Conference realignment robs meaning from college sports. It kills rivalries and traditions. It creates anger and apathy. It reminds us that the next round is inevitable.
It is a decades-old tradition, rooted in financial gain. The decision by Oklahoma and Texas to join the SEC was historically painful, essentially stripping the Big 12 of power-conference status and making college football’s club of elites even more exclusive. Oklahoma’s decision was historically selfish because it already has one of the most profitable athletic departments in the nation, ranking eighth in total revenue ($163,126, 695), according to USA Today, in 2019. Nine figures aren’t enough when there are another eight figures to be made.
Oklahoma’s decision will end up historically stupid because it is sacrificing its status as Big 12 overlord to become just another SEC team.
The Sooners have won six straight conference titles. They are currently fielding what may be their worst team in seven years, but they remain the overwhelming favorite to continue their streak atop the Big 12. No other team in the Big 12 is in the top 10. Just two games on their schedule are against currently ranked teams: Oct. 2 at unproven No. 25 Kansas State and a home game Nov. 20 against No. 14 Iowa State. While Oklahoma could cruise to another playoff, the SEC holds six of the top 16 spots in the AP Poll.
Of course, we know what will happen if Oklahoma gets back to the semifinals. The Sooners are 0-4 in the playoff, with the most recent three trips ending in losses to SEC teams, the most humiliating of which was the 63-28 loss to LSU in 2019.
Last week, Oklahoma failed to score at least 27 points for the first time in 65 games. Two weeks earlier, the Sooners barely skated by Tulane. West Virginia (+16.5) will create panic again, though Oklahoma will ultimately escape. Superior talent in the Big 12 allows for shaky play — unlike when Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M and friends start filling up the schedule.
VANDERBILT (+34.5) over Georgia
Though the Bulldogs may be the only title contender playing near their potential thus far, coach Kirby Smart’s defense-first foundation has produced a 2-7 record as a favorite of more than 30 points.
Notre Dame (+6.5) over Wisconsin
The spotlight is on Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan, who will be facing his former team. But the focus should be on his replacement, Graham Mertz, who folds under pressure — the Fighting Irish are on pace to break their single-season record in sacks — and has gone 0-4 in games against ranked teams, while throwing for one touchdown and seven interceptions.
IOWA (-22.5) over Colorado State
I’ve purposely veered away from the Hawkeyes because of the public’s infatuation with them, but the 3-0 record — overall and against the spread — speaks loudly. As leery as I remain to side with large crowds, Iowa’s elite defense will have its easiest day yet, facing an offense ranked 121st in the nation in third down conversions (25 percent), and saddled with losses to South Dakota State and Vanderbilt.
Clemson (-10) over NORTH CAROLINA STATE
OK, D.J. Uiagalelei, you get one more shot. Your teammates are among the most talented in the nation. Your coach is among the most accomplished. Your defense hasn’t given up a touchdown this season. We’re not asking for much, especially from a supposed future No. 1 NFL pick.
Texas A&M (-5.5) over Arkansas
I like the under (47.5) even better. Each quality defense holds the advantage against unproven quarterbacks, playing in the grandeur of the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. The difference could come in Arkansas’ first trip away from home, where a resurgent Razorback Stadium has helped the team to its first national ranking in five years.
Iowa State (-7) over BAYLOR
The Bears have won their past two games by a combined score of 111-14, but they only receive partial credit for doing so against Texas Southern and Kansas. Last year, Baylor’s early season blowout win over Kansas was their last victory for two months.
Rutgers (+20.5) over MICHIGAN
We are light years away from the 78-0 and 52-0 beatdowns of last decade. Those were B.S. (before Schiano). Last year, the Scarlet Knights took Michigan to triple overtime. This year, Rutgers has the recipe to keep the final score respectable, featuring a turnover-free offense and experienced defense, combining for the nation’s third-best turnover margin.
Tennessee (+19) over FLORIDA
What’s stranger: 1) Gators backup quarterback Anthony Richardson declaring that starter Emory Jones “shocked the world” in a loss in which Jones threw for fewer than 200 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, or 2) Richardson congratulating his teammate with a tweet? Just tell him. Your lockers are right by each other.
MICHIGAN STATE (-5.5) over Nebraska
It was easy for the Cornhuskers to get up for a rivalry game against Oklahoma. Motivation will be harder to find in this awkward intraconference matchup. Frustration is more likely, with Nebraska’s 80th-ranked run defense destined for failure against Kenneth Walker, the nation’s leading rusher, who averages 8.6 yards per carry.
Southern Miss (+45) over ALABAMA
The existence of such games — Alabama’s second in three weeks — is one of the great stains on this great sport. Historically, Nick Saban keeps the Crimson Tide in second gear for such affairs, like the 48-14 win over Mercer in Week 2.
GEORGIA TECH (+13) over North Carolina
Preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Sam Howell brought back the hype with back-to-back 59-point efforts. Now, the Tar Heels return to the road, where they most recently put up 10 points in a loss at Virginia Tech, and where Howell was intercepted three times.
Arizona (+28.5) over OREGON
Jedd Fisch’s embarrassing offense has used three quarterbacks in his first three games as coach. To open this week, he listed each player as a co-starter on the depth chart. How are the Ducks supposed to prepare for that?
Best bets: Marshall, Rutgers, Iowa State
This season (best bets): 19-24-2 (5-4)
2014-20 record: 904-866-15