If the 2017 football season taught us anything, it was that the College Football Playoff committee certainly considers the perceived strength of conferences in making their decisions. In college football, where every game of the regular season is critical, it’s never too early to start comparing college football conferences against each other.
Comparing College Football Conferences After Wk 2
Two weeks in, and we have enough inter-conference games to start making comparisons. So far, the SEC has exercised its muscle in the college football landscape. The Big 12 and ACC have fared decently. The Big 12 and Pac-12 are still trying to catch up with the front three.
But lurking just behind the Power 5 conferences is the surprising upstart American Athletic Conference (AAC). Can the top Group of 5 conferences finally break into the big leagues?
Here’s a comparison look at the relative strength of conferences after week 2.
Key Wins For The SEC
Auburn over Washington:
Auburn beat the preseason Pac-12 favorite in the first week of the season. It might not carry as much weight as it should since it was practically an Auburn home game, but if Auburn sputters against LSU, Mississippi State, or Texas A&M and Washington wins the Pac-12, it’ll be a big consideration when the committee makes their final selections. Remember, the CFP teams have to go on the road to win in the CFP.
LSU over Miami:
This was a statement win. LSU, considered to be in the second tier of the SEC West, absolutely battered the Hurricanes, the defending ACC Coastal Champions. Even if Miami doesn’t win the division this season, it’s likely these two teams will finish in a similar position in their divisions. That will provide a key comparison between the SEC and the ACC.
Alabama over Louisville:
While it isn’t a signature conference win like the two above, Alabama’s dominance over a Cardinals team that has competed in the top tier of the ACC for the previous several seasons created the clear separation that many thought it would. Rather than any specific statement, this game is a supporting element to the current SEC dominance narrative.
Ole Miss over Texas Tech:
This game is about depth. When the committee looks and sees a one or two loss SEC team, they’ll notice teams like Ole Miss, who’ll likely finish towards the bottom of the division, with wins over similar teams in other conferences. Strengths of a conference aren’t measured just at the top. It’s better measured in the second and third quartile of teams. That’s where conferences separate themselves in the metrics. Ole Miss completely dominated Texas Tech on opening weekend. It was an important win for the SEC.
Mississippi State over Kansas State:
The Bulldogs went on the road in a tough environment and earned a sizable quality win against a normally sound Kansas State team in week two.
Key Losses For The SEC:
Texas A&M to Clemson:
While Texas A&M lost to Clemson, the fact that they had a chance to tie on the last play of the game will carry a lot of weight with the committee. Certainly, Clemson deserves credit for going on the road, into a hostile environment and earn a quality win. This is more about the Aggies and where they finish in the SEC West rather than a ding on Clemson.
Tennessee to West Virginia:
The SEC’s one real blemish in week 1 was Tennessee falling apart late to West Virginia. With the Vols looking at another season at the bottom of the SEC East, this game will help the Mountaineers and the Big 12 far more than it will hurt the SEC.
Arkansas to Colorado State:
Easily the worst loss and probably only blemish on an otherwise stellar SEC resume. Even with Arkansas being the last placed team in the SEC West, and probably in the entire league, a loss to a struggling G5 team was unexpected.
Big Ten Snapshot
The Big Ten is a distant second after two weeks of the college football season. Ohio State has dominated their two opponents, although both were far out-matched. Maryland’s second straight win against Texas was the second-best Big Ten win of the first weekend.
Penn State’s near disaster against Appalachian State and Michigan’s loss to Notre Dame are both forgivable with strong resumes over the course of the regular season. Penn State came back in week two with a dominant win over Pittsburgh out of the ACC. Iowa’s win over Iowa State and Indiana’s win over Virginia strengthened the Big Ten’s lower quartile’s resume as well.
However, Northwestern’s loss to Duke and Purdue’s loss to Eastern Michigan in week two were devastating blows to the all-important middle two quartiles of the conference. Michigan State’s loss to Arizona State might seem worse now than it turns out to be. If Arizona State has success in the season, a close loss on the road to a Top 25 team is recoverable. Still, not ideal.
Particularly bad was Nebraska’s loss to Colorado. The Big Ten West is already considered one of the weakest divisions in college football. The presumed second or third team in that division losing to a projected lower quartile Pac-12 team will not help a one-loss Wisconsin get into the CFP.
After having arguably the best conference over the 2016-2017 seasons, the ACC seems to be regressing in 2018. The best wins so far this season for the ACC are Clemson’s two-point win at College Station and Duke’s two wins against Army (10 wins in 2017) and Northwestern (2017 Big Ten bowl team).
Miami’s loss to LSU, Louisville’s loss to Alabama, Georgia Tech’s loss to USF, and North Carolina’s two losses to California of the Pac-12 and East Carolina of the American Athletic Conference are all bad losses for the ACC. Losing two to American Athletic teams this weekend isn’t good for the ACC. Virginia and Pitt’s loses won’t necessarily hurt the league, but serve as indicators that the ACC is well behind the Big Ten in overall conference strength.
Florida State’s last-minute escape of FCS Samford in week two didn’t help the ACC’s image with the committee, either.
Big 12 Snapshot
The Big 12 continues to struggle with their image. The biggest problem with the Big 12 is that their early success is very lopsided. West Virginia beat an SEC team in Tennessee, although it was a match-up of the third-ranked Big 12 team against a Tennessee team that’s in the bottom four-to-six in the SEC. Similarly, Oklahoma’s destruction of the Pac-12’s UCLA doesn’t do much for the Big 12, either.
We all know Kansas is bad, but losing to FCS Nicholls State was another ding on the Big 12’s reputation. Meanwhile, the stars aren’t shining too bright in Texas, with the Longhorns dropping another game to Maryland and the Red Raiders firing blanks against Ole Miss.
Kansas State and Iowa State both had forgivable loses against teams that are probably better than them from other conferences in Mississippi State and Iowa, respectively. But, it would have really helped the One True Champion conference if they could have stolen one of those games early.
Who’s carrying the water for the Conference of Champions? How about California, Arizona State, and Colorado. Cal had a good equal-strength win against North Carolina, Arizona State had a big win against a much-higher-projected Big Ten team in Michigan State on Saturday, and Colorado’s win at Nebraska was the first of the one-two punch the Pac-12 delivered to Big Ten.
But, Washington’s opening weekend loss to Auburn was a big blow to Pac-12 early on. Arizona’s two opening loses to BYU and Houston (another American Athletic Conference team) and UCLA’s lack of success to Cincinnati (American Athletic Conference) and Oklahoma haven’t helped the Pac-12 get out of the Power 5 basement.
Oregon State’s destruction at the hands of Ohio State is what everyone suspected.
The Pac-12 is still lagging behind the other four conferences. It’ll make it tough for a conference champion that isn’t undefeated to get into the CFP.
It might be time to start considering the American Athletic Conference as a Power 5 conference. Clearly, the powers that be aren’t going to be inviting Mike Aresco to the big boy table any time soon, but the AAC has built quite a nice resume two weeks into the season.
Everyone is familiar with UCF’s stellar 2017 season, culminating in a decisive win against Auburn in the Peach Bowl. But, in the first two weeks of 2018, the AAC has four wins against Power 5 teams. That includes wins over UCLA, Arizona, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina. None of those wins were by UCF. That’s against only three losses, to Wake Forest, Texas, and TCU. Plus a loss to Boise State. If you’re comparing just inter-conference games between Power 5 + AAC teams, the American Athletic Conference has the second strongest resume after two weeks.
Certainly, with Temple, UCONN, SMU, and Tulane, the American Athletic can’t compete at the bottom quartile with any of the Power 5 conferences. But, for overall strength, they aren’t far behind — if at all.
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