5 Thoughts, Sept. 19
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By Matt Zemek
After a significant but not definitive weekend of college football, let's establish one thing and one thing only: It's September.
Let me repeat that: It's September.
When the calendar is still in September, several basic truths about college football (and college football analysis) must come to the forefront of your mind. With each season and each journey to the BCS National Championship Game, we – the college football community – should become more adept at handling the fluctuations and changing tides of the path from Labor Day weekend to the first Sunday of December, when the BCS Selection Show makes the big game official.
Here are the things to keep in mind whenever a revealing weekend emerges… in September:
1) Make the distinction between national title worthiness and national title potential. Oklahoma, Boise State, even LSU and Alabama, are not yet proven teams. Nobody is in September. Running the 12-game race (13 if a conference title game is part of the equation) is what marks a proven team. In the interests of having a necessary debate to sift the very best from the rest, it's acceptable to begin to compare teams in early November, when a large-enough sample size has been established.
At this point in the season, it's all conjecture and speculation. Oklahoma is not worthy of the national title, but the Sooners' win at Florida State is obviously the kind of win a national championship team needs to produce at some point along the way. Making the distinction between worthiness (in the present tense) and potential (in the future tense) must accompany each and every September assessment in the world of college football.
2) Realize that shaky wins really aren't such fragile entities after all. Did South Carolina score a bad win against Navy? Hardly. The Gamecocks actually scheduled a competent non-conference opponent for once, instead of a Wofford- or Florida Atlantic-style cupcake. The Gamecocks played a team that forced their defense to be on its toes. Cocky had to be very disciplined to hold Navy to 21 points. South Carolina also had to be patient enough to keep giving the ball to Marcus Lattimore.
Grinding out a hard-earned three-point win instead of coasting through a lazy 21-point win in a paycheck game could very easily make Carolina sharper as the season goes along. It's not as though the alternative scheduling strategy (Cupcakeville in non-conference play) has been a runaway success for the program. That's a really good win against the Butler of college football programs, the kind of team that will frustrate you to no end. Gamecock Nation should be appreciating this win instead of viewing it as a worrisome sign for the future. That's the world of September football: a test endured is a growth moment secured.
3) Don't give a hoot about polls. That should be obvious, but it needs to be shouted from the rooftops each and every September. This is not a time to worry about the BCS bowl race or the national title pursuit; then again, even in early November, the same wish for the big prize is futile. All teams can do is run the course and beat every team they play. If that glittering goal, an unbeaten record, is attained on the first Saturday of December, let the chips fall where they may and enjoy a season of supreme accomplishment, with or without the BCS and its black cloud of phony-baloney politics.
It's September. College football has yet to enter the midseason conference grind and the late-season pressure of championship games in the chill of November. Let's all take our time and not get too worked up about things… except if you're a Georgia, UCLA, Ole Miss, or UAB fan.