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Friday, August 25, 2006
Is the Big Ten or SEC the best conference?

By Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach

Which conference is the best? We asked our experts -- Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach -- to rank them all, and here are their lists. Agree? Disagree?

Ranking The Conferences
Ivan's Rankings
Mark's Rankings
1. Big Ten. I love the number of great quarterbacks in the league this year, and Ted Ginn Jr. proves that the guys who make everyone miss aren't limited to the Sun Belt states (or the Sun Belt Conference). 1. SEC. Four legitimate BCS contenders: Auburn, Florida, Georgia and LSU. A handful of the country's best coaches: South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Georgia's Mark Richt, Florida's Urban Meyer and Auburn's Tommy Tuberville. College football's most passionate fans (check my e-mails) and best game-day settings.
2. SEC. The perennial East Division powers have lost a step, although it's nothing permanent. The West will be as tough as it has been in the past five years. Even the Mississippi schools look better. 2. Pac-10. USC has played for the national title three straight seasons, winning twice, and is going for its fifth consecutive league title, a streak no team has achieved. The Trojans finally could get resistance from Arizona State, Oregon and California. Washington State and Oregon State could be surprises.
3. Big 12. The South continues to flex its muscles, and the North, with Nebraska leading the way, actually might be good enough to hit back. There's no question about what Gary Barnett and Bill Snyder accomplished, but Colorado and Kansas State are better off now than a season ago. 3. Big Ten. Ohio State seems to be an overwhelming choice to win the league, but Michigan could be a surprise if quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Mike Hart stay healthy and its defense improves. Penn State looks likely to take a small step back, but linebacker Paul Posluszny won't let the team fall too far. Don't forget about Iowa, which plays the Buckeyes in Iowa City.
4. ACC. The leader among conferences in mystery teams. Can Miami rediscover its offense? Can Florida State rediscover an offensive line? Can Clemson get over the eight-win hump? Can Maryland break out of a two-year slump? Will anyone ever give Boston College any credit? 4. ACC. Figures to be another three-team race between Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech for the conference championship. Georgia Tech, with receiver Calvin Johnson, could be a major sleeper. Boston College tries to move up in its second season in the league, and Maryland, NC State and North Carolina try to step out of mediocrity.
5. Pac-10. The rest of the teams might be gaining on USC, which has won 23 straight conference games and hasn't lost one in regulation since 2001. Every team except Stanford has a lot of upside this season. The move to a full round-robin this season will be watched closely. 5. Big 12. Defending national champion Texas could be right back in the BCS title mix if it beats Ohio State in Austin on Sept. 9. Oklahoma won't fall off the map without quarterback Rhett Bomar, and Texas Tech simply will reload its offense. Is this the season Nebraska and Texas A&M finally rekindle their winning ways?
6. Big East. Lay off, all right? West Virginia and Louisville could compete in any conference. Rutgers, Pittsburgh and UConn are close. The conference needs once-traditional powers such as Pittsburgh and Syracuse to rebuild. The Orange are a couple of years away. 6. Big East. Louisville or West Virginia, which each have Heisman Trophy candidates playing at quarterback and tailback, could wind up in the BCS title game if the chips fall right. Pittsburgh, Rutgers and South Florida could get to bowl games as Syracuse tries to win more than one game.
7. Mountain West. The expansion of the BCS this season could be the springboard for this league, which has been building momentum for a couple of years. TCU has been a great addition to the league. Utah and BYU are both strong this season, and the addition of Chuck Long as head coach at San Diego State brings a bright mind and big name to the league. 7. Mountain West. TCU appears to be the team outside the six power conferences most likely to be a BCS buster. But the Horned Frogs will have to beat Utah and improving BYU to remain in the mix for one of college football's top five bowl games.
8. Conference USA. The first team to field a defense wins. Seniors Kevin Kolb of Houston and Jordan Palmer of UTEP lead exciting offenses. Last year's division champions, UCF and Tulsa, might be improved. George O'Leary's rebuilding job in Orlando is the best thing to happen to this league in a while. 8. Conference USA. The league has one of college football's hottest young coaches, Tulsa's Steve Kragthorpe, and two coaches who took advantage of second chances: Central Florida's George O'Leary and UTEP's Mike Price. Story lines abound with Tulane returning to its New Orleans campus after Hurricane Katrina and Marshall having a movie made about the 1970 plane crash that killed most of its football team.
9. Western Athletic. A transition year for the league, what with Chris Peterson taking over for Dan Hawkins at perennial power Boise State. Hawaii might challenge the Broncos and Fresno State at the top, but the Warriors must travel to the mainland to play both teams, as well as Alabama. Dennis Erickson's return to Idaho can be only good news. 9. Western Athletic. Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada could produce upsets of opponents from bigger conferences. It won't take long for former NFL coach Dennis Erickson to have Idaho winning again.
10. Mid-American. The league has some good teams but none that appears as if it will make a dent in the national conscience and, more important, the Top 25. Northern Illinois, after several years of threatening, could break through and win it all. The East is anybody's guess. Defending champion Akron won't sneak up on anyone the way it did last year. 10. Mid-American. The days of Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio) and Northern Illinois pulling off major upsets seem to be long-forgotten. Unless, of course, the Huskies and tailback Garrett Wolfe can win at either Ohio State or Iowa. Now, that would be an upset.
11. Sun Belt. America's Road Warriors are busier than ever this season, the first in which the 12th game has been revived. Unfortunately, the crazy road games taken for money will have an impact on the quality of conference play. The team that keeps the most players healthy wins. 11. Sun Belt. The league's teams seem to just keep getting worse. Sun Belt teams are 1-5 in bowl games since the league joined Division I-A.