Sports

2011 College Football Conference Rankings: Week 2

| by Sports Nickel

So we’ve now got twice the sample size, and it is starting to appear like the universe is shaking itself back into order after a weird first week that saw things flipped around from the norm. But things are still a little out of whack, though there are extenuating circumstances that mitigate that reality.

Take for instance the case of the non-AQ conferences, the leagues loaded with schools chasing BCS Buster dreams. The battle every year is to prove your conference at least is deeper than the other mid-majors out there in a jockeying for the mere hope of an at-large invitation to the party.

For the longest time the Mountain West has been the preeminent BCS Buster, producing Utah’s wins over Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and Alabama in the 2008 Sugar Bowl and TCU’s trips to the Fiesta (where they lost to fellow BCS Buster Boise State) and Rose Bowl last year where they toppled Wisconsin.

Perhaps it is merely an aberration, the result of the Broncos (now in the MWC after busting the BCS twice out of the WAC) not playing this week and TCU and Air Force playing against one another. It certainly didn’t help that their only teams playing BCS-conference opponents were the weakest two, UNLV and New Mexico. Nor did the loss of Utah to the expanded Pac-12 make things easier. Maybe these things will level out, the traditional powers will surge and the past powers like Colorado State and Wyoming will continue to succeed further into the season. But after two weeks, the Mountain West has been anything but the best non-AQ conference in the country.

That honor goes to Conference USA, which has seen its teams go 3-8 against opponents from the six BCS conferences. (No other conference has played as many non-conference BCS-level games. The Sun Belt and MAC are tied for second among conferences with ten apiece. Both are 1-9.) Houston has continued to put up big offensive numbers thanks to the return of Case Keenum, waltzing into the Rose Bowl last week and outlasting UCLA on their home turf. UCF’s statement against Boston College this weekend opened even more eyes to the potential threats in both divisions.

And then there’s Rice, until this weekend getting more publicity for its marching band’s “$EC” gimmick in Austin than its football team. That changed when the Owls outlasted their visitors from the Big Ten, Purdue. Scoring to tie the game at 17 on the last play before halftime, they came out on the opening drive of the second half and took a 24-17 lead. Then they tenaciously clung on to that lead, watching the Boilermakers shave it away slowly. First a safety cut it to five when RB Charles Ross was tackled in his own end zone. Then a 27-yard field goal by Carson Wiggs whittled it to just two. With a chance to be the game-winning hero on the final play of regulation, Wiggs lined up for another field goal, this one from 31 yards out. He got through the ball, Rice got through the trenches, and the Owls gave the home fans something to celebrate.

No matter the conference you love, it is moments like those that make college football memorable. But it’s still fun to also crow superiority, so let’s look at the rankings:

The SEC reclaims its spot atop the heap after one week languishing on the bottom step of the podium. The first weekend was one of surprises as traditional middleweights and lightweights took over the top of the leaderboard. The second week was one for the SEC. A conference matchup made us take note as Auburn upset #16 Mississippi State and #12 South Carolina outlasted Georgia. #3 Alabama went to #23 Penn State and walked away still undefeated. And unranked Tennessee and Vanderbilt got into the mix as well, defeating Big East schools Cincinnati and Connecticut respectively. Big games both intraconference and interconference bolstered the profile of the conference once again.

The Big East held firm, dropping just one spot behind the SEC ahead of a hard-charging Pac-12. In addition to the losses by the Bearcats and the Huskies against the SEC’s Volunteer State schools, Rutgers missed an opportunity to win at North Carolina when their final drive stalled in Tar Heel territory in a 24-22 defeat. But they have managed nevertheless to hang on… for now.

The Pac-12 made the biggest surge up the standings of any conference, rising seven spots to third in the rankings. Arizona State survived the Missouri Tigers on a thrilling Friday-night showcase of offense. Stanford once again won impressively… admittedly at Duke, but at BCS competition nonetheless. Arizona and Oregon State couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain against Oklahoma State and Wisconsin respectively, but all things told it was a strong weekend for the west coast schools.

Behind them the Big XII is back in fourth at the moment. But with the conference on a wobbly foundation, this might be the last year they get to challenge for a spot on this ranking. Already scenarios have been drawn up that would send Texas A&M eastward to the SEC, the Oklahoma schools westward to the Pac-12-(and-counting), Missouri either joining A&M southward or former division rival Nebraska eastward to the Big Ten.

Where will we be next year at this time? We already know TCU will be in the Big East. The Mountain West will bring on three more WAC schools after bringing in Boise State this year. The WAC will give UT-San Antonio and Texas State a chance to rise up to I-A status. What else will be different?

There’s the other half of the fun of the college football equation. While times like these can be painful for schools like Baylor and Iowa State, who might be left behind in the shuffle and relegated to mid-major status in the process, it sure is entertaining. Just like the games on the field every weekend, you can’t stop watching to see what happens next until the final whistle sounds.