College Football Has Us All Aroused
If the cat dangling from the top tier of Hard Rock Stadium had a thought, it was probably that using one of its lives to experience college football up close, while death defying, was ultimately worth the experience. As Appalachian State and the Miami Hurricanes played out a closely fought contest on the field, a quick thinking couple swiped a nearby flag and caught the cat spiraling towards them. Crowds screamed, then cheered, while the cat was pressed into the air with the gusto of a college team lifting its prestigious conference championship. Just like the cat, all of the top programs are vulnerable right now.
Rocking The Boat
In the past five years there was clear separation between top teams and the rest. Now, three weeks in, everybody looks beatable. The field is more wide open than it's been for some time and that’s a good thing. Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma have serious issues. Florida took seemingly invincible Alabama down to the wire recently.
More ranked teams have lost through the first four weeks of the season than at any time in the AP poll’s 85-year history. Each weekend brings a fresh upset. The traditional order looks shaky, just like it did in the 2007 college season when a championship contender fell on a weekly basis.
Clemson’s offense is listless and they’ve lost twice, owing to an inability to move the football. Their season is effectively over. Given how successful they’ve been over the past decade as the premier team after Alabama, this is a real surprise. Ohio State’s defense is being run ragged by Division 1 minnows. Whisper it - Michigan may actually have a chance of beating the Buckeyes this year. Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy hopeful, Spencer Rattler, is playing poorly, and the Sooners could have lost at home to Tulane, Nebraska and West Virginia. Their defense has made a big leap under Alex Grinch, but their offense lacks its normal crispness and big play fizz. They badly need to establish some consistency.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Florida for the intensity of their performance against Alabama. They’re not phased by the aura of the Crimson Tide. The Gators ran the ball down Alabama’s throat, and Alabama, who took a big lead in the first half, had no answers. Alabama head coach Nick Saban sounded relieved afterwards to get out of an intimidating Gainesville with a victory. Florida’s physical, relentless football has paved the way for others. Few teams lose and deserve to scale the AP rankings, but Florida earned it.
To pump the brakes a bit - we’re still in September. Presuming some of the elite teams I mentioned recover to play on par with pre-season expectations, these schools will have a clear stretch to put away weaker teams and get back into commanding positions come the end of November.
Arkansas, in dispatching Texas and Texas A+M in consecutive weeks, emerged as the SEC’s underdog story. Long considered a dumpster fire and SEC’s worst program whose best days lay with Frank Broyles’ team in the 1960s, Sam Pittman’s transformation of Hogs football in under 18 months is nothing short of remarkable. This weekend Arkansas takes on No.2 ranked Georgia in Athens. ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ will be present, which speaks to the interest in reborn Arkansas. Ole Miss, the pretender and offensive juggernaut, goes to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama on Saturday. Lane Kiffin brings the nation's number one offense into his old stomping ground. It's a true yardstick game for how Old Miss’s defense has evolved since being one of the worst in football in 2020.
Oregon toppled Ohio State in Columbus, a win that has done wonders for their playoff stock. It has also served to draw attention to Oregon’s coach, Mario Christobal, whose name is on the wish list of Pac-12 rival USC, currently looking for a new head coach. The Ducks have a clear path through the Pac-12 to be in contention for one of the four playoff berths. Iowa knocked off highly regarded Iowa State to show there is life in the Big Ten even when the Buckeyes are floundering. Penn State had their own signature wins over two ranked teams in Wisconsin and Auburn. Like Oregon, they will have to contend with USC making overtures for their highly coveted coach James Franklin.
The Changing of the Pigskin Each year, we enter a new season with a set of assumptions about who will dominate and those expected to struggle. For the first time in at least a decade, college football has flipped the script. It’s generating the kind of interest that a cameo from a cat falling from a stadium upper deck is merely an aside to the main act. Embattled Miami head coach Manny Diaz said if the cat could help his offense in the red-zone, he’d personally see that it was offered a scholarship. Diaz seems unlikely as Miami head coach to outlive the Hard Rock cat. College football has got us all aroused. Even the animal kingdom wants in.