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Around the Nation - Week 3

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As we head towards the commencement of conference play in the next week or two, thru three weeks of action, let's do another conference round-up. I am not going to get too in depth, but at a high level look at the conference's top ranked team, how many teams are ranked, and discuss performance and what to look for as the league games get kick-started as the calendar turns to October.

( ) Parenthesis notes teams ranked in current Power Poll

ACC (2)
Top Ranked Team: #2 FLORIDA STATE
Other Ranked Teams: #6 CLEMSON
Quick Thoughts: Only two undefeated teams remain (the Big 12 for example has 8 of their 10 teams still undefeated), but does have a pair of top 6 teams - who happen to clash this weekend in the ABC Showcase game on Saturday night. #6 Clemson at #2 Florida State will likely not only decide the Atlantic Division, but also the ACC Championship as the Coastal Division looks subpar currently. This is FSU's time to step up, and show they are ready to be taken seriously as a National Title contender - will they grasp it?

BIG 12 (6)
Top Ranked Team: #8 OKLAHOMA
Other Ranked Teams: #9 K-ST, #10 WVU, #12 TEXAS, #22 TCU, #23 BAYLOR, ISU "NEXT FIVE"
Quick Thoughts: Similar to the ACC, the Big 12 features a pair of Top 10 teams squaring off this weekend for a chance to get a leg up in the conference race - keep in mind this season the Big 12 is playing a round robin format - 9 conference games with no championship game. It's all about the regular season to earn that coveted BCS berth - and there figures to be at least four teams heavily involved in the mix once November arrives. This race should be extremely exciting, as the final weekend of the season will feature #12 Texas @ #9 KSU and #8 Oklahoma @ #22 TCU.

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BIG 10 (5)

Top Ranked Team: #14 OHIO STATE
Other Ranked Teams: #19 MICHIGAN, #20 PURDUE, #21 MICHIGAN ST, #25 NORTHWESTERN
Quick Thoughts: Although the B10 has five teams ranked, there is clearly no true challenger to the BCS Championship amongst the group. #19 Michigan was thought to be that team heading into the season, but following a blowout loss to #1 Alabama and a narrow home win over Air Force, the sizzle has faded. The Wolverines could grab some headlines this week if they can wrestle away another win from #11 Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday night. I projected #20 Purdue to win the Leaders division and still feel very solid about that selection. At the end of the day I still believe Michigan finds itself in the Rose Bowl.

BIG EAST (1)
Top Ranked Team: #17 LOUISVILLE
Other Ranked Teams: NONE
Quick Thoughts: For years the Big East has easily been the weakest of the automatic qualifier conferences, and once again in 2012 the same story applies. Since the preseason I have I felt #17 Louisville could be a Top 15 team by season's end, and that has not changed one bit following three weeks of action. Their sophomore QB Teddy Bridgewater is the real deal, and HC Charlie Strong has done a phenomenal job of upgrading the talent across the roster, especially on the defensive side of the football. Although Rutgers and Cincinnati remain unbeaten they are not close to being part of my Power Poll, and USF was a huge disappointment on Thursday night losing to Rutgers at home. This race will be wide open all season long with just about every team outside Temple and possible UConn being capable of beating the others on any given night. But, the Cardinals will be the most consistent bunch, and win the hardware.

CUSA (0)
Top Ranked Team: NONE
Other Ranked Teams: NONE
Quick Thoughts: This conference continues to be one of the worst in the country as they have not bounced back at all from a 2-10 opening weekend - the entire league sits at an aggregate 10-23 with no undefeated teams and only three (East Carolina, UCF, Tulsa) above .500. I was bullish on UCF heading into this season, believing they could be the best non-BCS team in the country - that could still be the case, albeit unlikely following their loss at Ohio State in Wk2. Tulsa has a decent squad, but the loss of their leader and All CUSA QB GJ Kinne will not help. The league is wide open, full of mediocrity - from the East I see three teams with a shot (ECU, UCF, Marshall), while the West appears to be Tulsa's to lose, however 0-3 Houston could still wind up making some noise in conference play. It is highly unlikely any of the teams in this conference appear in the Power Poll moving forward.

INDEPENDENTS (1)
Top Ranked Team: #11 NOTRE DAME
Other Ranked Teams: NONE
Quick Thoughts: The Independents are once again led by #11 Notre Dame - and this Irish team is legit, as I mentioned in my preseason column. I was not surprised one bit by their easy win @ #21 Michigan State last week, but look for a tighter game this Saturday night in South Bend when they host #19 Michigan. ND has a schedule packed with top quality opponents, so a run to a BCS championship is not going to happen - although a rare appearance in a BCS bowl remains very possible. BYU looked very strong in their first two games, but struggled badly in Wk3, which was their first road game at chief rival Utah. That loss was surprising on many levels, considering BYU had massive revenge in mind after suffering a Utes beat down at home last year, and Utah lost its leader and QB Jordan Wynn the week before. Navy and Army both are down a notch from past editions and will not make headlines this season.

MAC (0)
Top Ranked Team: NONE
Other Ranked Teams: NONE
Quick Thoughts: Although none of its teams have cracked my Power Poll, the MAC remains one of the better non-AQ conferences in the country - and as talked about in my Wk1 column, has shown well in many spots against top level BCS competition this year. Ohio is the only undefeated team, and they have to be considered the favorite to win the league behind All MAC QB Tyler Tettleton. Also from the East, Bowling Green and Miami, Ohio have outside shots at making some noise. The West is wide open with each of the six teams having a legit shot at winning the division. As of now I peg the favorite to be Toledo, but Ball State, UNI and CMU will all have their chances. Keep an eye on the schedule - both the home/road splits, and especially the inter-conference matchups with the East - as that could very well wind being the aspect that determines the winner of the West.

MWC (0)
Top Ranked Team: NONE
Other Ranked Teams: NONE, but FRESNO STATE & NEVADA are in "NEXT FIVE"
Quick Thoughts: The MWC has a few teams that are very strong this season, with Fresno State & Nevada leading the way. I have touted how strong a club I believed Fresno had this season, and they haven't disappointed me yet behind the solid QB/RB duo of Derek Carr/Robbie Rouse. Even the Bulldogs loss was a respectable one, 42-25 at #5 Oregon. If it wasn't for a late comeback by USF, Nevada would be sitting at 3-0 and ranked in the high teens of my PP. The Pack beat Cal in Berkeley to open the season, and have a potent offense behind their Pistol packages. Lastly, Boise State needs to be mentioned as a candidate for a conference title no matter what conference they are playing in. The Broncos will continue getting better as the season progresses, following the loss of 15 starters from LY's team (#122 in FBS). Their season will come down to October 13th when they host Fresno, and December 1st when they travel to Reno to face Nevada. I believe Fresno State is the best team, but the schedule does them no favors as they have to travel to both Nevada and Boise, hence opening the door to what should be a thrilling finish - and certain must see TV when those three teams play their round robin.

PAC 12 (4)
Top Ranked Team: #5 OREGON
Other Ranked Teams: #15 STANFORD, #16 USC, #18 UCLA, ARIZONA "NEXT FIVE"
Quick Thoughts: In my final preseason poll I had three Pac 12 teams: #3 USC, #6 Oregon, #23 Utah. Now, through 3 weeks of action, I have four teams ranked, another in the "next five", and the four currently ranked does not include Utah from the original poll. There is no question through the early out-of-conference portion of the schedule the Pac 12 has performed well, and has many looking forward to conference play. Prior to the season I don't know anyone who expected anything other than a #16 USC vs. #5 Oregon Pac 12 Championship Game - now, many other schools believe they have a shot. #15 Stanford has to top that list, following their 4th straight win over the Trojans last week in Palo Alto. I have been very hard on Stanford, especially their HC David Shaw - but now must give credit where credit is due following their 3-0 start. Kudos to Shaw and Stanford - let's see if they can keep it going. #18 UCLA and Arizona have made national noise following 3-0 starts, but it will be interesting to see how things shake out for the two programs that are led by new coaches once conference play begins. To me, UCLA is a legit, solid squad behind new playmaking QB Brett Hundley and RB Jonathan Franklin - they may have staying power. Arizona will struggle some in my opinion once the calendar turns to October and beyond, but so far it's hard to argue with the success of new HC Rich Rodriguez. When it's all said and done I am sticking with a USC vs. Oregon Pac 12 Championship Game, but I think Oregon is now the team to beat.

SEC (6)
Top Ranked Team: #1 ALABAMA
Other Ranked Teams: #3 GEORGIA, #4 LSU, #7 S CAROLINA, #13 FLORIDA, #24 TENNESSEE
Quick Thoughts: Once again, the SEC has shown the rest of the country it is the premier college football conference, with no end to the domination in sight. I currently have six teams (4 from the East, 2 from the West) in my PP, which is down from the eight I had in my preseason edition. The two teams that fell out of the rankings are Arkansas & Auburn, both of whom I had #19 or lower in my final preseason PP. The Crimson Tide once again appear to be the class of college football, and they also have the luxury of not facing a team in my current PP until a 10/20 trip to Knoxville vs. #24 Tennessee. In addition to that, 'Bama still has road trips to Missouri & #4 LSU - so it is far from certain they will go unbeaten during the regular season, but is sure appears very possible, especially considering their weak home slate that doesn't feature a game where the line is likely to be below at least two touchdowns. The East will be extremely exciting each and every week as four teams have a legitimate chance at hoisting the crown, with #3 UGA and #7 USC being my two most likely champs. I have been more bullish on the Bulldogs than just about anyone else all season long, and haven't seen anything through three games that makes me want to drop them from the #3 spot in the rankings. Similar to the MAC, the schedule will play a critical role in the eventual East division winner - I will break down these schedules in a coming column once conference play really gets going as September comes to an end.

SUN BELT (0)
Top Ranked Team: NONE
Other Ranked Teams: NONE
Quick Thoughts: For being the Sun Belt and having no teams even on the radar of being ranked in my PP, boy have these schools played some impressive games so far this year, even against the big bad SEC. Western Kentucky took down Kentucky in Lexington last week; UL-Monroe beat Arkansas in Fayetteville two weeks ago, and nearly beat Auburn on the Plains last week falling in OT; North Texas covered a pair of road games vs. Top 9 teams (LSU, Kansas State); and Troy fell to Mississippi State last week 30-24. Not too shabby at all for a conference that is typically the worst in FBS football. The conference championship will likely come down to UL-Monroe, Troy and Western Kentucky - and I give the edge to UL-Monroe currently.

WAC (0)
Top Ranked Team: NONE
Other Ranked Teams: NONE, but UTAH STATE is in "NEXT FIVE"
Quick Thoughts: This conference features a pair of undefeated teams in UTSA (who led FBS this season with 21 returning starters) and Louisiana Tech, along with a pair of 2-1 squads in San Jose State and Utah State - very solid start to the season for all four of these teams. Outside UTSA, the remaining three are very good teams, as Louisiana Tech has scored 56 points in both of their games so far; SJSU only lost by 3 @ #15 Stanford in Wk1; and Utah State beat Utah & had Wisconsin beat in Madison before missing a late FG attempt. Although this conference has been raided recently and lost many of its bigger name schools, the football at the top of the remaining conference is solid. I still give the edge to La Tech as I have concerns about consistent QB play with Utah State and the offense in general at SJ State, but none of the three would shock me if they hoisted the trophy come November 24.

Week 3 Power Poll
(ranking, team, record, last week's PP ranking, next game vs. Power Poll team)

1) Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0, #1): 10/20 @ #24 TENNESSEE
2) Florida State Seminoles (3-0, #2): 09/22 VS #6 CLEMSON
3) Georgia Bulldogs (3-0, #3): 09/29 VS #24 TENNESSEE
4) LSU Tigers (3-0, #4): 10/06 @ #13 FLORIDA
5) Oregon Ducks (3-0, #5): 11/03 @ #16 USC
6) Clemson Tigers (3-0, #7): 09/22 @ #2 FLORIDA STATE
7) South Carolina Gamecocks (3-0, #10): 10/06 VS #3 GEORGIA
8) Oklahoma Sooners (2-0, #9): 09/22 VS #9 KANSAS STATE
9) Kansas State Wildcats (3-0, #11): 09/22 @ #8 OKLAHOMA
10) West Virginia Mountaineers (2-0, #12): 09/29 VS #23 BAYLOR
11) Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0, #13): 09/22 VS #19 MICHIGAN
12) Texas Longhorns (3-0, #15): 10/06 VS #10 WEST VIRGINIA
13) Florida Gators (3-0, #17): 10/06 VS #4 LSU
14) Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0, #8): 09/29 @ #16 MICHIGAN STATE
15) Stanford Cardinal (3-0, N5): 10/13 @ #11 NOTRE DAME
16) USC Trojans (2-1, #6): 11/03 VS #5 OREGON
17) Louisville Cardinals (3-0, #21): no more games versus current Power Poll teams
18) UCLA Bruins (3-0, #19): 11/17 VS #16 USC
19) Michigan Wolverines (2-1, #22): 09/22 @ #11 NOTRE DAME
20) Purdue Boilermakers (2-1, N5): 10/06 VS #19 MICHIGAN
21) Michigan State Spartans (2-1, #16): 09/29 VS #14 OHIO STATE
22) TCU Horned Frogs (2-0, #24): 10/13 @ #23 BAYLOR
23) Baylor Bears (2-0, #25): 09/29 @ #10 WEST VIRGINIA
24) Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, #14): 09/29 @ #3 GEORGIA
25) Northwestern Wildcats (3-0, NR): 11/10 @ #19 MICHIGAN

Dropped out of Power Poll:
18) South Florida
20) Virginia Tech
23) BYU

Next Five to keep eye on, in alphabetical order only....
A) Arizona Wildcats: NR
B) Fresno State Bulldogs: NR
C) Iowa State Cyclones: NR
D) Nevada Wolfpack: #24
E) Utah State Aggies: NR

This week we have a pair of Top 10 Power Poll matchups, and one of the best rivalries in CFB:
(6) Clemson at (2) Florida State
(9) Kansas State at (8) Oklahoma
(19) Michigan at (11) Notre Dame

  
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