Bret Bielema stepped in it. He puffed out his chest with hot air. His SEC pride balloon was popped by an unlikely pin.
Arkansas’ stunning loss to Toledo should serve as a reminder to coaches who want to sell stock in their conferences before the leaves turn. Pride coming before fall Saturdays often turns into plain pride before the fall.
Bielema propping up the strength of the Razorbacks’ schedule while marginalizing that of Ohio State was an easy target for derision. The well-traveled coach delivers a great quote, but has a proclivity for ruffling feathers. Playing eight ranked teams is an uphill task. Putting too much stock in preseason rankings, however, is an easier obstacle to avoid tripping over.
While Bielema deserved criticism at the time he made his statement — and doubly so after losing to a MAC team at home — his regrettable bit of forecasting is an example of a greater truth.
College football’s uncertainty, especially during a season’s infancy, is the only certainty. Pundits and program-runners alike don’t have clear crystal balls. The pendulum of perception can swing violently. That unpredictability is what makes the game so great.
Look no further than last weekend’s marquee game. Vernon Adams’ health and ability to run the Oregon’s breakneck offense were question marks. Michigan State’s status as a serious threat to Ohio State and for playoff consideration were open to debate. Both teams left Spartan Stadium with answers. Adams looks to be a capable replacement for Marcus Mariota. Mark Dantonio has his program-defining regular season win.
Tennessee and Oklahoma squared off in a battle featuring two teams not to be trusted in big games. Tennessee’s youthful exuberance was on full display for a half. Seeking just its second win against a ranked team in the last 29 tries, the Volunteers appeared poised to banish that particular orange-clad monkey off their backs. The dream unraveled thanks to Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield announcing his presence in the 4th quarter in hostile territory.
Every week the dormant and left for dead rise. Conversely, the seemingly immortal look very mortal.
Last week Ohio State’s offense was anointed with every available superlative. Serious football minds were floating the idea the three-headed monster of Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott and Braxton Miller would average 60 points a game. No one, it seems, expected a Roy G. Biv-inspired Hawaii defense to allow fewer points than the American flag has stars. The prevailing feeling is this was just a bump in the road for the Buckeyes’ steam-rolling national title defense. Print those back-to-back t-shirts at your own peril.
Auburn needed overtime and an overly conservative kneel down to best Jacksonville State, another presumed appertif before a challenging Southern-fried SEC schedule. Not exactly an inspiring performance by a 39-point favorite. This lackluster display alone would have been enough to shoot holes in Bielema’s SEC-is-best narrative. After Arkansas’ loss, it’s just icing on the cake for the Danny Kanells of the world.
We’re all experts on Friday night and yet we’re all confused and hungover on Sunday morning as we wake up and try to find the keys to college football’s jerky ride. It’s easy to revel in Bielema’s schadenfreude. But he wasn’t the first — and certainly won’t be the last — to fall victim to it. The sooner we realize no one really knows anything, the better.
Why? Because it’s not a negative. Carefully mapping out a path and then watching it all go to hell allows the pieces to be put back together again — a worthwhile, albeit humbling, tradition.