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Weekly Fever Review #3: The South "Officially" Becomes the Home of College Football

We would be remiss if we didn't start our Weekly Fever with some big news - the College Football Hall of Fame will relocate from South Bend, Indiana (home of Notre Dame) to Atlanta by 2012. 

Swampland Sports considers this to be a truly symbolic move.  Atlanta is already the de facto hub of the nation's best and most passionate football conference - the SEC.  It is also the hub of the ACC in many ways as well.  Chick Fil-A has realized this for years as both their Chick Fil-A Kickoff game and the Chick Fil-A Bowl feature a match up between SEC and ACC teams.

For baby boomer sports writers, there still might be golden memories of Notre Dame football, but today's best college football is played in the Swampland Footprint.  It's only fitting that one of our best cities now houses its hall of fame.

Thank goodness it has been released from the "nowheresville" of South Bend to thrive in a place where it can be fully appreciated.

Speaking of college football, week 3 is behind us now which means the meat of the conference schedules begin.  For the teams in our Footprint, that means that blood feuds are about to being again.

The SEC Proves It Again:

While Alabama and LSU took care of two under-manned Sun Belt foes, Auburn and Kentucky had much more difficult games against solid Big East opponents.  In both cases, the SEC was victorious as Kentucky beat in-state rival Louisville and Auburn won a rain-soaked game against West Virginia down on the Plains.

Considering that Louisville and West Virginia are supposed to be in the top half of the Big East and Auburn and Kentucky are supposed to be the SEC's bottom half, the game results make the obvious point about difference between the two conferences.

Other than Oklahoma State's big first week win against Georgia and UCLA's win at Tennessee, there are no real blemishes on the SEC's out of conference performance.  This continues to make the case of the SEC's dominance as in-conference games begin. 

The SEC did feature three key in-conference game last Saturday.  In each case, an established winning program faced a newer coach.  In each case, the new guys handled themselves quite well.

Florida might have dominated Tennessee physically, but it wasn't a runaway, blow out for one key reason - the Tennessee coaching staff can prepare, game plan, and flat out coach.  Monte Kiffin and his defensive staff showed that top level pro philosophies can translate to college as they laid out a defensive scheme that took a lot of juice out of the Gators' powerful offense.

Bobby Petrino's Arkansas squad lost in a shootout at home to Georgia, but they showed again why Petrino is considered one of the college game's offensive geniuses.  Sophomore QB Ryan Mallett threw for 5 TDs and over 400 yards in his first game against good SEC competition.  The defense hasn't caught up with the offense yet, but Arkansas fans have to like the potential they see.

Bobby Johnson's Vandy squad lost a heartbreaker at home to Mississippi State led by their new coach Dan Mullen.  In the end, it just doesn't seem like Vandy has enough offensive playmakers to compete in the SEC.  In only a year, their tough defense and mistake-free play is leading to close losses rather than the wins it earned in 2008.

Playmaker Matters:

Vandy's troubles lead us to our real theme of the week - the value of playmakers.  Again, we're in our "beat the dead horse" mode by pointing out how valuable talent is, but without it, teams can't win consistently.

The reason the SEC largely dominates college football is that they have great talent in their geographic region and they have invested in the recruiting of that talent through coaching staffs and media deals - both of which enable them to reach the players they want to have on their teams.

There are other conferences that have the fundamentals to match the SEC from the ACC to the Big 12 to even the Pac 10, but none of these schools have the combination of local talent and media reach that the SEC does.

In looking at the newest coaches in the SEC, the most important criteria of success has been each staff's investment in the recruiting process.  Each of the newer coaches, from Lane Kiffin to Gene Chizik to Dan Mullen to Bobby Petrino, have all made it clear about how greatly they value recruiting.  Their success will come with each recruiting class as Petrino has already shown.

ACC On The Rise:

We've been harassing ACC football for years now, but it's out of love.  They have many of the same fundamentals as the SEC, but they haven't been able to put it together.  However, the 2009 is starting to show signs that success could be around the corner.

The key to ACC football ascendance will not be competition throughout the conference, something that has hurt them for the past two years.  Instead, the ACC need 2 to 4 teams to rise above the rest and show that they are competitive with the SEC and other top teams.

So far, FSU has beaten a top ten team on the road (BYU in Provo) and only has one loss to unbeaten ACC leader Miami.  Virginia Tech has looked strong. UNC remains undefeated.  Clemson plays a key game against TCU, the Mountain West's last likely BCS chance.  Unless these teams all beat each other up, one or two should rise to the top by season's end.

The best thing for the ACC is that each of these team's are fairly young with good, maturing talent.  If Miami, for example, could get there a year ahead of schedule by finishing undefeated beating Oklahoma and all the ACC foes along the way, it would be welcomed by those of us waiting for this conference's arrival since their most recent expansion.

Big 12 Depth Improving:

In the Big 12, their top half is on par with the SEC in most respects.  Its problem is that most of its top half lies in the Big 12 South which often prematurely forces their second best team out of the BCS title too early in the process.  This is what happened to Texas last year even though they had already beaten eventual champion Oklahoma.

In 2009, there have been good signs of improvement from the Big 12 North.  Missouri seems solid despite losing the top players of the past few years.  It's nice that they appear to be good enough to reload without rebuilding.

Nebraska is a key team since it has the best fundamentals to be a consistent national power.  It's heartbreaking loss to Virginia Tech will sting the Huskers all season, but they must regroup and keep winning.

The dark horse is Kansas who is undefeated but has to play an upstart Southern Miss team this weekend.  How the Jayhawks handled this C-USA foe will tell us a lot about their long term viability for 2009.

Other Conferences:

Big East - To remind everyone, we really just follow the southern half of this conference which consists of Cincinnati, West Virginia, Louisville, and USF.  The other schools lie in big media markets, but most of those schools have suspect college football traditions over the last three decades.

The football side of Big East has always been a strange alliance of teams seeking an automatic BSC bid.  The rivalries have yet to develop.  The small number of teams lead to too few in-conference games.  Neither of these facts help this conference's cause.

So far, Cincinnati led by its up and coming coach, Brian Kelly, have surprisingly reloaded after last year's Big East title.  Their most recent win of note was a road win against Oregon State.

As was mentioned earlier, West Virginia fell to Auburn and Louisville lost for the third straight time to Kentucky.  Neither of these bode well for a conference trying to prove that it belongs.

The Big East's biggest game this week will be USF's visit to Tallahassee to play FSU.  The Bulls play both the Seminoles and Miami later in the season.  Although there has been talk of Florida's college football becoming a "Big 4," coach Jim Leavitt knows that USF has to beat these teams to ever be considered at their level

C-USA - Along with the ACC, C-USA has begun to show deeper signs of long term improvement.  When the ACC expanded to 12 teams, the Big East raided C-USA and then C-USA had to expand again.  Like those two conferences, it has taken C-USA a few years to get it all together.

East Carolina gave it a nice start in 2008 by beating Virginia Tech and West Virginia early, but they stumbled soon after.  This week provides two big challenges for the conference upstart teams.

As has been mentioned, Southern Miss travels to Lawrence to take on Kansas, and Houston hosts Texas Tech.  Both of these Big 12 teams appear to be in the upper half of their conferences so the performance of C-USA against both/either of them would be a measuring stick.

Southern Miss beat back the ACC's Virginia last week, and Houston stunned top 5 Oklahoma State after their huge win against Georgia.

C-USA needs a BCS buster.  For the first time since their recent changes, they appear to have more than one team up to the challenge.

Sun Belt - This conference understandably still has a ways to go.  They're too small which means they have to play too many tough out of conference games.  Sooner or later, this catches up with them.

Still, they have had good teams in the past.  Both Troy and FAU have won big games and bowl games in recent years.

This year's team of note seems to be MTSU.  Their only loss was to Clemson, and they just beat Maryland for the second straight year.  They could be ranked by season's end if they keep winning.


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