We're roughly halfway through the 2014 season, and the endgame is as muddled as ever. The No. 1 ranking just changed, only six undefeated FBS teams remain, and a pair of teams from Mississippi threatens to upend the whole landscape.
Ah, but is it as crazy as the 2007 season, which ended with two-loss LSU capturing the BCS National Championship, the season that reigns as the gold standard of carnage in college football? Let's take a look at the two and figure it out.
1. Rankings chaos
If there's one thing that stands out about the 2007 season, it's the near-constant shuffle of teams in and out of the upper echelon of the polls. After a relatively smooth first five weeks, the top five became a disaster area.
Here's the week-by-week AP Top 25 breakdown in 2007, counting the preseason poll as the first of the year. Teams that received first-place votes are listed in bold, and teams out of the top five that also received first-place votes are also listed.
Let's track the wins and losses of each team in the top five each week.
That's a 47-20 record for each team that entered a game while bearing a top-five ranking, or the rough equivalent of a single team having a 9-4 season. That includes a horrific 2-7 stretch for the No. 2 spot in the AP, spelling doom for championship projections on a weekly basis.
All told, 10 different teams occupied a spot in the rankings that would have put them in the BCS Championship had they won out, as the BCS' top two matched the AP's each week (Georgia doesn't count, since its No. 2 AP appearance happened after the title game).
Here's the same group in 2014:
That's a 26-4 top-five record thus far, or the rough equivalent of each spot going about 11-2 for a full year. That's less than half the loss rate from the full 2007 season. Ho-hum, right?
And yet, 2007 started out rather quietly as well. Like 2014, the carnage didn't kick into gear until the month of October. It only really got weird in the last third of the season.
It's too early to predict 2014's chaos to equal 2007's. It's like comparing a new band to Radiohead because their debut album sounds like Pablo Honey. Like, great, but we've gotta wait for the next OK Computer before that talk even starts. Basically, I'm comparing Florida State losing to "Paranoid Android."
But one difference in 2014's favor is the number of teams receiving first-place votes. In 2007, it took a horrific USC loss in Week 6 to open things up. An average of 3.2 teams per week ended up received No. 1 votes. No such consolidation of supremacy exists so far in 2014. Through eight polls, an average of 4.4 teams have received first-place votes, including six in Week 2.
Further complicating things is the new College Football Playoff format, which expands the championship pool to four teams. Despite a steady first half, we've seen eight different teams occupy a spot in the top four. We had 10 to this point in 2007 and 14 for the whole year.
Bill Connelly's SEC calculations from pre-Week 8 suggest a 75 percent chance the eventual SEC West champion will finish with at least one loss; god help us all if the SEC East champion (projected at 6-2 in conference) ends up taking the title game. The Pac-12 looks like its horror show has just begun. Good luck figuring the Big 12 out. Florida State looks like the favorite in the ACC, but how confident are you that Jameis Winston finishes the year as the starting QB?As for the Big Ten, its projections are the sloggiest. But if Michigan State or Ohio State runs the table, do you welcome a conference that had a horrific September back into title contention?
Six undefeated teams remain, but either Florida State or Notre Dame is guaranteed a loss on Saturday, as is one of Ole Miss and Mississippi State in November. Baylor and Marshall are the other two. 2007 had the same number of unbeaten teams on October 14, but none of them would meet in the regular season. Thus, 2014 has fewer teams that could finish unbeaten than 2007 did at this point.
Edge: 2007, for now
2. Strong teams out of nowhere
The list of teams that spent time in the top five in 2007 seems like the result of an EA Sports NCAA Football algorithm gone awry: South Florida, Kansas, Boston College, California ... and even a name like West Virginia has only spent one week in the top five since.
Still, the best case made for a team like USF was that it hadn't lost yet in a season in which everyone was catching Ls. Few actually thought the Bulls were one of the two best teams in college football, and their finish at 9-4 more accurately reflected the team's level of quality. After the smoke settled, the two teams vying for the BCS Championship were LSU (preseason No. 2) and Ohio State (preseason No. 11, 2006 runner-up). Not exactly new money.
By comparison, 2014 has seen the rise of Ole Miss and Mississippi State, two programs with some of the most brutal paths to relevance in college football. In the last 40 years, Ole Miss has gone to just 15 bowls; Mississippi State, 13. None were BCS-level. Each program has just five seasons with nine wins in that time frame. Combined, they've gone to exactly one SEC Championship: Mississippi State in 1998, losing 24-14 to eventual national champion Tennessee. That's it.
And yet here are the two SEC members from the Magnolia State, having earned their spots in the top three and our most recent Playoff projections. Mississippi State has beaten three straight top-10 opponents, and, were it not for a furious rally by LSU, would have won each by double digits. Ole Miss beat Alabama, then went down to College Station and whipped Texas A&M.
In other words, this rise to the top isn't about the chaos happening in front of Ole Miss and Mississippi State. They're doing just fine taking out the roadblocks by themselves.
Edge: 2014, so far
More fun with carnage
More fun with carnage
3. Outlandish upsets
The 2007 season kicked off with the most hilarious FCS-over-FBS upset college football has ever seen: Appalachian State going into the Big House and knocking off No. 5 Michigan, 34-32. If there's any game that might top App State-Michigan in terms of sheer random carnage, it would be 41-point underdog Stanford over then-No. 2 USC ... which just so happened to come weeks later.
If that weren't enough, 2007 also has West Virginia hosting 4-7 Pittsburgh with a national championship berth all but guaranteed. Pitt silenced the mighty Mountaineer spread attack, West Virginia went down in the cold November rain, and the horror of the 2007 season reached its cacophonous apex.
We can keep going. No. 2 Oregon lost at 5-6 Arizona after Dennis Dixon tore his ACL, ending the Ducks' national championship hopes and Dixon's Heisman hopes in one brutal crumple of a knee. The 2007 gods were not merciful.
Meanwhile in 2014, No. 2 Oregon lost at home to Arizona (the more things change, eh?), and No. 4 Oklahoma was upended by (a decidedly underrated) No. 25 TCU. Let's see, what else ... Indiana over Missouri was kinda crazy, I guess.
Massive, massive edge: 2007
There's never been a season like 2007, and if 2014 doesn't hit the same levels of weirdness, that's not a detriment. In fact, what might differentiate this season isn't just wins and losses or even the Playoff, but the developing situations with some of the top players in the game, including suspended tailback Todd Gurley and the embattled Winston.
So while 2007 remains the craziest season we've ever seen, hands-down, 2014 remains liable to blow up in its own way going forward—and that's all right too.