There are five power conferences this year, six during the BCS years. But when breaking down the competitive football fortunes of the leagues recently, two stand out.
The SEC for its excellence, and the Big Ten for its disappointment.
The trends are continuing this year. The SEC has largely avoided the surprising loss and has dropped one nonconference game in two weeks.
The Big Ten, especially after last weekend’s dispiriting results, is getting battered.
Losses by Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State by a combined 64 points can be explained.
First, the Spartans and Wolverines were road underdogs to Oregon and Notre Dame. A victory by either would have ranked with the best in the nation this season.
Ohio State was thought to be superior at home against Virginia Tech, but the Buckeyes continue to adjust to life without injured quarterback Braxton Miller.
Those losses spread throughout September would have put dents in the Big Ten. When they happened within hours on three different networks the league was totaled. Or at least that became the day’s theme.
It wasn’t just the prime-time losses that had eyeballs rolling. Nebraska needed a superb individual play from Ameer Abdullah, a 58-yard catch-and-run for a last-minute touchdown, to avoid overtime with McNeese State of the FCS.
The Mid-American Conference went 2-1 in head-to-head battles. Central Michigan smacked Purdue, and Northern Illinois took down Northwestern. A third MAC team, Ball State, lost a 10-point lead in the final 3 minutes in a loss at Iowa.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany called the weekend disappointing, and told The Associated Press on Sunday the “narrative is still developing for each team and each of the conferences. It will develop into a full narrative by Dec. 7, not Sept. 7.”
Delany has to run this through the spin cycle. He is also correct. The Saturday setbacks, especially by Michigan State and Ohio State, don’t end their national aspirations. Both tumbled out of the top 10 on Sunday, but keep in mind polls aren’t part of the new College Football Playoff system. Thirteen people in a room will determine the four teams for the national semifinals. It’s likely they’ll have fewer than that many undefeated teams to consider.
But a problem for the Big Ten is fewer opportunities to collect impressive victories. Wisconsin’s loss to LSU in the first week marked the first lost chance. The league hasn’t cashed in one yet.
And once conference play begins, they’ll be beating each other. A team might have to run the table to build credentials impressive enough to reach the semifinals.
Like last year, there wasn’t a playoff. Bbut if there had been, Michigan State very well could have been the fourth team selected after Florida State, Auburn and Alabama. The Spartans lost to Notre Dame in the fourth week but went undefeated in Big Ten play, topped Ohio State in the league title game and were ranked fourth when they defeated Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
The general impression after two weeks spreads the playoff spots over four conferences. Florida State (ACC), Oregon (Pac-12), Alabama (SEC) and Oklahoma (Big 12) could be the field if picked today.
Had a playoff existed in 2013, one team ranked among the top four after two weeks would have been in the playoffs at the end of the season. The eventual winner, Florida State, was 10th.
That week, 49 teams received AP poll votes. One of them wasn’t national runner-up Auburn.
The Big Ten is bruised, but the conference — not any conference — hasn’t been eliminated from anything.