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One of the most exciting aspects of College Football is the fact that the toughest conferences can change on a early basis. A few years ago, the Big East nearly folded, but now they’ve had national championship contenders in Louisville and West Virginia ranked in the top five the past two seasons. The Big Ten was once regarded as one of the best in college football, but the recent performances of Ohio State in the previous two BCS title games have bruised the conference’s reputation a little bit. So biases aside, I am going to try and settle one of the biggest debates among college football fans, which is the strongest conference.
1. SEC : Personally, I can’t stand the SEC, as their fans’ arrogance is overwhelming and their schools’ academics mirror the fifth grade. However, when it comes to their football teams, it’s nearly impossible for any other conference to be ranked ahead of the SEC. Sorry, but when your coaching lineup includes Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Phil Fulmer, Les Miles, Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino, and Tommy Tuberville, and Mark Richt, (5 of whom have won a national championship) than your conference is doing pretty well. This year the conference has two legitimate national title contenders in Florida and Georgia and two darkhourses in Auburn and LSU. Besides the top of the conference, the bottom feeders have improved as well recently. Mississippi State went bowling last year, Ole Miss brought in Houston Nutt, Arkansas hired Petrino, Kentucky upset LSU a year ago, and even the conference’s worst team, Vanderbilt, was one win shy of becoming bowl elgible. In addition to the conference’s top teams, the SEC also has some legitimate Heisman trophy candidates as well. Last year’s winner Tim Tebow, Georgia’s dynamic duo of Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford, and Florida’s Percy Harvin, are all expected to contend for a trip to New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. While I may not like to admit it, from top to bottom the SEC is the clearly the nations best conference. At least in 2008.
2. Big XII : As with the SEC, the Big XII earns a high spot on this list because of its overall depth among its members. It’s got its fair share of national title contenders with Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, and Missouri, at the top of the list, but even the bottom isn’t looking so bad after all. The resurgences in Boulder, Colorado, and Lawrence, Kansas are expected to continue. Nebraska with Bo Pelini at the helm should also rise from the Big XII cellar. With strong play from its traditional powers and a resurgence from its bottom-feeders, the Big XII is closing the gap between it and the SEC.
3. Pac-10 : Because of its late night starts and poor television contract, the Pac Ten has developed a poor reputation among the national media, and is really much stronger than most pundits want you to believe. USC is clearly the king of the conference with six consecutive conference titles, but Cal, Oregon, and Arizona State, are beginning to close the gap as evident by their performances a year ago. What places the conference further down on this list is the fact that many of its members continue to float around mediocrity. Arizona, UCLA, Washington State, and Washington, have all floated around .500 the past few seasons. The middle of the pack teams really need to raise the bar if the Pac-10 is to one day become as strong as the SEC or the Big XII. However, it is interesting to note that since 1998, the Pac-10 has been 8-4 in BCS bowl games, while the SEC is 11-4, so the gap isn’t too big.
4. Big Ten : The Big Ten can easily be classified as the Big One (Ohio State) and the Little 10. Besides, Ohio State, who has been embarrassed during the past two BCS title games, who is ever any good? Yes, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Penn State tend to have some ten win seasons, but not on a consistent basis. Even when the teams do they are defeated soundly by the top teams from other BCS conferences. What makes the Big Ten number for on this list is the fact that the conference is made up if a bunch of underachieving teams, like Iowa, Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, and Minnesota, who always hover around .500. At least they have Northwestern to keep the conference’s APR higher.
5. Big East : The top of the Big East is pretty strong with West Virginia, South Florida, and Rutgers, among the nation’s top twenty-five teams, and the Mountaineers are actually national title contenders. What hurts the conference is the back end, as Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Syracuse have posted subpar seasons in recent years.
6. ACC : Great basketball conference, bad football conference. The league’s best team in 2006 was Wake Forest, a tiny school who should never win the conference, and the 2007 champion was Virginia Tech, who was trounced in the Orange Bowl. Florida State and Miami have continued to struggle over the past few seasons, and many of the conference’s teams tend to float around .500.
Best of the rest… 7. Mountain West Conference 8. WAC 9. Conference USA 10. MAC 11. Independent 12. Sun Belt