College football hit the reset button on October 4th.
Let's recap. A depleted #2 Oregon was outplayed by Arizona in Autzen, #16 Southern Cal stood by as ASU's backup quarterback, Mike Bercovici, connected with WR Jaelen Strong on a game-winning hail mary in the Coliseum, #8 UCLA lost to Utah in the Rose Bowl on a missed last-second field goal attempt, and #14 Stanford lost at #9 Notre Dame courtesy of a game winning touchdown by QB Everett Golson with less than two minutes remaining.
Deep breath. That was just the Pac-12.
In the SEC, #12 Mississippi St. stunned Kevin Sumlin and #6 Texas A&M, #11 Ole Miss put on a show for Katy Perry by upsetting #3 Alabama, #5 Auburn cruised past #15 LSU, and Kentucky even got a win over South Carolina (good for them!).
Parity has washed over the college football landscape. Traditional college football powerhouses were upset, and borderline Top 25 teams sky rocketed into the rankings.
No one is safe.
Following week six, the Pac-12 and SEC both have 50% of their teams ranked in the AP Top 25. But excluded from the Coaches Poll is Utah, leaving the Pac-12 with 41.67% ranked teams in comparison to the SEC's 50%.
But how telling is that? Is Arizona the tenth best team in the nation? Is TCU the ninth best? Doubtful. The polls have been utilized as a comparison tool in previous articles, but their dependency as a barometer of each conferences' standing has wavered in the wake of this past weekend's games.
It's officially a "What Have You Done For Me Lately" poll. With upsets nationwide, teams like Arizona and TCU were rewarded for their upset victories. Big wins, big love.
At 5-0 and in first place in the Pac-12 South, Arizona deserves the recognition. But when was the last time the #10 team in the nation was an underdog at home (USC is a 3-point favorite when they travel to Tucson on Saturday)?
Let's gather some perspective.
A few other notes: I think Arizona is good, but not as high as I have them ranked now. But they've earned the spot this week. Same w/ TCU— Rece Davis (@ESPN_ReceDavis) October 5, 2014
**Davis released his own Top 25 via Twitter that had TCU ranked #5 and Arizona ranked #8.**
The same could be argued against Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Are there only two teams in the nation better than them? Again, doubtful. But Bo Wallace and Dak Prescott, respectively, have led their teams to major victories NOW. Recent accomplishments will always be at the forefront of voters' minds.
That said, based off of rankings, it is hard to argue against the conference that makes up half of the top ten.
Six weeks into the season, we are immersed in conference play. No more Lamars, Weber States, or Wyomings (Thank God). And because of that, each teams' strength of schedule (SOS - utilizing Sagarin Ratings) now reflects the improvement in competition.
Many Pac-12 loyalists would argue that the conference is the best in the country because of its overall parity--we'll get to that. Currently though, the Pac-12 has a 46.0 average SOS ranking, while the SEC boasts a 29.86 average. But how much of that is influenced by programs who actually move the meter within the conference?
The SEC's average is assisted by the SOS of both Vanderbilt (6) and Tennessee (3), neither of which have won a conference game. Conversely, the conference is also being held back by perennial bottom dweller, Kentucky (121). Outside of Kentucky, the SEC does not have a team that plays a SOS ranked higher than 50th, but the Pac-12 does. The Pac-12 has five programs whose SOS ranks higher than 50th through week six.
Pac-12 supporters who argue strength of schedule will not win an argument when it comes down to the numbers yet, but if their point is to argue the competitiveness of the conference--the Pac-12 is a more difficult place to capture a victory.
Here are the margin of victory numbers for conference games through the last three weeks:
- Week 4: Pac-12 (2 games) - 5.5 margin; SEC (3 games) - 13.3 margin
- Week 5: Pac-12 (5 games) - 14.2 margin; SEC (4 games) - 5.25 margin
- Week 6: Pac-12 (6 games*) - 3.6 margin; SEC (6 games) - 13.0 margin
- Three Week Average: Pac-12 - 7.76 margin; SEC - 10.52 margin
For simplicity's sake, the Pac-12 margin of victory over the last three weeks is one possession while the SEC's is two.
But is that necessarily a good thing?
For fans, yes. Week in and week out, there are no gimmes--Colorado has proven that they are not the Vanderbilt of the Pac-12. The question that raises though: Does that mean the Pac-12 is full of good teams or just void of any elite programs?
Both. The Pac-12 is full of GOOD football teams. Unfortunately, Oregon and Stanford, the Pac-12's mainstays in the top ten over the last few years, have appeared mortal. Oregon's depleted offensive line has hindered their offense from firing on all cylinders and Stanford's offense is allergic to scoring.
Six weeks into 2014, the Pac-12 does not have an elite program. It does not have an "Auburn."
Follow the Leader?
To make the picture a little more hazy, another name has been thrown into the mix--the Big-12.
From top to bottom, the Big-12 is not as good as the Pac-12 or the SEC. Let's get that out of the way up front. But a handful of Big-12 programs have been able to take advantage of the Pac-12 and the SEC beating up themselves.
Like the Pac-12, the Big-12 also has 50% of it's programs ranked in the AP Top 25. Additionally, the Big-12's SOS is on average 2.7 points lower than that of the Pac-12. But unlike the SEC whose premier programs have respectable strength of schedules, the Big-12's premiere program has a SOS that is worse than every program in the SEC, Big-12, and Pac-12, other than Kentucky and Washington.
Baylor, the #3 ranked team in the nation, has benefited from the Pac-12 and SEC implosions and their weak schedule up to this point. We will learn a lot more about Baylor in the coming weeks though, as their schedule begins to pick up (vs. TCU, @ WVU, @ Oklahoma, vs. OK State, and vs. Kansas State).
While the Big-12 is nipping at the heels of the Pac-12, the SEC is holding on.
The playing field was practically evened after week six, and the separation that the SEC began to create after week four has shrunk. But they still have the edge.
Each week, this series has attempted to match up, team for team, the Pac-12 versus the SEC. The only undefeated team Arizona, would likely be at least a touchdown underdog against any of the SEC's undefeated teams (Auburn, Ole Miss, and Mississippi St.) on a neutral field.
While the college football waters are muddied nationwide, one thing is clear--there are only a few elite programs. And none of those programs reside in the Pac-12 right now.
Where does this leave the Pac-12?
The Pac-12 no longer controls its own destiny.
Early in the season, the conference has gone Tyler Durden on itself. And with plenty of games left to play, more of its top programs are going to lose. Someone has to lose between UCLA and Oregon this weekend, right? These two were favored in the Pac-12 South and North, respectively. One of them will have two losses after week seven. Can a two-loss team be considered elite? Can they secure a place in the inaugural College Football Playoff?
Pac-12 fans need to hope the SEC does the same. And their is opportunity for this to happen, i.e., Auburn at Mississippi State on Saturday.
If the Pac-12's premier programs can take business (Beuller) and the SEC's top teams lose--the boys from the west can make up some ground.
Key Games Week 7 & 8
Arizona: vs. USC
ASU: vs. Stanford
Oregon: @ UCLA, vs. UW
Stanford: @ ASU,
UCLA: vs. Oregon
USC: @ Arizona
Utah: @ Oregon State
Alabama: vs. Texas A&M
Auburn: @ Miss St.
Georgia: @ Mizzou
Miss St.: vs. Auburn
Missouri: vs. Georgia
Ole Miss: @ Texas A&M
Texas A&M: @ Alabama , vs. Ole Miss
Included below are similar charts for the Big-10 and ACC to the one's utilized above for the Big-12, Pac-12 and the SEC above. Yes, the other two power conferences boast at least one Top-10 caliber program, but as a whole--they are not in the conversation.