Dennis Hubbard/Icon SMI
NOTE: For my column from the Texas-Texas Tech thriller, click here.
1. That history will be made this BCS season. In all 10 previous seasons of the BCS' existence, either or both the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the preseason AP poll have reached the title game. This year's top two were Georgia and Ohio State. Now that both the Dawgs and Buckeyes have been relegated to the two-loss trash heap -- both suffering humiliating blowouts along the way (Ohio State's 35-3 loss to USC on Sept. 13; Georgia's 49-10 beatdown at the hands of Florida on Saturday) -- it's clear that trend will come to an end in 2008.
Why did we prognosticators get it wrong this year? Probably because of just how haywire last year was. Georgia was anointed on the basis of a seven-game winning streak and Sugar Bowl rout of overmatched Hawaii. Though you can say we never should have put continued faith in Ohio State, the fact is the Buckeyes have managed to get worse despite returning 20 starters. The top three teams in this week's poll -- Alabama, Texas Tech and Penn State - began the year 24th, 12th and 22nd, respectively. Expect such year-to-year unpredictability to become the norm.
2. That Texas is hurting. You figured the Longhorns' four-game gauntlet of Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech would take its toll, but the carnage in Lubbock on Saturday night was particularly troubling. The 'Horns went into the game with cornerbacks Ryan Palmer and Chykie Brown already ailing (hence the increased role for freshman Curtis Brown, the unfortunate victim on Michael Crabtree's game-winning touchdown). Then receiver Quan Cosby went out with a back injury. And star DE Brian Orakpo left the field on crutches with a knee injury.
Somehow standing 'til the end was QB Colt McCoy, who took an absolute beating for most of the night yet managed to lead his team down the field for what was nearly a game-winning touchdown. It's a credit to McCoy and the 'Horns that they were even in it at the end when everything that could go wrong did go wrong the first three quarters. But while Texas' schedule finally lightens up in the weeks to come (they close with Baylor, Kansas and Texas A&M), the question is how well they can recover, physically and mentally, from the events of Saturday night.
3. That Florida's defense is for real. Defense was the Gators' primary question mark entering this season, having finished 98th in the country against the pass last year. Last year's struggles were logically blamed on youth, not talent, and Florida fans banked on the fact that a year's experience would do wonders for last year's freshmen and sophomores. Then Ole Miss came to Gainesville, broke scoring plays of 86 and 40 yards in a 31-30 upset and gave reason to wonder whether anything had truly changed.
Over the past month, however, we've watched the Gators morph back into a dominant defensive team, culminating with Saturday's masterpiece in which Florida held Georgia star Knowshon Moreno to 65 yards and picked off QB Matthew Stafford three times. LB Brandon Spikes was a beast as always, but many of the same young DBs that struggled at times a year ago -- CB Joe Haden, safeties Major Wright and Ahmad Black -- were at the center of the action as well. Florida may well be the most complete team in the country at this point. If they hadn't lost to Ole Miss ...
4. That not all "BCS busters" are created equal. Over the years, we've come to group all teams from outside the six major conferences into one collective pool, which means anytime one of the schools makes a run at an undefeated season, it automatically becomes a BCS candidate. But the reality is, there's a great disparity amongst even those conferences, and while the top teams in the Mountain West, and Boise State, have proven they can compete with the big boys (at times), it's becoming harder and harder to give some of the others the benefit of the doubt.
Take Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane racked up gaudy offensive numbers and an 8-0 record while beating up on Conference USA competition. Then they went to Arkansas and lost to a 3-5 SEC team tied for last in its division. If this sounds familiar, you may recall Hawaii, which in its last regular season game of 2007, barely edged 4-9 Washington. In retrospect, that should have been a warning sign the Warriors had no business playing on the same stage as Georgia. Clearly, Tulsa -- ranked 18th in last week's standings -- likely would have suffered the same fate.
5. That USF can officially be put out to pasture. I think the low point of my tenure as an AP voter came 13 months ago when, following a rash of upsets at the top of the polls, I naively elevated USF to No. 1. Like many in my profession, I fell for the myth that Jim Leavitt's built-from-scratch program had established itself as a nationally relevant program based on its repeated upsets of teams like West Virginia and Auburn. And like the rest of you, I proceeded to watch the Bulls lose three straight games and later get crushed in the Sun Bowl by injury-riddled Oregon.
Thus I came into this season far more skeptical of the Bulls, even dropping them out of the poll after losing at home to Pittsburgh. I'd just wish I'd stuck to my gut and not returned them back the following week. Following last Thursday's loss to Cincinnati, USF is now tied with Syracuse for last place in the Big East at 1-3. Give Leavitt all the credit in the world for assembling the talent to allow an 11-year-old program to even compete at this level, but his teams have also now developed a knack for sloppy, undisciplined play. That reflects back to coaching as well.