This weekend, football season finally started! At least, that’s how it seemed at a number of campuses across the land where highly-ranked teams played against solid competition at last. Gone were the Idahos and Savannah States of the world; in came competitive sides like Arizona and Kansas State. There is finally evidence to substantiate or undermine the meaningless but endlessly-repeated early rankings.
Alabama has already staked its claim as one of the nation’s best teams. Oklahoma failed quite badly at the same, while Kansas State has a legitimate case. LSU needs to work on its offense, but the defense is a force to be reckoned with, as the Tigers demonstrated in a 12-10 vintage SEC-style throttling of Auburn, who did not score in the second half. South Carolina turned some heads with a lockdown of Missouri, and the Gamecocks will be getting plenty of attention in two weeks when they host Georgia. Florida State took a step toward legitimizing its high ranking, coming from behind to lock down Clemson after a shaky first half.
Oregon pitched in a bizarre performance against Arizona, stopping the Wildcats in the red zone four times in the first half, before pulling away late. The game was summed up in a single play when wildcat-formation quarterback Brian Bennett refused to let go of the ball on a handoff to Colt Lyerla, and the pair ran, arms locked, two yards for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten Conference continued to slide. With Iowa’s loss to Central Michigan, the conference has recorded three losses to MAC teams this season. Notre Dame continued its evisceration of the Big Ten’s leading contenders, choking out Michigan 13-6. Three undefeated Big Ten teams remain in Minnesota, Northwestern, and Ohio State, and the Buckeyes are on probation and ineligible for the postseason.
Unfortunately, this week there are very few games of national importance, barring the inevitable surprises. The rent-a-win phenomenon seems unlikely to go away anytime soon, as there is a lot of money to be made in schedule-filling exhibition games against no-name opposition.
Fortunately, other annoying problems specific to college football are being remedied, most notably the elimination of the BCS rankings in favor of a four-team playoff beginning in 2014. This is a change long overdue, and hopefully it will prevent the abuses and conflicts of interest that have plagued the current system. Boise State-style overachievers will have a broader opportunity to compete for a national title, and any step in that direction is progress. There is still a great amount of unsightly wrangling over bowl sites and procedures, but a selection committee is in the works and real, indisputable progress is being made. Hopefully the NCAA will take over college football’s upper echelon sometime soon; until then, a four-team playoff is the best we are likely to get.
The Broncos have begun the Peyton Manning era with mixed but generally positive returns. Despite a poor first half against the Falcons, Manning has been solid overall, and is not too far off of his pre-injury form. Given the overall weakness of the AFC, the Broncos have to be considered serious Super Bowl contenders, as only the Patriots, Ravens, and Texans have shown any flashes of greatness this season—and Baltimore and New England just suffered bad losses. Denver should cruise to the AFC West crown, and a playoff bye is not out of reach. The future is bright indeed at Mile High.