Fiutak: The Fab Four
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The warm-up acts are all well and good, and there were certainly plenty of entertaining moments, but the early part of the season so far feels like one big lead-up to November 3rd. If everything goes according to plan, nothing else that’s happening right now is relevant.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Oh sure, last Saturday was what college football junkies live for. A few times in every season a perfect storm comes together creating loads of big moments happening all at once. In the afternoon, at around the same time, Michigan was trying to hold off Air Force, Tommy Rees was leading Notre Dame on a game-winning drive over Purdue, Texas A&M and Florida were beating each other up, and Oregon State was stuffing Wisconsin.
And then came the evening when Georgia hadn’t yet taken control of the Missouri game, Nebraska and UCLA were trading haymakers, and ULM was hanging around with Arkansas. Throw in the stunning nightcaps with Arizona State blowing away Illinois and with everything working right for Arizona against Oklahoma State, and it was one of those out-of-the-blue wacky college football Saturdays that make life so much fun.
Meanwhile, the headliners were tuning up.
While it might not have been officially designated as Separation Saturday, that’s exactly what September 8th was. This was the Saturday when the gap between the top teams in the country and the hoi polloi grew into a 57-mile wide chasm. This was the Saturday when USC and Oregon showed that they’re able to toy around with decent teams and do whatever they feel like, while Alabama and LSU proved that for the second straight season they’re playing an entirely different game than the other 122 FBS teams.
Wisconsin and Arkansas politely excused themselves from the BCS championship fun – although the Hogs can make a case if they run the SEC West table. Florida State should turn out to be fantastic once it stops playing the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning for a nice payday, but All-America defensive end Brandon Jennings is out for the season. Oklahoma might be ranked fifth and has a defense strong enough to hang around with anyone, but the offensive line isn’t going to suddenly become a rock. Georgia will get even better once everyone is back from suspension, and Clemson, Michigan State, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas State and Louisville have all looked fantastic, but they’re not quite as good as the Fab Four.
USC and Oregon have to keep their feet on the gas at some point. Neither was in any danger in their respective games, but the Ducks took the second halves off against Arkansas State and Fresno State, while USC pulled a Usain Bolt and slowed their roll 25 yards before the finish line against Hawaii and Syracuse. Basically, they looked bored, doing what they needed to before sitting back and admiring their work. The Ducks led Arkansas State 50-3 with seven minutes to play in the first half and got up 35-3 on Fresno State late in the first this week. Meanwhile, USC got up 35-0 on Hawaii at halftime and rolled up a 31-3 score on Syracuse before deciding turning the fun back on when it had to in the second half to cruise.
On the flip side, LSU ran out of the tunnel and embarrassed a good Washington team like it was a light scrimmage. Bama treated Western Kentucky like the rent was overdue, allowing absolutely nothing in a dominant 35-0 stomping. The two SEC stars are locked in with the focus of knowing what they need to do to get back to where they were last year, appearing to be out to make a statement each and every week. Considering that these two don’t have any glaring weakness, it’s going to take a rash of injuries or a Miracle On Ice day for either of them to lose to anyone but each other.
The positive part for everyone else is that the Fab Four are so strong and so good that they’re creating the potential for big games throughout the next several weeks.
What if Alabama and LSU really are better than everyone else, and then Georgia, Florida or South Carolina beats the West champion in the SEC title game? What if Notre Dame rises to the occasion and takes out USC? What if Tennessee’s passing game continues to rock as it shocks the Tide in Knoxville on October 20th, and what if Arizona State isn’t a fluke and it takes care of the Ducks in Tempe on October 18th?
Of course everyone is beatable on the right day, and of course the history of college football is littered with teams destined to roll to a national championship only to stub their toe when they’re not paying attention. That’s what’s going to make the rest of the 2012 season fun.
Unlike 2005 when USC and Texas were on a seemingly preordained path to meet up in the BCS championship, or 2009 when the Alabama/Florida winner and Texas were set to play for it all before the season started, now there are four teams involved with very distinct positives and phenomenal résumés. They’ve earned their stripes.
Now it’s up to another team to prove it belongs at the same level.