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September College Football Review, Part Five: Big Ten/SEC

Because of course the SEC is still on top. Just not by very much.

Well, of COURSE.
Well, of COURSE.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve reached the end of our journey, dear readers, having explored the entire September landscape in the FBS. We’ll remind you before starting today that the decision to slot the Big Ten ahead of the ACC was mostly one of convenience, and that the two conferences are basically even, down to the exact same non-conference record.

And with that, on with the top two:

Big Ten (31-9)

The B1G mostly swung into conference play last weekend, with only three games outside the box. Minnesota won a game they should have won and Purdue won a game that may have been a tossup, but Indiana was saddled with their first loss as they fell at home to unbeaten Wake Forest.

The conference has possibly the most schizophrenic resume in the nation. Of those nine conference losses, two are to FCS teams, two are to MAC teams, and one is to Cincinnati. That’s more losses to teams outside the Power 5 than they have against teams in the Power 5 (8-4). Their record against the FBS overall in non-conference play (24-7) is actually better than the SEC’s overall non-conference record, which is why Iowa and Northwestern really need to be shamed.

Six teams remain unbeaten in the B1G: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska (all 4-0, 1-0), and Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio State (all 3-0, 0-0). Some of these things are unlike the others, however. In addition, Iowa (3-1, 1-0) has already banked a league win, although it was a particularly ugly one against Rutgers. Michigan State (2-1, 0-1) can’t be counted out just yet either.

As for the ass end of the conference, it’s located in Illinois. Anywhere in Illinois, doesn’t matter. The State Department has issued a travel advisory. Avoid the area.

SEC (25-7)

Despite all the hilarious pratfalls they’ve endured, they’re still at the top of the heap. What are you gonna do? But mere percentage points separate the SEC from the ACC and Big Ten as September ends, so you have plenty of ammunition to use against the clowns who try to tell you that your team would finish dead last in the SEC East.

It was a 4-0 week for the conference, but to be fair three of those games were over before the coin flip even though somehow one of them ended up presenting a challenge for the somehow not-yet-fired Dan Mullen. The fourth was actually sort of an upset as Vanderbilt managed, on the road and in overtime, to beat Western Kentucky.

Unlike literally everyone else, the SEC still has plenty of opportunities left to pad the resume. This, of course, is due to their scheduling philosophy where they top-load the schedule and throw in cupcakes for everyone in the middle of November. The real story this year, though, has been the litany of embarrassments. Alphabetically:

  • Arkansas almost lost to Louisiana Tech.
  • Auburn lost a football game, and then won it. The only surprise this week is that both coaches aren’t unemployed.
  • Florida had a ton of trouble with Massachusetts before finally putting them down.
  • Georgia almost lost to Nicholls State, a bad FCS team.
  • Kentucky lost to Southern Miss, which is actually the least embarrassing thing on this entire list.
  • LSU fired Les Miles because, you guessed it, of another clock management blunder.
  • Mississippi blew what appeared to be a completely insurmountable halftime lead. TWICE.
  • Mississippi State lost to South Alabama, and then doubled down by also having trouble with UMass.
  • Missouri lost to Georgia, who, again, almost lost to Nicholls State.
  • South Carolina lost to Mississippi State, who, again... oh, go read two lines back again.
  • Tennessee barely escaped Appalachian State, in overtime, which is actually a lot more embarrassing now than it was when it originally happened.

Only three teams escape this roll call of shame, and one of those three is Vanderbilt, a team that’s just sort of bad in general. So it should come as no surprise that we’re pegging Alabama (4-0, 1-0) and Texas A&M (4-0, 2-0) as the teams to beat, and frankly Alabama looks a lot better than even the Aggies.

In fairness, though, for all the humiliating results, there’s at least been a few to counteract them. Bama destroyed USC. Arkansas beat TCU. Auburn put up a very good fight against Clemson. Georgia is the only team that’s beaten North Carolina. South Carolina got over on East Carolina, which is at least a decent win. Tennessee curb-stomped Virginia Tech. A&M beat UCLA. And, well, Vanderbilt did beat a pretty decent Western Kentucky team they weren’t even favored against.

So the middle of the SEC, most especially Ole Miss (2-2, 1-1), Arkansas (3-1, 0-1), and Florida (3-1, 1-1), could be potential threats down the line. The only teams that really appear to be disaster movies are South Carolina (2-2, 1-2) and Kentucky, LSU, and Mississippi State (all 2-2, 1-1). LSU at least has some hope here, but the other three appear doomed to a watery grave or entombment in fiery rubble or some other desperate fate.

So how, exactly, is the SEC at the top of the charts despite all this? Well, for starters, a lot of the embarrassment has come in conference games. The SEC has gone 15-2 against Group of 5 teams, which helps a ton. And they’re 5-0 against FCS teams, although there’s a fair bit of luck involved in that (Georgia). 20-2 in games outside the Power 5 is a pretty good base to build on.

But there’s one giant glaring red flag staring the SEC in the face. Against Power 5 competition, the conference is only 5-5. That, my friends, presents a problem for the league’s image. This season, if nothing else, the chest-thumping must be muted.