College football is a sport built on history. Traditions are created, passed along, and codified into the local lexicon with regularity. The origins of just about every offensive and defensive play call have their roots in the past and just about every result is viewed through the prism of success established over the course of the previous decades.
Over the years, the coach-speak has been passed down from generation to generation as well. How often have you heard phrases like "taking things one game at a time" or that a team simply has to "focus on the fundamentals to get the job done?" One line that has risen in popularity lately is being 1-0 on the week.
The thing is though, if college football history has taught us anything, not every 1-0 is equal in this great sport. Likewise, neither is every 0-1.
Week 11 was a great reminder of this inequality amid the absolute of the win-loss column.
Just ask Cincinnati, which beat South Florida 45-28 on Friday in Tampa to remain undefeated on the season. Winning games at any level is hard and the Bearcats have been doing it at a rate pretty much unmatched by any peer in any conference (18-1 the past two years). Yet the Bearcats find themselves locked into a debate that is not really of their choosing — with every win being viewed through the prism of the College Football Playoff and all 60 minutes up for far more debate than the ultimate judge of the final scoreboard.
Truthfully, the Bearcats struggled for stretches Friday night against a Bulls team that, while improving, remains rooted at the bottom of the AAC and Group of Five in general. Blame injuries, bad play-calling or whatever floats your boat but this isn’t a Cincinnati squad that passed that nebulous eye test of being one of the true great teams of the season (and certainly hasn’t since mid-October). They were even bumped off the TV for another kind of football in their home city (where, it should be noted, 2-0 scores against opponents south of the border are all cherished equally). This is simply the space the program occupies right now where every close win is a referendum on Luke Fickell’s crew and the full weight of each victory being lessened before the clock even hits zero.
A day later and a few miles over in the same state, Dan Mullen came to find this out too. Florida won and put up 70 points in the process on just 69 plays, nice numbers that are impressive for any team. Of course, it was the fact that the Gators allowed 52 to an FCS team that got people talking far more about the substance of the program. Such a victory was perhaps more damning about Mullen’s tenure in Gainesville than last week’s blowout loss to South Carolina.
So yes, you can still lose while winning and Samford scoring the most points UF had ever allowed in the first of a game underscores that rather succinctly.
"Calling a win disappointing is disrespectful to the game," Mullen said afterward, missing the point (and the narrative) again with a comment that is bound to infuriate his fan base even further.
Such unevenness is there anywhere you look. Tennessee lost but earned a moral victory by scoring 17 on Georgia's defense and continuing to earn belief from the Vols faithful in this year’s team after such low preseason expectations. Ole Miss knocking off Texas A&M had the added benefit of likely sending Lane Kiffin and company to a New Year’s Six bowl despite just the singular move up the SEC West standings. UTSA kept its sheet clean but struggled to put away Southern Miss and the Roadrunners' near all-Wildcat offense were among their biggest dents to the aura of perfection they’ve been sporting lately.
Few however, can come close to knowing just how much a loss can mean things far greater than just one L and vice versa than watching Kansas outlast Texas 57-56 in overtime.
For the Jayhawks, the win counts the same in their overall record as their three-point victory over FCS South Dakota (themselves winners on Saturday over a rival off a Hail Mary) at the beginning of the season. It nominally holds the same value in Big 12 standings as their upset of Texas Tech did in 2019.
Yet all who watched the events unfold in Austin know that the outcome will reverberate far beyond Week 11. It was not only Kansas' first time to emerge victorious in nine trips to the home of the burnt orange but carried added significance in about a dozen different ways. This was David slaying Goliath — and a 13-year road losing streak in conference play at the same time. This was one of the universally accepted worst Power Five programs slaying one almost universally praised as a top-five job whenever such debates are had.
This is one of the universities who faced an arduous and difficult road the past few months amid a fresh round of conference realignment socking it to the ones who put them in such a position with their SEC invitation back in August.
For head coach Lance Leipold on down to the youngest of Kansas fans out there, this was something that will be brought up for years to come with glowing reverence no matter how many other wins follow in 2021 and beyond. That kind of weight is hard to come by for an outcome that tends to be reduced to just a 1 on the left-hand side of a dash.
The Longhorns too see the one-point loss (in the added frame where they failed to get a stop on just a single play) as taking on added significance. As bad as things have been around Austin the past decade-plus for one of the sport’s self-described Joneses, this might well be rock-chalkin'-bottom and a nadir Steve Sarkisian may never recover from no matter how many years his tenure may ultimately last.
1-0? 0-1? Those numbers mean a lot more than their binary results would suggest each and every week in college football.
Some may find that endearing. Some may find it trying. Like it or not though, we were reminded in Week 11 that such numbers do lie and every outcome means just a little bit more than the absolutes they are often assigned.
Tweet(s) of the Week
Play(s) of the Week
Too many this week to limit so here’s all of them:
Stat of the Week
Make It Make Sense Item of the Week
No Really, Make It Make Sense
Superlatives of the Week
Best player: Will Rogers, Mississippi State
Team of the Week: Kansas
Goat of the Week: Steve Sarkisian
Heisman Five: 1. Kenneth Walker III (Michigan State), 2. Will Anderson (Alabama), 3. Matt Araiza (San Diego State), 4. Jordan Davis (Georgia), 5. Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon)
Projected Playoff: 1. Alabama, 2. Georgia, 3. Ohio State, 4. Oklahoma State
Projected New Year’s Six: Cotton Bowl — Georgia vs. Ohio State, Orange Bowl — Alabama vs. Oklahoma State, Rose Bowl — Oregon vs. Michigan State, Sugar Bowl — Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma, Fiesta Bowl — Michigan vs. Notre Dame, Peach Bowl — Cincinnati vs. Wake Forest
The Super 16
Here’s my ballot in this week’s FWAA/NFF Super 16 Poll:
3. Ohio State
4. Oklahoma State
5. Michigan State
7. Notre Dame
8. Wake Forest
11. Ole Miss
15. San Diego State
Oregon at Utah
The Ducks have played about two good quarters all season but finally applied a little extra down the stretch against Wazzu and put the Cougars away in ways they haven’t so far. Going to Rice-Eccles Stadium against a salty team that loves to get after the QB can be a recipe for disaster but something says Oregon does just enough to escape Salt Lake City thanks to some timely turnovers in the second half. The Pick: Ducks +3
Michigan State at Ohio State
There were times against Purdue where OSU had that death machine look, where the talent disparity on hand was stark. Then the Buckeyes seemingly had a few lapses in concentration and the Boilermakers were able to do a few things that Sparty might be able to exploit. The Buckeyes get the win eventually but this, as Lee Corso reminds, will be closer than the experts think. The Pick: Michigan State +18
SMU at Cincinnati
If ever UC could save their best and lay it on a conference opponent, it needs to be this came with all the attention that comes with a showdown against the Mustangs’ high-powered offense. Injuries have piled up for Luke Fickell’s side but not enough to pick against the Bearcats at home. The Pick: SMU +13
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.