Where does the Big 12 rank?

Look, you might get a nice, pretty football made of crystal when you win a national title, but you also get respect. Both for your program and your conference. Win four in a row, and you won't hear an argument from me that you don't have the best teams in the country -- especially when those four titles are split between three teams in two different divisions.

In short, the SEC is king.

But the Big 12 is second to only those in the Southeast.

Ohio State may have bandaged its embarrassing national championship-game wounds with 100-dollar bills, but when it comes to the on-field product, the Big 12 is superior.

Texas or Oklahoma have been in the national championship conversation nearly every year for the past decade, and only the SEC could deny Mack Brown and Bob Stoops their second national championships this decade in the past two seasons.

Despite that, Texas boasts nine consecutive 10-win seasons and Oklahoma has won 11 games or more in all but two seasons since 1999. Each has won a national championship in the past decade and Oklahoma has competed in three other title games.

In the North, Nebraska started the BCS era strong at the tail end of a dominant decade in the '90s, and now looks headed on the right track after a forgettable stretch under Bill Callahan that featured two losing seasons. But big results aren't that far in the past. Nebraska reached the national title game in 2002 under Frank Solich. That was eight seasons ago. USC's last trip to the championship game was in 2006, when it lost to a Big 12 team (Texas).

In the past decade, programs lacking in the winning tradition have seen success, too, adding to the depth of the conference.

Texas Tech won 11 games in 2008 to tie for a South title with Oklahoma and Texas, and spent three weeks at No. 2 in the BCS standings.

In 2007, Missouri captured the No. 1 ranking after beating Kansas in a game that decided college football's top team. Kansas finished that season with a win in the Orange Bowl while Missouri beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, who you might recall, plays in the SEC.

In BCS games since its birth 12 seasons ago, seven different Big 12 teams (Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State and Texas A&M) have earned berths to 17 big bowls. Five times in 12 seasons, the Big 12 has placed a second team among the nation's elite in January. The league can't hide from a less-than-impressive 7-10 record in those games, even if it includes Bob Stoops' current five-game losing streak in BCS games, but what should carry more weight? Seventeen games that were mostly toss-ups, or the hundreds of games that went into putting those teams into those bowls?

Arguments about depth aside, conferences are ultimately judged by what they do at the top (and what they did at the top lately), and the Big 12 has done well with several teams from both divisions. Well enough, at least, to stake a strong claim as college football's second-best conference.