Sifting through my Mailbag submissions the past couple of weeks made me wonder whether my readers were suffering a collective bout of amnesia. The most popular question -- in September, mind you:
What's going to happen if the Big 12 champ, the SEC champ and USC all go undefeated this year?
-- Larry, Baton Rouge, La.
Hopefully Oregon State's upset of USC will serve as a friendly reminder of the lessons we (supposedly) learned last year about the new era of college football.
No one is invincible. Upsets happen.
In light of the top-ranked Trojans' defeat, Oklahoma and Georgia will likely move into the coveted No. 1 and 2 spots -- that is, if they're still undefeated by the end of the weekend. Even if the two do survive their tests against ranked foes TCU and Alabama, you'd be nuts to automatically assume either of them or anyone else will cruise through the rest of the season unscathed.
Oklahoma could well lose at Baylor the following week. Georgia could lose to just about anyone on its schedule, as could fellow SEC heavyweights LSU, Florida or Alabama. Undefeated Wisconsin could lose to 1-2 Michigan. Undefeated Penn State could throttle No. 22 Illinois this weekend ... then lose at Purdue the next.
That's just the way college football is these days.
• Oklahoma won its first four games last season by a combined score of 246-46. In the Sooners' fifth game, they lost to 2-2 Colorado.
• LSU beat five teams that finished in the final AP Top 25 last year -- but lost to two teams (Kentucky and Arkansas) that finished unranked.
• Four different teams that were ranked No. 1 or 2 (USC, LSU, Cal and USF) lost by mid-October.
While 2007 was probably extreme in the extent of its volatility, it was also a sign of things to come. The gap between the top teams and the middle-of-the-pack teams grows thinner each year. With 12-game schedules (13 if you play a conference championship game), it's going to be increasingly difficult for even the most loaded teams to make it through a season undefeated.
If I had to guess, I'd predict there will be no more than one undefeated major-conference team by season's end, if that.
First of all, no team is going to make it through the SEC without a loss -- and that might not be fatal (though I certainly wouldn't risk it and lose twice like LSU did). Oklahoma looks pretty darn good so far, but the Sooners have only gone undefeated in the regular season once (in 2004) since their 2000 title season. Missouri looks pretty powerful, too, but even if they go 12-0, they may have to face the Sooners -- which beat the Tigers twice last season -- in the Big 12 title game.
Penn State's early-season dominance just got a whole lot more impressive considering one of its conquests was a 45-14 rout of ... Oregon State. But the Nittany Lions face both Wisconsin and Ohio State on the road. The Badgers get both at home, but they hardly looked invincible in a 13-10 win at Fresno State.
USF certainly looks like the team to beat in the Big East -- but Jim Leavitt's teams are poster boys for playing down to the competition. Last year they knocked off West Virginia and Auburn, then lost to Rutgers. And the ACC is already down to one undefeated team, Wake Forest. The Deacons don't have enough offensive punch to run the table.
And by no means is USC out of this thing, either, though they've certainly got some issues to address. (Its young offensive line couldn't handle the Beavers' pressure, for one.) If you're going to lose, lose early, just like the Trojans did when they lost at Cal on Sept. 27, 2003. They ended up running the table the rest of the way that season and capturing a share of the national title.
Therefore, it's futile to speculate about BCS scenarios this early in the season. While there's sure to be some new controversy come December, who knows which teams will be involved and what their records will be.
My advice: Just sit back and watch the chaos unfold. I'll let you know when it's time to start panicking.