The month of October always seems to be when we start separating the contenders and pretender sin the national title picture, but first we must figure out who are the real contenders in the various conference and division races. Midway through the season, we have some really good division races heating up, while there are a couple of divisions in the power conferences that look to be nearly wrapped up if things continue to play out as they have so far this season.
Iowa and Utah look to be in favorable positions in their respective divisions. Florida State and Clemson will once again settle the ACC Atlantic while the other division is still up for grabs. No division may be more entertaining down the stretch than the SEC West, but will it pick itself apart to take the SEC out of the College Football Playoff?
Here is a quick look at the current state of each power conference division race as we get into the second half of the season.
Just as it was expected to be, Florida State and Clemson remain the teams to watch in the Atlantic. Both are undefeated with 6-0 records and are a combined 7-0 in ACC play. This weekend Florida State plays at Georgia Tech and Clemson visits Miami. If both manage to escape these potentially tricky road games with a win, then all eyes should shift forward to November 7 when Florida State visits Clemson with the top spot in the division on the line. If both are undefeated, the ACC’s best chance to be represented in the College Football Playoff could also be at stake with the season winding down.
Pittsburgh, Duke and North Carolina are all undefeated in ACC play, with the Panthers coming off a win against Georgia Tech to go 3-0 in ACC play. Duke and UNC are each 2-0 and all three still must play each other. The Coastal is still up for grabs, and Miami is not out of the picture just yet at 1-1 with a loss to Florida State. Schedule-wise, Pitt may have the upper hand with home games against UNC and Miami in addition to a home game against a disappointing Louisville team. Pitt does travel to Duke, but if the Panthers can make use of a home field advantage, the Panthers could play for its first ACC title.
Big Ten East
Ohio State and Michigan State appear to be on a collision course with the division on the line on November 21 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State, after pulling away from Penn State, has Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois to plow through first. Michigan State has Indiana and Maryland at hoem but a road game at Nebraska to play through first. The winner of Ohio State-Michigan State more than likely determines the conference champion, but Michigan should not be ruled out of the mix just yet. If not for a miracle special teams moment for the Spartans, the Wolverines would hold the upper hand with Minnesota, Rutgers and Indiana coming up before a road game at Penn State and a home game against Ohio State. The Wolverines are not out of this one just yet.
Big Ten West
Iowa is the last undefeated team standing in the Big Ten West standings after dismantling Northwestern. The Hawkeyes have one of the easiest, or at least most manageable, schedules the rest of the way and could very well be 11-0 heading into a post-Thanksgiving game at Nebraska. Things look good for Iowa, especially with a head-to-head tiebreaker against Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern. Iowa would have to lose twice for Wisconsin to sneak into the Big Ten title game, and that does not appear to be likely to happen at this point.
Stanford looks to be the clear favorite in the Pac-12 North right now the way the Cardinal have been playing. Since losing to Northwestern in the season opener, the Cardinal have been particularly strong on offense and the rest of the division appears to be pretty rough. There is one team to keep an eye on though, and that is Stanford’s biggest rival. Cal took a setback on the road at Utah recently but still somehow made it a close game despite an abnormal number of turnovers. Stanford gets Cal at home, as well as Oregon. The Pac-12 North should come to that one game toward the end of the season.
Utah is sitting in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 South with a significant two-game edge in the loss column over the rest of the division. That puts Utah in a favorable spot midway through the season, as Utah can afford to take a loss without risking its Pac-12 South title hopes. If Utah picks up a road win at USC this weekend, the Utes could pretty much wrap things up with some help from the Pac-12 North this week (Cal @ UCLA, Washington State @ Arizona).
Despite a loss at LSU this past weekend, the surprising Florida Gators are still sitting atop the SEC East by themselves. A win in Jacksonville against Georgia next week after a bye would push Florida one giant step closer to its first SEC East crown since 2009. Of course, Georgia is still in the hunt as well after edging Missouri this past weekend. The Bulldogs are also off this week before facing the Gators next week. That game could ultimately decide the division as both have wins against Missouri. Kentucky and Tennessee are hanging around with two SEC losses as well (both lost to Florida, but Tennessee shocked Georgia), so there is still some reason for hope in Lexington and Knoxville.
Alabama has reminded everyone watching this weekend the Crimson Tide are still a serious threat in the SEC West after taking care of Texas A&M this past weekend. Alabama is still chasing LSU though as the Tigers are undefeated in SEC play at 4-0 (6-0 overall). The SEC West is still up for grabs as LSU and Alabama will face each other on November 7, but Texas A&M and Ole Miss are each still in the hunt despite a loss in conference play. The SEC West may still be the most interesting division race that could come down to the wire.