Q: How awesome is the SEC this year?
A: The SEC is so good that even Vanderbilt is ranked.
Of course, Vandy isn't the only top academic school exceeding expectations in football this year. There are 13 Div I-A (FBS, for those who like the new notation) schools in U.S. News' top 30 colleges. (Let's forget the fact that these rankings are mostly pointless.) Of these, five are already known for their football (Notre Dame, Cal, UCLA, Michigan, and USC). But all of the schools that are known for being highly ranked academically and awful football-wise - Stanford, Vandy, Wake Forest, Rice, Northwestern - are doing pretty well. Wake and Vandy are ranked. Northwestern is receiving votes in both polls. Rice is 2-2 with both losses coming to ranked teams on the road. Stanford is 2-2, both losses coming to very good teams on the road.
Your Mountain West watch: three ranked teams (BYU, Utah, TCU). That's more than the ACC, the Big East, or the Pac-10. (The WAC has two, BSU and Fresno State.) Yeah, the MWC is totally a minor conference undeserving of an auto BCS bid.
Anyway, on to the review...
Vanderbilt 23, Mississippi 17: Good win despite the weak road performance. Ole Miss isn't the punching bag they had been under Orgeron - say what you will about Houston Nutt, but Arkansas is sure missing him right now. I didn't get to see the game, but it looks downright bizarre. One offensive touchdown? Eight turnovers, six by the Rebels? Apparently this game was decided on a play when an Ole Miss running back fumbled at the one-yard line and a Vandy player jumped on the loose ball in the end zone. That kind of crap just doesn't happen to Vandy. Someone from our team NEVER falls on a loose ball in those situation. What the heck is going on?
Anyway, we'll see what Vandy's made of in two weeks when Auburn comes to Nashville...
Virginia Tech 20, North Carolina 17: The Hokies find some bizarre ways to win lately, don't they? Their offense couldn't move a knife through butter, yet they somehow put 20 points on the board and played some solid second-half D to win. I still don't trust this team to put up any points, but there are a couple of things that make the Hokies' outlook look good. First, their defense is great as always. Second, they don't play another ranked team the entire way. The only ranked team they would have to face on a BCS run would be Wake Forest in the ACC championship. The Hokies aren't a great team, but they are fortunately in a crap conference.
#20 Utah 30, Air Force 23: The Utes were absolutely, positively god-awful in the first half here. The only thing that even kept them in the game was a great defense - they only gave up 53 rushing yards to Air Force, which was roughly 300 yards under their season average. And fortunately, they woke up in the second half, outscoring USAFA 21-7 after the break. And it seemed like Utah sucked up Air Force's power Peter Petrelli-style: the Utes got almost 200 yards on the ground, including three second-half Darrell Mack touchdowns.
Only three road games the rest of the way, against Wyoming (bad), New Mexico (pretty good), and San Diego State (awful). This is good because the Utes look awful on the road, squeaking by a horrible Michigan team and almost losing to an admittely pretty good Air Force team. The game in Albuquerque will be tough - it's probably the game the Utes are most likely to lose before TCU comes to town.
BCS buster watch: Well, so much for ECU. I know it's harsh to disqualify someone from the elite post-season after laying one egg, but if you can't beat NC State, you don't deserve it. (I say this as a current NCSU grad student.) That leaves the three undefeated MWC teams and Boise State. Of these, BYU established itself as the class of the non-BCS conferences with a 44-0 pounding of Wyoming. Bad news for the Cougs - only three home games left, and road trips to Fort Worth, Colorado Springs, and Salt Lake loom. Good news for the Cougs - the defense looks pretty darn good. They haven't allowed any points since leaving Seattle.