We always get at least one week like this. In Week 7 of what had been a rather routine college football season, four top-10 teams lost: No. 2 Georgia to No. 13 LSU, No. 6 WVU to Iowa State, No. 7 Washington to No. 17 Oregon, and No. 8 Penn State to Michigan State.
It was almost much worse, too. No. 3 Ohio State led Minnesota by just six heading into the fourth quarter before pulling away, No. 5 Notre Dame needed perfect QB play down the stretch to avoid losing to Pitt, No. 9 Texas needed a late stop to beat Baylor, and No. 10 UCF was just barely able to stay ahead of Memphis in a one-point comeback win.
Regardless of the could-have-beens, this was the shake-up the season needed. And for the second straight season, the shake-up happened in Week 7, when four top-10 teams lost as well.
Let’s take a run through the rest of the last decade.
We got one wild weekend each year between 2008-13 as well.
- 2008, Week 5: On Thursday night, Oregon State upsets No. 1 USC in Corvallis. On Saturday, No. 8 Alabama takes down No. 3 Georgia in Athens, unranked Ole Miss upsets No. 4 Florida in Gainesville, and unranked Michigan beats No. 9 Wisconsin by two.
- 2009, Week 4: South Carolina beats No. 4 Ole Miss on Thursday night (I’m sensing a trend), and on Saturday, unranked Iowa wins at No. 5 Penn State, Oregon destroys No. 6 Cal in Eugene, and No. 11 Virginia Tech whomps No. 9 Miami in Blacksburg.
- 2010, Week 13: Thanksgiving weekend strikes again. On Friday, No. 2 Auburn comes back to beat No. 9 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and No. 19 Nevada beats No. 3 Boise State in a late-night classic. The next day, No. 12 Arkansas beats No. 6 LSU in Fayetteville, and No. 14 Oklahoma wins at No. 10 Oklahoma State.
- 2011, Week 12: On Friday night, Iowa State famously knocks off No. 2 Oklahoma State. On Saturday, No. 18 USC wins at No. 4 Oregon, No. 25 Baylor upsets No. 5 Oklahoma, and NC State thumps No. 7 Clemson.
- 2012, Week 9: A rarity: a wild weekend that doesn’t feature a pre-Saturday surprise. Four top-10 teams fall on Saturday — No. 3 Florida to No. 12 Georgia, No. 7 Oregon State to unranked Washington, No. 8 Oklahoma to No. 5 Notre Dame, and No. 10 USC to unranked Arizona.
- 2013, Week 8: Friday strikes again: UCF upsets No. 8 Louisville in Louisville. Then on Saturday, No. 5 FSU wins at No. 3 Clemson, unranked Ole Miss upsets No. 6 LSU, No. 24 Auburn wins at No. 7 Texas A&M (kick-starting Auburn’s run of incredible drama), and No. 13 Stanford beats No. 9 UCLA.
Measuring a season’s true zaniness typically comes down to whether it happens more than once.
It usually doesn’t, but oh, when it does ...
2014-15 was a lot sillier than it gets credit for.
Four top-10 teams also lost in Week 11 of 2017, but three losses were to fellow top-10 teams, so I’m not sure that counts. We’ll give it half-credit. But in both 2014 and 2015, we had multiple certifiably wild weekends.
- 2014, Week 6: After a reasonably stable September, the first weekend of Oct. 2014 is one of the craziest on record. A whopping 11 ranked teams lose, including five of the top eight: No. 2 Oregon falls at home to unranked Arizona on Thursday, and on Saturday, No. 3 Alabama is upset by No. 11 Ole Miss, No. 4 Oklahoma falls to No. 25 TCU, No. 6 Texas A&M is knocked off by No. 12 Mississippi State, and No. 8 UCLA is upset by unranked Utah.
- 2014, Week 11: About a month later, eight more ranked teams fell — four in the top nine — and all on Saturday. No. 3 Auburn loses at home to unranked Texas A&M, No. 13 Ohio State wins at No. 7 Michigan State, No. 11 Arizona State beats No. 8 Notre Dame, and No. 6 TCU whoops No. 9 Kansas State.
- 2015, Week 5: Four of the top eight teams fall, though three are to ranked opponents: No. 3 Ole Miss to No. 25 Florida, No. 6 Notre Dame to No. 12 Clemson, and No. 8 Georgia to No. 13 Alabama. Only No. 7 UCLA (at home to unranked Arizona State) suffers a true upset.
- 2015, Week 11: Things get genuinely weird in mid-November: No. 10 Utah loses to unranked Arizona, No. 7 Stanford falls at home to unranked Oregon, No. 9 LSU gets smoked at home by unranked Arkansas, and No. 4 Baylor falls at home to No. 12 Oklahoma.
- 2015, Week 13: Four more top-10 teams lose over Thanksgiving weekend, though all four losses are to fellow ranked teams. (That’s some good scheduling right there.) On Friday, No. 7 Baylor loses to No. 15 TCU, and on Saturday, No. 4 Notre Dame (to No. 13 Stanford), No. 9 Oklahoma State (to No. 5 Oklahoma), and No. 10 Florida (to No. 14 Florida State) all fall.
In 2016, we got to mid-November without a silly Saturday, but wow, was Week 12 silly.
- 2016, Week 12: Eight ranked teams lose, seven to unranked foes. Most importantly, four of the top eight fall: No. 2 Michigan at Iowa, No. 3 Clemson to Pitt, No. 4 Washington to USC, and No. 8 Auburn at Georgia.
Then there was 2007.
The 2007 season is the gold standard of craziness, and for good reason. That 2018 weekend we just experienced? Yeah, 10 years ago, we got that about four times. Week 7 was the only week in the middle of the season that wasn’t completely bonkers.
- Week 5: No. 18 USF beats No. 5 West Virginia on Friday night, then unranked Colorado beats No. 3 Oklahoma, unranked Auburn wins at No. 4 Florida, and unranked Kansas State pummels No. 7 Texas in Austin.
- Week 6: Once again, the fun starts before Saturday. No. 11 South Carolina outlasts No. 8 Kentucky on Thursday night, and Saturday takes it from there: Stanford pulls off one of the biggest upsets of all time against No. 2 USC, Illinois beats No. 5 Wisconsin in Champaign, and, if it counts, No. 1 LSU beats No. 9 Florida in Baton Rouge.
- Week 8: After a semi-calm Week 7, which merely featured No. 1 LSU losing to Kentucky and No. 2 Cal losing to Oregon State, we once again get four top-10 teams falling, three to unranked foes. And it once again starts early: Rutgers takes down No. 2 USF on Thursday, then Vanderbilt inexplicably wins at No. 6 South Carolina, unranked UCLA beats No. 10 Cal, and No. 14 Florida wins a shootout at No. 8 Kentucky.
- Week 13: Ah, one of the most memorable Thanksgiving weekends the sport has seen. On Thursday, No. 11 USC wins at No. 7 Arizona State. On Friday, unranked Arkansas wins at No. 1 LSU in OT. On Saturday, unranked UCLA finishes off No. 9 Oregon, No. 3 Missouri beats No. 2 Kansas in Kansas City, and
Whew. There’s a reason we’re so fond of talking about that season.
Here are the warning signs that a week of mayhem is on the way:
First, It usually starts before Saturday. In a majority of the wild weekends listed above, a top-10 team fell on either Thursday or Friday.
It’s increasingly rare that a top-10 team plays on one of these days, of course, but there are at least a few candidates in 2018. Current No. 13 WVU hosts Baylor on Thursday night in Week 9, No. 10 UCF hosts smoking-hot Temple on Thursday night in Week 10, and No. 16 NC State hosts Wake Forest on Thursday night in Week 11; that’s as close as we get until Thanksgiving weekend, when a few potential top teams (headlined by Oklahoma at WVU) play on Friday.
It also usually features some top-10 teams that shouldn’t be top-10 teams. There are plenty of legitimately amazing upsets spread throughout the wild weekends above, but for every 2008 Oregon State-USC, there’s a 2015 Arizona-Utah or a 2017 Cal-Wazzu. Dead weight in the top-10 certainly makes top-10 losses more likely.
How do we measure dead weight? For starters, we could look at the difference between a team’s AP rank and S&P+ rank.
AP No. 5 LSU is currently just 14th in S&P+ and has plenty of tough games left on the schedule, but the biggest disagreement between computer and pollsters at the moment is with Texas: the Longhorns are seventh per the AP but not even in the top-40 of S&P+. That’s what tends to happen when you lose to Maryland (No. 55 in S&P+) and barely get by Baylor (No. 59), Kansas State (No. 88), and Tulsa (No. 93), even if you can counter that with some demonstrably solid performances as well.
If we have a second mayhem weekend, the odds are good that Texas is involved.
The season doesn’t officially begin until we’ve had our WTF Weekend.
Now that 2018 has begun, it will be defined by whether we get a second such weekend. (And, if we’re being honest, whether Alabama is involved.)