College Football Handicapping: Ranking the Conferences
by Trevor Whenham - 11/10/2011
We are more than halfway through conference play in college football. That means that we know a fair bit about what each conference is capable of, and what problems and limitations they face.
That means it is a good time to make a reasonably accurate ranking of the strength of the major conferences for help with college football handicapping. Without further ado:
1. SEC - With LSU the No. 1 team in the country and Alabama only a field goal behind it would be hard to justify not having the SEC atop these standings. When you add in Arkansas they are the only conference to have three teams in the Top 10. They fall off pretty hard after those three — I am very skeptical about Georgia and South Carolina, and Florida and Auburn have obvious issues — but this conference still reigns as the toughest and best of the lot. I don’t think their dominance is as profound as it has been in the past, and I don’t think there is nearly the certainty that they will win it all this year as they have so often in the past, but for now they are tops.
2. Big 12 - Off the field it has been a rough season for the conference. On the field, though, they have been very solid. Though they still have a test or two to pass, Oklahoma State looks to have their best chance ever to finally climb out of the shadows and into the top level of competition. Oklahoma had one totally inexplicable loss, but has been almost flawless outside of that. The depth really drops off quickly after that, but Kansas State has been a big surprise this season, and Texas is better than they were last year by a wide margin.
3. Pac-12 - By Saturday night we’ll have a much better sense of where the strength lies in this conference because Oregon travels to Stanford in a huge showdown. If Stanford wins then they have a solid look at an undefeated season and maybe a spot in the National Championship Game. If Oregon wins, though, then the top two teams in the conference both have some clear issues that has to make us seriously question if they can measure up to elite teams in the country. The conference would be more respectable if USC was eligible for postseason play because they are clearly the third best team in the conference. Beyond those three there are depth issues here as well — Washington and Arizona State are dangerous when they are on, but they lack consistency, UCLA is leading their division despite a world of issues, and the rest of the conference is just not very good.
4. ACC - I have to give this conference real credit. Heading into the season I thought that they were better than the Big East, but not by much. I also thought they were far behind the rest. While they don’t have a lot of depth, either, they have been far better than I thought. Clemson has been the toughest team in the country, managing to persevere and shine in the face of a totally brutal schedule. Virginia Tech is the same solid team that we see every year — despite signs that they might struggle this year. Georgia Tech has been strong as well, and Virginia has been a pleasant surprise. Florida State has underachieved on early expectations in a serious way, but I never bought into them in the first place.
5. Big Ten - I’m a big fan of this conference, so it kills me to put them this low in the rankings. There is no question that this is where they belong, though. Their top team is ranked only 12th, and that’s a Penn State team that has massive distractions to deal with now, and probably would have lost two down the stretch even without that. Wisconsin has been a huge disappointment. Michigan State couldn’t maintain their momentum. Michigan has shown that they are a year or two away from the big time still despite real progress. Nebraska hasn’t found the new conference as welcoming as they thought they would. The best team in the group right now might be Ohio State, and that’s not a compliment to the conference given all their issues and shortcomings. This is the most stable conference off the field, but on the field it hasn’t been ideal.
6. Big East - The Big East is just plain bad at football. West Virginia has been a massive disappointment despite the strong play of Geno Smith. Pitt has been a big disappointment as well. South Florida started out strong, but has lost all four conference games they have played. Cincinnati is leading the way in the race for the BCS spot, but it’s hard to take a conference seriously when their best team is only ranked 23rd, and West Virginia is the only team to get even a single vote in the poll. This is just a lousy conference, and it’s certainly not going to get any better with their changes.
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