By Bryan Zarpentine @BZarp on July 17, 2014
The college football season is right around the corner, and part of the excitement of the first few weeks of the season is a wide array of inter-conference matchups. These games can go a long way toward determining the power ranking of the conferences in college football. After another offseason of schools switching affiliations, here is how the conferences stack up heading into the 2014 season.
C-USA has one really good team in Marshall and a few other solid teams, but they lost East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa and replaced them with programs that are new to FBS like Old Dominion. Some of the worst teams in the country this year will come out of C-USA, which is why Marshall may end up running the table and why the league is the weakest in the country.
The MAC usually has a handful of solid teams and from top to bottom can be fairly competitive. But the league is coming off an 0-5 record in bowls last year, and this season there doesn't appear to be a standout team that can crawl into the top-20. Lacking a marquee team will hurt the MAC's reputation in 2014.
The Sun Belt is a football conference on the rise, as its members were 2-0 in bowl games last year and the league has started to pull off a yearly upset over an SEC team. The league has expanded this year, and those new members may have a tough time adjusting to the FBS level. But the Sun Belt has plenty of programs on the rise and should have a solid season as a conference.
Last year was a good year for the AAC behind the strength of Central Florida, but it'll be tough for the league to repeat that in 2014. The conference loses Louisville and Rutgers, and the schools brought in to replace them aren't exactly eye catching. Cincinnati, Houston and SMU are all good programs, but unless UCF can stay nationally relevant, which is doubtful, the AAC will be a second-tier league in 2014.
Even without Boise State being a top-10 team, the Mountain West is in good shape heading into 2014. Boise is still a good program, as is Fresno State, and Utah State has become increasingly impressive in past years. The league sent six teams to a bowl game last year and isn't quite as far beneath the power conferences as some people think.
In terms of the big five conferences, the Big 12 is just a shade below the rest. Baylor and the two Oklahoma schools are in good shape, but recent additions TCU and West Virginia have been disappointing since joining the league while the conference is hurt by Texas not being a top team. The Big 12 doesn't have as many teams or as much depth as the other leagues, and that keeps them below the rest.
The Big Ten adds Maryland and Rutgers this year, but neither helps the league's power ranking all that much. Ohio State and Michigan State are two contenders to reach the College Football Playoff, but the rest of the league is a bit mediocre. Among Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska, a few teams will have to reach double-digit wins in 2014 if the Big Ten expects to be anywhere close to the same level as the SEC or Pac 12.
The ACC sent 11 teams to bowls last year, and among them were two BCS bowl winners and the national champions. The league once again has a national championship contender in Florida State to carry the torch, as well as improving depth in the league. Replacing Maryland with Louisville is a big upgrade, and with Duke, Miami, Virginia Tech and Syracuse likely to improve after bowl games last year, the ACC should have good depth in 2014.
The Pac 12 is almost to the top but not quite. Oregon and Stanford lead the pack with UCLA and USC not be far behind, while Arizona State is coming off a brilliant season in 2013. Even the teams in the middle can play, as everyone but Colorado and California look like formidable teams heading into 2014. This gives the Pac 12 impressive depth and a few teams that will compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The SEC's run of championships is over, but the league is still as good as it gets. With Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and LSU, the SEC has five contenders for the college football Final Four, while Florida, Missouri and Ole Miss could all be considered dark horses to get there as well. The bottom half of the league may not be as strong as past years, but the massive amount of power at the top makes the SEC the nation's best league.
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