SEC, Big East on opposite ends of strength spectrum after Week 2
With five Top 25 teams and great strength at the top, the SEC in king
The Mountain West has picked up where it left off 2008 and is a force
At this rate, it's hard to imagine the Big East rising out of the cellar
Before the college football season kicked off, most had already crowned the SEC the nation's best conference. Florida was the unanimous No. 1 (or close to), Ole Miss was a trendy dark horse, Alabama was only getting better under Nick Saban and top-level freshman talent was arriving at Tennessee, Georgia and LSU per usual.
The endless summer analysis also held that the ACC was poised for a breakout year, the Big Ten was in sorry shape and the Big 12 South boasted three national title contenders.
Two weeks in, some of those perceptions have held true, while others have already proven false. Working with some non-conference results, here is the first edition of the 2009 Conference Power Rankings.
NOTE: BCS+ stands for members of BCS conferences, non-BCS teams in the Top 25 (BYU, Boise St., etc.) and Notre Dame.
Nonconference record: 13-2
The skinny: With three teams in the top 5 and four in the top 10, it's hard to put the SEC anywhere but No. 1. Week 1 featured matchups against the usual lineup of cream-puffs, and without exception SEC teams put up big numbers and avoided close calls. Georgia's loss to Oklahoma State hurt the league to a degree, and Tennessee's failure against UCLA was a black mark since UCLA figures to be a borderline bowl team this year, but the strength at the top of the league is unmatched. Alabama's controlling win over Virginia Tech will be one of the strongest nonconference wins a league boasts by season's end.
2. Big 12
Nonconference record: 16-6
The skinny: The Big 12, Pac-10 and Big Ten are all closely clumped together in the race for the No. 2 spot, but the number of ranked teams earns the Big 12 the edge. That said, it hasn't been all smooth sailing for the league. Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State figured to wage a season-long battle in the Big 12 South similar to last year's Texas-Oklahoma-Texas Tech thriller. Now, after two weeks, only Texas remains unbeaten. Oklahoma State beat Georgia but then succumbed to the SI cover jinx by losing to Conference USA's Houston, Oklahoma failed to handle BYU when Sam Bradford went down and even Texas appeared rather sluggish in Week 2 before pulling away from Wyoming. Colorado's losses to Colorado State and Toledo haven't exactly helped the league, either. But remember, five Big 12 teams ranks in the Top 25, and the Nebraska-Missouri-Kansas race in the North may be able to stand up to its Southern counterpart. Nebraska's game at Virginia Tech this weekend is a big one for that division.
Nonconference record: 13-4
The skinny: USC certainly didn't overwhelm Ohio State, but few (if any) other visiting teams will win at the Horseshoe this year. The fact that the Trojans could won there in Matt Barkley's second start under center bodes well, and USC figures to only get better as the year goes on. UCLA's win at Tennessee makes it two straight over the ex-SEC power and Washington State's 38-20 loss to Hawaii is the league's worst, which isn't so bad. The Pac-10's weakness is its lack of Top 25 teams, but there is plenty of good news on the left coast. Oregon bounced back from its disastrous opener at Boise, Arizona looks improved, Oregon State won at the buzzer against UNLV and Washington appears much better under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian. Not to mention the Cal Bears, who don't look like they'll vacate the top 10 anytime soon.
4. Big Ten
Nonconference record: 18-3
The skinny: The Big Ten boasts an impressive nonconference record and has generally played better than expected this season. What gave the Pac-10 the edge was USC's win at Ohio State and the Big Ten's series of close calls in Week 2 against inferior competition. Wisconsin struggled mightily against Fresno State, Indiana beat Western Michigan by four, Northwestern beat Eastern Michigan by three and Michigan State ended up losing to Central Michigan by two. Those results plus Illinois' no-show performance against Missouri in Week 1 pushed the Big Ten down to No. 4. Let's not forget, however, that Michigan looks much improved (must be all the practice), Penn State is legit and Ohio State came within a minute of beating USC.
5. Mountain West
Nonconference record: 11-6
The skinny: The Mountain West has earned its way into these rankings (which formerly consisted only of the Big Six) with some outstanding play the last few years. That hasn't changed this season, with BYU's landscape-changing win over Oklahoma in Week 1 and Utah and TCU holding their places in the Top 25. Plus, the league has suffered very few 'bad' losses. New Mexico has been blown out twice, but other than that, MWC teams have only lost to UCLA, Texas, Minnesota and Oregon State. If BYU beats Florida State this weekend, the league's reputation will stay strong and the Cougars will start to creep into the national championship discussion.
Nonconference record: 12-7
The skinny: After a horrid opening weekend that featured two losses to the Colonial Athletic Association, the ACC recovered a bit in the second week by going 8-1 as a league, with the lone loss coming when Virginia fell to TCU. The league's best games have come within the conference, with Florida State and Miami putting on an impressive show on Labor Day night and Georgia Tech and Clemson playing out a thriller last Thursday in Atlanta. The league cannot be left off the hook for its opening week flop, but if Virginia Tech can beat Nebraska, Florida State beats BYU and Georgia Tech and Miami put on another good ACC show on Thursday, the league will be well on its way to shaking off its embarrassing start.
7. Big East
Nonconference record: 10-3
The skinny: The Big East's nonconference slate has been an utter snooze-fest thus far, as the "best win" and "worst loss" selections indicate. The league's biggest surprise has been Cincinnati, which lost a big group of seniors but charged out of the gate with a blowout of Rutgers in Week 1. UConn showed fortitude in a 12-10 loss to North Carolina in a Saturday game that would have given the league a nice bump had the Huskies come through. West Virginia looks like it may play its way into the Top 25. Until the Mountaineers or another Big East team climb into the polls, however, it'll be tough for the Big East to move out of the No. 7 spot.