College football's 6 most intriguing divisional races

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (outboard motor suitable for use on a rowboat sold separately at Minnesota, where the Gophers are 0-4 in the Big Ten with an average losing margin of 21.8 points):

[More Dash: What’s wrong with OSU? | 8 hot teams | New era for QBs]

FOURTH QUARTER

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THE SIX MOST INTRIGUING DIVISIONAL RACES

We are into the final five weeks of the regular season, which means divisional titles and their attendant spot in conference championship games will be up for grabs. The Dash looks at the six that could be the most interesting in the weeks ahead:

SEC East (31). The prime contenders: Florida, Georgia and Kentucky all are 4-1 in league play.

The history: Florida has won the East 12 times; Georgia six times; Kentucky zero.

There are two big SEC East games this week: the annual Florida-Georgia Cocktail Party game in Jacksonville; and Kentucky at Missouri, where the 6-1 Wildcats are actually seven-point underdogs to the 4-3 Tigers. Then Georgia plays Kentucky and Florida hosts Missouri on Nov. 3. The Gators, Bulldogs and Wildcats all are finished with SEC play after Nov. 10, so this one likely will be decided earlier than any other division in the country.

Dash predicted winner: Georgia. Predicted league record: 7-1.

Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs are facing a crucial stretch of SEC East games. (AP)
Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs are facing a crucial stretch of SEC East games. (AP)

Big Ten West (32). The prime contenders: Northwestern is 4-1, with Wisconsin, Iowa and Purdue all 3-1.

The history: Wisconsin has won a Big Ten division five times; Iowa once, Northwestern and Purdue zero times.

The big matchups are just beginning in this division, although the Badgers already own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats own it over the Boilermakers. Give Purdue a home-field edge by getting both Wisconsin and Iowa in Ross-Ade Stadium — the Hawkeyes on Nov. 3 and the Badgers on Nov. 17. Wisconsin has two road games against contenders — at Northwestern on Saturday and then Purdue.

Dash predicted winner: Purdue, in a head-to-head tiebreaker over Wisconsin. Predicted league record: 7-2.

Pac-12 North (33). The prime contenders: Washington is 4-1, with Washington State and Stanford both 3-1 and Oregon hoping for help at 2-2.

The history: Stanford has won the North four times, Oregon twice, Washington once, Washington State zero times.

The Cardinal can put a hammerlock on the division the next two Saturdays if they beat Washington State (home) and Washington (away) to go along with an earlier win at Oregon. The closing stretch of Oregon State, California and UCLA looks manageable, if they can pull off the Cougar-Husky double. If not — and let’s face it, this has been a pretty underwhelming Stanford team — divisional supremacy could come down to the Apple Cup game in Pullman the day after Thanksgiving. Oregon’s work against the other three contenders is done, with a 1-2 record.

Dash predicted winner: Washington. Predicted league record: 8-1.

ACC Coastal (34). The prime contenders: Virginia Tech leads at 3-0, with Virginia 3-1 and Miami and Pittsburgh 2-1.

The history: Virginia Tech has won the Coastal six times, Miami once, Virginia and Pittsburgh zero times.

If the Hokies take care of home games against Georgia Tech on Thursday and Boston College on Nov. 3, they will be the focal point of the stretch run with games at Pittsburgh on Nov. 10, then home against Miami on Nov. 17 and Virginia on Nov. 23. It would be a fresh twist to see the Coastal title come down to the 100th meeting between Virginia and Virginia Tech — a series in which the Hokies have won 14 straight and 18 of the last 19.

Dash predicted winner: Virginia Tech. Predicted league record: 7-1.

AAC East (35). The prime contenders: Central Florida and Temple are 4-0, South Florida is 3-0, Cincinnati is 2-1.

The history: Temple has won two East titles, UCF has won one, USF and Cincinnati have won zero.

November is going to be good in this division, as the top teams all meet multiple times. The schedule: Temple at UCF on Nov. 1; USF at Cincinnati on Nov. 10; Cincinnati at UCF and USF at Temple on Nov. 17; UCF at USF on Nov. 23. Give the Knights the advantage by avoiding any potential cold-weather games the rest of the way — and because they’re the best team.

Dash predicted winner: Central Florida. Predicted league record: 8-0. Maybe athletic director Danny White can write another whiny open letter to ESPN when UCF wins the league.

Sun Belt East (36). The prime contenders: Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Troy all are 3-0.

The history: There is none. This is the first season the Sun Belt has had divisions.

The three also are a combined 16-4 overall, giving some strength to what has traditionally been the weakest FBS conference. We get some weeknight Fun Belt action from all three this week, with Troy visiting South Alabama on Tuesday and App State going to Georgia Southern on Thursday. Then the league wisely returns to standard Saturday in November, with Troy at App State looming as the potential division decider Nov. 24.

Dash predicted winner: Appalachian State. Predicted league record: 8-0.

STAT OF THE WEEK

In the long (127 years) and largely proud history of Tennessee (37) football, the Volunteers had never lost 12 straight times to anyone. Until Saturday. That’s when hated nemesis Alabama put the dirty dozen on Big Orange in brutally efficient fashion — it was 28-0 after one quarter, 42-14 at halftime, 58-21 when all was said and done. It was the most points the Vols have ever surrendered at home.

This is what a decade of Tennessee dysfunction, coupled with 11 years of Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa, has done to the famed Third Saturday in October rivalry. Nine of the 12 defeats have been woodshed whippings, losses by 20 or more points. The average margin during these 12 years of Crimson Tide tyranny is 25.6 points. (Though an extreme optimist could argue that it’s getting closer — the last three years the margin has gone from 39 points to 38 to 37. Progress!)

The insulting coda Saturday came in the form of former coach Butch Jones smoking the traditional victory cigar in the Alabama locker room. Jones was fired last fall after five seasons of big talk and small results, and he now works as an analyst for the Crimson Tide. Jones appeared to be enjoying himself plenty, despite having played a big part in creating the current sad state of Tennessee football. The real kicker is that the school is still paying him through 2021.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Jeff Brohm (38), Purdue. The great cosmic joke about this is the fact that Brohm doesn’t even use his comp car — he prefers to drive his 2004 Honda Accord to the football facility. But that does not dissuade The Dash from making Brohm this week’s big coaching winner after engineering (sorry for the pun) Purdue’s stunning blowout of Ohio State on Saturday. Purdue was fierce, fearless, bold and creative in finding a way to not just beat a physically superior opponent, but demoralize the Buckeyes in the process. The school gave Brohm a nice enhanced contract after last season, when Tennessee inquired about him in its coaching search, but there will be more suitors coming again this year.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Mike Sanford (39), Western Kentucky. The guy who replaced Brohm has quickly unraveled a good thing at WKU. The Hilltoppers were 31-10 under Brohm and now 7-13 under Sanford, including a 1-6 dud this year. The lowlight was an epically weird loss to Old Dominion on Saturday, in which there were three field goals attempted in the final two seconds — two by the Hilltoppers, one by the Monarchs — as a series of penalties kept extending the game. It was without a doubt the dumbest ending to a game in 2018, and WKU wound up on the losing side yet again.

POINT AFTER

The Dash went uncharacteristically classy over the weekend, indulging in some fine dining. So prepare yourselves for this restaurant recommendation. When hungry in Louisville, get some great Italian at Roc (40), a stylish joint in the ‘Ville’s Highlands neighborhood. Two thumbs up for the pappardelle pasta with shrimp in a pistachio sauce that is ridiculous. And apologies to the beer crowd, but this was a wine dinner. Check it out and thank The Dash later.

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