Monday, October 28, 2013

Mid-Season Handicapping: ACC, Conference USA, Big 10, Big 12

Two weeks ago I began a midseason look at three conference races in the MAC, Pac-12, and SEC using yards per play. This week, we tackle four more conferences, including the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and Conference USA.

Here are the ACC standings.
And here are the yards per play ratings.

ACC: Party Like its 1999
Is Florida State back? After numerous false alarms and premature attestations, it appears the Seminoles are legitimate national contenders. For the first time since 2000, the ACC could place a team in the national championship game. ACC teams are 6-6 in games against teams from BCS conferences. However, league members have also lost five games to teams from outside BCS conferences.

Boston College--The first season of the Steve Addazio has featured minor improvement. A bowl game is still in play for the Eagles, but the (relative) glory days of the mid-2000s are long gone.
Clemson--The Tigers proved they were not quite ready for primetime, but a third straight double-digit win season is well within reach. The Tigers have not accomplished that feat since they won ten games in each season from 1987 through 1990.
Duke--The Blue Devils are far from contenders in the Coastal, but bowl eligibility in consecutive seasons is quite a feat. You can probably guess the last coach to lead Duke to consecutive bowl eligible season.
Georgia Tech--The Yellow Jackets have already played six conference games! With losses to Miami and Virginia Tech, they are probably out of the division race, but they have now finished with at least a .500 conference record for the 19th consecutive season.
Florida State--The Seminoles have been ridiculously dominant thus far. They have won each of their games by at least 14 points and have a Hesiman contender for the first time since Chris Weinke was under center.
Maryland--That 4-0 start seems like ages ago. Still, in their ACC swan song, the Terps should manage to eke out  abowl bid.
Miami--Is this really a top-10 team? Probably not, but the ACC stands as the lone conference with multiple undefeated teams.
North Carolina--Perhaps this is damning with faint praise, but the Tar Heels are the best 2-5 team in the country. The back-half of the schedule is very manageable. Expect some bowl or offseason stories about how the team 'bought in' and 'never stopped believing' after their rough start.
NC State--If the Pack somehow make it a bowl, they can thank whoever developed their non-conference schedule (home games against Louisiana Tech, Richmond, Central Michigan, and East Carolina).
Pittsburgh--As far as debuts go, this one has been pretty nondescript. When does basketball season tip off?
Syracuse--In their last three losses, the Orange have allowed 48, 49, and 56 points.
Virginia--The vultures are circling Mike London. When we look back on this season many years from now, everyone will wonder how the heck they beat BYU.
Virginia Tech--The Hokies are currently wasting a phenomenal defensive performance. In their home loss to Duke, the Hokies held Duke quarterback Anthony Boone to just seven completions and picked him off four times. Unfortunately, Logan Thomas threw four picks of his own.
Wake Forest--The Deacons have rebounded nicely after a rough start. The loss to Louisiana-Monroe may end up costing them a bowl bid.

Here are the Conference USA standings.
And here are the yards per play ratings.

Conference USA: Wild, Wild, West
The new (and improved?) Conference USA has an exciting race in store for fans. The three teams in contention out west have not won a conference title between them since 2004, and finished a combined 13-24 overall last season. Outside the league, Conference USA has gone a collective 4-23 against teams from BCS conferences, with the wins typically coming against the dregs (Kansas, Memphis, South Florida, and North Carolina) of the big leagues. League members lost just once, albeit in blowout fashion, to teams from IAA.

East Carolina--Can they lay claim to being the best team in North Carolina? They already beat the Heels in Chapel Hill and get their shot at the Pack in Raleigh in November.
Florida Atlantic--Carl Pelini has not been under quite as much scrutiny as his brother. Three of their four league losses have come by a touchdown or less. Better than their record. Winning out and finishing 6-6 is not out of the questions.
Florida International--Just two years ago, this team beat Louisville on the road. This season, they instituted a running clock when they played the Cardinals. Maybe firing Mario Cristobal was a bad idea.
Louisiana Tech--The Bulldogs have won two of three. For Skip Holtz, that represents progress.
North Texas--The Mean Green have three consecutive home games upcoming. They are 10-4 at home under head coach Dan McCarney. I wouldn't pencil them into the Conference USA Championship Game just yet, but I think they are the favorite to get there from the West.
Marshall--The division title will probably come down to their game in Huntington against East Carolina on Black Friday.
Middle Tennessee State--Their closing schedule features three of the worst teams in the league (FIU, Southern Miss, and UTEP). They should get back to a bowl after being left out in the cold last season.
Rice--The Owls are desperately seeking their first conference title since 1957. As it is, they are bowl eligible for consecutive season. Not too shabby.
Southern Miss--The losing streak now sits at 19 in a row. The conference losing streak is 'only' eleven straight.
Texas-San Antonio--The Roadrunners have been sneaky good in just their second season of IA play. They need to win out to guarantee a bowl bid, and that is probably untenable.
Tulane--The Green Wave are somehow 4-0 in the conference despite middling numbers. Their league wins have come by nine, three, three, and seven points. Still, congrats to the Green Wave on being bowl eligible. Under head coach Curtis Johnson, the Green Wave are a spectacular 7-0 Against the Spread (ATS) versus conference foes at home.
Tulsa--The Golden Hurrican were 14-2 in conference play in Bill Blankenship's first two seasons at the helm. A bowl game is still in play, and Tulsa has played well (at least in the conference), but remains a dicey proposition at best.
UAB--All offense, no defense thus far. Their next three games are against contenders from the east (Middle Tennessee, Marshall, and East Carolina). Can they play the role of spoiler?
UTEP--Its saying a lot when these guys may be the worst team in the league. Better get ready for their ritualistic slaughter against Johnny Football this weekend.

Here are the Big 10 standings.
And here are the yards per play ratings.

Big 10: How good is Ohio State?
That is the $64,000 Question. Ohio State squeaked by a good Wisconsin team at home and a mediocre Northwestern team on the road. They also let a mediocre Iowa team hang with them in Columbus. And then they bludgeoned Penn State on Saturday night. There are no real tests on their schedule until they travel to Michigan in the regular season finale and (an assumed) trip to the Big 10 Championship Game. The Big 10 has gone 9-8 against other BCS conference teams. However, the only real quality win is Michigan over Notre Dame (and maybe Illinois over Cincinnati). Big 10 teams lost three games to teams from outside BCS conferences, with two of the losses coming to Northern Illinois.

Illinois--The conference losing streak now stands at 17. Is another 0-8 campaign in the cards?
Indiana--The offense is good enough to get the Hoosiers to a bowl, but the defense may keep them home yet again.
Iowa--The Hawkeyes are a decent team, and for the time being will serve as the feather in the cap Northern Illinois gallivants about in.
Michigan--This Saturday's game against the Spartans is practically a must-win if the Wolverines have designs on playing in the Big 10 Championship Game.
Michigan State--The Spartans have played Purdue and Illinois in the early part of their schedule. That would be my only qualm with citing them as the Legends Division favorite.
Minnesota--Bowl eligible for a second consecutive season. Bravo. Can they win more than two league games for the first time since 2009?
Nebraska--Two of their three conference games have come against Purdue and Illinois. Curb your enthusiasm regarding their numbers accordingly.
Northwestern--The Wildcats are better than their 0-4 record would otherwise indicate. Can they make Bo Pelini's seat a little warmer this week?
Ohio State--Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana are their next three games. They will probably look like worldbeaters when they roll into Ann Arbor.
Penn State--Look at those offensive numbers. Thank goodness for Purdue right?
Purdue--Mark your calendar for November 23rd. The Boilermakers take on the Illini with last place in the Leaders Division on the line.
Wisconsin--Can the Badgers sneak into a BCS bowl? They could run the November table to get into the conversation.

Here are the Big 12 standings.
And here are the yards per play ratings.

Big 12: Baylor and Scoreboard Error
The Baylor Bears are currently unbeaten and averaging an absurd 64 points per game. Their quarterback is averaging nearly 14 yards per pass! Obviously, the Bears won't end the season with those gaudy numbers, but wow! With the Bears leading the conference, the league could see a different champion for the sixth consecutive year. The Big 12 has gone 4-4 versus other BCS conferences. This number probably deserves an asterisk as two of those wins have come against SMU. Big 12 teams have also lost four times to teams from outside BCS conferences, including a pair of losses to IAA teams.

Baylor--The Bears are just a shade behind Oklahoma State for the top defense in the conference as well. Keep in mind Baylor's schedule is insanely back-loaded. The Bears have played teams currently ranked 6th, 8th, 9th, and 10th in the yards per play metric.
Iowa State--Not a lot has gone right for the Cyclones in 2013. The good news is that Kansas is still on the schedule.
Kansas--How's that decided schematic advantage working?
Kansas State--Even without Collin Klein, the Wildcats offense has remained stout.
Oklahoma--The Sooners have not been their usual dominant selves, but they remain players in the conference race.
Oklahoma State--Could you have envisioned the time when an Oklahoma State team would be powered by their defense?
Texas--So much for the Mack Brown funeral procession eh? Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Baylor close the Longhorns schedule, so the league title is still a longshot.
Texas Tech--Like Baylor, their schedule is back-loaded. The game this weekend with Oklahoma State is an eliminator for all intents and purposes.
TCU--Their second year of life in the Big 12 has been even worse than the first. The Horned Frogs could miss out on a bowl for the first time since 2004.
West Virginia--Against teams not name William and Mary or Georgia State, the Mountaineers have been outscored by 101 points. Since starting the 2012 season 5-0, West Virginia has gone just 5-11.

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