“The times are changing in the SEC. No one fears Alabama Crimson Tide anymore, certainly not Ole Miss Rebels , which looked like the confident and veteran team.” — Jon Solomon, Sept. 20, 2015
Repeat after me: “I will not overreact to college football’s first month. I will not overreact to college football’s first month. I will not overreact to college football’s first month.”
No matter how often we warn ourselves to avoid making sweeping conclusions too soon that fit convenient narratives, it never works.
My characterization of the SEC pecking order after Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss was woefully wrong. The Crimson Tide, of course, won their fourth national title in seven years. The times didn’t change in the SEC; Alabama won its remaining conference games by an average of 17 points. My overreaction wasn’t even the most over-the-top in the media.
* Clay Travis of Outkick the Coverage: “If there was any doubt that the dynasty was over, Alabama’s home loss to Ole Miss on Saturday night ended it. This was the kind of game that Alabama simply didn’t lose from 2009-2013. … In two weeks when, the Tide roll into Georgia Bulldogs and lose, it will be a perfect capstone to the rise and fall of the Tide dynasty.”
* Matt Hayes, then of The Sporting News: “Welcome, everyone, to the fall of a champion. There’s no greater indicator of a lost dynasty, no more prominent red flag, than ignoring the obvious: this is not the same Alabama program of years gone by. Ole Miss 43, Alabama 37 simply put an exclamation point on it.”
* Dan Wolken of USA Today, who predicted Alabama would be a three-loss team: “It’s hard to say exactly where Nick Saban’s Alabama falls on that spectrum traveled by Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators , Pete Carroll’s Southern California Trojans Trojans and so many others before them. But make no mistake, what happened here at Bryant-Denny Stadium late Saturday night in No. 11 Ole Miss’ 43-37 victory was the clearest sign yet this unbelievable epoch in Alabama football history is much closer to the end than the beginning.”
* Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports: “Winning in Bryant-Denny Stadium was a landmark achievement for Mississippi, one the Rebels can rightfully rejoice in. But this stunning upset also had the look, sound and feel of a program-altering loss for mighty Alabama. The Nick Saban Era could be reaching a crossroads in its attempt to regain past glory.”
(Note to media: Qualifiers are your best friend. They can save you from looking really dumb later. Bonus points go to Forde for writing that the Saban era “could” be reaching a crossroads.)
The truth is Alabama didlook like a dynasty wobbling. Crimson Tide players didexplicitly say opponents no longer feared them. Saban’s defenses didgive up an average of 37.4 points in its five losses since the 2012 national championship.
So there were kernels of truth in the media’s opinions. But that’s different than burying Alabama, as many of us did in our chase to find the most definitive take to entertain TV viewers, fill talk radio slots, capture online page views and look smart.
Over-the-top declarations are undeniably more fun than patience in college football’s first month. The desire to rush to conclusions is also often pointless, so just understand that. This brings us to my annual suggestions on how to enjoy September without looking foolish later:
1. No playoff projections in September: These were ESPN’s playoff picks on Sept. 27, 2015: Mark Schlabach went with Ole Miss vs. UCLA Bruins and Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Baylor Bears , Brett McMurphy went with Michigan State Spartans vs. Ole Miss and UCLA vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish . Between them, they got one out of eight right.
They’re not alone. I could have revisited anyone’s way-too-early playoff picks. Does no one find the irony that media members (myself included) criticize the College Football Playoff’s weekly and pointless rankings when we do the same thing every week yet even earlier?
The playoff debate is fun — at the right time. When it’s done too soon, it feels like an unnecessary distraction to the actual games being played. It feels like arguing for arguing’s sake instead of talking football. Mainly, it feels totally contrived when we know it doesn’t matter yet.
2. Avoid awarding the Heisman Trophy after one month: ” Leonard Fournette Is the Clear 2015 Heisman Front-Runner,” the headline on Bleacher Report screamed on Sept. 26, 2015. Countless media outlets, including CBS Sports, declared Fournette the heavy favorite based on his tremendous September against three teams that finished 2015 ranked 70th or lower in rush defense ( Mississippi State Bulldogs , Auburn Tigers and Syracuse Orange ).
Fournette didn’t even get to New York for the ceremony and finished sixth in the voting, behind Navy Midshipmen ‘s quarterback. Kudos to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com for predicting last September Fournette wouldn’t win the Heisman because of the pounding he was taking and the fact it’s a quarterback/stats award.
There are numerous problems with Heisman voting (defensive players and offensive linemen basically can’t win, expectations and exposure matter, QBs are heavily favored, West Coast players can go unseen, etc.). The weekly horse race does no favors to anyone. What other sport talks about its most prestigious award before most games have been played as much as college football gets ahead of itself?
3. Beware of overreacting to a Week 1 win: I can’t stress this enough given the number of quality games in Week 1 this season. The potential is through the roof this week to assume one victory that looks impressive before Labor Day means a team has “turned the corner” or “is back” or is “a playoff contender.”
Last year, after Ohio State won its opener over mediocre Virginia Tech Hokies , we raved that Braxton Miller at wide receiver made the Buckeyes’ offense look like a video game. I used a very important qualifier in the headline of a story that said, “Braxton Miller makes Buckeyes so scary only they can screw this up.” They did. Who knew in September that Ezekiel Elliott needed custody of the video game controller to get him carries?
Houston Cougars is ripe for overreaction if it defeats Oklahoma Sooners . Immediately, the conversation would turn to whether the Cougars belong in the playoff if they win out. Lost in the whole “if they win out” hypothetical after Week 1 is just how freaking hard it is to win out. Ask poor Kyle Brotzman, the Boise State Broncos kicker who missed two short field goals late in the 2010 season that spoiled the Broncos’ hopes of playing for the national title as a non-BCS school.
4. Don’t assume CFP Selection Committee reasoning and conference failings are transferable: One common assumption this preseason is it looks like the Pac-12 is in trouble again to make the playoff. This is a cousin of the 2015 assumption that the Big 12 was in danger of getting left out again because of 2014.
Just because the committee picked four teams last year based on certain articulated reasons does not mean those reasons must apply this year. Each season brings a new set of teams and data points to evaluate. Conference championships, a 13th data point and top-25 wins (as judged by the committee) seem to be significant factors. But the very nature of rotating humans to select only four teams means the committee’s criteria will evolve. We still need several more seasons and different circumstances to draw concrete conclusions.
Just because the Pac-12 got left out in 2015 and its highest-ranked team in the preseason is No. 8 Stanford Cardinal doesn’t mean the Pac-12 is in trouble. Let. The. Season. Play. Out.
5. Overreaction is OK … in moderation: Part of the joy of college football is arguing. It’s completely natural to overreact to college football results in September. We have been starved for so long of any games and actual information — no, Jim Harbaugh tweets don’t count as info — that our page views and TV/radio ratings crave to be fed when we see something new and shiny.
Before the Alabama dynasty “ended,” one of the great overreactions in recent history came when No. 9 Oklahoma State Cowboys beat No. 13 Georgia by two touchdowns to open the 2009 season. The Dallas Cowboys made the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times wrote of talk about a national championship. Oklahoma State lost to Houston the next week, got outscored 68-14 in defeats to Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma, and finished 9-4.
The moral of my story: Be skeptical of the media this September when we emphatically declare Tom Herman is headed to Texas or Texas A&M or Baylor (huh?); Tennessee Volunteers is back after beating Florida; Deshaun Watson has locked up the Heisman after playing Auburn, Troy Trojans , South Carolina State and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets ; and there’s no hope once your favorite team loses so drink up.
When we inevitably slip up again, we will have rightfully earned your September skepticism. But here’s the dirty, little secret of our stupid overreactions: We’re simply taking the cue from you.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Five dangers of trying to predict the college football season way too early