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Weekly Fever Review: College Football's Week Two - Big 12/ACC Struggles, etc

Now that week two of the college football season is behind us, we've learned a little more about our teams and what the season might have in store.

The SEC Still Reigns - So far, the SEC still looks like the nation's strongest conference from top to bottom.  It has the consensus number one team in Florida and two others in the top 5 (Alabama and Ole Miss).

There are still a few works in progress (Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Tennessee) due to relatively new coaching regimes, but even these teams seem to be heading in the right direction.

The Big 12 Struggles:  

The Big 12 and ACC like to think that they are hot on the SEC's tail, but they still have a long way to go if the first two weeks of this season are any indication.  This AP story points out how the Big 12 has hurt its national image with its propensity to upsets.  Not only have Oklahoma and Oklahoma State already lost supposedly winnable games, but teams like Kansas State and Colorado tanked against C-USA and MAC opponents, respectively.

ACC Is Structurally Unsound:

We hate to keep beating a dead horse, but on the ACC side of the coin, things aren't much better.

Maryland was throttled by Cal, and Virginia fell hard to TCU.  When facing smaller conference teams, Virginia lost to William and Mary, and Florida State almost lost to Jacksonville State last weekend.  UNC also struggled against UConn on the road.

As Virginia heads to So Miss this weekend, the ACC could find itself on the short end of a C-USA opponent.

Although the ACC has all the fundamental assets (good geography, good traditions, financial resources, etc) that should make it a top football conference, it hasn't reached the SEC's level.  This comes down to a few key problems.

Bad TV Deal - This Maryland blogger has it down to a tee - the ACC has a horrible TV deal, and there is little immediate hope to make it better.  All but its top weekly games (usually ones that have ACC teams playing against other conferences) seem to be relegated to ESPN360, an online service that has limited penetration.  This is a total embarrassment as the SEC enters a 10-year deal in which every game is televised.

Not being on TV is a recruiting killer.  For a conference already playing second fiddle to the SEC in its own backyard, this must change.  The ACC TV deal is up in 2011.  Let's hope they have a better plan, but the current national economic struggles won't help them in this effort.

Boston College - We may be proven wrong after the ACC gets its new TV deal, but the whole concept of bringing in a "big media market" to grow the ACC into a national conference hasn't worked at all.  In fact, the ACC has taken steps back both in football and in basketball post-BC.  

The SEC's dominance over the ACC has been well documented here.   However, the conference's two approaches to expansion were very different.  The SEC expanded by adding geographical fits in Arkansas and South Carolina.  Although Miami and Virginia Tech were inside the ACC geography, the ACC's experiment with BC was done to expand the conference's media reach.  

Today, the SEC's contract with ESPN has them adding SEC Network affiliates in Texas, the midwest, and even further west and north.  It's the old rule of branding - stick to what you do best, and don't try to change to fit the supposed market. 

In basketball, things aren't much better.  Sure, UNC-Duke is still a big deal, but the resst of the conference is lagging compared its past greatness.  Meanwhile, the Big East's 16 team behemoth has allowed them to stretch their reach beyond their old northeastern domain.

The rumors of BC's departure back to the Big East are out there, but both BC and the ACC have been denying it.  Let's hope that there is some fire behind that smoke.

At the very least, maybe the ACC could make a trade with the Big East - BC for West Virginia or Louisville.

FSU - This is another team that gets it own category.  While the rest of the nation's college football powers feast on Florida recruits, one of the state's top programs can't find its way back to the top of the polls.

Although it is old news (no pun intended) to take swipes at Bobby Bowden, but his, ahem, leadership of FSU football is driving the ACC into the ground.  Few ACC schools have the talent base and resources to match the SEC, and FSU has the best in the ACC.

As long as the Noles continue on their path to mediocrity just trying to keep a legend happy, the ACC will struggle for national relevance.  We've said it too many times - top conferences need two top teams to be relevant.  It's what makes the SEC great every year.  It's what helps make the Big 12 great (although it would work better if Texas and Oklahoma weren't in the same division).  It's what hurts the Pac 10 and Big 10 who have been dominated by USC and Ohio State respectively for the last few years.

Scheduling Problems - Although few have pointed this out, it occurs to us that it makes little sense that the ACC has so many crucial in conference games so early in the season.  So far, we've seen FSU-Miami and Georgia Tech-Clemson.  On Thursday of this week, Georgia Tech faces Miami in a showdown between the winners of the previous two games.  

Even though college football's regular season is a de facto tournament, someone needs to tell the ACC that they shouldn't have their potential "final four" playing in the first round.

These early season battles don't allow any of these teams to gain the critical momentum they need for a long season.

We realize that this is happening in part because many of the ACC's traditional football rivals are in other conferences like the SEC, such as in the case of Georgia Tech and Georgia as well as Clemson and South Carolina.  (Miami and FSU play early because they were expected to play again in the ACC Championship game, but this has yet to happen.)  Despite these fine out of conference rivalries that we all love, the ACC needs to foster rivalries within their conference.

Basketball rivalries don't translate to the gridiron (Duke-UNC, anyone?) so the ACC needs to pay special attention to making sure that its football-centric programs (FSU, Miami, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech as well as UNC who looks to be good in both sports) aren't playing each other until the second half of the season or at least October.  

Other Conferences:

Big East - In light of the Big East nosing past the ACC in basketball, there is evidence that its football teams are competing to do the same.  This weekend will be a key one for the Big East.  

Louisville is heading into the Commonwealth clash with Kentucky.  The Cardinals haven't won this game since Petrino left for the Falcons and then Arkansas.  It could be the final try for Steve Kragthorpe.

Cincinnati heads out west to play Oregon State, a solid Pac 10 team.  The Bearcats have really looked strong as the defending conference champs so far.  Can they take their show thousands of miles away from home?

West Virginia gets a huge test as they head to the plains to visit a rejuvenated Auburn squad.  WVU pulled this one out last year, and Bill Stewart still has enough doubters that everyone in Morgantown wants to see this happen again.

C-USA - Two coaching changes made in 2008 are starting to pay huge dividends for C-USA.  Strangely, they both came about when Baylor hired Art Briles who was coaching Houston.  

Houston hired Kevin Sumlin to replace Briles.  Sumlin was a top assistant at Oklahoma as well as one of its top recruiters.  Last week, Sumlin and his Houston team provided C-USA its first signature win in new era (ie since Louisville, et al were plucked away by the Big East).  This conference needs wins like this so that they can make a case, just like the Mountain West, that C-USA deserves an annual place at the BCS table

Briles also affected another team, Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles said goodbye to their old coach Jeff Bower to hire Larry Fedora, a move that many questioned at the time.  Fedora, like Sumlin, was a top offensive coach and recruiter (at Oklahoma State). The connection to Briles is that many thought that Fedora might get the Baylor job.  It's possible that getting passed over for that job led him to look at Southern Miss.

Fedora and Southern Miss are the other undefeated C-USA team, and they are nicely placed in the opposite division.  If both these teams can win keep winning games against larger conference foes before their late October match up, then C-USA might actually have a national story on their hands.

Sun Belt - Although the Sun Belt remains a work in progress, a few of its programs deserve note.  First and foremost, UL-Lafayette's win over Kansas State was huge for this conference.  Additionally, MTSU's dismantling of Memphis showed that the Sun Belt and C-USA aren't that far apart.  

Kudos also to North Texas who has finally found life under high school coaching legend, Todd Dodge, who is now coaching his QB son.  Next week might not be so good as Dodge goes against an old pupil, Greg McElroy of Alabama.

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South Carolina,
West Virginia,
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