Davids hanging with Goliaths
Every year, right around the end of March, the college sports world gets a heavy dose of the word "parity."
Defined as "the state or condition of being equal," the term has become synonymous with "mid-major" college basketball teams making "Cinderella" runs through the NCAA tournament.
Anyway, it seems analysts, pundits and "experts" (man, lots of "quote-unquote" in here) are surprised every year by how much "parity" there seems to be these days in college basketball, when David vs. Goliath matchups turn out the same way they did in the original biblical story.
Seems like that's starting to become more of the norm in college football, too. So far this year, there have been five teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences – i.e., not the six BCS leagues – to beat "major" conference teams, including three in the Big Ten and another in the powerhouse SEC.
Now, upsets in college football aren't all that unusual. Top-10 teams often get beaten during a grueling 12-week schedule … but usually those losses come to conference foes or teams from other BCS leagues.
But there is less of a wow-factor for me when I see teams like NIU, Ohio, Central Michigan, Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Monroe beat the likes of Kansas, Penn State, Iowa, Illinois and Arkansas.
Well, OK, to be fair (and completely honest), I did raise my eyebrows a bit when Louisiana-Monroe beat then-top-10 ranked Arkansas … then ULM proved it was no fluke when it went on to really push Auburn and Baylor in one-score losses.
Still, nothing will match the utter incredulity (thanks, word-a-day calendar!) I felt back in 2007 when I saw tiny Appalachian State knock off No. 5 Michigan … in Ann Arbor. Turns out that was just the warning shot across the BCS conference teams' bow.
But as I sit and watch as much college football as humanly possible every weekend, I notice that there don't seem to be as many 70-7, 63-3, 56-0 blowouts as there used to be.
Don't get me wrong, they still happen – two weekends ago, 25 college teams scored at least 50 points in victory – but it just feels like the non-AQ teams are giving the BCS teams a run for their money far more often lately, and this year especially.
And I couldn't love it more. Granted, I like to see my Hawkeyes or LSU Tigers drop a 60-spot on an overmatched and overwhelmed opponent as much as the next guy, but nothing can mask that gleeful smile and rubbing together of hands when you see one of the "big, bad" BCS teams come up short against the underdogs.
So from a guy who loves the NCAA basketball tournament almost as much as he loves college football, I say three cheers for the "little guys" in their quest to ultimately make the college football landscape as level and evenly matched – and fun to watch – as anyone could ever want. Keep it up, guys.
Just not against Iowa or LSU, huh?
No. 25 Baylor at No. 9 West Virginia
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Mountaineer Field
Line: West Virginia by 11½
What's up: The Geno-Smith-for-Heisman train is picking up steam, and this is the Mountaineers' toughest test yet. Could be a statement game either way: WVU wins its Big 12 opener, or Baylor proves its program is more than just Robert Griffin III.
My pick: West Virginia 34-21
No. 14 Ohio State vs. No. 20 Michigan State
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Spartan Stadium
Line: Michigan State by 2½
What's up: Big Ten schedule starts with a bang for Sparty and Brutus, with both teams looking to prove close nonconference games were flukes. The winner will be whichever team makes more plays downfield.
My pick: Ohio State 24-17
Tennessee at No. 5 Georgia
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium
Line: Georgia by 13½
What's up: Vols really need a victory, and Bulldogs want to stay in race for conference – and possibly national – title. Florida already beat Tennessee, so Georgia will definitely want to keep pace.
My pick: Georgia 31-14
No. 12 Texas at Oklahoma State
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pickens Stadium
Line: Texas by 1½
What's up: Longhorns are back in the polls, and Cowboys are without Brandon Weeden and the nearly unstoppable offense from a year ago. Should be a good old-fashioned saloon skirmish in Stillwater.
My pick: Texas 35-31
Wisconsin at No. 22 Nebraska
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium
Line: Nebraska by 11½
What's up: Huskers are always tough at home, but Badgers will be out to prove themselves. Wisconsin's early struggles may stem from being a virtual lock to represent Leaders division in the Big Ten title game, but coach Bret Bielema knows how to motivate when it comes to big games.
My pick: Nebraska 21-20