In the buzz that surrounds college football, there are a decent number of commentators and columnists who think that the craziness of the 2007 season changed the landscape of college football forever. We all remember the upsets, the constant shifting of the polls, and wondering which #2 was going to lose next. But 2008 is a new year, and I'd argue that so far through this first half of the season, things are relatively back to normal. We're NOT experiencing the same kind of abnormal season we did last year, and here's why.
There's haven't been nearly as many upsets.
Oh sure, we've had nearly as many teams in the Top 10 lose this season (12, versus 15 in 2007). But we haven't had nearly the number of upsets. Let's take a look at the games.
|Top 10 Losses - first half of 2007|
|5||#5||West Virginia||@||#18||South Florida||21-13||Yes|
App State started things off with a bang in week 1, and things picked up from there. All but three of those can be considered a bona fide upset. They were at the time the game was played, and they were at the end of the season after all the W's & L's had been counted.
|Top 10 Losses - first half of 2008|
|2||#8||West Virginia||@||-||East Carolina||24-3||Yes|
When we look at 2008 so far, we see a very similiar picture on the surface. One upset a week for the first four, then significantly more in weeks 5, 6, and 7. But look closer. Right off the bat we can eliminate at least five of them because they were instances of other Top 12 teams beating someone ranked a few spots ahead of them. We can already eliminate some others too, even though we're only halfway through the season. Was Alabama's victory over Clemson in week 1 an upset? It barely qualified at time, and I'd argue that it certainly didn't count as one after September ended. Michigan over Wisconsin? Sure, Michigan is looking bad, but there's no way Wisconsin is a Top 10 team at this point. As the weeks go on and depending on how the season ends, I think we might be able to cross Oklahoma State over Missouri and Pittsburgh over South Florida off the list too.
So overall, we have less than half the number of upsets so far this season as we did in the first half of last season. That's not to say that we'll see a whole slew of upsets in the second half of the season - I'm sure we'll see more Top 10 teams going down. Penn State has to play Ohio State, Alabama has to play LSU, Florida has to play Georgia, the Big 12 teams all have to beat each other up, etc. But those will be cases of Top 10 teams losing to other Top 10 or maybe Top 20 teams, rather than being knocked off by teams that are mediocre. There will probably be a few more major upsets as well. But I don't think we're going to see the #2 revolving door syndrome that we did last year. There's still a lot of football to be played though, so who knows.
The other reasons below don't rely on second-half results as much, mainly because most of the non-conference matchups for the year have already happened. So I'm pretty confident putting them forth as solid reasons that 2008 isn't like 2007.
The Myth of "The Rise of the Mid-Majors" and "BCS Busters"
Sure Utah, BYU, TCU, Ball State, and Boise State are having excellent years so far. And I can easily see one of them making it to a BCS bowl. But all throughout the BCS years there have been non-BCS conference teams who have excelled. They've been invited to BCS bowls in the past few years (Hawaii 2007, Boise State 2006, Utah 2004), but that was mainly the result of a the new rule that guaranteed a spot to non-BCS teams who finished high enough. Had that rule been in place during the first years of the BCS, we probably would've seen more non-BCS teams in BCS bowls. In fact, the success of the following non-BCS teams was the reason they had to institute the rule in the first place - in 1998 there was Tulane, 1999 was Marshall, 2000 was TCU, 2003 was Miami (OH), etc. So having a non-BCS team towards the top of the BCS rankings is nothing new.
But there's so many of them up there this year, right? Sure, but we're only halfway through the season and by the end there won't even be a handful of undefeated non-BCS teams, just like there hasn't been in the past. BYU, Utah and TCU all have to play each other, Ball State isn't getting near enough love in the rankings (and still has to play a good Western Michigan team), and Boise State still has 7 games to play, 4 of them on the road. Will one of them make it? Probably. Will all of them? Definitely not. We'll end up with one or maybe two staying in the conversation, just as we always have.
From another angle, when we look at the overall winning percentages between BCS conferences, non-BCS conferences, and I-AA teams, little has changed.
|BCS vs non-BCS, BCS vs I-AA, and non-BCS vs I-AA through the first 1/2 of each season|
|Year||BCS Wins vs non||BCS Losses vs non||BCS W%||BCS Wins vs I-AA||BCS Losses vs I-AA||BCS W%||non Wins vs I-AA||non Losses vs I-AA||non W%|
Parity schmarity. In 2007, the Year of the Upset, BCS teams had their third-highest winning percentage against non-BCS teams during the BCS era. This year it's down, but still not the lowest it's been. And the non-BCS conferences' winning percentage against I-AA teams has generally been increasing as well - it's almost at it's highest point ever in 2008.
Now don't get me wrong, I really like that the non-BCS conference teams are getting more press nowadays. I think it's a good thing for college football as a whole that they're on TV more, that they are seen as more competitive, and that they're in the rankings more often. I enjoy it when they pull the upset over a BCS school. But the truth is those non-BCS confs over BCS confs upsets aren't happening any more these last few years than it has over the whole course of the BCS era.
The Mountain West is better than the Pac10 this year.
In 7 games between the conferences this year, the MtnWest has won 6 of them. And it's not a matter of the best teams in the MtnWest beating up on the worst of the Pac10. Sure 6-0 BYU beat 0-6 Washington, but 3-4 New Mexico beat 4-2 Arizona and 3-3 UNLV beat 2-4 Arizona State. The mountain boys are hands down better this year.
But here's the thing - you can't take the fact that one non-BCS conference is better than one BCS conference and expand it to say that ALL non-BCS conferences are making progress and catching up to BCS conferences. The MtnWest's record against non-Pac10 BCS teams? 2-4. Not so great. Add to that the fact that the MAC, CUSA, WAC, and Sun Belt are losing to the BCS conferences as much as they ever have, if not more, and you end up with an isolated, one season example of an up-year for a non-BCS conference and a down-year for a BCS conference. There might be more parity between the MtnWest and the Pac10, but you certainly can't say that about non-BCS conferencess and BCS conferencess as a whole. Now, if the MtnWest wins a bunch of bowl games against non-Pac10 teams, and they show that they can hang with the BCS conferences next season and the season after that, then we can talk about the parity between their conference and the BCS conferences. But until that happens, and until the other non-BCS conferences show some major improvements and start to compete more consistently with BCS conferences, you can't truthfully say that overall there's more parity between non-BCS and BCS conferences. Even if it does seem that way.