The Sweep: Kings of the Court

For all the talk of parity, fundament shifts of power don't happen all that often in college football, so when they do, they're deserving of the label "cosmic". Still, a true knockout punch was bound to come eventually – all great runs come to an end. And now that USC's been KO'd by Oregon, guess which game just got a lot more interesting? Read on.

As always, we begin the Sweep with a Top 25. These are our best guess as to where all the teams will end up ranked, not power rankings that attempt to actually rank said teams on strength, as there are plenty of other sources for that.

This week, USC's down for the count and Oregon vaults into the Top Five. Yesterday's biggest winner however, might not have been the home team in Eugene or the visitors in Stillwater or Jacksonville, but a team from Idaho. That's right – Oregon's lone loss is to Boise State and the computer polls are going to show the Broncos more love than they otherwise would if Oregon can win out.

Poll's solid through No. 13, and after that, who knows?

2009 Week 8 Top 25
1. Texas (0)
2. Florida (0)
3. Alabama (0)
4. TCU (+1)
5. Oregon (+7)
6. Iowa (0)
7. Boise State (0)
8. Cincinnati (+3)
9. Georgia Tech (+1)
10. Penn State (-2)
11. LSU (-2)
12. USC (-8)
13. Notre Dame (+4)
14. Utah (-1)
15. Ohio State (-1)
16. Miami (0)
17. Wisconsin (+8)
18. Oklahoma (+3)
19. Pittsburgh (+3)
20. Arizona (+3)
21. Cal (+5)
22. Oklahoma State (-1)
23. Houston (+3)
24. Texas Tech (+2)
25. South Florida (+1)

Just missed: Cal, Texas Tech
Dropped: Central Michigan, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, West Virginia
Added: Houston, Cal, Texas Tech, South Florida

Questions, comments, concerns? Dannovi on this site or dannovi@gmail.com.

Cosmic Shift

An interesting idea for crowning a champion in college football would be to adopt the boxing model – i.e. the champion is the champion until they're beat, at which point that new victor is the champion. It's how we played four-square or king of the court as kids, and it's how pickup games all across the world work. You're the champion (or hold the court) for as long as you keep winning. Lose, and voila, new champion.

At the above link, fans have indeed traced out college football's boxing-style champion ever since the sport's first game back in the immediate post-Reconstruction days. It's worth a gander – most, but not all, of the great teams you'd expect to see on the list do indeed surface. (One notable exception: the Oklahoma squad that won 47 straight in the ‘50s.)

While we don't actually run the BCS by this method (insert a half-serious joke about how it might just be an improvement over the current system), the logic still applies in the world of college football. In the Pac-10, in particular, absolutely no one can tell you with a straight face that USC wasn't king of the court for the last seven years. They were the defending champs, and it was going to be USC and the Little Nine Gunning in Vain for USC until someone picked the Trojans off. (Sure, an unranked Stanford or Oregon State or Washington had upset the Trojans in squeakers over the years, but no one in their right minds thought those Davids were better than USC. It was the playground equivalent of your opponent making a half-court shot: "Nice shot, kid. Now get off the court and let the grownups play.")

Still, a true knockout punch was bound to come eventually – all great runs come to an end, and the Pac-10 is a sufficiently enough conference (and California a sufficiently talent-rich state) that it was unrealistic to expect a long-term dynastic run, like Florida State pulled off in the ‘90s' ACC. So for USC to hold down the "Ace" corner of the four-square sidewalk for seven straight years is a remarkable run for which USC should be congratulated. (Plus, who among us would be shocked if Pete Carroll rebounded and the Trojans won the Pac-10 the next seven years running? Lord knows they're talented enough and coached well enough.) Starting a freshman quarterback and replacing all three starters of perhaps, to paraphrase Kanye West, the greatest linebacking unit of all-time, USC could well finish "only" 11-2, and champions of a BCS bowl to boot. But unless something truly wacky happens, the Trojans won't be winning the Pac-10 this year, and that fact represents a cosmic shift.

For all the talk of parity, fundament shifts of power don't happen all that often in college football, so when they do, they're deserving of the label "cosmic". You need look no further than yesterday for proof of how hard it is to knock off an established power. Sure, Oregon did, but Florida and Texas were both away from home, and each facing arguably the best opponents in their respective divisions in majorly-hyped games. Yet the Gators and Horns won by a combined 58 points. Indeed, much, if not all, of the positive returns in our betting columns over the past three years comes from picking Texas or Florida or USC to down this year's Cal or Oregon or Missouri or Kansas. Even with the handicap of a built-in spread, the strategy works the majority of the time, as our long-term record shows.

So while the knockout punches are rare, we knew one would come eventually -- USC was going to lose sooner or later. But now that it happened, the Pac-10 just got a whole lot more interesting. Stanford's next opponent just so happens to be Oregon, in a classic potential letdown game no less. (Away from home? Check. Lower profile but potentially dangerous opponent? Check. Coming off your most emotional victory in the Phil Knight era? Check. I guess the Ducks will be favored by eight or so, but strongly suspect the smart money goes Stanford's way because of the potential of an Oregon letdown.) Should the Cardinal pull the upset, Oregon still would lead the Pac-10 with just one conference loss, but Stanford would truly vault into the national conversation and, without a doubt in my mind, the Top 25, for the first time in nearly a decade. The task will be tall, as the Trojans evidenced all too well last night, but Stanford suddenly finds itself with the opportunity of the year.

After all, it's not just any game when a win would make you kings of the court.

Thanks for an amazing run, USC. Now get your butts off the court. After an interminable wait, the rest of us finally earned our chance to play.


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