Column: Who could have forecast these college football surprises?
We have reached the halfway point of a season that has already taken on a half-life of its own.
What the prognosticators never, in a million years, could have seen coming:
• Both USC coaches are off the job two weeks before Halloween, one fired, the other resigned, on the same day.
The University of Southern California dismissed Steve Sarkisian on Monday, a few hours before the the resignation of the University of South Carolina’s coach, Steve Spurrier, became known.
As news goes, that’s like dropping the microphone and walking offstage.
The schools have tangled in court over the use of “USC,” but never did we think they’d meet like this.
The events were equally shocking, in different ways.
It took something as traumatic as Sarkisian coping with personal demons to imagine he would not be coaching USC’s game at Notre Dame.
And who could have guessed his last game as USC coach would come against Washington, the team he left?
Spurrier is 70, and sort of hinted at retirement after last year’s 7-6 finish. Yet, the Head Ball Coach sounded rejuvenated last summer and talked about coaching four or five more years.
He joked at Southeastern Conference media days that he was “the youngest coach in the SEC that’s won four straight bowl games.”
Then the season happened, and South Carolina fell to 0-4 in SEC play. Spurrier never could stand losing.
He poked, prodded and agitated his way through a career in which everyone, and thing, was fair game.
About Georgia he said: “I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”
He said FSU stood for “Free Shoes University” and once lamented a fire in the Auburn bookstore because “Twenty of the books hadn’t been colored yet.”
Most of all, Spurrier could coach. He won one national title, at Florida in 1996, and his Fun ‘n’ Gun offense revolutionized the stodgy SEC.
Spurrier was the first to dare suggest offense, not defense, wins championships. He landed at Florida in 1990 and went 122-27-1, winning six SEC titles. After a regrettable two-year detour to the NFL’s Washington Redskins, Spurrier went to South Carolina in 2005 and restored pride and victories against Clemson.
Spurrier is the only coach to have compiled the most career wins at two SEC schools: Florida (122) and South Carolina (86).
• Iowa (No. 17) ranked ahead of UCLA (No. 18) in the Associated Press media and USA Today coaches’ polls.
Iowa finished 7-6 last season under Coach Kirk Ferentz, whose program seemed to have been regressing for years. Yet the Hawkeyes are undefeated, with a win over Wisconsin, and perched ahead of a UCLA team many thought was playoff bound.
• Michigan State entering as the underdog when it plays at Michigan on Saturday.
The Spartans entered the season coming off a major bowl win over Baylor at No. 5 in the AP preseason poll. Michigan was coming off Brady Hoke.
Everyone thought Michigan would turn around under Jim Harbaugh, but not on a dime, and especially not after getting muscled around in an opening loss at Utah.
• Florida’s national title hopes derailed by starting quarterback Will Grier’s testing positive for a banned substance.
Florida wasn’t supposed to be in the national title chase this season, and Grier didn’t even start the season opener.
The starter in the opener was Treon Harris, who now steps in for Saturday’s trip to Louisiana State.
“I really hope people can learn from this and learn from my mistake,” an emotional Grier said at a news conference.
• Oregon and USC, the teams picked to win the North and South divisions of the Pac-12 Conference, both have two home losses.
The Ducks and the Trojans have gone from preseason No. 7 and No. 8 to unranked.
• Pac-12 road teams with a 10-5 edge. What happened to home-field advantage?
The road wins: UCLA over Arizona, USC over Arizona State, Oregon over Colorado, Stanford over USC, Washington State over Oregon, Utah over Oregon, Washington over USC, Arizona State over UCLA, Stanford over Oregon State, California over Washington.
Other “when pigs fly” moments:
• Temple is 5-0 for the first time since 1974. That season, the Owls moved to 6-0 with a win over Delaware before losing consecutive games to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
The Owls’ next three games are against Central Florida, East Carolina and Notre Dame.
• Toledo (5-0) hasn’t been this highly ranked (No. 22 in AP and No. 25 by coaches) since finishing No. 22 in the final AP poll of 2001.
How high can the Rockets fly? Toledo’s highest ranking was No. 12 in the final AP poll of 1970.
Follow Chris Dufresne on Twitter @DufresneLATimes
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