— The patsy parades are largely complete, so the real action of the college football season is about to begin.
This is not to say that we haven’t had our fair share of highlights, lowlights, upsets and upstarts. We have. But at the elite level, where the eight teams at the top of the Associated Press preseason poll have gone 23-0, the calmness of the season to this point has lulled many into thinking that the upper echelon is set.
That’s about to change. It always does at this time of year, when we pass the quarter pole.
Last season, four teams in the AP’s Top 10 absorbed defeats in Week 4.
The carnage began on a Thursday night (Sept. 24, 2009) with No. 4 Mississippi getting upended at South Carolina. Someone named Jevan Snead hasn’t been seen since. Two days later, No. 5 Penn State fell at home to Iowa, No. 6 California got dismantled by Oregon and No. 9 Miami received a spanking at Virginia Tech.
Yup, take a good long look at the current Top-10, especially if your favorite team is included in the bunch. It’ll get shaken up considerably in the next few weeks and be vastly different by the time the Bowl Championship Series comes around.
Recent history says so emphatically.
Last year, only 40 percent of the teams in the AP Top 10 going into Week 4 retained that lofty status following the completion of the regular season and conference championship games. Those four survivors were eventual national champion Alabama, runner-up Texas, unchallenged Boise State and Florida, which was a definitive No. 1 after three games, having earned 55 of 60 first-place votes.
The six that didn’t stick around — Mississippi, Penn State, California, LSU, Miami and Oklahoma — ended the season with a total of 23 losses.
Twenty-three! That caused half of those former Top 10ers to be unranked entering the bowl season.
It was worse in 2008. After the first three weeks of that season, Georgia was ranked at No. 3, even earning a pair of first-place votes. A little further down the ladder stood No. 5 Missouri, No. 6 LSU, No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 10 Auburn ... but not for long. Those teams that comprised half of the Top-10 combined to lose a total of 25 games when the season was done.
Twenty-five! I’m no math wiz, but that sounds an awful lot like going .500 the rest of the way for those five teams.
Of course, when teams drop, others move up.
The climbers last year were Cincinnati and TCU. After both opened up 3-0, the Bearcats were ranked at No. 14, just ahead of the Horned Frogs at No. 15. Cincinnati and TCU each went on to earn spots in the BCS and entered the postseason ranked by the AP at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively.
Obviously the real culprit here is the silliness of early season rankings. But nevertheless, Saturday could be “moving day” for a couple teams. And if it isn’t, movers are at the ready in several locations and will soon be busy.
If we’re going to discuss a possible shakeup, why not start at the top?
With the way things are going in the Southeastern Conference these days, top-ranked Alabama’s visit to No. 10 Arkansas on Saturday could be its stiffest test.
Fresh off his scintillating performance in a 31-24 victory at Georgia last Saturday, Ryan Mallett (21-of-33 for 380 yards and three touchdowns) and the rest of the Razorbacks are laying out banana peels in Fayetteville.
The impressive returns of Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram (apparently fully recovered from a knee scope) and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (suspension served) in last Saturday’s scrimmage at Duke means the Crimson Tide are even less likely to slip up, but you never know.
Remember No. 1 USC losing to a 1-2 Oregon State squad in Week 5 of the 2008 season? Pete Carroll does.
Elsewhere in the SEC, the winner of Saturday’s showdown between No. 12 South Carolina and No. 17 Auburn will shift into the express lane headed for the Top 10.
In the Gamecocks’ case it’ll likely be a short-lived stay as their next game sees them hosting Alabama (which could be an angry bunch).
If the Tigers are the ones who come out on top, they’ll be good bets to rise further up the rankings since their next two games are against Louisiana-Monroe and Kentucky.
Or maybe the national elite will get a visitor from way out west.
No. 16 Stanford, done warming up with patsies — Sacramento State, UCLA and Wake Forest — visits Notre Dame on Saturday. The Cardinal struts into South Bend aiming to make a strong statement at the expense of the biggest name in the business. That could lead to even bigger things for Stanford as it’ll play at No. 5 Oregon and host No. 20 USC on the two Saturdays that follow.
Or are we in store for something really unique with No. 14 Arizona or even No. 25 Michigan State?
In order to post this season’s only Top 10 upset, a 34-27 thriller over Iowa on Saturday night, the Wildcats got many of their points by using smoke, mirrors and special teams, but you can’t deny a defensive effort that held the then-No. 9 Hawkeyes to just 29 rushing yards.
That sort of stiff defensive backbone will go a long way in the Pac-10 and we won’t have long to wait to see it in action. Arizona hosts California on Saturday. Then, after a bye, the Wildcats welcome No. 24 Oregon State to Tucson.
If the Spartans put together a special season in the Big Ten, the kick start provided by the fake-field-goal-fueled overtime victory over Notre Dame will be the reason. But with road games at No. 18 Iowa (Oct. 30) and No. 23 Penn State (season finale on Nov. 27), the Spartans need a lot more up their sleeves.
In any case, something’s about to happen. Hold on tight.