Tulane, TCU show more parity is coming to the highest levels of college football

Quick Bit: College football can produce unexpected seasons, and the ceilings of those seasons are as high as they have ever been.

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Consider this stat: Once TCU plays Georgia in the national title game, the Horned Frogs and Cincinnati will have played in three College Football Playoff games. Penn State, Texas, USC, Auburn, Utah, Wisconsin and Miami have a combined zero.

Dare we say some parity is sneaking into the upper levels of college football?

Sure, it’s easy to point to the TCU and Tulane upsets in the Fiesta Bowl and Cotton Bowl to build the case. Two non-blueblood programs that finished under .500 recorded New Year’s 6 wins a year later — a concept pretty much inconceivable in the College Football Playoff era. Mighty Michigan was on the wrong end of a 51-45 thriller on Saturday, and USC was clipped at the buzzer 46-45 on Monday.

Is it an oversimplification to say there’s more parity? That the transfer portal and NIL are changing the sport?

BENDER: Where do Michigan, Ohio State go from here?

It may be easy, but it is also true. Yes, these were stunning upsets, but the point spreads said the games would be close. Michigan was favored by just over a touchdown against TCU, and USC was favored by less than a field goal against Tulane. When you strip away the names, these were not colossal upsets. Vegas and the betting public expected close games between quality teams, and close games are what we got.

The sport is always going to be dominated by blueboods that find the right coaches. Some combination of Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC, Oklahoma, LSU, Clemson, etc. is always going to make up a majority of the Top 10 in the preseason, during the season and the postseason.

But the door is now open for other programs to join. Cincinnati was in the College Football Playoff a year ago, culminating a two-year run that included a down-to-the-wire loss to Georgia in the Peach Bowl and a win at Notre Dame. TCU beat Texas and Oklahoma en route to a 12-1 record, then never trailed against Michigan en route to a national championship berth. And Tulane bounces back from a 2-10 season to beat eventual Big 12 champ Kansas State in the non-league, win an AAC title and knock off the Heisman Trophy winner in the Cotton Bowl to finish 12-2.

MORE: How Tulane pulled off improbable rally

Washington enjoyed a quicker-than-expected turnaround, from 4-8 to 11-2, thanks to a brilliant season from transfer quarterback Michael Penix. Tennessee was one of five schools that were unranked to start the season that went on to a New Year’s 6 bowl. It also started a transfer QB.

But it isn’t just transfers coming in and making an instant difference. Tulane’s turnaround has been based on the fact that the team has played together for several years, and close losses are turning into close wins. You see that in college basketball, where older, more veteran teams that play together for several seasons can have more successful seasons than more talented teams with multiple one-and-done players.

The talent composite rankings from 247Sports were long reliable when it came to projecting how teams would fare. Analysts tallied up the number of four- and five-star players each school signed out of high school, and at the top of the list lived teams such as Ohio State, Georgia and Alabama. And those teams are not going anywhere.

MORE: Winners and losers from wild bowl season

But what we are seeing is the sport can produce unexpected seasons, and the ceilings of those seasons are as high as they have ever been. With the 12-team playoff on deck in 2024, a sport that has risen to No. 2 in popularity in the U.S. is going to continue to grow with the influx of unexpected programs at the top. Administrators and coaches have told us the recent changes in the sport have been “unprecedented” over and over.

The results are starting to be, too. And that’s a good thing.

Originally found on Sporting News Read More

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