by Mike Ivcic
We’ve played eight weeks of college football. What do we know so far? Well, one thing I think is abundantly clear is that the SEC simply isn’t as good as everyone thinks. Don’t agree? Allow me to briefly make my case.
The best way to judge a conference is not by their performance within, but by their performance outside. In that respect, the conference as a whole has posted an impressive-looking 35-7 record in non-conference games, with 14 more non-conference games still to be played. A closer look at the numbers, though, bears out these statistics:
SEC vs. currently ranked teams – 2-5
Wins – Alabama over Virginia Tech, South Carolina over Central Florida
Losses – Florida to Miami, Mississippi State to Oklahoma State, Kentucky to Louisville, Tennessee to Oregon, Georgia to Clemson
SEC vs. other “power conference” teams (Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, Big 12) – 6-5
Wins (including games above) – Missouri over Indiana, South Carolina over North Carolina, LSU over TCU, Auburn over Washington State, Mississippi over Texas
SEC vs. MAC teams – 6-0
SEC vs. C-USA teams – 5-0
SEC vs. Sun Belt teams – 6-1
SEC vs. non-FBS teams – 8-0
In other words, the three games on which the SEC is claiming to be better than other conferences are Alabama over Virginia Tech, LSU over TCU, and Mississippi over Texas – the first two of which came opening weekend and the third one against a team that had just fired their defensive coordinator the week before. Plus, the conference has earned half of their non-conference wins against teams from the three lowest-ranked FBS conferences, and almost a quarter more wins against teams that don’t even play for the same championship. That’s the metric upon which everyone is judging this conference. So when Missouri – at home, no less – beats Florida, who lost to the third-best team in the ACC, it earns them a nine-spot jump in the polls? When LSU loses their second game of the season to Ole Miss, added to a loss to Georgia, they should remain in the top 15? The only three teams with 2 losses that are still ranked in the BCS are ALL from the SEC, and the amazing part is that none of those teams (Texas A&M, South Carolina, and LSU) have lost to teams outside of the SEC – which means losing to two teams inside the SEC – the conference with two wins over ranked teams – is somehow better than losing one game to a ranked opponent (Nebraska) or losing in a hostile road environment (Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma State). I think that’s just flat-out wrong.
Some say the weekend that was in the SEC – when three unranked teams beat three ranked teams – shows just how good the bottom of the conference really is. I disagree. I think it shows how weak and vulnerable the top of the conference really is. And with that, I depart my soapbox.
10) Texas Tech @ 15) Oklahoma
Saturday, 3:30pm, FOX
Line: Oklahoma by 6.5
If there’s one conference in which I have struggled mightily this season, it’s the Big 12. I vastly overrated TCU and guessed incorrectly on when Oklahoma would lose. I thought West Virginia would survive the loss of Geno Smith better than they have, but definitely didn’t see them stepping up to beat the Cowboys. I have zero read on Texas and regularly underestimate just how efficient and deadly the Baylor offense has been. One team I have always had a knack for understanding, though, is Texas Tech, dating back to the Michael Crabtree/Mike Leach days. So, one final time, I’m dipping into this conference to make a pick – and this time going against the Red Raiders. I think Tech is a very good team, but I think Bob Stoops has his charges ready to play and the Sooners stay in the Big 12 title hunt by handing Texas Tech their first loss of the season. It’ll be close, though, so I’m not totally abandoning TTU.
Pick: Oklahoma 34, Texas Tech 31
Tennessee @ 1) Alabama
Saturday, 3:30pm, CBS
Line: Alabama by 28
One final point on this whole SEC thing – Tennessee lost to Georgia in overtime and then beat South Carolina, and now heads on the road to face the top-ranked team in the country where they are being spotted four touchdowns! This is the same Tennessee team that went to Oregon and lost by 45, so there’s no reason to think that they can keep this game close either. But they did keep the game close against Florida and Georgia, and they did beat South Carolina, so shouldn’t the conclusion be that Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina are significantly closer to Tennessee than they are to Alabama? And if Georgia beat LSU, and LSU beat Auburn, and Auburn beat Ole Missâ¦ I’m not usually a big proponent of the transitive property, but clearly there’s a collection of teams (LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas A&M) that are all very, very similar to each other – and all pale in comparison to Alabama. I would even put Missouri into that category, too. It makes for a very competitive conference, but based upon last weekend’s results, I just don’t think it necessarily makes for a very good conference. Which will be exemplified by this game.
Pick: Alabama 47, Tennessee 7
12) UCLA @ 3) Oregon
Saturday, 7:00pm, ESPN
Line: Oregon by 23
I expected Oregon to be favored. I even expected Oregon to be favored by more than one touchdown. But 23? That is an incredible line, considering this is a Bruins team that looked for all the world like a legitimate Pac-12 championship contender until their offense faltered in Palo Alto. It’s not like UCLA is a poor road team, either – they destroyed Nebraska in the second half in Lincoln in their 41-21 victory. What this line tells me, then, is that the experts really do believe this could finally be the Oregon team that defies the odds and rides their spectacular offense to a national title, so I’m going all in here and taking Oregon and the points.
Pick: Oregon 48, UCLA 24
21) South Carolina @ 5) Missouri
Saturday, 7:00pm, ESPN2
Line: Missouri by 3
It’s possibly the most remarkable story in all of college football this season – a 20-spot leap in the course of two weeks for Missouri, who entered their game against Georgia ranked 25th and left their win over Florida slotted 5th. Are they the fifth-best team in the country? No. Are they going to go undefeated? Probably not – they still have a trip to Ole Miss and home games with Tennessee and Texas A&M to navigate, all without their starting QB James Franklin. And that assumes a victory this weekend over the Gamecocks, which is no certainty. As I mentioned above, though, I just don’t see the SEC as being as strong as everyone else does – and even though I think the Tigers probably win this game, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see the conference continue to cannibalize itself.
Pick: Missouri 31, South Carolina 24
Penn State @ 4) Ohio State
Saturday, 8:00pm, ABC
Line: Ohio State by 14.5
For Penn State, this ultimately serves as their season. With a win, they can end the Buckeyes title hopes and maybe even earn a share of the Leaders Division title – even though they can’t play a conference championship game or bowl game. They could easily win out leading up to the final game of the season in Wisconsin, which could be a de facto division title game. Still, that just seems like far too tall of an order for the Nittany Lions to accomplish on the road in primetime against a more talented Ohio State team. Typically, these games have gone one of two ways in the past – a Buckeyes win by multiple possessions (’06, ’07, ’09, ’10, ’12) or a Nittany Lions win by less than one possession (’05, ’08, ’11). Besides, Penn State only wins every third year, so the one will go the way of the home team.
Pick: Ohio State 30, Penn State 13
17) Fresno State @ San Diego State
Saturday, 10:30pm, ESPN2
Line: Fresno State by 8.5
If you haven’t been paying attention, the Bulldogs are current ranked 17 in the BCS and would be in a BCS bowl game if the season ended today. They already have a win over Boise State and have scored at least 38 points in every game this season. This will likely be the toughest test remaining on their schedule, and could determine whether they can reach the MWC championship game. The Aztecs are currently the only other remaining unbeaten in conference play, but they’re not as talented as they’ve been over the past couple of years. Still, they’ll be playing host, and could give Derek Carr and the Bulldogs high-flying passing attack some competition with Quinn Kaehler and company. Ultimately, though, this is a Fresno State team that should be able to score enough points to win any shootout in which San Diego State tries to engage, and remain unscathed in their quest to crash the BCS.
Pick: Fresno State 38, San Diego State 28
Boise State @ BYU
Friday, 8:00pm, ESPN
Line: BYU by 7
This game would typically have BCS implications in recent years, but both of these schools have struggled this season. The Broncos lost opening week to Washington, a loss that keeps getting worse every time the Huskies get trounced in the Pac-12 schedule, and also already suffered a defeat to Fresno State. Still, Boise controls their own destiny in the Mountain division of the MWC – if they beat Colorado State and Wyoming in the next two weeks, they’re almost guaranteed to play in the conference championship game. Meanwhile the Cougars have that dominating win over Texas from week two, but that victory is sandwiched around two losses to weaker BCS teams Virginia and Utah. Still, the Cougars actually have more to gain here – it’s plausible to think that wins over Boise State, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame to earn a final mark of 10-2 might be enough to get the Cougars a spot in a lucrative late-December bowl game. It will at the very least get them ranked, probably in the low-to-mid-teens.
Pick: BYU 31, Boise State 20
Last Week: 2-5 straight up, 2-5 against spread
Season: 37-19 straight up, 19-36-1 against spread
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