The Unpredictability of College Football: Mid-Season Review
October 26, 2016
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Every year, about a week before the start of the college football, press all across the country vote on what they think are the top 25 teams in the country. This tradition continues week after week, and most of the time, the press proves their predictions way wrong, with sleeper teams rising up and annual juggernauts having off years, whether it be because of injuries or otherwise. Take this year for example. As of week 7 of the season, only 13 of the original top 25 are still ranked, and only a few are in the same place as before.
One of those few has been the usual powerhouse of Alabama football. Led by legendary coach Nick Saban and Heisman-winner Derrick Henry, Alabama was able to win the national championship game against Clemson, 45-40. The departure of Derrick Henry, however, has led to the emergence of Heisman candidate QB Jalen Hurts and another dominant defense. They have steamrolled through the season so far, leading to an 8-0 record, holding the No. 1 spot on the rankings and being a surefire bet for the College Football Playoff, as well as being favorites to win Saban’s sixth national championship. Alabama ranks among one of the normal powerhouses that have actually met expectations this year.
Three big programs that have had hugely disappointing seasons are Notre Dame, Michigan State, and LSU. LSU, who hasn’t had as disappointing a season than some; the team holds a 5-2 record behind inconsistent quarterback play and an injured Leonard Fournette. Fournette and his Tigers opened the season as No. 5, and Fournette was a Heisman favorite, but the team dropped their first game against Wisconsin in Madison, 16-14, where Fournette himself got injured. After starting the season 2-2 and enduring a heartbreaking loss to Auburn, LSU’s athletic director decided to fire head coach Les Miles, who had been coaching LSU since 2005. Assistant Coach Ed Orgeron was promoted to head coach and has since gone 3-0, getting LSU back into the Top 25.
Two of the biggest disappointments of the season have been the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Michigan State Spartans. Notre Dame, coached by Brian Kelly, opened the season as No. 10 and serious contenders for a spot in the playoffs, but started the season with a loss to Texas en route to a 1-3 start. This horrible start was made worse by the fact that the team was beaten at home by Duke, marking one of the biggest upsets against the Irish in Notre Dame’s storied football history. After that loss, head coach Brian Kelly blamed the horrible start on the Irish’s defense, and he backed up that notion by firing million-dollar defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder. Through seven games, the Irish stand with a record of 2-5, and are currently long shots to even make a bowl game. One team that has gone into freefall mode is the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans, coached by Mark D’Antonio, made a run last year to the College Football Playoff before being blasted 38-0 by Alabama in the semifinals. This year, Michigan State opened the season 2-0, before losing 5 straight behind horrible defensive play and inconsistent quarterbacks. Michigan State now stands at 2-5 after losing to the now 5-2 Maryland Terrapins in College Park last weekend.
One of the new and up and coming teams has been the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin, coached by Paul Chryst, started the season unranked coming into an opening day game at home against fifth-ranked LSU. The Badgers’ defense, led by TJ Watt, youngest brother of NFL superstar JJ Watt, held the explosive LSU offense to only 14 points, leading to a Badger victory. This victory, as well as two others against AP Top 10 opponents, made Wisconsin a top 10 team with at 5-2. Although they aren’t going to make the playoffs, Wisconsin has firmly established itself as one of the best teams in the country.
Another award race that the press tries to predict every year has been the Heisman. The Heisman award trophy is awarded to one player every year who establishes himself as his greatest asset to his team as well as one of the best players in college football. During the preseason, almost everyone thought it would be Clemson’s DeShaun Watson. While Watson is still a contender for the Heisman, a sloppy start to the season for him and his Tigers have no longer made him the frontrunner. The frontrunner as of week 7, and for a majority of the season has been Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. Jackson has led his team to a No. 5 ranking and contention for a playoff spot at 6-1. Jackson was really appreciated as a Heisman candidate after Louisville’s 62-20 dismantling of then No. 2 and ACC rival Florida State. With a combination of both his legs as a runner and his arms as a passer, many sportswriters think that Jackson is running away with the Heisman race.
All of these predictions, in reality, have gone to nothing as the season has gone on. Only a few have actually gotten some of their playoff predictions right, and this is only through seven weeks. The only team that sportswriters have gotten right is Alabama, with the other three spots shuffling about every single week. Even the Heisman, which players can win even if they play on bad teams, shuffles about. No one predicted for Lamar Jackson to even be a contender for the Heisman or for Louisville and Wisconsin to have the seasons they’re having. No one predicted for Notre Dame or Michigan State to go into freefall mode and potentially miss a bowl game. No one can predict college football, which, in this writer’s opinion, makes it one of the most unpredictable and exciting sports to watch (aside from college basketball, of course).