First though, we lead with Zhihao, whose contrarian strategy appears to be paying off. Two weeks ago, he took the points with underdogs Stanford and Oregon – both teams won outright. Last week, he had underdog Central Florida, a straight-up winner over Houston, Cal, who did defeat Arizona by eight, albeit an ugly eight, but lost with Akron, who got killed by Temple.
Still, that's 4-2 over the past two weeks, bringing Zhihao to 15-9 on the season. Not bad.
This week, Zhihao's announcing his picks at the 12th hour. We'll post them on the premium board, but if recent history's any guide, look for those teams to shine this weekend.
Comparing the conferences
Interconference matchups are coming back from a two-month hiatus with the arrival of bowl season and, to a lesser extent, rivalry week (Georgia/Georgia Tech, Florida/Florida State, Clemson/South Carolina etc.). What a good time to re-examine the conferences and rate their relative strengths. Plus, of course, we think the Pac-10 might turn out surprisingly strong in this year's version of college football's never-ending debate over conference supremacy. Here goes…
First, we're knocking every league down to 10 teams to make for fair comparisons by taking away the middle teams in each league. So, Big Ten, say bye bye to Northwestern. The ACC loses Florida State and North Carolina. The Big 12 loses Iowa State and Kansas State. The SEC? Ole Miss and Auburn. The Big East only has eight teams but screw ‘em – they're a power conference in name only and most fans recognize that. Automatic sixth.(Besides, those eight teams are more easily compared to the nine in the Mountain West and the WAC, which is where the closer fight would be.)
So now that we have ten teams from each of the five real conferences, we're going to rank them side by side and I'm conducting a fantasy draft from each quintet. First team taken gets five points, last place gets one. Add it all up and we'll have a champion conference, maybe even the self-proclaimed Conference of Champions.
The weakness of such a system is that it's highly subjective: if I believe in the Pac-10 going in, I'll rate all the teams highly and so the Pac-10 will come out on top. Garbage in, garbage out. But there are plenty of objective sources for rankings of conference strength – Sagaran has the Pac-10, the SEC, the ACC, the Big East, the Big 12 and the Big 10 in that order, for example. Here's our chance to let the human element enter the equation, albeit in a formulaic way.
The strengths of such a system, meanwhile, are two-fold. First, this system really analyzes teams at every level. SEC fans will point to Alabama and Florida, or Big 12 fans Texas and Oklahoma (in most years) to defend their leagues, all while ignoring the Iowa States and Baylors and Vanderbilts of this world. Here, every team counts exactly the same. Second of all, and most importantly, we can compare conferences' relative strengths and weaknesses really easily with such a system.
My rankings are the featured picture for this story, so scroll back up and refer to it as we analyze. The ACC generally stinks by my accounting, registering no better than third anywhere. After Texas, the Big 12 is weak at the top –- Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Nebraska are a much worse two-three-four punch than, say, Oregon State, Stanford and USC -- and kind of average the rest of the way down. The Big 10 has no top-tier teams, and after its top-four, the bottom falls out. However, there are no punching bags in that league, so the Rust Belt consortium cleans up in the 8-9-10 spots and picks up with No. 3 Penn State and No. 4 Wisconsin lingering around the bottom of the Top 25.
The SEC has the best one-two-three combination out there in Florida, Alabama and LSU, which is why it gets all the hype. Chalk up Georgia and Mississippi State's high scores to the SEC being in a down year, and every other team in the league is scoring a three or better. That's a league which truly is competitive from top to bottom.
But finally, of course, is the league which checked in with the best score of all, as our very own conference of champions earned the moniker. You can see how it's easy to knock the Pac-10 – the top three of the Oregon schools and Stanford (by my accounting, at least. Substitute in an Arizona and you still reach the same conclusion.) are just good, not great, and Washington State makes for a convenient rhetorical punching bag at the absolute bottom. But the reality is the Pac-10 legitimately runs seven deep this year, which is more than you can say about any other league – and it's not even close. USC, Arizona, Cal and UCLA are eons ahead of other leagues' four through seven teams (see: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan; or Miami, Boston College, Wake Forest and Duke). If those middle four Pac-10 teams played each of those four squads, they'd do no worse than 3-1 each time. So, takeaways: The SEC is the best at the top, the Big 10 in the bottom and the Pac-10 in the middle. The Big 12 is ehh everywhere, and the ACC horrible everywhere. We rank the conferences thusly then:
No. 1 Pac-10
No. 1a SEC (too close to call)
No. 3 Big 10
No. 3a Big 12 (ditto)
No. 5 ACC
With those figures in mind, time for the picks:
Rutgers -9 at Syracuse
Purdue -3 at Indiana
Georgia -9.5 vs. Kentucky
Penn State -3 at Michigan State
LSU +4 at Ole Miss (!?! Are you kidding me?)
Texas Tech +6.5 vs. Oklahoma – Sooners aren't 9.5 better on a neutral field, plus Tech scores a lot so 6.5 means less
Texas A&M -5 vs. Baylor
Miami -19 vs. Duke
Kansas +27.5 at Texas – Just have a feeling. Potential lookahead game for UT.
1. Big Game (Stanford -7.5 vs. California)
I'd be a lot more confident if I could get seven on the nose, but I don't have a crystal ball and so I'm going to assume Stanford's offense keeps up its ridiculous pace until I see evidence otherwise. When predicting the future, assume the default, and right now, if both teams play to their status quo, Stanford wins by more than eight. Last we checked, the Card are still a gazillion points better at home, after all.
2. Oregon -6.5 at Arizona
I would never bet this in the real world because, just like you never bet for or against your home team lest your emotions mess up your analysis, the Cats are the de facto home team for Stanford fans this week. But Arizona is underrated coming off a close loss and they're undefeated at home this year. Rose Bowl on the line and Gameday in town for a night start – things look good for the home dog here. It's not a good musical, and it might be wishful thinking, but I'm going with the Cats.
3. Ohio State -11.5 at Michigan
First of all, when Kansas State/Nebraska for the Big 12 consolation division, ahem, North (thanks ESPN.com for the joke) is your other choice, why yes, this is one of the week's biggest games. Second of all, if you were to make an anti-All Decade Team – that is, take the worst starter or significant contributor at each position for your program over the last ten years, Mark Hugye and Steve Schilling would find places on the line, Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh would be starting linebackers, no questions asked, as would Jason Kovacz, Troy Woolfolk and Mike Williams in the secondary. Did I just name half of Michigan's O-line and half of their defense? Yeah, I thought so too. Ohio State by 47. I don't want to talk about it.
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