The only sure thing about narratives is that they always show up. They might change at the drop of a hat (or after 60 minutes in Eugene), they might be fair or unfair, and they might last for years or minutes, but the one constant is that the narrative machine will continue cranking, every hour of every day.
When Michigan State took control of the game at Oregon early Saturday evening, all was right in the narrative world. But then the Ducks surged and changed both everything and nothing at the same time.
Since the start of 2008, Oregon is 69-12 and has won at least 10 games every year. Since the start of 2010, the Ducks are 49-6. They are on a run of six consecutive finishes in the AP top 11. No matter how you look at it, Oregon is one of college football's ruling powers at the moment.
Still, the Ducks were supposed to have a "problem." They couldn't handle "physical teams," you see. Two losses to Stanford -- one in part because of a missed field goal (which would have sent the game to overtime), and another because of a series of blown first-half scoring opportunities (which happened while Oregon's star quarterback was dealing with a knee injury) -- became a referendum on Oregon's staying power, philosophy, testicular fortitude, etc.
This was a particularly frustrating story line, simply because of all the evidence it had to ignore to become a living, breathing organism.
Between 2011 and 2013, Oregon faced five teams that finished in the F/+ top 10 and went 3-2. The Ducks faced 11 teams that finished in the F/+ top 25 and went 6-5. Five of the six wins came by 18 or more points, and three of the five losses were by six or fewer. In those 11 games, they were as close to 9-2 as 5-6.
The three top-10 teams they had beaten in the last three years included 2011 Stanford, 2011 Wisconsin, and 2012 Kansas State, three of the most physical (whatever that actually means) teams of the last three seasons. Two of their five losses came away from home against top-3 teams (2013 Stanford, 2011 LSU).
Until last season's injury-aided blowout loss to Arizona, the Ducks hadn't lost a game by more than 13 points since early in Oct. 2008. Oregon has one of the most consistently excellent, as-close-to-bulletproof-as-possible résumés in the country.
Still, it seemed Oregon had more to prove on Saturday than "Can they beat a top-10 team?"
Michigan State is about as close to Stanford as you can get without living in the Bay Area and having a creepy tree for a mascot. Since we have to wait two more months to see Oregon actually play Stanford, Michigan State served as both a significant test and proxy.
What a game this was. In fact, it really wasn't one game -- it was three.
Part 1 (~20 minutes)
Points: Oregon 18, MSU 7
Yards: Oregon 211 (8.8 per play), MSU 180 (6.4)
Marcus Mariota: 8-for-13, 196 yards, 1 TD
Connor Cook: 9-for-15, 120 yards, 1 INT
Part 2 (~15 minutes)
Points: MSU 20, Oregon 0
Yards: MSU 154 (5.7), Oregon 14 (1.0)
Mariota: 3-for-7, 11 yards, 2 sacks
Cook: 10-for-14, 133 yards, 2 TD, 1 sack
Part 3 (~25 minutes)
Points: Oregon 28, MSU 0
Yards: Oregon 266 (8.6), MSU 132 (4.4)
Mariota: 7-for-8, 111 yards, 2 TD, 1 sack
Cook: 10-for-18, 90 yards, 1 INT, 2 sacks
The early rounds were mostly even, but Oregon was able to take the lead thanks to an athletic interception by Erick Dargan and a gorgeous, 70-yard catch-and-run by Devon Allen.
The middle rounds were managed perfectly by Michigan State. The Spartans regrouped from Allen's touchdown, forced three consecutive three-and-outs (followed by a four-and-out), leveraged field position into two short scoring drives, and engineered a perfect two-minute drill to score before halftime.
This was nearly perfect football -- defensive dominance, field position, clock management, everything -- from State. Nine Mariota pass attempts in this span netted minus-six yards, and as Gus Johnson and Charles Davis talked about body blows on the Fox broadcast, the Spartans took complete control. The "Oregon can't do physical!" meme reached wildfire status.
And then a new fire started. Christian French sacked Connor Cook. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu ripped off a nice return (which was called back partially due to a holding penalty). Mariota found Allen for a 24-yard touchdown. Michigan State went three-and-out. Mariota found Keanon Lowe for a 37-yard score. Michigan State went three-and-out. Royce Freeman ripped off a 38-yard touchdown run.
In the span of approximately seven minutes, Oregon went from dead in the water to in complete control. And then Ekpre-Olomu pulled off a diving interception near Oregon's goal line, and the Ducks drove 96 yards to put the game away.
This was a throat stomp that only "physical teams" are supposed to be able to pull off. Oregon scored the last 28 points of the game, beat its fourth F/+ top-10 team in just more than three seasons, and asserted itself as one of the nation's best ... just as it has for most of the last six years.
The narrative is dead. Long live the narrative.
Steve Dykes, Getty
Handling your business
There was a lot of bad football on Saturday. One of the week's only marquee games -- USC's road win over Stanford -- was more frustrating than good, and there wasn't much else to back that game up on the schedule.
But with or without a huge spotlight, quite a few teams handled their business just fine.
If we truly started from scratch at the beginning of the season and took absolutely no preseason preconceptions into account, we would be talking about Virginia Tech as a top-five team. The Hokies started a little slowly against William & Mary in Week 1 but scored 27 of the game's final 30 points. Then on Saturday, they strolled into Columbus and made virtually every play of the fourth quarter in a two-touchdown win.
The main story line from the weekend was how bad it was for the Big Ten. But B1G members had some help. Oregon looked flawless over the last 25 minutes against Michigan State. Virginia Tech was deep, athletic, and confident against Ohio State. Even Notre Dame looked damn strong on defense and in the passing game in taking down Michigan, 31-0, even if the Irish run game looked paltry.
Granted, the Panthers let BC crawl back into the game a bit after taking a 27-7 lead in the third quarter, eventually winning by a 30-20 margin. Still, they outgained the Eagles by nearly 150 yards. BC couldn't do much to bring down big sophomore James Conner, who had 36 carries for 214 yards.
If Virginia Tech isn't the class of the ACC Coastal, it might be Paul Chryst's Panthers. (Or Georgia Tech, or Duke, or North Carolina. It's early.)
I wonder how many times the Cougars need to destroy Texas to convince the ACC and SEC that they're a real program?
Oklahoma and Alabama
Tulsa's not very good, and after a solid 2013, FAU has been completely lifeless so far in 2014. Meanwhile, the Sooners and Crimson Tide are supposed to be two of FBS' premier teams this year. So we expected blowout wins.
Neither team wasted much time in delivering the goods. Both teams were up 24 points after 18 minutes, and they combined for a tidy yardage margin of plus-727.
The Tigers were never truly threatened by South Dakota State but didn't really put the Jackrabbits away either in a 20-point, Week 1 win. Because of that result and Toledo's thrashing of a New Hampshire team that is close to SDSU on the FCS totem pole, the Tigers were a trendy upset pick heading to the Glass Bowl early Saturday.
Instead, they took a 35-7 lead and coasted behind Maty Mauk's five touchdown passes and defensive end Markus Golden's best-player-on-the-field dominance.
Utah, Arizona State, and California
Granted, Fresno State has not looked like Fresno State so far this year, but the Utes went up 45-7 in the third quarter against the Bulldogs. Travis Wilson has looked spectacular in two blowout wins thus far (24-for-38, 446 yards, six touchdowns, no picks).
Arizona State hasn't let two overwhelmed underdogs build too much hope either. The Sun Devils watched a 22-0 lead against New Mexico trickle down to 29-21 on Saturday but scored 29 of the game's final 31 points to cruise on the road.
And ... California! Granted, Northwestern might be quite bad, and Sacramento State definitely isn't good. But the Golden Bears have already doubled last year's win total!
The Bulldogs were horrific in Skip Holtz's first year succeeding Sonny Dykes.
But they showed a second-half spark against Oklahoma, and against an in-state opponent that was getting awfully high on itself (Louisiana-Lafayette was quite a bit better in 2013 and has won nine games for three straight years), Tech went on the road and administered a beatdown. Kenneth Dixon ripped off a 99-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and Tech blazed out to a 41-7 lead, eventually winning, 48-20.
On Saturday on the blue field, Boise State simply gave CSU no chance, scoring 24 straight points in the middle quarters and easing away with a 37-24 win. New boss, same as old boss, et cetera.
Florida and Arkansas
Yes, they faced Eastern Michigan and Nicholls State. Yes, some high schools might have better defenses than those two opponents. Still, in the catharsis department, these schools scored high. They combined to win, 138-7, and outgained their overmatched opponents, 1,339 to 367. It might not end up meaning a damn thing, but it certainly had to feel good.
UTSA is mean and experienced, and a young Arizona team figured out a way to survive in San Antonio on Thursday night. Don't overlook that.
New Mexico State
The Aggies are 2-0! Yeah, yeah, Cal Poly and Georgia State. 2-0!