LITTLE ROCK — Three weeks into the college football season, the national landscape has changed dramatically on two major fronts.
Stanford 21, USC 14 tightened the screws on the possibility of a Pac-12 team participating in the BCS title game and opened wide the competition for the Heisman Trophy. The upset of the Trojans, combined with stumbles by teams thought to be the best in the Big Ten, makes it extremely likely that the Southeastern Conference will provide one of the teams in the championship game to the disgust of many.
Out West, Stanford and Oregon are in the same division, but they don’t play until Nov. 17. Two weeks prior to that, Oregon is at USC. More than likely, the Ducks will have to win both games and defeat USC again in the championship game to play in Miami in January. A loss in November or December would be a killer. Stanford is in a similar spot and USC must win out, maybe beating Oregon twice.
Meanwhile, Big Ten favorites Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Nebraska have one loss each and have yet to begin conference play. Despite highly regarded running back Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State managed 50 yards rushing in a loss to Notre Dame. With Montee Ball, Wisconsin ran for 35 yards and scored one touchdown in a loss to Oregon State. Michigan was inept vs. Alabama in the season opener and Nebraska was outscored by UCLA.
Bye-bye Big Ten.
The Big 12 has five teams in the top 17 in The AP poll, but the league is only one game deep in conference play. No. 15 Kansas State plays No. 6 Oklahoma this week and the dog-eat-dog round-robin begins in earnest Sept. 29. Any team that gets through the regular season unbeaten will be in the BCS game because there is no league championship game to sweat in December. With the addition of West Virginia and TCU and the apparent resurgence of Texas, the Big 12 appears to have more depth than the SEC and a 9-0 conference record will be difficult.
For instance, OU plays K-State, Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and TCU, plus the league’s lesser lights. Alabama has the Nov. 3 showdown with LSU, three games with other Western Division opponents, plus Tennessee and Missouri. Georgia has South Carolina and Florida, three other Eastern Division opponents, plus Ole Miss and Auburn.
The way this sets up, the Atlantic Coast Conference is in the best position to benefit and the winner of No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 10 Clemson this week will be in the driver’s seat. Both have a game remaining against Virginia Tech — repeating a theme here, the Hokies ran for 59 yards in a loss to Pittsburgh — but the irony is that the SEC could ruin the hopes of both FSU and Clemson. On the final weekend of the regular season, FSU plays Florida and Clemson plays South Carolina.
Positioning will be in sharper focus when the BCS standings are first released Oct. 14.
On the individual front, Matt Barkley loosened his grip on the Heisman Trophy when he completed less than 50 percent of his passes and the Trojans converted only 1-of-13 third downs last week. Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas dropped out of the picture, completing 14-of-31. The stock of Michigan State’s Bell took a hit. So did that of Wisconsin’s Ball, who was a fall-back choice until his touchdown streak ended at 21 games.
Based strictly on stats compiled vs. inferior opposition, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and Oregon’s do-everything De’Anthony Thomas are the early leaders. Smith has completed 87 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Thomas is averaging 17.5 yards per try on his 13 carries and 14 yards per on his 11 receptions.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @harrykingsports.