College football conference power rankings: Big Ten reigns supreme

Pat Forde
College football and basketball columnist

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Fake News sold separately in Knoxville):

More Forde-Yard Dash: September awards | SEC’s downfall | 5 key October games

SECOND QUARTER: THE SEC IS SLIPPING

Major non-conference games are almost over. There are a handful of Pac-12 and ACC teams still to play Notre Dame, and a few SEC-ACC rivalry matchups at season’s end, but most of that hay is in the barn. Which means it’s a good time for a more definitive ranking of where the leagues stand. Spoiler alert for SEC fans: You’re not going to like the results (more discussion on that in the third quarter).

Big Ten (11)
Record vs. the rest of the Power Five: 7-6
Record vs. FBS: 29-10
Record vs. FCS: 2-0
Percentage of non-conference games against Power Five opponents: .317
Best win: Michigan over Florida on a neutral field
Worst loss: Nebraska at home to Northern Illinois
Theoretical CFP contenders: Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota
Realistic CFP contenders: Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Quick take: No conference has more power at the top, although of the top quartet of teams, only Michigan has beaten anyone of note. If the league could take back Rutgers’ membership, it would help. (Not an original thought, The Dash acknowledges.)

Pac-12 (12)
Record vs. the rest of the Power Five: 6-2
Record vs. FBS: 19-7
Record vs. FCS: 8-0
Percentage of non-conference games against Power Five opponents: .235
Best win: UCLA over Texas A&M
Worst loss: Stanford at San Diego State. (The Aztecs are good, but that loss removes the Cardinal from serious playoff consideration.)
Theoretical CFP contenders: Washington, Washington State, Utah, USC, Oregon
Realistic playoff contenders: Washington, Washington State, Utah, USC
Quick take: The league is good, but most of the P5 victories are over teams having disappointing years (Rutgers, North Carolina, Mississippi, Nebraska). Beating Boise and BYU doesn’t carry as much cache as usual, and Oregon State has become an anchor.

LSU running back Derrius Guice (5) reacts during his team’s loss to Troy. (AP)

SEC (13)
Record vs. the rest of the Power Five: 6-6
Record vs. FBS: 20-7
Record vs. FCS: 11-0
Percentage of non-conference games against Power Five opponents: .316
Best win: Georgia at Notre Dame
Worst loss: LSU to Troy at home
Theoretical CFP contenders: Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida, Kentucky
Realistic CFP contenders: Alabama, Georgia, Auburn
Quick take: Alabama and Georgia are two of the four most impressive teams in the nation to date. But for a league playing eight conference games, there are too many FCS cupcakes and not enough quality opponents. And Teams 4 through 13 look like a huddled mass of mediocrity.

Big 12 (14)
Record vs. the rest of the Power Five: 4-6
Record vs. FBS: 14-9
Record vs. FCS: 6-1
Percentage of non-conference games against Power Five opponents: .333
Best win: Oklahoma at Ohio State. Best win anyone has had thus far, nationwide.
Worst loss: Baylor to Liberty
Theoretical CFP contenders: Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas State, Texas Tech
Realistic CFP contenders: Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State, West Virginia kinda maybe
Quick take: The Sooners and Horned Frogs scored good wins outside of conference play, but haven’t had enough company (Oklahoma State is hurt by the decline of Pittsburgh). Forcing out Kansas and Baylor would help.

ACC (15)
Record vs. the rest of the Power Five: 5-9
Record vs. FBS: 19-10
Record vs. FCS: 10-0
Percentage of non-conference games against Power Five opponents: .359
Best win: Clemson over Auburn
Worst loss: Syracuse at home to Middle Tennessee
Theoretical CFP contenders: Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech, Louisville, North Carolina State, Duke, Georgia Tech, Florida State
Realistic CFP contenders: Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State
Quick take: Another conference playing an eight-game league schedule and scheduling too many FCS opponents. The league will get some potential status-boosting games in the final weekend of the regular season (Florida State-Florida, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Louisville-Kentucky), plus four more shots at Notre Dame (the Fighting Irish’s visit to Miami Nov. 11 could loom large).

American (16)
Record vs. the Power Five: 3-9
Record vs. FBS: 12-13
Record vs. FCS: 7-1
Percentage of games against Power Five opponents: .267
Best win: Central Florida’s romp at Maryland
Worst loss: Tulsa at home to New Mexico
Theoretical CFP contenders: South Florida, Central Florida, Navy
Realistic CFP contenders: None
Quick take: This is the best league outside the Power Five, and it stands a good chance of producing the Group of Five’s entrant in the New Year’s Six bowls.

Rashaad Penny has helped lead San Diego State to a perfect 5-0 start. (AP)

Mountain West (17)
Record vs. the Power Five: 3-17
Record vs. FBS: 10-20
Record vs. FCS: 9-2
Percentage of games against Power Five opponents: .488
Best win: San Diego State over Stanford
Worst loss: UNLV to Howard
Theoretical CFP contenders: San Diego State
Realistic CFP contenders: San Diego State if, like, the Aztecs obliterate everyone and Stanford runs the table from here on out
Quick take: Largely for monetary reasons, nobody schedules more ambitiously than the Mountain West – but returns on that are scant outside of SDSU. Boise State’s slide is a blow, and most of the West Division is scary-bad (which also hurts SDSU).

Mid-American (18)
Record vs. the Power Five: 4-17
Record vs. FBS: 12-24
Record vs. FCS: 10-1
Percentage of games against Power Five opponents: .447
Best win: Northern Illinois at Nebraska
Worst loss: Bowling Green to South Dakota
Theoretical CFP contenders: None
Realistic CFP contenders: None
Quick take: The MAC has crept up on the Mountain West, but there is no San Diego State in the league posting multiple P5 victories. (That was Western Michigan last year, but P.J. Fleck doesn’t hang out here anymore.)

Conference USA (19)
Record vs. the Power Five: 2-16
Record vs. FBS: 12-26
Record vs. FCS: 9-1
Percentage of games against Power Five opponents: .375
Best win: Middle Tennessee at Syracuse
Worst loss: Charlotte to North Carolina A&T
Theoretical CFP contenders: None
Realistic CFP contenders: None
Quick take: Jeff Brohm’s departure from Western Kentucky hurt the league’s top program. Louisiana Tech let a marquee win over South Carolina get away. UTSA is on the rise, but cancellation of game against Houston was another missed opportunity.

Sun Belt (20)
Record vs. the Power Five: 1-12
Record vs. FBS: 6-23
Record vs. FCS: 7-3
Percentage of games against Power Five opponents: .333
Best win: Troy over LSU, forever
Worst loss: Georgia Southern to New Hampshire
Theoretical CFP contenders: None
Realistic CFP contenders: None
Quick take: Most of these schools have no business playing at the FBS level, but here they are. Troy’s win in Tiger Stadium, in a game the Trojans never trailed, is an all-timer. New Mexico State scored a nice upset of New Mexico. Arkansas State lost a home game against Miami to Hurricane Irma, which is a huge bummer.




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