This week, more and more conference games began to litter the landscape, so we begin to drift into larger questions. But there's still something to be gleaned from non-conference play, so for now we'll stick to the format we've been using. This time, however, the conferences will be ordered in ascending order of non-conference record for the entire season rather than just this week.
Conference USA (14-24)
Oh, god, the carnage. After week three, it's official: there's not one team in this league without a loss. C-USA went a miserable 2-11 this weekend, and that would be one thing if they'd been going up against a dozen Power 5 teams. But no. The casualty report is horrifying. North Texas could do nothing whatsoever against Florida, which, okay, it's Florida. Florida Atlantic, of course, looked like a bad FCS team against K-State. Marshall got absolutely drilled by AKRON. Florida International couldn't even beat UMass. Charlotte lost to Eastern Michigan, otherwise known as "the Michigan that is always terrible". Old Dominion, destroyed by North Carolina State. UTEP utterly humiliated by Army. Louisiana Tech somehow only scored 45 points on Texas Tech (okay, this wasn't a terrible loss, but still).
And Southern Miss lost to Troy, which was really the giant nail in C-USA's coffin. As the league's last undefeated team, the Golden Eagles simply couldn't afford to drop that one. Never mind the playoffs, into which C-USA was never going to find a path. They're pretty much officially eliminated from any discussion of that G5 New Year's Day spot at this point.
The wins, by the way, were no great shakes either. MTSU dealt with Bowling Green rather easily, but Western Kentucky struggled with a terrible Miami (OH) squad.
Sun Belt (10-14)
After a great opening week, the Sun Belt has settled into normalcy, going 1-6 out of conference this weekend. That win was a pretty good one, with Troy upending Southern Miss. The losses? Well, Georgia State gave Wisconsin everything they could handle and then some, losing by a touchdown in Madison. But everyone else just got drilled, including Appalachian State at home against The U. The most important game in the league yesterday was a conference tilt, with Georgia Southern remaining unbeaten after blocking a field goal to hang on and beat Louisiana-Monroe.
God only knows what's going to happen in this conference as we slide into league play. The good teams in this league have all posted some pretty impressive results, even if Appalachian State's was an overtime loss. The problem is that there are four such teams -- Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Troy, and Louisiana-Lafayette. It's entirely possible the Belt will have a two-loss champion.
Well, look at that. The MAC is still over .500 in non-conference play. This weekend, though, was definitely a mixed bag. The good: Akron humiliating Marshall, Toledo destructifying Fresno State, Central Michigan boatracing UNLV, and Western Michigan routing Illinois with a sterling defensive effort. And Eastern Michigan is now 2-1. Eastern Michigan!
Kent State posted a win they simply had to get, and Ball State thumped a normally-decent Eastern Kentucky unit. We'll also give Ohio credit for a pretty game effort down in Knoxville, a nine-point loss to an alleged top-15 Tennessee team.
But Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, and Buffalo all stunk the joint up yesterday, and while Miami did give Western Kentucky all they could handle, they're still Miami and they're still terrible.
Mountain West (20-15)
It was, to put it bluntly, a horrible weekend for the Mountain. Utah State, Nevada, and San Diego State were the only teams to post wins over FBS competition; all three wins were against terrible teams. UNLV and Fresno were humiliated by MAC squads; New Mexico, San José State, and Hawai'i were comprehensively beaten by Power 5 schools. Colorado State and Wyoming did pick up wins, but at the expense of middling FCS competition.
Not pictured: Boise State and Air Force, two of the league's three best teams, who were both idle.
Big 12 (15-11)
The horror just continues for the good guys. Oklahoma was obliterated by Ohio State. Texas somehow managed to lose to Cal. Texas Tech, relatively speaking, barely got by Louisiana Tech. And Kansas, well, is Kansas. Baylor and K-State did what they were supposed to do against weak competition, so really the only positives on the weekend were that Oklahoma State managed a win over Pitt and West Virginia didn't somehow lose to bye.
However, as awful as this all is -- and it is awful, don't let anyone tell you otherwise -- at least some of these losses are a result of sacking up and playing some people. Oklahoma is obviously not a contender, but you can't really fault them for losing to a pair of top-ten teams. We really still have no idea what to make of K-State, but losing at Stanford isn't the worst thing in the world. TCU's lone loss isn't an embarrassment, either.
But the big feather in Texas's cap is now a wilted sprig of parsley after Notre Dame got manhandled (late heroics aside) by Michigan State to fall to 1-2, and West Virginia's signature thus far is a win over a team that lost to a team that almost lost to hapless Nicholls State. Simply put: the Big 12 has no signature win this year. Not one. And that's bad.
It wasn't a bad weekend at all on the left coast. UCLA picked up a solid -- if narrow -- win over BYU, and Arizona, Oregon State, Utah, and both Washington schools manhandled lesser foes. Cal got that upset win over Texas, which is nice. Oregon barely lost at Nebraska, which is an okay loss, even though they'll fall out of the top 25 as a result.
Items of concern: Colorado got whipped by Michigan after jumping out to an early lead, Arizona State had a lot of trouble at UTSA, and although this doesn't impact the bottom line for the conference's profile, it does have a knock-on effect: USC is now completely irrelevant going forward after losing at Stanford.
Why do we have the ACC ahead of the Pac-12 despite equal non-conference records? Because the most important thing we learned in the ACC was the very first thing we learned yesterday. Louisville is beastly, and Florida State is not. This has some larger implications; it very much puts Louisville into the discussion as a potential title contender. And given the eerily similar results for both Alabama and Florida State against Mississippi, that's got to put Alabama and maybe even Ohio State on notice. Regardless, the ACC has two monsters atop the standings; the Pac-12 is still looking for a dominant team to truly emerge.
As for the non-conference data, it was not a great week. Clemson, Miami, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, North Carolina, and North Carolina State all won games they should have, by margins they should have. So it's to the ACC's losses Saturday we must turn for clarity. Pitt lost by a touchdown at Oklahoma State, which isn't a horrible result. Virginia is a bad, bad team, so losing a nailbiter to Connecticut was hardly a surprise. But Syracuse was drubbed by South Florida, leaving the ACC 0-2 against the American on the week, and Duke -- firmly entrenched within the ACC's second tier the last three seasons -- committed the unpardonable sin of losing to the 2016 version of Northwestern.
As with the ACC, this week's most important game in the American was a conference clash. Houston let Cincinnati think they had a chance for a while before putting things to bed late, and one more domino falls in Houston's path. There's still the matter of Louisville to deal with, and getting through the conference unscathed will not be as simple as people may think. But things are looking mighty fine in Southeast Texas.
The American had one good win this week (South Florida over Syracuse), one... interesting one (UConn over Virginia), and a few obvious blowouts (Memphis, Tulsa, SMU). The three non-conference losses were all one-score affairs, which is a good look; Temple lost by a touch to Penn State, Central Florida lost in overtime to Maryland, and East Carolina really should have beaten South Carolina but shot themselves repeatedly in the feet.
And Navy won a really ugly game against Tulane, important because it allows us to report that the FBS service academies are now a combined 8-0 on the year.
Probably your most important takeaway here, however, is this: yes, Virginia, the American is actually the third-best conference in the nation so far. That has major significance for the Houston Cougars, who may require that argument in eleven weeks; more importantly, it may have major impacts on the future of the Big 12. Because right now, other than money why would anyone want to leave the American to get mired in this cesspit?
Big 10 (30-8)
The Big 10 went 9-2 on the day, and they did it with some style. Ohio State, Michigan State, and Nebraska all toppled ranked teams, Michigan had a pretty decent win over a much-improved Colorado squad, and hey, Northwestern finally won a game. We'll also give Penn State credit for beating Temple, at least for now; what looked like a horrible opening-week loss for the Owls now doesn't look quite so bad what with Army (Army!) still being undefeated and all, and Temple was pretty good last year. Jury's still out.
There were some sketchy results, however. Maryland needed overtime to beat a team that didn't win a game last year. Illinois got obliterated by Western Michigan, failing to even manage to rush for ten stinking feet the whole hour. Rutgers won a putrid, albeit high-scoring, game over New Mexico. Wisconsin had to scuffle to escape the clutches of winless Georgia State.
And then there's Iowa, for whom no sympathy is to be afforded. You made that bed, Hawkeyes. You knew precisely what you were doing, and you flaunted fate with full knowledge of the repercussions. In reality, the loss isn't a bad loss. We know this. Unfortunately, far too many people still see those three letters which are inextricably attached to North Dakota State's name, and will dismiss this loss as a bad loss to a minnow.
That week one disaster appears to have just been a blip, folks. Move along, nothing to see here.
The SEC played six non-conference games this weekend; they lost one, Vanderbilt being crushed by a clearly-superior Georgia Tech outfit. Kentucky isn't good, but they did pull away from New Mexico State in the second half. South Carolina escaped East Carolina, even though they shouldn't have. Tennessee is exactly who we thought they were; they had trouble, but did manage to turn aside Ohio. Arkansas and Florida crushed minor Texas schools.
And conference play really didn't tell us much either. Of course Alabama and Ole Miss was going to be a dogfight. For once, Alabama managed to deal with the problem, and since it's Ole Miss they probably remain atop the polls. Georgia is 3-0, but now two of those wins are miracles (and never forget, one of those was against Nicholls Freaking State). Auburn officially stinks, as does Mississippi State. LSU didn't really prove anything, but Texas A&M might be a challenger in the west.