Today is not the day to use the word "seismic," but there aren’t many adjective too strong for the shift in college football over the last three weeks. If you fell asleep on the night that Alabama beat Florida and Texas beat Nebraska to end an unusually uneventful regular season on Dec. 5, and didn’t wake up to survey the landscape until sometime next August, you’d think almost 10 years had passed.
Since Christmas alone…
Urban Meyer suddenly retired, then un-retired despite legitimate health concerns that could keep him from returning to the sideline this fall; Mike Leach was suspended and then fired by Texas Tech for allegedly isolating Craig James’ concussed son in not one but two separate enclosed spaces; Adam James subsequently released a creepy, dubious cell phone video from inside the infamous closet, and pass-happy Texas Tech hired a coach with an old school philosophy based on running and defense; Jim Leavitt was fired by South Florida for allegedly grabbing and slapping a player who later admitted to lying on his coaches behalf to save Leavitt’s job, which Leavitt immediately demanded back; Pete Carroll abruptly resigned to follow his NFL dreams, just days before news emerged that major NCAA sanctions against the program he led for nine years could be mere months away; within a few hours, Carroll had been replaced at USC by the sport’s biggest lightning rod, Lane Kiffin, whose departure nearly sparked riots in Tennessee, and who immediately set about reassembling the regime that oversaw the scandal that put the Trojans in the NCAA’s crosshairs in the first place.
Somewhere along the way, Bobby Bowden coached his 417th and final game at Florida State, Ohio State ended a decade-long Big Ten losing streak in the Rose Bowl, Boise State completed an undefeated season and Alabama won a national championship in a game in which a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist was knocked out on his team’s fifth offensive snap. Lately, that’s what qualifies as mundane.
I hesitate to predict an end to the thunderclaps, with the Tennessee and South Florida jobs still open and three frantic weeks to go until recruits officially sign on to their respective schools, but it’s certain already that the first season of the new decade will kick off with a landscape reminiscent of the flattened tress following the Tunguska Event. The reigning juggernauts on either coast, USC and Florida, will both be wracked by major attrition, uncertainty and, if Meyer fails to return, a potentially crippling regime change; their mantle of sustained dominance has apparently been assumed by Alabama. The two most unique and consistently entertaining coaches in the country, Pete Carroll and Mike Leach, each vacated his post under wildly different circumstances within days of one another. The most feted quarterbacks of the last three years, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford, will be struggling for respect in the NFL. Notre Dame’s latest (and most promising) reclamation project is underway. Boise freakin’ State has a significant chance to open the 2010 season ranked in the top five, and to close it at No. 1. So does Oregon, which not that long ago would have seemed every bit as awkward in the frontrunner role as Boise.
Actually, the idea of a Ducks-Broncos rematch for the 2010 title would be all too appropriate: They kicked off last fall with the only moment of the regular season that matched the last few weeks for surprise and sheer unbelievability, and would make it abundantly clear to the world how thoroughly the old order has been overthrown. Maybe we’re not there yet — the other likely favorites will be more familiar powers Alabama and Ohio State — but the changing of the calendar has done a remarkable job of reminding us to check our assumptions at the door.