This past Saturday was a very interesting day in college football. It saw previously top ten ranked teams Alabama and USC lose at home and current top five programs TCU and Ohio State struggle to hold on against teams they were more than thirty point favorites against. Other programs just outside the top ten like Oregon and Oklahoma were also heavy favorites at home but their defenses surrendered 28 and 38 points respectively in games where they were expected to rest their starters by the beginning of the second half.
Obviously schools like TCU, Ohio State, Oregon and Oklahoma have bigger games ahead of them and may not have been completely focused on their opponents this past weekend. Their opponents on the other hand will not play another game on a bigger stage this season and approached those games like it was their super bowl. However, there should be a big enough talent gap between the big programs and smaller schools where motivation shouldn’t be much of a factor.
Just three weeks into the season nearly every team in the top 25 has either lost or has been one possession away from losing. When you saw the way Ohio State beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg just 2 weeks ago it is hard to imagine them nearly losing at home to Northern Illinois but that is exactly what happened. The haves will probably start separating from the have nots as the season continues but early on, no single team looks completely dominant including TCU, Ole Miss and Ohio State. There is no team this season that resembles the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes or some of the other best college teams of all time.
This all could just be early season jitters and teams working out the kinks but it doesn’t seem that way. The SEC has several great teams but it is a top heavy league this season and doesn’t have the depth that it had in the last ten years. The Pac 12 was thought to be a close second to the SEC in terms of depth this year but the top three pre season teams in that league (Oregon, USC and Stanford) have already lost and the fourth team (UCLA) nearly lost at home to a banged up BYU team. The Big Ten appears to be a conference on the rise with its incoming coaching talent in the past few seasons. But programs like Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin are a work in progress and only Ohio State and Michigan State will garner any national attention this season. It is hard to make any judgment on the Big 12 because the top schools in that conference haven’t played a meaningful game yet. The ACC is another top heavy league but the projected pre season champion Georgia Tech lost to a Notre Dame team that has lost several players for the season, including their starting quarterback and running back. The other top programs in the league (Clemson and Florida State) squeaked by on the road this past week against unranked teams. The point is that every team in the country is flawed in some way.
This season is probably going to be much like the 2007 season when there was constant change in the top five every week because none of the top teams could handle success and would lose as soon as they got that high in the polls. A two loss LSU team won the national championship that season and given all the parity, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a two loss team win the national championship this season.