The long hard slog continues.
No, we are not talking about the three weeks remaining to the presidential election, although trying to watch those debates is a bit of a chore.
No, we are not talking about the NASCAR race for the chase championship, with a ten race playoff superseding a ten-month track schedule.
No, we are not even talking about the baseball playoffs, which more or less nullify a 162-game season.
Instead, we are talking about college football, the sport with a twelve-week playoff where every game counts.
Falter once and you are fighting back through the loser’s bracket. Drop two games and you better win the SEC title convincingly or you are likely out of the championship tournament mix.
The slog took its toll this week.
Top-rated Southern Cal, on virtually everybody’s list of strong national title contenders, lost at Oregon State on Thursday to begin the carnage. By the time the clock struck midnight Saturday, Georgia, Florida, and Wisconsin had joined the ranks of Top Ten teams succumbing to awful attrition as those squads lost to Alabama, Ole Miss, and Michigan respectively.
Other Top 25 teams toppling during the weekend included Wake Forest (to Navy), Clemson (to Maryland), Illinois (to Penn State), East Carolina (to Houston), and TCU (to Oklahoma).
Maybe you remember a week where more highly rated teams lost – I cannot.
The gridiron gore will get worse.
Southeastern Conference teams are just getting into league play. Envisioning a team coming out of that jungle unscathed is difficult (the SEC had five of the nation’s top ten teams last week). Alabama and LSU are the class of the conference right now.
The Big 12 is similar in depth. Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas rank in the national top five this week, with Texas Tech lingering in the top ten. Maybe a team can navigate through that southwest Bermuda triangle, but who would be surprised if they all beat each other up over the slog of the season.
Aside from those two power conferences, other contenders are emerging quietly.
Penn State is the best hope for the Big Ten to get back to the BCS title game. The Nittany Lions “Spread HD” offense looks good and has a catchy nickname. And, who wouldn’t pull for the ever-young Joe Paterno?
In the Big East, South Florida is undefeated, has a quality win over Kansas, and faces a challenging, but not overwhelming, remaining schedule.
BYU, Utah, and Boise State may not be national title contenders yet, but those squads could be BCS busters.
Of course, all those one-loss teams that fell this weekend may well climb back up through the rankings as the long hard slog continues.
Enjoy the games.
Around the Nation
The top Big 12 teams face road challenges this week.
Oklahoma travels to improving Baylor. Missouri goes to Nebraska where the Cornhuskers will try to recover from a tough loss to Virginia Tech. Texas Tech takes its air show to Kansas State, and the Texas Longhorns, fresh from a big win over Arkansas, venture to the Rocky Mountains for a showdown with Colorado.
In Big Ten country, Penn State faces a potential pitfall at Purdue. Ohio State visits Madison to play Wisconsin as Bucky Badger tries to bounce back from a dispiriting loss at Michigan.
The PAC-10 features Oregon at USC, probably the league’s two best teams, but both lost last weekend.
Around the South
The SEC simmers down after a sizzling Saturday of upsets.
Kentucky at Alabama matches two of the league’s four remaining unbeaten teams (LSU and Vandy are the others), while Florida travels to Arkansas, Auburn to Vanderbilt, and South Carolina to Ole Miss.
The ACC features what used to be a national showcase game as Florida State visits Miami.
See you at kickoff!