The Editorial Section: Conference Assessments

The only athletes that had a worse weekend than many Big Ten college football players — especially at the power programs — were Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Between the Federer and Djokovic losses in New York and the setbacks suffered by Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State on various gridirons, a lot of powerhouses lost on Saturday.

Everyone’s talking about the Big Ten — it’s the unavoidable headline from week two of the college football season. We start with a discussion of the B1G, but The Student Section’s editors have other conference issues on our minds as well. The Pac-12’s divisional balance is a point of interest this week, and we’re also wondering if the landscape is any different in the Big 12 and the ACC.


Question No. 1: Which Big Ten team’s individual loss (or performance) from week two offers the most cause for concern?

Bart Doan:

On Twitter @TheCoachBart

Probably Ohio State’s. Michigan hasn’t been good for a while and the Wolverines went into a ranked team’s venue as an unranked team and got spanked like they were an FCS team paid to be there.

Michigan State went into Eugene, Ore., where you’re probably not making anyone a favorite to win on the road; led at halftime; and wore down in the second half. Maybe it’s a different story in East Lansing, only the aliens know that.

As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes have carried the banner for the conference for so long up until Michigan State started helping last year; you just get accustomed to seeing them pull out wins when they have to because they’re Ohio State. Yet the reality is, there are more growing pains than probably previously thought with green J.T. Barrett and, overall, a young roster growing into a contender.

Everything doesn’t need to be a referendum on why Team X is in trouble. Maybe Virginia Tech is just good.

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

I’m going to bend the rules a bit and pick two games. The losses by Northwestern and Purdue to Northern Illinois and Central Michigan, respectively, are a greater cause for concern than anything else that transpired on the gridiron this weekend.

Purdue definitely dropped the ball for the Big Ten on Saturday, as did Northwestern. You might have been focused on Ohio State and Michigan, but Terry Johnson points out that the weakness at the bottom of the conference is very alarming in its own right.

Purdue definitely dropped the ball for the Big Ten on Saturday, as did Northwestern. You might have been focused on Ohio State and Michigan, but Terry Johnson points out that the weakness at the bottom of the conference is very alarming in its own right.

Make no mistake about it: these crushing defeats against a non-power 5 conference, the MAC, caused more damage to the league’s reputation than anything else. After all, there’s no shame in losing to No. 2 Oregon, No. 11 Notre Dame, or No. 17 Virginia Tech. As long as Michigan State, Michigan, or Ohio State take care of business the rest of the way, it’s possible that the Selection Committee would give them the benefit of the doubt when choosing the field.

Losing to a MAC opponent is an entirely different story altogether. Remember, the committee doesn’t use any hard data when determining strength of schedule; it uses the eyeball test. When it comes time to discuss the Big Ten’s strength of schedule relative to everyone else’s, it’ll be impossible for the Selection Committee to ignore the fact that the Big Ten has two losses to the MAC. This would place the league a notch below the other power conferences, which don’t have any embarrassing defeats in non-league play.

That’s why those two losses – and not anything the Michigan State, Ohio State, or Michigan did this weekend – could hurt the B1G’s playoff chances.

Matt Zemek:

On Twitter @SectionMZ

Ohio State’s offensive line looked so tissue-thin against Virginia Tech that one wonders if Braxton Miller would have been able to make a big-enough difference… at least for a little bit. That brief moment of hesitation (at least which I experienced in my thought process when I reviewed the weekend; I can’t speak for anyone else) made me consider Ohio State’s loss as the worst from the Big Ten’s lost weekend. However, I still can’t bring myself to conclude that the Buckeyes would have lost that game with Miller on the field.

Therefore, it’s Michigan’s loss which stings the most. This wasn’t about the loss itself, though; the Wolverines were supposed to lose at night in South Bend. Everett Golson was supposed to be better than Devin Gardner over the course of 60 minutes.

But a SHUTOUT?!?! After Brady Hoke sacked sidekick Al Borges, basically because he had no other choice? After Doug Nussmeier came from Nick Saban’s side at Alabama to fix what was wrong in Ann Arbor?

It gives one pause.


Question No. 2: With USC winning at Stanford and Washington still struggling, is this the year the Pac-12 South becomes the stronger top-to-bottom division than the North?

Bart Doan:

Who knows? They’re both strong, it sure seems like. I’m not sure it really matters in the end, as the Pac-12 is (again), if not the best conference in college football, the second best with a bullet.

We’re two weeks in and we really don’t know that much overall. Washington State stinks more than we probably expected it to stink. Oregon might be pretty damn good. USC might be as well. Stanford is strong. We know nothing about Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon State, Cal, and plenty of others.

It’s the old “Oh, she’s a cheerleader? She must be cute” argument. Overall, you’re probably not going to lose with that line of thinking … but it’s not foolproof, and will bite you just enough.

We don’t know enough to judge most teams after week two. We certainly don’t know enough to judge them based on how teams not related to them play.

Matt Zemek:

This is a definite “not-so-fast-my-friend” situation, a rebuttal to notions that the South will be the stronger division this year. Sometimes, an early-season game simply spins sideways, and every vision of being a well-oiled machine of a team simply proves to be elusive in reality. That was Stanford’s day against USC, although coach David Shaw’s love of the wildcat and punts inside an opponent’s 35-yard line continue to baffle college football chroniclers on an annual basis. As ugly as Stanford looked against USC in a game it frankly should have won, the Cardinal figure to improve. Ty Montgomery was still outstanding even with very little help. The mere ability to eliminate basic mistakes should dramatically improve Stanford’s on-field quality.

Washington’s ping-pong act, bouncing from all-defense and no-offense (against Hawaii) to all-offense and no-defense (against Eastern Washington) could be seen as a sign of crippling inconsistency, but the other way to view that dynamic is that both sides of the ball have shown something of value through two games. A coach, especially one as good as Chris Petersen, can work with that.

As for the South, Arizona State plays UCLA and USC within the next 28 days. The Sun Devils haven’t been tested, while UCLA has been tested by two teams that should not be testing the Bruins. USC fought and competed extremely well against Stanford, earning that win with pluck and perseverance, but the Trojans were poorly coached and did not carry the run of play by any stretch.

The North is not convincing at all… but the South hasn’t yet done enough to earn more trust as a six-team division, especially in the top half. Utah, though, has opened at least some eyes with its play through two games. That’s a team to keep an eye on.

Terry Johnson:

It’s difficult to draw any conclusions about which division is tougher when there’s only one conference game in the books. This is especially true when the one contest that’s taken place was a nail biter that could have gone either way.

Translation: we won’t know which division is better than the other until the teams start mixing it up on gridiron. That’s the only way to remove all doubt from the equation.

However, based on what’s happened on the field so far, I’d have to say that the North Division is still the king of the mountain. Sure, USC’s win over Stanford was nice, but it wasn’t nearly enough to suggest that the balance of power between the two divisions has shifted, especially with Oregon’s 19-point win over Michigan State. Considering that the North has captured all three Pac-12 titles since the league split into divisions in 2011, the South has a lot of work to do this fall in order to change that.

Will it happen? That’s tough to say. But, it’ll be interesting to see how things start to sort themselves out as conference play begins.


Question No. 3: Keeping in mind that the season is still in its opening stages and that teams evolve (or regress) over the course of both weeks and months, how did this weekend change your perceptions of either the ACC or the Big 12?


Terry Johnson:

After this weekend’s action, I look at the ACC more favorably than I did last week.

That’s actually quite a compliment. While many across the land felt that the Pac-12 and the SEC were the toughest conferences in the nation, the ACC sent a record 11 teams to bowl games last year.

With numbers like that it’s easy to see why I had a favorable impression of the league going in.

Yet, this weekend the league managed to exceed my expectations (again). Unlike the some of the other power conferences, the ACC went undefeated in non-conference play, winning all but one of these contests by double figures. In the league’s marquee matchup, Virginia Tech went on the road and dominated a very good Ohio State team that hadn’t lost a home opener since 1979.

It’s tough to argue with those results.

As for the Big 12, my opinion hasn’t changed. Sure, BYU’s blowout loss over Texas didn’t help the league’s perception, nor did Texas Tech’s closer-than-expected victory against UTEP. However, the fact Oklahoma State and West Virginia were able to hang with Florida State and Alabama – the two best teams in the nation in my opinion – for most of the game suggests that the league is just as strong as other power conferences.

Matt Zemek:

The Big 12 has to be concerned about its condition… and relieved that the Big Ten took the huge fall it did over the weekend.

It’s true that West Virginia and Oklahoma State showed well in week one, but those gains in national perception were swallowed up in week two.

Texas was not going to offer much on offense against BYU — not with David Ash and Dominic Espinosa out with injuries — but allowing 35 second-half points at home? Charlie’s defense was supposed to be Strong-er than that.

Kansas State needed some dodgy replay calls (and non-reviews) to go its way in a close-shave win over Iowa State. The Wildcats gained more yards but still won that game against the run of play. At best, they played Iowa State to a stalemate. It’s true that KSU might be saving all of its energy and focus for Auburn, but it’s easy to envision Tigers-Wildcats being a much more lopsided game compared to a week ago. If Kansas State plays at a very high level against Auburn, this weekend won’t wind up being a negative for the Big 12. Yet, week two certainly raised a lot of concerns in conference offices, a far cry from the first weekend’s many rays of sunshine and hope.

Bart Doan:

My opinion on either didn’t change because I find it personally important to let everyone start off with a clean slate. You do your objectivity and intelligence a disservice by attaching labels to people, things, or college football conferences before you actually see them play.

So the answer is, I see both as just evolving in my mind based on how they play weekly. The B1G looked good last weekend, and it looked terrible this past weekend.

We’re two weeks in. Everything’s still in the evolutionary stage from my vantage point.