Week 4 College Football Conference Power Rankings

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2013

Week 4 College Football Conference Power Rankings

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    Week 3 is officially in the books, and with the heart of non-conference play winding to a close, teams and leagues are running out of time to make a statement.

    There can still be jockeying during the conference season, but without weekly head-to-head and league-to-league matchups, it's harder for one conference to make or lose ground on another.

    Even with more conference games approaching in Week 4, though, a number of marquee non-league affairs will take place and play a vital role in the future rankings.

    But which leagues have their work cut out for them?

11. C-USA (Last Week: 11)

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    Non-Conference Record: 14-21

    Early Favorite: East Carolina

    Pleasant Surprise: Rice

    Big Disappointment: Tulsa

    ECU's high-powered offense stumbled against Virginia Tech, scoring just 10 points against the tough Hokies D. But the Pirates hung in and had a chance to pull the upset all game (eventually losing by five), which bodes well for the team going forward.

    The rest of Week 3 was a little disappointing, though. Reigning champion Tulsa suffered another big loss, this time at the hands of Blake Bell at Oklahoma.

    Then, later Saturday night, conference front-runner Marshall fell into a hole at Ohio and couldn't climb out of it, losing 31-34.

    Fortunately Rice played the part of (mild) savior, holding serve on its home turf by beating a Big 12 team. That team happened to be Kansas, but still: a power conference win is a power conference win.

10. Sun Belt (Last Week: 10)

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    Non-Conference Record: 10-9

    Best Team: Louisiana-Monroe

    Pleasant Surprise: South Alabama

    Big Disappointment: Western Kentucky

    Louisiana-Monroe's offense looked stale in Week 1 at Oklahoma, but it opened the playbook up in a road win at ACC Wake Forest—a nice notch in the Sun Belt's belt, even if Winston Salem is far from a hostile environment.

    The Warhawks in-state rival, Louisiana-Lafayette, got into the win column this week too, dropping 70 on hapless Nicholls State. Road games at Arkansas and Kansas State might have stunted the Cajuns' record, but they'll be a conference contender by season's end.

    Western Kentucky disappointed for the second straight week, losing its conference opener at South Alabama. But in the process, USA began to look like a team that could play dark horse in the conference, adding another (potential) quality team to the league.

9. Independent (Last Week: 9)

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    Non-Conference Record: 7-12

    Best Team: BYU

    Pleasant Surprise: Navy

    Big Disappointment: Notre Dame

    Notre Dame is 2-1 and, technically, still ranked.

    They aren't a disappointment by every metric and they can still turn things around, but in a non-league where so few teams have high expectations, the Irish are still the biggest letdown so far this year.

    Purdue is not a good team, and they came dangerously close to blowing that game.

    BYU takes the spot of "best team" by default, though Navy could make a surprising climb. The Midshipmen are 2-0 with a road win at Indiana.

    After the Hoosiers dismantled Bowling Green this week, and maybe even before, that looks like a potential signature win.

8. MAC (Last Week: 7)

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    Non-Conference Record: 13-21

    Best Team: Northern Illinois

    Pleasant Surprise: Bowling Green

    Big Disappointment: Kent State

    Northern Illinois looked shaky at Idaho, a very bad team, but did what it needed to do to remain undefeated. After last year's success, the Huskies need to just win every game and they should have a shot at crashing another BCS.

    They did run through the MAC without a loss last season, and this year's conference isn't quite as strong. Kent State looks like an atrocity while every team besides Toledo in the West—NIU's division—might be a cupcake.

    Ohio did well to beat Marshall in Week 3, providing some much-needed hope for the Bobcats after getting murdered by Louisville. Bowling Green needs to find similar redemption in the near future, because its loss at Indiana was just as ugly to watch.

    But, hey: At least Akron showed signs of life!

7. Mountain West (Last Week: 8)

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    Non-Conference Record: 13-17

    Best Team: Fresno/Boise State

    Pleasant Surprise: Wyoming

    Big Disappointment: Nevada

    There's no sense in trying to pick between Boise and Fresno State right now. The Broncos and Bulldogs will square off this Friday and settle the top of the MWC's pecking order.

    And beyond that top duo, the Mountain West has a little bit more depth than it's used to.

    Utah State continues to look like the steal of conference expansion, and Chuckie Keeton is an early front-runner for offensive player of the year. Wyoming's offense is nothing to scoff at either, and QB Brett Smith could be a sleeper for one of the all-MWC teams.

    Nevada continues to be the anti-Utah State—the bust of conference expansion—after losing 62-7 at Florida State. But the Wolfpack will eventually benefit from their tough early-season schedule, and might be a decent team come year's end.


6. AAC (Last Week: 6)

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    Non-Conference Record: 12-12

    Best Team: Louisville

    Pleasant Surprise: UCF

    Big Disappointment: South Florida

    Louisville looked sluggish in the first half against Kentucky, a team that got beaten pretty convincingly by Western Kentucky, a team that just dropped to 0-1 in Sun Belt play. Even if it turned things around and scored a big win, that bodes well for neither its BCS profile nor its public esteem.

    But the Cardinals are still the class of the AAC, which, at least for this year, means they're favored to reach one of the BCS bowls.

    There are some competitors lining up behind them, though. Most notably, Blake Bortles and UCF scored a win over Penn State, which isn't as impressive as it would have been three or four years ago, but still remains a signature victory.

    Rutgers looks good too and would be undefeated if not for an overtime loss at Fresno State. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is still reeling from a blowout loss to Illinois, but it always plays Louisville well and should be able to right the ship.

5. Big 12 (Last Week: 5)

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    Non-Conference Record: 16-7

    Best Team: Oklahoma State

    Pleasant Surprise: Texas Tech

    Big Disappointment: Texas

    Oklahoma finally showed some signs of offensive life, and Texas Tech emerged as a bona fide national sleeper. But Week 3 was, once again, dominated by the crumbling in Austin.

    Texas played with plucky desperation in the first half against Ole Miss, but in the second half, the weight of its situation caught up to it. The Longhorns collapsed for the second consecutive week, and there's no telling how far they might fall.

    Between them and TCU, the Big 12 already looks to be down two of its four projected contenders. That leaves the two teams from Oklahoma (OU and Oklahoma State), along with sleepers like Baylor to duke it out for a spot in the final BCS.

    Unless the unforeseeable happens and Texas turns things around...

4. Big Ten (Last Week: 4)

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    Non-Conference Record: 28-8

    Best Team: Ohio State

    Pleasant Surprise: Illinois

    Big Disappointment: Nebraska

    It was an awful, stinkin', no-good week for the Big Ten, which almost dropped it out of the top four before Texas' woe allowed it to stay.

    Still, between Nebraska's collapse against UCLA, Michigan's near-loss to Akron, Penn State's upset at the hands of UCF and Wisconsin's bizarre last-second defeat at Arizona State, enough bad happened to lower the conference's stock considerably.

    Fortunately, the Big Ten's flag-bearer, Ohio State, went on the road and looked pretty great against Cal, despite not having Braxton Miller.

    OSU and Northwestern have both looked good this year, and if Michigan State can win at Notre Dame this week, the B1G would add a much-needed quality win to its resume.

3. ACC (Last Week: 3)

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    Non-Conference Record: 22-7

    Best Team: Clemson

    Pleasant Surprise: Maryland

    Big Disappointment: Virginia Tech

    The ACC is known for its top-heaviness, and was expected to be a two-team race between Clemson and Florida State for conference supremacy.

    But while neither team has done anything to suggest it won't be a BCS National Championship contender, a host of potential spoilers have emerged behind them in the first three weeks.

    Miami beat Florida in a fluky game, but a win is a win is a win. Georgia Tech looks to have finally found a perfect quarterback in Vad Lee, and Maryland, despite not beating any quality opponents, has trounced each team its played.

    Even Virginia Tech, deemed the "biggest disappointment" because of its anemic offense, has a signature unit to hang its hat on. After seeing what Alabama did to Texas A&M, hindsight suggests the Hokies might have a top five defense nationally.

    The ACC is not just a two-team conference.

2. Pac-12 (Last Week: 2)

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    Non-Conference Record: 23-4

    Best Team: Oregon

    Pleasant Surprise: Washington State

    Big Disappointment: USC

    The quack attack made quick work of Tennessee, scoring a touchdown on eight straight possessions in a rout. Oregon looks just as strong—if not stronger—in its first year sans-Chip Kelly, and this could be its best shot at winning a national title.

    Elsewhere, the Pac-12 enjoyed statement wins all over the board in Week 3. UCLA went into Lincoln and beat Nebraska by 20, Arizona State downed Wisconsin, USC finally scored some points against Boston College and Washington left Seattle to beat Illinois.

    With two consensus top-five teams and depth developing in low places—hello Washington State, Utah and Colorado!—the Pac-12 is starting to make a case for America's best conference.

    It isn't quite there yet. These rankings are still the SEC's to rule. But the Pac-12 is gaining steam and closing the gap...fast.

1. SEC (Last Week: 1)

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    Non-Conference Record: 22-6

    Best Team: Alabama

    Pleasant Surprise: Ole Miss

    Big Disappointment: Florida

    Here's everything you need to know about the SEC's non-conference record:

    Of its six losses, two have come against top-five teams (Oregon and Tennessee), two have come against top-fifteen teams (Oklahoma State and Miami) and two have been by Kentucky.

    Other than a handful of blue-chip games and (by far) its weakest link, the SEC is pitching a non-conference shutout.

    Past that, it also has five of the top 12 teams in the AP poll, more than any other conference has in the top 22.

    Reports of the SEC's demise are few and far between, and even where they exist, they're completely overblown.