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SB Nation College News | October 1, 2014

POWER RANKING college football's 5 big conferences (and the Underdogs), Week 6

Let's assess the state of each power conference through five weeks of college football, plus the big group of teams not in those leagues.

The ACC

by Bud Elliott
1. Florida State
2. (tie) Notre Dame*
Clemson (Last week: 3)
4. (tie) Georgia Tech
Virginia
NC State (9)
Louisville
Miami (9)
8. (tie) Virginia Tech (9)
Duke (4)
Pittsburgh (4)
12. (tie) Boston College (9)
Syracuse (9)
North Carolina (9)
15. Wake Forest

* Notre Dame included in the ACC because it plays a partial ACC schedule and can share ACC bowl ties. And there's no better place to put it.

No change at the top or the bottom, once again. Wake Forest remains the only power-conference team to average fewer than 4.35 yards per play; the Demon Deacons are at 3.6. Clemson easily dispatched North Carolina, and freshman Deshaun Watson continues to show he's a phenom QB. Notre Dame handled Syracuse with ease.

In the next group, Georgia Tech sits at 4-0 with a road win at Virginia Tech, and the close win over Georgia Southern looks a bit better now than it did a few weeks ago, as Southern continues to roll. Virginia looks better and better each week and might even make a bowl game. That's a salty defense and an offense that is learning not to beat itself. NC State played FSU tough for a half, which is better than most ACC teams have been able to say over the last three seasons, and it has no other losses.

Duke finally played a decent team in the Miami Hurricanes and looked poor, losing by 12, and it could have been much worse. The Hokies didn't look great against Western Michigan, and the win over Ohio State is further in the rearview mirror with each passing unimpressive performance. Pitt losing at home to Akron almost dropped them into the lower tier. In that group, Syracuse and North Carolina have no impressive wins, though UNC's worse are better than those of Cuse. Boston College lost at home to Colorado State and got run at home by Pitt, but did beat USC.

This week, Louisville plays a Friday night game in the Carrier Dome, a tribute to the old Big East days, while NC State and Clemson battle for second place in the Atlantic. Pitt faces Virginia, and the loser is likely out of the Coastal race. Miami travels to Georgia Tech, which is off a bye and, with a win, will have a big leg up to face FSU in the ACC Championship. And there's a matchup of Hokies and Tar Heels that is so much less appealing now than it was a month ago.

The Big 12

by Eddie Maisonet
1. Oklahoma
2. Baylor
3. Oklahoma State (Last week: 4)
4. Kansas State (3)
5. West Virginia
6. TCU
7. Texas
8. Texas Tech
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas

If there's one football coach I have a ton of respect for, it's Gary Patterson of the TCU Horned Frogs. Outside of maybe Chris Petersen when he was at Boise State, I can't think of another coach who found a way to do more with less than Patterson has. As the Big 12-favorite Oklahoma Sooners stroll into Amon G. Carter Stadium on Saturday afternoon, we should be reminded that the Horned Frogs have lost by just three and seven points in the last two contests versus Bob Stoops' crew. Both teams are ranked in the national polls and are undefeated, and I'm sure that Patterson will keep a few tricks up his sleeve to see if the Frogs can yank the rug from under Oklahoma. That's the only way TCU does it.

The other game I care about is watching the Texas Longhorns try to reclaim their throne as the state's best Big 12 team. Right now, that throne belongs to Baylor, and any supporter of the Longhorns would say this game is a must-win. Texas fans can't handle losing to Baylor on a regular basis, and it seems that many in the Longhorns camp aren't too willing to give praise to Baylor's rise. Can Charlie Strong be the straw that stirs the Texas drink? Who knows.

The Big Ten

by Peter Berkes
1. Michigan State
2. Nebraska (Last week: 5)
3. Ohio State
4. Wisconsin
5. Maryland (6)
6. Penn State (2)
7. Iowa (8)
8. Minnesota (10)
9. Indiana (7)
10. Rutgers
11. Northwestern (14)
12. Illinois (11)
13. Michigan (12)
14. Purdue (13)

Michigan State holds serve as the best team in the Big Ten this week after smoothly dispatching Wyoming, 56-14. The big riser is 5-0 Nebraska, who jumps all the way to the second spot after smoking Illinois, 45-14. Running back Ameer Abdullah went for 208 yards and three touchdowns, and he leads the nation in rushing yards. His Heisman campaign is now well underway, and it’s tough to say it’s not deserved, because he is doing absolutely everything for the Huskers. Set your watch for 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, because Nebraska is coming to East Lansing in what might be the best game in the conference this season.

On the downside, Penn State slides down to six after getting embarrassed at home against Northwestern, 29-6. And speaking of embarrassments, Michigan’s downward spiral continues after a 30-14 loss to Minnesota that could not have possibly gone worse. It is fair to say the Wolverines are in complete disarray, and it could very well cost head coach Brady Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon their jobs. The only things preventing Michigan from reaching the basement of the conference are the Boilermakers, because good lord, they are bad at football.

The Pac-12

by Nam Le
1. Oregon
2. UCLA (Last week: 6)
3. USC
4. Stanford
5. Arizona State (2)
6. Arizona (7)
7. Washington State (10)
8. Utah (5)
9. Washington
10. Oregon State (8)
11. California
12. Colorado

Pac-12 leader Oregon had the week off, but the revolving door continues. The next contender? Surprisingly enough, it’s UCLA, which marched right into Tempe and ripped a previously unbeaten ASU team to shreds by a 62-27 margin.

Though USC did drop a game to Boston College, I felt that game was more of an aberration than an indication of any serious flaws, which is why the Trojans continued to hold one of the higher positions even after the loss. The Trojans proved worthy of that faith this weekend, when they held off Oregon State at home without too much trouble.

Washington played Stanford tight, but that might be a little deceptive. The Huskies needed the help of three turnovers to even keep it close, and totaled fewer than 200 yards of offense in the loss.

Thrilling double overtime victory aside, it’s difficult to move the already 3-1 California Bears any higher right now. Their best chance to do so will be to make noise next weekend against a suddenly dangerous Washington State team in Pullman.

The SEC

by Connor Tapp
1. Alabama
2. Auburn (Last week: 3)
3. Texas A&M (2)
4. Ole Miss
5. Mississippi State (7)
6. Arkansas (9)
7. LSU (8)
8. (tie) Georgia (6)
Missouri (10)
South Carolina (5)
Tennessee (12)
Florida (11)
Kentucky (13)
14. Vanderbilt

The notion of ranking every SEC West team ahead of every SEC East team has gone from an idle threat to a stark reality. It came close to happening last week, but we didn’t have quite enough information on Arkansas to go there yet. After the Razorbacks nearly walked out of Jerry World with a win over Texas A&M, now we do.

We also have more -- and at the same time, less -- information about the SEC East. Can you honestly call any game between any two of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Missouri, and Kentucky (yes, Kentucky) anything but a toss-up?

Those six teams are slowly working their way to a homogenous blob of mediocrity. (Mind you, for some of those teams, that constitutes progress.) And then there’s Vanderbilt, whose ability to outflank the awfulness of its division mates is actually kind of impressive.

As good as the SEC West is and as bad as the SEC East is, one common thread in both divisions is that just about every single team is still in the mix for a division championship. (Again -- not you, Vanderbilt.)

The Underdogs

by Bryan M. Vance
1. BYU
2. East Carolina
3. Marshall
4. Cincinnati
5. (tie) Nevada (Last week: 7)
Northern Illinois (6)
7. Colorado State (10)
8. Boise State (5)
9. Temple (15)
10. UCF (9)
11. Air Force (NR)
12. Memphis
13. (tie) Middle Tennessee (NR)
Navy (8)
15. Wyoming
Group of 5 and independents ranked by the Underdogs Poll.

Conference play is now in full swing, and suddenly many of the teams from the large group find themselves as local favorites. With that switch in roles come some new challenges. Gone, for the most part, are the opportunities to grab the national spotlight with an upset of a power-conference program. Now comes relative media darkness and increased pressure on the top teams from this group of more than 60 teams. A narrow loss to a power program can actually boost a team’s odds of playing in a coveted New Year’s Day bowl. A loss to a conference foe? Well, that’s most likely disastrous.

Case in point: Boise State. It was easy to forgive the Broncos' 22-point loss to a damn good Ole Miss squad from Week 1, when the Broncos followed it by ripping off three straight wins. But after losing to Air Force by two touchdowns this past week, the Broncos look vulnerable and have fallen three spots.

Navy is in a similar predicament. An FBS independent, Navy now suffers the lulls in scheduling that come from everyone else entering conference play. With back-to-back losses and a relatively weak schedule coming up, the Midshipmen are quickly burying themselves in our rankings, having fallen six spots in two weeks.

One game to keep your eyes on: ECU at Cincinnati on November 13. Both teams could realistically face off with their only losses coming at the hands of ranked power programs. The winner of that matchup could come out as the top dog from this pool. For the loser? Well, its marquee bowl spot will be as good as gone. Such is the peril of being an Underdog.

Your turn!

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