College football is back with games starting tonight with 16 games. Here is a breakdown of the action. While the top 25 showdowns are there, the number of potential FCS upsets over FBS schools is what I am looking for. Look for three to five FBS schools to embarrass themselves.
Congratulations to the teams who moved up in RPI this week. Oregon is the team of the week with two PAC-12 wins, including a 69-58 edge against No. 9 Utah. The wins have to secure a NCAA Tournament spot for the Ducks as they improved them to 20-8 on the year.
Tulsa is also building quite a case for a decent seed with a win over Temple to rise up 11 spots in the RPI. Non-conference play was a mixed bag for Tulsa but it made up for it with a 12-2 mark in the American Athletic Conference.
Here are notable risers in both men’s and women’s RPI.
Not many changes occurred in the top 100 of the men’s rating percentage index this week so the biggest jumper with the best ranking was actually California.
The Golden Bears came into the week 1-6 in PAC-12 play and was expected to end the week 1-8 with two road games. Yet California came away with wins at Washington State and Washington. The latter was far more unexpected. We’ll see if this was the week Cal needed to turn its season around who have a salvageable 13-9 record. The Bears have a ways to go to get back into NCAA tournament conversation but at least they are still alive for it.
On the women’s side Seton Hall moved up to No. 32 thanks to a home win against St. John’s, another team who moved up. The Pirates scored their 20th victory of the season tying the program record for fastest to ever reach that mark in a season. Look for Seton Hall to crack the top 25 in the coming weeks.
Last year I used the Sagarin ratings to find a quantitative method of determining the best conference of college football. I like the Sagarin ratings because it gives a score and ranking for every team in both FBS and FCS levels. Sagarin splits conference rankings into divisions so I had to do some work to see how the conferences stack up.
I found a conference average and median then split the difference to determine a total score.
The results are going to make SEC fans very happy. The Southeastern Conference had 13 of its 14 teams in the top 50 leaving Vanderbilt was the weak link as an outlier. Eight teams were in the top 15. That’s right, over half the SEC is ranked in the top 15 of the Sagarin rankings.
Alabama’s loss to Ohio State only dropped the Tide to No. 4 but the big surprise was Georgia at No. 5. That is because the Bulldogs went 6-2 against top 30 teams including wins over Clemson and Louisville from the ACC. This doesn’t mean that everyone should view Georgia as a top five team, but it does mean Georgia beat many quality teams this season that should not be overlooked.
While SEC critics will point to the elite teams losing on New Year’s Day the conference did go 7-5 in bowls. While the front of the pack teams in Mississippi State and Ole Miss lost, they couldn’t fall far because teams they beat in the regular season (Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Tennessee,) all won. Ole Miss blew out a Boise State squad back in August and that win looks better after Boise won the Fiesta Bowl over Arizona.
Arizona’s loss is a blemish on a great bowl season for the PAC-12, who went 6-2 in the postseason. The PAC-12 is the SEC’s biggest competition just like last season as half the conference is among the top 25 teams. The PAC-12’s issue is the bottom half with Washington State, Oregon State and Colorado outside the top 80. Washington State dropped to two games out of conference and Oregon State won but struggled with Hawaii and FCS Portland State. Colorado had a dismal 2-10 season with close calls to UMass and Hawaii as well. This pulled the PAC-12 down just enough to give the SEC the edge.
The Big 12, ACC and Big Ten pretty much evened out. Although it’s important to note TCU is the No. 1 team here. I doubt being the No. 1 Sagarin rating team is going to make up for missing the playoff. All three conferences had too many teams dragging their rankings down. Looking at you Iowa State, Kansas, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Indiana and Purdue.
The most surprising find was the Missouri Valley Conference of the FCS being ahead of all five FBS mid-major leagues. Half the Valley made it to the 24-team FCS playoff and the league did well. North Dakota State will meet Illinois State for the title tomorrow in a battle between conference rivals.
NDSU defeated Iowa State handily to boost the valley. Northern Iowa was competitive enough with Iowa and Hawaii to make an impact as well. Middle of the pack Indiana State won at Ball State. The result is a FCS league with 70 percent of the teams with winning records.
I thought the Mountain West would be a little higher but Boise State was the only team in the top 50 at No. 37. Little things like Air Force struggling to beat Georgia State, Colorado State getting pasted by Utah, and UNLV having a dismal year added up. It’s not good win Fresno State carries the West division despite a loss to the No. 172 team in UNLV.
The American Athletic had the largest variety with teams in the top 50 like Memphis and teams outside the top 200 in SMU. Little improvement among the back of the league will go a long way next season.
Conference USA may feel cheated to learn that Marshall had the highest ranking among mid-major teams but did not get to play in the Fiesta Bowl. The problem for CUSA is the bottom eight of the 13 teams were outside the Top 100.
It’s hard to rate the Sun Belt with two of its top four teams being denied bowl opportunities (Georgia Southern and Appalachian State) but it somehow rated higher than the MAC. Northern Illinois was the highest ranked in the MAC at No. 71 and that’s lowest ranking for any No. 1 team of a conference. The entire MAC East was a disaster with Bowling Green being the best at No. 120.
Instead of UMass, or some other team back East, the Mid-American Conference should be looking at the Missouri Valley for expansion. Go west young MAC. Go west.
The Sagarin rankings could change a tiny bit after the championship games this weekend but not much as Oregon and Ohio State are both secured in the top 3. For that I have to go with Oregon and North Dakota State in the FCS title.
Georgia Tech is through ACC play with an impressive 6-2 record. Only Duke can catch Tech in the Coastal division at 4-2. Duke must win out against rival North Carolina (won’t be easy) and Wake Forest (a lock) all at home. The Blue Devils have the tie-breaker for the Yellow Jackets with a 31-25 win in Atlanta back on October 11. I think Duke will pull this one out and win back-to-back Coastal Division titles.
American Athletic Conference
East Carolina’s days as a top 25 team are long over after three losses in AAC play. Heck, no one in the conference is even receiving votes in the AP poll anymore. Memphis (5-1), Cincinnati (4-1), and Central Florida (4-1) are the top dogs now. Of those teams Memphis has the easiest schedule and with two home games against South Florida and UConn. Both have losing records.
The Big 12 is down to Kansas State, Baylor and TCU. All have one loss in conference action but TCU has two games left while the others have three. Baylor and Kansas State still have to play each other in Manhattan. A K-State victory there will help but TCU has the tie-breaker against them. As long as TCU can get past Texas on Thanksgiving night it should be enough to win the conference and get a playoff spot.
Big Ten West
Four teams are alive in the West with Wisconsin (5-1) leading the way. Minnesota (4-2), Nebraska (4-2) and Iowa (4-2) have good odds too. Wisconsin still has to play at Iowa and host Minnesota. I think the Badgers will win out but a loss will cause plenty of chaos in this division.
Northern Illinois (5-1), Toledo (5-1), Western Michigan (5-1) and Central Michigan (4-2) are slugging it out the final weeks in the MAC West. NIU is the typical favorite but has to go on the road to Western Michigan to close the season. Then again, Western still has to play at Central. Toledo hosts rival and MAC East champ Bowling Green Wednesday. I have to pick NIU, the defending MAC West champ, until the other schools prove themselves.
The Mountain West
This conference is wide-open with four teams in the Mountain division in Colorado State, Air Force, Boise State, and Utah State still going for the crown. The Rams are the only other ranked group of five team besides Marshall. The West is a three-way between 3-3 teams in Fresno State, San Diego State and Nevada. Boise State has the easiest schedule remaining in the Mountain and that’s where the conference champion will come from. If Colorado State wins at Air Force though, it should come out of the division. For now I have to go with Boise as Air Force is a tough out.
Arizona State’s upset loss at Oregon State has thrown this division into a flux. Arizona, USC, and UCLA (who I left for dead earlier) are also in the mix. I like UCLA as it hosts USC and Stanford. The Arizona’s still have to play each other and Arizona itself will have tough match at Utah.
Alabama is back in the driver seat of the division after beating No. 1 Mississippi State Saturday. If Bama beats Auburn at home it will go to the SEC championship game. If Auburn pulls the upset that’s when it gets interesting. Mississippi State and Ole Miss still have to play each other too and the winner of that game would then become the division champion. That is of course if Ole Miss takes care of Arkansas and Mississippi State takes care of Vanderbilt this week.
The SEC East is simple, if Missouri wins out the Tigers take the division. A loss to either at Tennessee or home to Arkansas and Georgia will win the division. The Bulldogs are through SEC play at 6-2 and but have the tie-breaker as they gave the Tigers their only SEC loss. Look for Missouri to drop a game giving Georgia the division.
Georgia Southern and Louisiana are undefeated in Sun Belt action but don’t play each other. Georgia Southern has just one game remaining hosting 3-7 Louisiana-Monroe. The Ragin’ Cajuns have the tougher road hosting Appalachian State (5-5, 4-2) and at Troy (3-8, 3-4). I still think both teams will finish undefeated and we’ll have co-champions in the Sun Belt.
Bonus FCS Picks
Big Sky: Eastern Washington
Colonial: New Hampshire
Missouri Valley: Illinois State and North Dakota State
SWAC: Alcorn State
Last week a very colorful vine from AAC member South Florida caught my eye. The Bulls were hosting the No. 19 Pirates of East Carolina for Homecoming and pulled out all the animation guns to promote it. The result was a pirate ship being flushed down a whirlpool while a South Florida boat floats in the air.
Does is matter that clipper ship is totally irregular for a team called the Bulls? Guess not as South Florida appears to think it can borrow ideas from its professional neighbor in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As weird as that was, South Florida surprised East Carolina with a 17-7 lead in the third quarter. That didn’t last though as the Pirates would score the next three touchdowns to win 28-17.
Next time, hopefully, the Bulls will make an animation about… well… a bull.
This Kid Knows PAC-12 Football
Thought you knew a lot about college football when you were a kid? Well Jack and his PAC-12 football knowledge has you beat. While only being 2-years-old he has mastered something that took me to at least the age of 4 or 5 to accomplish. Memorize all the teams in a power conference.
Now if a kid could do this with Conference USA or the American Athletic that would be even more impressive. I didn’t master all the teams in the American Athletic until last month. Mainly because the league is new, changes every year and make no sense in terms of geography.
Marshall in the Top 25
Marshall is the second mid-major school to crack the top 25 this season joining East Carolina. It’s the first time the Thundering Herd has been ranked since 2002 and fans are proudly showing their enthusiasm.
Marshall’s best win of the season may have been Saturday as it jumped on 4-2 Middle Tennessee State for 49-24 victory. Marshall has not beaten a big name team yet but the way the Herd has been tearing up opponents is noteworthy. The Herd is 6-0 and has scored at least 40 points in every game. Anything short of an undefeated season may actually be a disappointment.
1,000 Volleyball Wins for Northern Iowa
The Northern Iowa volleyball team is off to strong year at 12-6 and more importantly, 7-0 in Missouri Valley Conference play. Northern Iowa rolled to a sweep of Southern Illinois Sunday and took to social media to showcase its big milestone.
Over 2,500 fans were there to see the Panthers reach 1K. That is a sharp contrast with our next school.
WCU Volleyball Needs Fans
The Western Carolina women’s volleyball team defeated the Citadel in three sets Sunday at home. Problem is I’m sure if any fans were there to see the Catamounts improve their record to 9-11. Not one fan could be seen in this highlight video.
To be fair, the box score says 156 fans were in attendance, just they were never in front of the camera.
Colorado State’s Great Promotion
Want to get fans to see a 4-9 women’s soccer team. Give away free BBQ.
The Rams would lose the game 3-2 to Colorado College but fans can’t complain with a great a deal like that. Hope the Rams can turn their season around as Mountain West play continues.
Saturday is loaded with great football matchups from noon to 2 a.m. A total of five games between top 23 teams meaning at least 20 percent of the best are going down Saturday.
Missouri has a golden opportunity to take control of the SEC East with Georgia coming to Columbia. Especially now with Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley being placed on indefinite suspension. Georgia Tech is undefeated and will have control of the ACC Coastal with a win over Duke.
Then at 3:30 will be the massive meeting between No. 2 Auburn at No. 3 Mississippi State. No. 9 TCU will give No.5 Baylor its first test of the season at the same time.
Penn State will try to add insult to injury at Michigan in the evening. Will be interesting to see how Michigan fans react during the game. No. 3 Ole Miss will try to follow up its win against Alabama by going to No. 14 Texas A&M. Expect the Aggies to play better after losing to Mississippi State. Late at night will be a fun game between a vengeful and unranked USC against No. 10 Arizona. I’m sure the Trojans will play with fury after losing to a Hail Mary last week against Arizona State.
Some good volleyball games this weekend with No. 4 Florida State on Friday and No. 9 Florida in action Sunday. If the NFL is boring Sunday than be sure to check those games out on the SEC Network. Here is the sports schedule I’ll try to follow.