College football has stood the test of thousands of different story lines over the past year.
Agent scandals, conference and division shifts, coaching changes, payment of players—they’ve all shaken the very landscape of college football.
But on the football field, a shift of power is happening that may not happen again.
I’ve been watching football for a long time, especially this decade (considering I was born in the decade before), but I’ve been around long enough to know who the perennial powers are and who the pretenders are. Teams like Alabama, Florida, VT, USC, OU and Texas dominate the landscape year in and year out.
But this year, the traditional “bullies,” as they’ve become, have been knocked off their perch at an alarming rate. Last night, watching my Sooners go down to Mizzou for the first time under coach Bob Stoops, woke me up to realizing just what is happening to college football’s elite.
I’ll take a look conference by conference, introducing the De-Bullified Scale: This is a scale out of 10 rating the bully-beating of the conference. If a conference’s “bullies” have been taken out completely and the little guys are running the show, they get a 10. A traditional standing earns a one.
Now we rank them from least shaken to most.
Ironically enough, this conference is the most together. The traditional “bullies” of San Diego State, TCU, Utah and BYU are at the top, with Air Force there too.
De-Bullified scale: 2
East Carolina loses Skip Holtz and continues to win and leads the conference at 5-2. Go Pirates.
In the independents, “Notre Dame is back” supporters have been silenced yet again. The once threat to go undefeated Navy is sitting with two losses, and Heisman candidate Ricky Dobbs has been grounded. In terms of records, Army is a game back for the best of the independents.
Troy has quietly gone to a 4-2 record and has jumped to a 3-0 record in the Sun Belt Conference.
The WAC is still Boise State’s to lose, but Hawaii currently leads the conference at 4-0 and has a date with Boise later in the year.
De-Bullified Scale: 6
Florida State has rebounded in the Atlantic, as expected, and is retaining its perch with no surprise. But look at the teams right on their heels.
NC State and Russell Wilson have shocked the country and are sitting at 5-2, 2-1 in conference play. While they were taken down by bully Virginia Tech, they fought closer than they ever do.
Maryland is also sitting in the upper echelon of the Atlantic, which may be the biggest surprise to anyone, even Terp fans. The ground game has led to an opening game shock of Ricky Dobbs and Navy. The defense shut the golden-legged Heisman candidate in a big way.
Also sitting in the cusp are the Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller-less Clemson Tigers. This team responds to losing their stars, the critics' calls of a 3-9 and 4-8 season and the call of “no more big play threats” by bringing in players of the caliber of DeAndre Hopkins, Andre Ellington, Dwayne Allen, Jamie Harper and others to keep pace with the rest of the division.
Over in the Coastal, Boise State stunned VT, and the Hokies also suffered the debacle hangover against James Madison to knock them from the perch of the elite. While this team has rebounded with six straight wins, they are still dazed from the two upsets and have been taken from the “bully” ranks.
Falling in behind them are the traditional Miami and Georgia Tech. But the Yellow Jackets took a pounding from Clemson, and have been knocked from Top 10 contender to former champ on the outside looking in.
De-Bullified scale: 6
Happy Valley’s year to celebrate? The Horseshoe bound to erupt? Another banner for the top two teams? Well, then the other teams decided to come play.
Indiana has found a passing attack, and while it seems far-fetched, the Hoosiers still aren’t eliminated from the race. Penn State has been taken from the conference’s elite perch with crushing losses to Iowa and Illinois.
Northwestern took Sparty to the wire last week and seems to have found a groove that it can ride to the top of the conference. Michigan, while some will argue is a bully, has been the little kids recently and seems to be back on track to competing with Denard Robinson.
Illinois is fresh off a drubbing of Penn State, and remember Iowa? The Cnderella team from last season? Last second miracles, barely winning games? Well, this team is no longer a Cinderella team. They are a legitimate threat on a national scale again under this new regime.
Wisconsin shocked the Buckeyes of Ohio State and is rolling into a dead tie with them for second behind Sparty.
Speaking of Michigan State, Sparty leads the Big Ten at 8-0. Let that sink in. They also control their own destiny since Ohio State is not on their favorable schedule.
De-Bullified scale: 7
Preseason picks for the conference title: USC and second, Oregon. Not only has USC not been there, they have been smacked around by lower teams. Oregon has become the unlikely front runner, not just for the conference but for the national title as well.
Arizona has come from nowhere with Nick Foles and crushed Iowa and has burst into the Top 15. Stanford has been riding Andrew Luck to a 6-1 record, their first since the 1970s.
Oregon State has competed with Boise State and TCU. Washington with Jake Locker has quietly been one of the most exciting teams in the nation.
This conference has been turned inside out, and it looks like the Cinderellas aren’t just that; they are seriously competing.
De-Bullified scale: 7
While when people think “bully,” they don’t think of the Big East Conference. The conference itself has been dominated by a handful of teams in the past few seasons.
At the top rests national title contender Pittsburgh. Well, they were. Now, three losses later, this team sits trying to regroup and get that conference title they were all but promised at the start of the year.
UConn went from conference threat with a top defense to being drubbed by Louisville over the weekend and sitting at the bottom of the conference. Cincinnati has been brought back to reality, and it seems that their stranglehold on the conference title in the Brian Kelly era is over.
South Florida thumped Cincy, Louisville handled UConn and Rutgers kept up with Pitt, but the most shocking is the league’s new No. 2. Syracuse shocked the nation by taking down the conference's elite team for this season, West Virginia, which was expected to run away with the conference title.
De-Bullified scale: 8
The Big 12 has officially been uprooted. In the North, Kansas has been knocked down for good after a few years of prominence. Kansas State has come from nowhere to compete.
Iowa State is right with them following an upset of heavily favored Texas. Nebraska has held its own but was upset by Texas.
Missouri has been the team to shock everyone. They are the last unbeaten team left in the conference and are fresh off an upset against No. 1 Oklahoma. They have a big showdown with the other bully, Nebraska, this weekend.
But over in the South, a landmine has exploded in the conference. Texas? Gone. Iowa State took them out, and OU drubbed them. Texas A&M has competed with Jerrod Johnson, and Texas Tech is still right there.
The top three is where the shake-up is most noticeable. Oklahoma State was one of three unbeatens left in this conference coming into the weekend. While they lost, they are still a great football team that has shocked everyone. OU will still compete and is still a favorite for the national title but was knocked from its lofty perch by Missouri this weekend and currently sits at second in the conference.
The No. 1? Baylor. The Bears are bowl eligible and have shocked everyone to take their first lead in the South since 2005.
De-Bullified scale: 8
What in the hell has happened to the nation’s best conference? They still are, but the teams in front are severely different.
The favorites at the start of the year were the same ol’ Florida and Alabama. LSU has fought, rattled and rolled and only has one loss under Les Miles. Arkansas has taken Ryan Mallett and gone into a competitor's slot in the West. Ole Miss has been knocked back to reality.
But somehow, Auburn has come from nowhere to ride Cam Newton to possibly a No. 1 ranking. This team is scary and is in prime position to take down Alabama and shock the nation.
Alabama was stopped by SC and has since looked unrealistically human, much to everyone’s shock. Mississippi State is also competing for the title and beat heavily favored Florida.
But the real shock has been in the East. Florida has been completely humbled with losses to LSU, Alabama and Mississippi State. Kentucky has competed and taken down SC and almost got Auburn.
Vanderbilt had a chance to take the division lead this weekend but instead fell into a three-way tie for second. Georgia has rebounded from a basement dweller start and has crushed opponents in recent weeks and somehow moved into second.
But the real shock is the East’s only Top 25 team, the University of South Carolina. The Gamecocks have brought in Marcus “The Freak” Lattimore and feature a superb Alshon Jeffery, who may be the best receiver in the nation, and Stephen Garcia is developing into a good quarterback. The defense is stellar as usual, and they control their own destiny in the division, as long as they best Florida—a complete shock.
Since 2004, LSU, Florida or Alabama has been in the SEC Championship Game every year. This could be the first without.
De-Bullified scale: 10
Overall, since the dawn of the BCS, the “big teams”—Alabama, Texas, OU, Florida, LSU, Ohio State, VT, Nebraska and USC—have been in the title game every year since 1998. But this year, Oregon, Boise State, TCU, Michigan State, Auburn, Utah and others have a chance to end that stand.
The entire nation and the resident bullies, have, if for just a few weeks, been put to the side.
Even though I’m a fan of one of these bullies, it’s great to see the new faces and new teams step into the mix. What a year.