SEC Supremacy Proves to Be Mostly Hot Air

First impressions can be as deceiving in college football as it was with Josef Stalin.

Both FDR and Truman were initially charmed by the Soviet dictator, only to be stabbed in the back by him later. Kinda like how AP voters must have felt right about now.

A week ago, a record 10 SEC teams were ranked in the AP top 25, as the voters were smitten by the conference’s 10-1 opening week record, including four victories over Power 5 opponents. SEC coaches wasted little time to crow, with LSU’s Les Miles proclaiming that all top 25 teams should be from the SEC and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema lambasting defending national champion Ohio State’s weak schedule.

A disastrous Saturday later, all’s quiet south of the Mason-Dixon line. Consider:

  • No. 6 Auburn barely escaped 40-point underdog Jacksonville State, an FCS team that blew the game by going ultra-conservative late to allow the Tigers to survive in overtime, 27-20.
  • Two-time defending SEC East champion Missouri held on for a 27-20 win over Arkansas State, which was pasted by USC last week, 55-6.
  • Florida needed an empty-hand fumble near the red zone by East Carolina quarterback Blake Kemp to fend off the Pirates at the Swamp, 31-24.

And those are the teams that won. No. 23 Tennessee blew a 17-0 lead at home to lose to Oklahoma in OT (see below). But the one that took the cake was Bielema’s own 18th-ranked Hogs, who lost in Little Rock to a team from Ohio – not the Buckeyes, but the Rockets of Toledo, 16-12.

But apparently some in the Arkansas camp blamed the loss on the fact that the Hogs had to travel three hours from their Fayetteville campus to the state capital, conveniently forgetting that it’s still a home game. In fact, of the eight SEC teams playing nonconference games on Saturday, only Missouri actually went on the road. The SEC has only three true nonconference road games scheduled for the entire month of September (and six total for the regular season), far fewer than any other Power 5 conference.

This is not to say that the SEC doesn’t have any elite teams, but the overall strength of the conference has been grossly overstated. But even now, seven SEC teams remain in the latest AP poll, including Auburn at No. 18 (and No. 15 in the Coaches poll), which can only mean that the voters are either not paying attention or clinically insane – especially considering that Auburn’s opening-game victim Louisville is now 0-2 after a loss to Houston.

The playoff era, however, has rendered the polls just about utterly meaningless, as the only ranking that matters now is the one put out by the selection committee in the first week of December. Maybe the members of committee will prove to be less swayed by propaganda and first impressions, like that man who coined the phrase “Iron Curtain.”

Resumption of Rivalries

One of the worst aspects of the recent conference realignment is the cessation of near-century-long college football rivalries. Nebraska no longer plays Oklahoma. Ditto Texas and Texas A&M. And for the first time in 100 years, Notre Dame does not have a Big Ten team on its schedule after having dropped Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue.

At least one of the defunct rivalries is being rekindled, though not for another seven years. The Backyard Brawl is back on the schedule in 2022, as West Virginia and Pitt signed a four-year pact to resume the series. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly also indicated that the Irish would like to get Michigan back on the schedule, though after analyzing the current schedule commitments of both teams, that probably won’t happen until 2022 at the earliest.

The South Rises (in the Pac-12)

There was never any question that the tougher division in the Pac-12 was going to be the South, which went 6-0 this week (though none of them played anybody of note). Of the five remaining unbeaten Pac-12 teams, four reside in the South (USC, UCLA, Arizona, Utah) while the only unbeaten North team is Cal.

But next week we’ll get an early preview of just how unbalanced the conference is as Stanford visits USC for the first Pac-12 games of the season. The Cardinal have gotten off to an uneven start, with an upset loss at Northwestern and a dominant win over UCF, while the Trojans routed two tomato cans (Arkansas State and Idaho) by a combined score of 114-15. USC has won the last two meetings after Jim Harbaugh unleashed a four-game Stanford winning streak beginning with the “What’s Your Deal Bowl” in 2009.

But Pac-12 Is Losing Off the Field

While Pac-12 teams are working to improve their national reputation, the conference office continues to fail them. Now it appears that for a fourth year, the Pac-12 Network will not be available on DirecTV and gain wider national distribution after hopeful talks with DirecTV’s new owner AT&T collapsed without a deal.

The Pac-12 Network is available in only about 12 million homes, dwarfed by the 90 million each for the Big Ten Network (BTN) and SEC Network. As a result, the Big Ten distributed over $7 million per school and the SEC $5 million per last year while the Pac-12 barely cleared $1 million. The revenue gap between the Pac-12 and those two other premier conferences has grown to be more than $10 million per school last year.

The inability of the Pac-12 Network to gain wider distribution only further cements the conference’s national perception as an also-ran. Over the weekend, more Mountain West teams (nine) could be watched on widely-distributed networks than the Pac-12 (seven). Many fans in the nation have not seen three of the Pac-12’s three unbeaten teams this season – USC, Cal and Arizona.

Game of the Week

Oklahoma 31, Tennessee 24 (2OT): Four games involving ranked teams were decided by a touchdown in the final minute this week: BYU over Boise State, Notre Dame over Virginia and Auburn over Jacksonville State were the others. But this one provided the most drama in what Sooners coach Bob Stoops said to be “one of the more special wins, maybe my favorite of all of them.”

Oklahoma overcame a 17-0 deficit (the largest ever at Neyland Stadium against Tennessee) and scored twice late in the fourth quarter to force overtime before winning in second OT as junior QB Baker Mayfield made plays with both his arm (three TD passes) and legs (one rushing TD) to complete the rally.

Player of the Week

Luke Falk, Washington State: The Cougars’ sophomore QB gave his embattled coach Mike Leach a much-needed reprieve by pulling out a 37-34 victory at Rutgers, throwing his fourth TD pass with just 13 seconds remaining to cap a 10-play, 90-yard drive in 78 seconds. Falk completed an astounding 47 of 66 passes for 478 yards as the Wazzu rebounded from its disastrous opening-game loss to FCS team Portland State.

Our Rankings

1. Ohio State, 2. TCU, 3. Michigan State, 4. Alabama, 5 USC, 6. Georgia, 7. UCLA, 8. Oregon, 9. Notre Dame, 10. Clemson, 11. Florida State, 12. LSU, 13. BYU, 14. Utah, 15. Baylor.

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