Amway Coaches Poll shows the Big Ten is new conference king in college football
The strongest league in the Football Bowl Subdivision doesn’t house the nation’s best team, since Alabama plays in the Southeastern Conference. That league, once rulers of the sport with an iron fist, is an imitation of its prior self.
The idea that LSU made the cut in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll is, in a word, laughable. Ignore the fact that LSU coach Ed Orgeron inspires little confidence. Focus instead on how the Tigers are again pinning their hopes on a graduate-transfer quarterback as they face four teams in the preseason top 10: Alabama, Georgia, Miami (Fla.) and Auburn.
So why did LSU make the cut? Helmets. Jerseys. Reputation, both of the program itself and, more importantly, its conference. LSU is here because of the benefit of the doubt extended to the SEC, which goes something like this: The fifth-best team in this conference must be one of the 25 best teams in all of college football.
Which is ridiculous. That benefit of the doubt should instead be extended to a team like Northwestern, winners of 10 games as the No. 17 team in the final Amway Coaches Poll, since the logic should instead go: The sixth-best team in the Big Ten Conference is one of 25 best teams in all of college football.
There’s a new top dog across the Bowl Subdivision. With five teams in the top 14 of the preseason poll, the Big Ten is the class of the conference landscape.
MISSING MARK:Overrated and underrated teams in the Top 25
No. 3 Ohio State – more on that in a moment. No. 7 Wisconsin, home to the nation’s best offensive line. No. 9 Penn State, fresh off back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl berths. No. 12 Michigan State, perennially overlooked. And No. 14 Michigan, which can combine with its elite defense a legitimate quarterback.
This is the best the college football has to offer. On a smaller scale, the Big Ten East – home to four of the five teams, all but Wisconsin – is the new version of the SEC West, which dominated the championship hunt for a good part of a decade.
Even the storm clouds circling Urban Meyer and Ohio State don’t change that equation. For decades, this program has embraced the idea that the brand is bigger than any one individual, whether that’s Meyer, Woody Hayes or Jim Tressel. If Meyer keeps his job, the Buckeyes will be deep in the hunt for the national title in 2018. The same applies if interim coach Ryan Day is running the show. Such is the quality of the Buckeyes’ roster.
Wisconsin will be discounted by rivals in the Big Ten and elsewhere, especially in the SEC, who consistently cite the perception that the Badgers are too slow, too plodding and too predictable to be a valid title contender. But the process undertaken by current athletics director Barry Alvarez has led to this moment: Wisconsin is built to not just play for but win this year’s championship.
Penn State and Michigan State will go as far as their quarterbacks – Trace McSorley and Brian Lewerke, respectively – can take them, and both coaching staffs feel confident in that equation. Michigan, meanwhile, has a quarterback, period. The Wolverines are a dark-horse playoff contender.
Now contrast this makeup with that of the SEC. That Alabama is a powerhouse can’t be overlooked, nor should it be. But the well quickly dries. Georgia and Auburn are top-of-the-line contenders. But all it would take is one misstep – an Auburn loss to Washington, a Georgia loss to South Carolina – to trim the SEC’s avenues to the playoff down to one: the Crimson Tide.
The Big Ten will resemble those vintage SEC lineups of the recent past in one fashion: It’ll be a dog-eat-dog push from September through the first Saturday in December. Michigan will take on five of the top 12 teams of the preseason poll. Penn State and Ohio State will face four teams in the preseason top 16. Michigan State will face three ranked teams. Wisconsin two, which may be an issue for the Badgers should push come to shove for the playoff selection committee.
But Wisconsin shouldn’t worry about the end result. Within reason, the conference champion should be a no-brainer pick for the top four. That’s the sort of benefit of the doubt normally extended only to the SEC. In 2018, it’s the Big Ten that deserves that preseason respect.