We thought we'd provide a few thoughts after the first week of the college football season just before tonight's Clemson - Georgia Tech game. In the months that pass between each football season, certain things are put under the microscope by the media and the fans. Here are some of the things that we on people's minds coming into the season. Let's see how everything looks after "Week One."
SEC Head Coaching Changes: In the SEC, the controversial coaching changes of the last two years that saw almost half of the SEC hire new coaches (Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Tennessee) now look a little less controversial in the rear view mirror. In each case, it would be hard to argue that these changes haven't been for the better.
The rest of the schools in our Footprint have remained fairly stable - even Clemson promoted from within when they hired Dabo Swinney. However, it is likely that the success of these SEC changes may lead other teams to get restless come 2010.
Head Coaches On Hot Seat: Every year fans are either talking about their team's hopes or they are talking about next year. Many times those that speak of next year would like to see someone new leading their team.
SEC - With all the recent turnover, it's hard to see any changes coming in 2010. Joker Phillips is the coach in waiting at Kentucky. There's also always some buzz surrounding Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt, both they are extremely well liked at their respective programs and have won more consistently than most coaches that came before them.
ACC - Here's a league that could be in for a bloodletting in 2010. Al Groh was in trouble before the season started, and his team's loss to William and Mary didn't help him one bit. The surprise would be if he returned.
Beyond Groh, there could be trouble for Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, Randy Shannon at Miami (his tough early schedule will either make him or break him), and the perpetual questions about Bobby Bowden at FSU.
Big 12 - Everyone here seems safe for 2010 (except for Dan Hawkins at Colorado).
The Big 12 North Decides to Show Up: We've pestered about the lack of divisional balance holding back the Big 12, but the 2009 season gives credence to the idea that the Big 12 keeps getting deeper. Every team in the North won except for Colorado. Missouri's win against Illinois in the post-Chase Daniel era is a huge step forward. Nebraska and Kansas look solid as well. These three teams need to become consistent winners for the Big 12 to remain a solid conference from top to bottom.
Is the SEC Still the Best?: There's little doubt that the Big 12 keeps taking monumental steps forward. Oklahoma State's home win against Georgia was big on many fronts. The country is also still expecting a Big 12-SEC rematch for the BCS with Texas stepping in for Oklahoma against Florida.
Still, the SEC remains a top dog. The conference still has more teams with deep pockets, and it also has started its new lucrative TV deal. The Big 12 keeps making its case as a strong #2, however.
The ACC still has a long way to go.
The State of the ACC: The 2009 season has started almost as poorly as 2008 did for the ACC. They lost important head to head Swampland battles (South Carolina over NC State, Baylor over Wake) even though both were home games for the ACC. Besides Maryland getting whipped by Cal, Virginia and Duke both lost to Division II schools. Clemson had the only win over a non-Division II schools in beating MTSU.
The ACC finished the week on a strong note with the wire to wire excitement of the FSU-Miami game. These two programs must return to elite status in oder for the ACC to do the same. The play of their young skill position players bodes well for both of these schools and the ACC at large.
In the end, the ACC's future won't be determined by the bottom half of the league, but the top half. If FSU, Miami, UNC, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech can all keep moving towards an SEC and/or Big 12 standard of play, then the ACC will be healthy once again.
Other Conferences: After covering our "Big 3" conferences, we should also take a look at the Big East, Conference USA, the Sun Belt, and other teams that have been scattered by odd conference affiliation.
Big East - This conference is definitely a work in progress. The teams we follow are USF, Louisville, West Virginia, and Cincinnati. Each of these teams won their ball games. Cincy, the defending conference champs, looked very impressive stomping Rutgers on the road. One of these four teams needs to take a leap forward for this oddball of a football conference to have any national impact.
C-USA - This conference appears to have a few teams beginning to trend upward. Only four teams lost over the weekend and two lost within the conference (UAB beat Rice, Tulsa beat Tulane). Memphis lost to top ten ranked Ole Miss which is hardly an embarrassment either. The one glaring loss was UTEP dropping a home game to Buffalo.
C-USA battles for respect against conferences like the Mountain West and the WAC, both of which have fielded BCS teams in the past. This conference needs one or two teams to stand out among the rest for this conference to take a crucial step forward.
Sun Belt - Welcome to Sun Belt college football, Western Kentucky! Now you too can be cannon fodder for big conference teams. WKU fell hard to Tennessee matching their conference brethren who fell hard to Nebraska (FAU), Clemson (MTSU), Texas (ULM). In two Sun Belt/MAC battles, the teams split with North Texas beating Ball State and Bowling Green thumping Troy.
While C-USA looks to show that they're worthy of comparison to the Mountain West and the WAC, the Sun Belt clearly stands as the bottom of the BCS conferences alongside the MAC.
Swampland "Square Pegs" - Both TCU in the Mountain West and Louisiana Tech in the WAC appear to be players in their own conference. TCU might end up in a BCS bowl if they can win their conference. Louisiana Tech has a much tougher road to respect. In either case, these teams belong in different conferences that can take advantage of their regional appeal.