By Ed Morgans @writered21 on May 18, 2014
It's an argument as old as major college football itself: which conference is the best? The Power 6 is down to the Power 5, with the BCS' demise signaling the end of national relevance for the AAC. Now, with teams vying for a spot in the national semifinals, conference supremacy will be determined by which team takes the title and if a conference can land two teams among the last four. Here are the conference rankings entering the season.
The Sun Belt had a nice 2013 with bowl wins by North Texas and Louisiana-Lafayette, but the conference is severely weakened not only by the loss of Western Kentucky to Conference USA, but the additions of FBS weaklings Idaho and New Mexico State, along with FBS debut teams Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. This conference is an FBS league -- just barely.
Another conference that is significantly weakened is Conference USA. While WKU is entering, East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane are gone to the AAC. Once a fun conference with some notable teams that had at least some sort of strong football history, Conference USA is now only a step ahead of the Sun Belt in the college football conference pecking order, which is no real compliment.
This ranking might surprise people at first, but when you really look at the Mountain West, it's more understandable. There are some good teams like Fresno State, San Diego State and Boise State, but the days of the latter being a national power are gone. The bottom of the league is horrible, with Air Force, Hawaii and New Mexico combining to go 6-30, 1-23 in the league last season.
Over the last 10 years or so, the MAC has almost always managed to work itself into the national conversation with teams like Northern Illinois, Miami-Ohio, Ball State and Bowling Green. With the demise of the BCS and no real chance for a MAC team to make the national semifinals, MAC national relevance is probably history, but the league turns out quality NFL players on a regular basis.
The AAC has a lot of teams you've heard of and maybe when you throw them all together, the league sounds like a good one. Cincinnati, Houston and East Carolina will be the teams to watch in the league, but there is a lot of filler here, as well. It's definitely not a power conference, but it's a leg above all the second-tier conferences currently playing FBS football.
From week to week, teams in the Big 12 play some of the most entertaining football in the nation, but entertainment does not always equal quality. Whether it's bowl flops like Baylor falling to UCF (and giving up 52 points in the process) in the Fiesta Bowl, or late-season collapses that cost the conference chances at the BCS title, the Big 12 is a good league that just doesn't get it done when it matters.
If you believe that the best conference is the one that turns out the national champion, then ACC fans have their argument to call themselves the best with Florida State going unbeaten last season and winning the title over Auburn. However, that really isn't the case. While Clemson was strong and Duke's emergence was a good story, much of the league was pretty weak and not on par with their national brethren.
No one in Big 10 wants to hear that their league isn't as good as any other league, whether it's in football, basketball or marbles. But while there are some fine teams at the top (Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin), the league as a whole is dragged down as schools like Purdue and Indiana struggle. Adding Maryland and Rutgers for the 2014 season does absolutely nothing to help the conference's cause on the field.
Maybe it's east coast bias, but you won't find a ton of folks giving the Pac-12 its due. While the additions of Utah and Colorado haven't worked out for anybody involved, the league produced quite a few quality teams last season in Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State. The two Los Angeles schools were also competitive, and Arizona can pull an upset on its best night. The league is quality and will feature in the national semifinals.
It would be notable and headline-grabbing to pick a conference other than the SEC as the top college football conference in the country. It would also be incredibly inaccurate. The SEC is, week to week, the most competitive conference in the country, and the fact that it won seven straight national titles (and came within one Jameis Winston TD drive of an eighth) is proof, as is the way the SEC dominates the Top 25 each week. It's the best.
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