College Football Handicapping: Major Conferences Highlights and Lowlights
by Trevor Whenham - 10/14/2013
We are more or less halfway through the college football season. That means it is a good time to check in on the six BCS conferences. Which team has established themselves as the best of the conference? Which team is overrated and poised to disappoint bettors? And which team is quietly dangerous and ready to reward bettors in the second half?
Best team: Louisville
The Cardinals haven’t been nearly as dynamic as they should be this year, but they are undefeated, and despite faltering against Rutgers in primetime on Thursday they have mostly done what was expected of them. They have the capabilities of going undefeated all the way. There is almost no way they could win the National Championship Game, but a BCS berth is theirs to lose — and QB Teddy Bridgewater could be the first overall pick in next year’s draft if things close strong.
Houston’s 5-0 start is impressive. They have played a stunningly weak schedule, though, and things are about to get tougher. This is a much-improved team from last year, and they can win eight or nine games, but this record is far from representative.
Quietly dangerous: UCF
The Knights won at Penn State, and gave South Carolina all they could handle. Next up they have a chance to ruin Louisville’s season. They play solid defense, they can throw the ball reasonably well, and they are fearless. Ten wins is a real possibility here.
Best team: Clemson
This one is a coin flip, because the obvious answer is that the best team is whichever one wins the Florida State vs. Clemson game this week. I give Clemson the edge because that game is at home and Tajh Boyd is experienced in big games. Either way, these two squads are head and shoulders above the rest of the conference.
Miami gets credit for beating Florida at home. Outside of that, though, they have played a very weak schedule, and their stats are inflated as a result. Given that Florida has issues of their own, it is almost impossible to have confidence that this is really the 10th best team in the country.
Quietly dangerous: Maryland
Everyone has written Maryland off after they were thoroughly humiliated by Florida State. All that has really proven, though, is that this is not an elite squad — which we knew anyway. They play four more games against teams that aren’t great, and those are all opportunities for them to show what they are capable of when matched against fair competition.
Best team: Baylor
The conference is a bit of a mess, but you can’t argue with a team this offensively potent. I also like how well they handled the adversity they faced last time out. They haven’t really beaten anyone of note, but for now they are the class of the group.
Overrated: Texas Tech
The Red Raiders are a great story and all, and their future is bright, but the second half of their schedule is much tougher than the first half, and they are going to struggle to maintain the level of play that they have enjoyed so far.
Quietly dangerous: Texas
The Longhorns became a punchline early this year, and Mack Brown is likely doomed. Against Oklahoma, though, they reminded us that they still have better talent than the majority of teams in the country, and they aren’t dead yet. I wouldn’t trust them against truly elite teams, but there aren’t any of those in the Big 12.
Best team: Ohio State
This isn’t close. The conference has been such a disappointment — again — that Ohio State is the only truly respectable team. The problem is that they haven’t really been tested, and they won’t be this year unless Michigan gets back on track.
Their loss at Penn State was one of the worst-coached, worst-executed games I have watched in a very long time. This team should be pretty good, but they are instead a 5-1 team that is lucky that they aren’t 3-3.
Quietly dangerous: Wisconsin
Wisconsin crushed Northwestern this week, and if it weren’t for the chaos at the end of that Arizona State game, they would be 5-1 and ranked well. As it stands, they are the only team in the Big Ten that is currently underappreciated by the betting public.
Best team: Oregon
Hard to argue with this one — especially now that Stanford has gone down in stunning fashion. Oregon may be the best team in the country, so they are clearly tops in this very good conference.
Overrated: Oregon State
The team is 5-1 and getting some buzz. They have played a horribly weak schedule to date, though, and their loss came to Eastern Washington. Things get much tougher in the second half, and if this team isn’t careful they could lose five games.
Quietly dangerous: Utah
The Utes aren’t so quiet anymore after their stunning upset of Stanford. While few could have predicted that win, this is a team that played UCLA very tough, beat a solid Utah State team, and took Oregon State to overtime, so they are better than they have been since joining the Pac-12 — by a wide margin. They have a well-balanced offense, and they are gritty. They could win as many as five more games if they can build on the success of this potentially program-defining win.
Best team: Alabama
No room for argument here. They are the defending champs and they haven’t faltered yet. Until someone proves they are mortal, they are the top team playing.
Their win at Georgia gained them a lot of attention, and they have a strong, balanced offense. The loss of James Franklin combined with a schedule that is brutal in the second half, though, will see this squad fall back to earth.
Quietly dangerous: Ole Miss
This team faced a brutal stretch and is showing the scars — they lost three straight to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M. They have LSU up next, so things don’t get any easier. After that, though, the schedule lightens up. This is a very young but wildly-talented squad, and this trial by fire can only help them grow. They should be able to close strong.
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