If it seems like this season has been a bit nutty to you, don't worry. You're not crazy. A lot of folks have been lining this year's results up against those of 2007, previously the craziest season on record, and looking for parallels. While we haven't seen any upsets on par with App State-Michigan or Stanford-USC (no, Washington-USC doesn't count because this is far from a vintage USC team), there is one measure by which we've already surpassed 2007.
Through four weeks of the season, there are only 17 undefeated teams left. Last year, there were 26 undefeated teams left after four weeks, but there's a caveat to that. Thanks to a weird calendaring thing, the 2008 season had an extra week (it began in August, remember) and so a lot of teams took their extra bye week during the first four weeks. Even so, that's nine extra teams to have fallen from the ranks of the unbeatens through four Saturdays.
In 2007 by contrast, there were still 23 undefeated teams after four weeks. That's six more than this year.
There are a few things that have contributed to this low number of teams with perfect records so far. One is ESPN helping to line up marquee games early. Without the WWL helping to pairing Alabama with VT and OU with BYU, we'd probably have two more teams undefeated: Virginia Tech and Oklahoma. Put them up against Sun Belt teams per usual and there's no way they have losses. Other aggressive scheduling has helped as well, such as Georgia's early trip to Stillwater and the USC-Ohio State game. Put the Bulldogs up against Georgia Southern like last year, and they're 4-0. Same goes for OSU against Youngstown State or some other overmatched in-state foe.
However, we have big games early every year, so that's not the full story. As it turns out, it is kind of difficult to go unbeaten through four weeks with any real consistency. Only six teams have done it from 2007-09, and it's not always a sign of quality. The six are Florida, LSU, Missouri, USF, Texas, and Wisconsin. Only four of the six have were consistent factors in their conferences across 2007-08. Despite all the whining about bad games early, everyone else in the country but those six has fallen at least once in the first month of the last three seasons.
The fact of the matter is that there's more parity than ever thanks to the 85 scholarship limit, the increase of coverage of the sport, and the growing population. Big programs can't just stack themselves indefinitely. You can get noticed playing at a lot more schools now. With the nation's population growing quickly, the nation's young athlete pool can support quality in a lot more places.
Going back to this year, there are just 17 undefeated schools left. They are:
- Boise State
- Texas A&M
Of those, some are in the "there's absolutely no way they're going undefeated" pool. Kansas and Michigan lack the defense to do it. Texas A&M, UCLA, USF, and Wisconsin lack the rosters to pull it off.
Within the next month, we know a few more have fall off the list. Florida and LSU play each other on October 10, and LSU and Auburn play on the 24th. Cincinnati and USF play on the 15th. Michigan and Iowa play on the 10th, and then Iowa and Wisconsin play on the 17th. Missouri and Texas play on the 24th. UCLA's next three games are at Stanford, Oregon, and Cal, and it's difficult to see the Bruins sweeping all of those.
In theory, we could still have 12 undefeated teams going into November. That's very unlikely though, considering there were only eight after October last year and that was a much more "normal" season. The 2007 season, by contrast, had just five undefeated teams after October. To get that low, we'd need some somewhat mild upsets, like Oklahoma over Texas or Ole Miss over Alabama, or some real fireworks.
I'm all for the fireworks option, as I generally pull for underdogs when I have no rooting interest in a game. It's fun to open up a scoreboard website and say, "What? THEY'RE losing to WHO?" I wouldn't be surprised one bit to see us get just that, since only Florida, Texas, and Alabama have looked like honest to goodness juggernauts through these first four weeks.