Talkin’ Football: Is SEC West that good? Well ... Yes

Each week during college football season, columnist Luke DeCock and our college reporters will answer the most important questions of the weekend. Our roundtable discussion begins with a discussion of the newly released College Football Playoff rankings:

1. The first College Football Playoff ranking was released earlier this week: Florida State and three teams from the SEC West. Is one division in one conference really worthy of three of the four spots in the playoff?

Andrew Carter (North Carolina beat reporter): Possibly. I’m of the opinion, though, that to be considered for the playoff you at least should have to win your division. I know, I know – it should be about the best teams, regardless of where they come from. The SEC, though, receives an inordinate amount of hype. It’s a great conference, sure, but how much of its reputation can we credit to ESPN and an over zealous sporting media that worships it to no end? All a moot point, anyway. The Egg Bowl will knock one of these teams out, at least.

Luke DeCock: If the season ended right now – in a development unprecedented in college-football history – absolutely. Let’s not get all crazy-go-nuts. It’ll all work itself out. I’ll bet on the Egg Bowl winner, the Auburn-Alabama-Georgia survivor, Florida State and whichever of Oregon or Michigan State can win out ending up in the Football Final Four.

Joe Giglio (N.C. State beat reporter): Why not? I was actually encouraged by the selection committee’s initial rankings. There was an emphasis on strength of schedule and head-to-head results. Auburn’s wins over Kansas State and LSU should put the Tigers in front of Ole Miss and Alabama. And Ole Miss should be in front of Alabama (head-to-head result). If the Big Ten or Pac-12 wants to complain, here are the appropriate responses: Play better teams, win your games. Oregon played and beat Michigan State and likely will be rewarded for that if the Ducks can finish with one loss. Listen, I’m not crazy about everything ESPN does, but this Twitter meme that they are “biased” towards the SEC is absurd.

Laura Keeley (Duke beat reporter): Yes. If three of the four best teams are in the same division, so be it. If it turns out that four of the best teams are in the same division, that’s fine, too. But I don’t think that, say, the Big 10 champion should automatically be looked at as better than the 2nd place team in the SEC West – all scheduling is not created equal. Reward people for playing tough schedules. Thankfully, the committee appears to be doing that.

2. This has been in the news lately: How much responsibility should college head coaches have in knowing about their players’ academics – and do football coaches bear less responsibility because there are so many more players to keep up with?

AC: Coaches in every sport should know about what their guys are majoring in and, generally, what kinds of classes they’re taking. I find it difficult to believe that as controlling as these head coaches all are, and as hands-on as a lot of them all are, that they just choose not to know about the one thing – outside of on-field performance – that can dictate whether a guy is able to play on Saturdays or not. There are a lot of layers in place so that coaches don’t necessarily have to know what’s going on academically, but they should.

LD: I don’t know that any coach needs to know exactly what specific classes his or her players are taking, but when football (and other) coaches exert personal control over everything from the pictures on the walls to the cover of the media guide to what’s served in the cafeteria, they can’t suddenly claim ignorance on academic issues and pretend it isn’t their problem.

JG: You should know about your star players. They’re your stars and making you money (lots of it). So, yes, with the proliferation of support staff personnel, it’s not unreasonable to ask someone making $2 million a year to keep track of a handful of star players and know what they’re doing in school or if they’re selling their autograph or if they’re flying to Miami for a random party at Frank Gore’s house.

LK: I think it’s more plausible that a football head coach would be in the dark about specific academic situations than basketball coaches, just based on numbers. At the end if the day, coaches are paid to win games. That task is made monumentally harder if key players have academic issues, so wouldn’t coaches monitor that pretty closely as a safeguard against disaster? To be completely oblivious seems like a bad business move, if your business is winning.

3. We’ve got Duke at Pitt, North Carolina at Miami and N.C. State at Syracuse on Saturday. What’s the most compelling game of a pretty blah slate, and is this the weekend, finally, that Dave Doeren gets his first ACC win?

AC: UNC at Miami, to me, is the most compelling – despite the fact that it’s likely to be played in front of about 20,000 people in South Florida. Win this one and the Tar Heels, as crazy as it sounds, just might be the favorite in the Coastal. Miami has to win it to stay alive, probably. And yes, I think the Wolfpack gets it done this weekend – lack of that cupboard of experienced players and all.

LD: Last part first: No. And if Doeren doesn’t do it against Wake Forest, he may never win an ACC game. I’d argue the two Coastal Division games are actually quite compelling in the sense that Duke needs a win to retain control of the division and Miami is a litmus test for how much the Tar Heels have really turned things around.

JG: Who hurt you, Andrew? You’re never happy with the schedule or with anything to do with ACC football. Do the scars from covering Florida State’s worst teams really run that deep? Duke and Pitt should be a fun game, so should UNC and Miami. Duke has to stay ahead of the pack, and the UNC-Miami loser is eliminated from the Coastal race. That’s good stuff. The Wolfpack gets a perfect opportunity, coming off an open date, to end a school record 12-game ACC losing streak. Not to mention pump up its 2-23 Atlantic Division road record. I need you to put on a happy face, Mr. Carter.

LK: Either of the Coastal games, because both have an impact on the division race. Which one matters more depends on who you think the eventual division winner will be. And Vegas is betting against the Wolfpack leaving the Carrier Dome with that elusive first conference win, so I will, too.