CHICAGO — THE LAST Saturday in October is approaching quickly, and this college football season doesn't add up. Not that anyone is complaining.
Consider that once-lowly Virginia is in the national title hunt, while the three-time champs in the 1980s, the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes, are out. Who would have thought that after three Big Ten games, Michigan would have two losses, while Minnesota is undefeated? That the Illinois-Iowa game would decide the Big Ten title? That Illinois' Jason Verduzco would have a higher quarterback ranking than Southern Cal's Todd Marinovich?
Thus far, this season has been one surprise after another. It's kind of like a big "fumblerooski."
Blink your eyes, and Iowa State is beating Oklahoma, and The Citadel, a Division I-AA team, downs South Carolina for the first time in 40 years. No. 2 Auburn could win the national championship, and it needed a last-second field goal to edge Louisiana Tech.
"Each week, it's astounding," Iowa coach Hayden Fry said. "There seems to be four or five big upsets. Amazing."
And fun, and interesting. Forget about the norm in 1990. A little change of pace never hurt anyone.
With the season just past its halfway point, here's an update on all things important:
* THE NATIONAL PICTURE: Virginia is No. 1 for now, but few expect the Cavaliers to be there Jan. 2. A weak schedule should catch up with Virginia when it plays a real power in a bowl. Remember, Illinois thrashed the Cavaliers in last year's Citrus Bowl.
The Cavaliers, though, still are a good story. It's nice to have new teams in the mix, and their game with Georgia Tech Nov. 3 will put the spotlight on a different locale.
Besides Virginia, Nebraska seems to have the best shot for No. 1. The No. 4 Cornhuskers are being downgraded for playing a weak schedule, and rightfully so. But Nebraska can gain immediate respect with victories over No. 10 Colorado Nov. 3 and No. 22 Oklahoma Nov. 24. Couple that with an Orange Bowl victory and coach Tom Osborne could claim his first national title.
Keep in mind, however, that when Osborne's team gets in championship position, it usually finds a way to fumble it. There's a reason why he doesn't have a ring.
Speaking of soft schedules, that tag usually isn't applied to Notre Dame's obstacle course. But in the interesting stat department, of the six teams the Irish have faced this year, only one currently has a winning record: Miami.
The once-beaten Irish can't afford another defeat if they want to contend for No. 1. If it can get past trips to Tennessee (Nov. 10) and Southern Cal (Nov. 24), Notre Dame deserves a title game.
But don't count on it; the Irish will fall again.
And speaking of blowing shots for a national title, Auburn knows how Nebraska feels. The Tigers are perennially strong, but they have the annoying habit of losing once, which ruins their chances.
Thus far, Auburn has been able to escape with a tie against Tennessee. But games remain against Florida, Georgia and Alabama, and Auburn has that knack for finding the pothole.
Looking for a sleeper team? Try Washington. Playing in the nation's obscure upper left-hand corner, the once-beaten Huskies are sorely underappreciated. Earlier this season, Washington beat USC 31-0 and then barely lost at Colorado. After the defeat, the following week's poll had the Huskies ranked behind USC. It doesn't figure.
Washington, though, has climbed to seventh. If it goes 10-1, wins the Pac-10 (one of the toughest conferences) and then takes the Rose Bowl, Washington will be in the hunt.
No. 5 Illinois could be a likely opponent for Washington in the Rose Bowl. If the once-beaten Illini can survive a November run that features consecutive games against Iowa, Michigan and Indiana, they'll be a contender. But that's a big if.
* THE BIG TEN: Want to make an ABC exec reach for his throat? Predict a Minnesota-Oregon matchup in the Rose Bowl.
Hey, the Gophers are 3-0 and are in better shape than Michigan. Trouble is, Minnesota still has to play Michigan, along with Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa. Bye-bye Gophers.
For the Illini, the most amazing aspect of the race is that they can lose to Michigan and still go to the Rose Bowl. Assuming Illinois beats Wisconsin Saturday, which it should, the Nov. 3 showdown with Iowa could decide the Big Ten title.
If Illinois downs the Hawkeyes, all it would need is to take two of three from Michigan, Indiana and Northwestern, a very do-able feat.
A similar scenario works for Iowa, the Big Ten's most surprising team. Once they dispose of Northwestern Saturday, the Hawkeyes will need to beat the Illini in Champaign. If they do, the Hawkeyes should coast to Pasadena, with games left against Ohio State, Purdue and Minnesota. Like Illinois, Iowa only would need to win two of three to be Rose Bowl-bound.
With one defeat and a tie each, Ohio State and Indiana still can dream, but too many ifs will prevent it from becoming a reality.