Oh, College Football, When Will We Ever Learn?

“If they win out…”

There is no more repeated phrase in the world of college football in the BCS era.

It is completely, totally and horrendously stupid.

stanford oregon 2013
For the past three weeks, since this year’s first BCS standings, there has been an endless debate permeating through ESPN’s college football coverage – Oregon or Florida State? Who deserves to play Alabama?

Forget the other unbeatens. Forget the top one-loss teams. Heck, even dismiss the notion that glorious Alabama could lose. Not if, but when, Florida State and Oregon win out, who would deserve to be #2?

The debate was answered like many in the BCS era – Oregon was exposed and lost.

The entire debate this year seemed a little overblown, if only because we went through this same exact exercise a year ago. On the same weekend last year, we headed into that week’s game with four unbeaten teams – Alabama, Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame.

The nature of the debate was similar – who would play Alabama? Then Alabama lost. Would Notre Dame be left out? That debate lasted all of seven days, until Oregon and Kansas State lost in rapid succession and college football changed forever, again.

It’s why this sport is so great, so intoxicating and so addicting. We think we know. We have no idea.

The consensus going into Thursday night – mine included – was that Oregon was going to run wild all over Stanford. Their speed, their offense and their superior quarterback were supposed to be too much for a Stanford team that to, gasp!, Utah.

That was wrong. Painfully and violently wrong. Stanford dominated Oregon from the opening whistle. Yes, Oregon helped out with atrocious playcalling, including a fourth-down fade route that the idiotic Mike Shanahan thought would be a good idea a few hours later. It didn’t work for Oregon. It didn’t work for Washington.

Despite late touchdowns that obscured the beating, Oregon was wiped off the field Thursday night.

At roughly the same time, another team was being wiped off the field – the once-formidable, now-average Oklahoma Sooners. I picked Oklahoma to upset Baylor. The Sooners’ defensive gameplan seemed capable early. Its offense? Merely offensive. I’m not an Oklahoma fan but I never, ever want to see the slow-developing “Belldozer” run to the right ever again – cue to sad, tired Sooner fans nodding in agreement.

Do you think we’ll ever learn that we know so little about these teams? Every year, the calendar turns to November, the sun sets earlier and college football throws a wave of surprises at us.

If it surprises us every year, shouldn’t it stop becoming a surprise?

I believe the culprit is the misguided notion – held over from the years of 100+ scholarships and true goliaths – that the great always won the games they were supposed to win. The reason why JFK asked about Rice playing Texas or why Northwestern fans dumped goal posts in a lake after victories.

In the pre-BCS era, the phrase, “If they win out,” could have been replaced by, “When they win out.” Think of the late 1980’s, early 1990’s and the great Florida State, Miami and Notre Dame teams – they were only losing to each other. Think of the Nebraska dynasty from 1993-1997 – in five years, they lost 3 games. Only one, the Big 12 title game loss in 1996 to Texas, came to a team that finished the season outside of the Top 2. Five years, one upset, zero home losses.

The BCS era, from the first year, changed this dynamic as the growing national popularity of the sport and the diminishing number of scholarships conspired to alter the sport. On the final Saturday of 1998, UCLA was upset by Miami, Kansas State was upset by Texas A&M and an idle Florida State claimed its golden ticket to the first BCS title game.

The stakes were raised in 2001 when the following teams blew chances to play in the BCS title game over the last 3 weeks: Nebraska, Oklahoma, Florida, Texas and Tennessee. In that season altered by 9/11, Tennessee played the SEC title game a win away from playing Miami in the Rose Bowl for it all. They failed.

You can continue through the years and think of the upsets that rendered assumed title games meaningless. USC to UCLA in 2006. West Virginia to Pitt in 2007 and the slew of upsets that preceded it. Texas losing to Texas Tech in 2008. Oklahoma State to Iowa State in 2011. The aforementioned upsets last year.

What can we learn from this? Why don’t we learn from this?

A huge problem is how little we truly know about these teams, part of why I have advocated for a 13-game regular season to spur more inter-conference matchups. Stanford’s loss to Utah? Was it really that bad? Utah went on the road to beat BYU.

We know the SEC and Pac-12 are really good. Or do we think that? We know the Big Ten sucks and the ACC is top-heavy. Or is the Big 12 top-heavy and the ACC sucks?

We base so much on so little – Clemson’s win over Georgia was brought up ad nauseam by Kirk Herbstreit as why Florida State was better than Oregon. Huh?

As we go down the stretch of the 2013 college football season, all I know is that I know nothing. I picked Oregon and Oklahoma to win, so I’m an idiot. I think LSU is going to beat Alabama on Saturday, so I could be thrice the fool.

What I do know is that maybe we should let the season play out first. At least turn “If they win out,” to “If they beat (insert last opponent),” before we start making grand proclamations.

I certainly know that the four-team college football playoff will be even more of a disaster than I thought, if they’re putting out rankings halfway through the season.

In the end, nothing will change. Despite what we saw last night, witnessed last season and enjoyed for the last 15 years, waiting for things to play out doesn’t get people talking.  But at least for one day, maybe “If they win out,” will disappear.


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  1. Hope you're not a betting man. Being so wrong about the three biggest games of the week would be costly. What exactly is your rationale for an LSU victory? Hint: Bama fatigue is NOT a valid reason! ROLL TIDE!


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