If you stepped back about 100 yards and looked at college football objectively, wouldn’t you just have to laugh?
Does anybody really know anything? I’m not talking about the coaches or players. I mean the rest of us.
Here are three things I’ll try to remember next August:
1. Many teams are better than we think they’ll be.
2. Many teams are worse than we think they’ll be.
3. The ball takes funny bounces, literally and figuratively.
We’re two weeks into this season, and those two weeks have stood a lot of us on our ears. Especially here in Big Ten country.
Nebraska’s defense was leakier at UCLA than a canoe made of Swiss cheese.
The Cornhuskers allowed 653 total yards, and 344 rushing yards, to a UCLA team that lost eight games last year. Nebraska.
Wisconsin went to Oregon State and couldn’t move the ball.
That’s two-time defending Big Ten-champion, run-the-ball-down-your-throat Wisconsin. It had 201 total yards in a 10-7 loss, and Bret Bielema fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson the next day.
Most of us assumed Iowa would have a decent offense this season. We also assumed Iowa would have defensive struggles, at least early in the season. Through two weeks, we’ve been wrong on both counts.
You go to Chicago in late July for the league’s annual football media days, and there are these high-profile coaches from these high-profile universities, and they have a luncheon featuring all the coaches and some of their best players that a few thousand people attend, and they remind you they play in coliseums with 70,000, 80,000, even 112,522 people, and millions more watch them on national television.
You can’t help but tell yourself this is big-boy football, biggest-boy football. This is mighty, mighty football, with a century of tradition and the next set of legends and leaders residing on current teams.
Then September arrives and Michigan gets wasted by Alabama. Penn State loses to Ohio and Virginia. Wisconsin bows to an Oregon State team that was 3-9 last year, Nebraska falls to a UCLA club that was 6-8, and Iowa can’t even reach the end zone at home against Iowa State.
Nebraska’s coaches knew they would have defensive shortcomings. Bret Bielema knew he was replacing six assistant coaches including his offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Iowa’s coaches knew their offense probably wouldn’t be machine-like coming out of the gates.
And there were was at least one former Big Ten assistant coach who quietly said Michigan couldn’t hang with Alabama.
But some of us had believed otherwise. Maybe we just wanted to believe it.
Here’s the really funny part: If Montee Ball maybe slips one specific tackle, Wisconsin might have beaten Oregon State. Had a UCLA receiver dropped a pass in a critical moment, it might have lost to Nebraska.
Had James Vandenberg’s last pass against Iowa State been an inch or two higher and eluded the reach of ISU linebacker Jake Knott, the Hawkeyes might be 2-0 today.
If they played those and many other games all over again today, the results could have been precisely the same or wildly different. But you get one shot, and live with the consequences of each play. Then you start all over again the following Saturday.
But we’ll analyze the games to pieces, and we’ll monitor recruiting with the intensity of lasers, and we’ll always keep trying to project future successes.
Yet, a cornerback will slip and get burned by a receiver. A quarterback and his center won’t be in sync on a critical snap. A field goal will or won’t clear a crossbar by a foot.
And some Big Ten school will fire a coach because he didn’t win enough, and replace him with someone who has looked like a wizard in a smaller setting. Because it’s committed to winning.