NCF Nation: Conference rank 090807

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ah, ranking the conferences. What fun.

The SEC is No. 1, no question. Though, of course, SEC adherents typically overstate their superiority (see a losing record last regular season versus other BCS conferences).

After that you might as well as toss the BCS conferences into a hat -- other than the struggling Big East -- and just do a random draw.

Making preseason distinctions is hardly an exact science.

I think, much like the Pac-10, the ACC is underrated. But I underrated the conference anyway at No. 5. Let's see if Virginia Tech can beat Alabama and give the ACC an elite team this fall.

I rank the Big Ten slightly below the Pac-10 because I'd pick the Pac-10 to win more games if the conferences matched up top-to-bottom. My guess is you could make a pretty good argument stating the opposite. So let's see how USC-Ohio State, California-Minnesota, Arizona-Iowa and Oregon-Purdue go (though the Pac-10 is on the road in the first three).

Few will pause over ranking the Big 12 No. 2 over the Pac-10, which I rank third.

But look at the top-four in each conference: Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Nebraska versus USC, California, Oregon and Oregon State.

Hard to say. Slight edge to the Big 12. All eight are ranked in the preseason coaches' poll.

Also, the Big 12's depth from a year ago -- Texas Tech, Missouri, Kansas -- appears down this year.

Still, the Pac-10 middle has more to prove than the Big 12's. As they say in Missouri, you've got to show me.

1. SEC
2. Big 12
3. Pac-10
4. Big Ten
5. ACC
6. MWC
7. Big East
8. WAC

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

By all accounts, 2008 was a landmark season for Big 12 football.

The unprecedented three-way tie for the South Division championship that involved Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma made the conference must-see television for the second half of the season for fans across the country. Attention was riveted to the conference unlike any previous time in the Big 12's history.

It should be more of the same this season as strong races are expected in both the North and South Divisions.

The conference again will feature cutting-edge offensive units that will score boatloads of points and be powered by the most talented collection of quarterbacks that can be found anywhere.

Those numbers are nice, but the Big 12's lack of defensive production is the main reason I still think it ranks behind the Southeastern Conference.

The top athletes in the Big 12 are clustered on offensive units, helping to result in shootouts.

In the SEC, those same athletes seem to end up playing defense. It might not be as much fun to watch, but the physical nature is apparent.

In recent bowl games, the Big 12 has struggled to match that defensive nature of the SEC for many statement-making victories.  Oklahoma's loss to Florida in the BCS title game and Texas Tech's defeat to Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl last year indicated there's still a gap between defenses found in the SEC and the Big 12.

The SEC also has a deeper concentration of top teams, as seen by its four teams in the top 10 when the USA Today coaches' poll was released earlier today.

It doesn't mean the Big 12 won't be exciting or fun to watch this season. Because it will be -- again.

But until Big 12 teams can notch some statement-making victories where defense isn't an afterthought, its national perception will continue to lag behind the SEC's.

The rest of the nation is no comparison. Big 12 teams can occasionally win their BCS bowl games, unlike the ACC. It might not have the fancy television network of the Big Ten, but has a more exciting brand of football to showcase. And it's not nearly as top heavy as the Pac-10 with its concentration of USC and Oregon at the top and little balance after.

Here's my ranking of the top eight conferences heading into the upcoming season

    1. SEC
    2. Big 12
    3. ACC
    4. Big Ten
    5. Pac-10
    6. MWC
    7. Big East
    8. WAC
      Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

      For the six months between the end of the college football season and the beginning of media days, the Mountain West Conference shouted to anyone who would listen the merits of their inclusion into the BCS.

      During the past five seasons, the Mountain West has the best win percentage in bowl games among the 11 conferences with a 14-7 mark (.667), beating out the SEC and the Pac-10.

      During the past two seasons, the MWC has posted the third-best win percentage against automatic-qualifying BCS opponents trailing only the Pac-10 and the SEC.

      The Mountain West posted a 6-2 record over teams from the Pac-10 last year.

      Utah is one of 12 teams that have made multiple appearances in the BCS bowl games since 2005, and of those teams, Utah is one of six to win two BCS bowl games, joining Florida, LSU, Texas, USC and West Virginia.

      With all that said, it would be hard to keep the Mountain West out of the BCS if it realigned and picked six new automatic-qualifying conferences.

      The Mountain West is the first non-AQ conference to have three teams ranked in the preseason coaches' poll. It has more teams than the Big East and as many teams as the Big Ten. The Mountain West's top three schools -- Utah, BYU and TCU -- all finished last season ranked and Utah and TCU were in the top 10. Utah finished the year undefeated and ranked second in the country, the highest ranking of a non-AQ team since BYU was ranked No. 1 in 1984.

      The WAC has an argument, too; especially having sent two teams to BCS games, as many as the Mountain West. However, the WAC is dominated by Boise State and the rest of the teams are struggling to catch up. Since joining the WAC, the Broncos have gone undefeated in conference play five of the past six seasons. In three of the past four seasons, the Broncos have completed undefeated regular seasons, in two of those seasons they lost in their bowl games.

      While Boise State clearly belongs in the upper echelon of teams, the rest of the WAC has been inconsistent. Teams such as Fresno State and Hawaii have risen up at times, but haven't been able to maintain a high-level of play over time. This year, many expect Nevada to be a top team in the conference, but prior to this season it's lost almost all of its recent big games.

      If I were ranking the top eight conferences, here's the order I would choose:

      1. SEC
      2. Big 12
      3. Pac-10
      4. Big Ten
      5. ACC
      6. Mountain West
      7. Big East
      8. WAC

      Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

      Ranking the best conferences in college football is a lot like ranking the best golfers in the world.

      There's Tiger Woods and everybody else.

      There's the SEC and everybody else.

      The only debate is whether anybody is even in the same zip code.

      Four times in the last six years, an SEC team has walked away with the BCS national championship. If you want to include the entire BCS era, going back to 1998, the league has five national titles.

      That's not even counting the 2004 Auburn team that went 13-0 and never got a chance to play for the title.

      And this season ... what doesn't the SEC have?

      It has the best player in college football (Tim Tebow), two of the best coaches in college football (Urban Meyer and Nick Saban) and the kind of bone-jarring defenses that win championships. A year ago, eight SEC teams finished in the top 30 nationally in total defense.

      Florida is clearly the class of the league and will try to join college football immortality this season by winning its third national championship in four years.

      But the perennial cellar-dwellers have also gotten better. There are no gimmes in this league anymore. Vanderbilt won four SEC games last season and beat Boston College in the Music City Bowl. Kentucky has won three straight bowl games.

      Four of the Top 10 teams in the recently released preseason coaches' poll reside in the SEC -- No. 1 Florida, No. 5 Alabama, No. 9 LSU and No. 10 Ole Miss.

      Yep, it's not even close.

      Here's my ranking of the top eight conferences:

      1. SEC
      2. Big 12
      3. Pac-10
      4. Big Ten
      5. ACC
      6. MWC
      7. Big East
      8. WAC

      Ranking the conferences

      August, 7, 2009
      8/07/09
      3:10
      PM ET

      Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

      The ACC has recruited better coaches. Many schools are recruiting better players. Last year, an NCAA-record 10 teams became bowl eligible. And in 2008, the ACC won the most nonconference games in league history, including a 17-14 record against the other BCS conferences and Notre Dame.

      So where does that rank the ACC in the grand scheme of college football?

      Nowhere without a legitimate national title contender.

      That's something the SEC, Big 12, Pac-10 and Big 10 have all had while the ACC watched and went through expansion and coaching changes with the hopes of some team -- any team -- representing the conference at the highest level.

      When a conference claims three straight national titles and is favored to win a fourth, it's hard to dispute the SEC as the heavyweight. What separates the SEC from the Big 12 is defense, and Virginia Tech will get up close and personal with one of the best when it faces Alabama. What separates the Big 12 from the ACC is two national championship contenders and Heisman candidate quarterbacks, and Miami will get a taste of that when Sam Bradford and Oklahoma come to town.

      The ACC was 1-2 against the Pac-10 last year, and 3-4 against the lowly Big East. It was 6-6 against the SEC, and Duke's win over Vandy showed the ACC's depth is better than the SEC's. But who wouldn't trade average 1 through 12 teams for five elite teams? The conference is on its way up, but this ranking isn't about what Virginia Tech or the ACC might do this year, it's about what the ACC has done, and the answer is nothing yet.

      Here's how I think the conferences stack up:

      1. SEC
      2. Big 12
      3. Pac-10
      4. Big 10
      5. ACC
      6. Mountain West
      7. Big East
      8. WAC

      Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

      The question came down from Bristol today: Where should the Big East rank among the conferences?

      That's a matter that obviously stirs some debate. We all know the Big East isn't on par with the SEC or Big 12 this season. It doesn't have the power at the top like the Pac-10 or the overall depth of the Big Ten and ACC, at least in 2009.

      So what this really comes down to is whether the Big East is No. 6 or if it ranks behind the Mountain West and/or WAC.

      I say the Big East is No. 6.

      Yes, the Mountain West has a lot of momentum, and Utah, TCU and BYU may all be ranked in the Top 25 to start the year, while the Big East will be lucky to get one team in the poll. The top of the Mountain West may be better than anything the Big East has in 2009.

      But it's a steep drop down that, er, mountain. I would argue that the Big East has five teams that ought to be ranked anywhere from No. 25-40 (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida and West Virginia) and that a sixth school, UConn, would do no worse than fourth in the Mountain West. And I think Louisville and Syracuse would win a few games in the Mountain West. I mean, who else scares you out there? San Diego State? New Mexico? Wyoming?

      Depth matters. And the Big East has more of it than all but five other leagues.

      My ranking of the leagues looks like this:

      1. SEC
      2. Big 12
      3. ACC
      4. Big Ten
      5. Pac-10
      6. Big East
      7. Mountain West
      8. WAC

      Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

      A peek inside Big Ten media days last week served as proof that the debate about conference strength is alive and well.

      It seemed like Big Ten coaches received more questions about the league's struggles against the SEC than anything to do with their own teams. Illinois' Ron Zook, who coached in the SEC at Florida, addressed the speed argument. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz praised the SEC but didn't think the gap separating leagues is that great.

      Still, by almost any measure, the Big Ten has slipped behind the SEC, which has won the last three national titles, two against Big Ten member Ohio State.

      The SEC has become the nation's preeminent conference, but how many other leagues separate the Big Ten from the top?

      I put the Big 12 at No. 2 in my conference power rankings, but well behind the SEC and not far in front of the Pac-10 and Big Ten. The Big 12's quarterback play is superb and the offensive innovation from Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas and others is fun to watch. But the Big 12 was less than impressive during the postseason. Though the Big Ten went 0-3 against the Big 12 in bowls, two of those games (Fiesta and Alamo) easily could have gone the other way.

      Still, the Big Ten's putrid postseason performances can't be overlooked. Six consecutive BCS bowl losses. Six consecutive Rose Bowl losses. A 1-6 record last year. The Big Ten's bowl lineup is harder than any other leagues', but teams have got to start winning again. 

      No team has hurt the Big Ten more than USC, and other Pac-10 teams, including Oregon, have notched key wins against the Big Ten. The Big Ten has dropped its last six bowl matchups against the Pac-10. Geography undoubtedly plays a major role in these games, but I'm giving the Pac-10 a slight edge entering the fall. Both leagues have some depth questions, and things could go either way. 

      The Big Ten finishes No. 4 in my power rankings, ahead of the ACC, Mountain West, Big East and WAC. A lot of folks love the ACC this year, but the league plays a flimsy bowl lineup, nothing resembling the Big Ten's, so it's hard to get a good read there. 

      Conference Rankings

      1. SEC
      2. Big 12
      3. Pac-10
      4. Big Ten
      5. ACC
      6. Mountain West
      7. Big East
      8. WAC

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