NCF Nation: Big 12

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
Oct 12
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TCU will stun the Big 12, and soon 

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
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Trevone BoykinAP Photo/LM OteroTrevone Boykin has exceeded expectations under center for the TCU Frogs.
Mark it down. One of the next two weekends, TCU is going to wreck the marquee November game that everyone believes will decide the Big 12.

The Frogs are going to beat either Oklahoma this weekend or Baylor next weekend, giving one of those conference favorites an early-season L. (Personally, I believe it’ll be Baylor.)

Here’s why.

They’ve been close

The Frogs lost eight games in 2013 by an average of 8.5 points per loss, including four in conference by two or three points in each game. Think about that. A field goal, #collegekickers and all, decided half their losses.

Two of those games were, you guessed it, Baylor and Oklahoma.

And here’s the takeaway: If you’re continually in games, you’re bound to win games.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 2

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
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In Week 2 of Big 12 action, Kansas State and Iowa State will stage the 98th edition of Farmageddon; Oklahoma will attempt to win 12 of 13 over Tulsa; Oklahoma State, Kansas, West Virginia and Baylor will look to beat up on FCS competition; Texas will see if it can exact revenge; and Texas Tech will try to stay awake.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch this week in the Big 12:

Saturday

Kansas State at Iowa State, Noon ET (FS1): Farmageddon lost much of its luster when Iowa State fell at home to North Dakota State last weekend. The Wildcats know what it's like to get popped by the Bison, who toppled K-State in last year’s opener. The Wildcats, however, have rapidly improved since that defeat, thanks to the development of quarterback Jake Waters. The Cyclones have to hope quarterback Sam B. Richardson can likewise bounce back after a rocky 2014 debut.

Oklahoma at Tulsa, Noon ET (ABC/ESPN2): Last year when the Sooners took on Tulsa, Blake Bell was making his first career start at quarterback. Bell was spectacular, too, throwing for 413 yards and four touchdowns while delivering a QBR of 96.7. The quarterback job is now Trevor Knight’s, but Bell remains a big part of the Oklahoma offense as a starting tight end.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMITyrone Swoopes is set to make his first career start at quarterback for Texas on Saturday.
Missouri State at Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): After making Florida State sweat, the Cowboys should be in for a breather against the Bears. Following the tough opener, the schedule opens up nicely for Oklahoma State, which should be decent-to-heavy favorites in its next five games. The Bears and Cowboys, by the way, staged college football’s very first regular-season overtime game in 1996.

Southeast Missouri State at Kansas, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3): Charlie Weis scouted Southeast Missouri State by streaming its game with Missouri Baptist over the Internet. There wasn’t much else to do, as the Jayhawks were the only Big 12 team with the opening weekend off.

BYU at Texas, 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1): The Longhorns have been talking BYU revenge all offseason. But they’ll have to try and get it without quarterback David Ash, who is suffering concussion-related symptoms again. While BYU will be starting veteran Taysom Hill, who gashed Texas with 259 rushing yards last year, the Longhorns will be rolling the dice at quarterback with sophomore Tyrone Swoopes, who enters the weekend with just five completions in his career.

Northwestern State at Baylor, 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): Apparently, not even a pair of cracked transverse processes in his back can sideline Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, who said he plans to play against Northwestern State. The Bears won’t need him or wideout Antwan Goodley, who is nursing a strained quadriceps muscle, in this game. But they’ll need both to be healthy again before the schedule picks up next month.

Towson at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m. ET (ROOT): The Mountaineers should carry plenty of swagger into this home opener after going toe-to-toe with Alabama in Atlanta. No Mountaineer should be more confident than quarterback Clint Trickett, who is coming off passing for 365 yards –- the second-highest total an Alabama defense has allowed under Nick Saban. West Virginia, however, can't overlook Towson, a team coming off an appearance in the FCS national title game last season.

Texas Tech at UTEP, 11 p.m. ET (FS1): The late kickoff time is not a misprint. Kliff Kingsbury will have to hope his team won’t sleepwalk again the way the Red Raiders did Saturday in the narrow victory over Central Arkansas. Tech, which finished 124th out of 125 teams in penalty yardage last year, committed 15 penalties in its opener. That was not the start Kingsbury was looking for in his second season.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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The college football postseason will be very different this season, with the end of the BCS and the beginning of the four-team College Football Playoff. But there's more!

The CFP selection committee also will pick teams for the Fiesta, Orange and Cotton bowls. Those are the major bowls not hosting this season's CFP semifinal games. The selections will be based on ... get ready to be shocked ... merit. Well, there are some other considerations, but there won't be any more ridiculous decisions made purely on potential ticket sales. (The national semifinals, by the way, are to be played out at the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual on Jan. 1, 2015, with the winners to vie for the national championship on Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.)

There also is expected to be more flexibility in the bowl arrangements, with bowls working with conferences to put together the best matchups possible and avoid repeat visits. That seems to be another good thing, though we await its execution.

In any event, here are your Pac-12 bowl projections, made with all the certainty one can muster in advance of the season itself.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford (vs. Big 12)
National University Holiday Bowl: USC (vs. Big Ten)
San Francisco Bowl: Washington (vs. Big Ten)
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State (vs. ACC)
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington State (vs. Mountain West)
Cactus Bowl: Oregon State (vs. Big 12)
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Arizona

* at large

Pac-12 problem: Losing expansion?

August, 22, 2014
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Over the past five or so years, the Power Five conferences started playing expansion roulette. Although the ultimate wisdom of these moves can be measured only over the long term, the short-term results can be judged.

That judgment? Things worked out well for the SEC and Big Ten. Not so much for the Pac-12 and Big 12.

The Big Ten added Nebraska three seasons ago to give it 12 teams. The Cornhuskers, despite not satisfying their demanding fans, have gone 17-7 in league play and won 28 games overall.

[+] EnlargeSefo Liufau and Tenny Palepoi
AP Photo/Rick BowmerColorado and Utah have a dismal 13-41 combined record in league play since joining the Pac-12.
The SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12. Each has posted double-digit wins and high national rankings as an SEC member, and their two-year conference marks essentially match what they did in their last two years in the Big 12.

The Big 12 replaced those two with TCU and West Virginia, teams that had won BCS bowl games as members of the Mountain West and Big East conferences, respectively. Yet neither has posted a winning record in Big 12 play, and both regressed to 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the conference last year.

The Pac-12? It raided the Big 12 for Colorado, which went 5-7 and 2-6 in 2010, and the Mountain West for Utah, which went 10-3, 7-1 that year. Neither has matched its 2010 records in the Pac-12 nor posted a winning record in conference play. The Buffaloes have gone a meager 4-23 against Pac-12 foes, while the Utes have gone from 4-5 to 3-6 to 2-7 in conference games.

Nebraska has been to three consecutive New Year's Day bowls, beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl last year, while Texas A&M has won a Heisman Trophy and two bowl games. Like the Aggies, Missouri has won a Cotton Bowl against the Big 12. Both have produced top-five rankings over the past two years.

The lone badge of postseason honor for the Pac-12 newbies? Utah's victory over Georgia Tech in the 2011 Sun Bowl. To the Utes' credit, they have gone 9-1 in games outside the Pac-12 over the past three seasons, including 3-0 versus their bitter rival BYU.

Although the Pac-12 has surged after realignment in terms of national perception, gaining ground on the SEC, and the Big Ten has stagnated by comparison, that's had nothing to do with expansion. While Pac-12 folks aren't going to whine about the fruits of expansion -- Exhibit A being a $3 billion TV deal -- or even grouse about poor-to-middling results from the new members, it's fair to say the short-term gain in terms of assets on Saturdays has been slight.

As assets, Colorado and Utah don't attract national eyeballs at present as they would if they were winning 10 games and were nationally ranked. The Utes' nail-biter with Arizona State in November was an interesting game, but it would have been featured prominently in highlight shows that night if it were a battle of ranked teams eyeballing the South Division title.

That said, other Pac-12 coaches might enjoy not having two more teams threatening to play at a Top 25 -- or better -- level. The conference, even with the Utes and Buffs slumping, is deeper than it's ever been. In fact, if both were playing at a high level, the conference's chances to put two teams in BCS bowl games, as it did in two of the previous three years, would have been reduced, costing each team about $1 million since 2011. That holds true looking forward to a potential berth -- or berths -- in the College Football Playoff.

Depth is good. It's fun to celebrate top-to-bottom quality. But it also makes it more difficult to go 12-0 or 11-1 in the regular season, records typically required for national title contention.

Still, the Pac-12 is better served by Utah and Colorado improving. The conference certainly would like the Denver and Salt Lake City markets to turn their attention to college football in large numbers.

Not to conclude with an outlandish assertion here, but here's a guess that the folks most eager for the Buffs and Utes to help the Pac-12 feel good about its expansion choices are the fans, administrators, players and coaches associated with both programs.

Preseason All-Big 12 team

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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Today, ESPN.com released its preseason All-American team. Before Big 12 media days, we released our individual preseason All-Big 12 ballots. But to pair with the All-American team, we debated, argued and eventually settled on one Big 12 blog, consensus preseason All-Big 12 team.

Here we go:

Offense

QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
Easy choice. Petty is the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after he threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three picks. He should be even better in Year 2 as a starter.

RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
Malcolm Brown finished strong in place of Gray the past season, but there’s a reason Gray was Texas’ No. 1 back before he suffered an Achilles injury. Gray is healthy again, which gives Texas the best one-two punch at running back in the league.

RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back the past season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing. He’s the featured back now and could wind up the league’s top rusher.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Lockett was literally uncoverable at times last year. Just ask Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan, which surrendered a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns to Lockett. With Jake Waters settled in at quarterback, Lockett could put up even bigger numbers in 2014.

WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Goodley might have been the most improved player in the league the past season. He was also one of the most dominant, with 1,339 receiving yards and a national-best five catches of 60 yards or more.

TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
With Jace Amaro gone, Bibbs takes over as the top receiving tight end threat in the league. Only Amaro had more catches and yards than Bibbs among Big 12 tight ends the past season.

OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
With Drango in the lineup, Petty was sacked only eight times through the Bears’ first nine games last year. After Drango was sidelined with a back injury, Petty was sacked nine times in Baylor’s last four games. Suffice it to say, Petty is glad to have Drango back protecting his blindside.

OG: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders previously had plans to move Clark inside to guard, but they still have him manning left tackle this season. Whether he stays at the bookend or slides to guard, Clark is one of the most dominating offensive linemen in the league.

C: BJ Finney, Kansas State
Finney owns a Big 12-best 39 starts over the past three years. The former walk-on is also a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection and will be the favorite to garner such recognition again as the linchpin of the K-State offensive line.

OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
Whitehair is capable of manning either guard or tackle, but the Wildcats will be showing their trust in him by asking him to protect Waters’ blindside this season.

OT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
Williams is the best piece on the league’s best offensive line, which returns four starters and plenty of capable backups.

AP: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
Grant finished sixth in the league in receiving yards per game, despite being the third option in Tech’s passing attack the past season. Grant is now the first option in the passing game, as well as an electric playmaker on special teams.

K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
The Sooners have never had an All-American kicker before, but they have a strong candidate in Hunnicutt, who converted 24 of 27 field goals the past season.

Defense

DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
In 2013, Mueller finished with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, which were second in the league only to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat. Mueller, who also forced four fumbles, has one of the conference’s best noses for finding the ball.

DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
The Horned Frogs still had a formidable front the past season, even without Devonte Fields, due in large part to Hunter. TCU won’t have Fields again. But Hunter is back to anchor a defensive line loaded with quality players.

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
This former blue-chipper broke out the past season with 68 tackles, including 12 for loss. He and Cedric Reed team up to form the best inside-outside defensive line combination in the league.

DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
Reed was third in the Big 12 in 2013 with 10 sacks, fourth with 19 tackles for loss and tied for first with five forced fumbles. He gives the Longhorns a chance to feature the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
When it comes to rushing the passer, there’s no one better in the league. Striker has spent this offseason refining other parts of his game to become a more complete player. But his pass rushing alone makes him one of the top players in the league.

LB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
Heeney was a tackling machine last year for a defense that performed valiantly despite getting little help from its offense. Heeney will get plenty of help from his defense, though, which returns eight other starters.

LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
Hager has notched 195 tackles over the past two seasons, while twice earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. With Ahmad Dixon and Eddie Lackey gone, he takes over as the leader of a defense angling to prove it can be as good as the past year’s.

CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
Diggs, who has never been afraid to speak his mind, is the heart and soul of the Longhorns. If the rest of the team takes on his mentality, Texas could have one feisty team in Charlie Strong’s first season.

CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
Despite being just a second-year player, Worley has already taken over as one of the vocal leaders of the West Virginia defense. He’s also already one of the best cover corners in the league.

SS: Sam Carter, TCU
Carter has nine interceptions the past two years, the most of any returning Big 12 player. He leads arguably the best secondary in the league, too.

FS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Joseph has started all 25 games for the Mountaineers since he stepped foot in Morgantown. No other returning Big 12 defensive back has more career tackles than Joseph’s 170.

P: Nick O'Toole, West Virginia
The “Boomstache” ranked 15th nationally last year, with an average of 44.1 yards per punt. He also has the best mustache in the league, which has to count for something.
1. Delighted to hear that the majority of SEC coaches don’t want to play FCS schools any longer. Of course, the coaches would rather play those games than play a road game against a power-conference team, so let’s not get too excited. Two ways for those games to end: The fans continue to stay home, and an SEC or ACC team gets shut out of the College Football Playoff because they play one fewer conference game than the Pac-12 or Big Ten. (Big 12 plays nine with no championship game.) We can hope, right?

2. One benefit of the Big Ten’s expansion is that in the scramble to accommodate Rutgers and Maryland into the scheduling, the Scarlet Knights filled a nonconference opening with Washington State, meaning the Big Ten and Pac-12 will play five games against each other in the regular season for the second consecutive year. And these games were set up before the conferences pushed to begin scheduling each other more often. Meanwhile, the SEC and ACC will keep playing FCS schools.

3. Todd Graham had to endure a lot of abuse when he job-hopped from Rice (one season) to Tulsa (four seasons) to Pittsburgh (one season) to Arizona State. He bruised feelings and his own stature along the way. But with the news Wednesday that he has received his second one-year extension in the last eight months in Tempe, the rough edges of his reputation are being smoothed over. He is 18-9 and has won a division title in two seasons with the Sun Devils. Maybe he really is there to stay.

Pac-12 leads leagues in QB starts

April, 23, 2014
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Keeping with our theme of Pac-12 quarterbacks -- and numbers donated to the Pac-12 blog by the Arizona State sports information department -- Jeremy Hawkes and Jordan Parry compiled a list of returning starts behind center by conference. Not surprisingly the Pac-12, with 10 returning starting QBs, is tied with the Big Ten for the most returning starters, and the Pac-12 leads the nation in total starts.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsOregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country.
Hawkes wrote: "The logic we used was based around the quarterback who would be considered the 'primary' quarterback by season's end last season. Quarterbacks who were injured early in the season when they were considered the primary quarterback and return this year are also counted on the list (like David Ash at Texas)."

The Pac-12 not only welcomes back 10 starting QBs, it welcomes back 198 total starts, topped by 31 from Oregon State's Sean Mannion. Seven of the returning Pac-12 QBs have more than one season's worth of starting experience, too.

The Big Ten features 10 returning QBs and a cumulative 139 starts. The 14-team SEC only welcomes back five starting QBs with a combined 68 starts. Ohio State's Braxton Miller has the most career starts among returning quarterbacks with 32.

Further, notes Hawkes, "Also notable is that aside from Rutgers' Gary Nova (28 starts), Mannion (31), Taylor Kelly (27), Brett Hundley (27) and Marcus Mariota (26) are the four most seasoned QBs among all BCS teams (along with Bo Wallace at 26 starts at Ole Miss)."

Here's the list.

Pac-12 (10)
Sean Mannion, Oregon State: 31
Taylor Kelly, Arizona State: 27
Brett Hundley, UCLA: 27
Marcus Mariota, Oregon: 26
Kevin Hogan, Stanford: 19
Connor Halliday, Washington State: 19
Travis Wilson, Utah: 16
Cody Kessler, USC: 14
Jared Goff, Cal: 12
Sefo Liufau, Colorado: 7
Total: 198 starts

Big Ten (10)
Braxton Miller, Ohio State: 32
Gary Nova, Rutgers: 28
Devin Gardner, Michigan: 21
Joel Stave, Wisconsin: 19
Connor Cook, Michigan State: 13
Jake Rudock, Iowa: 13
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: 12
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana: 8
Danny Etling, Purdue: 8
Mitch Leidner, Minnesota: 4
Total: 139 starts

Big 12 (8)
David Ash, Texas: 21
Bryce Petty, Baylor: 13
Jake Waters, Kansas State: 13
Jake Heaps, Kansas: 9
Sam Richardson, Iowa State: 8
Clint Trickett, West Virginia: 7
Davis Webb, Texas Tech: 6
Trevor Knight, Oklahoma: 5
Total: 82 starts

American Athletic (5)
Paxton Lynch, Memphis: 12
John O'Korn, Houston: 11
P.J. Walker, Temple: 7
Mike White, South Florida: 5
Casey Cochran, Connecticut: 4
Total: 39 starts

ACC (5)
Anthony Boone, Duke: 15
Jameis Winston, Florida State: 14
David Watford, Virginia: 12
Terrel Hunt, Syracuse: 10
Total: 54 starts

SEC (5)
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: 26
Nick Marshall, Auburn: 14
Brandon Allen, Arkansas: 12
Justin Worley, Tennessee: 10
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: 6
Total: 68 starts

Could top conference be out of title game?

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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Heading into the final week before the bowls are announced, the SEC leads ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin.

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including three of the top five teams in the country in Auburn, Alabama and Missouri.

The SEC’s strong out-of-conference record has a lot to do with its success in the polls; the SEC is 47-9 in nonconference games, including 3-1 last Saturday against the ACC.

Vanderbilt, Georgia and South Carolina all defeated their ACC rivals on Saturday, and the SEC’s only out-of-conference loss this past weekend came at the hands of then-No. 2 Florida State.

However, the biggest debate heading into conference championship weekend is whether the SEC deserves a spot in the BCS National Championship to defend its seven straight titles.

If the season ended today, the top team in the ACC would face off against the top team in the Big Ten. According to ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings, the ACC and Big Ten are the lowest-ranked conferences among the five major ones, and the SEC is by far the top conference in the country.

However, the debate is not necessarily which conference is the best, but which team is the most deserving.

When looking at ESPN’s Championship Drive Ratings – a system that determines the most deserving teams in the country -- Ohio State and Florida State are both ranked higher than the top team in the SEC.

Looking deeper by using ESPN’s Football Power Index – a predictor of future strength -- Ohio State should be favored by three points over Auburn and six points over Missouri on a neutral field.

It appears the Pac-12 and Big 12 will be on the outside looking in on the national title debate despite ranking second and third, respectively, in ESPN’s Conference Power Rankings. Both conferences have depth, but their biggest issue is that there is no “elite” team at the top.

Keep an eye on the bowl matchups announced next Sunday to see how conference strength plays into bowl selections. In the last three seasons, the SEC has the best record in bowl games among the five major conferences (17-11) while the Big Ten has the worst record (9-16).

Pac-12 is most excellent! And left out

November, 25, 2013
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The Pac-12 is what we thought it was back in August -- as deep and as good as it's been. Probably ever.

Before the season, five Pac-12 teams were ranked. As we head into the final weekend of the regular season, five Pac-12 teams are ranked. Nine Pac-12 teams are bowl-eligible, the most in conference history. That's the same number as the 14-team SEC, which has six ranked teams.

We wrote this on Aug. 26:
The Pac-12 needs to go at least 2-1 against [Notre Dame] and finish the regular season with a 31-6 nonconference record. That would mean going 29-5 in the first four weeks.

Guess what happens if Stanford beats Notre Dame on Saturday? The Pac-12 would go 31-6 in nonconference games, though 1-2 versus Notre Dame, and 22-5 versus FBS teams and 6-3 versus the AQ conferences.

[+] EnlargeStanford Huddle
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford is among the Pac-12's elite teams, as expected. And while the league was as deep as it's ever been, the Pac-12 is expected to only get one BCS berth.
So excellent for the Pac-12. And there was great rejoicing.

And yet, if you're a big-picture Pac-12 observer, the season feels disappointing.

The Pac-12 is not only out of the national title picture, but it won't get a second BCS bowl team for the first time since 2009. That will cost 12 athletic departments about $500,000, money that most expected to get again this year. The Pac-12 has just one top-10 team: No. 8 Stanford. For just the second time since 2000, the Pac-12 could finish the season without a team ranked in the top five. The Cardinal will need to win out in order to climb that high.

Sometimes being deep and good costs you. That's the often counterintuitive reality of college football, where perception rules the day.

Lots of conferences talk about "cannibalism," which means a conference eats up its own with a brutal conference schedule. But it became the reality in the Pac-12 this year while being a myth in other conferences.

Consider the BCS standings. Click the schedules of the teams ranked No. 2 through No. 7, the teams behind Alabama and ahead of Stanford, vying for a spot in the title game. We'll wait here.

Done? Did you notice something? Of course you did.

No. 2 Florida State, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Auburn and No. 7 Oklahoma State each have just one victory over a team that is presently ranked in the BCS standings. No. 5 Missouri and No. 6 Clemson? They have zero wins over currently ranked teams.

Meanwhile, No. 8 Stanford has wins over No. 12 Arizona State, No. 13 Oregon and No. 22 UCLA. Arizona State has wins over No. 15 Wisconsin, No. 23 USC and UCLA. Oregon has a win over UCLA. USC has a win over Stanford.

The Pac-12 grind was like no other conference this year. Utah, for example, was good enough to beat Stanford, Utah State and BYU -- combined record 24-10 -- but enters the final weekend at 1-7 in conference play.

Washington fans were throwing up their hands after consecutive losses to Sanford, Oregon and Arizona State. Of course, those three are each ranked in the top 13. The Huskies' four losses all came to ranked teams.

Washington State is just 6-5 but was good enough to beat USC (which beat Stanford), Arizona (which beat Oregon) and Utah (which beat Stanford). Oh, and the Cougars outgained Auburn 464-394 in a tight, 31-24 road defeat, with the Cougars undone by three turnovers.

Everyone knows what's coming, right? Yep, we're again going to point to the nine-game conference schedule. The Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine conference games. The Big Ten has announced it will start playing nine in 2016. The ACC and SEC have both talked about it, but then have hidden behind excuses for not playing nine games.

The ACC and SEC say they don't want to play nine games because of intraconference rivalry games such as Georgia-Georgia Tech, Clemson-South Carolina and Florida State-Florida. Of course, this is pure disingenuousness. At least they could just be honest and admit they are trying their darnedest to make things as easy on themselves as possible.

The thinking in the ACC and SEC, with the new four-team playoff coming, is to wait and see, to really and truly see how important strength of schedule is going to become.

None of this means any Pac-12 team could beat Florida State, a team I believe is very good. And we'll likely get to see what the Pac-12 champ will do against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

In fact, if the Pac-12 flops in its bowl games, there will be plenty of chuckling over this "world's deepest conference" talk. There are no excuses this year, with USC eligible and just one BCS bowl team.

Yet if the four-team playoff began this year, Pac-12 folks can see what's at stake. We don't yet know how much money teams and conferences that earn spots in the playoff will pocket, but it will be north of the $18 million the teams/conferences playing for the final BCS title this year will receive.

If Pac-12 coaches, athletic directors and administrators end up watching as the SEC or ACC pockets an extra, oh, $40 million after placing two teams in the playoff while the Pac-12 gets some nice parting gifts, then perhaps there would be a sense of urgency about making sure that every major conference plays the same number of conference games.

That, above all else, will be the critical issue for the Pac-12 as we make a transition into the playoff era.

Big Ten rises in conference rankings

November, 4, 2013
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After a fairly uneventful weekend, ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings remained relatively unchanged, other than a slight gain by the Big Ten.

The SEC

The SEC continued to build upon its lead in the rankings after five of its top teams rose in the AP Poll. The SEC now has six teams ranked in the top 13 of the poll. No other conference has more than two teams in the top 13. 11 of the SEC’s 14 teams (79 percent) are also ranked in the top 50 of the FPI, the highest percentage of any conference.

The Big Ten

The Big Ten gained 3.9 points in the conference rankings after its top teams won on Saturday. Michigan State held Michigan to -48 rushing yards and confirmed that it has an elite defense. As a result, the Spartans rose six spots in the AP Poll and eight spots in the FPI. Michigan State’s emergence is important for the Big Ten because there is a perception that Ohio State is the only elite team in the conference.

The Big 12

The Big 12 fell 3.7 points in the rankings after Texas Tech lost its second straight game. The Red Raiders have fallen 15 spots in the AP Poll in the past two weeks, including 10 spots after their 18-point loss to Oklahoma State. There are now four teams in the Big 12 with no more than one loss in conference play. Each of those teams plays at least two games against the other three teams to end the season. That chaos at the top of the Big 12 will begin on Thursday night when Oklahoma travels to Baylor.

Next Week’s Slate of Games
Next week features seven different games that will shape conference races:

--SEC: LSU travels to Alabama on Saturday in a game that could eliminate LSU from the race for the SEC West.

--Pac-12: Oregon heads to Stanford on Thursday (9 pm ET, ESPN) in a game that will likely determine the winner of the Pac-12 North.

--Big 12: As mentioned above, Baylor hosts Oklahoma on Thursday in its first major test of the season.

--ACC: Miami (FL) will look to bounce back against Virginia Tech on Saturday in a game that could go a long way towards determining the winner of the ACC Coastal division.

--Big Ten: Nebraska heads to Michigan on Saturday in a must-win game for the Cornhuskers if they want to keep pace with Michigan State in the Big Ten Legends division.

--American: UCF hosts Houston on Saturday (7 pm ET, ESPN2)in a matchup of the only two undefeated teams in AAC play. If UCF wins, it will have beaten Louisville and Houston, the two 7-1 teams in the American Athletic Conference heading into this weekend.

--MAC: Ohio travels to Buffalo on Tuesday (8 pm ET, ESPN2) with first place up for grabs in the MAC East.

These games may not necessarily have a major impact on the conference rankings, but they will help determine the strength of the best teams in each conference.

For a refresher on the formula for the conference power rankings, click here

Is the Pac-12 ready for its close-up?

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
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Five Pac-12 teams were ranked in the preseason Associated Press poll. The Pac-12/10/8 has never had five teams ranked in the final AP poll, though that would change if new members Colorado and Utah were included in the tabulation.

What that means is the preseason perception of the Pac-12 is strong heading into the 2013 season, perhaps as strong as it has been in a while. The last time as many as four conference teams were ranked in the preseason AP poll was 2006.

Depth? Eight conference teams received votes. National title contenders? Oregon is ranked third and Stanford fourth.

Last year, the general consensus was the SEC was the best conference, and the Pac-12 and Big 12 were candidates for No. 2. This fall, more than a few folks are projecting the Pac-12 as a contender for best conference, though dethroning the SEC, which had six teams in the top 12 of the preseason poll, is as much about ending a streak of seven consecutive national titles as overall strength.

However one views the strength of various conferences, there obviously is a perception that the Pac-12 is on the uptick in 2013.

There are season-specific reasons for this. For one, a lot of starters are coming back, particularly among the better teams.

Pac-12 teams average 16.3 returning starters. The average over the past decade was 14.9. Those 2013 numbers are particularly good at the top. The conference's top seven teams from a preseason perspective -- Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State and Washington -- average 16.5 returning starters. For the sake of comparison, the SEC's top six teams (Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina) average 12.3 returning starters.

They say defense wins championships, so it's good that an average of 7.4 defensive starters are back. They also say the game is won in the trenches. Only one conference team, Utah, doesn't welcome back at least three starters on its offensive line. Seven teams welcome back four starters, compared to just two (Arizona and USC) a year ago.

Further, of those top seven teams, six welcome back their starting quarterbacks. Among that group, only USC is replacing its 2012 starter.

Arizona is replacing its starting quarterback, Matt Scott, but it nonetheless was among the teams getting votes in the AP poll. Second-year coach Rich Rodriguez said he thinks the conference has more than five Top-25 teams, and he thinks there's a paper trail behind the conference's improving perception.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Rich Rodriguez
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREArizona coach Rich Rodriguez says the Pac-12 is trending toward success, a positive growth unlike any the conference has ever experienced.
"The Pac-12 is deeper now and will be deeper in the next 10 or 15 years than it ever has been," he said. "And that's just because of the money being put into it. You're talking about more money, more facilities and more revenue than any school in our league has ever had. And that's not going backwards."

He then added with a laugh, "I wish it wasn't that way. I wish it was just us. But everybody is kind of moving up."

How much more money are Pac-12 teams taking in? Well, according to the conference's tax filings for 2011-12, the most recent available fiscal year, revenues jumped 58 percent over the previous year to $175.5 million. And that doesn't include the $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and FOX, which started last season and will pay members an average of $20.8 million over the next 12 years.

That money is paying for facilities upgrades across the conference. In fact, every conference team has -- or is planning to -- significantly upgraded facilities, whether that's stadiums, weight rooms or football buildings.

California last year completed the most expensive facility upgrades in college sports history -- total cost of $474 million -- and immediately went from having some of the worst facilities in AQ conference football to having some of the best. Oregon's new football building has been a national sensation, while the renovation of Husky Stadium will put it on the short list of best college football venues. Arizona, USC and Utah have recently opened fancy new football buildings, while Arizona State's stadium remodel plan is, well, out of this world looking.

These facilities, the conventional wisdom goes, will make Pac-12 programs more competitive in recruiting and will provide state-of-the-art support for the athletes already on hand. The Pac-12 has been playing catch-up in the college football arms race, and now it seems it has caught up.

Of course, the Pac-12 continues to have a self-imposed challenge that the SEC, Big Ten and ACC don't face: a nine-game conference schedule. If the Pac-12 played eight conference games, there would be six fewer losses scattered throughout the conference every year, and that would bolster national perception. It particularly would boost perceptions of depth, as more 6-6 teams would be 7-5 and 8-4 teams would be 9-3.

For many Pac-12 coaches, quality depth has been a major factor preventing the conference from playing for more national titles.

"What I like to say about our conference is it's tough every single week," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "You don't have a group at the top and a group at the bottom. You're going to play tough games every single week."

It appears that might be even more true in 2013, at least if preseason polls are to be believed.

But there is a singularly most convincing way for the Pac-12 to distinguish itself in front of the nation this season: Win the final BCS National Championship before the four-team playoff begins in 2014.

AP poll: Oregon No. 3, Stanford No. 4

August, 17, 2013
8/17/13
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Oregon and Stanford are ranked Nos. 3 and 4 in the preseason Associated Press poll, just like they were in the preseason coaches' poll.

Two-time defending champion Alabama is No. 1. Ohio State, which went unbeaten last season but was bowl ineligible due to NCAA sanctions, is No. 2.

As for the rest of the Pac-12, UCLA is 21st, USC 24th and Oregon State 25th -- just like the coaches' poll.

No, North Carolina wasn't ranked.

Arizona State was the equivalent of 30th. Washington and Arizona also received votes. So eight Pac-12 teams got some love from pollsters. Conclusion? The Pac-12 has national title contenders and depth.

Now, can it win the big one?

The SEC led all conferences with six ranked teams, all of which were in the top 12. The Pac-12 and Big Ten had five each. The Big 12 had four.
Larry ScottAP Photo/Jae C. HongLarry Scott criticized the NCAA's recent rulings and called for fans to drop DirecTV.
CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Commissioner Larry Scott came out swinging at Pac-12 media day, giving the NCAA a couple of stiff jabs and DirecTV a haymaker.

Scott showed there was general unity among the commissioners in the big five conferences -- along with the Pac-12, the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC -- that there is widespread impatience with the NCAA, its administration, rules and inefficiency.

"It's clear right now [the NCAA] is at a crossroads," Scott said. "It's time for a new vision."

As for DirecTV, it's all about it not picking up the Pac-12 Network for a second consecutive football season, meaning millions of West Coast subscribers have a choice to make: How important is the Pac-12 Network to them?

"I urge our fans that are intent on not missing their team's games this fall to drop DirecTV and switch to one of the many providers that have it all," Scott said.

Scott and the Pac-12 Network don't seem to be hitting at DirecTV from a position of weakness. The new network turned a profit in its first year of existence and will increase the number of live events this year from 550 to 750.

The Pac-12 set up a website to explain how to drop DirecTV.

As for the NCAA, Scott outlined four "high-priority items":

  • Student-athlete welfare, including health and safety as well as full cost-of-attendance scholarships.
  • On NCAA governance, Scott said, "... it's time to acknowledge that one size does not fit all." Along this line, Scott believes that the the NCAA should lean more on athletic directors and commissioners when administrating college sports and less on college presidents.
  • Scott holds a dim view of NCAA enforcement: "It's fair to say confidence in the enforcement process is at an all-time low."
  • Finally, Scott believes one-and-done in college basketball should be ended.

While Scott's broadside might seem to make NCAA president Mark Emmert's precarious footing even weaker, he was conciliatory in terms of envisioning Emmert being part of the solution.

"I spoke to president Mark Emmert this week," Scott said. "I was delighted to see yesterday that he announced plans to call a summit in January to discuss exactly what that change should look like."

Scott also backed away from some of the recent talk about the big schools breaking away from the NCAA.

"The current discussion we have heard this week," he said, "... is too radical and too narrow at the same time. The answer ... is not to break away but to evolve into something better."

Of course, that push to evolve includes the notion of survival of the fittest, and the implication that the NCAA at present isn't terribly fit.

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