In college basketball, they call them mid-majors -- teams from small conferences that take down the power teams in March Madness. Lately, those mid-major teams -- Butler in particular -- have crept into the Final Four and made it to the brink of winning the whole thing.
We’re not quite that close to a mid-major winning the title in college football. But all of a sudden, the sport is crawling with Butlers.
Middle Tennessee State thumped Georgia Tech by three touchdowns in Atlanta last weekend. Its Sun Belt colleague Louisiana-Monroe beat Arkansas and scared Auburn and Baylor half to death. Louisiana Tech of the WAC (more on the Bulldogs later) just beat Illinois and Virginia back-to-back on the road. Ohio beat Penn State. Central Michigan beat Iowa. Northern Illinois beat Kansas. The top three or four teams in the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 still dominate everybody else. But if you formed an “Avengers”-style squad out of the 10 best mid-majors this year, wouldn’t you take that conference over the real Big Ten?
Now that dozens of college games are on TV every week, players don’t have to go to a big school to get exposure. Mid-majors experiment to get more out of less talent; in general, they’re more fun to play for. Mid-majors probably can’t put together the strength of schedule to break into the BCS title game or even a four-team playoff. (Boise State got close.) But if we ever get to an eight-team playoff, watch out. Twenty years down the road, there’s going to be the football equivalent of Butler vs. Duke. And it’s going to be magnificent.
On to this week’s True Top Ten. Remember, the TTT isn’t about which team is most talent, or who might win a hypothetical matchup -- it’s about which team is having the best SEASON so far.
1. Oregon State (3-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Arizona 38-35.
Two strong road wins plus a home win vs. Wisconsin equals the best schedule any team has played without a loss. The other thing that tells me the Beavers are legit? They’ve won three games in three different styles -- a defensive battle (10-7 over Wisconsin), a shootout (38-35 at Arizona) and something in between (27-20 at UCLA).
A few reasons to love Oregon State: It's 3-0 this year after going 3-9 last year. The players give coach Mike Riley a round of applause after every meeting. After both road wins this year, Riley took the team to In-N-Out (they don't have one in Corvallis). Its pregame video makes me like Phil Collins again AND makes me want to go to Corvallis, even though it doesn't have an In-N-Out.
These are also reasons to love college football in general. Next up: at Washington State.
2. Kansas State (4-0)
3. Notre Dame (4-0)
Neither team played last weekend, both teams slide down a notch. Next up for K-State: Kansas. Next up for Notre Dame: Miami (in Chicago).
4. Florida State (5-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. South Florida 30-17.
A typical game for a good team coming off a big win: struggle against an OK opponent on the road, make a couple of breaks to win. This one was tight until FSU scored twice in the last 34 seconds of the third quarter. Lots of elite teams had a hard time with lesser opponents Saturday -- Georgia almost let Tennessee outscore it, and South Carolina was down 10 to Kentucky in the first half. Surviving when you’re flat is the key to a championship season. Next up: at N.C. State.
5. Florida (4-0)
Idle last week. Big ‘un in Gainesville this week. LSU won 41-11 last year. I suspect it’ll be a lot closer this time. Next up: LSU.
6. Alabama (5-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Ole Miss 33-14.
Stat of the Week, No. 1: When Ole Miss went up 7-6 early in the second quarter, the Crimson Tide trailed for the first time all season. Christion Jones then ran the kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown. So now Alabama has trailed for a total of 15 seconds. You know Nick Saban is TICKED about those 15 seconds. Next up: at Missouri (Oct. 13).
7. Ohio State (5-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Michigan State 17-16.
I was in Columbus two weeks ago to watch Ohio State play UAB, and based on what I saw, the Buckeyes have exactly one star player: quarterback Braxton Miller. But on Saturday he ran for 136 yards and completed the one long pass he needed -- a 63-yard touchdown to Devin Smith that put the Buckeyes ahead for good. In a conference as weak as the Big Ten this year, one great player puts you on top. Next up: Nebraska.
8. Texas (4-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Oklahoma State 41-36.
Stat of the Week, No. 2: Oklahoma State is averaging 56 points a game, and it’s 2-2. Texas proved it can score in bunches last Saturday. Which is good, because it’s about to need that skill. Next up: West Virginia.
(By the way: LSU-Florida at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, followed by Georgia-South Carolina and Texas-WVU at 7. Shower, kiss your spouse and take care of your restroom needs by 3:25.)
9. Louisiana Tech (4-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Virginia 44-38.
Stat of the Week, No. 3: Louisiana Tech has scored 31 or more unanswered points in back-to-back road games against BCS-conference teams. I’m officially lobbying for a round robin with LSU, La. Tech and UL-Monroe next season. Next up: UNLV.
10. Oregon (5-0)
LAST WEEK: Def. Washington State 51-26.
Partial credit to the Ducks for playing a semi-road game -- this was in Seattle instead of Wazzu’s normal home in Pullman. Oregon might not face a tough test until Nov. 3 at USC. I never trust teams that have it too easy early in the season. Next up: Washington.
Dropping out: Rutgers.
Bubbling under: Northwestern, Louisville, Georgia, South Carolina, West Virginia.