Conference Race Update As We Enter November

For those of you who followed us last year, you may remember a similar post, in which we broke down conference races. Like it or not, we only have four full weeks remaining in the 2021 regular season. Needless to say, I’m starting to get a little depressed because of this. But, Novembers are typically the most exciting month of the sport, and there’s plenty to get excited about this year, most notably some close conference races. While the playoff and coaching stability are always fun to analyze as well, the regional aspect of college football should remain important, and winning your conference is always an ultimate goal. For this piece, we’ll break down who has the inside track to reach their respective conference championship games. Let’s get into it! (NOTE: when I list the biggest games remaining this season, these are in terms of the conference races themselves, not other rivalry factors.)

American

Championship Game: Top 2 seeds

Location: #1 seed hosts

Contenders:

#5 Cincinnati, Houston, UCF

Still Alive:

Tulane, East Carolina, SMU, Memphis

Doubtful:

South Florida, Tulsa

No Shot/Eliminated:

Navy, Temple

BREAKDOWN:

We kick things off in the American, which has been long known as the class of the “Group of 5” conferences. While this year is probably no different, it has nowhere near the number of great teams that we’re used to seeing in this league. The reason for that could be just how dominant Cincinnati has been over the last few seasons, and now they may be on the doorstep of crashing the College Football Playoff should things break their way. They’re undefeated in conference at 4-0, with Houston and UCF just a half game behind at 4-1. These are the frontrunners for a reason, and the Bearcats have beaten UCF already, as they hold the tiebreaker for a potential home-field advantage come Championship Saturday. Houston is coming off of a massive win against SMU, putting them behind the 8-ball and bouncing back from the Cougars’ only conference loss to ECU. UH avoids Cincy on the schedule, which could be massive. From there, we reach a logjam of teams sitting at 2-2, all of which could play themselves into serious contention. However, I’m not sure if any of these teams can get hot enough to do so. There are plenty of games that will prove to be eliminator-type games as well. Tulane has a rather tough road, but showed they can play with just about anyone after almost knocking off Houston and Cincinnati. ECU has easier games against Temple and Navy, but still has to play Cincy. They do have the potential tiebreaker with Houston, but in turn UCF has it against them. SMU had high hopes all year but has now lost two straight to Tulane and Houston, and has a very tough schedule remaining, hosting UCF and Tulsa and traveling to Memphis and Cincinnati. I’m not sure I’m buying Memphis’ staying power, as they’ve beaten up on bad teams, and haven’t shown much against quality ones. USF can certainly play their way into consideration, but their November slate is absolutely brutal. Tulsa is probably done, as they have 3 AAC losses already including last week’s backbreaker to Navy. So, they’ll probably need to win out to even have a shot. Temple and Navy are certainly the bottom of the barrel this year, and won’t go bowling either.

Biggest Games Remaining:

5. Memphis @ Houston (November 19)

4. SMU @ Memphis (November 6)

3. Tulane @ UCF (November 6)

2. Houston @ South Florida (November 6)

1. UCF @ SMU (November 13)

ACC

Championship Game: Atlantic Division Champ vs. Coastal Division Champ

Location: Charlotte, NC

Atlantic

Contenders:

#1 Clemson

Still Alive:

Louisville

Doubtful:

Wake Forest

No Shot/Eliminated:

#25 NC State, Florida State, Syracuse, Boston College

Coastal

Contenders:

#3 North Carolina

Doubtful:

Pittsburgh

No Shot/Eliminated:

#24 Miami, #19 Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Duke

BREAKDOWN:

For the first time in a long time (not including 2020 with part-time member Notre Dame), the ACC has two legit national title contenders, with one on each side of the conference. One is most definitely no newcomer to those expectations, as Clemson has looked as good as it ever has. I still have Louisville alive, and Wake doubtful, but many would argue to just give Clemson the division already with how dominant they’ve looked. But I can’t rule it out just yet, as the Tigers’ two remaining conference games are with those respectable opponents. UL has a better shot, as they control their own destiny. If the Cards can shock the world by defeating Clemson in Cardinal Stadium, they have very easy games remaining with Syracuse and Duke. That most likely spells the first division title for the Cards in the ACC Atlantic. Wake is hanging by a thread, and they need 2 Clemson losses: first to UL, and then Wake needs to beat Clemson themselves. Not only that, but then they’d need UL to drop one of the aforementioned “easy” games to put themselves in a tiebreaker scenario. In other words, they have essentially no chance to win the Atlantic. NC State’s had a solid year, and provided Clemson with their only real scare in conference, and also defeated Louisville. They need tiebreaker madness. The rest of the teams are mathematically eliminated, as FSU has been wildly inconsistent yet again. Syracuse hasn’t been great, but have been much better than expected, and BC has greatly disappointed, losing 5 straight after a 3-0 start in a season where many thought they could challenge for #2 in the division. Over in the Coastal, UNC is sitting at 8-0, and 6-0 in ACC play, and has kept the dream alive for 2 playoff teams from one conference. They definitely are in the driver’s seat, and have a similar scenario to Clemson. The only team that can mathematically catch them is Pitt. The two teams still have to play in Heinz Field next Thursday. But then Pitt needs the Heels to lose again to NC State on Thanksgiving weekend, which is possible. Pitt also needs to win out, most notably first against Duke this weekend, before they face UNC. They then have a home date with UVA, and a trip to the Carrier Dome. It’s possible, but there’s a lot of “if’s” for Pat Narduzzi. Everyone else is mathematically eliminated. UNC survived close scares against VA Tech and Miami. The Hokies are enjoying a nice season, when coach Justin Fuente really needed it, and Miami has righted the ship from a very disappointing start. Keep in mind, Miami and UNC were co-favorites headed into the season. Georgia Tech and Virginia are fighting for bowls at this point, although the latter has a much better shot to reach one. Duke has been dreadful in ACC play.

Biggest Games Remaining:

5. Syracuse @ Louisville (November 13)

4. North Carolina @ NC State (November 26)

3. Pittsburgh @ Duke (November 6)

2. North Carolina @ Pittsburgh (November 11)

1. Clemson @ Louisville (November 6)

Big XII

Championship Game: Top 2 seeds

Location: Arlington, TX

Contenders:

#8 Oklahoma, #10 Texas, #11 Oklahoma State, #12 Iowa State

Still Alive:

#18 TCU

Doubtful:

Baylor, West Virginia

No Shot/Eliminated:

Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State

BREAKDOWN:

While the Big XII has been known to be run by one program, there are plenty of top-notch teams that could very well knock them off the throne in 2021. The league has half of its teams ranked, and for good measure. There is a top tier of four squads with one loss, although the Sooners have one more win, but head to bye this upcoming week. There currently isn’t a frontrunner to reach the College Football Playoff. But if one of these teams can run the table through a very telling November, don’t be surprised if the conference has a representative. OU’s sole loss came to the hands of TCU, the best team not in that top tier. But the Sooners eked one out against the rival Longhorns and have throttled everyone else. OU has easily their toughest stretch of the season ahead, though, with Iowa State coming to Norman and trips to Baylor and rival Oklahoma State. With the Red River Shootout being Texas’ only loss, they are in prime position as well, as they’ve already handled OK State, and emerged victorious in road tilts at TCU and Baylor. Of the top tier of teams, Texas has the easiest remaining schedule by far. Oklahoma State also sits at 4-1, and most importantly is 1-1 against that top tier thus far. They got beaten bad by Texas, but won a thriller in Ames against ISU. The tough games remaining come at home, in TCU and OU. Road trips to Lubbock and Morgantown are never easy, however. ISU is in the discussion for now, and their only loss this season was by 2 points to the Cowboys, but they have a daunting schedule ahead, with Texas and TCU at home and Oklahoma and TTU away. TCU is a little out of the picture as of now, thanks to an upset loss in Fort Worth at the hand of WVU. But they were close with Texas, and beat Oklahoma when they were ranked #2 in the land. If they can get hot, they’ll vault back into the discussion, as they have that valuable tiebreaker with the Sooners if they can reach them. It won’t be easy, as they have Baylor, OK State, and Iowa State left to play. Baylor and WVU aren’t dead, but they need to win out, and have mass chaos at the top of the standings. Regardless, they’ll have a say in who makes the title game, as the Bears still have TCU and OU, while West VA has the Pokes and Horns. Texas Tech isn’t very good this season, as their four conference losses would indicate. The Sunflower State rivals sit in the cellar of the conference, counting the days down to basketball season. They still play one another, in what could be the lone Big XII win between the two programs in 2021.

Biggest Games Remaining:

5. TCU @ Iowa State (November 26)

4. Oklahoma State @ TCU (November 13)

3. Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State (November 13)

2. Iowa State @ Oklahoma (November 20)

1. Iowa State @ Texas (November 6)

Big Ten

Championship Game: East Division Champ vs. West Division Champ

Location: Indianapolis, IN

East

Contenders:

#6 Penn State, #9 Ohio State

Still Alive:

Michigan State, #20 Michigan

Doubtful:

Indiana

No Shot/Eliminated:

Maryland, Rutgers

West

Contenders:

#22 Nebraska, Purdue, Iowa, #23 Northwestern, Wisconsin

Still Alive:

Minnesota

No Shot/Eliminated:

Illinois

BREAKDOWN:

The Big Ten is a bit down this year in our simulation, but I would argue it’s as deep as it’s been in a while in terms of good teams, just not great ones. Penn State and Ohio State still have aspirations of being great, and Penn State’s upset of the Bucks in the Shoe last weekend added a whole new level of intrigue to the Big Ten East race. Penn State looked pitiful in their season-opening performance in Madison, but has since rolled, winning 7 in a row, thanks in part to a shutdown defense. The Nits have a road test at Maryland next, and then a showdown in Happy Valley with Michigan. Rutgers follows, and then Thanksgiving weekend they travel to East Lansing. The Michigan schools are obviously the big ones there, but if PSU continues to play like they have been, they’ll win their first division title since 2016. OSU controls its own destiny no more after last weekend. Honestly, I think this gets their attention, and they’ll probably win out. However, there are four losable games here. Most notably, they travel to a much-improved Nebraska team next week, and of course, The Game against rival Michigan. Home games against Purdue and Michigan State will probably be a bit easier, but those teams have both pulled upsets this season. OSU has their work cut out for them, and they’ll be praying for PSU to slip up somewhere as well. Sparty has been wildly inconsistent this year, and I don’t think they have much staying power. However, they’re alive and well and have chances to knock off both co-leaders of the division. Michigan has two conference losses, one by a point in Madison, and last week’s debacle to MSU. However, if Michigan wins out, and Sparty loses once more, Michigan goes to Indy, as they would have wins over both the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes. Now they have to go do it, but this team is very talented, and it wouldn’t totally surprise me. Indiana is fighting for a bowl and needs to win out and everyone on the top of the standings to beat each other up. The newcomers to the conference in Maryland and Rutgers are struggling, having lost a combined 9 in a row. On the other side, I’m calling this division the Wild West this year, and boy is it applicable. We have 5(!) teams tied with two losses in B1G play, with Nebraska leading the charge by a half game with 4 wins. If the Huskers win out, things will be easy. The issue is, they have Ohio State and Iowa at home and a trip to Madison awaiting. That’s a brutal finish to the season. Their only losses in conference are to East opponents, so if they beat the West teams, they’ll be fine. Purdue also has a tough road ahead, with trips to Ohio State and Northwestern, and home games against IU and MSU. They have losses to Minny and Nebraska, but hold impressive potential tiebreaker wins over Iowa and UW. Iowa has looked out of sorts this year, but finds themselves right in the thick of this race, thanks to an upset win of the Badgers last Saturday. This defense is good enough to win the division, but road tilts in Evanston and Lincoln will prove massive. NU’s offense is very boom or bust this season, which is better than it usually has been, but I’m not sure if this team is consistent enough to get it done. They face two of the stingiest defenses in the land in Iowa and Wisconsin, and they were only able to generate 21 points combined against good defenses in Nebraska and Michigan. But if they win out, they’ll be in good shape. Wisconsin looked to be the favorite after throttling Penn State and escaping Michigan, but then they went out and lost to Purdue and Iowa in back to back weeks, throwing a wrench into the Wild West. They have an easy cross-divisional game with Rutgers before the Wildcats and Huskers come to Madison. They then head northwest to face the rival Gophers, who have their work cut out for them with three losses in B1G play. They need to win out and help from others. The Illini are the punching bag of this division, as the losses have got to come somewhere in 2021.

Biggest Games Remaining:

5. Iowa @ Nebraska (November 26)

4. Northwestern @ Wisconsin (November 13)

3. Iowa @ Northwestern (November 6)

2. Michigan @ Penn State (November 13)

1. Nebraska @ Wisconsin (November 20)

Conference USA

Championship Game: East Division Champ vs. West Division Champ

Location: Higher ranked division champ hosts

East

Contenders:

Florida Atlantic, Marshall

Still Alive:

Charlotte

No Shot/Eliminated:

FIU, Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion

West

Contenders:

North Texas, Southern Miss, UTSA

Still Alive:

Louisiana Tech, UAB

Doubtful:

Rice

No Shot/Eliminated:

UTEP

BREAKDOWN:

While we should definitely enjoy Conference USA while it still exists (yikes), we have a couple very interesting races headed into the final month of the season.  FAU is sitting at 4-0 in conference in what’s becoming a nice season for Willie Taggart.  They’ve earned impressive road wins over Charlotte and UAB already, and they definitely look like the class of the division thus far.  The top challenger is Marshall, who travels to Boca this weekend in a game that most likely decides the division.  Marshall’s only conference loss was to surprising North Texas on the road, which doesn’t hurt too badly being a cross-divisional opponent.  They’ve beaten teams they’ve supposed to handily, but still have tougher games against FAU, UAB, and Charlotte.  If they do defeat the Owls, they probably can’t afford to trip up elsewhere.  They especially cannot against the 49ers, because Charlotte has an outside shot at this, should Marshall defeat FAU.  The Niners have overcome a disappointing loss against MTSU to defeat FIU and Western KY, and almost knocked off FAU.  They should be able to beat Rice and ODU, so if they can win at LA Tech and a home tilt against Marshall, they have a decent shot, providing FAU can lose once or twice.  The rest of the division is pretty much toast, as one of these teams would have to win out and hope the top teams completely collapse, which I’m just not seeing.  FIU hasn’t been very good all year, while Western Kentucky has been one of the biggest disappointments in the country.  MTSU and ODU have been consistently not great, but have shown spurts of competence, each pulling upsets over Charlotte and Louisiana Tech, respectively.  Out west, we have a November to remember between the top 3 teams, all currently tied at 3-1 in C-USA play, and none of yet to play one another.  North Texas is having a Cinderella season, already clinching a bowl berth and notching wins over UAB, LA Tech, and Marshall, along with a couple impressive non-con wins.  They took one on the chin last week though, losing to lowly Rice.  Southern Miss has put together a decent season thus far, but have only beaten pretty bad teams.  UAB serves as their only loss, and the Eagles got killed in that one.  UTSA is a program on the rise, and they’ve won most games they’ve supposed to.  They were tripped up in Ruston a few weeks ago by the Bulldogs, and are looking to get back on track.  All three of these teams play one another the rest of the way, with the Mean Green also playing UTEP and FIU, the Golden Eagles getting LA Tech and FIU, and the Roadrunners getting UTEP and UAB.  This should be fantastic finish.  UAB and LA Tech have been extreme disappointments this year, particularly the former.  But both teams have shown flashes of their lofty ceilings.  If one is going to make a run, it will have to be the winner of this weekend’s showdown in Ruston, as they face one another.  Then, the winner needs to root for chaos.  Speaking of chaos, that’s what Rice is going to need, as the record is bad, but they’ve played lots of teams close, and beat UNT earlier this year.  They’ll need a miracle with lots of help, but the remaining schedule isn’t too bad.  UTEP has taken strides this season, but they’re far away from contention.

Biggest Games Remaining:

5. Marshall @ Charlotte (November 20)

4. UTSA @ North Texas (Nov 27)

3. Southern Miss @ UTSA (November 13)

2. North Texas @ Southern Miss (November 6)

1. Marshall at Florida Atlantic (November 6)

MAC

Championship Game: East Division Champ vs. West Division Champ

Location: Detroit, MI

East

Contenders:

Buffalo

Doubtful:

Ohio, Miami (OH)

No Shot/Eliminated:

Kent State, Bowling Green, Akron

West

Contenders:

Ball State, Toledo, Central Michigan, Western Michigan

Still Alive:

Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan

BREAKDOWN:

The MAC is a conference of polar opposites. One division is almost wrapped up with a clear front-runner all by itself. The other division is complete madness, where all six teams have a legit chance to get to Detroit. In the East Division, Buffalo is looking to make it three division titles in four seasons, and it’s almost a done deal. The Bulls are 5-0, and their lone divisional game left is at Miami-Ohio. The two West opponents at the end of the season may be tough, but if the Bulls beat the Redhawks, they just need one loss from Ohio to clinch. Speaking of Ohio, the Bobcats are hanging to their division hopes by a thread, as they were run over by Buffalo in mid-October. The Bobcats need Buffalo to lose out, which isn’t impossible, and themselves to win out, which will be tough but doable, considering their inconsistencies. Miami needs to beat both Ohio and Buffalo, and then follow it up with wins over BGSU and Kent. But like Ohio, they still need UB to drop those two cross-divisional games to NIU and Ball State. The three teams at the bottom are the ones that have been there for the better part of the last 5 or so seasons. Bowling Green and Akron have shown little to no improvement, and Kent State is a major disappointment, despite their tough schedule. In the other division, it’s about as even as you can possibly imagine. A 4-4 division champ is not out of the question. All six teams may even go bowling. Ball State, Toledo, and CMU lead the way at 3-1 in the MAC, while NIU, WMU, and EMU are a game behind, each at 2-2. Ball State is trying to repeat in the West, and they’ve been able to beat EMU and Toledo, while falling in K-Zoo to the Broncos. UT has that loss to BSU, which could loom large in terms of tiebreakers, but have close wins over NIU and Central, and a comfortable win against Western. If the Rockets can defeat EMU this weekend, they’ll go 4-1 in the division, and I think that bodes well. The Chippewas are very much in the mix too, but they have the toughest schedule remaining of the 3-1 teams, with road trips to WMU and BSU, along with Kent and EMU coming to Mount Pleasant. I put WMU in the top tier with the 3-1 teams, mainly because of their opportunities to pick up 3 more divisional wins rather than 2. Also, a home date against Akron is as close to a sure win you are going to find in this conference. NIU and EMU are in a tier below, because both of their schedules are really challenging. The Huskies get Ball State and Western in DeKalb, but travel to Buffalo and Kent for crossover games. The Huskies have played some food teams tough, so we’ll see what kind of damage they can do. The Eagles still have to play both in-state rivals, along with Ohio and Toledo. I’m so ready for some MACtion.

Biggest Games Remaining:

5. Ball State @ Northern Illinois (November 10)

4. Eastern Michigan @ Toledo (November 2)

3. Buffalo @ Ball State (November 23)

2. Central Michigan @ Western Michigan (November 3)

1. Central Michigan @ Ball State (November 17)

Mountain West

Championship Game: Mountain Division Champ vs. West Division Champ

Location: Higher ranked division champ hosts

Mountain

Contenders:

Air Force, Boise State

Still Alive:

Colorado State

No Shot/Eliminated:

Utah State, Wyoming, New Mexico

West

Contenders:

San Jose State

Still Alive:

Fresno State, Nevada

Doubtful:

San Diego State, Hawai’i

No Shot/Eliminated:

UNLV

BREAKDOWN:

The Mountain West is pretty darn competitive this year, and there’s been lots of surprising results both in the conference and non-conference portions of members’ schedules.  In the Mountain division, Air Force leads the way, having suffered just one loss on the season, to the hands of Boise State on the Smurf Turf.  That same Boise team sits a half game behind the Falcons, but has shown themselves to be quite vulnerable, dropping three games in non-con, and a shocker to CSU last weekend in Fort Collins.  AF has to travel to Fort Collins still, along with a tough trip to Reno.  Boise has two stiff road tests as well, as they go to Fresno and San Diego.  BSU has the tiebreaker, but AF has a slightly easier slate going forward.  If both teams stumble down the stretch, CSU has an outside shot to claim the division.  They’ve shown promise at various points throughout the season, and if they can bottle that up, they may be able to string some wins together.  They have four losable games though, playing Wyoming, Air Force, Hawaii, and Nevada.  The hole is most likely too deep for Utah State, who has played better than their record would indicate.  They should probably focus their attention towards reaching a bowl, as Wyoming and New Mexico indicate two games they could definitely get.  Speaking of those teams, they sit at the bottom of the standings, although the Cowboys seem like another team that has played much better than their record.  They’ve played AFA, Fresno, and SJSU, and lost by a combined five points.  They could easily play spoiler the rest of the way against a team like Boise.  UNM has also shown fight.  Are you sensing a trend here?  There are really no awful teams in this division.  If we look westward, we’ll see a San Jose State squad that sits 5-0, atop the standings.  After the breakout 2020 campaign, the Spartans have followed it up by taking care of business.  They’ve won close games, and that’s the sign of good coaching usually.  They’ve notably beaten SDSU and Wyoming at home, with a nice road OT win against Colorado State.  They still have to massive games left on the schedule with a trip to Nevada and a rare Thanksgiving Day game against Fresno State.  Those two teams have massive opportunities ahead of them to try to chase down SJSU.  They each sit with 2 losses, as Fresno beat Nevada by a walk-off two-point conversion in OT.  That’s how close these teams are.  The Wolfpack also fell at Boise, and their remaining schedule is extremely difficult.  They face the Spartans and Air Force at home, while traveling to SDSU and CSU.  Fresno is a half game up on Nevada at 3-2, and have the aforementioned Thanksgiving tilt in San Jose.  BSU will travel to Fresno this weekend, and a home game with New Mexico shouldn’t give the Bulldogs too much trouble.  These teams both need to root for each other to beat the Spartans, and Nevada needs tiebreaker help.  San Diego State is a great team, but a prior loss to San Jose State might doom them.  They got throttled by Air Force’s ground game a week later.  But then, they defeated Fresno in a much-needed win.  They still have Nevada and Boise, but they’re both coming to SoCal.  The tiebreakers make it almost impossible for SDSU, but it’s possible they’re in the hunt until the end.  Hawaii has an upset win over Fresno keeping hem afloat, but the loss to Nevada and SJSU is probably too much to overcome.  The Hawaii-SDSU game this weekend serves as an eliminator. UNLV has been very bad this season, and haven’t been close in too many contests.  I genuinely don’t know what will happen in this conference.  Like at all.

Biggest Games Remaining:

5. Air Force @ Nevada (November 19)

4. Nevada @ San Diego State (November 13)

3. Boise State @ Fresno State (November 6)

2. Fresno State @ San Jose State (November 25)

1. San Jose State @ Nevada (November 6)

Pac-12

Championship Game: North Division Champ vs. South Division Champ

Location: Las Vegas, NV

North

Contenders:

#17 Washington, #21 Oregon

Doubtful:

California

No Shot/Eliminated:

Stanford, Washington State, Oregon State

South

Contenders:

#4 Arizona State, #13 Utah

Still Alive:

USC

No Shot/Eliminated

Colorado, UCLA, Arizona

BREAKDOWN:

While the Pac-12 has had very few legitimate Playoff contender entering November the last few years, it seems they have one this year.  And no, it’s not Oregon, USC, or Washington.  Up North, UW probably won’t be a playoff team, but they’re having a heck of a Year 2 under Jimmy Lake.  After an early non-conference loss to Michigan, the Huskies have gotten to 7-1, and have a massive game this weekend against rival Oregon.  They follow that up with the #4 Sun Devils coming to Seattle.  A trip to Boulder and a home date with WSU shouldn’t be too bad.  Oregon’s only conference loss was a 12-point loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl.  If Oregon can defeat the Huskies, they have a great shot to win the North with that tiebreaker.  A trip to Salt Lake could be tough though, as Utah is no pushover.  Games against WSU and OSU should be no problem in Autzen.  Cal is enjoying a pretty nice year under Justin Wilcox, but their two conference losses are to the 2 big dogs in the North.  There’s probably not a division title brewing in Berkeley, even with a fairly manageable schedule the rest of the way.  Stanford has been snake-bitten at times this year, but frankly, they’re just not a great football program anymore.  While Washington State and Oregon State were both thought of to be on the rise, 2021 has not been their year.  WSU sits at 1-5 in the conference, although they played ASU and Cal tight.  Oregon State has been pitiful in conference play.  Herm Edwards has his team primed for a playoff push down south, and first off, they have a great shot to win the division after a narrow win in Salt Lake City against top challenger Utah in mid-October.  ASU has gotten some lucky breaks, but they have to continue to take things one game at a time.  Avoiding Oregon and Cal in the North breaks well for them, but they still have a trip to Seattle in two weeks that could spell doom.  They also have a home date with USC before that.  They finish with a trip to Corvallis, which most likely won’t be a terrible test, and a home game with rival Arizona should be an easy one.  If the Utes are going to catch them, the best recipe would be for UU to win out, and ASU to drop their next two tough games.  Utah has road games at Stanford and Arizona, and finishes up with back-to-back home tilts with Oregon and Colorado.  Oregon is the clear big one out of those four, so it could be a lot worse.  Utah’s emerged as the clear #2 after already beating UCLA and USC.  Speaking of the Trojans, they’re still alive, thanks to some tough tests for the Utes and Sun Devils ahead of them.  If they can take down the Sun Devils in Tempe, they have a legit shot at crashing this thing.  Rivalry games with Cal and UCLA follow.  SC is clearly talented enough to beat anyone on their schedule, but you never know what you’re going to get with Clay Helton’s squad.  The Buffs are 2-3 in conference, and have a win over USC, but largely haven’t been much of a factor thus far.  UCLA has had its bright spots, but also lost some heartbreakers.  They’re another team I can’t really figure out.  They’re not bad by any stretch, but not a Pac-12 contender.  Arizona has been close a couple times, but they are most definitely the worst team in the conference at this point.

Biggest Games Remaining:

5. USC @ California (November 13)

4. USC @ Arizona State (November 6)

3. Oregon @ Utah (November 20)

2. Arizona State @ Washington (November 13)

1. Oregon @ Washington (November 6)

SEC

Championship Game: East Division Champ vs. West Division Champ

Location: Atlanta, GA

East

Contenders:

#14 Georgia

Doubtful:

#15 Florida, Missouri

No Shot/Eliminated:

South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt

West

Contenders:

#2 Texas A&M, #7 Auburn

Doubtful:

#16 Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss

No Shot/Eliminated

Mississippi State, Arkansas

This has been an extremely odd year in the SEC.  It’s a bit down overall, but it’s not a trainwreck.  There are a couple of title contenders, a few really good teams, and some decent teams.  It seems like more of a Big Ten-type year to be honest.  In the East, Georgia has a great shot of returning to Atlanta after a one-year absence.  Surviving Florida last week was massive, and at 5-1, it looks like they’re en route to a division crown.  Florida needs to win its last two games at South Carolina and Mizzou, which is very possible.  But then, it needs UGA to drop games to Missouri and Tennessee.  Despite the Alabama win, Florida most likely won’t win the East.  No one predicted that one.  Trust me.  Mizzou technically can defeat Georgia and go on a run to reach a tiebreaker scenario and take the division.  But, MU just has not been good enough for me to give them a decent shot to do so.  They barely squeaked by Vandy.  The bottom four teams are all eliminated.  Carolina has surprisingly gotten to five wins in Shane Beamer’s first year, but they will struggle to get to six, with games still to play against Florida, Mizzou, Auburn, and Clemson in non-conference play.  UK won 4, then lost 4, but the rest of the schedule should be pretty doable.  Tennessee has been pretty competitive, but just haven’t been able to win many games at all, which is very frustrating for Vol fans.  Vandy won 3 non-conference games, and like UT, have been competitive in many of their SEC losses.  There might be some building blocks for Clark Lea.  Out west, it’s not Alabama or LSU leading the way.  It’s Texas A&M, who seems to have finally taken that next step as a program to be a bona fide national championship contender.  They were close last year, but the defense is downright filthy this year.  A&M has beaten Bama, but still has to play Auburn, and at Ole Miss and LSU.  They’re not out of the woods just yet.  Speaking of Auburn, the Tigers have been the real surprise in the SEC this season.  Expectations were middling for Bryan Harsin’s first season, and after an early loss to Penn State, that seemed about right. Since then, the Tigers have won six straight including ranked wins over LSU, Georgia, and Ole Miss.  They have to play at College Station in what could be a massive showdown, and then Alabama at the end of the year.  They’ll have to be careful in games against Mississippi State and South Carolina in between those.  It’s crazy to say, but with the way TAMU and Auburn have kept on winning, it’s hard to see an easy route for Alabama to sneak back into winning the West.  This probably eliminates them for the playoff, but I would never say never.  Despite throttling Ole Miss, the Florida loss will probably come back to bite them, because that gives A&M some extra margin for error along with the head-to-head W.  Bama still has LSU, Arkansas, and Auburn, and they will be favored because of who they are.  We’ll see what happens.  LSU is a fine team, but I don’t think they’re elite.  They’ve upset Florida, and lost to Ole Miss and Auburn.  Throw in a win against Kentucky and MSU, and I don’t think Coach O’s job security has changed much.  It would be nice if they could upset the Tide or Aggies.  Ole Miss has been alright as well, and despite a close call against Arkansas, they did defeat LSU.  Unfortunately, they were beaten by Auburn, Tennessee, and Alabama.  The first two were games that Rebel fans expected to win coming into the season.  Mississippi State had a brutal first part of the conference schedule which pretty much wrote them out of the division conversation.  It’s Mike Leach’s job to get them to a bowl now, and they need to win 3 of 4 down the stretch.  It’s doable, but they’ll have to probably beat either Ole Miss or Auburn.  Arkansas had momentum from last season, and they’ve shown fight in a couple games, but you can tell they aren’t as talented as their opponents in this division. 

Biggest Games Remaining:

5. Missouri @ Georgia (November 6)

4. Texas A&M @ Ole Miss (November 13)

3. Texas A&M @ LSU (November 27)

2. Alabama @ Auburn (November 27)

1. Auburn @ Texas A&M (November 6)

Sun Belt

Championship Game: East Division Champ vs. West Division Champ

Location: Higher ranked division champ hosts

East

Contenders:

Georgia State, Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Troy

Doubtful

Georgia Southern

West

Contenders:

Arkansas State, Louisiana

Still Alive:

South Alabama, Texas State

Doubtful:

Louisiana-Monroe

BREAKDOWN:

As the Sun Belt continues its upward trajectory as a conference, I’m afraid to announce that only one division is holding up their end of the bargain this season.  The East division was always the stronger one, that’s no question.  But they have a stranglehold on the power of this league now.  Perhaps the weakest overall program heading into 2021 was Georgia State.  They’re all alone at the top with a 4-0 conference record, featuring an upset of App State.  They also beat GA Southern, and throttled two West teams.  The rest of the way won’t be easy though, as they go to Louisiana and Coastal, along with home games with ASU and Troy.  App State may have lost to GA State, but they made up for it the following two games with wins over ULL and a ranked Coastal team.  They have an easier path in November, so I wouldn’t be shocked if they ended up on top.  Coastal had all the hype coming in from last year, and for good reason.  They were outclassed by the Mountaineers in Boone, but they came back to defeat Troy by 31 the following week.  They’ll finish up divisional play the next two weeks with the Georgia schools, and they have Texas State and USA after that.  Troy definitely has the worst shot of winning this division from the top tier, despite the 3-1 SBC record.  This is mainly due to the fact they still have App State and Georgia State, after already losing to Coastal.  If Louisiana can get its act together, that will be a tough one too.  Luckily, there is lots of opportunity to jump up in the standings, so if Troy can find a spark, they’ll be the team to beat.  Georgia Southern is a clear #5 in the East, but they’re by no means a bad team.  In fact, you can argue they’ve been a better team than anyone in the West.  The Eagles are playing for a bowl at this point.  Out west, the conversation starts with the squad who everyone thought would run away with the division: Louisiana.  They’re arguably the most disappointing team in the country in 2021.  After starting 3-1 overall, they lost to South Alabama, a game no one gave the Jags a chance in, and then were throttled at home by App State, and got crushed in Jonesboro to Arky State.  Although they rebounded against TX State, they have two tough games in a row with Georgia State and Troy.  If they can win both of those, I like their odds to get the division, as they finish with ULM.  Unfortunately, I can’t expect anything with this team.  Arkansas State leads the West currently, with a 2-2 record.  They have been beaten by Southern and Coastal, but beat Lafayette and USA.  They have two easier games with ULM and Texas State, and two harder ones with App and Georgia State.  I think this team’s shown some growth this year, and we’ll see if they can finish the deal off with a division title.  South Alabama also shocked Louisiana this year, but I don’t think they have as good of a chance to win the division as Arkansas State.  Part of that is their loss to ASU, and falling to Texas State in San Marcos.  They needed that one and Georgia Southern, which they also dropped to have a shot.  Now, they have Troy, App State, and Coastal to finish off conference play.  Ouch.  Texas State hasn’t been very good this year.  But with how bad the division has been, they have a shot at winning it.  A 3-5 season could do it, and that means just a 2-2 finish, which definitely could happen.  Playing Coastal in Conway is almost a sure loss, but home games against ULM and Georgia Southern are winnable, and they’re capable of playing with the Red Wolves of ASU too.  Similar to Texas State, ULM has been bad this year, but they’re still in play here.  The Warhawks are 0-5, but they theoretically could win their last 3 against Texas State, Arkansas State, and Lafayette.  Luckily, the East teams are all out of the way for ULM.  It’s unlikely, but would be hilarious.  This division is brutal.

Biggest Games Remaining:

5. Troy @ Georgia State (November 27

4. Louisiana @ Troy (November 13)

3. Appalachian State @ Arkansas State (November 6)

2. Georgia State @ Louisiana (November 4)

1. Georgia State @ Coastal Carolina (November 13)

After all that analysis, I’m out of breath and thinking about taking a nap. Unfortunately, some MACtion is about to start, so I think you all know which I’m choosing.

-Scott

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