Living in an undefeated world
I’ve always preferred the NFL to college football. The players are superior, the coaching is better, the stakes are higher. And most of all, there are no politics, no computer systems or BCS rankings, no university presidents claiming to maintain the integrity of student athletes as they count their take after another sellout crowd.
But if there’s one place where college football surpasses the pro game, it’s in the excitement of an undefeated season. Currently, seven NFL teams sit at 3-0 — the Giants, Vikings, Saints, Jets, Ravens, Colts and Broncos — and a maximum of six of those teams will survive the weekend with an undefeated record (the Jets and Saints play each other today).
Even with the possibility of six teams completing the first quarter of the season undefeated, we fans still know the likelihood of any squad going 16-0 isn’t worth discussing. Perfection just doesn’t happen in the NFL unless, of course, you’re the 1972 Miami Dolphins or the 2007 New England Patriots.
There’s too much parity, too many games and too little separation between the best team and the 15th-best team.
In college football, however, perfection isn’t just attainable, it’s a prerequisite for any team with hopes of winning the national title. USC, for example, entered the season ranked No. 4 in the all-important, but completely pointless, preseason polls. Every August in Southern California begins with expectations of a national title — and expectations of perfection.
The Trojans quickly ruined their chances of going undefeated after losing 16-13 on the road at Washington on Sept. 19. Similarly, Oklahoma, the nation’s No. 3 team coming into the season, lost QB Sam Bradford and then lost to BYU at home on Sept. 5. Still, it remains more than probable that one of the current 13 undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) will be perfect at year’s end.
After all, in the last 20 years, an astounding 22 teams have gone unbeaten — with multiple teams putting up a zero in the loss column in 1991, 1994, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2004. Only three times over that 20-year span did college football go without an undefeated team: 1996, 2003 and 2007.
Until now, I’ve never experienced the excitement that comes with having an undefeated team this far into the season. In Iowa City, where I attend the University of Iowa, the Hawkeyes are 5-0. People are refusing to shave their beards until coach Kirk Ferentz’s squad loses. The National Football Post’s Matt Bowen has already started looking into accommodations in Pasadena. And the Nov. 14 Iowa-Ohio State contest is quickly becoming the hottest ticket of the Big Ten season.
On Tuesday, I sat in the basement of the Hayden Fry Football Complex on the Iowa campus as reporters lobbed questions at Ferentz. Near the end of the weekly press conference, a reporter asked Ferentz about the possibility of going 12-0 and playing in the national title game.
I laughed a little on the inside as Ferentz took the question in stride. Iowa hadn’t gone 5-0 since 1995, let alone 12-0. But in college football, perfection breeds hope, and hope breeds delusion.
Here, similar to the other 12 fellow undefeated schools, people are allowed to be delusional — at least until that dreaded loss happens. Then, all bets are off.
Scott Miller is a junior at the University of Iowa and a contributor to the National Football Post. Follow him on Twitter: @stmillr