King Kaufman's Sports Daily

This upset-crazy college football season has been a lot of fun, but is it a paradigm shift or just a flukey year?


King Kaufman
October 23, 2007 3:00PM (UTC)

I'm ready to admit that the 2007 college football season is doing something that approximates being halfway interesting.

I know. Big of me.

National powerhouses are losing all over the place. The team that's sitting atop all the polls wasn't even in the conversation for No. 1 a few weeks ago -- and was utterly humiliated on national television nine months ago. Being ranked No. 2 in the country has pretty much become a recipe for defeat. And nobody has any idea who's going to play for the national championship.

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Except we all know it won't be Hawaii.

Things are so nutty, listen to the excellent Terry Bowden, writing for Yahoo sports: "After another weekend in which four teams in the top 10 lost, you have to begin to wonder if anyone is going to be able to remain undefeated when the regular season is all over."

Mercy! Imagine that.

Here's something I wrote about the lopsided nature of major college football in 2004:

If I had to pick a minimum required level of competitiveness, I'd put it at 30 percent. Any competition where one side has less than a three-in-10 chance of winning is not competitive enough to warrant sustained interest ...

So when it's routine for there to be eight losses among the college football top 25 in a given week, when that's the minimum we can expect, let me know. Shoot, I'll settle for seven losses, even though that's only 28 percent. I'm a big-hearted person.

Well, here we are. In the last four weeks, the Associated Press top 25 has gone 16-9, 11-12, 16-7 and 11-9. Four straight weeks when the overall winning percentage of teams lining up opposite top 25 teams has cracked .300. That includes games in which top-25 teams have played each other, but that's OK. A loss in the top 25 is a loss in the top 25, and another of my complaints has been that the top 25 don't play each other enough.

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But even throwing out the 14 intra-top-25 games in the last four weeks, ranked teams have only gone 40-23 against unranked teams, a highly competitive .365 winning percentage for the underdogs, well within my requirements.

And, as Bowden points out, and as everyone who follows a team that's poked its nose into the top 10 knows, it isn't just lower-ranked teams that are struggling. Teams in the top 10 are only 22-15 in the last four weeks. Not exactly beat-down city.

I'm all for it, I'm happy to see it, and I'm almost ready to sort of become a believer in more than just the in-stadium atmosphere and the possibility for lavish amounts of excitement in any given game.

I keep hearing that this is a new paradigm of parity, and I'd love to believe that, but I don't know that I'm quite ready. After all, as fun as the last month has been, we're just talking about four weeks here. In the first four weeks of the season the top 25 went 78-19, a .196 winning percentage for their foes, too low for my definition of competitiveness. Even counting that epoch-signaling Appalachian State win over Michigan, the top 10 went 35-4 in the first four weeks.

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So maybe college football's a whole new ballgame and maybe this has just been a flukey month. Remember "the year of the no-hitter" in baseball? There were nine no-hitters in 1990. I remember all sorts of speculation about what this phenomenon meant, but ultimately all it meant was that 1990 was a flukey year for no-hitters. I worry that this year is nothing more than a flukey year for upsets in college football.

Not that a flukey year for upsets can't be just as much fun as a year that signals a paradigm shift toward parity, at least in the short term. I'm just saying I'll believe the paradigm shift business when it lasts for more than four weeks. More than a year or two, in fact.

And not to drag an old dead horse out into the yard for flogging, but if this new parity is real, what does it mean for the Bowl Championship Series? As absurd as the BCS system of declaring the Championship Game contestants by fiat in a college football landscape where a half-dozen or so teams separate themselves as elite, it's beyond pointless in a wide-open world, where anyone can beat anyone.

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It's one thing to say to a very good Boise State or Tulane or whoever it is some year: You've had a nice season, but you can't seriously think you can compete with the big boys of the BCS conferences for the national championship.

Putting aside that last year's Fiesta Bowl put that sentiment in its place, how can you get away with excluding the smaller-conference power -- this year it's Hawaii -- from a competition whose big selling point is that it's now wide open?

If anybody can beat anybody, which is what I keep hearing, then let's let everybody play for the championship. I've always thought the BCS would collapse under the weight of its own stupidity in time, but if this new parity is real, that collapse is right around the corner.

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Previous column: Red Sox win the pennant

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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