The College Football Notebook

September 6, 2009 9:09 PM

The Aftermath Of The Upset

I’ve been reading some of the different media accounts of BYU’s 14-13 upset of third-ranked Oklahoma and these seem to be the common themes:

#1--Don’t blame this on the injury to Sam Bradford. BYU outplayed the Sooners and deserved to win.

#2--This game fundamentally reshapes the race for the national title and the Cougars are now a serious contender.

Point #1 is absolutely crazy. Bob Stoops lost the Heisman Trophy winner in the first half and had to replace him with a redshirt freshman who looked every bit the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. And you’re telling me that didn’t cost OU so much as a field goal? I’m all for giving BYU their due credit in pulling out the win—they played tough defense, and even when Bradford was in the game, the Coogs got consistent pressure. But one can give BYU their credit without making ludicrous claims in doing so.

Point #2 is a little bit more grounded in reality, but I’m not ready to buy that. The Notebook has not been high on Oklahoma to begin with. I rated them behind both Texas and Oklahoma State in their conference and would have put them around 10th in the country rather than 3rd. Their inability to protect the passer was entirely predictable, and take Bradford out of the equation and they become a fringe Top 20 team. Substitute the name Nebraska for Oklahoma and you have a feel for the kind of team BYU beat once Bradford was knocked out. That’s still a nice win. It’s still a big statement for the Mountain West Conference in a year when they’re on everybody’s radar screen. But a win like that doesn’t mean you have what it takes to run the table. One area this game likely does change the landscape though, is that it means an unbeaten team from the Mountain West likely gets into the national championship game. And a one-loss team might still have a shot at a major bowl bid.

Oklahoma’s loss was the only blot on the report card from the Big 12. In fact, in reviewing the nation, it’s fair to wonder if the entire nation now boils down to the Big 12, SEC and Southern Cal. Think about it. If someone listed Texas, Florida, Oklahoma State, Alabama, USC, Ole Miss & Georgia as the best seven teams in the country, would that be unreasonable? If you rank Okie State as high as third, it’s still fair to put Georgia at seventh. The Bulldogs hung in with the Cowboys in their big showdown in Stillwater as best they could, and Joe Cox played an efficient game in taking over the team from Matthew Stafford. But State forced three turnovers and committed none themselves, keying a 24-10 win in a penalty-ridden game.

The Big 12 got another surprising win when Baylor dumped Wake Forest 24-21. The Bears picked off Riley Skinner three times and ran the ball well. Wake’s been a consistent bowl team, and if this game means Baylor is now at that level, that’s another jewel in the treasure chest that is the Big 12 South.

The SEC made its statement against the ACC. It started on Thursday night when South Carolina completely shut down N.C. State on the road. This was a game that took me completely off guard. Russell Wilson ate up ACC defenses last year as a freshman, but was helpless against the Gamecocks, unable to get the ball downfield. Twelve completions netted only 74 yards. It was a game reasonably free of penalties, and also reasonably free of points, as Steve Spurrier’s 7-3 win showed that maybe the game hasn’t passed him by just yet.

And Alabama delivered a fantastic performance in beating Virginia Tech 34-24. This was a game that saw Tech get what it needed to pull an upset. They scored a special teams touchdown, on a 98-yard kickoff return. They had the lead at halftime and ‘Bama had to play from behind. But they could not stop the Tide. The two-headed rushing combination of Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch combined for 240 yards. Greg McElroy threw for 230. If Virginia Tech’s defense is as good as its been in recent years, that therefore means that the Alabama offense is explosive.

So in games when the Big 12 & SEC weren’t playing each other, they went 19-1, with OU being the only loss, and mixing in several signature wins. The early returns suggest the center of gravity in the college football world will be in these two leagues again.

Virginia Tech and N.C. State’s losses might be written off to playing teams from a superior league. Particularly Tech, which lost on a neutral field. But the ACC top-to-bottom had a day that was nothing short of disastrous. If you had told me that Richmond had beaten Duke, I would have assumed that it must be March and that the former Spiders basketball coach Dick Tarrant had just pulled another monster NCAA upset (1984, ’87 ’91 to those for whom I’ve dated myself). But it was the Blue Devil football team falling to Richmond on Saturday. And Virginia fell to William & Mary. Then we bring in Wake Forest’s aforementioned loss, and the 52-13 thumping Maryland took at Cal well after most people east of the Mississippi had gone to bed, and you have the recipe for a conference to take a PR beating.

That’s a wrap for tonight. Be back tomorrow with more on the events of Week 1.

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