September typically reveals much but not all of the truth about college football teams. Since most inter-conference games have been completed, fans college football fans have some ammunition for the never-ending debate about which conference is superior above all others. Some aspirations for conference or national titles have already gone up in flames one month into the 2012 season.
The Big Ten has struggled in non-conference play. The Big Ten finished with seven wins and three losses versus the Mid-American Conference, a disturbing sign of diminishing dominance over a group teams long considered merely pre-season punching bags. The lone victory for a Big Ten team in four games against the Pacific Twelve was achieved by Ohio State, a member ineligible for the conference title. Such struggles do not bode optimistically for the eventual conference champion’s chances of winning the Rose Bowl. Notre Dame swept all three matches versus the Big Ten. At least, the Big Ten split two pairs of games versus both the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference. Some consolation for the Big Ten lies in the fact that it has not slumped to the position of weakest BCS conference by winning all three contests against the Big East. With only two undefeated teams remaining, one ineligible for the post-season, the Big Ten’s hopes for a berth in the BCS title game rest on the shoulders of Northwestern who just appeared in the Top Twenty-Five for the first time this week.
The Southeastern Conference welcomed two new members but the SEC looks just the same as last year. Any hopes that either Arkansas or Auburn could challenge the apparently pre-destined de facto SEC Western Division championship game between Alabama and LSU evaporated when both started 0-2 in divisional games. The new guys have struggled as the other twelve established members suspected that they would; Missouri’s slim odds at the SEC East title disappeared with two loses within the division. Florida’s resurgence has been cast a bit of doubt on the widely accepted belief that the winner of next weekend’s game between Georgia and South Carolina will lock up the division. Whether the Gators can contend for the SEC East title will be determined in the next four weeks with games versus LSU and the two perceived favorites in the East.
The Atlantic Coast Conference has a glimmer of hope of seeing what it expected when it expanded. Florida State is the only undefeated Atlantic Division member that has played a conference game; its two wins occurred over the second and third place teams in the same division. Miami has already won three conference games. Could we see a flashback to the Nineties with a match-up of undefeated and ranked Seminoles and Hurricanes in October? Since Florida State remains the sole undefeated ACC team and one of just three who has yet to lose a non-conference game, FSU will need for all members of SEC, Big Twelve and Pacific Twelve to lose at least once for a trip to Miami and the national title game.
The Big East has managed to maintain some semblance of a status as a major conference despite the impending round of further defections. Its members have won both contests versus SEC teams. The eight Big East teams have won four of the seven matches against the ACC played so far. However, the Big East has lost two of its three games versus Mid-American Conference. Also, Pittsburgh lost to 1-AA team Youngstown State. The Big East’s road to national respectability remains long and arduous.
The view of the Big Twelve can be spun in opposing ways. On the positive side, seven of the ten members have already swept all of their non-conference opponents. Two wins in two contests versus the ACC include Kansas State defeating division-leading Miami. On the negative side, nine of the twenty-nine non-conference victories occurred over FCS members. Half of the conference is still undefeated so the odds of a Big Twelve team advancing the BCS title game remain strong.
As for the possibility of a non-member of a BCS automatic qualifying conference slipping into a BCS bowl, four undefeated candidates remain. The chances of any others climbing the rankings are extremely remote at most. All but one team in Conference USA has at least two losses so far. Everyone in the Mountain West has at least one loss; eight of the ten members have two or more. No one in the Sun Belt Conference is undefeated. Only one team in the Mid-American Conference has yet to lose.
Notre Dame has bolted out of the gates with four victories. Two contests versus the Pacific Twelve and three against the ACC remain. Barring two or more losses in November or to unranked teams in general, the Irish seem a near certainty for one of the BCS bowls.
One potential for the BCS at-large entry is Ohio. The Bobcats won at Penn State, its sole game versus a major conference member. The Bobcats face an uphill climb in order to reach the required finish in the top twelve in the BCS standings. Even a top sixteen ranking with a BCS conference champion ranked below Ohio seems unlikely.
Another possibility for a “BCS buster”, Louisiana Tech, holds much more potential for a BCS bid. The Bulldogs have already defeated a team from both the Big Ten and the ACC with a game remaining versus an SEC member. An undefeated season including those three victories should ensure Louisiana Tech a spot in the BCS.
The final undefeated team from outside of the six major conferences is Texas-San Antonio. The Roadrunners have four non-FBS opponents plus two in their first seasons at the 1-A level. Therefore, UTSA does not even have the craziest delusion of appearing the BCS top 25. However, they only need two wins in the last seven games to finish with a winning record in their first season in the FBS, an impressive feat.
COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT SEPTEMBER 2012