Since we spend so much time on campuses and evaluating students (who also happen to be athletes), it’s only fair that we, as evaluators, begin making our assessments and hand out some progress reports during the semester.
The majority of Division I-FBS schools are six games into their seasons, which is halfway into their regular season schedules, which is more than enough of a look to decide which conferences are making the grade and which conferences need their commissioners to come to the PTA meetings to make sure their pride and joy gets the message that their work so far is not good enough. No matter the grades we hand out, each league has enough time to finish at the head of the class – though only one can be college football’s valedictorian.
So with that, here’s our Football Bowl Subdivision progress reports of each conference (not counting independents). We made sure to evaluate every FBS conference, just like a model teacher would give time to every student, from the class poindexter to the class clown.
Time to get out the red pen!
Extra Credit: East Carolina, one of the newest members of the conference, is now ranked in the Top 20 in the national polls (including ours) and owns wins over a ranked Virginia Tech team as well as North Carolina. Temple has started 4-1, and that includes a season-opening thumping over Vanderbilt. Last year’s conference champion, UCF, was a Penn State missed field goal away in Dublin from also sporting an impressive start.
Demerits: Outside of the three teams mentioned, the rest of the league is a combined 14-32. Houston, who came into the season with high expectations, started the season by laying an egg at home vs. UT-San Antonio. Another team that some fancied to win the league in the preseason, Cincinnati, has hit a rut after a 2-0 start. Oh, and then there’s SMU, who is 0-5 and has been outscored this season 247-36. Yikes!
Grade: B. No matter what the bottom half of this league does, this grade will only continue to rise as long as ECU remains unbeaten in conference play and makes it into one of the prestigious January bowl games.
Extra Credit: At least Florida State is still undefeated, right? If anything, the Seminoles win against a then unranked Oklahoma State team in Dallas is turning into a better win each week with Okie State’s great work so far this season. Virginia, picked to be the league’s doormat, is playing as well as any team in the conference, starting 4-2 and joining FSU as the only undefeated team in league play.
Demerits: The Coastal Division. Yes, the projected league doormat is on top, but the team picked by many media members (myself included) to win the division, North Carolina, is bringing up the rear, and in the past few weeks, UNC has looked as if it doesn’t know that stopping the opponent from scoring is actually a good thing. Clemson pulled off a Clemson in blowing a chance to win at FSU without a suspended Jameis Winston. Louisville, expected to add depth to the league, already has two conference losses. It looks as if, for the second straight year, that the intrigue going down the stretch in this league will be negligible at best.
Grade: D. At Football Media Days, many scribes posed the question whether the ACC was catching up to the SEC in terms of depth and quality teams. If Florida State doesn’t make the College Football Playoff, this league will have to repeat a grade.
Extra Credit: In someways, by virtue of attrition, the Big 12 might be the deepest it has ever been. We knew Oklahoma and Baylor were going to duke it out for the top two spots, but the consistent play of Kansas State, along with the emergence of Oklahoma State and TCU, has made this league the one to watch outside of the SEC so far this season. Not even Texas’ worst start to a season in more than a half a century is taking away from the great start by the collective group.
Demerits: The league only has two Top 25 wins this season, and they both came in conference match-ups (TCU over Oklahoma, Baylor over TCU). Oklahoma State (vs. Florida State), Kansas State (vs. Auburn) and West Virginia (vs. Alabama) all acquitted themselves well against elite competition out of conference in close defeats, but the lack of a marquee non-conference win hurts the perception a bit.
Grade: B+. If the Big 12 had won even one of those marquee non-conference tilts earlier this season, the grading curve would have bumped them into A- status.
Extra Credit: Every one of the 14 teams in the Big Ten has at least three wins and halfway to bowl eligibility, the only FBS conference that can boast that claim heading into this week’s games. The two headline teams going into this season, Michigan State and Ohio State, are on pace for a titanic showdown with huge national implications on Nov. 8.
Demerits: Saturday, Sept. 6. That’s the day which saw the Big Ten take a serious black eye to its footballing reputation. Northwestern and Purdue lost home games to Mid-American Conference universities, Nebraska needed an Ameer Abdullah magic act late in the game to get away with a win vs. FCS member McNeese State, Michigan State lost a Top 10 showdown at Oregon, Ohio State was stunned at home by Virginia Tech (the Hokies then proceeded to lost their next two games) and Michigan was whitewashed at Notre Dame. That day will stick to the Big Ten’s ribs all season long.
Grade: D-. If Ohio State and/or Michigan State go into their Nov. 8 showdown losing another game beforehand, or if the winner of that game loses before their bowl game, then this would be a lost season for the B1G. The league’s members may have to ace all their final exams during bowl season.
Extra Credit: To somewhat paraphrase Jan Brady, “Marshall, Marshall, Marshall!” Rakeem Cato is doing his best Eric Kresser/Chad Pennington/Byron Leftwich impression and leading the Thundering Herd to what should be an undefeated regular season. Oh, and the national attention the team should be getting in the next month won’t hurt at all as well, at least from a league promotional standpoint.
Demerits: After a strong start by newcomer UT-San Antonio (defeated Houston, pushed Arizona to the limit), the Roadrunners have fallen back to the pack. To be honest, this is nowhere near the league it was more than a decade ago when Southern Miss, Louisville and TCU were ruling the roost.
Grade: Inc. We know C-USA is far from the best of the best in college football, but the final grade will be determined by Marshall, and whether they were to make it into one of the prestigious January 1 bowl games. Sadly for The Herd, an undefeated season won’t guarantee them a spot, as ECU might have the edge with its non-conference wins vs. Virginia Tech and North Carolina.
Extra Credit: Bowling Green, the defending champions, have picked up where they left off in 2013, starting 3-0 in conference play and also owning a win against Indiana of the Big Ten. Both Central Michigan (at Purdue) and Northern Illinois (at Northwestern) also own wins vs. B1G opponents. And as a throw-in, Miami University ended its 21-game losing streak two weeks ago against fellow MAC team UMass, who then took their 12-game losing streak and snapped it last week at Kent State. Wins for everybody…
Demerits: …except Kent State, who has yet to win this season, and might not in 2014. Unlike past seasons, which saw teams like Northern Illinois and Ball State crack the Top 25 of the national polls, there’s no real bellwether in the conference, and that’s takes some of the shine off of the MACtion this season.
Grade: C. Still as competitive and balanced as ever, but no team stands out. The epitome of a C grade.
Extra Credit: With Utah State’s win over a ranked BYU squad on Oct. 3, the Mountain West Conference owns more non-conference Top 25 wins (one) than the Big Ten and Big 12 combined (zero). Colorado State is doing great things under former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, including defeating Colorado and winning at Boston College. Both the Aggies and Rams meet this week in probably the conference game of the year.
Demerits: It’s so weird to talk about the Mountain West and not mention Boise State (4-2) as a flag bearer for the conference, even though one of their two losses on the year is to the team currently ranked No. 2 in the country (Ole Miss). Both Colorado State and Utah State look like the class of the East Division, but no team in the West Division has a winning overall record going into this week.
Grade: C-. If Colorado State can take out Utah State in Fort Collins, the Rams have a chance at an 11-1 regular season record, which would boost the grade.
Extra Credit: The much talked-about showdown between Michigan State and Oregon went to the Ducks, giving the league an early showcase win. The Ducks, a few weeks later, lost to Arizona, showing the league’s greatest quality – it’s depth. Along with Arizona, Utah has emerged to be a major player in the league, and the Utes’ outstanding defense might be on a par with anyone’s in the country.
Demerits: The California schools. Stanford had wins against USC and Notre Dame slip from its fingertips, mostly because of its own doing rather than the opponents’. USC was thought to be a Pac-12 South contender, but they might struggle to finish with a flourish given their depth issues. UCLA was thought to be a national championship contender, but, as of now, has to be considered the most disappointing team in the nation.
Grade: B-. The Pac-12 is the student you know has A+ potential but hasn’t put in full effort to achieve that goal. This grade should spike up once the Pac-12 title game rolls around. The winner of it may have a College Football Playoff spot waiting for them.
Extra Credit: Mississippi State. Ole Miss. Enough said.
Demerits: No more Ol’ Ball Coach magic? South Carolina, the favorite to win the SEC East in the preseason, already has three conference losses. Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M, after hot starts, now have more questions surrounding them than at any point in the last couple of seasons. And what in the world is going on with the Florida quarterback situation??
Grade: B+. Giving the SEC a slight edge over the Big 12 due to Auburn’s head-to-head win at Kansas State, along with other non-conference wins by SEC teams over the likes of Clemson and Wisconsin. If the Egg Bowl in Oxford pairs two undefeated teams, the Magnolia State may cease to exist afterwards.
Extra Credit: Georgia Southern has made the transition into the FBS an almost seamless one, winning its first four conference games during its 5-2 start. Its only two losses, to North Carolina State and Georgia Tech of the ACC, were by a combined five points. It’s possible that six teams from the league gain bowl eligibility.
Demerits: In three games against ranked opponents (two vs. LSU, one vs. Ole Miss), the Sun Belt has been outscored by a combined total of 150-22. While Georgia Southern is liking life in the Sun Belt, fellow former FCS power Appalachian State is having a rougher time of it, going 1-5 and 0-2 in conference play in the first half.
Grade: D. As long as this league produces a thrilling title finish and gets a couple of bowl wins during bowl season, they’ll move on to the next grade.
All of the pollsters on The A Lot of Sports Talk‘s College Football Top 25 aced all their exams while on campus…well, most of them! This week, it’s a quintet of voters that make up the poll: T.J. Basalla (super fan, marketing professional, WJPZ Alumni Association President), Pavan Sandhu Eckhart (Texas A&M graduate, Sales Rep at Ferring Pharmaceuticals in Dallas), Sandy Weintraub (super fan, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards at the University of Oregon), Adesina Koiki (Football Writers Association of America member/voter, A Lot Of Sports Talk editor-in-chief) and an anonymous assistant coach who once coached at a Division I-FBS school. If you have any comments and/or complaints, write them below on the Facebook window or email us at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you, as always.
For the first time this year, a No. 1 ranking is clearly earned. Auburn had looked extremely impressive before venturing to the land of the cowbells. SEC West supremacy is even more in flux. (Sandy Weintraub)
I, for one, welcome our new Mississippi overlords. (T.J. Basalla)
All your lingering doubts and other questions about the Seminoles should be answered on Saturday against the Irish. But then again, because of FSU’s relatively weak end to the regular season, maybe they won’t be answered until the College Football Playoff…if they get there. (Adesina Koiki)
Impressive comeback, but not impressive defense by the Bears last week. (Sandy)
After almost losing to North Carolina last week, now comes the real test. By next week, this team could be as high as No. 1 or, in my mind, out of the national discussion. (Sandy)
Something tells me that Arizona loss is going to be more of a one-night blip. This is still a really good team. (T.J.)
Auburn forced four Mississippi State turnovers last week, turning them into 13 points (2 FGs, TD). Alas, Auburn turned over the ball four times as well, resulting in 21 Bulldog points (3 TDs). War Eagle hopes to clean up its sloppy play during the bye week. (Adesina)
The best three quarter team in the country. Now, the fourth quarter… (T.J.)
Yes, they won. Yes, it wasn’t pretty. But, can we talk about Blake Sims JUMPING STRAIGHT UP IN THE AIR on a 4th-and-short? (T.J.)
No Todd Gurley, no problem? I guess so, at least so far. (Adesina)
I think we now know how good TCU is, but we’ll get to see how resilient the Horned Frogs are, as they immediately follow that disappointing loss at Baylor with another titanic tilt against Oklahoma State. How impressive would a 2-1 stretch against Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State be, with the loss coming after leading by 21 points in the fourth quarter in Waco? (Adesina)
Trevor Knight and his receivers need to get it together. Otherwise, Baylor might have a cakewalk beating them – something that TCU already has done. (Pavan Sandhu Eckhart)
After its opening-week tilt against Florida State in Dallas, it’s been a while since Okie State has had the national spotlight. That changes with this week’s visit to Fort Worth. (Adesina)
I would say that the visit from Rutgers could pose problems for Ohio State, but I can’t get out of my mind the last time I put a vested interest in a Rutgers Big Ten game, when quarterback Gary Nova threw five interceptions in a near-inexcusable loss to Penn State last month. (Adesina)
Waking up to Kansas State/Oklahoma squaring off at high noon isn’t a bad way to start a Saturday if you’re a college football nut. And by college football nut (said affectionately), this means YOU! (Adesina)
Don’t let Rich Rod fool you; he won’t let the loss to USC keep him down. The Pac-12 is still anyone’s to win. (Pavan)
To be fair, Arizona could have lost to UTSA, should have lost to Cal and needed a questionable call to beat Oregon. This is still a good team but it’s best that it’s OK now to chill on the unbeaten talk. They can still win the Pac-12 South, though. (T.J.)
To follow up from the note on Kansas State, if you are indeed a college football nut, then ending your college football Saturday with Stanford’s trip to Tempe to take on Sparky is the perfect way to head into an NFL Sunday. (Adesina)
The Pirates would have to be described as sluggish when talking about their less-than-impressive win at South Florida last week. But a win is a win is a win. (Adesina)
A Saturday night game in Evanston may prove to be a tricky affair for the Cornhuskers. They’ll take a win in any way, though, even if it comes the way it did last season against Northwestern. (Adesina)
With so few undefeated teams left, it’s time to give Rakeem Cato and his team a big bump up. Is he the next Marshall QB with NFL aspirations (Byron Leftwich, Chad Pennington)? It sure looks like it. (Sandy)
This is a dangerous team, and a land mine for anybody with aspirations to win the Pac-12, especially when having to travel to Salt Lake in the altitude and cold in November – like Oregon has to do. (Sandy)
Last year’s Pac-12 Championship Game saw the Cardinal’s defense absolutely subdue Arizona State’s vaunted offense in Tempe on their way to the Rose Bowl. Stanford’s defense in 2014 is more than capable of producing a repeat performance Saturday night. (Adesina)
After losing to the teams now ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in back-to-back weeks, it’s nice to see the Aggies get a breather this time around, as they travel to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama. Umm, wait a minute…(Adesina)
Winning a close encounter – and having to come up with a game-ending goal-line stand – against Louisville was great, but losing stud freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson for a month with a broken finger may cause this Top 25 appearance to be just an ephemeral one. (Adesina)
If Stanford and Arizona could make a couple of field goals, you’d be looking at a four-loss Trojans team right now. With that said, you have to give USC major props for pulling out those wins, especially taking out the previously undefeated Wildcats. (Adesina)
Others receiving votes:
Washington (9 points), Duke (1), Georgia Tech (1), Iowa (1), Minnesota (1), UCLA (1)
* – To break ties, we used a three-step criteria; 1) higher number of first-place votes, 2) higher number of ballots (out of six) the teams appeared in, 3) highest single ranking by an individual pollster (e.g. if Team A and Team B are tied cumulatively and appeared in all six polls, but Team A’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 7 and Team B’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 9, Team A wins tiebreaker)
[Cover photo (Mike Gundy) courtesy of Ed Zurga/Getty Images]