RUSSO ON FOOTBALL: College football getting to the point where nothing's shocking Print
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Sunday, 07 October 2007 13:15
NCAAF Headline News

 Given all the craziness going on in college football this season, it might be time to place a moratorium on the use of the word ``upset.''
A result that's surprising one week, might not look so startling a week or two later. One week a team is ``shocking the world'' and two weeks later they're in the top 10.
This season began with Appalachian State beating then-No. 5 Michigan at the Big House, the first time a ranked team had ever lost to a team from what used to be called Division I-AA.
It was so stunning, sports writers and fans were wondering if it was the greatest upset in the history of college football.
A week later Michigan got crushed by Oregon and, well, maybe Appalachian State's victory wasn't the greatest upset of all-time. Still a pretty darn good one, though.
Three weeks later, Syracuse was a 37 1/2-point underdog when it went on the road and upset then-No. 18 Louisville 38-35. No one could remember a team favored by that much losing, especially to a team as inept offensively as the Orange. The question was asked: Was this a bigger ``upset'' than Appy State taking down Michigan?
By the point spread it was the biggest upset ever, according to oddsmakers in Las Vegas, but after watching that woeful Louisville defense get lit up again last week in a 44-35 loss to Utah, can any win over the Cardinals be considered surprising?
A few weeks back, when Utah was struggling mightily with starting quarterback Brian Johnson injured, the Utes posted what was thought to be a major upset when they throttled then-No. 11 UCLA 44-6.
Then the Bruins went out and handed Notre Dame its first win of the season Saturday night in the Rose Bowl. Now it's sort of hard to figure out how UCLA coach Karl Dorrell's team can be sitting on top of the Pac-10 standings at 3-0.
``We're in pretty good shape in conference,'' Dorrell told reporters after the game, looking on the bright side.
Then there's Stanford, a 40-point underdog, beating then-No. 2 Southern California in the Coliseum, where the Trojans had won 35 straight games.
Shocking doesn't begin to describe the Cardinal's 24-23 victory over a USC team Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh was calling maybe the greatest in the history of the sport.
``We need to find ways to make plays and go back and find the right combinations,'' USC coach Pete Carroll said after the upset. ``I never thought we'd lose tonight, even after they scored.''
You weren't the only one, coach.
There have been plenty of other upsets that, in retrospect, don't look all that stunning.
Fans and many in the media went wild when South Florida upset Auburn in Week 2. Then the Bulls upset West Virginia two weeks ago. Now USF is No. 5 in the country.
What was all the fuss about?
Same goes for Illinois upsetting Penn State and Wisconsin at home in back-to-back weeks. The Illini were actually favored by 2 1/2 points against the fifth-ranked Badgers on Saturday.
In the last two weeks, ranked teams have lost 20 games, 11 times to unranked opponents, but here's the catch: Of the 10 unranked teams to beat a ranked team, five (Illinois, Auburn, Florida State, Tennessee and Kansas) are now in the AP Top 25.
Another, Kansas State, was in for a week then was upset Saturday at home by the Jayhawks and knocked out this week.
So what to make of this rash of upsets.
Coaches talk all the time about parity coming to major college football over the past decade.
With only 85 scholarships available per team, the best teams can't stockpile talent the way they could in good old days of Bear Bryant's Alabama dynasty and the Ten Year War between Bo Schembechler's Michigan Wolverines and Woody Hayes' Ohio State Buckeyes.
Increased television coverage helps recruiting, too. On Saturday, North Texas and Louisiana-Lafayette could be watched with a satellite dish. There were probably more cameraman and announcers than fans in the stadium but, nonetheless, the Mean Green and Ragin' Cajuns could be seen from coast to coast by future major college football players.
There are also more well-trained and well-coached high school football players for college coaches to choose from than ever before.
Throw in the evolution of the spread offense, which allows a team such as Appalachian State to get the most out of its very best players, and trying to decipher the difference between, say, No. 5, where South Florida is this week and No. 25, where Tennessee sits, has never been tougher.
Appy State over Michigan, that's a big upset. Stanford over USC, that qualifies, too.
Beyond that, in college football today, nothing's shocking.
---
Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press. Write to him at rrusso(at)ap.org.
 

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