Ranking the college football conferences

We typically have a pretty good idea of the conference pecking order at the end of a normal season. Without any non-conference games and conferences playing different numbers of games in 2020, it’s a lot harder to figure out how the conferences compare against each other.

That’s not going to stop us from trying, however. Here’s our near-end-of-season power rankings for the 10 conferences at the top level of college football.

1. SEC

The SEC gets the edge because there are four teams ranked in the top 10. After that there’s a huge drop-off. Missouri is currently the team with the fifth-best record in the conference at 5-3 and Auburn is at 5-4. Both Tigers have a good shot to finish 6-4. After them, only Ole Miss can plausibly finish at .500

2. ACC

Notre Dame’s presence means the ACC has two teams in the top three of the playoff rankings. Don’t you think the ACC would love to keep the Irish around? Miami is at No. 10 and North Carolina is at No. 17. The best unranked team in the country may be NC State at 8-3 and Boston College, Virginia and Wake Forest are also above .500.

Running back Kyren Williams of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish stiff-arms safety Nolan Turner of the Clemson Tigers on Nov. 7. (Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images)3. Big Ten

It’s pretty clear that No. 4 Ohio State is the top team in the conference and No. 12 Indiana is No. 2. But who is the third-best team? No. 14 Northwestern? No. 19 Iowa? No. 16 Wisconsin? Northwestern has the edge for No. 3 thanks to wins over Wisconsin and Iowa. After that, it’s dealer’s choice. There are 10 teams in the conference with two wins and records ranging from 2-2 to 2-5.

4. Big 12

Iowa State and Oklahoma established themselves as the clear top two teams in the conference. Texas is third thanks to a win over an Oklahoma State team that fell at TCU on Saturday. And in typical Big 12 fashion, the middle of the conference is pretty interchangeable before you get to a Kansas team that’s given up 414 points in nine games.

5. Pac-12

The good news: The Pac-12 has three teams in the top 25. The bad news: two of those teams lost on Saturday. No. 22 Washington lost at home to Stanford while No. 23 Oregon lost at Cal. No. 20 USC easily beat Washington State on Sunday and the Trojans look like the clear frontrunners despite the comebacks needed for wins in their first two games of the season.

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6. American

The AAC’s Power Six push isn’t too far off in 2020. Cincinnati and Tulsa are legit and UCF has put up nearly 400 points in nine games. And SMU, Memphis and Tulane have all each won at least six games.

7. Sun Belt

Yes, the Sun Belt is the second-best Group of Five conference. Both Coastal and Louisiana are ranked and Appalachian State is at 7-3 and Georgia Southern is at 7-4 while Georgia State and Troy have five wins apiece. Remember, Arkansas State beat Kansas State too.

8. Mountain West

The Mountain West would be No. 2 among the G5 conferences if it weren’t for the Sun Belt’s really good year. The battle for the conference title game among San Jose State, Boise State and Nevada is fun and San Diego State didn’t get blown out by undefeated Colorado in a hastily arranged game.

9. MAC

The MAC has been fun this year in its abbreviated season. Buffalo and RB Jarret Patterson have scored 203 points in four games and Kent State’s scored just four fewer. In the West, Ball State and Western Michigan will meet on Saturday for the division title. Oh, Akron even won a game for the first time since Oct. 27, 2018.

10. Conference USA

Marshall was making C-USA relevant in 2020 until it lost to Rice on Saturday. The No. 21 Thundering Herd will assuredly fall out of the CFP rankings on Tuesday. After the Thundering Herd, is Florida Atlantic the second-best team in the conference? Texas-San Antonio? Louisiana Tech? Someone else?

– Nick Bromberg

Did South Carolina make right call with Shane Beamer hire?

South Carolina had its next coach in place as soon as the 2020 season was over.

The Gamecocks made the hire of Shane Beamer official on Sunday, a day after USC finished the season at 2-8 with a loss to Kentucky.

South Carolina’s coaching search began on Nov. 15 after the school fired Will Muschamp. The decision to fire Muschamp was a costly one in the middle of a pandemic. His buyout was $13 million.

When a school pays that much to get rid of a coach and gets rid of that coach before the season is over it’s typically looking to make a splashy hire and get ahead of other schools who will be making coaching changes at the end of the season.

And while Beamer is a former South Carolina assistant and the son of longtime Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, his hire is much more of a ripple than a splash. And it’s hard to see him getting hired at any other Power Five school this offseason.

Does that automatically mean that Beamer is a bad hire? Absolutely not. Beamer knows the area from his time as the lead recruiter with the Gamecocks under Steve Spurrier in 2009 and 2010. And his hire comes 10 days before the early signing period begins. He’ll have over a week to keep South Carolina’s recruiting class together.

Shane Beamer of the Oklahoma Sooners coaches from the sidelines in the second half of a game against Iowa State. (David Purdy/Getty Images)

But it’s also hard to see how South Carolina immediately improves its standing in the SEC East. The Gamecocks are going to finish sixth in the division. The only team behind USC in the standings is Vanderbilt, the other SEC school looking for a new head coach.

Simply being better than Vanderbilt isn’t good enough. That’s why Muschamp was fired in the first place. Muschamp’s career record with the Gamecocks ended at 28-30 and included two winning seasons over the course of four-plus seasons.

Beamer needs to get this team to .500 pretty quickly. And that means pulling an upset or two in his first couple seasons because South Carolina’s schedule annually consists of Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and a rivalry game against Clemson. All four of those teams are currently ranked in the top eight of the College Football Playoff rankings.

That schedule is one of the reasons why South Carolina is firmly a lower-tier job in the SEC. As the SEC East seems to have a rotating cast of third- and fourth-place teams, South Carolina needs to get into that rotation for Beamer’s first college head coaching job to last more than a few seasons.

– Nick Bromberg

The most surprising upsets of the 2020 season

BYU 55, Navy 3 (Sept. 7)

Week 1 had a limited number of games, but the main attraction was expected to be the Monday night matchup between BYU and Navy. It wasn’t much of a matchup. BYU closed as a one-point favorite on the road that night and ended up demolishing the Midshipmen, 55-3. We found out after the fact that Navy had not been tackling in practices due to COVID-19 concerns. Since then, we’ve also learned that BYU is a really, really good team.

Kansas State 38, No. 3 Oklahoma 35 (Sept. 26)

Two top-10 teams were upset back in Week 4. Both were shockers. No. 3 Oklahoma was upset at home by Kansas State, a team that had just lost to Arkansas State. The Sooners led 35-14 late in the third quarter, but the Wildcats scored the game’s final 24 points to pull off the shocker. Spencer Rattler, in his first Big 12 start, threw three costly interceptions.

Mississippi State 44, No. 6 LSU 34 (Sept. 26)

On the same day, the defending national champion LSU Tigers were upset by Mississippi State down in Baton Rouge. It was the first game for Mike Leach at Mississippi State and his offense was cooking. The Bulldogs torched Bo Pelini’s defense as K.J. Costello set an SEC record with 623 passing yards to go with his five touchdowns in his SEC debut.

Would it be a sign of things to come? For MSU, not at all. The Bulldogs were horrific on offense for much of the year and currently sit at 2-6. LSU’s defensive struggles, though, have lingered all year. Most recently, the Tigers gave up 650 yards in a 55-17 loss to Alabama to drop to 3-5 on year.

Florida State 31, No. 5 North Carolina 28 (Oct. 17)

On the heels of a 1-3 start (where the only win was in come-from-behind fashion vs. Jacksonville State), Florida State somehow upset No. 5 North Carolina in Tallahassee. UNC was coming off a win over Virginia Tech in which it put up 656 yards and 56 points. But on this night, the Tar Heels fell behind 24-0 and spent the rest of the night trying to come back. They almost did, but the FSU defense somehow managed to hold in the final minutes. The No. 5 ranking proved to be pretty lofty for UNC, but it’s still been a pretty strong season for Mack Brown’s team. FSU, in Year 1 under Mike Norvell, has not won a game since.

Michigan State 27, No. 13 Michigan 24 (Oct. 31)

Michigan opened up Big Ten play by trouncing Minnesota on the road. Michigan State lost at home to Rutgers to open the Mel Tucker era. Surely Jim Harbaugh’s group would deliver a thumping, right? Wrong. Michigan State was a 21.5-point underdog but it managed to upset its in-state rival, 27-24. Michigan’s defense was miserable against the pass. And that trend has continued in a miserable year for the Wolverines, who are currently 2-4 on the year. Michigan State is also 2-4, with its other win another upset — a 29-20 win over No. 8 Northwestern as a 13.5-point underdog.

Maryland 35, Penn State 19 (Nov. 7)

Penn State was ranked No. 8 in the country when it began its season, but was 0-2 and out of the Top 25 when it hosted Maryland. The Nittany Lions lost a heartbreaker to Indiana and then at home to Ohio State. Most thought they would get their first win of the year against an overmatched Maryland team. Instead, the Terps ran them out of Beaver Stadium. Maryland stormed out to a 35-7 lead in an embarrassing performance from PSU. PSU would end up starting the year 0-5 for the first time ever, but have since won two straight. Maryland (2-2) has seen its schedule get depleted by COVID-19.

Rice 20, No. 21 Marshall 0 (Dec. 5)

Marshall was 7-0 and ranked No. 21 entering Saturday’s game against Rice, a team that had played just three games on the year and wasn’t expected to give the Thundering Herd much of a game. The 23-point spread was evidence of that. But the Owls did more than that, they pulled off one of the bigger upsets of the year. The Rice defense forced Marshall QB Grant Wells to throw five interceptions, including a pick-six in the third quarter. Rice had only 213 yards of offense, but when you pitch a shutout your offensive woes don’t matter as much.

– Sam Cooper

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Published: 2020-12-07 14:01:00

Tags: #Ranking #college #football #conferences

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