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September 12, 2008

Olin's Mailbag: Just how big are the Big Six?

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The term "Big Six" conference refers to the leagues with automatic berths in BCS bowls. Yet the moniker appears misleading.

The "six" part isn't in question, but judging by some of the performances in the first two weeks of the season, the "big" adjective certainly is up for debate.

The Pac-10 is deserving of its status based on its current 7-3 record against non-conference opponents. Likewise, the SEC has solidified its standing with an 18-3 start.

The Big 12 is 22-2 in non-conference play and 3-1 against other "Big Six" conference teams. The Big Ten is 18-3 and 3-2 against "Big Six" opponents.

The Big East and ACC?

Don't ask unless you're asking about whether another conference deserves "Big Six" status more than those leagues. In that case, the answer is in this week's mailbag.

Mountain West vs. ACC

Clint in Columbus, Ohio: I've been hearing a lot this year about the Mountain West Conference with BYU, Utah and even TCU. How does this conference stack up against a "Big Six" conference like the ACC, which is struggling this season?

The Mountain West would compare favorably to the ACC and the Big East, at least at the top.

BYU, Utah and TCU are unbeaten, and the MWC already has posted victories over a Pac-10 opponent (BYU over Washington) and a Big Ten foe (Utah over Michigan). That's a much better showing than either the ACC or the Big East.

So far, the ACC is 2-5 against other "Big Six" conference teams, with Wake Forest posting both of those wins (over Baylor of the Big 12 and Ole Miss of the SEC). In fact, other than Wake Forest, the ACC's most impressive showing might be Miami's 23-point loss to Florida because the Hurricanes were competitive for three quarters.

The Big East only has two unbeaten teams, and both won overtime games against teams from lower conferences Connecticut over Temple of the Mid-American and South Florida over UCF of Conference USA. Big East teams are 0-3 against "Big Six" teams, and also have lost to teams from C-USA, the MAC and the Western Athletic.

In that regard, the Mountain West looks stronger. In fact, so does the WAC, which is strong at the top with Fresno State posting a victory over Rutgers on the road. Louisiana Tech also beat SEC member Mississippi State, which played in a bowl last season.

But the second tier of the Mountain West includes San Diego State, which has lost to Division I-AA Cal Poly; Wyoming, which has a one-point home win over Ohio; Colorado State, which has a three-point home win over Division I-AA Sacramento State; and New Mexico, which lost to Texas A&M at home a week after the Aggies were beaten at home by Arkansas State.

Thus, even though they've struggled, I believe that the ACC and Big East are better than the MWC and the WAC.

Time to get excited?

J.C. in Los Angeles: Does UCLA's victory over Tennessee mean the Bruins are for real? Or does it just mean that Tennessee was overrated? I'm really trying not to get too happy about the Bruins.

Go ahead and get excited, JC. Just don't get too crazy.

The second-half showing by quarterback Kevin Craft gives you and other Bruins fans plenty of reason to be encouraged, optimistic and yes excited.

First of all, if you believe all the hype about the SEC, you have to be excited about your prospects after knocking off one of its members. But don't get too giddy. Cal defeated Tennessee in the season-opener last season, then stumbled to a 7-6 finish.

The real reason to get excited is that the second-half comeback showed the Bruins clearly are better coached than a year ago. Coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow obviously did a masterful job in keeping Craft from collapsing mentally and from keeping the Bruins from giving up.

Nothing against former coach Karl Dorrell, but I doubt the Bruins would've bounced back like that a year ago.

Defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker will ensure the Bruins are effective on that side of the ball, and with Neuheisel and Chow calling the shots, the offense looks much better, too.

Still, the Bruins are dealing with injuries again and the schedule isn't forgiving. Don't count on UCLA challenging for the Pac-10 championship, but this could be a solid season for the Bruins and the future now looks brighter.

That's reason to get excited.

Bouncing back?

Allen in Marshall, Mich.: After the loss to Vanderbilt, what are the chances of South Carolina getting back on track and going for the SEC championship?

Well, let's see what we can learn from history.

The SEC expanded and adopted its current division format in 1992. Since that time, no team that has won the SEC title has lost to Vanderbilt, though four teams did not play the Commodores SEC West squads LSU in 2001, '03 and '07 and Auburn in '04.

Based on history, there's no chance the Gamecocks will win the SEC championship.

On the positive side, the Gamecocks do appear better on defense under Ellis Johnson. And they do have coach Steve Spurrier on the sideline, which is a plus. They need to get more consistent play at quarterback, but you've heard that many times before.

And there's a first time for everything, so maybe this is it. After all, until last year, Vandy never had beaten a Spurrier-coached team. Now, the Commodores have done it twice in a row.

Long gone?

Todd in San Diego: After an embarrassing loss to Cal Poly and a loss to Notre Dame, how long can San Diego State coach Chuck Long keep his job?

Perhaps only San Diego State athletic director Jeff Schemmel knows for sure. But coaches are paid to produce winning football teams, and the Aztecs are 7-19 under Long - including that season-opening loss to Division I-AA Cal Poly.

That's not good.

San Diego State's foundering program is a mystery to me. There's a glut of high school talent in southern California, and San Diego - one of my favorite cities - is absolutely beautiful.

Even though Pac-10 programs obviously are going to get the area's best players, it would seem San Diego State should be able to field at least a decent team with the leftovers. Yet, the Aztecs haven't posted a winning record since 1998, when they were 7-5.

Maybe Long is turning things around in San Diego. The Aztecs almost beat Notre Dame and probably would have if running back Brandon Sullivan had not lost a controversial fumble near the goal line. That would have given the Aztecs to a 20-7 lead with 12 minutes left to play. Instead, Notre Dame rallied to win 21-13.

The reaction to the outcome was that Notre Dame must be terrible. But perhaps San Diego State just made tremendous improvement from its first week. We'll see this week when the Aztecs travel to San Jose State.

I do believe every coach deserves to keep his position at least four years. That way, he has a chance field a team with juniors and seniors that he recruited. So, in my opinion, Long should at least get one more year after this one.

Where's Knowshon?

James in Atlanta: Why is Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno not on your top-five list of Heisman Trophy leaders? His hurdle over Central Michigan defensive back Vince Agnew is the most amazing play I have seen so far this season. Sure, East Carolina quarterback Patrick Pinkney is a good quarterback, but if ECU had not upset West Virginia, no one would be mentioning his name, no matter what his numbers are.

My top five Heisman Trophy leaders list reflects how I would vote if my ballot were due that week.

The Heisman is supposed to go to the most outstanding player in college football. To me, the most outstanding player is one who excels against the best competition.

I try to take caliber of competition into consideration. Therefore, Moreno was not included because I would not vote for him based on his performance against Division I-AA Georgia Southern and Central Michigan, a MAC team that went 8-6 a year ago.

That's the same reason I have not included Texas quarterback Colt McCoy (Florida Atlantic and UTEP).

When those players start facing better teams Georgia plays South Carolina this week I will be more inclined to include them on my personal list of leaders.

The players in my top five this week were USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, California running back Jahvid Best and Pinkney; all have had excellent performances against at least one opponent from a "Big Six" conference.

Your argument against Pinkney makes no sense to me. To say that he would not be mentioned if East Carolina had not beaten West Virginia is irrelevant. East Carolina did beat West Virginia. The Pirates beat Virginia Tech, too. And Pinkney was a big reason they won those games.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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