Conference Power Rankings
The chant came thundering down Strawberry Canyon on a picturesque Saturday night in Berkeley. The Golden Bears were on their way to avenging an embarrassing loss to Tennessee in convincing fashion, and the backdrop to the cross-country matchup had a voice: "Pac-Ten Foot-Ball," cried the masses inside Memorial Stadium. "Pac-Ten Foot-Ball."
Rarely has such a non-traditional matchup driven such passion between not only two teams, but two conferences. A small plane towed a sign that read "SEC rules, Pac-10 drools" before Saturday's game, and that belief stemmed mostly from last year's 35-17 Tennessee win last September. Cal certainly earned its revenge, and you can be certain nine other schools on the West Coast were extremely pleased when the 45-31 final score reached their respective campuses.
With only one regular season game for the Pac-10 against the standard-bearing SEC, the Pacific Coasters can point all season long to decisive win against one of the SEC's best. Even though Tennessee's quarterback had a broken finger, its best running back was suspended and the Vols had to travel over 2,000 miles, there was no doubt who the better team was, and if the two teams knocked heads again, the Bears would win again.
It was a strong weekend for the the Pac-10 overall, and it made a nice jump in this week's power rankings.
Last week: 1
Skinny: Tennessee did not represent on opening weekend, and the rest of the conference didn't really do much, either. The league went 9-1 in nonconference games, but four wins came at the expense of I-AA (or FCS) opponents. Ole Miss needed to stop a two-point conversion to hold off a bad Memphis team, Auburn trailed pretty much the whole night at home against Kansas State and South Carolina was a 14-point winner against Sun Belt member Louisiana-Lafayette. Georgia, an under-the-preseason-radar squad, was clearly the most impressive. The Bulldogs smoked an Oklahoma State team that had high hopes. Outside of that, there wasn't much to pound the chest over. Another mediocre week and the conference kings may slip down a notch.
Key game this weekend: Virginia Tech at LSU
This is a matchup of two top-10 teams, but LSU is expected to win fairly easily and will need to do so to continue to comfortably reside in that No. 2 spot. The Tigers are 12.5-point favorites after clocking Mississippi State on the road. (Virginia Tech struggled with East Carolina.) The Hokies played under difficult circumstances, but the circumstances get much more difficult this week -- mainly because of the LSU defensive line. LSU is carrying the SEC flag right now, and a loss here would create a crack in conference foundation.
Last week: 5
Skinny: This goes beyond Cal's signature win against Tennessee. The conference compiled a 6-2 non-league record and did not schedule a 1-AA (FCS) opponent. The slight edge the Pac-10 earned over the Big 12 was a 2-1 record vs. BCS opponents. Cal beat Tennessee, Washington won at Syracuse and Washington State lost to Wisconsin. The Washington win was significant because it gave the bottom of the conference a boost, and it showed hyped quarterback Jake Locker may be all he's cracked up to be. The Huskies could be back sooner rather than later.
Key game this weekend: Boise State at Washington
Speaking of Washington, Ty Willingham's Huskies could really make a statement on Saturday. The 30-point win at Syracuse was impressive, but Syracuse is a program headed nowhere. The same cannot be said for the Broncos, who bring a 15-game regular season winning streak into the game. Beating a ranked team would be another big step forward for the Huskies and another quality win for the league.
Last week: 2
Skinny: The good news: The league still has seven teams in SI's Top 40, second only to the SEC. The bad news: Four losses on opening weekend -- to Georgia, Auburn, TCU and ... Kent State? Iowa State debuted new uniforms for Kent State, and promptly provided the league with an embarrassing loss. Missouri pulled out a big win for the Big 12 by out-gunning Illinois 40-34 in a highly entertaining game. Colorado managed to avoid an upset to Colorado State in overtime, and Kansas State almost pulled off a stunner at Auburn before coming apart in the final minutes. The winning performances of Texas (soft win vs. Arkansas St.) and Oklahoma (69-point win against North Texas) speak to the box-of-chocolate theory of opening weekend -- you never know what you're going to get. With the Big 12, it was a little of everything.
Key game this weekend: Missouri at Ole Miss
While Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska all play key nonconference games, one of the biggest contests for the league will again involve the Tigers. Missouri is playing one of the weaker teams in the SEC, making the Tigers a six-point favorite on the road. If Nebraska can beat Wake Forest and Missouri does the same to Ole Miss, the North can pick up two BCS road wins and solidify what has been a pitiful division in recent years.
Last week: 4
Skinny: The league racked up wins, but the competition was rather pathetic. West Virginia's dismantling of MAC-favorite Western Michigan was the league's signature win. Most MAC wins are dismissed immediately, but the Broncos are decent this year and a 38-point win solidified West Virginia's No. 3 ranking. UConn took care of Duke by 31 points, which was another plus for the league from one of its also-rans. Rutgers and Louisville looked dominant against overmatched opponents. Syracuse showed it still has a ways to go.
Key game this weekend: South Florida at Auburn
Colleague Cory McCartney has already called a Bulls win in this one. After Auburn's rather dicey win against Kansas State, a USF win is definitely possible. Matt Grothe is a quarterback to be feared, and this is a game USF has been pointing to all summer as a chance to make a statement. If Auburn tailback Brad Lester misses another game due to suspension and the Tigers' running game does not improve, the Bulls could announce there is a fourth power team in the Big East to go along with West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers.
Last week: 3
Skinny: The college football world knows what befell Michigan, but let's not forget Minnesota lost to a second-tier MAC team. Bowling Green won at Minnesota in overtime after blowing a 21-0 second-half lead. The Falcons are not expected to even contend in the MAC, so winning at Minnesota shows just how far the Gophers need to go under first-year coach Tim Brewster. Back to Michigan -- the Wolverines are not as bad as everyone assumes. They are a 9.5-point favorite over Oregon this week, and their offense did enough to score 40 points on Saturday if the special teams could have blocked on two field goal attempts and was allowed to kick two extra points (rather than two failed two-pointers). They deserve to fall from the rankings -- it was definitely an embarrassment to the Big Ten -- but don't be surprised if this team wins 10 games this season.
Key game this weekend: Oregon at Michigan
The Wolverines get an immediate shot at redemption and will quickly try to put as much distance from its opening day flub. Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon was impressive last week against Houston and should scare a wounded Michigan defense that could not come up with a final stop to save the game (though it did have what appeared to be a game-saving interception with 4:31 left). This is a tough spot for Oregon, given that the world has lost all respect for Michigan, and it will be facing as desperate an opponent as you can find. The Pac-10 would love to even the Big Ten-Pac-10 scoreboard here, but it is going to be awfully tough.
Last week: 6
Skinny: The ACC gave us an entertaining league game Monday night, with Clemson hanging on in the Bowden Bowl. But on the non-league side, there were three less-than-stellar losses on the ledger, keeping the ACC sixth in the power rankings. Duke not only failed to end its horrific losing streak, it was pummeled by Big East weakling UConn by 31. Virginia traveled to Wyoming and brought home a 20-point loss against an iffy Cowboys squad. And N.C. State -- with new coach Tom O'Brien -- lost its opener to UCF. The Knights have won exactly two games against BCS teams since moving to Division I-A (FBS) in 1996, with the last coming in 2000. Virginia Tech was not overly impressive against East Carolina, while Miami blasted Marshall, as expected. The one team in the league that stood out was Georgia Tech, which whipped Notre Dame 33-3 and appeared to be, along with Boston College, the class of the league.
Key game this weekend: Nebraska at Wake Forest
If the ACC wants to move up in the world, this would be a good place to start. The league looks up for grabs again this year, and it doesn't look good for one of the contenders to be outclassed by a Big 12 team not named Texas or Oklahoma. The league has three games this weekend against BCS opponents, and this is probably its best chance to win.
Last week: 7
Skinny: Only Utah's loss to Oregon State prevented a clean sweep for the league's elite last weekend. TCU dominated Baylor as expected, BYU picked up a very nice win over Arizona and Wyoming waxed visiting Virginia. The MWC scored three BCS wins, more than any other conference, and is a solid No. 7 after the first week.
Key game this weekend: TCU at Texas
The Horned Frogs have a chance to go unbeaten and get into a BCS bowl if they can get past Texas this weekend. This task looks a little less daunting after the Longhorns' unsteady performance against Arkansas State and TCU's shutout of Baylor. TCU is a solid underdog, but the Frogs can pull this one off, the league will have an excellent shot at landing its second BCS bowl invitation ever.
Last week: 9
Skinny: UCF's win over N.C. State was the league's signature win, but East Carolina's loss against Virginia Tech impressed and Tulsa and UTEP picked up Division I-A wins as well. Memphis also came within two points of Ole Miss. The league had its warts, to be sure (most notably Rice losing to 1-AA Nichols State), but the above performances pushed C-USA up a few notches.
Key game this weekend: Southern Miss at Tennessee
Expect the Golden Eagles to push the Vols in Knoxville. Running back Damion Fletcher lit up Florida as a true freshman, though he's running behind an inexperienced line. Defensively, the Golden Eagles will be typically tough, though UT figures to be able to score points. The league is not expecting a win out of this one, but a good showing will lift the conference.
Last week: 10
Skinny: The league was able to pull off two wins against BCS opponents on opening weekend (against seven losses). Kent State earned a surprise win against Iowa State, while Bowling Green edged Minnesota in overtime. The league gets four more shots at the Big Ten this week, though Western Michigan is the only one with a realistic shot of winning.
Key game this weekend: Indiana at Western Michigan
The Hoosiers won an emotional opener against Indiana State, playing in their first game since former coach Terry Hoeppner's death. This will be a much tougher test, as the Broncos are the favorites to win the MAC and motivated to put last week's rout at West Virginia behind them.
Last week: 8
Skinny: Division I-AA (FCS) games are generally thrown out from this analysis, so in looking at this league, there wasn't much to be proud of in Week 1. Outside of the five I-AA wins, the league went 0-4 while getting outscored by an average of 29.8 points.
Key game this weekend: Nevada at Northwestern
The true big game is Boise State-Washington, but that is mentioned in the Pac-10 section. Nevada has a decent chance to bring home a rare BCS win. Northwestern had little trouble with Northeastern on opening weekend, but Nevada will be a sterner test.
Last week: 11
Skinny: It wasn't all bad news in the Belt. Arkansas State kept Texas out of sync for most of the night last week, while Louisiana-Lafayette had South Carolina at 14-14 late in the second quarter and lost by a respectable 28-14. Of course, Florida International and North Texas lost by a combined 128 points, but that can happen when you play Penn State and Oklahoma, respectively.
Key game this weekend: Maryland at Florida International
Not that Florida International is going to be much of a threat, but it is notable that a BCS team is traveling to the Sun Belt. This does not happen often, and in the interest of equality across college football, hopefully it will happen more.
I had plenty to choose from after last week's column, and I'm sure I'll have plenty each week -- hence the subcategory. Anyway, here was my favorite:
At least pac 10 schools don't lose to 1AA schools. You are a complete east coast homer this is why SI sucks. Please explain to us again how strong everybody is compared to the pac 10. I sure saw a lot of over rated east coast teams like va tech,mich,haha, fsu,Tex,tenn,auburn. -- Neil, McMinnville
Not sure how the Wolverines, Longhorns, Vols or Tigers are considered "East Coast teams," but the objection to the Pac-10 being ranked fifth is duly noted.
Enjoy the weekend.