4 Down Territory: The SEC and The Ivy League....It Just Means More
For many teams this is a last week of non-conference games before conference play begins. As such there aren’t a lot of heavy hitters. That is why ESPN College Game Day is headed to the Appalachian State/ Troy game in Boone, NC. The Sun Belt Conference is suddenly hot after a weekend where they recorded wins at Texas A&M, at Notre Dame and at Nebraska. And since we’re talking conferences it is a good time to look at the early returns for each league.
First Down: Appetizers: (1) Georgia at South Carolina 12:00 ESPN: The defense continues to dominate for UGA. In last week’s loss at Arkansas, South Carolina had three turnovers, and allowed Arkansas to dominate the time of possession. Carolina lost two LBs to injuries which will be big trouble trying to stop UGA's power run and play-action pass attack.…..(6) Oklahoma at Nebraska 12:00 FOX: After losses to Northwestern and Georgia Southern, Nebraska’s administration had seen enough and fired Coach Scott Frost. Now they host an OU team that remembers last year's close call in Norman…….(23) Pitt at Western Michigan 7:30 ESPNU: The Broncos beat Pitt last year so they will have Pitt’s full attention. For Pitt the big question mark is at the most important position. Both starting QB Kedon Slovis and back-up Nick Patti were injured in the OT loss to Tennessee. Pitt’s defense and pass rush will need to create some chaos plays……..Toledo at (3) Ohio State 7:00 FOX: Ohio State will have their full WR corps back and ready to go for this one. Toledo’s mascot may be the rockets, but it will be OSU with the supersonic speed at WR this week.
Second Down: At 3:30 You'll Need a TV, Smart Phone & iPad: The best time slot this week is 3:30 with three interesting games on 3 networks…….(12) BYU at (25) Oregon 3:30 FOX: For Oregon the long climb back from the season-opening blowout loss will take time. But BYU’s new focus on defense will not make it easy. Their pass rush harassed Baylor QBs last week and helped them pull the OT upset. Oregon will need to protect the football to win this one……(20) Ole Miss at Georgia Tech 3:30 ABC: Ole Miss did the 2-QB alternating starter routine in week’s 1 and 2. The usually loquacious Lane Kiffin was less than forthcoming as to naming one the starter for this. Against a Georgia Tech team that has been struggling of late, it probably won’t matter for Ole Miss…….(22) Penn State at Auburn 3:30 CBS: If Auburn can make this a game decided by the play in the trenches they have the advantage. If Penn State can make it more about quarterback play they have the advantage. Both teams have coverage vulnerabilities with their linebacking corps so look for play-actions and short and intermediate inside breaking routes. Those routes also carry more risk, an area where a veteran QB has the edge.
Third Down: Primetime: (11) Michigan State at Washington 7:30 ABC: The Huskies’ fortunes will rest on the arm and legs of oft-injured Indiana transfer QB Michael Penix who started two games at IU (2019 & 2020) with one win and one loss against Sparty. He threw for 606 yards and 5 TDs in those two games but threw 2 picks. Once again MSU has focused on running the ball, stopping the run, and utilizing big plays from speedy WRs. MSU will have to cut down turnovers to win this one……(13) Miami at (24) Texas A&M 9:00 ESPN: ESPN’s College Game Day was probably headed here until App State shocked the Aggies. Miami’s new approach is focused on toughness and defense. A&M has been one dimensional on offense as the run game has struggled. Balance will have to return to have a chance Saturday night. For Miami, an early season lofty ranking is a gift, but one that must be retained in games like these…..Fresno State at (7) USC 10:30 FOX: USC’s defense was vulnerable at times against Stanford but was saved by getting 4 turnovers including two key red zone INTs. Fresno State is probably not the team to take advantage of any deficiencies in the Trojan defense....but you never know.
Fourth Down: Conference Strength: With two weeks down the sample size of non-conference games is significant enough to gauge relative strength among the Power-5 leagues. Eliminating games against FCS teams helps give us a better picture. For example, 8 of the ACC’s 18 and 8 of the Pac 12’s 16 non-conference wins were against FCS teams. Against FBS teams, the Big 12 comes in at 10-2 (83.3%), The SEC at 15-4 (78.9%), The Big 10 at 13-4 (76.5%), the ACC at 9-5 (64.2%), the Pac 12 at 8-5 (61.5%). Another factor is to see how teams did against ranked opponents. The SEC is 4-1, The Big Ten 1-0, the Pac 12 is 1-1, The Big 12 is 1-2 and the ACC is 0-2. As for the new media darlings, the Sun Belt conference, they are 11-10 against FBS teams with a 2-3 record against ranked teams.
Extra Credit: The Ivy League "It Means More": The SEC likes to say that in their league "It Means More." As the US News and World Report’s College Rankings came out this week, it is The Ivy League where "It Means More." Among the Power-5 leagues the SEC is 4th with the average national ranking of their schools at 112.6. By way of comparison the ACC leads all teams with an average rank of 57.1, followed by the Big Ten at 59, the Pac-12 at 84.9, the SEC at 112.6 and the Big 12 at 138. That order will shift in 2024 when #20 UCLA and #25 USC join the Big Ten and boost their average to 54.4 making them the strongest academic Power-5 conference. And in case you’re wondering where it really does mean more, that would be the IVY LEAGUE. If there was a 4-team Division-1 Academic playoff the Ivy League would have the #1 seed with Princeton, and the #2 and #3 seeds with Harvard and Yale and Stanford would be the #4 seed. You want to know how seriously the Ivy league takes the rankings? After allegations came out the Columbia provided intentionally flawed information to influence these rankings (cheating), they were sanctioned with a ratings drop from #2 to #18.