The Toughest Divisions In The Land
If a poll was sent out asking casual fans what the toughest division in college football was, the answer would probably be the SEC West. The resume is well-worn through the media but still manages to impress: home to Alabama, Auburn, and LSU, this division produced the country's national champion in five of six years from 2007-2012 along with three Heisman Trophy winners. It was as deep as it was top-heavy - given that over the last five years, an SEC West team has gone worse than 6-6 only six times. No matter how shaky Alabama's secondary might look right now, and no matter how many D-linemen Auburn or LSU loses, it is still the class of college football.
The Big Ten East, however, just might be the second best.
Things like this get decided over the course of several seasons, obviously, but the B1G East is in good shape. For one, it's 7-0. Rutgers beat Washington State behind Paul James and whatever other magic they have cooking (did they actually just dominate the line of scrimmage?). Penn State beat UCF with a growing superstar at quarterback, a hotshot coach, and evaporating sanctions. Indiana grew a defense, still put up almost 600 yards, and they might have one of the five best running backs in the country (Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Byron Marshall, T.J. Yeldon, ....?).
Ohio State and Michigan are blue-chip programs, and Michigan State is fighting their way into that same classification. At the moment, those three are almost clones of each other: they share some shaky offensive lines, are stockpiling some explosive athletes, and blend that physical, Big Ten running with surgical precision through the air. None of this seems to be changing any time soon.
Maryland isn't in bad shape, either. The Terps have shown some tantalizing potential in recruiting, keeping some in-state five-star recruits as well as drawing interest from big-name recruits along the East coast. The Big Ten East may be in its nascent season in 2014, but it's already in a position to impress.
This comes after an opening weekend that saw some more traditionally dominant divisions show signs of weakness. Since the Pac-12 split into two divisions, the North has not only won every Pac-12 Championship Game, but they've also produced twice as many winning teams as losing ones since its inception in 2011. The division's middle class looked poor on opening weekend, as some had thought that Washington might be able to challenge the Ducks and the Cardinal for a 10-win season.
Meanwhile, the SEC East just saw Vanderbilt get blown out at home to Temple, and South Carolina embarrassed at home to A&M. Recruiting has risen (they are actually out-recruiting all of the Big 12, as is the SEC West), but for a potentially dominant collection of teams, it is littered with questions - and is leaning on Butch Jones, Derek Mason, Gary Pinkel, Mark Stoops, and Will Muschamp to consistently challenge Mark Richt and Steve Spurrier. Even Steve Spurrier has his hands full at the moment.
The Pac-12 South looked healthy and surprisingly dominant on opening weekend, with the division's middle class - Arizona, Utah, Arizona State - delivering some august performances (pun intended). UCLA has risen to be a top-10 team, and USC is building itself up again as the entire conference gains panache. The ACC Atlantic, meanwhile, looks solidly top-heavy (Florida State, Clemson, Louisville) but only top-heavy (Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Syracuse, and Boston College). It's a muddled race for second-best, but the Big Ten East is in position to make a name for itself.
Reputations are built on successive years of dominance. It's why the SEC is so well-respected up to this point - liked or not, they have earned that badge many times over. The Big Ten East is well-positioned, though, to prove it's not a 'Big Two, Little Five' gimmick, or even a 'Big Four, Little Three.' With success, playing in such a competitive and rivalry-fueled division would only add another selling point to potential recruits - on top of being able to tour some of the greatest stadiums in the world and playing in front of 100,000 consistently. Each team's reputation precedes it, and for those in the Big Ten East, this is a unique opportunity to carve another layer.
Hitting the Links Watches the Pacific Ocean
Barrett performed better when less was expected of him, unsurprisingly. ESPN's advanced statistics look closer at Barrett's first performance.
The reaction from some NU fans and writers after the loss of Venric Mark and Christian Jones was surprising; talented players, let alone All-Americans, are not just replaced. Ask Florida State. Ask Alabama. Even if there is potential and talent on the roster, having leaders and options and competition is invaluable - and without Colter, Mark or Jones, Northwestern has some rebuilding to do.
It's rare that a team schedules many games the year before they play; very long ago, a new coach was able to decide a team's entire schedule for the first year right after he was hired.
Mora and Hundley talk about the Bruins' single biggest weakness.
They very kindly include Notre Dame.
Idaho still gets $975,000, and a handful of Florida players who got suspended for the Idaho game will have it count toward that suspension.
This was a very informative guide to how Georgia looked against Clemson. South Carolina may have a very hard time against this team.
This also breaks down Week 1 with an eye for what to expect from Gus Malzahn over the season.
This may not be included every week, but it's good to get another perspective. This list is less fluid than the one on MnB, but more fluid than the the Coaches and AP Polls, which were positively viscous in only dropping Ohio State from 5th to 8th after losing Braxton Miller.
For all the truisms about the line of scrimmage, MSU can't beat Oregon without its secondary holding up against Marcus Mariota. They'll get help from a line that tallied five sacks in the last game.
The man knows what he's doing. Win, lose, or draw, he is program-building.
Martin Rickman discusses Alabama's disappearing mystique, and Brian Hamilton talks about the value of failure.
Our Daily Bears reaches out to Ian Boyd to help break it all down.
The national fans are still getting to know Steve Sarkisian, but this is a small sample of some of his ongoing relationships within the Pac-12. After Stanford beat Washington in 2013, Sarkisian accused Stanford of faking injuries to try and slow down the Huskies' uptempo attack, and even named an assistant, Randy Hart, who he said ordered players to act injured. Shaw had this to say: "We didn't versus Oregon, so why in the world would we against UW? We are one of the most respected programs in the country, and I won't put that on the line just to be Washington." He later called out Washington on doing the same thing.
AtQ has been spending plenty of time looking at Michigan State this week. One of the takeaways here is the importance for Michigan State to run effectively against Oregon.
Grantland at ESPN does an in-depth analysis of what makes Michigan State's defense tick.
Against the Cardinal, UC Davis managed to cross the 50-yard line on the last play of the game. Now the Cardinal face a team that put up 700 yards.
Urban Meyer recently had this to say about the Big Ten: "I think the Big Ten has come a long way in two years. I think there's some excellent teams in this conference. I think we're better than we were two years ago. I don't think, I know." ESPN's advanced statistics paint a less rosy picture, dropping the Big Ten a little from the previous week.
Hawaii hung tough with Washington this past week, but there could be bad news on the horizon. The program may drop football.
Michigan faces Utah in Week 4, and the kicker for the Utes just happened to give birth to a baby boy. He wasted no time putting pads on.