Is cramming the cause of all the early upsets in NCAA volleyball?
Don't get too hung up on the number in front of the name right now in NCAA volleyball. Nine of the top 10 teams from last week's AVCA national poll have suffered at least one loss.
The exception: BYU (8-0), which started the season ranked eighth and ascended to the No. 1 spot Monday for the first time since 1986.
What's going on? Let's take a look at the most significant upsets from last week:
• Minnesota, which started the week as the top-ranked team, fell to No. 18 Oregon in a four-setter in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge on Friday. The Ducks had not defeated a No. 1 team since dismissing Penn State in the 2012 national semifinals. While Oregon dominated multiple statistical categories, junior Ronika Stone was huge in hitting a career-best .615 with 19 kills. The Gophers then picked up their second loss of the season -- to former No. 1 Stanford on Sunday.
• We alluded to Wisconsin and all its weapons last week after it upset Texas. But the Badgers could not find an answer for Baylor sophomore Yossiana Pressley, who had 32 kills Friday in the Bears' four-set win. The Bears, ranked 15th last week, had never beaten a team ranked as high as No. 2. A night later, Baylor was beaten in five by Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). The Vaqueros, it is believed, have never beaten a higher-ranked team.
• No. 8 Florida, which upset Nebraska to open the season, fell to Northern Arizona -- another milestone for an under-the-radar program. The Lumberjacks were 0-13 against ranked opponents heading into Friday's date with the Gators, last year's NCAA runners-up. The five-setter was the first victory by a Big Sky team over a ranked opponent since 2006.
• UCLA, which came into the week unbeaten and ranked No. 9, played No. 22 Cal Poly twice and lost both. The rematch from last year's NCAA tournament second round marked the first time the Mustangs had beaten UCLA since 1985.
• Pitt, which came into the week ranked one spot below Washington at No. 13, swept the Huskies; at 9-0, the Panthers are off to their best start since 1983.
• Unranked Tennessee notched its 900th program victory by upsetting 16th-ranked San Diego in the second of the two matches the teams played. The Vols got swept by the Toreros on Friday before beating them in four Saturday.
• Unranked Villanova took out No. 21 Utah in five in the opening game of the Villanova Invitational.
• Unranked Georgia defeated No. 24 Colorado in four in the opening game of the Buffs Invitational.
Nebraska coach John Cook offers a couple of theories about the unpredictable results. His Huskers went 2-0 last week but didn't avoid the drama, dropping two sets to No. 14 Creighton for the first time in the 16-match history of the series. But Nebraska pulled it together in five.
"When you play three matches in two days, teams open themselves up," he said. "It's hard enough to play one match in a day and play well. It's really hard to play two matches in two days well. Now you've got to do it three times. That opens teams up to upsets."
Baylor, for example, faced UTRGV on Saturday morning, just 17 hours after the start of Friday's match against Wisconsin. The Gators beat CSUN on Saturday morning only to square off against Northern Arizona that same night.
On Aug. 24, Creighton beat Kentucky, ranked fifth at the time, in five, only to be swept by Northern Iowa later that night.
Cook said one of the proposals going forward centers on teams having the same number of play dates but spreading out the matches more to avoid facing different opponents twice in a day or twice in 24 hours. "It's something that's got to be looked at," he said. "It's not good for the athletes."
In noting that Nebraska retired Sarah Pavan's jersey on Sunday (the Canadian was the AVCA national player of the year in 2006, a three-time Big 12 player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player of the 2006 national championship), Cook said players of her elite caliber are not as common these days. But, "there's so many upper-20 percent-level players spread across all these programs," he said. "I think college volleyball is going to go similar to college basketball. On any given night, anybody can win. There's more overall talent; there's more girls playing. They're developing in clubs now, and they're used to playing each other in club so they're not intimidated."
Amid the chaos, BYU continues to roll. The Cougars, who took out a pair of ranked teams over the weekend in USC and Marquette after upsetting Stanford on Aug. 31, close out their nonconference slate by hosting Utah on Thursday and heading to Weber State on Saturday.