It’s early, they’ll tell you.
Don’t read too much into the first few Saturdays, they’ll say.
Teams are still trying to figure themselves out, they’ll protest.
There is a great deal of truth to these reasonable sentiments. Tweaks are being made. The paint is still drying on a fresh college football season. The product being shown during Week 2 will be vastly different come Halloween.
With such disclaimers in plain sight, there’s a looming sense of vulnerability hovering over the sport that feels different from years past. Unpredictability is a part of its charm. But this feels like something more. It feels something that could become an even bigger story soon.
It was not supposed to be like this. Not this week.
Clemson was not supposed to be pushed to the brink by Troy. Georgia was not supposed to barely slip past Nicholls State as a 55.5-point favorite. Oklahoma State was not supposed to lose to Central Michigan at all, but especially not on an irrational Hail Mary that should have never happened in the first place.
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This was supposed to be a brief intermission between loaded weeks. Even Alabama, playing in the ultimate sandwich game with Ole Miss on deck, got into the spirit.
No, the Crimson Tide’s 38-10 victory over Western Kentucky was never on the brink of slipping away.
But Nick Saban still threw a hearty outburst in Lane Kiffin’s direction late in the game. He later called it "an ass chewing," per the Tuscaloosa News' Cecil Hurt. He also offered up the following, which was yet another fine postgame sound bite during the young season.
"I don't know if I've ever been more disappointed after a win, ever," Saban told reporters.
"I'm almost embarrassed that I didn't do a better job for our team," he added.
Well, perhaps that's excessive. Refreshing and entertaining, of course, but Alabama still gives off an impression of being a finely tuned machine, even when that machine isn’t fully functional by its own unrealistic standards. That's not the case for everyone else.
The actual, season-changing carnage wasn’t widespread. Big favorites, for the most part, won as anticipated. Those hoping for chaos and shake-ups during a week with zero games pairing ranked teams were left waiting.
The optics of it all, however, told a different tale. Teams struggled and looked out of sync. The play was sloppy. The overall strangeness of a week that was supposed to be one-sided manufactured unexpected intrigue.
Don’t think of this as the weekend that turned the sport on its side; think of Week 2 as a precursor to something more.
Your eyes do not deceive you. Early evidence—and it is early—says invincibility might be hard to come by down the line.
Here are some other observations two weeks through the college football season.
The Big 12 Is off to a Brutal Start
Everything is not on fire. Playoff hopes are not dead. All is not lost.
Let’s begin there. The Big 12 will likely rebound, perhaps as soon as next week when it can make a tremendous statement. More on that shortly.
As it stands, however, the 2016 season has opened with a mighty thud.
Oklahoma, the preseason favorite, was dismantled by Houston in Week 1. TCU, one of the trendy playoff picks before the season, suffered a hard-fought 41-38 loss to Arkansas on Saturday night.
Oklahoma State, well, you saw what happened Saturday against Central Michigan. Although the 30-27 loss never should have been a loss, the standings won’t change.
Strangely enough, Texas is carrying the conference’s flag two weeks in. While a win over UTEP doesn’t exactly validate its Notre Dame victory, it doesn’t hurt.
Losing to quality teams shouldn’t be viewed as a deathblow. These are talented opponents and, for the most part, quality losses. The concern is that the losses will mount once conference play begins.
That could be a playoff problem. The defeats, no matter the quality of opponent, won’t suddenly be erased.
Other conferences will endure similar stretches. Remember when we pronounced the Big Ten dead back in September 2014, the first year of the playoff ? We do this a lot. Also, Ohio State—the eventual national champion—had something to say about this.
Things will change and momentum will shift. More than once, in fact.
But to say this is how the conference envisioned itself before the season began—with its three biggest favorites all with a loss after two weeks—would be a lie.
Michigan and Ohio State Are Rolling Right Along
In four combined games this season, Michigan and Ohio State have outscored their opponents 239-30. That is a lot to not much.
With all the talk about vulnerability, these two have looked anything but.
The next part of this discussion is important, though: Those four opponents are Hawaii, UCF, Bowling Green and Tulsa. Those are not bottom-of-the-barrel FCS opponents; they are also not legitimate measuring sticks, either.
Ohio State and Michigan are both excellent teams. This is clear, even if both ceilings are still out of sight.
Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight has looked excellent outside of his first throw of the season, which was an interception. The Ohio State defense, which was rebuilt, has played fast, active and punishing.
These are complete teams with incredible head coaches. There is much to like. Each has been as good as advertised, which is more than most can say.
Still, it’s hard to know what these promising starts will mean down the line. There is still more to learn, and an increase in competition will help settle that accordingly.
Michigan will draw Colorado in Week 3, which will be its toughest opponent to date. Not exactly an enormous obstacle, but it will provide another glimpse as to what might be out there.
Ohio State travels to Norman to take on a hungry, desperate, talented Oklahoma team that could use a win. That will tell us plenty about what’s to come in Columbus.
In the meantime, both are dangerous and exactly where they need to be.
It’s Not Just Houston...
Yes, Tom Herman’s team is a lovely story. It will continue to be. But the Cougars should not be the only non-Power Five team generating interest.
Last year there was an influx of teams that crept into the Top 25. It feels like a similar movement is coming.
South Florida is 2-0 after a thorough demolition of Northern Illinois. The Bulls have a fascinating stretch coming up with games against Syracuse, Florida State and Cincinnati to follow. They also have an offense to make things interesting.
Central Michigan, coming off a victory against Oklahoma State, is a team to be mindful of. As is Toledo, which is now 2-0 and moving closer to the Top 25.
Boise State, the team that wrote the script for non-Power Five programs, is 2-0 after a win over Washington State on Saturday. The Broncos might not carry the same magic they once did, although they will not suddenly vanish.
On the topic of Mountain West programs beating Pac-12 teams, enter San Diego State. With a win over Cal, the Aztecs went to 2-0 this year and own the second-longest win streak in college football, behind only Alabama. Every game remaining on the Aztecs' schedule is definitely a winnable one.
The point is that one shouldn’t be blinded by one story, one team and one coach. As the early portion of the season has shown us, there are others being overlooked capable of creating noise—and potentially chaos—down the road.
Next Week, the Madness Resumes
Here is what is on tap next week. Clear the schedule accordingly.
Houston opens up the week with a fascinating matchup against Cincinnati on Thursday night. Pittsburgh and Oklahoma State will face off in one of the more intriguing out-of-conference games all season. Oregon and Nebraska will join that conversation and play in Lincoln. Texas and Cal square off too.
Michigan State plays Notre Dame. USC plays Stanford. In the SEC, Mississippi State plays LSU, and Auburn plays Texas A&M.
Oh, and then there are these: Alabama hopes to get revenge on Ole Miss for two years of losses. Ohio State will play the Sooners in Norman. And last but certainly not least, Louisville will put its hot start to the test against Florida State at home.
Week 2 did what it was supposed to and then some. It was entertaining, revealing. And it served as a bridge to yet another magical week with intriguing matchups.
Odds provided by OddsShark.