September is always the month in which college football seasons need to be given time to settle.
New players, new quarterbacks, new coordinators, new head coaches, new competitive dynamics in various divisions and conferences — flux is the constant, unpredictability is what’s predictable.
September is the month in which the most volatile results of a season typically emerge — remember Virginia beating BYU a few years ago? Recall Appalachian State over Michigan or Syracuse over Louisville in 2007?
Speaking of 2007, while we’re at it: What if a college football season never really settles down? What if volatility becomes the unchanging rule of an autumnal journey from late September through early December, as was the case eight years ago? Last year, September was pretty nutty: Ohio State lost at home to a Virginia Tech team which finished its 12-game schedule at 6-6. Michigan State-Oregon was three very different games packed into one 60-minute canvas in Eugene. Stanford forgot how to convert third and short, an unthinkable development in light of that team’s short-yardage prowess the previous four seasons. Oklahoma and Alabama didn’t look very convincing at all. Texas A&M went from brilliant to mediocre in a flash, and the SEC West turned into college football’s most confusing division.
That was September of 2014. Chaos.
This year, the national picture in September is also defined by chaos, but if you look a little closer, the sorting-out process which accompanies the first month of every college football season deserves a more specific theme. The label you can slap onto this year’s crazy and cluttered September is “imbalanced.”
We have imbalanced chaos in college football in 2015.
What does that mean? Wait no more — here’s the explanation:
Go through the various teams that are either soaring or struggling to a considerable extent in college football. Some of them are just plain bad on both sides of the ball, such as Arkansas, South Carolina, and Auburn, but for a great many teams, the “half-a-loaf” dynamic applies: One side of the ball is dragging down the whole operation.
Look at the ACC: Clemson, Louisville, Florida State, Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech — all of those teams ran into big tests this past weekend. For every team other than Louisville (which played Auburn), this was the first true test of the season. All of those games involved below-average performances (at best) on offense. Bobby Petrino, Jimbo Fisher, David Cutcliffe, Paul Johnson — four darn good offensive minds — could not unlock the talents of their offenses. Maybe this is just the process of getting through September nerves and guiding players to settle into the season. However, with competent offensive performances last week, Petrino, Cutcliffe and Johnson would have won. Fisher would have drummed Boston College by 28 more points than he did.
The question of the young season in the ACC is which offense is going to find itself — and stay that way — first? It’s part of the imbalance of the season, an imbalance which needs to be resolved by a team and its coaching staff.
Beyond that specific focus on offenses holding a team back, consider all the examples from Saturday and the season at large in which teams have won despite not having much of a passing game.
Northwestern, come on down!
LSU, right this way!
Ohio State, step right up!
UCLA, come join us!
Those are just some of the examples of teams getting by with defense and a running game, to varying degrees, at this moment. Future weeks and months will require such teams to be more balanced, but that moment hasn’t come just yet.
Then consider the teams which are imbalanced in other ways:
Alabama has the line play and the running backs but not the quarterbacks or the wide receivers.
USC has a rocking offense, but it doesn’t have a defense, a defensive coordinator, or a head coach. (KICK THE FIELD GOAL, SARK! YOU NEED TIME FOR TWO POSSESSIONS IN THE FINAL MINUTE AGAINST STANFORD!)
TCU has a hugely potent offense, but it has already lost 3,741 defensive starters to injury (that statistic is, of course, #UNOFFICIAL).
Notre Dame has terrific frontline talent, but as the season moves along, a lack of depth due to 7,622 injuries (#UNOFFICIALLY) could take its toll.
Memphis is all offense and no defense (but that offense is going to carry the Tigers through some tense situations).
Vanderbilt is all defense and no offense. Kentucky is in a similar spot — scoring 26 against South Carolina this year is like scoring 10 against just about anyone else.
You can go on and on through the various FBS teams, especially in the power conferences. Imbalance is the early theme of the season. Teams with half a loaf need to get the other half at the grocery store, or they’re not going to have the kind of postseason feast they planned on.
Beyond that, if enough teams don’t address their various imbalances — including the ones which are still unbeaten — we could have that 2007 season again, in which just about every team but Kansas ended not with two halves of a loaf, but two losses.