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Week 2 College Football Conference Power Rankings

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2014

Week 2 College Football Conference Power Rankings

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The SEC was the best conference of the BCS era, but now that phase is over, and with an ACC team (Florida State) sitting on the throne as we transition into the College Football Playoff, perhaps a changing of the guard is in store?

    Or perhaps it's not. The SEC did look pretty good in Week 1, after all, coming out victorious in high-profile games against the ACC (Georgia over Clemson) and the Big Ten (LSU over Wisconsin).

    Was that enough for the SEC to retain its rightful spot at No. 1? Or did Alabama's struggles, for example, set the stage for another league to power through? Below that, how do all the group-of-five leagues stack up as we cross into an uncharted, playoff-having terrain?

    There's only so much we can tell after the first week, but based on our preseason predictions and our early observations, here is a fluid ranking of the 11 FBS conferences in 2014. We'll keep you updated with a new list every week throughout the season.

    Sound off below and let me know where you disagree.

     

    Note: All ranking info refers to the Week 2 Associated Press Poll

11. Sun Belt

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Nonconference Record: 6-3

    Highest-Ranked Team: Louisiana-Lafayette (47)

    Top 25 Teams: 0

     

    Louisiana-Monroe started the season in style for the Sun Belt—and not just because of the jerseys. Wake Forest might be the worst team in a power conference this season (it is), but holding an ACC opponent to 94 yards of offense is still something to feel great about.

    Other Sun Belt highlights included a near-upset for FBS newcomer Georgia Southern, which lost by one point at North Carolina State; a triad of blowouts over FCS schools by Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State and Texas State; and the first win since October of 2012 for Georgia State, which beat Abilene Christian on Wednesday.

    Lowlights came from Appalachian State, which could not recreate the magic of seven years ago in a 52-14 loss at Michigan, and Troy, which got its bell rung, 48-10, in a road game at UAB.

10. MAC

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Nonconference Record: 7-4

    Highest-Ranked Team: n/a

    Top 25 Teams: 0

     

    It wasn't a great week for the reigning MAC champion, Bowling Green, which got depantsed at Western Kentucky, 59-31.

    Elsewhere, though, the conference looked alright.

    The level of competition wasn't high, but projected top teams such as Northern Illinois and Toledo looked great breaking in new starting quarterbacks, and Western Michigan hung tough for four quarters at Purdue.

    We'll learn a lot more about this year's MAC in Week 2, when Toledo hosts Missouri, Northern Illinois travels to Northwestern, Ball State travels to Iowa and Ohio travels to Kentucky.

    Those look like some juicy upset opportunities.

9. Conference USA

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Nonconference Record: 6-6

    Highest-Ranked Team: Marshall (36)

    Top 25 Teams: 0

     

    Western Kentucky looked great in its C-USA debut, admirably filling the shoes of East Carolina, Tulsa and/or Tulane with a 59-31 thrashing of the reigning MAC champion, Bowling Green.

    Crazier still, the Fighting Red Blobs weren't even the highlight of the conference in Week 1. That honor went to Larry Coker's UTSA Roadrunners, who forced John O'Korn into four interceptions and handily beat a good Houston team, 27-7.

    Conference favorite Marshall looked decent in a road win at Miami (Ohio), but it was hard to push C-USA any higher up the rankings after last year's champion, Rice, got flogged at Notre Dame, Florida Atlantic let up 784 yards of offense at Nebraska and North Texas averaged 1.57 yards per play in a painfully ugly loss at Texas.

    All three of those teams are in the upper half of the league.

8. Mountain West

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Nonconference Record: 6-6

    Highest-Ranked Team: n/a

    Top 25 Teams: 0

     

    It's a new world order in the MWC, with Boise State and Fresno State looking equally unimpressive against ranked teams last weekend. The Broncos turned the ball over four times in a loss against Ole Miss, and the Bulldogs surrendered 701 yards in a loss at USC.

    Worse yet, last year's upstart contender, Utah State, played its worst game of the Chuckie Keeton era in a 38-7 loss at Tennessee. All of those games came against power-conference teams—and good ones at that—but it's hard not to sound some alarm bells.

    Fortunately, Colorado State was around to carry the Mountain West's banner, riding Alabama transfer Dee Hart's 175 total yards out of the backfield to a 31-17 win over Colorado. Hawaii also looked good (albeit, once again, in a close losing effort), shutting out Washington in the second half but dropping to the Huskies, 17-16.

    If things don't turn around in Week 2, C-USA will be closer to passing the Mountain West than it was at any point last season.

7. AAC

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    Brian Powers/Associated Press

    Nonconference Record: 4-4

    Highest-Ranked Team: Cincinnati (40)

    Top 25 Teams: 0

     

    Three big cheers for Temple, which played better than its record in 2013 and finally came together for 60 minutes in a 37-7 curb-stomping of Vanderbilt. Led by dual-threat quarterback P.J. Walker and tackling-machine linebacker Tyler Matakevich, the Owls are a sneaky dark horse to contend in the American all season.

    Unfortunately, some of the other AAC contenders did not look as good in Week 1. UCF does not need to panic after dropping a close game against Penn State in Ireland—especially now that Justin Holman has emerged as a viable replacement to Blake Bortles—but the egg Houston laid in the debut of its new stadium, where it lost by 20 points to UTSA, was disconcerting, to say the least.

    The newcomers to the league held their own, though, with East Carolina dominating an FCS team and Tulane and Tulsa taking the first AAC game of the season to double overtime. Both squads looked good, especially Tulsa, which beat the Green Wave, 38-31.

    Also worth monitoring: Memphis beat Austin Peay 63-0 in a game in which it led by 42 points at halftime. This week's game against UCLA should be a smidgen harder, but credit where it's due for the Tigers.

6. FBS Independents

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Nonconference Record: 2-1

    Highest-Ranked Team: Notre Dame (16)

    Top 25 Teams: 1

     

    Army—which these days makes up 25 percent of the "conference"—had a bye in Week 1, but the other three Independents looked great.

    In the two victories, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson and BYU quarterback Taysom Hill looked like the pair of Heisman candidates they've been billed as, leading their teams to a 48-17 home win over Rice and a 35-10 road win over UConn, respectively.

    In the one loss, Navy held a 14-13 second-half lead over Ohio State before fading down the stretch and losing, deceptively, 34-17.

    "This is the best personnel service academy I've ever coached against," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said before the Navy game, per Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus DispatchThere's a reason his team spent all of fall camp preparing to play the Middies.

    Three-fourths of this "conference" are top-40 teams in the country.

5. ACC

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Nonconference Record: 9-3

    Highest-Ranked Team: Florida State (1)

    Top 25 Teams: 4

     

    What happens to a supposed two-team league when neither of those teams looks as good as advertised?

    That's the question ACC fans must begin to prep an answer for after Florida State squeaked by Oklahoma State and Clemson posted 15 offensive yards in the second half of a blowout loss at Georgia.

    Frankly, the ACC would have ranked No. 5 regardless of the Seminoles and Tigers after last weekend: That's what happens when one of your bowl teams (Syracuse) needs overtime to beat Villanova at home, one of your upstarts (NC State) needs a late rally to beat Georgia Southern at home and one of your cellar dwellers (Wake Forest) can't crack the 100 total-yard mark against UL-Monroe at home.

    The FSU and Clemson things just made this easier.

    The Seminoles and Tigers can still rebound, and Virginia, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Duke all looked solid over the weekend, so it's not like hope has gone for naught on the Atlantic coast. For now, though, it sits a ways behind the No. 4 conference.

4. Big Ten

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Nonconference Record: 12-2

    Highest-Ranked Team: Michigan State (7)

    Top 25 Teams: 4

     

    It was a week of highs and lows for the Big Ten, which appears firm at the top with Michigan State and Ohio State (despite the Buckeyes' struggle against Navy), solid on the second tier with Nebraska, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin, amenable to upstarts in Maryland, Minnesota and Rutgers—but completely a mess at the bottom.

    Iowa and Northwestern were two of the most disappointing teams in the country last weekend, the former barely edging out FCS Northern Iowa and the latter losing at home to California. Behind them, Illinois and Indiana also struggled to beat FCS schools, while Purdue struggled to beat Western Michigan.

    The top two-thirds of the Big Ten will likely have to carry the bottom third, unless teams such as Iowa (sort of likely) and Northwestern (not as likely) can reboot after poor Week 1 performances, in which case the top three-fourths might be carrying the bottom fourth.

    The difference between those two things is massive.

3. Big 12

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Nonconference Record: 6-3

    Highest-Ranked Team: Oklahoma (4)

    Top 25 Teams: 3

     

    If there's such thing as a "moral victory" for an entire league of teams, the Big 12 had one last weekend.

    Oklahoma State was picked to finish No. 5 in the conference and took Florida State to the brink in Houston. West Virginia was picked No. 8 in the conference and took Alabama to the brink in Atlanta. Both teams started the season 0-1, as predicted, but they acquitted the Big 12 well against two heavy favorites to reach the CFP.

    The only other Big 12 team to lose in Week 1 was Iowa State to North Dakota State—a loss that gets more and more forgivable each season—while Baylor's defense and Texas' defense held SMU and North Texas to 1.03 and 1.57 yards per play, respectively.

    All in all, it was a good week for the Big 12, despite the 6-3 record. Next week's game between Texas and BYU will go a long way in determining where the conference places in the Week 3 rankings.

2. Pac-12

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Nonconference Record: 10-2

    Highest-Ranked Team: Oregon (3)

    Top 25 Teams: 5

     

    "To suggest that the SEC might not be college football's best conference in 2014 will strike some as appalling, shocking or simply insane," wrote Bleacher Report's Ted Robinson, who proceeded to suggest exactly that. And me? I am right there with him.

    Almost.

    I had the Pac-12 at No. 1b before last weekend, but a tepid start to the season pushes it back to a firm No. 2. So much of its success this year is predicated on UCLA, which would have lost at Virginia if not for three defensive touchdowns in the second quarter, and Washington, which scored zero second-half points in a close win at Hawaii, that it would have felt wrong not to penalize the conference a little bit.

    For the most part, though, the bright spots overshadowed the dark ones. USC's offense looked like a machine under Steve Sarkisian, Marcus Mariota's ACL looked healthy at Oregon, Arizona looked like it found a good young quarterback in Anu Solomon and even Cal—Cal!—looked good in beating Northwestern on the road.

    The Pac-12 will be pushed to the forefront in Week 2, when Arizona travels to UTSA, Stanford hosts USC and Oregon hosts Michigan State. If the results of those games come up aces, it is not crazy to think it could leapfrog the SEC as early as the start of next week.

1. SEC

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Nonconference Record: 8-1

    Highest-Ranked Team: Alabama (2)

    Top 25 Teams: 8

     

    The gap between the SEC and the Pac-12 has narrowed to the point where it might not any longer exist.

    At least for this season.

    The way the SEC is recruiting—seven of the top nine classes in 2014; eight of the top 13 classes in 2015, per the 247Sports team rankings—even brighter days should be ahead, which is terrifying because this is still, in all likelihood, the best conference in college football.

    Of the three SEC teams that lost last weekend, two (Arkansas and South Carolina) were cannibalized by conference opponents, and the other was Vanderbilt. The Commodores have no excuse for getting boat-raced by Temple, but considering the apparent improvements at Arkansas and Kentucky, they might be the SEC's only bad team.

    Georgia annihilated Clemson in one of the biggest games of the weekend, and LSU came back to edge Wisconsin in another. Alabama's struggles on the scoreboard were manifest, but even in what we've all called a "down game," the Crimson Tide gained 538 yards of total offense and averaged 6.56 yards per play.

    Tennessee looked feisty in suppressing Utah State in Neyland Stadium, Ole Miss' defense was as good as advertised against Boise State, and all of that is without even mentioning the two teams that are 1-0 in conference play, Texas A&M and Auburn, which might be the two best offenses in college football.

    The Pac-12 is steadily gaining, and I'm not above putting it at No. 1 at some point this season. In fact, there were times when I did that last year. There's not exactly conference parity (since the top two are so far ahead of the next three), but out front, it's a pretty close race.

    For now, though, it's a race the SEC still leads by a nose.

     

    Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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