Well we’ve reached the half way mark, with some teams having already reached bowl eligibility and others wondering if they should just stop trying. And while the focus is always on the national scene, there have been some interesting subplots developing in conferences around the country that, while not necessarily BCS bowl worthy, could nonetheless cause some intrigue. Without further ado…
In the interest of saving you time (and trimming the word count I definitely don’t pay attention to) I’m just going to say I was wrong. Texas and Florida will most certainly not affect the national landscape. Shit, after the way Florida looked against The Duo of The Deep South (I told you I was going to keep using this) and Texas bombed against its biggest rival, these two teams couldn’t affect a finger painter’s landscape. And while the Gators and Longhorns have a while to go in their progress back to the national elite, there are plenty of others taking over the spotlight these two power programs divvied up with Alabama less than two years ago.
Out West Stanford and Oregon continue their respective marches towards Pac 12 supremacy. It’s too bad that these two teams have to reside in the same North division, leaving us with a conference championship game that, much like the SEC, is already guaranteed to disappoint. Still, at least Arizona State will probably be ranked for the match up (partly due to the abject lack of quality in the rest of the Pac 12). The SEC East isn’t that much better (and could wind up being worse). The two best teams in the division (Florida and Georgia) already have two losses, and they haven’t even played each other yet. South Carolina will lose to both of those teams, plus Arkansas and may maybe even Tennessee before the year’s out, and Vanderbilt is in fourth place over Tennessee and Kentucky at 3-2. It’s a turtle’s crawl in the race to get blown out by LSU or Alabama on December 3rd, and it isn’t even Halloween yet.
Meanwhile, the Big XII thinned out another undefeated pretender when un-ranked Texas Tech managed to do what no other good A&M opponent had done to date; let them hold a lead. Don’t think the Aggies didn’t try to lose though. Kansas State managed to remain un-beaten for another week, dropping Missouri in typically close fashion (they won 24-17). Baylor steamrolled past Iowa State, while Oklahoma State warmed up for Texas’ defense by dropping a cool 70 on Kansas. That’s right, the same Texas defense that just surrendered 55 points to Oklahoma gets to spend this weekend in Austin facing the most prolific passing duo in the country in Brandon Wheedon and Justin Blackmon. Good luck with that.
In other Big XII news, the conference finally did something it probably should’ve done years ago when any of A&M, Colorado, Iowa State or Baylor were battling to see who could beat a high school JV team: They added TCU. The Horned Frogs were once a member of the Southwest Conference and actually boast a Heisman winner and a national championship in their history (albeit from the Depression era), spending a lot of time as a fringe member of the elite. Yet, when the Big XII emerged they were left to fend for themselves while teams like Baylor and Kansas got brought into the BCS fold. Since then TCU has hired Gary Patterson, reeled off 10 win seasons like certain burnt orange or crimson colored neighbors and generally looked and played like the third best team in the Southwest, let alone the Big XII. That it finally gets its opportunity to come back into the big conference fold (the Big East really didn’t count) is long overdue.
Speaking of the Big East, will this conference ever be back in the national title picture? Certainly not any time soon, but while the conference doesn’t have any contenders to speak of, keep any eye on West Virginia, South Florida, Rutgers and Cincinnati, all teams with at least 4 wins and only 1 loss. Rutgers is a particularly intriguing team, having only lost to North Carolina by 2 and having demolished Pittsburgh this past weekend. Their match up with Navy on Saturday will have a huge impact on where both teams are headed, as a win would raise the Scarlet Knights’ record to 5-1 while the Midshipmen would drop to 2-4, probably the worst it’s been in years.
The stunning ACC continues to roll right along. We talked last week about Georgia Tech’s and Clemson’s eventual meeting but the biggest story here is actually Wake Forest. I joked in my last post about how this team had won a conference championship recently and how indicative that was of the ACC’s mediocrity. Under Jim Grobe they haven’t been that great but a few back to back bowl trips constituted a relative boon time in Winston-Salem. Still, they’re now 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the conference after knocking off Florida State, a team that at one point (albeit very early in the season) was in the top 5. Wake Forest gets Virginia Tech at home this week, a team that hasn’t put a complete game together all year, before going about 10 minutes out of their way to play both Duke and UNC. If they can swipe an upset of the Hokies before knocking off two basketball powers (although UNC is 5-1…) they will be 7-1 entering a home date with Notre Dame. Beat a mistake prone Irish team and they’ll head to Clemson with the Atlantic Division on the line. Or they could be 4-5 and trying to fight for bowl eligibility. Regardless, the ACC is shaping up to do what the Big East did for a few years between 2005 and 2007; take this football thing semi-seriously.
And then there’s the Big 10, the conference with the most undefeated teams left in the country at three. Two of those teams, Michigan and Illinois, are already bowl eligible, while Wisconsin’s average game score has been 48-10. Nebraska (5-1) looked great through the first four weeks until it got in the Badger’s way in Camp Randall and Penn State has sneakily gotten to 2-0 in the conference and 5-1 overall with stellar defense and just enough offense out of its young quarterback duo. Even Michigan State is 4-1. Still, I’m not sold on anyone outside of Wisconsin as a true contender. Michigan is a great success story in Brady Hoke’s first year there, and while it could be said that he’s riding Rich Rodriguez’s recruits to success, he’s also getting more out of them than Rich Rod ever did. Get past Michigan State this weekend and they’ll be 9-0 heading into a three game stretch where they go to Illinois and finish with Nebraska and Ohio State at home. That could arguably be the toughest stretch anyone sees in the Big 10 all year…unless of course we look at Illinois.
Barring an absolute implosion (remember; this is Ron Zook) in their last six games they’ve officially saved their coaches’ job, and could realistically be 9-0 heading into the Michigan match up. Still, the game with the Wolverines at home is sandwiched in-between a trip to State College to face that Penn State defense and a home date with Wisconsin. That, my friends, is the toughest 3 game stretch in conference for any contender in the Big 10 this year. The one caveat? They get a bye in between the Nittany Lions and Wolverines, meaning they get two weeks to heal after the first of those three games. Because of that I think they’ll knock off both PSU and Michigan to enter a hyped match up with Wisconsin at 10-0. It will be the last match up of un-defeated teams before Oklahoma State and Oklahoma on the last day of the regular season, and the Leaders (first time I’ve allowed myself to write out one of the atrocious division names) will be on the line. They’ll get steamrolled by the Badgers, but it will make for a great story line and might even draw a November College Game Day appearance. Solid work Big 10.
The smaller conferences may not have the clout or fireworks of the guys above but there are still some battles to be played in many of them. Houston and SMU should enter their November 19th match up with Conference USA’s West Division on the line. The cougars are undefeated, and I’ve talked before about SMU’s recent success. They’ll be playing for the opportunity to face a good Southern Mississippi squad (that just handled Navy) out of the East. Remember when I said FIU was an intriguing story so long as they stayed undefeated? Well at 4-2 they’re still something to watch in Florida’s increasingly diversified (muddled?) group of college football teams. Still, the Sun Belt’s best squad is now 5-1 Louisiana-Lafayette. It may come as a surprise that there are actual state universities outside of LSU in Cajun country, especially ones that play Division I football. And while Louisiana-Monroe (the actual University of Louisiana) isn’t doing so hot the ULL Ragin’ Cajuns are something to watch. Let’s see if they can give the Sun Belt a 10 win team this year after Troy carried the conference banner for so long. The Mountain West isn’t a budding juggernaut anymore but TCU will get one last shot at a big time in-conference opponent (like it did with Utah and BYU in the past) before “ascending” to the Big XII. Its visit to Boise State will probably be the Broncos last road block before finishing undefeated, and will be a symbolic sending off from its phenomenal small conference brethren. Still, don’t expect Boise to be nice on the way out; they’ll want to send a message to a team they may eventually join in the Big XII.
Not a lot to talk about in terms of Top 10 match ups this week, although Arizona State does give Oregon what will likely be its last major test before the Ducks play Stanford for the Pac 12 North title. The Sun Devils are 5-1 (3 point loss at Illinois) and shouldn’t lose again after this game and prior to the first ever Pac 12 championship (they blew out the division’s next best team, USC, by 21 points). They’ll play Oregon tough with LaMichael James temporarily sidelined but they’re playing in Autzen Stadium, so no top 10 upset this week. Elsewhere, Michigan State tries to prove everything I just wrote about Michigan wrong, Robert Griffin and Baylor continue the Texas A&M good bye tour by knocking them out of the top 25 and Texas tries desperately to redeem itself against the best Oklahoma State team since Barry Sanders played there. Some others not to be missed: Florida redeeming itself against Auburn, the Wake Forest – Virginia Tech match up and Illinois officially sending Buckeye Nation into a full blown WoodyHayesesque rampage fest in Columbus. Let’s just hope the students don’t all start punching each other in the face.
That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “Between the Yankees, Jets and Longhorns, the end of 2011 is starting to look an awful lot like the ulcer inducing end of 2010 that almost killed the themanbearpig. Wait to see if a panic post pops up in early December.”