A Weekly Look at the Power 5 Conferences and Independents
On October 31, 2017 the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will present its first rankings of the season based on strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents, conference championships won and the eye test. The biggest unknown is how much weight each committee member places on those factors when ranking the teams. During the initial 3 seasons of the playoff, the committee has leaned toward choosing teams with the best resume (most deserving teams) as opposed to relying on the eye test (best teams).
Each week, The Rebel Walk’s Jeff Tetrick presents a national report card on the Power 5 conferences and independent schools. The aim is to rank and grade the 5 conferences based on the cumulative results of each league’s teams that weekend.
Jeff will offer a brief weekly summary for each conference, suggest which teams are in playoff contention, and offer a ranking of the best teams in the country. The Independent schools will have a section but not be ranked with the conferences. Below are the criteria and his rankings for week 1 of the 2017 season.
Report Card Criteria:
Good Day: A win over a non-Power 5 school is a good day.
Key Loss: A loss to a non-Power 5 team is a key loss. As well, a loss to a non-conference Power 5 school is a key loss because of the missed chance to make the claim that conference A is better than conference B.
Week 1 Power 5 Conference Rankings
Key Wins: 3 UCLA, Cal, Washington
Good Day: 9 Oregon, Stanford, USC, Oregon State, Washington State, Colorado, Arizona State, Utah, Arizona
Key Losses: 0 none
The PAC-12 was a perfect 12-0 on opening weekend. That tally included 3 wins over Power 5 foes from the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC. Washington played sluggishly in its win over Rutgers, while Cal was a real surprise in beating North Carolina in Chapel Hill. UCLA made an incredible comeback from a 44-10 deficit in the final 20 minutes to stun Texas A&M. Despite an amazing rally, this game was more about the Aggies’ coaches not knowing how to manage a lead. The Bruins had no business winning a game in which they allowed 382 rushing yards, lost the turnover battle 3-0, and only possessed the ball for 23 minutes. UCLA was fortunate and opportunistic.
Stanford was the most impressive conference team on opening weekend. The Cardinal routed Rice and looked good in all phases of the game. The Cardinal running game will lead them past USC on the road this weekend, in my opinion. USC struggled with Western Michigan and did not appear to be a national title contender. The Trojans allowed 263 rushing yards in their narrow win. For those who read my preseason preview for TheRebelWalk.com, I stated that USC had questions about their offensive and defensive lines.
Oregon, Washington State, Arizona, Oregon State, and Utah notched week 1 wins over FCS opponents. Colorado turned in a stellar defensive effort in its 17-3 win over Colorado State. Arizona State was fortunate to beat lowly New Mexico State at home.
In the playoff conversation: USC, Washington, Stanford
2. Big Ten
Key Wins: 3 Ohio State, Michigan, Maryland
Good Day: 8 Penn State, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin
Key Losses: 3 Indiana, Rutgers, Purdue
The Big Ten kicked off the college football season on Thursday night with a marquee matchup between #2 Ohio State and upstart Indiana. Tom Allen had his Hoosiers dreaming of an upset, and for 40 minutes IU had the Buckeyes on the ropes. Then the uber-talented Buckeyes showed why they are a national title contender by pulling away from the Hoosiers with some big plays in the final 20 minutes. For those of you who read my season preview last week, it is easy to see why I have OSU as the national champion and IU as the Big Ten’s surprise team.
Michigan scored a dominant victory over Florida on Saturday. The Wolverines held the Gators to 11 rushing yards and 9 first downs. A young Michigan team looks ready to compete for the Big Ten title this fall. Maryland garnered national headlines by racking up points down in Austin, spoiling Tom Herman’s Texas debut. The Terrapins hung 51 points on the Longhorns in a big victory!
Penn State looked as good as any team in America in routing Akron 52-0. Wisconsin started slow but turned things on in the second half of a 59-10 beating of Utah State. Illinois, Michigan State, and Minnesota opened with wins over MAC schools, while Northwestern and Iowa scored victories over MWC opponents. Nebraska was horrible on defense, but the Cornhuskers survived at home against Arkansas State on the strength of its running game. Purdue gave #16 Louisville quite a scare before the Cardinals hung on for a 7-point win.
In the playoff conversation: Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan
Key Wins: 4 Alabama, South Carolina, LSU, Tennessee
Good Day: 8 Ole Miss, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Auburn, Mississippi State
Key Losses: 2 Florida, Texas A&M
Alabama headlined a good opening weekend for the SEC by dominating #3 Florida State. The Crimson Tide struggled on offense, but the defense looked as good as ever. The offense was ineffective running the ball, could not convert third downs, and did not stretch the field in the passing game. The Alabama defense, on the other hand, appears to be in championship form.
South Carolina was a pleasant surprise in beating NC State. The Gamecocks lost the yardage battle 504-246 but won the game with a late goal line stand. LSU showed some life on offense in its shutout victory over BYU. The Tigers passed and ran the ball effectively, while the defense held BYU to 6 first downs and 97 yards of total offense. Tennessee was completely dominated by Georgia Tech, but a pair of turnovers and missed field goals cost the Yellow Jackets an easy win. The Volunteers were lost defensively, letting Tech get off 96 plays for 655 yards. Yet, Tennessee starts the season 1-0 and keeps some heat off of Butch Jones’ seat for the moment.
Ole Miss, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Auburn were impressive on offense in big wins over the weekend. The Rebels should be one of the top passing teams in the country. Georgia, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt grabbed opening week victories. Georgia’s win came at a cost, as starting quarterback Jacob Eason will be out with injury for several weeks.
Florida continues to have talented athletes that Jim McElwain and his staff cannot mold into a decent offense. There is no excuse for a team with top-end recruits to produce 11 rushing yards and 9 first downs in a game. Texas A&M outplayed UCLA for 3 quarters, but the coaching staff failed the Aggies. Instead of slowing the game down, running the ball, and eating clock with a 34-point lead, Kevin Sumlin and his assistants thought it wise to play up-tempo and have a freshman backup quarterback throw the ball ineffectively throughout the second half. Give UCLA some credit for a thrilling rally, but this debacle has to fall on the shoulders of Sumlin.
In the playoff conversation: Alabama, Auburn
Key Wins: 2 Virginia Tech, Louisville
Good Day: 8 Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami, Syracuse, Pitt, Virginia, Boston College
Key Losses: 4 Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, NC State
Remember all that talk from the Eastern seaboard about the ACC being the best conference in college football? That talk is so 2016! After an opening weekend flop, the ACC ranks just ahead of the lowly Big 12 among Power 5 conferences. Virginia Tech scored the biggest win for the league on opening weekend. Despite breaking in a lot of new starters, the Hokies rolled offensively in downing #22 West Virginia. The defense gave up a lot of yards, but VT looks capable of again winning the Coastal Division.
Louisville struggled mightily in sneaking past lowly Purdue 35-28. Lamar Jackson was the difference late in this game. Clemson opened defense of its national championship with a 56-3 blowout of Kent State. The Tigers are a playoff contender with a fierce defense. Florida State was humbled by Alabama. The Seminoles now have to move forward without Deondre Francois, who was lost for the season to a knee injury.
Miami, Syracuse, Pitt, Duke, Wake Forest, and Virginia all earned wins over FCS competition. Boston College was lucky to get a win over Northern Illinois when the Huskies missed a late field goal.
Georgia Tech dominated Tennessee on Monday night, but the Yellow Jackets missed 2 field goals and had 2 costly turnovers that allowed the Volunteers to hang around and eventually win the contest in overtime. Despite outgaining South Carolina 504-246, NC State found a way to lose to the Gamecocks. The Wolfpack missed a field goal, gave up a TD on the opening kickoff, could not run the ball, and its 2 turnovers led to Gamecock touchdowns. Yet, North Carolina’s loss at home to Cal might have been the league’s most surprising loss. The Bears were projected to finish last in the PAC-12. The Tar Heels are a young team replacing many star players from a year ago, and it appears UNC may be in store for a long, rebuilding season.
In the playoff conversation: Clemson, Louisville
5. Big 12
Key Wins: 0 none
Good Day: 7 Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas Tech
Key Losses: 3 Texas, Baylor, West Virginia
The Big 12 had a really bad weekend. The league went 0-2 against Power 5 foes and suffered a loss to an FCS school. Yikes! Things look worse when household names like Texas, Baylor, and West Virginia go down in week 1, while basketball-centric schools Kansas and Iowa State are still undefeated. The conference scored 2 wins over group-of-5 schools and 5 wins over FCS teams. That is not a good look for the Big 12!
On the bright side, both Oklahoma schools played the part of playoff contenders. Oklahoma annihilated UTEP 56-7 and racked up 676 yards of total offense while holding the Miners to 167 yards. Oklahoma State was just as impressive in dismantling a respectable Tulsa team 59-24 in Stillwater. The Cowboys produced 640 yards of total offense in the big win. West Virginia put up a valiant effort in a 31-24 loss to Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers may be capable of challenging both the Sooners and Cowboys.
Kansas State, TCU, Iowa State, Texas Tech, and Kansas opened the season with wins over FCS schools, so it is hard to assess where any of these teams stand at the moment. On the other hand, Baylor was stunned at home 48-45 by Liberty. It was not a good debut game for Matt Rhule. Yet, the debut of Tom Herman at Texas might have been worse than Rhule’s first game. The Longhorns looked like the same team led by the inept Charlie Strong the past 3 seasons. Texas was atrocious on defense, allowing numerous big plays and 263 rushing yards to Maryland. The Longhorns gave up a special teams touchdown and missed field goals. Texas could not run the ball and racked up 117 yards in penalties. Those who voted for Texas in the preseason Top 25 should lose their voting privileges!
In the playoff conversation: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Key Wins: 0 none
Good Day: 2 Army, Notre Dame
Key Losses: 1 BYU
Notre Dame made its dismal 2016 season seem like a distant memory with an outstanding start to the 2017 campaign. The Fighting Irish were great on both sides of the ball in soundly defeating Temple 49-16 in South Bend. Notre Dame was particularly good up front, rushing for 422 yards while limiting the Owls to 85 yards on the ground. I expected this Irish squad to be vastly improved, and they look like a team that can win 9-10 games. Notre Dame gets a visit from Georgia this Saturday, and I give the edge to the Irish.
Army failed to complete a single pass, but the Black Knights punished Fordham with 513 rushing yards in a dominant 64-6 victory at historic Michie Stadium. Meanwhile, BYU was pulverized by LSU in a 27-0 loss. The Cougars never crossed midfield and produced a mere 97 yards of total offense in defeat. BYU has to find answers fast with Utah and Wisconsin up next on the schedule.
In the playoff conversation: Notre Dame
This section is our guess at which teams the Selection Committee would choose based on the body of work up to this point in the season. This list is not a ranking of the 4 best teams. Rather, it lists the teams with the top playoff resumes. In other words, these are the most deserving teams for a playoff spot based on their schedule to date.
Based on week 1, if the College Football Playoff was today, the Selection Committee might pick…..
1- Alabama (SEC) versus 4- Washington (PAC-12)
2- Ohio State (Big Ten) versus 3- Clemson (ACC)
On the outside…..
Top Ten Teams
This section is our view of the top ten teams in the country at this point in the season. This list is not based on the AP poll or exclusively on a team’s record or resume. Thus, a one-loss team may be ranked higher than an undefeated team. This ranking is based on our view of the best teams in college football via the eye test.
After week 1, the Top Ten Teams are…..
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Oklahoma State