By REED NELSON
Stranger things have no doubt happened, but that doesn’t lessen Saturday’s blow to the Establishment of Predictability.
Saturday was a sneak-attack on Normal, college football’s equivalent to the Solar System renouncing Pluto’s planet-hood. Three of the nation’s top five teams fell, and six of the top 11. #3 Florida State lost to North Carolina State, #6 South Carolina finally won a game that mattered, the Big Ten was shut out of the USA Coaches Poll for the first time ever, Oregon State is in the Top 10, LSU proved that they were the best team in the country and America’s Most Wanted featured a former toy salesman wanted for robbing an armored truck. Only one of those isn’t true (Hint: it’s the one without the link… LSU lost. That was the fallacy in-lined within those inscrutable truths. Sorry for the ambiguity. But only kind of. Onward.).
All in all, eight teams in the Top 25 lost on Saturday, allowing for three new members in the Top 5 and five new teams in the Top 25. So much for monotony in this, the penultimate set of rankings before the BCS Standings are released next week.
The Pac-12 entered Saturday with six ranked teams; by Sunday, just four were standing. Chalk it up to a careful concoction of hype, poor timing and Jim Mora Jr., but the conference took a bit of a hit following one of their strongest weekends of the season.
The Artist Formerly Known As #23 Washington’s loss was to be expected, UCLA’s was not. The Huskies can be forgiven for getting throttled at Autzen — it’s the toughest environment for a visiting team north of the Mason-Dixon Line — but the Bruins can’t be. Their vanishing act in Berkeley was something special, and for all the wrong reasons (The Wrongest? Rick Neuheisel’s smug face on the set of the Pac-12 network after the game. Any act that can make Slick Rick feel vindicated should be an act punishable by the cruelest corner’s of the Nickelodeon sound-stage.).
Oregon State, while managing to post just 19 against Washington State, allowed just six points, but still clawed their way into the Top 10. USC is hot on their heels after coming back from a 14-point deficit in Salt Lake City on Thursday night.
Stanford, a team poised for back-to-back letdowns leading up to their showdown with Notre Dame next week, managed to mount a fourth quarter comeback and beat Arizona in overtime. One observation? Josh Nunes is no longer the problem. The porous defense that gave up 48 points to Arizona (shut out against Oregon) is. David Shaw has some work to do before traveling to South Bend.
Oregon is getting all the love they deserve, and then some. They won’t be getting any #1 votes so long as Alabama’s record reads 0 in the loss column, but the fact that they held strong ahead of SEC Darling’s South Carolina and Florida after both teams knocked off Top Five opponents speaks volumes for the respect the Oregon is now commanding on a national level.
But enough of the Pac-12 (Say what?!?!), the real story coming out of Saturday is the Big Ten. I mentioned earlier that the Big Ten had nary a representative on the USA Today Coaches Poll for the first time ever this week, but it gets worse: Michigan, ranked #25, is the conference’s lone Bowl-Eligible representative in the AP Poll. 6-0 Ohio State is ranked #8, but Jim Tressel’s steaming pile of NCAA violations will keep them out of the postseason this year.
It might be time to finally admit that the Big Ten is no longer a top-three conference. The SEC is Top Dog, Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World (that’s what winning the last eight BCS title games will earn you), and the Pac-12 is making a strong case for #2, as is the the Big-12, who has decent representation in the Top 25 between and #6 Kansas State, the old guards, #13 Oklahoma and #15 Texas, and newcomer, #5 West Virginia. But the Big Ten is approaching Big East levels of futility.
Michigan State, a preseason Top 15 team, barely escaped Eastern Michigan. Wisconsin (another preseason Top 15 team) beat Northern Iowa and Utah State by a combined touchdown. Nebraska has lost twice. So has Michigan. And every other conference member save Ohio State and Northwestern.
The Big Ten emerged winless in three games during this year’s Pac-12 showdown, and there is a growing sentiment that the “Big Ten Style” is no longer a winning formula in the modern NCAA. That sentiment may have turned into something concrete on Sunday, as the coaches spoke.
I might not take much stock in how the coaches view themselves when it comes to assessing good play, but when it comes to assessing the dogs in the bunch, I trust them more than anyone else.
Matt Damon said it best, “If you can’t spot the sucker at the table within five minutes, you are the sucker.”
Big Ten, you are the now the sucker.
Rising: Oregon State (#14 to #10/14), USC (#13 to #11/9), Stanford (#18 to #17).
Falling: UCLA (#25 to NR), Washington (#23 to NR).
Staying the same (a.k.a. Wooderson-ing): Oregon (#2 to #2)