College football winners and losers: A look at how each conference championship race is shaping up

Through eight weeks of college football, there are maybe 15 teams in contention for the College Football Playoff — but plenty of conference races are heating up. Sure, some of them won’t have much of an impact, if any, on the CFP race, but conference championships still hold plenty of significance around the country.

Here’s a breakdown of where things stand among the Power Five conferences — and the AAC, too.

ACC

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Atlantic

Clemson, as expected, has a commanding lead in the division at 7-0 overall and 5-0 in ACC play. Louisville, Boston College and Florida State are tied for second at 2-2 apiece. The Tigers should cruise to their fifth straight Atlantic title.

Coastal

The Coastal, to put it nicely, is crowded. With its 48-14 win over Duke, Virginia (5-2 overall, 3-1 ACC) took over sole possession of first place in the division. Pittsburgh, with its Friday night win over Syracuse, is sitting in second at 5-2 (2-1 ACC).

Meanwhile, the loss dropped the Blue Devils into a three-way tie for third at 2-2 in conference play alongside Virginia Tech and North Carolina. VT knocked off UNC in Saturday’s wackiest game — a 43-41 decision that went to six overtimes. Rounding out the divisional standings at 1-3 apiece are Georgia Tech and Miami. The Yellow Jackets upset the Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium.

Oklahoma and Jalen Hurts look like the top team in the Big 12. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Oklahoma and Jalen Hurts look like the top team in the Big 12. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Big 12

If it wasn’t already clear, Baylor established itself as the second-best team in the Big 12 on Saturday. Yes, ahead of Texas. No. 5 Oklahoma, now 7-0 on the year, is the clear top team in the conference, but No. 18 Baylor made yet another statement by trouncing Oklahoma State in Stillwater, 45-27.

Behind those two, Texas and Iowa State are scratching and clawing for a chance to reach the Big 12 title game. Both schools have just one conference loss. Iowa State, now 5-2 (3-1 Big 12) after a 34-24 road win over Texas Tech, has won three straight and still has Oklahoma and Texas on the schedule. That lone Big 12 loss, though, came to Baylor.

Texas scuffled on Saturday night against Kansas but eventually pulled away in a 50-48 victory. The Longhorns get Iowa State and Baylor in consecutive weeks in November — both on the road.

Big Ten

East

Barring the unforeseen, the Big Ten East is a two-team race: No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Penn State.

Now 7-0 and 4-0 in Big Ten play, Ohio State’s average margin of victory is up to 41.7 points per game after an absolute demolition — 52-3 — of Northwestern on Friday night. The Buckeyes’ smallest margin of victory thus far were 24-point wins over Florida Atlantic and Michigan State.

Also undefeated atop the East standings is Penn State, who knocked off No. 16 Michigan 28-21 at home on Saturday night. Ohio State gets Wisconsin next weekend and Penn State has a trip to Minnesota in a few weeks, but the division crown will likely come down to the Nittany Lions’ trip to Columbus on Nov. 23.

West

The Big Ten West is Minnesota’s division to lose. It hasn’t always been pretty, but P.J. Fleck’s Gophers, currently ranked No. 20, are a perfect 7-0 and in first place ahead of Wisconsin. The sixth-ranked Badgers were stunned by Illinois on Saturday in a loss that altered the course of the divisional race.

Both Minnesota and Wisconsin have big challenges against teams from the East in the coming weeks: Wisconsin travels to Ohio State next week and Minnesota hosts Penn State on Nov. 9. Meanwhile, No. 23 Iowa (5-2, 2-2) will still have a say. The Hawkeyes still have the Badgers (Nov. 9) and Gophers (Nov. 16) on the schedule. Wisconsin and Minnesota will play on the final weekend of the season: Nov. 30. This race has a long way to go.

Oregon head coach Mario Christobal and La'Mar Winston Jr. share a hug after beating Washington on Saturday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Oregon head coach Mario Christobal and La'Mar Winston Jr. share a hug after beating Washington on Saturday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Pac-12

North

Following its win over No. 25 Washington, No. 12 Oregon has a commanding lead in the Pac-12 North. The Ducks are a perfect 4-0 in conference play. The closest team to the Ducks, surprisingly, is Oregon State (2-2 Pac-12).

South

The South division standings took some form on Saturday. First, in Salt Lake City, No. 13 Utah handled No. 17 Arizona State 21-3 to improve to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in conference play. The Utes were joined atop the division by USC after the Trojans blew out Arizona, 41-14. And because USC beat Utah earlier this season, the Trojans hold the advantage in the standings.

With the loss, Arizona is tied with Arizona State and UCLA for second at 2-2. Colorado dropped to 1-3 with a loss at Washington State.

SEC

East

The SEC East looks like it will be decided at the Cocktail Party in Jacksonville between No. 9 Florida (7-1, 4-1) and No. 10 Georgia (6-1, 3-1) on Nov. 2. Missouri, even after its brutal loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday, can still play spoiler. The Tigers (5-2, 2-1) will travel to Georgia on Nov. 9 before hosting Florida on Nov. 16.

West

If No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0) vs. No. 2 LSU (7-0, 3-0) on Nov. 9 isn’t the game of the century, it will probably decide the SEC West champion. No. 11 Auburn, though, is still in the mix. The Tigers improved to 6-1 (3-1 SEC) with a win over Arkansas on Saturday and will travel to LSU on Oct. 26, host No. 10 Georgia on Nov. 16 and then host No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 30.

Crazier things have happened.

SMU is 7-0 and could be a contender for a New Year's Six bowl game. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)
SMU is 7-0 and could be a contender for a New Year's Six bowl game. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

AAC

East

No. 21 Cincinnati (6-1, 3-0 AAC) is holding down first place thanks to Temple’s road loss to SMU. The Bearcats and Owls will meet on Nov. 23 in Cincinnati. UCF (5-2, 2-1) is still in the mix, though the Knicks lost to Cincinnati earlier in the season.

West

No. 19 SMU is in the driver’s seat in the AAC West after demolishing Temple 45-21. Now 7-0 overall and 5-0 in AAC play, the Mustangs still have divisional foes Navy, Memphis and Tulane on the schedule. All three of those teams have just one conference loss.

Here are this week’s winners and losers.

WINNERS

Utah took a step towards control of the Pac-12 South with a win over Arizona State. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
Utah took a step towards control of the Pac-12 South with a win over Arizona State. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

No. 13 Utah: The Utes absolutely throttled No. 17 Arizona State’s offense in a 21-3 win. ASU QB Jayden Daniels completed just four passes on 18 attempts for 25 yards and an interception and the Sun Devils rushed 33 times for 111 yards. Utah RB Zack Moss returned and ran 25 times for 99 yards for two scores as the Utes look set to be on a crash course with Oregon for the Pac-12 title.

No. 19 SMU: The Mustangs are 7-0 after a convincing 45-21 win over Temple. QB Shane Buechele threw for 457 yards on 30-of-53 passing and also tossed six touchdowns and just one interception. WR Reggie Roberson Jr. caught eight of those passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns. Houston is next on the schedule on Thursday night before a big game at Memphis on Nov. 2.

Iowa State: Did you know the Cyclones haven’t lost in the month of October since 2016? ISU beat Texas Tech 34-24 to move to 5-2 on the season and 3-1 in the Big 12. Brock Purdy was 23-of-32 passing for 378 yards and three scores while Tech gave up 560 yards of offense to Iowa State. That’s three straight Big 12 wins for the Cyclones.

Boston College: Was this a rebound to a potential bowl season for the Eagles? BC, playing with a backup QB after the injury to Anthony Brown, beat NC State 45-24 to move to 4-3 and 2-2 in the ACC. RB A.J. Dillon ran 34 times for 223 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles ran the ball 60 times and threw it just 15. David Bailey added 181 yards as the Eagles gashed the Wolfpack for 429 yards on the ground.

Boston College running back AJ Dillon looked like his 2018 self in a big win over NC State. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Boston College running back AJ Dillon looked like his 2018 self in a big win over NC State. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Kansas State: The Wildcats are two wins away from bowl eligibility after a 24-17 win over TCU. Skylar Thompson had 172 passing yards and two touchdowns and also led the Wildcats with 68 rushing yards and a score. That rushing TD with 2:45 left was the only score of the fourth quarter and was the game’s winning touchdown. The first season of the Chris Klieman era is looking good.

Virginia: The Cavaliers bounced back from a bad loss to Miami with a dominant 48-14 win over Duke. With the win, Virginia sits atop the mess that is the ACC Coastal at 3-1 in the conference. The Cavaliers had just over 300 yards of offense but Duke committed five turnovers and Virginia capitalized with 24 third quarter points.

Oregon State: The Beavers have won two Pac-12 games for the first time since 2016 and two Pac-12 road games for the first time since 2013. OSU beat Cal 21-17 to drop the Bears to 1-3 in the Pac-12 and 4-3 overall. Jake Luton threw for two touchdowns and Artavis Pierce ran for 80 yards. Can Oregon State win three more games and make a bowl?

Derek Mason: The Vanderbilt coach, following a week of hot seat talk that emerged after an embarrassing loss to UNLV, made an impassioned speech after his team beat Missouri 21-14.

LOSERS

Missouri: The Tigers entered Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt as three touchdown favorites and lost by seven points. That’s so Missouri. The typically reliable Tiger offense struggled as Kelly Bryant was just 13-of-26 for 140 yards and Mizzou ran for just 153 yards as a team. With Florida and Georgia winning, Mizzou is now tied with both of them in the SEC loss column.

Miami: What in the heck is going on in Coral Gables? Miami can’t figure out if it’s good, bad or just indifferent this season. Eight days after beating a ranked Virginia team the Hurricanes lost 28-21 to Georgia Tech in overtime after a potential game-winning field goal got blocked in regulation. Miami is now 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the ACC. Can UM find three wins in five games to get to a bowl?

Syracuse has struggled against Power Five programs in 2019. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)
Syracuse has struggled against Power Five programs in 2019. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

Syracuse: The Orange’s offense has been absolutely dreadful against Power Five opponents in 2019. Syracuse has scored 117 points in three games against non-Power Five teams this season and has scored 46 points in four games against Power Five opponents. That includes 20 points in a 27-20 loss to Pitt at home on Friday night.

Army: The sequel to Army’s dream season of 2018 is not going well. The Black Knights lost 28-21 to Georgia State on Saturday to fall to 3-4 on the season. The Knights had the ball for 38 minutes but didn’t score in the fourth quarter while Georgia State got a TD and a two-point conversion. The Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy is completely up for grabs in 2019.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks’ SEC losing streak is now at 15 games after a miserable 51-10 loss at home to Auburn. With Auburn facing LSU in Week 9, Arkansas could have jumped up and scared a Tigers team looking ahead. Instead, Auburn went up 17-0 in the first quarter and then scored 20 points in the fourth for the easy win. Oh, and there was this ill-fated fake punt. It’s hard to see where Arkansas wins another SEC game this season.

Northwestern: The Wildcats’ Friday night party against Ohio State was a dud. The Buckeyes blitzed Northwestern in a 52-3 win as Northwestern QB Aidan Smith was 6-of-20 passing for 42 yards and an interception. The rushing attack wasn’t much better as Ohio State’s defense could key in on the run without any threat of an aerial attack. Oh, the Buckeyes also got 480 yards of offense. Northwestern is now 1-5 on the season and 0-4 in the Big Ten and need nothing short of a miraculous turnaround to make a bowl game.

Northwestern needs to win five of its last six games to get to a bowl game. (Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Northwestern needs to win five of its last six games to get to a bowl game. (Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Stanford: The team that barely beat Northwestern in Week 1 is also having a struggle of a season. The Cardinal dropped to 3-4 with an impotent performance in a 34-16 loss to UCLA on Thursday night. Yes, Stanford is on its third-string QB this season but this is a UCLA team that lost at home to Oregon State and hadn’t beaten anyone other than Washington State in that wacky 50-point second half comeback. It’s not going to be surprising if Stanford doesn’t make a bowl game either. That hasn’t happened since 2008.

Toledo: The Rockets got absolutely destroyed by Ball State on Saturday in a 52-14 loss. The Cardinals were up 38-0 at halftime before Toledo finally got on the board in the third quarter. Toledo had three turnovers and allowed Ball State to rack up 580 yards of offense. And that came on the heels of a horrific loss to Bowling Green a week ago.

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