It is this time of the year when the football season truly begins. Any rust should now be off and everyone is beginning to understand what kind of team they are playing for, or coaching for, or cheering for. And like all things normal in the game of football, upsets have become as commonplace as the seasons themselves. It is an unprecedented era of parity in the sport of football, and the college game never fails to crank out the upsets year after year. This weekend, the 2012 season got their first taste of them.
College football’s top-25 saw four upsets this past weekend, and each of them were pretty brutal in their own way.
There was the Arkansas Razorbacks, ranked in the top-ten, completely freezing up on offense without starting quarterback Tyler Wilson for the second half while performing just as bad on defense, giving up a 21-point lead on their way to a loss in overtime. The general craziness of how this could happen with the Razorbacks at home in Fayetteville (not Little Rock) and how it all did transpire made for very compelling T.V., but the shock inside the state of Arkansas among its football fans couldn’t be bothered with how dramatic the loss was.
These fans understood that the national title hopes for the Razorbacks are dead. It’s not even October and the Razorbacks would need an act of god to make it to the national title game now, even if they were to somehow win the SEC.
Even in a miracle scenario that would see Arkansas run through the rest of the season without a loss, win the SEC, and be in a spot to go to the title game, if they came up against another one-loss team, they won’t get in no matter what because a loss that knocked you from the top-ten straight out of the top-25 is going to be worse than almost any loss a high-ranked team can suffer from this point on.
The Wisconsin Badgers collapsing all over themselves in an upset loss on the road to the Oregon St. Beavers was easily the toughest for me to watch over the weekend. Being a Wisconsin native who still lives there, I do carry a little torch for my home-state sports teams, especially if they’re doing good. With the Badgers, there did still seem to be everything there to make another Big Ten title run, even if the defense was still shoddy.
There were lingering worries from the Badgers nearly getting upset at home over Labor Day weekend, but that was nothing compared to what transpired in Corvallis, Oregon.
The Badgers performed so badly on the offensive side of the ball that I’m actually pretty glad Badger offensive line coach Mike Markuson got fired because of it. It sounds harsh I know, but this kind of performance is what justifies early season firings. The Badger O-line was eaten up the entire game with star running back Montee Ball held to just over sixty yards rushing and quarterback Danny O’Brien never having the protection to get the passing game really going.
It was all a mess that was terrible to watch, but one of those things you do watch believing it will eventually get better. Hey, not every potential upset becomes one, and my hope Saturday afternoon was that the Badgers would eventually pull it together and break away. But reality treated me to something less pleasant.
And the 10-7 score is elusive too, as it implicates that the Beavers won in a close game. This was far from it with the Badgers’ seven points coming on a touchdown with around one minute left to play.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers and Oklahoma St. Cowboys were two teams within the 15-20 range of the rankings that went out west against teams ranked outside the top-25, and both came back victims of early season upsets. The Cornhuskers lost 36-30 in a shootout with the UCLA Bruins while the Cowboys were beaten on the road 52-38 by the Arizona Wildcats.
In the case of both, it was a matter of west coast speed outdoing midwest force. The Cornhuskers and Cowboys were both playing catchup all game against a more speed-happy offense that had their defense figured out. The end result were two teams in the top-twenty being shown up at their own game by Pac-12 teams that nobody had any real expectations for heading into this year.
But these wins were at least an indication of the kind of job that Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) and Jim L. Mora (UCLA) are doing, both in the first year of their respective coaching jobs. As one of the only Michigan Wolverines fans to not feeling complete contempt and hatred for Rich Rod after his time with the team, it actually does make me smile to see him doing okay.
As for the rest of the country, things went pretty much according to plan. There was no shocker near the top of the rankings and the top teams did what they were expected to do this week and dominate their opponents.
This time of the year is where those first batch of teams that don’t have it in them to make a run toward a national title get found out. They slip up, look ahead, get cocky, or just have appeared better than they actually are. Eventually, these teams end up on the losing side, and a lot of those losses aren’t in critical games or against a hated rival, but against a team that nobody had their eye on as a team capable of pulling of the upset. An instance when finding a needle in a haystack is a very bad thing.