It's still early in 2008 College Football season, but we are seeing some strengths and weaknesses starting to unfold, after four weeks of football. The Big Ten Conference will begin conference play in Week 5 and clearly from a national prospective... the torch barrier has fallen, bringing much of the conference with it. Four teams enter conference play undefeated, so it should be an interesting race in 2008.
USC is #1 nationally, but what about the strength of the Pac 10 overall? Can the Trojans remain focused week in and week out to run the table in '08 in the regular season?
The SEC is doing very well, when you look at Vanderbilt at 4-0 and 2-0 in the SEC and the top of the ticket this fall, taking care of business thus far with teams, like Georgia, Florida, LSU and Alabama.
How far can the Big 12 go in 2008? Will Oklahoma remain on top as the season unfolds and we finish out the season with the Big 12 Championship game? Missouri won it's first Big 12 North title ever in '07. Can anyone stop them from going higher in '08?
The Big East and the ACC... some want to dump the Big Ten into the fray, but clearly the Big East and ACC are falling short at the top of the ticket. Ohio State has one loss against #1 and two other prospects clearly appear capable of carrying the Big Ten's top banner at a higher level than anyone in either the Big East or ACC.
Pitt beat Iowa 21-20 at home. But, South Florida (4-0) played a tighter than expected game against FIU (0-3). USF beat Kansas (3-1) earlier, but how strong are they has they move into Big East play? Are we going to see another season, like 2004, with the Big East Conference in '08? In 2004, Pitt pulled off an important win at home in OT vs. Maryland. This year, Pitt (2-1) beat Iowa (3-1) in a game that could or should have gone either way.
The ACC doesn't have a clear cut Top 10 type team. Wake Forest at 3-0, 1-0 in the ACC doesn't seem to excite the country as a leader, as other names in the past. Can Virginia Tech (3-1, 2-0 ACC) gain back some much needed energy for the ACC in Week 5? The Hokies travel to Nebraska (3-0) for an interesting ACC-Big 12 contest. The Cornhuskers will be facing their first BCS conference opponent for the year. Of course, the Cornhuskers enter with two weeks of preparation, while is coming off a big road win in the ACC.
Notre Dame (1-2) will host their final Big Ten opponent of the year, with Purdue (2-1) heading to South Bend for Week 5. It will be coach Joe Tiller's final showdown, in his final season at Purdue. The Irish have an opportunity to start a winning streak on their schedule.
What about the non-BCS teams and conferences, thus far, after four weeks of play.
East Carolina (C-USA) found a early struggling North Carolina State (2-2, 0-1 ACC) as too much for the Pirates in Week 4 on the road. NC State beat ECU 30-24 to end the Pirates' quest for a Cinderella season. But, ECU (3-1, 1-0 CUSA) is off to a very solid start and will return to conference play in Week 5. Tulsa (3-0, 1-0 CUSA) picked up a win over New Mexico (MWC) in the OOC, while Marshall (3-1, 2-0 CUSA) is off to a good conference start by picking up another win in Week 4.
The MWC is off to a very good start lead by four conference teams: BYU (4-0, 1-0 MWC), Utah (4-0, 2-0 MWC), TCU (4-0, 1-0 MWC) and UNLV (3-1, 0-1 MWC). UNLV beat Iowa State (2-2) in OT at home, 34-31.
The WAC carried the non-BCS banner into the BCS bowls the past couple of years (Hawaii in '07 and Boise in '06). The WAC may not be out of it in '08, after a huge win by Boise State (3-0) over Oregon (3-1, 1-0 Pac 10) in Week 4 on the road. Fresno State (2-1) won an important road game again at Toledo in Week 4. Fresno's only loss was to Wisconsin (3-0) in Week 3, at home.
The Sun Belt and MAC don't appear primed for a strong non-BCS conference run vs. BCS opponents. Florida Atlantic (1-3) was a popular choice by many in the Sun Belt. But, FAU has showed very little in road games at Texas (3-0), Michigan State (3-1) and Minnesota (4-0).
Troy (2-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) and Arkansas State (3-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) are playing well in 2008 and clearly look capable of giving FAU a run for the Sun Belt Conference. I still like Troy taking the Sun Belt in '08.
But in the MAC, one team is clearly playing strong football. Ball State (4-0, 1-0 MAC) is playing well and did pick up a win over a BCS opponent for the MAC in Week 4. Ball State beat Indiana (3-1) 42-20. My favorite pick for the MAC is Western Michigan (3-1, 1-0 MAC). Central Michigan (2-2, 1-0 MAC), the favorite by many in the MAC, lost their third game to Purdue (2-1), since the third game of last year.
Week 5 will be the final weekend of September 2008. With conference play beginning for many, we should see some shake up continue throughout the Top 25 and beyond.