1. Which conference is stronger -- the Pac-12 or the Big 12?
♦ It’s easy to be enamored by the Big 12 and the kinds of records and numbers its teams are posting. But I’m not ready to say it’s better than the Pac-12 just yet. I think the fact that there isn’t a Pac-12 team that is undefeated in the conference is a testament to how deep and strong the league is, not an indication of its weakness. These mid-tier teams like Arizona or Utah are way better than what the Big 12 is offering in the middle. The Big 12 may be more top-heavy, but when they all get to beat up on Kansas, Texas Tech, etc., that separation is going to happen.
♦ As said by the honorable Sean Carter AKA Jay-Z: “Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t lie.” And solely based on the numbers, the Pac-12 is better than the Big 12. The Pac-12 boasts a 48-24 record while the Big 12 is 36-22. Both conferences feature five teams in the AP Top 25 but the Pac-12 has two teams with losing records while the Big 12 has four (Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas), almost half the conference. The most important stat however is wins against other top 25 teams and the Pac 12 is 9-13 while the Big 12 is 2-15. For now, I’m going with the Pac-12. Just better football. West Coast baby!
♦ If this question had been posed two weeks ago, I would have easily have said the Pac-12. I considered it to be the second strongest conference behind the Southeastern Conference by a long shot, with the Big 12 being third. Now, after a wild weekend in the Big 12, particularly TCU and Baylor’s shootout, it’s a bit closer of a call. But I’ll stick with the Pac-12 simply because of the depth of the conference. It runs nine deep with Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, USC, Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Washington State. That conference schedule is wide open and anything can happen any given week. The Big 12 has some serious firepower that cannot be ignored and appears to have a legitimate national title contender in Baylor, but I’m not really sold on the likes of Kansas State and Oklahoma State. I’ll take the Pac-12.
Eric Vander Voort: And even though the top of the Big 12 might look better now, I'm not convinced it is actually better. I'd take Oregon in a matchup with any Big 12 team. They can put up points AND play at least a little bit of defense ... a concept it seems not too many Big 12 teams are familiar with.
Stephen Sellner: Looks like we're not drinking the Big 12 kool-aid from last weekend. I'd go with Baylor in a matchup against Oregon at this moment, but I still think there's a lot to be learned about the Bears. The Pac-12 has to be the most unpredictable conference at this point.
Tesalon Felicien: Yes, I believe the Bears will fall short in the long run. Oregon, despite a loss, can still go all the way. The Ducks do play defense unlike the Bears.
Stephen Sellner: I never was really big on UCLA, but I think a team like USC still has a chance to make some noise going forward. It makes you think where the Trojans would be had it not been for that Hail Mary against Arizona State.
Eric Vander Voort: It has been the most unpredictable conference -- I still don't really know what to think about Kansas State or Oklahoma State. But I do know that Utah and Arizona are capable of big wins. When December comes, I'd guess that these Pac-12 teams will stick around in the top 25, but the Big 12 might be reaching its peak right about now.
Stephen Sellner: Also, what do we think about Oklahoma being ahead of TCU in the polls? That seems a bit questionable.
Tesalon Felicien: It is questionable. TCU deserved to be ahead no doubt. I believe there's a chance a Big 12 team could be left out. Just as with the SEC West, there's no clear front runner in the Big 12. Each team loses to the other.
Eric Vander Voort: Yeah, I don't really get that. They played each other, TCU won. Should be simple as that, but with polls, it's never simple.
Stephen Sellner: I think we've learned the polls are an inexact science. Just ask Florida State fans.
Eric Vander Voort: What matters this year isn't the polls, but those four teams the committee selects -- we don't know their decision making process, but whatever happens, I'm not sure I can see either of these conferences getting left out.
Stephen Sellner: The only chance one is left out is if FSU runs the table and the SEC gets two bids.
2. The big game this weekend is No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State. Who wins and why?
Tesalon Felicien: FSU will extend its winning streak at Doak Stadium to 11 games when Notre Dame visits this Saturday. FSU’s had the Irish’s number winning two of the previous three matchups. Jameis Winston has a knack for showing up in big games, and this is a huge one. The difference maker, however, will be defense and FSU’s defense is very dominant.Stephen Sellner: I've been going back and forth on this one for a few weeks. I see this game going one of two ways: Notre Dame wins by a hair, or Florida State wins in a rout. I'll go with the trendy pick in the Irish because I think ND has had this game circled for a while and may have contributed to a less-than-impressive showing against North Carolina as the Irish were looking ahead. That's not to say I'm confident in the pick, as I alluded to before. Jameis Winston doing the unpredictable has become predictable at this point.
Eric Vander Voort: This isn’t the kind of game that Notre Dame wins. At least, it’s not they kind that the Irish have won in the past 20 years. They’re 1-16 against the top five dating back to 1998, and haven’t beaten a top-two team since 1993. When the Irish had opportunities, they haven’t really even come close. Now if I’m being honest, I’m not completely sold on Florida State being a top-two caliber team, but I’m not sold on Notre Dame being one of the best five in the country, either. The Irish very well could have lost each of their past two games. I don’t see them going into Tallahassee -- their first true road trip of the season -- and keeping it close, let alone winning.
Stephen Sellner: It's a VERY tall task, no doubt.
Tesalon Felicien: So no signature win for Everett Golson?
Stephen Sellner: If there's going to be a signature win, it'll be for the Notre Dame defense.
Eric Vander Voort: Golson got his signature drive a couple weeks ago against Stanford. If it's close, watch out, but I don't think the Notre Dame defense will be able to keep it close. They couldn't stop North Carolina, which hadn't been remotely close in any of its previous three games.
3. The Heisman race is wide open. Which player will be the difference-maker in the second half of the season and distance himself from the pack?
Stephen Sellner: It has to be Dak Prescott at this point. We all know that the big-game factor is huge when it comes to the Heisman race, and Prescott has already had his fair share with a win against then-No. 2 Auburn and Texas A&M (even though the Aggies don't look as good as they did weeks prior). But Prescott and Mississippi State still have tests at Alabama and a potential blockbuster of a game at Ole Miss to end the year where the cameras and media will certainly be all over Prescott. So surely by the schedule, you have to go with Prescott. That's what could separate him from Marcus Mariota out in Oregon because the Ducks don't have any truly big games left on their slate.
Eric Vander Voort: I’m going to go with Marcus Mariota. While many of the other candidates have had some downs to go with their big ups, Mariota has been consistent. The guy has 17 passing touchdowns and zero -- I repeat, zero -- interceptions. If he stays on his current pace, he’ll surpass 4,000 total yards for the season and he’ll get very close to 50 touchdowns. I’m not sure that Oregon needs that big game, Stephen. It has the Michigan State win, which is starting to look better again, and it'll probably have the Pac-12 championship. If Oregon loses again, it likely won’t be because of Mariota -- he puts his team in excellent position to win every game. He’s the nation’s top-rated passer. I think he’s in the best position to come out on top of what could still be quite a tumultuous race.
Tesalon Felicien: I initially went with Jameis but let’s call an audible on Jameis and his Heisman chances. Maybe next year ... maybe never. That being said, the Dak Attack will continue to assert himself as the Heisman front-runner. I mean, who else is there? Ameer Abdullah? Marcus Mariota? Prescott’s numbers haven’t been colossal but those three consecutive wins against LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn made him into a Heisman contender. A win against Alabama on Nov. 15 will all but seal his chances. Even with one loss at the end of the season, Prescott is miles ahead of the rest of the competition.
Stephen Sellner: I think it'd be tough not to hand it to Prescott if the Bulldogs win the SEC.
Eric Vander Voort: Key word there is "if". I think you're right, but I think there's a much better chance Oregon wins out than Mississippi State.
Stephen Sellner: It's really interesting how one loss just wiped Mariota and Oregon from thought for most college football fans. Nothing's changed for Mariota as far as the Heisman goes! It's just that Prescott's recent momentum has been so massive.
Eric Vander Voort: Exactly. He's the most reliable quarterback in the country. Everyone's always looking for the guy who's going to emerge from nowhere (just like Manziel and Winston did), but that doesn't happen all the time. If the other candidates suffer a loss or a down game the rest of the way, Mariota's resume could have fewer holes than anyone else.
Stephen Sellner: It's worth noting that it's still very early in this discussion. Most big moves in the Heisman race take place in November and December.
Tesalon Felicien: Johnny Manziel lost and still got it, right? I think it comes down to his performance against Alabama. I don't see Arkansas, Ole Miss or UTM posing a problem.
Stephen Sellner: Hype is such a huge component in Heisman voting, and Manziel's selection was no exception.
Eric Vander Voort: You don't see Ole Miss posing a problem? That game is in Oxford. Bo Wallace could very well pose a problem -- and a Heisman case of his own.
Stephen Sellner: Initially I had those questions about Ole Miss, Tesalon. But I have to say the Rebels have proved me wrong and then some.
Tesalon Felicien: If Mississippi State gets past Bama then I see no other teams stopping his momentum. Ole Miss will put up a fight, however. I can't really figure out Bo but he finds a way to win.
Eric Vander Voort: Like Stephen said, this discussion is a long way from being over. That's why I'm going with the steady choice right now, not necessarily the popular one.