Commentary

Big Ten moves ahead of Big 12

Originally Published: November 5, 2009
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Buoyed by its impressive road victory at Oklahoma State, Texas moved past Alabama for second place in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

But the Big 12 dropped below the Big Ten in my latest conference rankings. Because of myriad injuries at Oklahoma, the Big 12 is nothing more than a one-team league this season.

At least the Big Ten goes a little deeper beyond undefeated Iowa.

SEC 1. SEC
Defending BCS national champion Florida flexed its muscles again in a 41-17 rout of rival Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla., last week.

No. 3 Alabama, the defending SEC West champion, will try to do the same when it hosts No. 9 LSU in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. The No. 1 Gators and Crimson Tide remain on a collision course for the Dec. 5 SEC championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, but Alabama's home game against LSU is the biggest obstacle left for either team.

Four SEC teams step out of conference this week and play FCS foes: Tennessee Tech plays at Georgia, Eastern Kentucky plays at Kentucky, Furman goes to Auburn and Northern Arizona plays at Ole Miss.

Playing nonconference games such as those listed above this late in the season only fuels the argument that SEC teams play soft schedules.

Pac-10 2. Pac-10
The Pac-10 king is dead. No. 8 Oregon staked its claim to the Pac-10 championship and Rose Bowl appearance with a 47-20 whipping of USC last week. The Trojans fell to No. 12 in the BCS standings and could have fallen even further based on their play in recent weeks.

The Ducks play a potentially difficult road game at Stanford on Saturday. And Oregon isn't the only Pac-10 team playing well late in the season. No. 20 California has won three games in a row after its midseason collapse and hosts Oregon State on Saturday.

No. 18 Arizona hosts woebegone Washington State, and the Trojans play at Arizona State. The Sun Devils, Beavers, Bears and Cardinal might be fighting for three postseason bowl spots.

Big Ten 3. Big Ten
Say what you want about No. 4 Iowa's overall talent, but the Hawkeyes keep finding ways to win games. After rallying from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter of a 42-24 win over Indiana, Iowa is one of only seven unbeaten FBS teams left.

Three other Big Ten teams are in the BCS standings: No. 11 Penn State, No. 16 Ohio State and No. 21 Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes play what is probably a Big Ten elimination game in Happy Valley on Saturday. The Badgers bounced back from two consecutive losses to rout Purdue 37-0 last week.

The Big Ten's overall depth still isn't great -- see Michigan's 25-point loss to Illinois last week -- but the conference still seems deeper than the Big 12.

Big 12 4. Big 12
It has been quite a while since the Nebraska-Oklahoma game was this insignificant going into Saturday night's game in Lincoln, Neb. Then again, the Big 12 hasn't been this mediocre in quite a while, either.

Texas moved past Alabama for the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings, but the rest of the Big 12 simply isn't that good this season. No. 19 Oklahoma State was exposed in its 41-14 loss to the Longhorns at home last week, and injuries have wiped out Oklahoma's chances this season.

The Big 12 North has been even worse. Kansas State, which hosts rival Kansas on Saturday, leads the division with a 5-4 record overall, and every Big 12 North team has lost at least three games.

Big East 5. Big East
There might not be a more competitive conference race than the one being waged in the Big East. No. 5 Cincinnati and No. 13 Pittsburgh are both unbeaten in league play, and West Virginia is 1½ games back in the conference standings.

The Mountaineers took a step back by losing at South Florida 30-19 last week, but they'll have a chance to get back in the race when they play at Cincinnati on Nov. 13 and host Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl on Nov. 27.

The Bearcats keep winning without injured quarterback Tony Pike, who is very close to returning to action. Cincinnati hosts Connecticut on Saturday night. South Florida is two games behind the Bearcats and Panthers and already lost to both those teams.

ACC 6. ACC
Virginia Tech's consecutive losses really threw a wrench into the ACC's hopes of having two teams in BCS bowl games.

No. 10 Georgia Tech leads the ACC's Coastal Division with a 5-1 mark in league play. The Yellow Jackets play only two more ACC games: home against Wake Forest on Saturday and at Duke on Nov. 14.

The Atlantic Division race is much closer, with Boston College and Clemson tied atop the standings with 3-2 records. Clemson hosts Florida State on Saturday, and the Eagles are off before playing at Virginia on Nov. 14.

Mountain West 7. Mountain West
As long as No. 6 TCU and No. 14 Utah hold serve this weekend, the Nov. 14 game between those schools in Fort Worth, Texas, could have huge ramifications on the BCS race.

The Horned Frogs play at San Diego State on Saturday, and the Utes host winless New Mexico. BYU, which is one game behind TCU and Utah in the MWC standings, plays at Wyoming. The Aztecs and Cowboys could be fighting for one postseason bowl spot.

WAC 8. WAC
Despite popular belief, No. 7 Boise State isn't running away with the WAC championship. In fact, Nevada sits atop the WAC standings with a 4-0 record, a half-game ahead of the Broncos.

The Wolf Pack have won five games in a row after starting the season with a three-game slide. Idaho and Fresno State both have 4-1 records in WAC play.

The Broncos play at Louisiana Tech on Friday night and still play home games against Idaho on Nov. 14 and Nevada on Nov. 27.

C-USA 9. Conference USA
The Conference USA spotlight will be on No. 15 Houston's road trip to Tulsa on Saturday night, but four other C-USA teams have a chance to help the league's reputation in difficult nonconference games.

East Carolina hosts Virginia Tech on Thursday night. Central Florida plays at Texas on Saturday. UAB hosts Florida Atlantic, and Memphis plays at Tennessee.

MAC 10. MAC
Last week's results were a mixed bag for MAC teams. Temple moved to 4-0 in MAC play -- and, just as importantly, became eligible for a bowl game for the first time since 1979 -- by beating Navy 27-24.

But Boston College overwhelmed MAC West leader Central Michigan 31-10, and Arkansas crushed lowly Eastern Michigan 63-27.

Western Michigan has a chance to become the second MAC team to defeat Michigan State this season (the Chippewas beat the Spartans 29-27 on Sept. 12) when the Broncos play in East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday.

Sun Belt 11. Sun Belt
Troy remains in position to win its second straight Sun Belt Conference title after beating Louisiana-Monroe 42-21 last week. The Trojans play at winless Western Kentucky on Saturday but figure to get a major test at Arkansas next week.

Middle Tennessee State, which is 1½ games behind Troy in the Sun Belt standings, hosts Florida International on Saturday.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball