Week 9 College Football Conference Power Rankings
The SEC cannibalized itself in Week 8, watching some of its best teams suffer upsets and raising some questions about its national supremacy.
For the past seven years, as the league has dominated nonconference games and won every single BCS National Championship, the conferences behind it have all battled for the right to be second best.
But what if this year is different?
All over the country, teams take the field hoping to represent their school, their city and also their league. They are a representation of the body that allows them to play FBS—rather than FCS—football.
Which ones have fared the best in 2013?
Average Sagarin Rankings courtesy of Jeff Sagarin at USA Today. His ratings are one of the computer metrics used in the BCS formula.
11. Sun Belt
Average Sagarin Ranking: 120.6 (11th)
The Sun Belt struggles, more than any other conference, at its very top level.
Not only are there no elite teams, there are no quasi-elite teams. Whereas C-USA has Marshall and East Carolina—programs capable of taking on good ACC competition—the Sun Belt has Louisiana-Lafayette carrying its banner.
Still, other than Georgia State and Louisiana-Monroe, no Sun Belt team this year has a losing overall record, which is a testament to its slow and steady growth.
With so many evenly matched schools, conference play should be (and has been) close and competitive each week.
Average Sagarin Ranking: 113.4 (9th)
There are a lot of really bad teams in C-USA, which, despite some genuinely good teams at the top, makes it hard to judge the league favorably.
That's to be expected in a non-AQ conference with 14 participants, so I feel a little guilty blaming C-USA for those bottom feeders. But still, it's hard to overlook the presence of Southern Miss, FIU and UTEP.
It stinks that Marshall and East Carolina are in the same division, as they're probably the two best teams and would have made for a stellar conference championship game.
Their matchup in the season's final week will (likely) be a de facto semifinal, with the winner going on to face scrappy Rice, steady North Texas or upstart Tulane.
Average Sagarin Ranking: 109.0 (8th)
No "conference" has a wider range between top and bottom teams in Sagarin's rankings. The Independents stretch from BYU at No. 28 to New Mexico State at No. 148.
That's the lowest ranking of all FBS schools.
The gap sums up this non-league about as well as anything can. Notre Dame and BYU are the haves; Idaho and NMST are the have-nots; Army, Navy and Old Dominion can go in either direction.
Last year, Notre Dame's ascent to No. 1 in the polls gave the Independents a little bit more street cred. This year, they're still wandering in no man's land.
Average Sagarin Ranking: 116.9 (10th)
The MAC ranks 10th—behind even C-USA—in Sagarin's average ranking, but that figure is weighed down by a number of very bad teams at the bottom.
And unlike C-USA and the Independents, which are carried by two good teams toward the top, #MACtion is defended by a whole handful of competitive programs.
From undefeated NIU—the first team mentioned that is ranked in either the AP or coaches poll—to Bowling Green, Buffalo, Ball State, Toledo and Ohio, there are six teams legitimately talented enough to win this conference.
Funny enough, because of how the schedule has worked out, those teams have largely avoided each other so far and combined for a conference record of 17-2.
The next month or so will be classic, competitive, fun-filled MAC football.
Average Sagarin Ranking: 92.0 (7th)
Fresno State is likely the most overrated team in America, and Sagarin's numbers agree.
Despite slowly climbing in the AP and coaches polls, Sagarin has the Bulldogs ranked No. 49, behind both Boise State and Utah State for third place in the MWC.
But the Broncos don't look like the team we've become accustomed to, and Utah State is without do-it-all quarterback Chuckie Keeton for the rest of the year. So who, exactly, is the conference's signature team?
It's ugly at the bottom, too. Few leagues boast a trio worse than Air Force, Hawaii and New Mexico, which have all made bad middle-tier conference opponents look better than they are.
MWC fans better hope Fresno State improves before the end of the season. If the Bulldogs make a BCS bowl without fixing their defensive deficiencies, they could get blown out on national TV and shine a poor light on the league.
Average Sagarin Ranking: 76.8 (6th)
The AAC is still technically, for one more year, a BCS league. But its true function is serving as a bridge between the men and the boys.
Markedly worse than the five leagues above it, but much better than the five leagues below, the ACC fits squarely in the middle of these rankings—and hardly anything could happen the rest of this season to place it elsewhere.
Louisville and UCF are both ranked in the Top 25, and both appear good enough to merit that distinction. Houston looks pretty good too, while Cincinnati and Rutgers are both legitimate bowl teams despite being inconsistent.
But Temple, Memphis and UConn are all pitiful to watch, as is USF, which got dismantled by FCS McNeese State in Week 1 this year.
The Bulls are 2-0 in AAC play. That says everything you need to know.
5. Big Ten
Average Sagarin Ranking: 49.2 (4th)
The Big Ten is in trouble, folks. And it may well cost Ohio State a chance to play in the BCS National Championship.
The Buckeyes scored a huge win—on paper—over Wisconsin earlier this year, especially since the Badgers rank No. 8 on Sagarin's rankings. That's actually two spots ahead of OSU, despite the head-to-head loss.
But who else in the conference can help its computer profile? Not until Michigan in the final week does Ohio State play another good team—and by that point, considering how the Wolverines have looked this season, who's to say they aren't in shambles?
Michigan State is a few bad pass interference calls away from being undefeated, and Sparty might be the best hope of giving OSU another quality opponent.
In order to do so, though, the teams would each have to win their divisions and meet in the conference championship game.
4. Big 12
Average Sagarin Ranking: 40.6 (3rd)
The Big 12 placed third in the Sagarin rankings, which was surprising in a vacuum, and even more surprising given the fact that undefeated Texas Tech ranked fourth in the conference at No. 22.
In terms of competitive depth, no conference in America has less terrible teams than the Big 12. Part of that might be since it only has 10 total, but nonetheless, beyond Kansas, no one in the conference is a sure-fire win on the schedule.
Baylor and Texas Tech are ranked highest in the polls, but since neither has played any real competition thus far, it's hard to know how seriously either team should be taken. They look good, sure, but who's to say one (or both) isn't a schedule-inflated fraud?
That lack of a sure-fire national title contender caps the Big 12—for the time being—at No. 4. But it could easily start to move higher.
Average Sagarin Ranking: 52.3 (5th)
In news that should shock no one, the ACC has enough crappy teams to place fifth in the average Sagarin rankings. That's sort of this conference's M.O.
But this year, unlike in the ACC's recent past, its top-heaviness extends past one or two teams and gives it a core four that could compete with any conference in America.
Florida State, Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech have two losses between them. One came internal to that group (Clemson vs. Florida State), and one came to the No. 1 team in America (Virginia Tech vs. Alabama).
Any member of that quartet could win this conference and represent well in the BCS. How would the Big 12 or Big Ten feel about, say, Texas Tech or Michigan playing on the big stage?
Average Sagarin Ranking: 35.7 (2nd)
The Pac-12 is dangerously close to the SEC in Sagarin's rankings, and it stands a better chance than people realize of knocking the king off its throne at some point this year.
That has nothing to do with the SEC being "down," by the way. It isn't. The Pac-12 is just really, really good.
Oregon might be the best team in America. Stanford, UCLA, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon State all seem good enough to beat anybody on the right day. That's an impressive top six.
And behind it, the depth is pretty good too. We've already seen what Utah is capable of. USC has a talented defense and might have one big upset in the tank this year. And Arizona has Ka'Deem Carey, who still might be the best running back in America.
All over this conference—so long as you avoid Boulder and Berkeley—you find teams that are big, strong, well-coached and talented. This is the best the conference has been in quite some time.
Average Sagarin Ranking: 29.7 (1st)
It was a wild Week 8 in America's best conference, with Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, LSU and Texas A&M going down.
To some, that means the league might be down, since its best teams can't even beat its middle tier. But in reality, the league is still thriving, since even its middle tier is good enough to beat the SEC's best.
The West is proving to be much, much better than the East this year, but most of that has had to do with injuries.
Of the four best teams in the East division—Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri—three will be without their quarterback this weekend, and the other (UGA) will be without pretty much every offensive weapon.
And all of them could still beat most teams from other leagues.
As the East heals up and catches (slowly) up with the West, the SEC might again start to assert its sure-fire claim as America's best league.
But if the depth swallows up Alabama and forces a no-SEC BCS title game, it would be worth taking some time to reassess.