Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with his ranking the Power Five conference division, a look at major rivalries in each Power Five conference and another version of his Mount Rushmore series.
1. RANKING THE POWER FIVE DIVISIONS
How do the separate conference divisions in the Power Five stack up against each other heading into the 2021 season? I can tell you this: the SEC East isn’t close to being the worst. The Big 12, with no divisions, has an advantage but they aren’t the best.
1. SEC West — Alabama leads the way of course followed by Texas A&M, LSU and Ole Miss — all of whom could compete for the playoff if Nick Saban stumbles. The worst team? It’s a toss up between Mississippi State and Arkansas and both are tough outs.
2. Big 12 — Kansas is horrible so let’s start with that but, beyond the Jayhawks, this is a very solid conference overall. Oklahoma and Iowa State lead the way with many, many very good programs in the middle of the pack. Baylor and Texas Tech are iffy but Kansas State should be much improved and teams like Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia all have excellent potential.
3. Big Ten East — Despite bad seasons by Michigan and Penn State last year this is still a strong division. Ohio State, of course, leads the way and Indiana is likely next and then the group of Michigan, Penn State, Maryland, Michigan State and, yes, even Rutgers should be much improved.
4. SEC East — Fourth seems high, right? Florida is regrouping and it’s not like Tennessee or Vanderbilt have been gangbusters recently. South Carolina will be better than expected, just watch, and Missouri and Kentucky could be eight-win teams with their potential. Oh, and Georgia has to be the favorite to win it all.
5. ACC Atlantic — Clemson leads the way but don’t sleep on Boston College and NC State as both are very good teams. Florida State is a question mark and there are some bad teams in here but Clemson keeps the division in the middle of the pack.
6. Big Ten West — This was close with the ACC Atlantic as I like Wisconsin and Iowa but there are too many teams here with something to prove to be any higher. I’m talking about you Minnesota, Purdue and Northwestern.
9. Pac-12 South — USC has been underachieving and could be the only Pac-12 South team ranked in the AP Top 25 when all is said and done. There are teams that have to prove it to me like Colorado, Arizona State and Utah.
2. PICK YOUR PROGRAM: RIVALRIES
Let’s play something I call Pick Your Program and we’ll start off with the most relevant rivalries in the Power Five and then work our way down from there in future editions.
Head-to-head: Alabama leads 47-37-1
This is a pretty easy one to pick – Alabama has more national titles (18), bowl game appearances (73) and weeks at No. 1 in the polls (130) than any other program in the country. The Tigers are no slouch, but it’s hard for anyone to hold a candle to what the Crimson Tide have done, especially over the past two decades.
Head-to-head: Michigan leads 58-51-6
It might surprise some people that the Wolverines hold the all-time lead in this matchup, especially given the dominance that the Buckeyes have had since the turn of the century, but Michigan still has more wins than any other program in college football. Michigan also holds the edge in national titles (11-8) and Big Ten titles (42-39), despite Ohio State’s success in recent years. The Buckeyes have spent more weeks ranked, have the most Heisman winners of any school, and first-round picks, so this is a really close one.
Verdict: Michigan. Ohio State has the recent success, but Michigan has the winning hand in the biggest categories.
Head-to-head: Texas leads 62-49-5
Another surprise leader, considering just how consistently good Oklahoma has been not just over the past 20 years, but the past 75 years. Since World War II, the Sooners have more wins than any other program in major college football, and the highest winning percentage. Despite being behind in head-to-head wins, Oklahoma dominates every other category against its nemesis in the Red River Rivalry, taking home more national titles (7-4), conference titles (50-30), Heisman winners (7-2), weeks ranked at No. 1 (101-45), and many more.
Head-to-head: FSU leads 20-13
A relatively new rivalry, both of these teams have been at the top of the sport at different points in the past 30 years. The ‘Noles beat the Tigers in 11straight games from 1992-2002, but Clemson has taken the past five matchups. Both programs own three national titles, and have the same number of bowl appearances (47), so we’re pretty much splitting hairs here. But FSU has spent more weeks at No. 1 by a wide margin (72-25) and has more Heisman winners (3-0).
Verdict: Florida State (by a nose)
Head-to-head: USC leads 49-32-7
It’s hard to compete with the Trojans in the Pac-12 – they’ve got more wins, conference titles, national titles and Heisman winners than anyone else in the conference, and they’re about as blueblood as it comes in college football. While the cross-town Bruins have had some good runs (they won eight-straight against the Trojans in the 1990s), let’s face it, nobody is better than USC on the West Coast.
3. MOUNT RUSHMORE OF MICHIGAN FOOTBALL
I continue my Mount Rushmore series with Michigan football and name the program’s best four players since 1980. This one wasn’t easy and, no, Tom Brady doesn’t come close.
CB Charles Woodson — The only defensive player to ever win the Heisman, Woodson was a weapon on both sides of the ball for the Wolverines. Even before his legendary 1997 season (more on that in a minute), he had already cemented himself as one of the all-time greats at Michigan, taking home Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 1995, first-team All-Conference accolades as both a freshman and sophomore and earning a first-team All-American nod as a sophomore as well. But his junior campaign was one for the ages – Heisman trophy, Bronco Nagurski and Jim Thorpe awards, and a national title.
WR Desmond Howard — The man with the most infamous Heisman pose of all-time, Howard was absolutely electric on the field. Howard’s 1991 season was one for the record books, where he not only took home the Heisman, but also the Walter Camp and the Maxwell, earning unanimous All-American status along the way. That season, he scored 23 total touchdowns in four different categories (receiving, rushing, kick return, and punt return), leading the Wolverines to an undefeated record in Big Ten play.
OL Steve Hutchinson — A four-year starter at guard for Lloyd Carr‘s teams, Hutchinson anchored the 1997 national championship line as a redshirt freshman, and never looked back. One of the all-time greats at the position, Hutchinson was a two-time unanimous All-American as a junior and senior, as well as the Big Ten’s lineman of the year in both seasons. In fact, in his final two campaigns in Ann Arbor, Hutchinson did not surrender a sack. A genuine legend.
WR Anthony Carter — A highly productive receiver in the age where running backs ruled the day, Carter was a three-time All-American (twice unanimous), and big-play threat on every down. He graduated from Michigan with school records in receptions, receiving touchdowns, receiving yards, total touchdowns and held the NCAA record for yards per play with 17.1. A three-time top-10 Heisman vote getter, he was far ahead of his time at the receiver position, and paved the way for all of the great receivers after him.