College Football: Power 5 conference power rankings

With the College Football season past the halfway point, it is time to rank the Power 5 conferences from best to worst.

Photo via Getty Images

No. 1, Big 10

The Big 10 has three teams in the Top 10 and five total in the Top 25. There is no doubt that it will get at least one team in the playoff. If Penn St. and Wisconsin are both undefeated going into the Big 10 championship, then it has a very good chance at getting 2 teams.

The elite coaches set the Big 10 apart from the rest as Meyer and Harbaugh are probably among the top five coaches in the game. Behind them, they have James Franklin who is proving to be capable of building a championship contender now that scholarship restrictions are lifted.

The conference has also established consistent winners in Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Michigan State’s Mike Dantonio.

Finally, the Big Ten has young up and coming coaches in Minnesota’s P.J Fleck and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm. With great coaches across the board, the Big Ten has the potential to dominate the college football landscape for the foreseeable future.

TUSCALOOSA, AL – SEPTEMBER 28: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks the field during pregame warmups prior to facing the Mississippi Rebels at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

No. 2, SEC

After ruling the college football world for the entirety of the 2000s, the SEC has taken a step back.

Alabama is still by far the most dominant program in College Football, yet other traditional powerhouses such as LSU, Florida and Auburn have gone from perennial top 10 programs to very beatable teams typically ranked between 15 and 25. These teams still have unbelievable talent on their defensive lines and receiving cores, however, none of them have been able to find a reliable quarterback. Whether this is on the coaches or simply bad luck is unknown.

Until the majority of the SEC teams get championship caliber playmakers at the quarterback position, it will be difficult for them to re-establish themselves as college football’s unrivaled top conference.

Paul Nisely via SN Illustration/Getty Images

No. 3, Big 12

The Big 12 will always struggle to be a great conference with only 10 teams and no conference championship game.

They have earned the No. 3 ranking because they have three teams with a legitimate chance at making the playoff in TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State pending an undefeated finish. The same cannot be said for the ACC or the Pac 12.

The Big 12 has always seemed like the playground of college football, a cute place where everyone throws touchdowns, plays no defense and everyone is happy.

If Tom Herman can turn around Texas, then the Big 12 can return to the feared conference it once was when Michael Crabtree, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy held dominion over the college football’s top five.

Until then, the Big 12 will be limited by being somewhat top heavy and not having the potential resume builder that a conference championship game provides.

Photo via Gerry Broome/ Associated Press

No. 4, ACC

The ACC is still a very formidable football conference, but it took a major step back in 2017.

The Atlantic Division, arguably the most feared sub-conference last year, has regressed mightily as Florida State and Louisville have fallen entirely out of the top 25.

Clemson is still a national title contender but, with a first-year starting quarterback, they appear much more beatable than they were last year.

On the Coastal Side, North Carolina went from a top 20 team to perhaps the worst team in the ACC after quarterback Mitch Trubisky left for the NFL.

Heading the Coastal is undefeated Miami and Virginia Tech with one loss. Any team in the ACC is not really a threat in the national championship race.

Although it is a down year for the ACC, it should improve when its teams and quarterbacks gain more experience.

Photo via Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

No. 5, Pac 12

Rounding out the Power 5 conferences is the Pac 12, who has had an extremely disappointing year.

Unlike the ACC, the Pac 12 does not have the excuse of having inexperience as USC, Washington and Washington State all returned veteran quarterbacks with legitimate National Championship hopes.

USC’s Sam Darnold, the most exciting player since Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez has been an immense disappointment throwing countless interceptions and suffering an embarrassing defeat against arch-rival Notre Dame.

Washington’s Jake Browning has been uninspiring this year, crushing their National Championship in a humiliating loss to lowly Arizona State in which they only put up a measly 7 points.

Stanford has been the same team they have been since Andrew Luck left, consistent, and might get a cute bid to the Rose Bowl, but they still lack the all-around skill and speed to dominate a season from start to finish.

In order for the Pac 12 to return to the respected conference they once were, they must establish a dominant team capable of consistently competing with the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.

Until then, the Pac 12 will continue to occasionally submit apathetic teams to the playoff that are not truly taken seriously.

What needs to happen for USC to win national title

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Led by Sam Darnold, quarterback and Heisman contender, USC is one of the favorites to win the college football title. Here’s what needs to happen for the Trojans to take home the title this upcoming season.

Last Season

It seemed like USC was going to have one of the worst seasons in the program’s history this past season. They lost 52-6 to Alabama in their season opener, and won only one of their first four games (Utah State).

The Trojans bounced back, though, and didn’t lose a single game the rest of the season, finishing at 10-3.

Biggest obstacle: Schedule strength

If they’re going to contend for a title, USC could definitely have issues with their schedule strength–it’s just not hard enough. Being in the Pac-12 was useful last year as they were only challenged in a few of their games, allowing them to climb in the standings despite a rough start.

The Trojans have to stay on top of their game the whole season and beat (most likely) Washington in order to contend for the title.

Quarterback excellence, with a little help

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Darnold has shown his stoicism and confidence throughout his tenure at USC, and fans know he’ll only get better. Photo via Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images

USC is looking to dominate on offense next season. It starts with Darnold, who totaled 3086 yards on 246 completions, and threw for 31 touchdowns with only nine interceptions last season.

Here’s a video from SB Nation on Twitter showcasing one of Darnold’s many impressive passes.

Considering he didn’t start until the team’s fourth game and threw for over 3,000 yards, USC’s offense looks rock solid. Darnold also threw for 453 yards in the Rose Bowl. Barring any abnormalities, he will continue to play well.

An outstanding O-line did play a huge role in his success last season, though, and the Trojans lost three of their best linemen to the draft. Zach Banner went to the Colts, Damien Mama to the Chiefs, and Chad Wheeler to the Giants.

One of USC’s top priorities is to replace these guys. So far, it looks like they’re doing a good job of it. The Trojans have four O-line players poised to take over: four-star offensive tackle Austin Jackson, four-star offensive tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker, and four-star center Brett Neilon.

If this new class can pick up where Banner, Mama, and Wheeler left off, Darnold will have all the help he needs. Also, if Darnold does slip up for some reason, four-star recruit Jack Sears will be right behind him.

Ground game

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Jones’s run game will be an integral part of the Trojans offense next season. Photo via AP Photo / Gus Ruelas

The Trojans are returning an outstanding group of backs, and there’s some new talent coming in, too.

Rising junior running back Ronald Jones II was the team’s best option last year, running for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns. He hopes to retain the starter position this year in face of incoming five-star running back Stephen Carr.

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Carr could challenge Jones as the team’s top RB. Photo via Scout.com

A California native, Carr is the third ranked RB recruit in the nation. The two will make an imposing duo. Dominic Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware, who supplemented Jones well last year, are returning, too.

Outstanding recruiting class

Excluding the run game and the O-line, USC has an all around good recruit class.

The Trojans defense is shaping up to be much better than last year’s, which was ranked No. 36 in total defense.

This season, they recruited five four-star players to strength their defense, including DTs Marlon Tuipulotu and Jay Tufele.

The other big recruiting story besides Carr is five-star receiver Joseph Lewis IV. Lewis indicated his desire to play at USC in January on Twitter. If he clicks with Darnold, the Trojans will have some formidable offensive firepower.

Why USC will win the national title game

Many are projecting USC as an outside candidate for the playoffs this year, and their reasons are sound. USC’s schedule isn’t nearly as hard as some of the other contenders.

If the Trojans can dominate their conference, though, they should maintain a strong position in the rankings. If they beat Stanford, Texas, Notre Dame, and Colorado, they’ll be hard to ignore.

Darnold is a top contender for the Heisman. Supplemented by some amazing running and receiving talent, he should be unstoppable.
While the Trojans aren’t my top choice for the title, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win it. They will definitely make the playoffs over Washington this year.

Penn State vs. USC: Morals in college football never existed

Written by Madison House

Photo via Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to the Rose Bowl matchup between Penn State and USC, the media was pumping up the event as the “big comeback Bowl Game.” Both teams, having historically been very strong football programs, were in their first good season since harsh sanctions each had received several years prior.

USC’s sanctions were the result of an aspiring sports agent paying the rent for running back Reggie Bush’s parents. Penn State’s sanctions followed something far different. The president, athletic director, vice president, and head football coach covered up the wrongdoings of their beloved Jerry Sandusky for at least 10 years.

We shouldn’t condone the actions of the USC athletic program. Giving money to college athletes or their families is against NCAA rules. However, it’s important to recognize the difference between helping the family of a player, who needs that economic support, and the occurrence and subsequent institutional suppression of child molestation.

Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky began coaching for Penn State in the 1960s and created a strong football program with one of the highest graduation rates. Their program was known for its integrity and morality. The fame and influence of these coaches extended off of the football field as well; Sandusky began a presidentially recognized charity organization called the Second Mile, which aimed to support underprivileged children in Pennsylvania.

Second Mile children often developed relationships with Sandusky, accompanying him to football games, meeting the players, and playing on the football field. To children living difficult lives in rural Pennsylvania, excursions with a celebrity onto the most important site in town was special.

In 2001 or 2002, a PSU coaching assistant saw assistant coach Jerry Sandusky raping a ten-year-old boy in the showers of the Penn State locker-room. He reported his findings to head coach Joe Paterno who passed that information along to President Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz, and athletic director Tim Curley. Originally, as an email conversation suggests, the three concluded they would report the incident to the authorities. Somewhere it was decided to “handle” it internally.

 

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Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno (AP Images)

 

Why would the president, athletic director, and head coach hide child rape or even questionable Sandusky-child relationships?

The athletics program at Penn State made about $53 million a year during the Paterno-Sandusky era. This profit was largely based on the reliance of its town, State College, and the sparkling legacy of the duo that created a historic football and academic program from scratch. Many argue that the administration wasn’t aware of the extent of Sandusky’s actions, but a 1998 investigation of Sandusky’s possible sexual involvement with children gave a background for the allegation in 2001.

It wasn’t until eight years later that a new investigation on Jerry Sandusky opened up the extent of his violations: 52 young boys came forward with cases about Sandusky, including Sandusky’s adopted son, Matt, and eight victims testified in court. Most victims had similar stories of having poor backgrounds and becoming enchanted with the famous man picking them up but taking the loving father figure too far.

A few years earlier, PSU’s “comeback” rival was facing a far different scandal.

Reggie Bush grew up with a single working mother and little to no relationship with his biological father. Reggie Bush’s need for economic stability made him an easy target for a questionable sports agent.

 

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Reggie Bush vs. Notre Dame (Photo via G.N. Lowrance / Getty Images)

 

With the power of education or socioeconomic status, he might have refused the offer, but isn’t the point of college football to give Bush enough education to support his mother and his future?

USC received harsh sanctions justified by their supposed “lack of institutional control” because the athletic director allegedly knew of the wrongdoing and failed to stop it. A valid point, even though the NCAA evaluation gave no individual charge to either the athletic director or the head coach, just a general lack of institutional control.

 

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Jerry Sandusky in a jumpsuit (Patrick Smith/ Getty Images)

 

How does the NCAA justify punishing a football player for accepting rent for his mom’s apartment more harshly than an administration that covers up for a man molesting and raping ten-year-old boys on its campus?

The NCAA’s job is to sanction college athletic programs when rules are broken. Thus, the USC football program received sanctions of scholarships reduced by 30 over the time span of three years, loss of all wins from the 2005 season and two from the 2004 season, and two years of a postseason ban. Penn State received a four-year postseason ban, loss of 112 wins (from 1998 to 2011) including two national titles, one year of the school’s football revenue in a fine, and a loss of 40 scholarships over four years.

These two sets of sanctions are considered two of the harshest sanctions in NCAA history, just short of the “death penalty,” banning that team’s athletic participation for one year. The extremity of the sanctions on Penn State calmed the situation after the initial shock by the horrible actions of Sandusky and the neglect of the Penn State administration to help the young boys.

However, both USC and Penn State appealed for the reduction of their sanctions due to the detrimental effects such sanctions have on a strong football program. USC was denied any reduction of their sanctions, extending their punishment until the 2016-2017 season. Penn State’s appeal lowered their sanctions to the fine and the 112 vacated wins.

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Photo via Mark Holtzman

How come the sanctions on both schools were so similar? And why were the PSU sanctions repealed, making them significantly less detrimental than those on USC? Both universities displayed a lack of institutional control, but which caused more damage?

While the NCAA claims that a “college degree is at the heart of our mission,” this value often isn’t translated into practice; most student-athletes aren’t required to graduate to become professional athletes, they receive school benefits, and even those that do graduate are given academic “advantages” to maximize the time they spend on the field. Because very few can accumulate enough wealth as a professional athlete, a vast majority of college athletes will need to rely on other skills that were possibly compromised due to their athletic value.

This opportunity for the exploitation of students questions whether or not college athletes should be paid because universities have very little incentive to educate their players or ensure a good quality of life for them. Thus, universities can take advantage of the fact that many aspiring football players lack financial means to get an education or make a living without utilizing their athletic gifts. The NCAA should be their avenue to use physical talents to get a strong education.

As many argue, Reggie Bush should’ve been financially aided for his contribution to the university and to the NCAA which likely would’ve eliminated any relationship between his family and the agent.

As for the effects of the PSU case, many argue that child rape is a worse crime than murder, as raping or molesting a child can have serious effects on that child’s life. About one-third of rape victims consider suicide, and the younger the child, the more their world is morphed by their experiences.

Another prominent defense of the PSU administration is that even though they didn’t punish Sandusky or prevent future harmful interactions, they didn’t completely ignore Sandusky’s actions: they took away his key to the locker room.

Pedophilia is largely considered a mental disorder, a disease, not to mention the mental illness necessary to sexually take advantage of another human being, no matter the age. Coupled with the about 50 young children molested or raped by Sandusky, it’s hard to argue that Sandusky was mentally healthy. Though that in no way justifies his behavior, it increases the necessity of the healthy to ensure the protection of the children who lacked the ability to advocate for themselves.

Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier likely weren’t pedophiles, likely don’t have a history of sexual assault, so shouldn’t they have been responsible for protecting the situation? They were aware that Sandusky was having inappropriate relations with young boys on school campus and failed to stop it. All of the child rapes and molestation by Sandusky from 2001 to 2011 could’ve been prevented by any of those four men contacting the authorities.

If that’s not a “lack of institutional control,” it is not clear what is. The only control they demonstrated was protecting their football program from the bad publicity of child rape.

There is little to no acknowledgment of the reduction in Penn State sanctions. In fact, many continually display Penn State as having received the harshest sanctions in history, when, in reality, they received very minimal punishment.

Ultimately, the NCAA is faced with recognizing the complexities involved in sanctioning universities. Regardless of which team you cheer for, it’s important to look at why each violation occurred and how harmful that violation was in order to determine the equity of the sanctions.

Reggie Bush: The product of a flawed college football system

Photo via Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Imagine you wake up with missed calls from colleges around the country offering you a football scholarship. You’re seventeen, and after long practices, extra sprints, and constant training, you’ve finally become the best. Despite coming from a low-income household with a single mom, universities are calling with stronger educations than you ever could’ve imagined. What’s left is conquering college football to make the NFL.

This process is a reality for many high school athletes like former University of Southern California running back Reggie Bush. Once he chose USC, Bush became one of the most talented college football players ever. He could do it all: return punts and kickoffs, run over anyone, and score touchdowns. With 1740 rushing yards and 478 receiving yards, Bush became the Heisman Trophy winner in 2005 as a junior.

But he also became the target of agents hoping to sign him for the big money in the NFL. As Bush gained fame, an ex-convict friend of his stepfather, Lloyd Lake, decided that he wanted to become a sports agent. Lake gave Bush’s stepfather a home and Bush a used car to guarantee Bush’s business when he reached the NFL.

Bush, however, failed to realize that this interaction with Lake was problematic. When he realized Lake wouldn’t be a good choice of an agent, he refused to sign with Lake, causing Lake to turn him in for receiving illegal gifts.

USC then got charged by the NCAA with “lack of institutional control” for failing either to be aware of Bush’s gifts or to stop Bush’s interactions with Lake. The school received one of the worst set of sanctions in college football history that destroyed the football team for six years. Reggie Bush, among talk of its removal, returned his Heisman. There is no winner of the 2005 trophy.

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Bush holding Heisman before it was taken away (Photo via Frank Franklin II/AP Images)

There’s no denying Bush’s accountability, but how much control did he have over the situation?

Bush’s scholarship, from the NCAA’s perspective, was a way to broaden the reach of higher education and to open up opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible. Scholarships are meant to prepare football players for the NFL but also give them the education that prepares them for a successful life outside of football.

Universities, however, are able to cheat football players out of a quality education in exchange for the profit of a star athlete. Thus, many argue that college athletes should be receiving some sort of monetary compensation for their contribution to the university. Universities and the NCAA are making millions of dollars off of the skills that young, often uneducated or underprivileged children bring to the field.

Young athletes are often given “perks” that make it easier to cut corners on their education; football players aren’t even required to graduate. Because of how much wealth and fame an exciting player like Reggie Bush generates, universities, coaches, and athletic directors are more successful when the players spend as much time as possible on the field.

For players, this means receiving more detailed information about what will appear on exams, taking the bare minimum of class requirements, and taking the easiest classes the school has to offer. The players are set up with football as a primary concern and education as a small hoop to jump through when aiming for the NFL. Without quality education, athletes are more vulnerable to immoral actions, and there’s more pressure to make it in the NFL.

Setting up players for the NFL would be great if most of them had a shot in the first place.

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NFL running back careers on average are only 3.3 years and often cut short by injury (photo via Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Less than 2% of college football players play in the NFL, and of that 2%, the average career is only five years. Five years in the NFL is, in most cases, an insufficient income to support those players and their families for the rest of their lives. Desperately needing money that they might not be able to get, college football players are especially vulnerable to offers by sports agents that promise them security.

Another factor in the Bush case is his age. At twenty-years-old, he was expected to be making huge moral decisions regarding the wealth of himself and his family while surrounded by adults who should’ve protected him. Lloyd Lake knew that he was giving illegal gifts and trapping Bush in a no-win situation. Lake preyed on Bush’s financial need in order to propel himself into a new career.

“Lack of institutional control” is without a doubt applicable to an institution suppressing rule-breaking actions in the name of maintaining profit. Garrett and Carroll should’ve been the moral guides for Bush, helping him not only to develop into a great football player but also into a great student and person. They should’ve protected him from a semi-fraudulent agent instead of allowing him to be manipulated for their own personal gain.

The truth is that Garrett and Carroll had nothing to lose in the situation. In all likeliness, Bush would be gone before he was caught. Thus, those two would get the glory of training one of the best college football players in history and developing one of the most formidable college football teams ever. Plus, the NCAA sanctions came down on the school and Bush. That means that the faculty, students, and other players, who had no way to prevent Bush from receiving the money, were punished.

While the USC family spent seven years dealing with a tarnished name and a compromised athletic program, Carroll was signing a $33 million contract and bringing his NFL team to a Super Bowl title. Carroll left USC just before the news of Bush’s illegal interactions came out, leaving many wondering whether or not that was the reason he left.

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Pete Carroll at USC (Photo via Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

How does the NCAA justify punishing a university and one of its players?

Especially when the people at fault go on to be virtually unaffected. Carroll became more famous and more wealthy, in part, because he exploited Reggie Bush.

The NCAA should be doing their part in protecting players by incentivizing athletic directors and coaches to guide their players rather than take advantage of them.

What if, instead of Bush and an innocent student body, the man responsible was punished for violating NCAA policies?

If the NCAA set sanctions on coaches and athletic directors that turned a blind eye to wrongdoings, men such as Pete Carroll would have no reason to ignore the payment of their athletes because they would directly face the consequences.

Would the Seattle Seahawks have hired Carroll if he came with a postseason ban, fines, and a limit on skilled players?

This system drives college football players into the arms of greedy agents only to leave the victimized athletes and innocent students and fans dealing with its repercussions. So, who’s to blame? Protection from this system is the reason the NCAA, college coaches, and university athletic directors exist in the first place: to protect morality and students instead of profit and fame.

Rose Bowl Preview and Prediction

Photo via Mark Holtzman

Who: #9 USC vs #5 Penn State

When: January 2, 5PM EST

Where: Pasadena, California

Watch: ESPN

Winner: Penn State

On the surface this seems like a pretty close matchup. One team has two losses and the other has three. However, I don’t think USC can compete at the same level as the Nittany Lions. First, they were absolutely trashed by Alabama in the season opener. Yeah, a lot of teams get thrashed by Alabama, but top ten teams should be able to at least hold their own. Next, they lost to Stanford, and to a Utah team who lost to Colorado and Washington. If they were the same caliber as Penn State, they would have won those games.

Penn State’s only two losses were a surprise early season loss to Pitt and a loss to Michigan. They beat Wisconsin, Ohio State, and several other powerful programs throughout the season. Simply put, I think they’re better equipped to win this one and show the world that they belong in the college football playoff.

Penn State has a great QB and RB duo that should be hard for the Trojans to beat. Trace McSorley has 760 yards in his last two games, as well as eight touchdowns and 16.3 yards per completion. Saquon Barkley has 19 touchdowns and 1,302 yards rushing along with 23 receptions.

USC’s Sam Darnold’s NFL-level talent and reliable WR Juju Smith-Schuster is a pair that should worry the Penn State defense. Darnold has 2,633 passing yards with 26 touchdowns on the season, while Smith-Schuster averages 12.4 yards per catch.

Most of the predictions I’m seeing say that USC will win this contest. Vegas has them at -7, but I just don’t see it. Sure, it’ll be a really close game, but ultimately the Nittany Lions have more talent and determination. More talent and determination is usually a good recipe for success. Have to go with Penn State to beat USC.