared.
A medical professional with experience working with college football and NFL players, and a former college quarterback who had suffered a similar injury, shared the timeline for Young would likely be 3-6 weeks depending on the grade of the injury. Texas' Quinn Ewers had a similar injury to his non-throwing shoulder and returning this week against Oklahoma after being out four weeks.
All this is speculative and injuries vary from player to player, but all of it will figure into Young's draft evaluation. But as Saban noted on his radio show, Young must consider his professional prospects and career beyond Alabama as he decides what level of pain he wants to manage and when he wants to return to the field.
Officially, Young is day-to-day heading into the Texas A&M game vs. No. 1 Alabama set for 8 p.m. ET on CBS. He practiced earlier week and still has some soreness. Saban said it was an injury his quarterback had suffered before, one that resolved itself in a couple of days.
Vols' next test: No. 25 LSU has made progress under Brian Kelly. Maybe not enough for some Tigers, but they are nevertheless at 4-1. Jayden Daniels has been coached up like never before in his fourth season. The quarterback whose play declined each year he was at Arizona State has yet to throw an interception. Credit offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and quarterbacks coach Joe Sloan. The Tigers are averaging their second-most yards (443) since 2014. Since then, the only unit for productive was in the 2019 championship year. The four-game winning streak is the LSU's longest since that season. If it knocks off No. 8 Tennessee, we may have to reevaluate LSU.
Dawg gone evaluation: No. 2 Georgia essentially opens its home schedule against Auburn. If you want to count Samford and Kent State, go ahead, but the Tigers are a measuring stick for the Bulldogs. The last two efforts against Kent State and especially Missouri have raised questions. One of them being: Is there truly a dominant team in the SEC? Georgia was distracted against Kent State. Mizzou shut down the run early before Stetson Bennett had to rally the Dawgs in the fourth quarter. Auburn has picked a bad time to play its first road game of the year. The Tigers gave up 21 consecutive points to lose against LSU last week. Georgia has won 14 straight home games.
Maye Day: Drake Maye is on track to throw 46 touchdown passes. North Carolina's quarterback seems to have a willing participant once again in meeting Miami as he looks to add to his 19 TDs this season (against just one interception). The Hurricanes are trying trying to pick themselves off the turf after giving up 400 yards to Middle Tennessee's Chase Cunningham. Stick Maye on your Heisman Watch. After playing Miami (95th-ranked passing offense), among the defenses Maye will face include Duke (86th), Wake Forest (89th) and Georgia Tech (62nd).
Where from here, Badgers? Wisconsin interim coach Jim Leonhard didn't hold back during his first week leading the program. He said the loss of Paul Chryst was "absolutely a huge concern … even the staff. We're all here because of what Paul Chryst had done." Leonard continued: "Very emotional on our floor [of the facility], as well as the players. Initially, there is very little I can say to this team to handle that emotion in the moment. It hurt a lot of guys. ... I pride myself on being able to sit back and lead a room … Some guys will be vocal. Some guys will be emotional and realize they may have overstepped." Yikes. Good luck at Northwestern.
I-L-L Communication: Bret Bielema has found himself again. In 17 games at Illinois, he has done what he could never do in five years at Arkansas: turn around the program. Junior Chase Brown leads the country in rushing. Tommy DeVito is a rescue quarterback from Syracuse. Best of all for Illinois: There is a six-way tie for the Big Ten West lead (1-1) going into the Iowa game. Why not the Illini? It's easy to envision them 9-1 going into the Michigan game on Nov. 19.
What's Bruin' against Utah? We may have a Midseason All-American spot solidified. Utah cornerback Clark Phillips II is coming off a three-interception game (including a pick six) heading to the Rose Bowl. The sophomore has started all 24 games since he has been on campus. He is the only Pac-12 player with three career interceptions returned for touchdowns. The matchup against UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson deserves more attention. No. 18 UCLA is seeing its attendance down 28% during an undefeated season as No. 11 Utah visits.
Quick Hits: God speed to former freshman All-America defensive lineman Bryan Bresee as he continues to recover from a kidney infection. Last month, the Clemson star lost his 15-year-old sister Ella to brain cancer. Bresee will miss Saturday night's game at Boston College … Does Penn State five-star freshman Drew Allar need to get more playing time? It's not likely coming next week at Michigan. Former backup Ta'Quan Robinson hadn't had enough snaps when Sean Clifford went down last year vs. Iowa. Robinson is now at UConn … Washington State's Jake Dickert can put his name squarely in the Wisconsin coaching search with a win over USC this week. Even if he doesn't beat the Trojans, Dickert -- a former Wisconsin-Stevens Point player and coach -- is becoming a hot property at 7-4 since taking over for Nick Rolovich … There is something sacrilegious about Catholic and Mormon flagships meeting in Las Vegas, but here we are with Notre Dame and BYU. All the sudden there is a New Year's Six berth at stake for both teams. (Yes, even at 2-2, ND has a shot because it's ND) ... Outside of the Power Five, the only two undefeated teams remaining are James Madison (at Arkansas State) and Coastal Carolina (at Louisiana-Monroe)