This 2015 Ohio State team is not the 2014 Ohio State team.
Alabama certainly isn't '92, Georgia isn't '80, USC isn't '72 and Notre Dame isn't '43, '47, '24 or even '88.
But you know what? That's OK. We don't need a team to be chiseled in granite for a season to go down in history.
In fact, the only certainty about this most uncertain of seasons is that whichever of the four playoff teams ultimately ends up atop this greased pole of a year won't be among the greatest college football teams of all time. Heck, the Buckeyes, the team we all thought had three too many quarterbacks, suddenly look like they don't even have an offense. Auburn was supposed to be the one serious SEC West contender without any QB issues, but on Saturday night, Jeremy Johnson said he wouldn't be upset if he got benched. "No, not at all," he admitted to reporters, shaking his head as he tried to wrap it around a 45-21 loss at LSU.
One week ago, Ole Miss was overrated, Alabama's development was ahead of schedule, USC was back, Stanford was done, UCLA had something to prove, BYU couldn't lose, Georgia QB Greyson Lambert couldn't toss a football into the back of a dump truck and ... hey, just take everything we thought we knew and do what I did with my shirt when I hightailed it out of an East Lansing hotel Sunday to catch my 6 a.m. flight back to Charlotte.
Turn it inside out.
In fact, enjoy turning it inside out. But how do you do that, particularly if your team went down? By knowing that every weekend that plays out like this last one will be the equivalent to cranking up the thermostat in the College Football Playoff selection committee conference room, at a rate of 5 degrees a week. By the time the 13 members finally convene in Dallas for the first vote on Nov. 3, they'll feel like they're meeting inside the smoker at North Main BBQ.
That's how the teams and their coaches already look.
On Saturday afternoon, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio took his place at the podium in the media room beneath Spartan Stadium. He was not smiling. That was not a surprise. Yukking it up has never really been his thing. But Dantonio was actually happy ... no, check that, relieved. His now-second-ranked Spartans had just outlasted Air Force and its triple-option offense 35-21.
Dantonio was peppered with questions about leaving the starters in for so long and at what point, if ever, did he think about getting his first team off the field, especially during this college football's season of triage.
"Honestly, I never felt comfortable. I never felt like the game was out of reach, even when it was 35-7," he said of a game in which Sparty led from the first series on. "Maybe it felt out of reach to the common man ... but not to the common coach."
In 2015, nothing feels out of reach. It surely doesn't feel comfortable. The smoldering pile of preseason magazines I just threw out reminds us all that it is anything but predictable.
But that's OK. I'll take 11 more autumn weekends just like No. 3.
And two more in January.
The Phantom Menace 'This Should Have Gone Much Better' Award: ACC
The big-time stage was set for the ACC to make a big-time statement. Again. It failed to do so. Again. Clemson had the national spotlight to itself Thursday night, but a pair of early interceptions from would-be dark-horse Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson set the tone for a lackluster 20-17 win at Louisville. Florida State had the national spotlight to itself Friday night but slopped its way to a hard-to-watch 14-0 win at Boston College. Georgia Tech was picked by many (including me on the Championship Drive podcast) to knock off semi-ACC member Notre Dame at home. It didn't. Duke fell at home to Northwestern, Pitt lost at Iowa, and Wake Forest (Army), Syracuse (Central Michigan) and Virginia (William & Mary) all barely escaped lesser opponents.
The Frank Reich Backup QB of the Week Award: Zack Bednarczyk, Villanova
I nearly went with "the entire ACC," seeing as how five quarterbacks have gone down over the first three weekends, including three in Week 3. But most of those QBs were adequate, at best. Not Bednarczyk, who came off the bench to relieve John Robertson midway through the fourth quarter of the Wildcats' big FCS game at Delaware, immediately throwing a tying TD pass and then marching 74 yards on six plays to win it, capped by a 21-yard TD run. Why is this a big deal? Because Robertson is the defending Walter Payton Award winner, the FCS version of the Heisman. He beat out current Oregon QB Vernon Adams for the honor. (Speaking of Adams, smart move by Oregon to keep him benched and start longtime backup Jeff Lockie against Georgia State.) Honorable mention: Drew Lock, Missouri. No, the freshman didn't look much better than the man he replaced, Maty Mauk, but, well, the Tigers won. That's something, right? Speaking of something, did you see the play that UConn lost on?
The Comeback of the Week Award (also named for Frank Reich): Miami
Yeah, the Hurricanes blew a 23-point lead in the fourth quarter against Nebraska, but after all the air (and a huge swath of fans) had been sucked out of Sun Life Stadium, The U rallied in overtime. Afterward, coach Al Golden even managed a smile. The people who bought those #FIREALGOLDEN banners, probably not so much.
If you can't take the heat ...
At Wisconsin, a bellowing fire alarm interrupted the Badgers' 28-3 win over Troy. The cause was explained in an official statement as cultivated by intrepid ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy: "a heat detector near pizza oven in the main kitchen at Camp Randall Stadium caused stadium's fire alarm system to activate."
Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades ...
But wait, these guys actually have hand grenades! Army is now 0-3 and has lost those games by a combined 10 points.
The Think Before You Speak Award, presented by Proverbs 12:18: Rudy Ford, Auburn
That was my grandma's favorite Bible verse, where King Solomon advised, "There are those who speak rashly, like the piercing of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Perhaps someone should print that out and tape it to the marker board in the Auburn defensive meeting room, lest someone else choose to say it "shouldn't be that difficult" to stop another running back like LSU's Leonard Fournette, whose ridiculous effort against Auburn was stopped only by his own exhaustion. Bayou Bengals coach Les Miles already did something similar, printing out Ford's quote and taping it to Fournette's locker last week. At the very least, someone should make sure Grandma's favorite verse is read on The Plains before Georgia's Nick Chubb comes to town Nov. 14. Honorable mention: Bret Bielema, Arkansas. Since calling out the Big Ten for not playing tough-enough schedules, his Hogs have lost to Toledo and Texas Tech. Speaking of Tech, apparently Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury had been sitting on some anger about comments Bielema made months ago at a high school coaches conference. He ain't sitting on that anger anymore.
The guy you should know about but probably don't: Aaron Burbridge, WR, Michigan State
Burbridge is officially listed on the Spartans' depth chart as "X." On Saturday against Air Force, that stood for "X marks the spot," as the 6-foot-1, 208-pound junior hauled in 156 receiving yards and three touchdowns, including perhaps the most acrobatic catch of the season. The only person more amazed at that catch than all of us in the press box was the guy defending him. So, pretty good day, right? It's even better when you realize he entered the game with only 218 yards and one TD. It's even bigger when you realize he'd had one 100-yard receiving day in three years and has now had three in three weeks. And it's even BIGGER when you realize that this is a team that had been in search of a deep threat. So, you kids out there might want to scribble "Conner Cook to Aaron Burbridge" onto a Post-it to pull back out when the Spartans resume playing big games four weeks from now.
Speaking of the Air Force-Michigan State game ...
Let's take a moment to pause and savor the greatest name in college football, Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer.
The team you should know about but probably don't: Memphis
This isn't the same Tigers team that used to be regular residents of the Bottom 10. And it certainly isn't the program that produced perhaps the greatest college football news conference of all time, Tommy West's fare-thee-well lecture of 2009. On Saturday, Memphis went to 3-0 by ruining Bowling Green's home opener, winning a 44-41 thriller that included a double-reverse, flea-flicker TD pass that tied the score at 41. No, really. Memphis ranks top-10 in the nation in points scored (No. 5) and total yards (No. 8). Which brings us to ...
The game you should be psyched for but probably aren't: Cincinnati at Memphis
Thursday night on ESPN, the Tigers will host the Bearcats at the Liberty Bowl for what is suddenly a very important game in the American, as well as one that should influence potential Group of 5 bowl berths.
Extra point: File this under the "See? Dana Holgorsen was right!" On Saturday, the Valparaiso Crusaders won 86-0, rushing for 333 yards and racking up 10 sacks. But none that will ever appear in any official record book. Why? Because their opponent was the Arkansas-based College of Faith, and while the Warriors might come out to play, the first-year Division II program is on the NCAA's Schools That Aren't Real list. OK, that's not what the list is called. It's officially the "non-countable opponents" list, a roster of schools that are either too small, too new or too fake to be recognized as a legit contest. And, as some intrepid Internet sleuths pointed out, that non-countable opponent has unusable uniforms. One photo that started making the social media rounds shows College of Faith with holes in their britches as big as the holes in their defense. No truth to the rumor that Baylor has scheduled them for 2016.