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Conference Power Rankings — Week 7

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Ok, so now the season is “officially” officially half over. I think. At any rate, and in case you missed it, the first BCS rankings are out, and we’re getting into the meat of the conference schedule. Who’s giving their conference cred? Who’s bringing it down? Check it out:

Our Conclusion:

1. Big 12 (last wk, No. 2)The Good: Okay, guys. This was actually, like, a super tough decision, y’all. The SEC has been rooted at the No. 1 spot for weeks and it took all my strength to pry that spot away from its kung fu grip. But, in the end, three undefeated teams is just more impressive. Good thing Nick Saban could(n’t) “give a $#!@ about all that“. The Bad: With their 38-26 loss to Oklahoma State, Texas has just one conference win in their last eight attempts. Also, Mack Brown still won’t answer quarterback questions. The Ugly: Before losing 47-17 to Oklahoma, Kansas’ defense was allowing roughly 60 points a game in their three previous losses. After losing to Oklahoma? Fifty-seven points per game. And who says Bob Stoops is ruthless?

2. SEC (last wk, No. 1)The Good: Alabama and LSU are just one game apiece away from an epic Nov. 5 showdown that some believe should be the SEC title game. Alabama gets Tennessee at home; LSU hosts Auburn. On paper, LSU has the tougher task, but the Tide need to take care of business and not look ahead. The Bad: Losing running back Marcus Lattimore for the year due to a knee injury is devastating for South Carolina. The Gamecocks can still win the SEC East, but putting it on Connor Shaw‘s shoulders is asking a lot. The Ugly: The post-game skirmish between Georgia and Vanderbilt was unfortunate. The fact it involved two coaches — Vandy’s James Franklin and Georgia DC Todd Grantham — is downright despicable. I don’t know who said what, and I’m not going to place blame on one over the other, but it’s a coach’s job to display the highest levels of decision-making, win or lose. Hopefully, both sides will learn from the experience.

3. Pac-12 (last wk, No. 4) The Good: One thing that’s always been so impressive about Chip Kelly‘s Oregon team is that they actually plug in the next guy if someone gets hurt without missing a beat. In a 41-27 win over Arizona State, Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas filled in admirably for LaMichael James, and Bryan Bennett was able to keep the chains moving with quarterback Darron Thomas on the sidelines with a knee injury. Great effort all around. The Bad: After notching their first win of the season over Arizona, Oregon State came back out and lost by 10 points to BYU. It’s been a really tough season for coach Mike Riley. The Ugly: It’s hard to believe, but Colorado has won a national championship more recently than Notre Dame. Granted, it was still over 20 years ago, but this program has fallen a long way over the past several years. The Buffs, 1-6 on the season, have a wonderful program. Here’s hoping they can get it turned around.

4. Big Ten (last wk, No. 3)The Good: Honestly, not much. It’s kind of a wonder that the Big Ten is even ranked this high based on some of the performances this past week, but Wisconsin and Michigan State are keeping this conference afloat. This Saturday’s matchup between the two should be a lot of fun. The Bad: Penn State is 6-1 now with a win over Purude, but it’s hard to see them winning any more than seven games this year with games against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin looming. The Lions’ offense is completely out of sync. The Ugly: Perhaps I’m beating this into the ground more than I should, but there’s something about Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson that worries me. Perhaps it’s the fact that he can’t throw the ball effectively at all. Robinson has 2010 written all over him as we get into the meat of Big Ten play.

5. ACC (last wk, No. 5)The Good: Okay, maybe Clemson is for real. Maybe. Possibly. For another week, at least. Conditions were perfect for the Tigers to fail against Maryland, but the No. 8 showed a ton of heart coming back from 18 points down to win against the Terps. The Bad: The ACC desperately needs some credibility in the form of a BCS bowl win and an upper-echelon of teams who don’t lose to teams they shouldn’t. For a while, Georgia Tech looked to be in that latter category — until they lost 24-21 to Virginia. The Ugly: Allowing North Carolina to make a late-game rally wasn’t the way Miami coach Al Golden wanted to win, but the ‘Canes (3-3, 1-2 ACC) needed the conference win.

6. Big East (last wk, No. 7)The Good: Rutgers has been one of the nicest surprises of the first half of the season, coming from behind to beat Navy 21-20 to give the Scarlet Knights a 5-1 record. Granted, they haven’t beaten anybody, but last year the Scarlet Knights lost to those teams. The Bad: I don’t know if “bad” quite defines Pitt, but it certainly nails down their offense. Outside of running back Ray Graham, the Panthers can’t do anything to score points other than leave their offense off the field and let special teams do it instead. The Ugly: a 16-10 victory by UConn over South Florida. ‘Nuff said.

7. Conference USA (last wk, No. 6)The Good: The first superconference! The Bad: UCF, Houston and SMU, who could all be leaving for the Big East. The Ugly: Um, I believe THIS qualifies. Where’s the fan support?

8. WAC (last wk, No. 9)The Good, Bad and Ugly: I don’t know what it is about Friday night football on ESPN, but some of the craziest games this season have been broadcast with Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore. The 28=27 San Jose State win over Hawaii was no different. The good part was that it was an exciting game that came down to the last minute; the bad part is that it was San Jose State and Hawaii; the ugly part is that there were 12 combined turnovers. Twelve! I don’t even…

9. Mountain West (last wk, No. 10)The Good: Boise State continues to roll along on their way to another BCS appearance with a 63-13 win over Colorado State. The Broncos play nobody of note outside of TCU in their conference slate, but damn if they don’t make college football more fun. The Bad: A 41-27 loss to San Diego State puts Air Force at a disappointing 3-3 through the first half of the year. Honestly, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling there were higher expectations from the Falcons this year. The Ugly: The spiral keeps getting getting more uncontrollable. UNLV and New Mexico are a combined 1-11. Ouch.

10. MAC (last wk, No. 8 )The Good: Ball State had just four wins last season; the Fighting Letterman’s have matched that total already this year. Extra kudos for Toledo and Temple, who continue to rack up wins. The Bad: Dan LeFevour was really something at Central Michigan. At 2-5, the Chips just haven’t been the same since him and Butch Jones departed. The Ugly: Here’s a MAC score for ya: Miami (OH) — 9, Kent State — 3. Yikes.

11. Sun Belt (last wk, No. 11) The Good: Louisiana Lafayette sits at 6-1. Far and away the best team in the Sun Belt. The Bad: The conference, on the other hand, needs Troy to be good again. The Trojans are currently 2-4 and just got blown out at home by Louisiana-Monroe. Rock bottom much? The Ugly: Florida Atlantic opened their brand new stadium with a 20-0 shutout to Western Kentucky. Uh…..

Pat Narduzzi believes Pitt RB James Conner will play in 2016

In this photo taken Nov. 21, 2015, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, right, applauds a touchdown by his team next to James Conner in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Louisville in Pittsburgh. Conner spent the last three months weighing whether to return next fall or head to the NFL after a torn knee ligament ended his junior season before it really began. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP) MAGAZINES OUT; NO SALES; MONESSEN OUT; KITTANNING OUT; CONNELLSVILLE OUT; GREENSBURG OUT; TARENTUM OUT; NORTH HILLS NEWS RECORD OUT; BUTLER OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
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The college football world was stunned when Pittsburgh running back James Conner, who missed the bulk of the 2015 season due to a knee injury, announced he is battling cancer. Despite his ongoing bout with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest, Conner is said to be in great physical shape and looks he could even be ready to play for the Panthers this fall once he beats cancer.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said recently to ESPN.com reporter James Shanker. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Conner declared his intention to play football again when he announced his cancer to the world last December.

“I will play football again,” Conner said in early December. “I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back.”

The former ACC Player of the Year is receiving financial support from Pitt to handle the costs of the treatments, which is allowed by the NCAA for special circumstances. This is certainly a special circumstance. Per NCAA rules, Conner and his family are required to have personal insurance but schools may pick up the tab for remaining costs not covered by the student’s insurance coverage. Pitt is able to lend its support because cancer is affecting Conner’s ability to play football.

The college football world will continue to root for Conner as he works his way back to the football field.

Cost of attendance not having negative recruiting impact on Group of Five (yet)

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs for a first down against Temple during the second half of the American Athletic Conference championship football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Houston. Houston won 24-13. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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The outlook on the impact cost of attendance has on non-power conference institutions may not be known for another year or so, but after one recruiting cycle since the power conferences were granted autonomy powers, cost of attendance stipends have not been seen to be a major difference in the game as one might have thought originally.

Underdog Dynasty took a look at the issue and how Group of Five schools have fared. The initial findings suggest Group of Five programs are not struggling nearly as much as once suspected when it comes to cost of attendance stipends, although it is something that not every program has jumped into providing just yet. And yes, the topic of stipends does pop up on the recruiting trail, which suggests the Group of Five programs that can provide a little extra money as part of a player’s enrollment do figure to have some sort of advantage. However, stipends do not appear to be a game changer on a massive enough scale.

From Underdog Dynasty;

Another fear from last season was that smaller athletic departments couldn’t afford it. Those may have been overblown as well. My Google search turned up news of South Dakota State phasing in COA stipends for all student-athletes, something North Dakota and North Dakota State already have done.

All three are FCS schools. If they can afford the stipends, albeit funding 63 football scholarships rather than 85, G5 schools should as well. Even the Sun Belt distributes more than $1 million per school in College Football Playoff payouts.

Houston, of the American Athletic Conference, just landed a recruiting class that would make a good number of power conference programs jealous, although the Cougars were the only Group of Five program to finish ranked in the top 50 in the final team rankings compiled by Rivals (BYU finished No. 48). Boise State, UCF and Temple fell in the upper half of the FBS mix as well.

Just as one year of the College Football Playoff system did not provide enough empirical evidence to suggest the Big 12 should expand to 12 just to get a conference championship game, one year of cost of attendance stipends is not nearly enough to suggest it has a devastating or minimal impact on the recruiting game in college football. This is just something that will have to be watched for a few more years in order to gather more evidence to evaluate.

Former Wolverine Brian Cole transferring to Kentucky

FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2013, file photo, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops watches from the sideline during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. Stoops has recruited some high-level talent since coming to Lexington three years ago and the Wildcats have taken substantial steps forward. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File
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Maybe it’s the new uniforms. Maybe it’s an opportunity for a fresh start. Whatever the reason, former Michigan wide receiver and defensive back Brian Cole is heading to Kentucky.

Cole was a four-star recruit in Michigan’s Class of 2015. The second-ranked player from the state of Michigan was a significant addition to the Wolverines by then first-year Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, which helps make his decision to leave for another program now a bit interesting to note considering the momentum seemingly being generated in Ann Arbor. He was released from his scholarship in Michigan in January.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, Cole will be forced to sit out the 2016 season and will be eligible to return to the playing field again in 2017. The good news for Cole is he will still have three years of eligibility remaining.

Cole appeared in two games for the Wolverines in 2015, but he spent most of the season held back by injury issues. His addition to the Kentucky roster is a big win for head coach Mark Stoops, who has developed a little bit of a habit for adding some talented transfers to his program in Lexington.

Michigan and Notre Dame could be rekindling their football series

FILE - In this Sept. 10, 1994, file photo, Notre Dame's Derrick Mayes (1) pulls in a touchdown catch in front of Michigan's Chuck Winters (35) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind. Mayes may have grabbed this spectacular catch for a score, but Michigan's Remy Hamilton kicked four field goals, including a 42-yarder with 2 seconds left, to give the Wolverines a 26-24  victory. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File)
AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File
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The bitter divorce between Michigan and Notre Dame on the football field could soon be forgiven. There are hints and clues the series could be heading to a revival.

Michigan athletics director Jim Hackett started lighting the fire for the rivalry series renewal discussion last week when he mentioned during a radio interview the two schools have opened communication on the subject.

“I will tell you this, the relationship is good, and it started with [Jim Harbaugh] and coach [Brian Kelly] working together on a desire to play together,” Hackett said. “But (there’s) nothing firm yet.”

In 2013, when the two schools were beginning to play what was to be their final game son the existing contract, Kelly downplayed the rivalry with Michigan by noting it has not been one of the best rivalries in Notre Dame’s history. In his defense, he is right. In fact, Notre Dame has a more storied history with Michigan State, not to mention USC or Navy.

“I really haven’t seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” Kelly said according to the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played.

“For me, I’ve been in Michigan a long time, I’ve always felt the Notre Dame-Michigan game was a big regional game. But in the Notre Dame history books, this game has (been) played, but obviously there have been some years where it hasn’t been played for a number of years.”

Kelly did later go on to say he was optimistic the series with Michigan would return in the future. Harbaugh was quick to follow up on the idea of playing Notre Dame again. Now we just sit and wait to see when that may become a possibility.

Scheduling for both Michigan and Notre Dame have become a bit more complex in more recent years than it used to be. Notre Dame is part of an ACC scheduling rotation that guarantees a certain number of power conference opponents from the ACC each season and the Irish continue rivalry game son an annual basis with USC, Stanford and Navy. Michigan is moving to a nine-game Big Ten schedule with the requirement to play at least one power conference opponent in its non-conference slate each season. The Wolverines already have that requirement met through the 2027 season but have shown a willingness to schedule two power conference opponents in a season, which is the case in 2020 and 2021 (games vs. Washington and Virginia Tech in alternating home-and-home deals).