Parity injects interest into college football

By Jeremy Werner

College football has always been one of the most exciting spectacles in sports, but there’s something about this year that ups the enthusiasm about it: parity.

Last week, five of the top-10 ranked teams in the nation were upset. This week, four more top-10 teams lost, highlighted by Stanford’s defeat of No. 2 USC and the Illini’s victory against then-No. 5 Wisconsin.

Currently, there is a glut of one-loss teams that have a chance to compete in the BCS Championship, but each now has the pressure of winning the remainder of its games just for a shot at the championship.

Even the Fighting Illini are in this group.

Parity is great in all sports. MLB had flashes from teams each year, like this year’s Colorado Rockies. Meanwhile, it is tough to break into the NBA’s elite, unless you luck into drafting a phenom such as LeBron James. But the NFL is the king of parity and thrives on it.

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    Each year, every team has at least a shot at making the playoffs in the NFL, and each year, teams fall from grace. Since 2001, the Super Bowl loser has almost always failed to make the playoffs the next season. The Chicago Bears seem intent on continuing this trend.

    Parity in the NFL is the result of player turnover, usually forced by the salary cap. Franchises are forced to purge themselves of key players and their contracts to remain under the NFL’s strict salary cap policy.

    This gives the NFL great marketability in smaller market cities.

    For example, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have an incredibly rough time competing in MLB because of their limited financial abilities due to playing in a smaller market. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have great financial success because each year they are able to, or at least have a chance to, put a competitive team on the field.

    Because there is no such thing as a salary for players in college football (right?), parity is a rarity (rhyme unintended).

    The only thing college football programs must overcome is player turnover forced by graduation, early entries into the NFL Draft and transfers. The way to combat this is to recruit well.

    Because this is not a daunting task for successful college teams, programs become dominant over long periods of time, such as USC, Oklahoma and Ohio State.

    But this season we have seen the giants felled by the little guys.

    Stanford entered Saturday’s game against USC as a 41-point underdog and likely caught USC looking past the Cardinal. In the NFL, one loss can hurt but can be overcome in the playoffs.

    But USC will now have to run the table to have a shot at another national title appearance, which doesn’t look likely with No. 2 California, No. 9 Oregon and No. 14 Arizona State remaining on the schedule.

    So how has all this chaos occurred on the college football landscape? It could be a hiccup from the loss of elite individual talent at the dominant schools in the past two years.

    A look at the Heisman race shows that no individual players are single-handedly carrying their teams to victories, like Vince Young, Brady Quinn and Adrian Peterson once did.

    The individual players who have starred this season have had little help from teammates.

    Despite Brian Brohm’s 2,415 yards and 20 TDs through six games, his Louisville team fell to 3-3 after a loss to unranked Utah Saturday.

    Most years, Michigan’s Mike Hart would be leading the Heisman race as he leads the nation with 976 yards rushing, but Michigan’s inexperienced defense and quarterback Chad Henne’s inconsistent play have led to a shaky start for the Wolverines.

    This has allowed the rise of surprising teams like Kentucky, Kansas and South Florida.

    An interesting tidbit: South Florida did not have a football program until 1997. Now it has the fifth-ranked team in the nation.

    The parity in college football has made this year one to remember so far. Each week fans have been amazed by the amount of upsets and turnovers at the top of the rankings. More teams have a realistic shot at competing in the BCS bowls than there have been in years past.

    Because of the uncertainty in college football so far, even fans in Champaign-Urbana can dream of smelling roses and not be laughed at. Well, at least for one week.

    Jeremy Werner is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].