Week 8 College Football Conference Power Rankings

Bryan Heater@@BHeaterRivalsCorrespondent IOctober 15, 2013

Week 8 College Football Conference Power Rankings

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    Georgia QB Aaron Murray
    Georgia QB Aaron MurrayDale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    What a wild weekend it was in Week 7 of the college football season. It provided a few of the first big upsets of the year and some thrilling finishes that came down to the wire. 

    There were a few out-of-conference games, but for the most part, programs are in the meat of their conference schedules. The Associated Press released its Top 25 rankings Sunday, with the SEC continuing to dominate the poll.

    In fact, it set a record, placing eight teams in the Top 25. But the Pac-12 remains on its heels.

    So which conference reigns supreme in this week's power rankings?

    Here's a breakdown of where each conference stacks up against the others heading into Week 8.

11. Sun Belt (Last Week: 11)

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    Non-Conference Record: 15-21

    Versus Top 25: 0-4

    Ranked Teams: 0

    Title Favorite: Louisiana-Lafayette 

    Biggest Surprise: None

    Biggest Disappointment: Louisiana-Monroe

    The Sun Belt is no stranger to finding itself at the bottom of the barrel when ranked among the 11 FBS conferences. But it is an up year for the league as a whole. Five of the conference's eight teams own a record of .500 or better.

    After two consecutive seasons with a 9-4 record but no title, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns are once again favorites to win the conference championship. They sit atop the Sun Belt standings at 3-2 (1-0 Sun Belt), with losses coming against Arkansas and Kansas State. The Ragin' Cajuns won their first league game easily, 48-24, over Texas State.

    However, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and Arkansas State Red Wolves should have something to say about which program is crowned the 2013 conference champion. The Hilltoppers (4-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) suffered a bad loss to South Alabama in their conference opener but bounced back with wins over Navy and Louisiana-Monroe.

    The Ragin' Cajuns play at Western Kentucky on Tuesday night in what will be a crucial game for both teams' hopes for a Sun Belt title. A win for Louisiana-Lafayette would give the team a big leg up.

    And don't forget the Red Wolves, the two-time defending league champions. The team is 3-3 overall and 1-0 in the conference and plays the Ragin' Cajuns on Oct. 22 at home in another matchup with Sun Belt title implications.

    There really haven't been any surprises to this point. Everything is playing out as expected so far, but the same can't be said for disappointments.

    The Warhawks had a breakthrough year in 2012 but have been less than stellar in 2013, holding a 3-4 record. They bounced back from three straight losses with a win over Texas State but have still underachieved thus far. 

10. Conference USA (Last Week: 10)

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    Non-Conference Record: 17-34

    Versus Top 25: 0-7

    Ranked Teams: 0

    Title Favorite: Tulane

    Biggest Surprise: Tulane

    Biggest Disappointment: Tulsa

    It's been a long time since the Tulane Green Wave fielded a good team, but this year's squad has aspirations of winning a C-USA championship. Tulane showed that it's a serious contender last week, winning 36-33 against East Carolina, a team many had as the favorite. 

    The Green Wave now sit at 3-0 in the conference and 5-2 overall. They hold their own destiny and have a good chance to become 4-0 with their next game on Oct. 26 at home against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

    Not many had Tulane as a contender, but it's proving everyone wrong. 

    Tulsa won last week versus a bad UTEP team, but overall it has been one of the bigger disappointments in all of college football. Many picked Tulsa to be a favorite to win the league, including Athlon Sports, which picked the Golden Hurricane to go 10-3 (7-1 C-USA), secure the West division and win the championship game over Marshall. Tulsa has been far from that with a record of 2-4 (1-1). 

    Other contenders include East Carolina (2-1 C-USA), Marshall (2-0) and Rice (3-0), all of which have overall records of 4-2. There weren't any upsets in league play last week, and although there are some bad squads, the top of the conference has some very competitive teams.

    C-USA has moved passed the Sun Belt in the last two weeks, and though it remains close, it is stronger from top to bottom.

9. MAC (Last Week: 7)

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    Non-Conference Record: 25-31

    Versus Top 25: 0-10

    Ranked Teams: 1

    Title Favorite: Northern Illinois

    Biggest Surprise: Buffalo

    Biggest Disappointment: Kent State

    Northern Illinois remains unbeaten with a 27-20 win over Akron last week. It's now 6-0 (2-0 MAC) and has a legitimate shot at running the table and earning a BCS at-large bowl bid. The Huskies have two wins over Big Ten members Iowa and Purdue.

    The remaining big games for Northern Illinois are Nov. 13 at home against Ball State (6-1, 3-0), which is in first place in front of the Huskies in the West, and Nov. 20 at Toledo (3-3, 2-1) the following week.

    The top of the MAC is very good, with Ball State, Bowling Green, Ohio and a surprisingly good Buffalo Bulls team.

    The Bulls crushed a terribly bad Western Michigan squad 33-0. Buffalo played Ohio State tough and cruised 41-12 over AAC member Connecticut. At 4-2 overall and 2-0 in conference play, the Bulls have a good shot at starting 4-0 in conference play with the next two games versus UMass and at underachieving Kent State.

    The Kent State Golden Flashes were picked to finish third in the West at MAC media days but have been a major letdown with a record of 2-5 (1-3). Granted, all the losses have come to good teams; however, Kent State just hasn't lived up to expectations.

    Overall, the conference dropped two spots from last week after Bowling Green lost to SEC foe Mississippi State and Eastern Michigan was drubbed by Army. The top six have been great, but the bottom seven are dreadful with a combined record of 8-38, placing the MAC back in the last three.

8. Independent (Last Week: 9)

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    Non-Conference Record: 19-24

    Versus Top 25: 2-6

    Ranked Teams: 0

    Best Team: BYU

    Biggest Surprise: Army

    Biggest Disappointment: Notre Dame

    The BYU Cougars have racked up some impressive wins, including last week's 38-20 victory over Georgia Tech. They own wins over Texas and a solid Utah State team, and the two losses to Utah and Virginia Tech came by a combined 10 points. 

    You could make the argument for Notre Dame being the best team, but the Irish just haven't performed up to expectations after making an appearance in the BCS National Championship game.

    The team was idle last week, but it has losses to Oklahoma and Michigan, which were huge for chances to return to a BCS bowl. The Fighting Irish also looked uninspired against a bad Purdue team, struggling against the Boilermakers for three quarters before a last-minute comeback to win the game. USC comes to South Bend on Saturday in a must-win for Notre Dame.

    The Independents took a hit with Navy falling 35-7 to ACC foe Duke and Idaho losing 48-24 to the Sun Belt's Arkansas State. It got a boost, though, from Army clobbering MAC opponent Eastern Michigan 50-25.

    The Black Knights own a 3-4 record, and while that's not great, Army has surprised many teams with how competitive it has been. The team has a good win over Louisiana Tech and was very competitive in losses to Stanford and Wake Forest.

7. Mountain West (Last Week: 8)

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    Non-Conference Record: 25-29

    Versus Top 25: 0-8

    Ranked Teams: 1

    Title Favorite: Fresno State

    Biggest Surprise: Wyoming

    Biggest Disappointment: San Diego State

    The conference's top dogs, or bulldogs in this case, were off last week. Fresno State remains undefeated and has taken over Boise State's spot as the Mountain West's best team. The Bulldogs are eyeing a trip to a BCS bowl if the team can keep its record unblemished.

    They still have to get past UNLV, SDSU, San Jose State and the Wyoming Cowboys, which sit atop the Mountain division at 4-2 (2-0 MWC). The Cowboys edged out a much-improved New Mexico squad last week and have surprised many with their high-powered offense.

    SDSU has surprised people, too. But not in a good way.

    The Aztecs barely got by a mediocre Air Force team and have played short of expectations. They opened the season with a bad loss to Eastern Illinois and had trouble against winless New Mexico State. 

6. American (Last Week: 6)

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    Non-Conference Record: 18-19

    Versus Top 25: 0-7

    Ranked Teams: 1

    Title Favorite: Louisville

    Biggest Surprise: Houston

    Biggest Disappointment: Connecticut

    Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals passed one of their biggest tests of the season last Saturday with a 24-10 win over Rutgers. A weak schedule means the Cardinals must win out and get some help from other programs if they want to have a shot to play in the national championship.

    You can complain about the schedule, but Louisville is taking care of business and doing what it has to do. The Cardinals have another tough game against a very good Central Florida team that has a win over Big Ten member Penn State.

    Tied with Louisville for first place in the American Athletic Conference are the Houston Cougars (5-0, 2-0 AAC). 

    Houston was expected to have a good team, but it's beginning to turn heads with its unscathed record. The team has two wins over C-USA foes and can legitimize their conference title aspirations with a win this week at home against BYU.

    The Cougars won their last game 25-15 over Memphis, a team that has also been a pleasant surprise. Though the Tigers are 1-4, the team has made huge strides and has one of the best defenses in the nation.

    While there have been a few surprises in the AAC, a team that has been surprisingly bad is the Connecticut Huskies. It's not just the biggest disappointment in the conference, but one of the biggest in the country. At 0-5, the Huskies fired head coach Paul Pasqualoni and are already ready for the season to end with humiliating losses to Towson and Buffalo.

5. Big Ten (Last Week: 4)

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    Non-Conference Record: 36-11

    Versus Top 25: 5-7

    Ranked Teams: 2

    Title Favorite: Ohio State

    Biggest Surprise: Indiana

    Biggest Disappointment: None

    It wasn't a great week for the Big Ten. Though there were no out-of-conference games to lose, two of the league's ranked teams lost and fell out of the Top 25.

    Northwestern suffered its second-straight conference loss, being humbled by Wisconsin on the road 35-6. Michigan also dropped its game, losing 40-43 at Penn State. The conference fell from having four ranked teams to just two, with Wisconsin entering at No. 25. 

    It looks as if the Ohio State Buckeyes won't have much competition for the Big Ten title. At 6-0 (2-0 Big Ten), the Buckeyes are once again firmly in the driver's seat to win the league championship. They should be challenged by Nebraska, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin.

    Sitting in third in the Leaders division, the Indiana Hoosiers have been making a little noise in 2013. The Hoosiers are 3-3 overall, with two of their losses coming from Missouri of the SEC and Navy. The team's most impressive win by far came against Penn State.

    The Big Ten falls a spot from last week with two of its best teams losing and falling from the rankings.

4. Big 12 (Last Week: 5)

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    Non-Conference Record: 22-8

    Versus Top 25: 4-9

    Ranked Teams: 4

    Title Favorite: Texas Tech

    Biggest Surprise: Texas Tech

    Biggest Disappointment: Kansas State

    One of the most pleasant surprises in all of college football has been the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Through six games, head coach Kliff Kingsbury has his team undefeated.

    Though the competition hasn't been great, the Red Raiders are blowing through teams they were expected to beat. Texas Tech got help from Texas, which beat Oklahoma last weekend to improve to 3-0 in the conference.

    The Longhorns started 1-2 overall but have since turned the season around with three consecutive wins. Texas is now in position to make a run at the Big 12 title, along with Baylor, which was finally held to under 70 points by Kansas State. 

    The loss for Kansas State moved it to 2-4 (0-3 Big 12) and last in the conference standings. The Wildcats were expected to have a rebuilding year, but not to this extent. The two wins came over the Sun Belt and MAC, and the squad lost its season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State.

    TCU and West Virginia have also been major letdowns.

3. ACC (Last Week: 3)

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    Non-Conference Record: 30-10

    Versus Top 25: 3-13

    Ranked Teams: 4

    Title Favorite: Clemson

    Biggest Surprise: Virginia Tech

    Biggest Disappointment: North Carolina

    The Clemson Tigers continued to roll last weekend, defeating Boston College 24-14. The win sets up perhaps the ACC's game of the year, as the Florida State Seminoles visit Death Valley in a game with conference and national title implications. 

    Both have yet to lose and are first and second in the Atlantic division. The matchup will showcase the top quarterbacks in the league in Tajh Boyd and Jameis Winston. 

    Sitting atop the Coastal division are the Virginia Tech Hokies, which have bounced back after getting blown out to Alabama in the season opener and having sub-par performances against East Carolina and Marshall from C-USA. 

    At 6-1 overall, the Hokies are the most surprising team so far. They were expected to contend, but many were critical of Virginia Tech after the first few games. 

    North Carolina has easily been the biggest disappointment. With high expectations coming into to 2013, the Tar Heels have stumbled to a 1-4 record and are 0-2 in the ACC. North Carolina had a big loss to East Carolina in September, and after an off week, things don't get any easier with Miami, also a conference title contender, coming to town.

    The lone out-of-conference game last week was a loss, as Georgia Tech fell to BYU.

2. Pac-12 (Last Week: 2)

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    Non-Conference Record: 29-5

    Versus Top 25: 8-11

    Ranked Teams: 4

    Title Favorite: Oregon

    Biggest Surprise: UCLA

    Biggest Disappointment: USC

    The Oregon Ducks notched another big win last week over a ranked Washington team. The second-ranked Ducks are off to a 6-0 start and are the favorites to win the conference championship. 

    Oregon is once again putting up huge numbers on offense, and there are no signs of it slowing down. Its biggest challengers in the conference appear to be Stanford and UCLA.

    Stanford suffered its first loss of the year at Utah, a game that came down to the final seconds. The Bruins are garnering the attention of experts across the country after starting the season 5-0 (2-0). UCLA is first in the South division and demolished California 37-10 last week. The team's most impressive win came at Nebraska.

    Oregon State should also be in the mix, but the same cannot be said for the USC Trojans, which fired Lane Kiffin following a bad start. The Trojans got a win over Arizona last week, but it doesn't take away from the disappointment for a team that was supposed to compete for the conference title. 

1. SEC (Last Week: 1)

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    Non-conference Record: 35-12

    Versus Top 25: 8-22

    Ranked Teams: 8

    Title Favorite: Alabama

    Biggest Surprise: Missouri

    Biggest Disappointment: Vanderbilt

    Eight—count 'em, eight—teams made the Top 25 this week, a record number for any conference.

    The Alabama Crimson Tide remain the model that every college football team strives to be. The team demolished Kentucky 48-7 and is the favorite to win the SEC and national championship. 

    The Crimson Tide will have competition from LSU, which it plays Nov. 9; Texas A&M; and now possibly the Missouri Tigers, which silenced any doubters with a 41-26 win at Georgia. The Tigers have quietly been the biggest surprise in the SEC, leading the East division and remaining unbeaten. It took a hit, though, losing starting quarterback James Franklin for the rest of the regular season.

    On the flip side, Vanderbilt has been a letdown. The Commodores had aspirations of another eight- to nine-win season but have stumbled to 3-3 (1-2 SEC). It could get worse, as Georgia comes to Nashville this weekend.

    The most thrilling game came from Texas A&M and Ole Miss. The Johnny Manziel-led Aggies drove the field in the closing minutes and hit the game-winning field goal to move to 5-1 (2-1). They welcome Auburn this week, but the date circled is Nov. 23 at LSU. 

    Out of conference, the SEC got wins from Mississippi State over Bowling Green and Auburn, which has also been a surprise, over West Carolina.