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Urban Meyer and his Gators play in the nation's toughest conference again.

Seven on sevens is a seven part series where I take a look at some of the best players, coaches, teams, conferences, etc., in all of college football. The first part of the season takes a look at the toughest conferences ranging from the Pac-10 to the Big East for the upcoming 2009 season. Enjoy.

1. SEC - While I have never been confused as an SEC apologist, I must admit that this is by far the toughest conference in the land. Even though the fans may be rather annoying and even a bit arrogant at times, their teams are typically capable of backing up their wild claims. When it comes to simply winning, teams from the SEC shine. The past three national champions (Florida 2008, LSU 2007, and Florida 2006) have all been from the SEC. Additionally, it also holds the best record in BCS bowl games and a year ago, the conference went 6-2 overall in all bowl games.

This year, I don’t anticipate a major drop off in production from the Southeastern Conference, as it feature an all-star coaching lineup of Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Les Miles, Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino, Houston Nutt, and Mark Richt, (4 of whom have won a national championship). But it is the players, who are largely responsible for a team’s success, and the conference features plenty of all-Americans in Florida’s Tim Tebow and Carlos Dunlap, LSU’s Ciron Black and Brandon LaFell, Tennessee’s Eric Berry and Josh McNeil, Georgia’s AJ Green and Rennie Curran, Alabam’s Terrence Cody and Rolando McClain, and even Kentucky’s Trevard Lindley.

If the long list of preseason all-Americans doesn’t convince you of the conference’s talent than the preseason top 25 might do justice. In Mark Schlabach’s ESPN preseason top twenty-five, five of the conferences twelve teams are ranked in the top 16 (Florida at number one, Ole Miss at number seven, Alabama at number eight, LSU at number twelve, and Georgia at number sixteen). In the end, the conference has the best coaches, players, and teams, which makes it highly likely that the 2009 national champion will once again come from the south.

2. Big XII - As with the SEC, the Big XII finds itself on the upper half of this list, because of the tough competition at the top and the overall depth of the conference as well. It features the returning Heisman trophy winner in Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and a returning Heisman finalist in Texas’s Colt McCoy. Both Bradford and McCoy lead the conference’s top two teams, Oklahoma and Texas, which are both expected to seriously challenge for the national title in 2009. But unlike in recent years, the conference is not simply just Oklahoma and Texas and a bunch of .500 teams. Oklahoma State and Nebraska are both featured in numerous preseason top twenty-five polls and many believe they could even wind up with a Big XII title as well. Provided the conference continues to receive strong play from its traditional powers, and mid-tier teams (Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Tech), the Big XII could be closing the gap between it and the SEC.

3. Pac-10 - Because of its late night starts and poor television contract with Fox Sports Net and Versus, the Pac-10 has developed a poor reputation among the national media, but if you glance at the facts, it is really much stronger than most national pundits would want you to believe. USC is clearly the king of the conference with seven consecutive conference titles, but there are several team, such as Cal, Oregon, and Arizona, that are capable of ending the Trojans’ stranglehold atop the conference. Don’t forget that Oregon State has also defeated the Trojans twice in the past three seasons. So there are plenty of teams outside of USC that are plenty good, as evident by the conference’s 5-0 bowl record a year ago.

However, what places the conference further down on this list is the fact that too many teams have been floating around mediocrity the past few years. Arizona State, UCLA, Stanford, and even Arizona, have all floated around the .500 mark as of late and have been able to take the “next step.”. To make matters worse, the schools in the Evergreen State, Washington and Washington State, have been absolutely horrible recently. A year ago, Washington was winless and the Cougars had just one win over a FBS foe (Washington). If the Pac-10 is to one day become as strong as the SEC or the Big XII, it will need to see some of its bottom feeders turn their fortunes around and also look into the possibility of expansion.

4. Big Ten - The Big Ten can easily be classified as the Big Two (Ohio State and Penn State) and the Little 9. Besides, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions, which conference foe has been consistently good over the past four years? Illinois had a great Rose Bowl run in 2007, but failed to go bowling in 2008. Michigan won the Capitol One Bowl over Tim Tebow in 2008, but they went nowhere in their first year under Rich Rodriguez. Wisconsin has landed in some solid New Year’s Day bowls, but they have failed to meet their lofty preseason expectations. Even the kings of the conference, Ohio State and Penn State, have struggled when it comes to out-of-conference competition. Last season, the Buckeyes lost to USC of the Pac-10 and Texas of the Big XII. They have not won a bowl game since a Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame in 2006. Penn State has also been quite average against the upper-echelon out of conference foes, as they too lost to USC in the annual New Year’s Day Rose Bowl Game.

Despite its strong tradition, the Big Ten finds itself toward the bottom of this list, because so many of it teams have failed to get past mediocrity. Historically, Iowa, Purdue, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Minnesota, have always hovered around the .500 mark. While Northwestern has arguably overachieved by reaching that mark, the other teams in this group have been called upon to become conference powerhouses, but have failed to put together winning seasons on a consistent basis. Until more Big Ten teams can become consistent winners and successful against non-conference BCS foes, I don’t see the conference making a big jump in the standings.

5. ACC - While the ACC is known for its great basketball the same can not be said for its football. The league’s 2007 champion was Virginia Tech was trounced in the Orange Bowl by arguably the Big XII’s fourth best team in Kansas and the Hokies won the conference yet again in 2008 despite four regular season losses. To make matters worse, neither Florida State nor Miami have remotely resembled the two dominating programs that they once were in the 1990s.

However, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of the ACC, as Georgia Tech (9-4 in 2008), Clemson (7-6 in 2008), and Boston College (9-5 in 2008), all appear to be headed in the right direction. If Florida State and Miami can return to their old forms, than this conference may in fact reach the high expectations that it garnered when it expanded to twelve teams in 2005.

6. Big East - There isn’t much to get excited about when it comes to the Big East. The top of the conference is rather interchangeable with one team bouncing in and out of the top half on a yearly basis. West Virginia and Louisville, once considered to be the kings of the conference, have slowly eroded as programs with both Rich Rodriguez and Bobby Petrino leaving for other programs. Ironically, the two consistent teams appear to be Rutgers and South Florida, who have each gone to bowl games in each of the past four seasons. If Rutgers and USF can start reaching New Year’s Day bowl games, Cincinnati can return to the BCS, and traditional power Syracuse can bounce out of the cellar, than this conference could soon find itself higher on this list.

Best of the rest…

  • 7. Mountain West Conference
  • 8. Conference USA
  • 9. MAC
  • 10. WAC
  • 11. Sun Belt

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