It’s Championship Week. Finally, Notre Dame and BYU can’t embarrass anyone anymore. These two independents really made an impact on the rankings this week. Because of Notre Dame, the American Athletic Conference received a push. The three top conferences are extremely close to each other. The top four conferences all have multiple teams ranked ahead of the ACC in the AP Top 25 Poll. One conference drops multiple spots this week. Who moved up? Who moved down? Below are the Championship Week conference rankings.
1. Big 12 Conference (24-6, 9-0 vs. FCS)
A mid-tier Texas Tech team is the reason why the American Athletic Conference is not a play-in game to the College Football Playoff or the New Year’s Six Bowl. That’s impressive. Iowa is playing in the Big Ten Championship Game, so there is really nothing embarrassing about that loss. Texas, a school that is not bowl eligible prevented Louisiana-Lafayette from a perfect record, beating them by 20 points with a freshman quarterback at the helm. Four of the conference’s six losses came against Power Five schools. The two losses against Group of Five schools came against bowl eligible teams who were ranked this season and considered as teams that could stir trouble in the College Football Playoff rankings. This is a solid conference. It’s also about to shed one of its worst teams in Texas, and add four schools who are bowl eligible, three of which are in the top 16 of the AP Poll. One of those is in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings.
2. Big Ten Conference (33-9, 7-0 vs. FCS)
The Big Ten drops down this week as Notre Dame is 2-0 against the conference, outscoring them 68-26. The two schools Notre Dame embarrassed are 8-4 with 6-3 conference records: Purdue and Wisconsin. Notre Dame humiliated Wisconsin on the road. On the other hand, Notre Dame lost a home game this year. That one loss came at the hands of Cincinnati. In a fair assessment, Cincinnati wins the Big Ten West Division. Meanwhile, Oregon humiliated Ohio State on the road this year. Ohio State humiliated Michigan State. Michigan State beat Michigan. It is possible that Oregon might’ve been able to win the Big Ten East. Let me remind you that Oregon lost to a 3-9 Stanford team and was humiliated by a Utah team that lost to BYU by two scores. Finally, Wisconsin controlled its own destiny going into the final week. Minnesota beat the Badgers. The Golden Gophers lost a home game to a 4-8 Bowling Green squad this year. There are vulnerabilities here. If Iowa beats Michigan, there should not be a Big Ten team ranked ahead of the Fighting Irish, and the Fighting Irish should not be ranked ahead of Cincinnati. Thus, because Wisconsin loses to Minnesota combined with Notre Dame’s dominance and the Ohio State home loss to Oregon, the Big Ten drops down a spot. You have to be careful when you schedule Notre Dame. That school has really placed a hurt on the conference’s it played against.
3. American Athletic Conference (24-19, 9-1 vs. FCS)
Cincinnati wins. Check! Houston wins. Check! UCF wins. Check!
The American Athletic Conference is reaping the benefits of what will be the future Big 12 Conference. This conference has two teams ranked ahead of the entire ACC. Between Houston and Cincinnati, they’re only loss is to a Texas Tech team that is bowl eligible. Additionally, Cincinnati holds a victory at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish embarrassed the ACC this year, outscored Pac-12 opponents 76-30 and the Big Ten 68-26. In fact, because of Cincinnati’s convincing victory at Notre Dame, the American nearly scooted up the rankings this week. However, the poor record combined with Tulsa’s loss to UC Davis keeps the conference in the three slot.
4. Southeastern Conference (49-8, 13-1 vs. FCS)
The SEC continues to market itself well. They racked up nearly 50 non-conference victories. Most of those against teams who are not bowling this year. The best victory was Mississippi State’s win over North Carolina State. The SEC beat up on bad ACC teams, Group of Five schools and FCS teams. They were 1-0 against the Big 12 because Arkansas hosted a Texas team who posted a losing record in conference play and couldn’t even become bowl eligible. Auburn lost to Penn State. LSU lost at UCLA. When the conference played a quality school, they lost. Now, many coaches are refusing to accept SEC jobs. Coaches want job security. Lincoln Riley saw the writing on the wall with Oklahoma’s upcoming move and the Texas Tech graduate pulled an OU on the very school that spoke behind closed doors for six months before bolting. The Sooners are reaping exactly what they sowed.
5. Mountain West Conference (30-19, 9-2 vs. FCS)
This is a top heavy conference. San Diego State, Fresno State, and Utah State all hold victories over Pac-12 schools. Boise State holds a victory at BYU and nearly took down Oklahoma State, who is playing in the Big 12 Championship Game. This is a decent conference. It’s ranked this low because its bottom feeders are really bad. For example, Colorado State lost to Vanderbilt and South Dakota State. That cancels out the nice victories over the Pac-12. You’re only as strong as your weakest link.
6. Atlantic Coast Conference (33-20, 12-1 vs. FCS)
If you subtract the FCS results from this league, they are just over .500. Then, take a look at some of the other schools this league scored its winning record over. Just on North Carolina State’s schedule, there is South Florida and Louisiana Tech. Those are two Group of Five schools who are not bowl eligible this season. In fact, Louisiana Tech fired its coach of nine seasons. Boston College finished 4-0 in non-conference play. FBS teams they beat up on Massachusetts, Temple and Missouri. Oh wow! They beat an SEC team. Spare me. This was a bad conference. The two teams playing in the ACC Championship Game are not even ranked in the top 15 of the AP Poll. Three of the four schools that will be added to the Big 12 Conference are ranked ahead of this conference’s highest rated team.
7. Conference USA (24-32, 14-0 vs. FCS)
UTSA blew it. They were blown out at North Texas and allowed the Mean Green to become bowl eligible. The Roadrunners may have saved Seth Littrell’s job. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to see Western Kentucky blow past UTSA they way these two teams are playing. Because of the UTSA loss, this conference tumbles down the rankings.
8. Sun Belt Conference (21-19, 8-1 vs. FCS)
When your best team’s only loss comes on the road against a 5-7 Texas team, it’s not a good look. It’s even worse when Texas State proves that FCS school Incarnate Word could be competitive in your league. Texas State finished 3-5 in conference play. It’s highly likely Incarnate Word, coached by former Texas Tech receiver Eric Morris, would have been bowl eligible in this league. That’s not for certain. After all, Incarnate Word did lose a road game to a bad McNeese State team. However, UIW is still in the playoffs and could give FCS favorite Sam Houston State some fits this weekend.
9. Pac 12 (16-21, 7-2 vs. FCS)
Stanford was blown out by 31 points at home. USC lost to BYU at home. Oregon, who is in the Pac-12 Championship Game, was one of the three teams victimized by Stanford. If BYU was in this conference, they would have, at minimum, won the Pac-12 South Championship. If Utah replicates its previous result against Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, there is absolutely no way to rebuttal that BYU was better than all 12 teams in the Pac-12 this season. BYU defeated Utah by two scores this season. The Utes ought to just ship that Pac-12 Championship trophy to Provo and say “congratulations”.
10. MAC (21-27, 11-1 vs. FCS
The conference title game pits a 7-5 team against an 8-4 team. This was the best the MAC could do.