By MARK KNUDSON @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
There have been a lot of great teams and great college football games over the past decade – Alabama’s dynasty, Ohio State’s miracle run to a title behind a third-string quarterback, Clemson’s amazing title game win a season ago. But it’s been 10 years since we witnessed the most incredible season in college football history. It’s a history that doesn’t figure to repeat itself any time soon.
Flash back to 2007: “The Year of the Upset.” It was truly remarkable.
It started with the unthinkable: The much celebrated Appalachian State upset of #5 Michigan in the Big House when the Mountaineers blocked a potential game-winning field goal attempt by the Wolverines in the final seconds. But it certainly didn’t end there. No less than 59 times an unranked or lower ranked team beat a Top 25 team outright during the regular season. The #2 spot in the polls was an especially dicey place to land. The second-ranked team in the land lost SEVEN times (during an 11-game season) to lower ranked teams during the regular season.
Consider some of the schools that were really good in football that year: Kansas, Kentucky, UConn, Boston College, Rutgers…yes, in FOOTBALL.
The amazing rise of South Florida – at team that would eventually reach #2 in the national rankings – began when the Bulls stunned #17 Auburn. Later, those Bulls would beat fifth-ranked West Virginia. With everyone around them stumbling, Jim Leavitt’s USF squad eventually reached that lofty ranking, only to be beaten by Rutgers in late October to fall out of the second spot. Later, they were beaten by UConn. Yes, in football. They weren’t alone. That year, 13 unranked teams defeated teams ranked in the Top FIVE.
How much have things changed? Schools that would stake a claim to the cursed second spot in the polls that season included Cal, BC and Kansas. Rutgers was a top ten team at one point. Some of the unranked “underdogs” doing the some of the upsetting included names like Alabama, Miami, Michigan, Florida State, Auburn, Tennessee, Penn State, UCLA, Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Texas A&M. All were not ranked when they defeated ranked teams.
A total of NINE teams ranked in the top five lost to unranked teams that season. Colorado had no business being on the same field with #3 Oklahoma, yet behind quarterback Cody Hawkins, upset the Sooners 27-24 in Boulder. (Yes, Buff fans, there was that single bright spot in the Hawkins era.) It was the year Jim Harbaugh began his coaching climb, leading 41-point underdog Stanford into the LA coliseum and defeating #2 USC 24-23. At the time, it was the biggest “point spread” upset in college football history. (That changed last week.) Maybe the most amazing underdog squad of all that year was Illinois. The unranked Illini defeated ranked teams Penn State (#21) Wisconsin (#5) and Ohio State (#1) that season – but didn’t crack the final rankings themselves after losing to Iowa, Michigan and Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. (Yes, Illinois went to the Rose Bowl. Really.)
While they snuck into the rankings early in Nick Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa – before losing to Georgia and Florida State – unranked Alabama upset #20 Tennessee in October before losing their last four regular season games. That included falling AT HOME to…Louisiana-Monroe. Louisiana- MONROE. There were near-misses, too. Like when Ball State came within a missed last second field goal of beating Nebraska in Lincoln. The perennially powerful Huskers missed out on a bowl game in 2007 for the second time in 39 years.
You want more parity? By season’s end, only one team – aforementioned Kansas – finished the season with one loss (a loss to Missouri that kept them out of the Big 12 title game.) Eventual National Champion LSU lost TWICE during the regular season – both times in THREE overtimes – before beating (again) top-ranked Ohio State for the ring in the BCS Championship Game. Remember the good ol’ BCS?
Fast forward 10 years. During the first two weeks of 2017 we’ve already seen the greatest point spread upset in history, with tiny Howard University, more than a six-touchdown underdog, upsetting UNLV 43-40. Just hours earlier, the Liberty Flames, in their first game at the FBS (big boy division) level, had upset turmoil plagued Baylor 48-45. The Bears were a conference champ and national championship contender just three seasons ago.
Does all this mean we could see a something close to a repeat of what happened a decade ago?
Doubtful. It doesn’t look like anyone is going to beat this season’s Alabama team before the C
College Football Play-off in January. Ohio State, Southern Cal and a handful of others figure to be at or near the top of the rankings most of season. Truth be told, parity doesn’t really exist anymore. The diversity of revenue and resources between the bigger and smaller schools is just too much now for these kinds of underdogs to compete anymore. Hard to imagine we will ever see another Appalachian State – Michigan or Alabama – Louisiana Monroe scenario, not to mention in the same season.
But it does make you wonder: What will college football will look like a decade from now? That’s really anyone’s guess.