Sunday, November 18, 2007

The new parity

If you’ve been following this year’s college football season even remotely, you’ve probably figured out that this year, what have come to be the “normal rules” of who competes in the sport’s top tier don’t apply. Fans have said for years that “anything can happen on any given Saturday” in response to a Saturday with a number of major upsets. This year, nearly every Saturday has been “any given Saturday.”

Whether it was tiny Appalachian State beating Michigan in Ann Arbor, or USC falling to lowly Stanford, or South Florida being ranked #2 in the nation for several weeks, week in and week out this season has belonged to the little teams that no one thought could-but did. Kentucky and Mississippi State are going to bowl games-that’s the Mississippi State that is normally lucky to win two games in a year. The Bulldogs are also coached by Sylvester Croom, the SEC’s first African-American head coach.

Before being upset themselves by Illinois last week, even Ohio State got in on the act of surprising the critics. Everyone now says the Buckeyes were over-rated, but some of these same pundits forget that at the beginning of the year, no one in their right mind was picking Ohio State to compete for the National Championship, and most experts picked Michigan to win the Big Ten. The reasons for this were realistic: Michigan is a team filled with veterans and packed with senior experience. Ohio State only returned two starting seniors from last season, and were starting a sophomore quarterback. The losses by others who weren’t supposed to lose placed Ohio State back at number one in the land, and they remained there until they were upset themselves last week. At the end of the year, the Buckeyes still did something they weren’t supposed to do-they won the Big Ten Championship.

It would be very easy to say that this has just been an odd year in college football, but the truth is that the 2007 season has likely signaled a sea change in the nature of the game itself. After the seasons that many small and mid-major college teams have had, they will likely be able to compete with the big boys in the years ahead for the quality recruits around the country. What 2007 has heralded is the new reality: Every Division I team now has a shot at a national title, regardless of how small their school might be or the size of their athletic department.

It’s a wonderful development for college football.



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