Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
25 Nov 2011
by Bill Connelly
Conference realignment has left us in an interesting place, considering future changes while engulfed in the present tense of the 2011 season. Texas A&M and Texas still battled last night as conference rivals, Missouri and Kansas still face off tomorrow, the Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and Pittsburgh is still taking place, and we're still getting used to recent shifts in Big Ten and Pac-12 alignment. But with larger changes on the horizon, the best way to imagine how things will change in the future is to see how they would be affecting the present. Using F/+ ratings as our guide, let's look at how the 2011 season may have played out with future BCS conference shifts in place.
Future Changes: Missouri and Texas A&M leave, West Virginia and TCU take their place.
Maintaining the current schedules and replacing Missouri with West Virginia and Texas A&M with TCU, we get the following:
So the current Big 12 standings would resemble something like this:
1. Oklahoma State (7-1)
2. Kansas State (6-2)
3. Oklahoma (5-2)
4. TCU (6-3)
5. Baylor (4-3)
6. Texas (4-4)
7. Iowa State (3-4)
8. West Virginia (3-6)
9. Texas Tech (2-6)
10. Kansas (0-9)
West Virginia's potentially poor finish despite an F/+ ranking of 41st gives us an idea of just how strong the Big 12 has been this year. The SEC may have the top three teams in the current BCS standings, but from top to bottom it is hard to beat the product the Big 12 has put on the field in 2011.
Future Changes: Missouri joins the SEC East, Texas A&M joins the SEC West.
We will give the newcomers the following semi-random schedules:
Using the result of the actual Missouri-A&M game in College Station, Missouri is projected to beat everybody but Georgia. Home-road status could flip the result of the Georgia, Florida and South Carolina games, but in general Missouri could have expected to finish between 5-3 and 7-1 depending on who had homefield and who they drew from the SEC West.
Texas A&M, on the other hand, doesn't have it so easy. They are projected to take out both Mississippi schools, Auburn, and South Carolina (though as we know, there is a solid chance they would have blown the Auburn and South Carolina games) and get thumped by Alabama and LSU. Using the real Arkansas and Missouri results (both losses), then, they would be looking at something between 4-4 and 2-6. Life is quite a bit tougher in the West than the East right now.
If the SEC really does choose to stay at eight conference games, then Missouri's eight-game slate in the SEC East is really a bit easier than this year's nine-game Big 12 slate that featured road games at Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas A&M. Next year, it is quite possible that Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will all be improved, however, and if Mizzou's star running back Henry Josey is not yet healthy, then 2012 could be more difficult than a hypothetical 2011 would have been.
Future Changes: Syracuse and Pittsburgh will join at some point.
We do not yet know how new ACC divisions will take shape with two more northern teams joining the fray. Personally, I would like the conference to take this opportunity to move to more easy-to-remember, geographically-based divisions, but we'll see. A North Division could pretty easily consist of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Boston College, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech and a random North Carolina school (Wake Forest?), which means the South Division would consist of Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina and N.C. State. Competitively-speaking that isn't bad, especially compared to the current, Coastal-heavy alignment.
Anyway, here is a list of the F/+ rankings of the ACC teams, with Pitt and Syracuse included. This gives us an idea of the conference hierarchy, even if Florida State has very much failed to live up to their top-10 status in the loss column, while Clemson has overachieved a bit.
8. Florida State (Current Division: Atlantic)
15. Virginia Tech (Coastal)
24. Miami (Coastal)
25. Georgia Tech (Coastal)
30. Clemson (Atlantic)
37. North Carolina (Coastal)
44. Virginia (Coastal)
51. Wake Forest (Atlantic)
63. N.C. State (Atlantic)
69. Duke (Coastal)
71. Boston College (Atlantic)
92. Maryland (Atlantic)
Future Changes: West Virginia leaves for the Big 12 in 2012 (probably), while Pittsburgh and Syracuse leave for the ACC at some point in the coming years. Meanwhile, some combination of Boise State, Air Force, Navy, Central Florida, SMU and Houston will join the fray, along with possibly San Diego State. Yes, San Diego State.
Evidently BYU is out of the picture for Big East football membership due to their insistence on, among other things, retaining TV rights to their home games (which is something the Big 12 doesn't even give Texas). But seemingly every other decent non-BCS team remains a candidate for football membership, so we're going to take the macro view of this and list all definite and potential Big East members by F/+ ranking (with potential members in bold):
3. Boise State
31. South Florida
61. Central Florida
68. San Diego State
89. Air Force
The addition of Boise State and Houston would actually give the conference three top-25 teams (this year, at least) and potentially maintain a view of the Big East as a semi-viable BCS conference. Moving forward, however, it is going to be a battle to maintain that status, though the rules for what it takes to actually lose BCS status once you have it are unclear.
In all, most of these moves will have a larger impact on television sets and revenue than they do conference titles. TCU has been solid enough in recent years to potentially steal a Big 12 title (and West Virginia may have done the same in the 2006-07 window), Missouri could emerge as an occasional SEC East contender (for as long as Florida is mediocre, anyway), and Boise State might finally end up in a BCS conference, but for the most part, this year's champions in the present tense would be the champions in a reshuffled BCS lineup as well.
Notre Dame-Stanford and Iron Bowl previews and a Heisman column are still on the way today and tomorrow.
In terms of ratings, Florida State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M have all either met or exceeded projected expectations this year. But performance on paper does not always translate to results, and the teams have combined for a 5-10 record in one-possession games (Notre Dame is 3-2, Florida State 1-3, Texas A&M 1-5 after last night's loss to Texas) that has held them back significantly. If they replayed the season from the start, all of these teams might make some noise the second time around, but between injuries, bad breaks, and poor late performance, the Seminoles and Aggies in particular just have not quite lived up to the standard their numbers have set.
Iowa State (16 spots, from 91st to 75th). Oklahoma State's ratings barely moved, which suggests that Iowa State overachieved in their upset of the Cowboys more than OSU underachieved.
Baylor (13 spots, from 55th to 42nd). The same goes for Baylor, which played incredibly well on the offensive side of the ball in their first-ever win over the Sooners.
N.C. State (11 spots, from 74th to 63rd). The Wolfpack caught Clemson at the right time -- Clemson's star receiver Sammy Watkins was hurt, and the Tigers were perhaps playing with a hangover a week after clinching the Atlantic Division title -- but the numbers don't know that. All the numbers see is a team that destroyed a solid, if unspectacular, squad.
Rutgers (10 spots, from 32nd to 22nd). Rutgers also benefited from circumstance: Cincinnati was playing without injured quarterback Zach Collaros. Still, they looked fantastic on defense in beating the Bearcats 20-3 to potentially take control of the Big East.
Others: Temple (36th to 27th), Oregon State (86th to 78th), Kansas State (33rd to 26th).
Southern Miss (12 spots, from 24th to 36th). You just cannot lose to UAB and remain a top-25 team. The Golden Eagles were smoking hot ... and now they're not.
Ole Miss (eight spots, from 78th to 86th). When you hand your opponent two defensive touchdowns in the first 20 minutes, and your opponent is kneeling the ball to avoid running the score up with over four minutes left, you are going to fall in the rankings.
Mississippi State (eight spots, from 45th to 53rd). The Bulldogs are still solid defensively, but the offense just hasn't figured anything out this year.
Clemson (eight spots, from 22nd to 30th). Again, Watkins' injury and a hangover game hurt. Still, this wasn't a top-10 team (as they were in the polls) even before Watkins' injury. They are a good team, but not a great one.
Others: UTEP (71st to 81st), South Carolina (35th to 43rd), Cincinnati (27th to 34th).
Georgia Tech over Georgia (Spread: Georgia -6 | F/+ Projection: Ga. Tech by 1.5). It is hard to know what kind of effort to expect from the Yellow Jackets -- they have been all over the map in 2011 -- but it is probably worth noting that Georgia has won two of three against Paul Johnson's Tech teams, and Tech is at least partially benefiting from their high level of play long ago in September.
Wake Forest over Vanderbilt (Spread: Vandy -1.5 | F/+ Projection: Wake by 4.9). Wake is better than Vegas thinks, and Vandy is still a bit worse. This game is a tossup, but Vanderbilt has more to play for: a win would grant them bowl eligibility (Wake already has six wins).
Clemson over South Carolina (Spread: S. Carolina -4 | F/+ Projection: S. Carolina by 0.9). Watkins is back, and South Carolina's offense is still a mystery. Sounds like a tossup to me.
Tulsa over Houston (Spread: Houston -3.5 | F/+ Projection: Houston by 0.3). Houston has looked better and better in recent weeks, but they still have two interesting hurdles remaining in games versus Tulsa and, potentially, Southern Miss in the conference title game.
It has to be this play, doesn't it? Baylor's crazy upset over Oklahoma was an incredibly fun way to end a fun week.
5 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2011, 2:09pm by Jeff Fogle