It’s the most important piece to the College Football Playoff puzzle. How good is your conference? It is a major determination in the perception of a team’s strength of schedule. If your conference plays well in the non-conference slate, you will likely be rewarded. However, if the conference stumbles in the non-conference slate, your CFB Playoff chances could be doomed even if you go 12-0. Just one small blemish could eliminate you in week one and you don’t even realize it. Thus, we rank the conferences. Who is the best conference? Who is the worst conference? The rankings are below.
1. Big Ten Conference (30-9, 7-0 vs. FCS)
The Big Ten remains on top this week for the mere reason the Big 12 finished 0-2 in non-conference play and the SEC lost against its only Power Five foe. It was not a good week for the top four conferences, but they’ve done enough work up to this point to remain set. The Big Ten and Big 12 have yet to lose to an FCS school. Minnesota did lose to MAC school Bowling Green at home. Wisconsin was obliterated by Notre Dame at home. Still, top-to-bottom, this is the best conference. Also, it just wouldn’t be right if I failed to mention Villanova’s 38-17 loss to Penn State. I have to take my opportunities to rib Heartland College Sports founder and owner Pete Mundo. He’s probably quite proud of that result though. It’s much closer than most would expect.
2. Big 12 Conference (23-6, 9-0 vs. FCS)
It was a horrible week for the Big 12, but facts are facts. Despite the 0-2 record against non-conference teams this week, five of its six losses are to undefeated teams. Arkansas, Coastal Carolina, Iowa, Maryland, and SMU are all undefeated. Duke lost on the road to a quality Charlotte team. Not to mention, none of the Big 12 teams lost to FCS schools. Here’s my weekly reminder that Vanderbilt lost to ETSU. But, you know, S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C! Apparently, Baseball Tonight’s Buster Olney took exception to my suggestion that Vanderbilt should be dropped from the SEC. Olney is a Vanderbilt graduate. Hey, not only should they be dropped from the SEC. Vanderbilt needs to be sent to the Ohio Valley Conference, an FCS conference. Heck, they can’t even win the Southern Conference apparently.
3. Southeastern Conference (32-7, 8-1 vs. FCS)
The SEC is now 6-5 against Power Five conference teams. This includes a 4-2 record against the ACC after Missouri fell on the road against Boston College. The other victories are against a 1-3 Colorado team and a Texas team who started a freshman quarterback. We could always say that Texas is an SEC, which would drop their Power Five record down to .500. Remember, this conference played the Big Ten just once and they lost. The ACC is ESPN’s tool for propping the SEC up and marketing it well.
4. Mountain West Conference (25-16, 9-2 vs. FCS)
Fresno State had a massive hangover that needed to be cured in the second half. They nearly lost to UNLV at home. New Mexico lost to UTEP. San Jose State lost to Western Michigan. We’ll cut some slack this week as both of those are road losses against teams with winning records (Yes, UTEP actually has a winning record.) Colorado State actually played well on the road against Iowa. Maybe the Rams are getting better? It was far from the Mountain West’s best week, but they’ve beaten up on the Power Five a lot this year. They’ll stay ahead of the ACC for another week.
5. Atlantic Coast Conference (27-12, 11-1 vs. FCS)
The ACC will stand pat this week. Duke picked up a nice win against Kansas. Syracuse defeated Liberty, knocking it from the mountain climb of unbeatens. The conference scored three victories against FCS schools. The major blemish here is Clemson falling to North Carolina State. The Wolfpack lost to Mississippi State earlier this season. This is not a quality result for the ACC. Clemson is basically out of the playoff picture. The ACC might be relying on Wake Forest or Boston College to get into the playoffs. As any Big 12 fan knows, private schools not named Notre Dame are extremely frowned upon. The discrimination is real and the ACC is not going to be in the playoffs.
6. American Athletic Conference (21-18, 9-1 vs. FCS)
Why go to the Heart Attack Grill? Just go watch East Carolina football. Mike Houston’s stress levels have to be through the roof. East Carolina nearly lost to FCS Charleston Southern, barely squeaking out a 31-28 victory. The AAC went 0-2 this week against Conference USA. Houston nearly dropped a home game against a Navy team that is now 0-3. Memphis apparently couldn’t get the referees to help them in the UTSA game. South Florida gave up 21 points to BYU in the first quarter. There are three bright spots in this conference. Two of them are headed to the Big 12. Who isn’t heading to the Big 12? A 4-0 SMU squad that retained the Iron Skillet with a 42-34 victory over arch rival TCU. It makes me wonder where those 80s boosters are. NIL is legal now. SMU could very well be 7-0 when it travels to Houston Oct. 20. It’s close, but the only reason I keep the AAC above Conference USA is because the AAC has a winning overall record. Mike Aresco can thank the newest Big 12 teams and SMU for keeping his conference out of the gutter.
7. Sun Belt Conference (19-15, 8-1 vs. FCS)
It was not a bad week for the Sun Belt. Appalachian State was able to pull off the victory over Marshall at home. Coastal Carolina remains undefeated, keeping their longshot bid at the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six Bowls alive. Georgia State held a double-digit lead at halftime over Auburn before the Tigers got their crap together. Texas State is a horrible team. Arkansas State also fell to Tulsa, and this is the reason for the drop. Essentially, Arkansas State just lost to UC Davis in lieu of the loss to Tulsa. It’s not a bad conference, but ranking from top-to-bottom, The American is moving up while the Sun Belt moves down.
8. Conference USA (22-25, 14-0 vs. FCS)
It was an excellent week for Conference USA. This conference went 2-0 on the road against American Athletic Conference teams. UAB took out Tulane and UTSA knocked off Memphis. UTSA is now 4-0. Jeff Traylor, the former coach of Cedar Hill High School, only has to win against UNLV for a perfect non-conference season. This is not as bad of a conference as most perceive it to be. Two teams suffered 1-point losses. Western Kentucky suffered a two-point loss to Indiana. Is it Power Five? No. It is 3-3 against teams from the American Athletic Conference though.
9. Pac-12 (16-17, 7-2 vs. FCS)
It was a bad week for the Pac-12 even though they only played conference games. Washington, the team who lost to FCS Montana, defeated Cal. The Golden Bears are now 1-3. UCLA, who lost to Fresno State, won at Stanford. That’s not good because Stanford at least lost to a Power Five school. This conference continues to make BYU look good as Utah and Arizona State won games against Washington State and Colorado. Also, USC fired Clay Helton. This big brand just lost to Oregon State, a baseball school, at home. USC will likely not make a bowl. Oregon is the only hope. They play at Stanford this week.
10. MAC (19-27, 11-1 vs. FCS)
It was a huge bounce back week for the MAC. The marquee win of the week was Bowling Green winning at Minnesota. That’s something no one saw coming. The MAC finished 5-4 against the FBS this week. Three of its four losses came against Power Five schools. Miami (OH) also lost to an undefeated Army team who looks like a contender for the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six Bowl if Cincinnati can’t get past Notre Dame this week. The MAC took care of business against Group of Five conferences this week, dispatching Old Dominion, Florida International, San Jose State and Texas State.