While USC was losing to Washington, Texas and Florida were looking less dominant than expected in taking out Texas Tech and Tennessee respectively. Each game was decided by a ten-point margin and that reflected the way each game was played—the Big Two weren’t going to lose, but they definitely let the upstart hang around. Considering that it was a home game for the big boys and there was revenge going in both cases, this came as a surprise.
Before casting too much negative judgment on the Longhorns or Gators, I think we need to first consider that this may be a case of underrating Texas Tech and Tennessee. The Red Raiders had to replace a lot of people this season, but Mike Leach has built a consistent winner in Lubbock. And there’s no doubt that all of us grossly overrated just how easy it would be for Urban Meyer to just waltz over Lane Kiffin, regardless of how much the new Tennessee coach might have popped off.
Maybe in a few weeks it will turn out that these closer-than-expected games were the warning sign and that Tech and Tennessee really weren’t that good. But perhaps we’ll find out something different. Let’s withhold leaping to any conclusions until we see just how the conference landscapes shake out. Which makes a good segueway into Part II of our rehash of each league’s non-conference play thus far. Let’s start today with the Big 12.
Notable Wins: Oklahoma State-Georgia; Missouri-Illinois; Baylor-Wake Forest
Notable Losses: Oklahoma-BYU; Houston-Oklahoma State; Nebraska-Virginia Tech; Colorado-Colorado State; Baylor-UConn; Kansas State-UCLA
Comments: Admit it, you’re surprised that there’s so few good wins and so many notable losses. Even allowing that K-State-UCLA’s inclusion might not be fair, given just how bad Kansas State is, and that Nebraska’s near-miss in Blacksburg might be a bigger positive than a negative, there’s no escaping this: The Big 12 does not get out and play too many respectable teams in non-league play, and there’s no bigger culprit than its foremost championship contender. Texas hasn’t played a non-conference game of significance since a 2005-06 series with Ohio State (one in which they split, the road team winning each game).
Oklahoma’s trip to Miami will be a good measuring stick and if Colorado could come up big against West Virginia a week from Thursday, it would go a long way. And this coming Saturday, a Texas Tech win over Houston could show that the Cougars’ surprise upset of Oklahoma State was just a fluke, a product of the Cowboys’ being drained after beating Georgia. But there’s no getting around that giving the Big 12 credit as a power league requires taking it on faith. They didn’t have a great bowl season last year and have played precious few truly meaningful games this year.
Notable Wins: Alabama-Virginia Tech; LSU-Washington; South Carolina-N.C. State; Kentucky-Louisville; Auburn-West Virginia
Notable Losses: Georgia-Oklahoma State; Tennessee-UCLA
Comments: See above with the Big 12. Will these teams get out and play some people outside their league? With the SEC, perhaps they’re so sold on their own reputation, that they don’t feel the need to establish it anew every year. And they did play well in bowl games last year. Like the Big 12, they’ve got a few chances ahead. The Saturday after Thanksgiving is a big SEC-ACC rivalry day. You’ve got Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech and South Carolina-Clemson. More immediately, Georgia hosts Arizona State next weekend. Give the top teams credit—Georgia, Florida and Alabama do go out and take on good teams. The Gators aren’t on the list of notable wins yet, but their annual battle with FSU will give them a chance. And in the past they’ve played Miami too. But the middle of the conference needs to stand up and be counted if they want to ride the coattails of the big boys into juicy bowl opportunities.
Notable Wins: Michigan-Notre Dame; Minnesota-Syracuse; Minnesota-Air Force; Iowa-Arizona; Wisconsin-Fresno State; Ohio State-Navy
Notable Losses: Ohio State-USC; Michigan State-Central Michigan; Michigan State-Notre Dame; Illinois-Missouri; Minnesota-Cal; Purdue-Oregon; Northern Illinois-Purdue
Comments: This is the league where my heart is, so this is painful. But that’s just an awful resume. Read through the list of notable wins. After Michigan-Notre Dame, do any of them really look impressive? Then compare it to the notable losses. Losing to Central Michigan and Northern Illinois? In years past, I’ve resisted the bashing of the Big Ten, arguing that Ohio State losing to the SEC champ or to USC did not indict the whole league. I stand by that, but the performance of the conference top-to-bottom can’t be defended this year. There is today, a reasonable argument that the Big Ten is only the fifth or sixth best league in the country. Other than Purdue-Notre Dame this week, there’s really no chance to reverse that prior to the bowl season. The Big Ten will probably get two BCS bids, because of the marquee strength its top programs have. But it’s not justified on the merits. They need to stand up and do it in bowl season to reclaim their lost reputation.
See you Wednesday to start looking at the last weekend of September.