Which Power Five conference is the toughest in the nation, and which is performing just slightly above the Group of Five level? It’s a highly fluid and ever-changing process, but opinions are starting to form now that the non-conference portion of schedules is gradually nearing an end.
Assembling the league pecking order is bigger than the triviality of regional bragging rights. It will directly impact the selections of the College Football Playoff committee, which must decide which league champion—or two—will wind up on the outside looking in when bids are released Dec. 6.
Week 4 College Football Conference Power Rankings
5. Big 12
It sure has been a brutal start to 2016 for the Big 12, which is already down to just two undefeated teams, Baylor and West Virginia, with 11 weekends remaining in the regular season.
The Big 12’s two most recognizable brands, Texas and Oklahoma, lost on Saturday night. The Sooners were embarrassed at home by Ohio State. And the Horns, the league’s highest ranked member, fell to Cal, which had lost to San Diego State a week earlier. The rest of the Big 12 took care of business in Week 3, including Oklahoma State's win over Pittsburgh. But the lack of an identity, or a top 10 program, is likely to dog the conference for the balance of the season.
Right now in the Pac-12, it’s Stanford and everyone else who wants to be Stanford.
The Cardinal solidified their role as the defending league champ by outclassing a USC team that just isn’t very good right now. Washington could give the Pac-12 some much-needed punch at the top, but no one really knows how high the ceiling is for a Husky team that’s opened with Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State. The conference split its two marquee Week 3 games, with Oregon fading late at Nebraska and Cal shocking No. 11 Texas. UCLA also defeated BYU in Provo, but didn’t look especially crisp doing it. League play starts this week, with hope that U-Dub is as good as the record, and that someone from the South Division builds a head of steam.
Louisville is far better than everyone expected. Florida State is worse. It’s a wash for a league that remains as unbalanced as ever from a divisional standpoint.
The Cards obliterated the Noles, 63-20, meaning the ACC still boasts two serious playoff contenders out of the Atlantic Division, pending Clemson’s ability to locate a spark once conference play starts this Thursday. However, the league went 3-4 in non-conference games with FBS opponents. The best win? Improving Miami racing past Appalachian State with unexpected ease. All of the losses, Duke to Northwestern, Syracuse to South Florida, Pitt to Oklahoma State and Virginia to UConn, signified a league still trying to strengthen its midsection and lower tier.
With the onset of conference play, the SEC didn’t get many opportunities for statements in Week 3. However, all of the ranked teams won, save for Ole Miss, which still made a point by nearly upsetting top-ranked Bama for a third consecutive year.
At least half of the 14 SEC schools are either ranked or on the cusp of being ranked. The concentration of power remains in the West Division, especially since Texas A&M and Arkansas own quality wins over UCLA and TCU, respectively. The East, though, controls the league’s ceiling, much the way the West does in the Big Ten. However, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia remain works-in-progress, and the Vols and the Gators are dealing with injuries.
1. Big Ten
Save Iowa's two-point loss to North Dakota State, it would have been a positively memorable weekend in Big Ten country. Still, there was a lot to like about how the conference stepped up in Week 3.
The Big Ten had a ton to prove over the weekend, and boy did it deliver to retake the top spot. Included in a 9-2 mark was Ohio State’s rout of Oklahoma, a Michigan State upset of Notre Dame and Nebraska’s thrilling win over Oregon. If the Spartans and the Huskers can build off their best wins of the year, it’s going to give the Big Ten three quality teams from the East Division and the West Division who’ll duke it out until the final weekend of the regular season.