It was coincidental that the Republican candidates' debate at Iowa State University was held at about the time that the National Football League began its preseason football, but the two processes had something in common.
Football teams start the preseason with the knowledge that they have a base of proven athletes, but now at the beginning they are letting the more unknown and obscure players show what they can deliver.
These players are under the most pressure because they must prove themselves or else they will be cut from the team as the real season approaches.
Mitt Romney as in 2008 has the name recognition and the financial resources to be a competitor to the end of the process. Therefore in the debates he has hardly bothered with his Republican rivals and has concentrated on attacking Barack Obama as if he was already the Republican candidate.
Rick Perry, who is reporting to a Republican training camp on Saturday with the announcement that he is a candidate, has a sufficient reputation and potential resources to go the distance with Romney.
This left the six other announced candidates exerting themselves to make the team and continue in the competition. It should be noted that while the presidential nomination is the grand prize, there are consolation prizes as well. A candidate who suitably impresses can boost his/her prospects for a cabinet post and perhaps even a vice presidential nomination.
As a result of the debate, it looks as though Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has a credible chance of sticking with the team of competitors. For the second successive debate she more than held her own and has also gained sympathy among Republicans because liberal Newsweek magazine deliberately chose an unflattering photograph of her to put on the cover.
This is not to say that the other candidates do not include worthy individuals, but they have simply not caught fire with the Republican electorate.
Tim Pawlenty, the ex-governor of Minnesota, was dogged by charges that he was not tough enough, perhaps leading him to attempt to attack Romney and Bachmann during the debate. The metamorphosis from Golden retriever into pit bull did not quite work.
Rick Santorum took on Ron Paul for minimizing the threat from Iran and defended the sanctity of marriage, but unfortunately for Santorum, nobody takes his chances seriously and his shoestring operation will not take him much further.
Newt Gingrich can always enliven a debate, but the Republicans are looking for an electable candidate and Gingrich has not convinced them that he meets the bill.
The Democrats ridiculed a previous Republican debate by comparing it to the bar scene in the movie Star Wars, where the heroes go to recruit a space ship and find a motley and physically repulsive crew of characters, with the exception of Han Solo.
After the debate and the Perry announcement there are 2 1/2 candidates left: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. Bachmann hopes to compete with Perry as the anti-Romney conservative candidate.
The bar scene will probably shortly be clarified into a more classic one-on-one duel.