For the greater part of the last decade the Southeastern Football Conference has dominated college football. In 2016, both the ACC, spearheaded by Clemson's National Championship, and the Big 10, supported by Ohio State and a resurgent Michigan, gave the SEC a run for their money. But in the end, college fans saw a continuation of a familiar pattern.....the good ole SEC atop the standings. It was not a runaway by any means, on average rating the SEC scored 267.536 and the ACC and Big 10 were basically tied at 265, although the ACC's 265.631 to the Big 10's 265.622 technically gave the Atlantic Coast Conference the #2 spot.
The Pac 12 followed at #4 with 261 points, and the Big 12 came in at # 5, a very disappointing 253 points, last place among the Power 5 conferences. The AAC was the top rated Group of 5 conference at 234, followed by the MWC 228, Sun Belt 223, MAC 223, and Conference USA 218.
The Big 12 Conference will resume a conference title game this fall, which should help boost their rating, and their chances for a playoff bid, but not necessarily. They still play a round robin schedule, and if parity prevails, even an undefeated regular season champion could find themselves facing a 3 or 4 loss team in a championship game which will not create a big boost in rating. The best case scenario for the Big 12 is to have an undefeated participant playing a one loss opponent and beating them the second time. That would create quite a bump in rating. The outstanding question for 2017 is whether any conference can get over the hump and average greater in overall conference membership than the mighty SEC, and these few early season games will go a long way towards answering that question.
September 2: Alabama/Florida State in Atlanta. The new Mercedes Benz stadium hosts one of the biggest games of the year, right out of the box. Both teams are sure to be Top 5 teams and the winner will not only have a leg up on the National Title race, but boost the strength of their conference greatly.
September 2: Florida/Michigan in Arlington. Another huge matchup for the SEC. If Michigan prevails, the Big 10 is going to look mighty strong to start the season. If the SEC sweeps Atlanta and Arlington.....it's going to be hard to dethrone the King.
September 3: Virginia Tech/West Virginia in Landover. If Virginia Tech and Florida State sweep opening weekend for the ACC, watch out.
September 3: Texas A&M at UCLA - The pattern has been for several years that the Aggies start like a house afire, then fizzle. Tough assignment for the blaze to even get started this year. The PAC 12 needs this one bad to even get in the discussion of conference supremacy.
September 9: Oklahoma at Ohio State - The Big 12 has a great opportunity to reassert itself on a national stage, but this is a tough assignment, especially for a new coach in Lincoln Riley.
September 9: Auburn at Clemson - A win here would go a long way towards Auburn establishing momentum for SEC play, and Clemson is without Deshaun Watson.....but can Auburn win in Death Valley?
September 9: Georgia at Notre Dame - Two storied programs who have only played once in 149 years of college football.....a 17-10 Sugar Bowl win for Georgia that won the Bulldogs a National Title.
September 16: Texas at USC - The Trojans start with two very tough physical games in Western Michigan and Stanford, then host a Longhorn team with a new, young, energetic head coach, a ton of talent and a lot of momentum. Imagine how the Big 12 would look if West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas all win big non-conference games to start the first 3 weeks of the 2017 season.
Stay tuned for the release of Billingsley's Pre-Season rankings coming in mid August.