Big 12 Outshines SEC In Chaotic Weekend

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The New York Sun

If this weekend’s carnage at the top of the college football polls bore a familiar look, it should: It was vintage 2007.

Last year’s was a season marked by uncertainty, when no poll position was safe. Upsets became so common that Ohio State lost its final home contest — and still made the Bowl Championship Series title game. LSU lost its final regular-season game, its second loss of the season, and still won the national championship.

This season appears headed for more chaos after a weekend in which three of the top four teams in the major polls lost, along with four of the top 10 teams. Three of the losses came to unranked opponents — another hallmark of 2007, when a top-five team lost to an unranked foe on 13 occasions.

Saturday’s upset parade was so lengthy that by the conclusion of the night, former-no. 1 USC’s loss at Oregon State on Thursday was almost forgotten. Saturday began with Ole Miss stunning no. 4 Florida on its home field, 31-30, by blocking an extra point in the final minutes.

Next up was no. 9 Wisconsin, which somehow lost 27-25 to a Michigan team that managed one first down and five turnovers in its first 10 possessions. Then it was Georgia’s turn: The third-ranked Bulldogs were run out of their home stadium by no. 8 Alabama, which raced to a 31-0 halftime lead. Georgia made it interesting for a few minutes in the second half, but the result was never in doubt as Alabama held on 41-30.

The many upsets mean a major shake-up in the polls, as well as in the national-championship outlook. Anyone who follows college football spends much of the season engaging in weekly speculation as to which two teams will end up with coveted spots in the BCS title game — a selection process that at times looks less organized than picking names out of a hat. The scenarios vary wildly from week to week, but there were some clear winners and losers — even among the teams that lost — this week.

The schools that received the biggest boost from the weekend’s results were Oklahoma, which routed TCU 35-10; Texas, which crushed Arkansas, 52-10, and the aforementioned Alabama, which moved all the way to no. 2 in the AP poll. Oklahoma has destroyed four straight opponents by an average score of 50-13. Only a road trip to Baylor stands between the Sooners and the Red River Shootout game against Texas. The Longhorns are also 4-0, with four routs on their résumé. Texas, which has a tricky road trip to Colorado next week, has been beating opponents by an almost identical margin: 50-11. Should both Texas and Oklahoma arrive in Dallas undefeated, that game now looms as one of the most important of the regular season, as the winner should be no. 1 when the initial BCS standings are released on October 19.

A week ago, the SEC was the dominant force in the polls, with five teams in the AP top 10. Following the upsets, it’s the Big 12 that sits atop the college football landscape, with three teams in the top five: the newly anointed no. 1 Oklahoma, no. 5 Texas, and no. 4 Missouri, which was off this week. The Tigers have an easier road in the Big 12 North than either Texas or Oklahoma in the South, and should be waiting to face the winner of that game in the league championship at the end of the year.

Upstart Alabama is now the SEC’s highest-ranked team at no. 2, and is looking ahead to a game with enormous implications at third-ranked LSU on November 8, but all is not lost for Georgia and Florida. With each upset, the likelihood that the participants in the national-title game will be undefeated drops, meaning all the one-loss teams remain in play. Georgia and Florida are still the class of the SEC East, and face each other November 1. Unless Vanderbilt or Kentucky somehow goes undefeated in the SEC — a less-likely result than all this week’s upsets put together — the winner of the Florida-Georgia game will play for the SEC championship and have a chance to play for the national title.

The week’s losses were far more damaging for USC and Wisconsin. Both the Big Ten and Pac-10 are having down years, and it will be difficult for either team to climb back up the polls against their soft remaining schedules. USC, because of its national reputation, might benefit from attrition ahead of it, but it will be difficult for the Trojans to win an argument against any other one-loss team if their best results this season end up being against a mediocre Ohio State team and a slightly-improved Notre Dame team (the Irish visit USC November 29). USC, at no. 9, is one of just two ranked Pac-10 teams.

Things are only slightly better in the Big Ten, where preseason favorite Ohio State continues to underwhelm, even as the Buckeyes improved to 4-1 with a win over Minnesota on Saturday. The Big Ten’s best hope now appears to be no. 6 Penn State, which finally played a decent opponent and emerged with a solid 14-point win over Illinois at home Saturday night.

As tough as things are in the Big Ten and Pac-10, both conferences can still look down their noses at the ACC (where there are no undefeated teams left, now that Wake Forest lost to Navy on Saturday) and the Big East, where only South Florida and Connecticut remain unscathed.

Then again, with the situation in the polls so fluid from week to week, perhaps looking ahead in college football is complete folly. Chaos is the new normal in college football. Don’t like the polls this week? Just wait a week — it’s sure to change.

Mr. Levine is a writer for FootballOutsiders.com.

The New York Sun

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