This year marks the 25th anniversary of college football's populist rebellion. Any readers recall 1981? That was the year the peasants of the game rose up and finally overthrew the reigning establishment. It was 1981 that the era of the Big Ten belonging exclusively to Michigan & Ohio State came to an end. Iowa went to the Rose Bowl that year and it was Wisconsin, not either of the Big Two, that they beat to secure the bid. What was true in the Big Ten was true throughout the nation. It was an upstart team in Clemson that came out of nowhere, went undefeated and then upended Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win the national championship.
The silver anniversary of this season of upheaval will be marked by a rebellion of a similar nature this year. Last season was remembered as the year traditional powers reasserted themselves--Penn State, Alabama and even Nebraska started to play a little better by the end of the year. 2006 is going to be remembered as the year that chaos reigned, new teams won conference championships, and BCS corporate executives suffered heart failure, watching the marquee teams fall by the wayside. In the post below, I tabbed Iowa to win the Big Ten, although that has nowhere near the shock value it did back in '81. Here's a few more dramatic instances of long-oppressed serfs finally getting their place at the table--
--With Texas breaking in a freshman quarterback, Oklahoma trying to get its program back on track, and Nebraska not all the way back, look for Texas Tech to win the Big 12 and prove it's not just an outpost for great basketball coaches in exile.
--In a razor-tight Pac-10 race, Arizona State nips Southern Cal to earn a trip to Pasadena. Keep an eye on Stanford as a darkhorse spoiler in this race.
--Auburn, Alabama and LSU are good, but all have inexperience in key spots. One team in the SEC West is strong throughout and they aren't that far removed from being a Top 20 program. Arkansas rebounds in a big way this year, and with a weak field in the Eastern division, the Hogs claim their first championship since joining the SEC in 1992.
--Miami is in turmoil, Florida State still has holes and Virginia Tech is rebuilding. Who does that leave? Who else, but the team that won it all in the original rebellion of '81. Clemson claims the ACC crown.
In the national picture, I can't give in completely to the spirit of upheaval. I still like Notre Dame to win it all. But one of the teams I've listed here would have to come in at #2 and earn a trip to Tempe. It's very close, but I will lean to Arkansas. This would create a BCS title game that's essentially a "Lou Holtz Bowl", with the old coach having worked in Little Rock from 1977-83.
When you make some audacious picks you run the risk of looking extremely stupid at year's end, and I can't say I've been immune to that over the years. And I don't doubt that at least a couple of the teams I listed will flop, and a couple of the traditional powers will end up winning conference titles. But it won't come easy, and I stand by this fundamental premise--when the first weekend of December rolls around, 2006 will be remembered as a year in which college football was stood on its head.