Sunday morning, 2 a.m.: I am writing this now because I cannot sleep, because my team's season is ruined. Obliterated.
I could be an Oklahoma fan. Or a West Virginia fan. Or a Texas fan. Or even a Rutgers fan. As it happens, I am a Florida fan. What we share is the fate that in Week 5, our team's seasons are effectively over.
Oh, sure, conference titles might still be up for grabs. But this season was about competing for a national championship. A spot in a BCS bowl simply isn't the same.
As every week seems to need some sort of forced made-for-TV alliterative hook, this past was "Shat-Away Saturday." Survey the carnage among the national-title contenders:
Oklahoma: Optimistic Sooners fans weren't just looking ahead to the Texas game. They were looking ahead to the BCS title game. Season shat away.
Florida: Guuuuhhhhh! I heard Tim Tebow's post-game tears triggered 24-hour coverage on the Weather Channel. Season shat away.
West Virginia: Wait, didn't we see this result last year in Morgantown? So why would it be different in Tampa? Season shat away.
Texas: I hate the word "pwned," but it probably fits the relationship between UT fans and Kansas State fans. Season shat away.
Rutgers: After tasting the good life a year ago, the irony is that this team was even better: Fans actually BELIEVED this time. Suckers. Season shat away.
This last entry is a critical one: Rooting for a perennial national contender is exciting in theory, but the expectations are crippling.
One bad loss: The season is a bust. You can slap labels on it like "seasoning" or "rebuilding" or "fluke," but that's all rationalizing.
When I was at Northwestern in the early 90s, we regularly noted there is something to be said for rooting for a sorry team like NU, where mere "bowl eligibility" — looking at the schedule and talking yourself into seeing six wins — is the annual dream.
So, for fans of a team like Illinois, an unexpected win over a ranked team like Penn State is, in its temporary way, as sweet as winning a championship. (Ed. Note: This is true.)
Oklahoma or West Virginia fans could end up with a BCS at-large bowl bid and they would STILL be bitter; Illini fans will flock to the Motor City Bowl and celebrate like they're in the national championship. (Ed. Note: Or the Champs Sports Bowl!)
For fans of national contenders — in this or any season — there is no such thing as an unexpected win... just unexpected losses.
Soul-crushing, mind-imploding, sleep-depriving losses. How effing disturbing is it to ponder dissatisfaction with an 11-win season? (Cripes: I almost typed "10-win season," until I realized those 2 losses would make the season damn near unredeemable. Seriously: This is so wrong. But then I wonder: If my season is all but ruined with 1 or 2 losses, how does a Notre Dame fan feel at 0-5? Unfathomable.)
Personally, I am reduced to wondering if my new Tebow jersey should be mothballed permanently for its bad juju... to watching 10-month-old DVR recordings of last year's national title game... to peeking ahead to next year's schedule (and this year's depth chart) and to plotting explanations why next year's team WILL be the national champ (and rationalizing why Saturday's loss, um, helps)... and to bracing myself for an ass-kicking next week in Baton Rouge.
Yeesh: It's only Week 5? It's a long road 'til next season's national title. But at least now the expectations can start earlier.
Wait: But... but... Florida lost last year to Auburn, then recovered to win the national title! Can we talk about this...? What about the fact that Florida is the highest-ranked of the 1-loss teams? Nooooooo... help meeee....
This Week's Bandwagon: South Florida
College football is built on tradition. Decades upon decades of tradition, allowing long-baked rivalries and attitudes to flourish.
So how do you feel about South Florida? Here's a program that didn't even EXIST 15 years ago. How can you hate them? Then again, how can you love them? How can you feel anything about them?
On the other hand, in the hierarchy of college football jobs, managing a powerhouse like Texas or USC seems relatively easy (aside from expectations). Turning around a long-standing dud, like Rutgers, is much harder. But hardest of all would be to create a program from scratch, then turn it into a national powerhouse — in one decade.
(No wait, I take it back: Hardest of all would be being given the keys to the most prominent brand name in college sports history and managing to run it into the ground in just three seasons. Rah, Charlie Weis!)
More than anything, it speaks to the motherlode of talent to be found recruiting in Florida. Jim Leavitt took Florida, FSU and Miami's sloppy fourths and turned those recruits into a Top 10 team.
USF has a tough schedule left: Believe it or not, at Rutgers, at UConn and home against Cincy suddenly reads like a daunting gauntlet.
But if the Bulls can survive it unscathed, combined with a signature non-conference win over the team that just beat Florida in Gainesville, it's not crazy to consider South Florida a BCS title-game contender.
My BlogPoll Ballot Top 10
AP finally catches up with the bloggers.
2. South Florida
Officially the best team in the state.
But are they ready to dethrone USC?
4. Ohio State
Played at UW tougher than USC.
Just lucky Jake Locker is a spaz.
6. Boston College
Defied my prediction of a 1-AA upset.
What happened to the stout D?
This can't possibly last, can it?
Cincy is my new Rutgers, apparently.
10. Florida/Oklahoma (tie)
Both played like ass.
Here's Here's my complete BlogPoll ballot this week.
Rankings Ranting: Cripes, anyone else think they had a handle on the field before Saturday? I was pretty curious to see how the pollsters would handle it.
As it happens, the most important detail is this: Where (and how) do the pollsters rank last week's six previously unbeaten Top 10 teams, which would indicate which one-loss team has the inside track in the event of losses to the teams ahead of them?
Advantage: Florida. The Gators are 7th in the Coaches poll (9th AP), then Oklahoma (10/10), then WVU (12/13), then Oregon (13/14), then Texas (16/19), then Rutgers (21). (Of course, after Florida gets shellacked at LSU, this will be moot.)
Seriously: What happens now? Suddenly, LSU-Florida is no longer the Game of the Year. Oklahoma-Texas is the Dud River Rivalry. USC-Cal is shaping up as a de facto national semifinal. Oh, and South Florida is America's Team.
I suppose fans of the one-loss erstwhile contenders could look to last year's Florida team for hope: Those Gators lost early to Auburn, yet ended up winning the national title. But that team needed all sorts of cockeyed help, like USC losing to UCLA and Lloyd Carr's rhetorical and political ineptitude. You just can't count on that this year.
But with only 15 unbeaten teams remaining (LSU, USC, Cal, OH St, Wisco, USF, BC, Kent'y, Hawaii, Mizzou, AZ St, Cincy, Purdue, UConn, Kansas) and only five weeks of the season gone by, there's always the chance — maybe even the inevitability, given those teams' remaining schedules — that NO teams will finish unbeaten.
Looking Ahead to Next Week's Schedule:
It cannot possibly get any more crazy than this past weekend, can it? Except if LSU, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Mizzou and Cincy all lose, then Oklahoma and Texas agree that the winner gets to strike last week's loss from their official record. All could happen!
Florida at LSU: Perhaps Saturday's biggest loser was the Tigers, whose thumping of Florida won't be nearly as impressive now as it would have been had the Gators been unbeaten and ranked No. 2 or 3.
Oklahoma vs. Texas (in Dallas): The question is, which team is more pissed their season's hopes and dreams were shot to hell the previous week? And how to do they focus that rage?
Kentucky at South Carolina: Suddenly, the SEC East looks available for the taking by new national MVP favorite Andre' Woodson. (First-name apostrophes are the new Heisman pose.)
Ohio State at Purdue: The Buckeyes side-stepped last weekend's epidemic of upsets, but the Boilermakers' offense — and home-field advantage — might be enough to trip them up this time.
Cincinnati at Rutgers: If this year's South Florida is last year's Rutgers and this year's Cincinnati is last year's USF, then this year's Rutgers is last year's West Virginia: The team up-and-coming programs want to knock off to prove their legitimacy.
As usual, send any comments or questions to danshanoff-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com.