No. 1 Big 12
The conference that has taken center stage during conference expansion talk -- again -- showed up big in the third week of football. In fact, three Big 12 teams are in the Associated Press Top 10 rankings. A resurgent Texas trampled what appears to be a very bad UCLA team, 49-20. Oklahoma dominated Florida State, 23-13. Oklahoma State played until the wee hours of the morning (weather delay) and beat Tulsa, 59-33. Texas A&M, Missouri, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas Tech all beat up on some inferior competition. We even saw a mild upset as Iowa State who beat UConn 24-20 on the road. The Big 12's four biggest wins were all on the road -- at Pasadena (UCLA), East Hartford (UConn), Tulsa (Tulsa), and Tallahassee (Florida State).
This week, the Big 12 has some very compelling September games: Oklahoma hosts Missouri, Oklahoma State travels to Texas A&M, and Texas Tech hosts Nevada. Two big guns are going to fall and produce more shake-ups in the conference, plus we've got expansion rumors swirling around. Stay tuned.
No. 2 SEC
There is a little concern that this perennial powerhouse conference may be looking at a very top-heavy year -- more so than in previous years. Alabama is undefeated with one quality win under their belt that now appears to be not such a quality win -- the Nittany Lions, who lost to Alabama 27-11 a week ago, struggled against the Temple Owls on Saturday before finally winning 14-10. LSU beat Mississippi State on Thursday with a dominating defensive performance and Arkansas beat Troy 38-28 -- but the Razorbacks didn't even cover the Las Vegas spread.
Auburn's 17-game win streak was snapped by an ACC team (Clemson), Florida beat Tennessee, 33-23. Ole Miss lost to Vanderbilt, 30-7. South Carolina escaped Navy, 24-21. Georgia finally had an impressive 59-0 performance, but it was against the FCS' Coastal Carolina Chanticleers and Kentucky lost to Louisville 24-17.
Bottom line? LSU looks to be the top dog and Alabama hasn't lived up to its full expectations. Arkansas hasn't had a real challenge yet, Florida's offense has improved tremendously under OC Charlie Weis' tutelage and South Carolina hasn't jelled, but their running back Marcus Lattimore looks like a Heisman contender. Four contenders (with Tennessee possibly getting into the mix) seem a tad top-heavy.
This week, Arkansas plays at Alabama so one of these two teams will hopefully make a strong statement in the SEC West. LSU plays at West Virginia, and while it's not a conference game, this could define how good LSU really is. Georgia plays Ole Miss in Oxford in the Doghouse Bowl -- the losing head coach may not have a job at the end of the year. South Carolina hosts a 3-0 Vanderbilt and this series has been close in recent years. The Gamecocks have beat the Commodores twice in the last three years, but two of those games saw a score differential of seven points or less.
This week, some big boys will fall.
No. 3 ACC
The ACC had a fairly strong showing this week after going 2-1 in three huge games and for that reason alone, they take the No. 3 spot. Clemson looked like the Clemson team we've been waiting to emerge for years -- they beat the team with the nation's longest winning streak in FBS football, the defending BCS Champion Auburn Tigers, 38-24. Miami walloped the Buckeyes 24-6 in a painful-to-watch rout and Florida State lost to Oklahoma, 23-13. But there are some positives in that loss. The Seminoles' defense forced the Sooners to kick four field goals and the offense didn't fall apart after starting quarterback E.J. Manuel injured his shoulder and redshirt freshman Clint Trickett took over without the 'Noles three top receivers in the game.
Wake Forest and North Carolina State rolled over FCS opponents, Virginia Tech beat an underrated Arkansas State team, 26-7. North Carolina beat Virginia, 28-17, and Boston College is now 0-3. Georgia Tech looks like a potential sleeper after demolishing Kansas, 66-24, but what really stands out in that game is the Yellow Jackets' offense against the Jayhawks -- 604 yards rushing.
This week, Florida State plays at Clemson in what could be the game of the week as both teams will be fighting to nab their first conference win. North Carolina at Georgia Tech will also be compelling as both teams are in the same division -- the Blue Devils are currently 1-0 in the Coastal.
No. 4 Pac-12
USC looked better this week, albeit against a Syracuse team that struggled to beat Rhode Island the previous week. For what it's worth, the Trojans are 3-0 against three BCS teams -- Minnesota, Utah and Syracuse, which apparently isn't worth much since they can't participate in postseason play. Stanford beat Arizona 37-10 but once again, the Cardinal looked sluggish coming out of the gate. Utah beat BYU in the Holy War winning 54-14 -- the Utes held BYU scoreless in the second half while putting up 40 points.
Colorado beat Colorado State and has now won four straight contests against the Rams at Denver's Invesco Field (their loss in 2009 was at Colorado State). Oregon spanked Missouri State 56-7 although at the end of one quarter of play, the Ducks were only beating the Bears 14-7. Cal is 3-0 and nobody is talking about them. Yet.
The Pac-12's losses did not go unnoticed. UCLA is looking straight down the barrel of a four-win season after a horrific performance against Texas -- the Bruins drop to 1-2 after losing 49-20 to the visiting Longhorns. Washington State was riding a 2-0 record before falling apart in the fourth quarter against San Diego State. The Cougars had a 24-21 lead after three quarters, but the Aztecs scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth. To be fair, San Diego State is a very good -- and very underrated -- team so the loss, while not unexpected, should give the Cougars' defense something to build on. Washington kept it close against Nebraska in the first half, down 20-17, but surrendered 17 unanswered points in the third quarter and eventually lost 51-38.
This week, the Ducks play in the desert at Arizona, and Cal plays at Washington. If Cal wins, the Golden Bears will take sole possession of first place in the North since Stanford is on a bye week. The South has some more interesting games with USC traveling to Arizona State, UCLA at Oregon State and Colorado at Ohio State.
No. 5 Big Ten
It's tough to see the Big Ten in the No. 5 spot, but there really isn't much to say in its defense. Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team ranked in the AP top 20 rankings. Ohio State got steam-rolled by Miami, Penn State struggled to beat Temple, Michigan State lost big to Notre Dame and Iowa beat Pittsburgh.
Let's put it another way. Illinois and Wisconsin are tied for first place in the Leaders while Michigan and Nebraska are tied for first in the Legends. The Leaders and Legends divisions each have a 13-5 record, but those ten combined losses are all from non-conference play.
Nebraska beat Washington, but they certainly haven't lived up to their reputation -- in three games the defense has given up 74 points. Michigan is 3-0 but only because they played two directional Michigan schools and a Notre Dame team that gave up the ball five times. Iowa looks suspect after losing to Iowa State last week and having to overcome a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to beat Pitt.
On the slate this week is Ohio State hosting Colorado. This could be a trap game simply because Colorado is still under construction with new head coach Jon Embree, the Buffs haven't won on the road (sans neutral venues) since October 27, 2007, and the Buckeyes host Michigan State the following week. Michigan hosts the scary-good San Diego Aztecs and it will be interesting to see how the No. 82 Wolverines' rush defense contains the No. 24 Aztecs' rushing offense.
No. 6 Big East
It's not a good week for the Big East when the conference's big wins are West Virginia over Maryland 37-31, and Louisville beating Kentucky 24-17. But Syracuse lost big to USC, Pitt lost a heartbreaker to Iowa, and UConn lost 24-20 to Iowa State. All in all, it was not a good showing for the Big East, and this week could become even more dire.
Pitt hosts the resurgent Notre Dame Fighting Irish and could fall to 2-2 if the Panthers don't play four quarters of football. West Virginia hosts LSU in what should be a thrilling game and a chance for the No. 16 Mountaineers to bring some respect back to the Big East. Two other interesting games worth noting are NC State at Cincinnati on Thursday night and Rutgers hosting a 3-0 Ohio Bobcats team.
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