In case you haven’t noticed with all the talk about the shocking upsets pulled by Boise State and Appalachain State, college football has become a sport of parity in a hurry. This is mostly thanks to reduced scholarship limits that don’t allow the top programs to just stockpile all the best talent like they used to do.
College football teams are perhaps more evenly matched than ever before, yet the mainstream sports media still expects top programs to blow out supposed lesser teams in every single game. But the reality is that in today’s college football landscape, such a feat is incredibly difficult to accomplish over a 12-game season.
The expectations do make a little bit of sense in an NCAA football world where there are 119 Division-I teams and games against common opponents are few and far between, but it also ignores the fact that football is all about one thing and one thing only: getting that W at the end of the game.
Different teams have different strategies for obtaining wins, but voters in the polls and TV prognosticators fail to realize that simple axiom on almost a day-to-day basis.
A prime example of this occurred when Ohio State played Akron in week two. The Buckeyes won the game by a score of 20-2 and forced the Zips, a decent offense, into 14 punts while only allowing 71 yards. They were never in danger of losing the game. But all the analysts wanted to talk about was that fact that OSU “struggled” to beat Akron since they only led 3-2 at half-time.
If OSU had come out with a great first-half performance on offense, all they would have talked about was how good the Buckeyes looked and how well they played.
The problem with this logic is that football teams play to their strengths and use strategies that give themselves the best opportunity to win, so it made sense for Ohio State to use a conservative offense the way their defense was holding down the fort all game long.
For an even better example, consider what happened in 2003-2004, when LSU and USC split the title as the Tigers won the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma and took first in the Coaches’ poll while USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and won the AP Poll’s final vote.
Even though the BCS Championship Trophy is generally regarded as the more important of the two pieces of championship hardware, the average fan still would probably answer USC if asked who won the title that year, and the media seems to also repeat that as if USC were the only champion.
That LSU team took a backseat to the Trojans because they were a team that “won ugly” that year, or in other words, won with defense, while USC received tons of praise for their star-dominated offense that featured players like Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart.
No one knows what would have happened if the two teams had met, but if the old phrase “defense wins championships” is true, as it has been proven time and time again, don’t you think it’s time we gave teams that win with defense and a ball-control offense the same respect we give to teams in the NFL, or to their more flashy, offensive-dominated counterparts? I happen to think that it’s long-overdue.