Outside of the Texas State Fairgrounds, Week 6 didn’t produce many upsets. But what it lacked in stunning defeats, it made up for with an abundance of down-to-the-wire finishes that revealed plenty about the top teams in the country.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from Week 6:
1. Ohio State might not be the best team in the Big Ten, let alone the country
The Buckeyes earned the unanimous No. 1 spot in the preseason AP poll in August, and despite some uninspiring football in recent weeks, they’ve stayed there. But after Week 6, Ohio State might not be the best team in its own conference.
Urban Meyer’s squad beat Maryland 49-28 at home Saturday, and yet that score didn’t tell the whole story. The Terrapins sat tied with Ohio State, 21-21, midway through the third quarter and kept the unbeaten Buckeyes from breaking free until late in the second half. Quarterbacks Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett haven’t instilled much confidence in an offense that also struggled in wins over Northern Illinois and Indiana. If AP voters didn’t know Ohio State had won the national title last season, would it still sit atop the poll?
Meanwhile, the Big Ten team playing the best football so far this season resides in Ann Arbor. Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan squad put the hurt on Northwestern with an impressive 38–0 win. The Wolverines became the first Big Ten team in 20 years to post three consecutive shutouts, and their most recent victory came against the previous No. 1 scoring defense in FBS.
Suddenly Michigan’s impending matchups with Michigan State—which needed a late score to avoid an upset at Rutgers on Saturday—and Ohio State look very winnable, especially because the Spartans and Buckeyes come to the Big House. Next week’s Michigan-Michigan State matchup will put the Wolverines’ new top-tier status to the test.
2. The Pac-12 is now Utah’s to lose, just like we all predicted
O.K., maybe no one expected Utah to be this good. But on Saturday the suddenly dangerous Utes passed their latest test by handing Cal a 30–24 loss in Salt Lake City. Coach Kyle Wittingham’s defense stifled Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff into a whopping five interceptions while taking advantage of a struggling Cal offensive line.
Now Utah is the only undefeated team (5–0) in the Pac-12, and its resume is no joke: It has already beaten a vastly improved Michigan squad, Oregon on the road and Cal in the first few weeks of the season. There’s still a lot of football to be played, but the Utes currently control their destiny in the conference.
Wittingham’s crew can draw added confidence from the rest of a topsy-turvy Pac-12, which can’t seem to figure itself out. Preseason conference favorite USC dropped its second game of the season in a 17-12 home loss to Washington on Thursday. Oregon, which played in last year’s national title game, fell to 3–3 with a 45–38 loss to Washington State on Saturday. Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA have all put together at least one head-scratching game each.
The Utes still must contend with a deep Pac-12 South, beginning with a home meeting with the Sun Devils next week. But this defense looks like it can hang with anybody on its schedule. Who would’ve guessed that a month ago?
3. Right now, the SEC doesn’t have a truly great team
Six weeks of football haven’t been friendly to the SEC. The conference that touts itself as the country’s best doesn’t look championship-worthy in the early goings of 2015. Sure, a number of programs have shown flashes of potential, but are any of them truly elite?
LSU could turn into a dangerous squad. The Tigers stayed unbeaten with a 45–24 win over South Carolina on Saturday, but they’ve yet to face a truly nasty defense, one that could challenge bruising running back Leonard Fournette. That should come next week against Florida in Death Valley.
Speaking of the Gators, they’re a surprising 6–0 after a 21–3 win over Missouri, but can their offense stay consistent? Jim McElwain’s squad might not need it to beat Georgia in the SEC East; the Dawgs suffered their second straight loss by letting Tennessee rally from 21 points down.
The state of Alabama hasn’t lived up to the hype, either. Auburn, which enjoyed a bye this week, has fallen completely off the map thanks to two early losses. On Saturday reigning SEC champ Alabama flirted with disaster in a 27–14 win over Arkansas. The Tide already have one loss to Ole Miss and haven’t looked as consistently dominant as in years past. They’ll face 5–0 Texas A&M—which was idle in Week 6—in College Station next week.
It’s near impossible to pinpoint the SEC’s most viable playoff contender as we near the midpoint of the season. To complicate matters, teams without much hope of an SEC title—like Arkansas and Tennessee—look like pesky spoilers for the league’s top teams. Perhaps the SEC retains the title of “top conference” by its depth alone, but right now it’s unclear whether one of its teams can win a national championship.