Forty names, games, teams, and minutiae that make headlines in college football, where “last place in SEC West” and “LSU” make an odd pair in the same sentence:
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THIRD QUARTER: CHANGE IN THE UPPER PART
As we move into the home stretch of this season, there are plenty of new faces bidding to play in their conference championship games. That’s a good thing, in a sport that often seems stuck in the status quo. A Dash breakdown of which teams are in a position to unseat the usual suspects, in order from highest to lowest turmoil:
ACC (21): After winning another shootout, this time over North Carolina state, Wake Forest can clinch ACC Atlantic by winning either of their last two games, at Clemson on Saturday or at Boson College on November 27. That would dethrone the Tigers, who have won the last six ACC championships. Last time Wake played in ACC title game: 2006.
In the Coastal Division, Pittsburgh and Virginia will go a long way toward picking the champion on Saturday when they meet at Heinz Field. The Panthers lead the division at 5-1, with the Cavaliers 4-2. The Coastal title changes hands constantly, so it hasn’t been long since either of them won it – Pitt last in 2018 and Virginia in ’19. But Pitt never won the full ACC, and Virginia hasn’t won it since 1995.
12 large (22): The state of Oklahoma is tied for first place at 6-1 with the last usual suspect, Oklahoma. Baylor is a game back at 5-2. But the Sooners, who have won six straight Big 12 titles, have the toughest remaining schedule of the three with Iowa State on Saturday and a trip to Oklahoma State on November 27. The Cowboys are at Texas Tech on Saturday before hosting the Bedlam game. Baylor has Kansas State in Manhattan on Saturday and Texas Tech in Waco on November 27.
The Cowboys have never played in the Big 12 title game and last won the league in 2011 when the championship game was on hiatus. Baylor, who owns the head-to-head matchup over the Sooners but lost to the Cowboys, last played in the title game against Oklahoma in 2019. If there’s a chance there is any more sporting stance between Baylor and Oklahoma in Jerry World, The Dash would not object. (Kudos to Matt Mosley for unearthing this tidbit that undermines Lincoln Riley’s hurt reaction to Baylor’s late field goal on Saturday.)
Big Ten (23): Well, what do we have here in the East? Michigan, which has never played in the Big Ten title game, is on the run. The Wolverines (6–1) need to win and they need someone to beat Michigan State to do it. The Spartans (6-1), who last played for the title in 2016, control their own destiny. But both must go through the state of Ohio (7-0) to reach Indianapolis. The Buckeyes remain the favorites to win the East for the sixth year in a row.
Wisconsin (5-2) controls all of the Western Division playoffs right now, but still has a game in Minnesota (4-3). Iowa is also 5-2, but has losses to the Badgers and Purdue (4-3) and a win over the Gophers. Wisconsin winning the division would hardly be anything original, having played in six of the 10 Big Ten championship games. Iowa hasn’t been to Indy since 2015. Minnesota and Purdue have never been.
West Mountain (24): Utah State (8-2, 5-1) needs to win just one of its last two games to make its first appearance in an MWC title game since 2013. (The Aggies have never won the league title). The competition the last two weeks is totally manageable: Wyoming (5-5) and New Mexico (3-7).
In the Western Division, San Diego State (9-1, 5-1) controls its own destiny in pursuit of its first appearance in an MWC championship game since 2016. Fresno State (last appearance in 2018) may peak if they beat San Jose State and the Aztecs slide against UNLV or Boise State. Nevada, which has never played in the MWC title game and never won the league title, also remains in the mix, but needs plenty of losses from SDSU and Fresno.
Conference USA (25): The West Division will be decided on Saturday in San Antonio, when the undefeated UTSA host UAB. The Roadrunners have never won anything in their brief existence at FBS, so that would be great. The Blazers have played the last three C-USA titles, winning two of them.
In the East, Western Kentucky (5-1) and Marshall (4-2) are in position to play for the division crown on November 27 in Huntington, West Virginia, but things could get tricky with other scenarios if they both lose. this weekend. The Hilltoppers haven’t played for the C-USA title since Jeff Brohm was the coach in 2016; Marshall was in the championship game last year.
MAC (26): The midweek MACtion reaches a crescendo now, with Northern Illinois (5-1) trying to complete a journey from worst to first in the West. If NIU wins one of its two remaining games, the division is secured. If he loses both, Central Michigan could collapse or things could get really weird with a multi-team jam at the top. Northern Illinois last played in the title game in 2018, but before that it was in six straight games from 2010 to 2015.
In the East, Miami (Ohio) and Kent State (both 4-2) could play for the division on November 27. But Ohio (3-3) is lurking if they mess up. The Redhawks have played once in the MAC title game since 2010; the Golden Flashes just once in the show’s history (2012); and the last Bobcats appearance was in 2016.
American (27): Cincinnati certainly is the status quo, having played the last two games for the title. The Bearcats need to win just one of the two remaining games (SMU on Saturday, at East Carolina on Nov. 27) to secure a spot. But it’s been a while for Houston, which has already secured its place. The Cougars’ last appearance was last year with Tom Herman, in 2015, two coaches ago.
Pac-12 (28): Not all conferences are prepared for major changes. Oregon and Utah will play Saturday and then are on track to play again in December for the league championship. The Ducks have played in the last two games for the title and the Utes in two of the last three. If the Ducks lose twice and other things happen, the state of Oregon and the state of Washington are still in play to win the North and make their first championship appearance. In the south, the state of Arizona needs to win two, while Utah loses two. The Sun Devils haven’t been to the championship game since 2013.
SEC (29): This is another league where status is pretty quo. Georgia has won the East for the fourth time in the last five years. Alabama needs a victory to capture the West for the sixth time in the past eight years. (In fact, there have been more schools that have won in the West than in the East in the past seven seasons, with Auburn and LSU each winning a West Bama title, while Florida and Georgia have dominated the East.)
Sun Belt (30): The season-ending injury to Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall nearly dashed the Chanticleers’ hopes of a replay, who were already on the ropes after losing to Appalachian State. The Mountaineers are now in the driver’s seat to win the East, while Louisiana has already finished the West for the fourth year in a row. Those two met in the championship game in 2018 and ’19, and App won both.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.