Conference power rankings after Week 1: Big Ten flexes, Big 12 falters

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (weird talisman trash cans sold separately in Knoxville):

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Fans love few things more than establishing a conference hierarchy and rarely waste time doing it. Mostly they want to say that every league stinks but the one their favorite team plays in, even if it’s not true. The Dash is here to apply some truth, all of one week into the season.

Best week: Big Ten (11)

Record in non-conference games: 10-2.

Best win: Maryland at Texas.

Worst loss: No bad losses. Some lackluster wins from Illinois, Northwestern and Nebraska.

The power teams all showed up, led by Michigan’s thumping of Florida and easy victories for Penn State and Wisconsin. But the true good news for the league was that the customary conference also-rans showed signs of great improvement. Rutgers was competitive with Washington, and Purdue pushed Louisville to the wire in a seven-point loss. Michigan State won comfortably, after a season when nothing went right. Indiana was quite good for 2½ quarters against Ohio State. Illinois at least found a way to win, as opposed to a way to lose.

Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines looked plenty capable in dispatching Florida on Saturday. (Getty)
Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines looked plenty capable in dispatching Florida on Saturday. (Getty)

Non-conference games this week: Oklahoma at Ohio State; Pittsburgh at Penn State; Cincinnati at Michigan; Indiana at Virginia; Western Michigan at Michigan State; Towson at Maryland; Eastern Michigan at Rutgers; Florida Atlantic at Wisconsin; Northwestern at Duke; Nebraska at Oregon; Minnesota at Oregon State; Iowa at Iowa State; Ohio at Purdue; Western Kentucky at Illinois. Predicted record: 12-2.

Second best: Pac-12 (12)

Record in non-conference games (including the previous weekend, too): 12-1.

Best win: California at North Carolina.

Worst loss: Oregon State was mauled by Colorado State on Aug. 26.

USC was underwhelming. Washington was workmanlike, and slow getting started. Stanford was dominant and UCLA was inspiring. Cal provided a real highlight with its first true road win in two years. Everyone else was somewhere between OK and good – except Oregon State, who is dreadful.

Non-conference games this week: Hawaii at UCLA; Utah at BYU; Texas State at Colorado; San Diego State at Arizona State; Houston at Arizona; Montana at Washington; Nebraska at Oregon; Boise State at Washington State; Minnesota at Oregon State; Weber State at Cal. Predicted record: 7-3.

Third-best: SEC (13)

Record in non-conference games: 12-2.

Best win: Alabama over Florida State in Atlanta.

Worst loss: Texas A&M coughing up that monstrous hairball in Pasadena, which narrowly edges out suspension-saddled Florida’s lousy performance against Michigan.

With Tennessee surviving a long flirtation with defeat Monday night against Georgia Tech, the league came through the first weekend in decent shape. Stop The Dash if you’ve heard it before, but Alabama appears to be the team to beat, pending a look at Auburn against a better opponent (coming up) and more data on LSU. The SEC East is again an inscrutable muddle, with continued quarterback issues at Florida, a QB injury that might have helped Georgia, and the Volunteers needing a lot of Tech miscues to win. Most impressive performance from the East was South Carolina beating North Carolina State in Charlotte.

Non-conference games this week: Fresno State at Alabama; Auburn at Clemson; Chattanooga at LSU; Nicholls at Texas A&M; TCU at Arkansas; UT Martin at Mississippi; Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech; Northern Colorado at Florida; Georgia at Notre Dame; Indiana State at Tennessee; Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky; Alabama A&M at Vanderbilt. Predicted record: 9-3.

Fourth: ACC (15)

Record in non-conference games: 10-4.

Best win: Virginia Tech over West Virginia in Landover, Md.

Worst loss: Florida State to Alabama. Not because of the caliber of the opponent, but because of the price that came along with it, losing quarterback Deondre Francois for the season.

Make no mistake, this was a bad start for a league that spent part of its July media days touting itself as the best in the country. North Carolina State and North Carolina were major disappointments. Georgia Tech let a big victory against Tennessee get away. FSU wasn’t terribly close to knocking off Alabama. Even several of the victories were shaky: Louisville over Purdue; Pittsburgh over Youngstown State; Boston College over Northern Illinois. If it weren’t for the Hokies, this would have been close to a total bust of a week.

Non-conference games this week: Louisiana-Monroe at Florida State; Auburn at Clemson; Marshall at North Carolina State; Middle Tennessee at Syracuse; Miami at Arkansas State; Delaware at Virginia Tech; Pitt at Penn State; Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech; Northwestern at Duke; Indiana at Virginia. Predicted record: 7-3.

Last: Big 12 (15)

Record in non-conference games: 7-3.

Best win: Oklahoma State throttling what is believed to be a pretty good Tulsa team.

Worst loss: Baylor losing to Liberty outdoes Texas’ debacle against Maryland.

Baylor head coach Matt Rhule didn’t have many answers after his team’s loss to Liberty in his debut. (AP)
Baylor head coach Matt Rhule didn’t have many answers after his team’s loss to Liberty in his debut. (AP)

A league that killed its 2016 playoff chances before October has gotten off to a similar start this time around, losing the only two games it played against Power Five opponents and throwing in a loss to an FCS team for good measure. Baylor aside, there was at least a minimum of messing around with outmanned opponents by the rest of the Big 12 – victory margins were big across the board. And any week in which Iowa State and Kansas both win has to be seen as at least a minor victory. (Last time they both won their season opener: 2012.)

Non-conference games this week: Oklahoma at Ohio State; Oklahoma State at South Alabama; TCU at Arkansas; San Jose State at Texas; Charlotte at Kansas State; UTSA at Baylor; East Carolina at West Virginia; Iowa at Iowa State; Central Michigan at Kansas. Huge credibility week for the Big 12. Predicted record: 6-3.


Declaring winners and losers from fresh starts in new locations:

Best head coach debut: Justin Wilcox (16), California. He went into Chapel Hill on Saturday with zero games head-coaching experience, and with a starting quarterback who had never thrown a collegiate pass. He walked out 1-0, quickly changing the narrative from “Cal went cheap to hire Wilcox” to “Cal got a steal hiring Wilcox.” With three straight home games upcoming, there is an opportunity to build on that big victory.

Honorable mention to Tim Lester of Western Michigan, Jeff Brohm of Purdue, Willie Taggart of Oregon, and Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma.

Worst head coach debut outside the state of Texas: Butch Davis (17), Florida International. Nobody was expecting instant miracles at a place like FIU, but still: Davis inherited plenty of experience, and it was expected that a guy who has won very big in the past might coach up that experience a little better than, say, Ron Turner. Then they kicked off against Central Florida, and the Panthers were absolutely trucked. They gave up 61 points, 40 in the first half, and turned the ball over four times. By halftime Davis had to be wondering why he left his analyst gig at ESPN for this.

Dishonorable mention to Randy Edsall of Connecticut, Luke Fickell of Cincinnati and Lane Kiffin of Florida Atlantic.

Best coordinator debut: D.J. Eliot (18), DC, Colorado. When Jim Leavitt left for Oregon and eight starters moved on, it was widely assumed that the Buffaloes defense would take a huge step back after last year’s surprise season. But against a Colorado State team that scored 58 points in its opener against Oregon State, Colorado kept the Rams out of the end zone and held them to three points. (Colorado also benefited from three CSU offensive pass-interference penalties that reportedly ranged from awful to iffy).

Honorable mention to Jedd Fisch, OC, UCLA; Kevin Wilson, OC, Ohio State; Mario Cristobal, OC, Oregon; Jerry Kill, OC, Rutgers.

Worst coordinator debut outside the state of Texas: John Papuchis (19), DC, North Carolina. He was promoted to replace the retired Gene Chizik, and the first game did not go well. Papuchis had seven starters back on defense from last season, but the Tar Heels were torched at home for 363 passing yards and four touchdowns by a Cal quarterback (Ross Bowers) who had never thrown a collegiate pass prior to Saturday.

Dishonorable mention to Shawn Watson, OC, Pitt; Peter Sirmon, DC, Louisville.

Best transfer quarterback debut: Will Grier (20), West Virginia. Got off to a skittish start Sunday night against Virginia Tech, which is understandable after not playing in nearly two years. When the Florida transfer settled in he was very good, throwing for 371 yards and three touchdowns.

Honorable mention to Kyle Bolin, Rutgers; Tanner Lee, Nebraska; Jarrett Stidham, Auburn.

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