So Wait… USF is Ranked WHAT?!

First, a warning: This article isn’t about writing, or finances, or personal development, so if you’re here only to read that kind of article, you can skip this. This article’s about college football, and trying to figure out what the hell is going on this year. In short, I’m starting to wonder about the increasingly real possibility that the University of South Florida may be en route to a national championship. And that just freaks me out (in a good way).

If you haven’t been paying attention to the college football scene, if you’re one of those who watches professional level teams only — and given the very, very screwed up BCS system, I totally understand — then you, my friend, are missing one of the wildest football seasons in history. Here’s the lowdown, and I’ll start with my alma mater, USF:

Last week, USF (then ranked #18) beat West Virginia (then ranked #5). Now, this game alone made my weekend, but things got even more interesting:

  • Auburn (unranked) beats Floirida (then ranked #4), 17-20, which drops UF to #9. (It should be noted that USF, then ranked #34, beat Auburn, then ranked #17, AT Auburn, two weeks previous this.)
  • Southern California (then #1) eeks by Washington (unranked), 27-24, which drops USC to #2.
  • Oklahoma (then #3) loses to Colorado (unranked), 24-27, which drops Oklahoma to #10.
  • Texas (then #7) loses to Kansas State (unranked), 24-41, which drops Texas to #19.
  • Clemson (then #13) loses to Georgia Tech (unranked), 3-13, which drops Clemson to #22.
  • Rutgers (then #10) loses to Maryland (unranked), 24-34, which drops Rutgers to #20.

This culminated to put catapult USF from #18 to #6 in the country, at least according to the AP. (USF went from #21 to #9 in the coaches poll.) Not bad.

This week, the streak of upsets continued, as Illinois (unranked) beat Wisconsin (then ranked #5), 31-26, and what was the biggest shock of them all, Stanford (unranked), who came in as 41-point underdogs, beat the University of Southern California (then ranked #2), 24-23. (In NFL terms — if this can even be spoken of in NFL terms — that’s like the Dolphins actually beating the Patriots this year.) The streak may have been stopped by LSU (#1) who won a very close game against UF (#9), 28-24.

How does this all fare for USF? Rather well, I think, aside from making the #5 spot a rather precarious position for a team to be in (it seems an accursed number this year). See, Louisiana State (ranked #1) just knocked off Tim Tebow — err, I mean the University of Florida (ranked #9), 28-24, so that pretty much pushes them out of the national title picture, by virtue of the fact that they’re now a two-loss team. Wisconsin is sure to get knocked down a few notches for their loss, meaning the #5 spot is open. And ex-#2 USC — well, their loss just cost them a shot at the national title, plain and simple, unless catastrophic upsets happen over the next few weeks. (Come to think about it, catastrophic upsets wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit.) So what does this mean? That this week’s AP poll (at least, the top 10 part of it) may look something like this:

  1. LSU
  2. Ohio State
  3. California
  4. South Florida (USF)
  5. Boston College
  6. South Carolina
  7. USC
  8. Oklahoma
  9. West Virginia
  10. Oregon

Now, this is all just a somewhat educated guess. And you may be wondering why I put Ohio State over California. Simply put, that team’s been putting the hurt on all their opponents, and they may well be considered a better team by the rather fickle AP poll. This is where I tend to trust the Coaches poll a bit more, though not by much. That poll will likely have USF at #7 this time around (currently it has USF at #9). Come to think of it, the Coaches poll may leave them at #9, and their rank may stay at #6 (or lower) in the AP poll after that performance in FAU. (Dear Bulls: next time, please don’t lose the ball 4 times to the 90th ranked defense. kthxbye!)

As of now, the national title picture looks to be an LSU/Ohio State or LSU/California match. Of course, should any of those teams fail, USF will be rightly in contention for the national title. LSU/South Florida, perhaps? Outside shot, it may be, but it seems a lot of outside shots have been making their way true this year.

I know a few people reading this will tell me “Do you think USF could be X (my team), which is ranked below them, in a match?” I think Sports Illustrated put it best:

You have South Florida No. 4. Do you honestly believe USF could beat [fill in more traditional school here]? Why shouldn’t I? The Bulls have already beaten Auburn (on the road) and West Virginia. In doing so, they’ve shown off an incredibly fast and suffocating defense, one that helps compensate for a thus-far ragged offense. It’s the same exact formula Florida rode to a national title last season. The biggest difference for South Florida: the extra word in its name.

So my answer, like SI’s, is a resounding “yes!” Unlike too many teams, USF’s been beating who it’s supposed to beat, and on top of that beating those it wasn’t supposed to beat. In fact, in a recent comment board I saw someone say “Do you think they could beat West Virginia in a rematch? I DON’T THINK SO!” Of course, this makes no sense, because USF’s beaten West Virginia twice in a row, once at West Virginia, once at Tampa. And could they beat the more traditional Florida powerhouses (UF, FSU, Miami)? Yes. Even with Tebow.

The next few weeks carry a deceptively strong test for USF. I say deceptively strong because any one of the teams they’re about to face — Central Florida, Rutgers (#21), Connecticut, and Cincinnati (#20) — can surprise them, Rutgers and Cincinnati, especially, and because they’re either ranked or ranked lowly it would be easy to underestimate them. As we’ve seen this year, this is the single biggest mistake a team can make. Just ask USC.

Go Bulls!

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[Edit: Poll numbers just came out. Here are the new rankings:

  1. LSU
  2. California
  3. Ohio State
  4. Boston College
  5. South Florida (USF)
  6. Oklahoma
  7. South Carolina
  8. West Virginia
  9. Oregon
  10. USC

I was surprisingly close.]