Here’s a little secret about polls and the voters who contribute to them, at least on the media side.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
We don’t mind being wrong.
That’s because missing the mark on ranking teams means upsets and upheaval over college football weekend, and through the season’s first 1 1/2 months, there was very little drama.
Among the top nine teams in the preseason polls, the only losses had been to each other: Alabama over Texas A&M, Clemson over Georgia, and Georgia over South Carolina.
There had been some surprises. Texas was swamped at Brigham Young, UCLA rolled at Nebraska, but nothing to sway voters or alter the national championship picture.
That started to change on Saturday, when two programs got their first signature victories in new conferences and a winning coach got to stiff-arm his critics.
Missouri, in its second year in the SEC, and Utah of the Pac-12, planted their flags.
The Tigers’ 41-26 triumph at seventh-ranked Georgia may have been viewed throughout much of the SEC footprint as a wild upset.
But to Missouri, revenge became a motivation. Georgia spoiled the Tigers’ SEC debut last year in a game that was more competitive than the 41-20 final score, and the Tigers spent some of their Friday night film study watching Georgia players leave Faurot Field chanting “grown man football,” a response to their style labeled “old man football” earlier in the week by former MU defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
Mizzou now settles in for a home stand of Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee but without starting quarterback James Franklin, whose shoulder separation Saturday will keep him out for several weeks. The Maty Mauk era begins in Columbia with expectations soaring.
Before entering the Pac-12 for the 2011 season, Utah had earned an anti-establishment power reputation, rolling to two undefeated season and BCS bowl victories, including a takedown of Nick Saban’s Alabama squad the year before he won his first national title there.
But the Utes didn’t exactly barrel into Pac-12 play, making Saturday’s 27-21 conquest of fifth-ranked Stanford all the more satisfying.
Utah came into the game a deceptive 0-2 in league play, an overtime loss to Oregon State and a touchdown decision to UCLA. The Utes could stay with Stanford, but could they overcome a program with designs on the BCS title game?
They did, by playing the Cardinal smash-mouth style better than the Cardinal, including a 99-yard scoring drive.
“They’re huge up front,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “These guys are bigger than we are. Nobody talks about that. They create issues.”
The issues surrounding Texas-Oklahoma went beyond rivalry supremacy, which had belonged to the Sooners recently. The seat had never been hotter under Longhorns coach Mack Brown, and given the chance to answer his critics after Texas’ convincing 36-20 victory, Brown said he was thinking only about the next opponent, TCU.
“I know it’s hard to believe,” Brown said. “But as a coaching staff we really don’t pay a whole lot of attention to what media say.”
Except perhaps for the polls. The wild weekend whisked Stanford and Georgia from the top 10 and jumped Missouri to No. 14.
As the second half of the season approaches, the drama is built in with clashes of titans, starting with this weekend’s showdown when No. 5 Florida State travels to No. 3 Clemson. A week later, UCLA visits Oregon, and LSU takes on Alabama and Texas A&M in November.
Losses by top-10 teams are guaranteed, and voters will have to work a little harder.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BlairKerkhoff.