It’s the middle of the week, so it’s the middle of our review of the conferences as September rushes to its finale. Today, we’re skipping past the final G5 conference, for good reason, to discuss this fall’s two most mediocre-by-definition leagues.
Big 12 (19-11)
There are exactly zero non-conference games remaining for the Big 12, so what you see is what you get. It has been an absolutely awful campaign for the Big 12, as we’ve noted every week so far. How bad is it? As of this writing, the second option on the following Twitter poll is winning 58%-42%.
Hypothesis: K-State's loss to Stanford is actually the high point of the Big 12 season so far.— Jon Morse (@jonfmorse) September 28, 2016
And that’s after the league managed to go 4-0 on Saturday. Of course, one of those four wins was only half a game, albeit a 35-0 half. Another was a win over San José State, which probably isn’t anything to crow about, Iowa State. And TCU pummeled SMU, but of course they did.
No, the clear class of the conference right now is the one team that actually won a meaningful non-conference game on Saturday: West Virginia, K-State’s opponent this week. Gulp. The Mountaineers now have wins in pocket against Missouri and BYU, which is hands-down the best overall resume in the league, and with Notre Dame’s utter collapse turning that Texas win into so much meaningless flotsam, either of those two wins are really the only competiton K-State’s loss to Stanford has in the “high point of the season” argument.
To make matters worse, the following is a complete and comprehensive list of Big 12 non-conference wins over Power 5 opponents in 2016: Texas over Notre Dame, Oklahoma State over Pitt, West Virginia over Missouri. That’s it. The conference is a horrific 3-6 against their peers, and the overall non-conference record over FBS opponents is a miserable 13-10 because of the seven FCS games on the schedule.
There’s no sugar-coating this. 2016 is a disaster.
Baylor (4-0, 1-0), TCU (3-1, 1-0), and West Virginia (3-0, 0-0) are jockeying for the driver’s seat, and that in and of itself is telling. Only those three and K-State (2-1, 0-0) have any shot whatsoever at the playoff, and TCU and K-State’s hopes are very, very, very slim. Hell, Baylor and West Virginia’s might be, although it’s almost impossible to fathom a Big 12 team going 12-0 and missing out even with the season being so awful. Theoretically everyone but Iowa State (1-3, 0-1, and carrying an FCS loss) and Kansas (1-2, 0-0) is in contention for the conference title.
The news isn’t much rosier for the folks out west. The Pac-12 lost its only non-conference game of the weekend, with Oregon State falling to Boise State. There’s no real shame in that, but 24-9 with a win over Boise would look a lot better.
Strangely, the Pac-12 is mired in this state despite having four teams that actually look pretty good, and remain unbeaten thus far: Stanford (3-0, 2-0), and Utah, Washington, and Arizona State (all 4-0, 1-0). The latter has a critical flaw which is almost certain to doom them sooner rather than later; the Sun Devils suffer from a deadly allergy to defense. On the other end of the spectrum, USC (1-3, 0-2) has already played themselves out of contention, and the two northern land-grants look pretty terrible. In the middle, Colorado (3-1, 1-0) looks much improved, and could at least have an impact on the race, while Oregon and UCLA (both 2-2, 0-1) appear to be on a downward trajectory.
So what’s really dragging the Pac-12 down? A 5-5 record against other Power 5 conferences, and the fact that eight of their games have been against FCS teams (with one loss). They’re 9-4 against the Group of Five, but in fairness it’s a pretty solid 9-4; sure, two of those wins are against Idaho, but two of them are against BYU, too.
The conference doesn’t have any more real opportunities to show off against non-conference foes. Only the annual games against Notre Dame for Stanford and USC, and a season-ending nerd clash between Stanford and Rice, remain on the non-con. With Notre Dame stinking up the joint, nobody’s going to be impressed.
We may as well throw the indies in here and get them out of the way. They came into the week at an even .500, but went 0-4 on the week to land with a squishy thud. BYU and UMass at least died with dignity, the former losing by a field goal against West Virginia in a not-exactly home game for the Mountaineers, while UMass flirted with trying to get Dan Mullen fired on the spot before falling by two touchdowns.
But previously unbeaten Army suffered a heartbreaking loss to Buffalo, and Notre Dame suffered the indignity of losing at home to Duke. As a result, Army is 3-1 -- still a wildly successful campaign so far by their standards — while the other three independents are all 1-3. The harsh reality, however, is that the only really good win here is BYU’s win over Arizona, and that game was seriously uglied up.
Tomorrow, we hit the top of the conference alphabet, and we actually start talking about happy things.