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Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten closing gap with SEC

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
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College football rules in the South, and the South rules college football.

Julio Jones' Crimson Tide showed Penn State and the Big Ten the strength of the SEC. (US Presswire)  
Julio Jones' Crimson Tide showed Penn State and the Big Ten the strength of the SEC. (US Presswire)  
The SEC has been on quite a run this decade, owning the national championship trophy each of the last four years and five times since 2003. No wonder its fans gloat like Muhammad Ali.

A pretty astonishing fact about the SEC: One of its teams has held the No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 every week since the 2008 BCS title game when Oklahoma had the ranking ... for one game. Pretty nice feather in your cap to have the No. 1 team when making a pitch for the No. 1 conference.

So it should come as no surprise that the SEC still stands tall as the best and most boastful in the land. But it does. Coming into this season, I fully expected the Big Ten to look like the better of the two conferences -- it seemed as though the SEC's middle tier was slipping and that it had become a two-team league with Alabama clearly better than Florida. But then along comes Arkansas, Auburn and South Carolina (I'm still not sold on LSU, although the defense is exceptional, but you have to score!). The Big Ten has been solid so far thanks to its long-lost cousin in Notre Dame, but nothing indicates that it has overtaken the SEC. It's more become close to its equal.

It's unfortunate we can't setup a conference clash a la the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in basketball. But let's pretend and assume neutral fields (and excluding one SEC team because of numbers):

Alabama-Ohio State: The prediction by many for this year's title game, but it's hard not to give the nod to the Tide.
Florida-Iowa: Points would figure to be a premium, but at this moment in time, I'd lean toward the Hawkeyes -- so long as they don't shoot themselves in the foot again.
Arkansas-Wisconsin: Talk about a clash of styles. Maybe I'm down on the Badgers after the extremely close call to Arizona State, so I say Razorbacks.
South Carolina-Michigan: It would be interesting to see how much running room Denard Robinson would find, and we all know how Michigan's D has struggled. Edge: Gamecocks.
LSU-Penn State: Another game where points will be few, but at this moment LSU seems better equipped than the so-far sluggish Nittany Lions.
Auburn-Michigan State: Hard one to call as Gus Malzahn's offense isn't setting the world on fire outside of the opener. Toss up.
Tennessee-Northwestern: The Vols still have work to do whereas the Wildcats are sneaky good most every season. I say Wildcats.
Georgia-Purdue: Both teams are breaking in new starters at QB and have been slow out of the gates, but I'll take the experienced Georgia staff.
Kentucky-Illinois: Another bunch of Wildcats that are quietly solid. This is another toss up.
Mississippi State-Indiana: I would imagine Mississippi State would be the comfortable favorite here with the way the Bulldogs are coming along in Year 2 under Dan Mullen.
Ole Miss-Minnesota: Two of the teams to lose to FCS (formerly I-AA) schools this season, but I'm taking the Gophers right now after they showed well vs. USC.

Final tally: 6-3 to the SEC with two too close to call.

It seems the only thing that can slow the SEC's momentum has proven to be the NCAA. So it's no coincidence that the league has enjoyed carrying the crown for the past decade during the same time that Mike Slive came in as commissioner and vowed to clean up the league. Without the loose lips, the conference is raking in 'ships.

So here they are: Your first indisputable, irrefutable, strictly opinion-based Conference Power Rankings. (P.S., if you want to get in on the fun Notre Dame, join a conference.)

1. SEC: Wondering how the conference dominates year-in and year-out? Forget the talent hotbeds, just look at the coaches. Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino all have NFL stints to go with their successful college resumes while Urban Meyer and Les Miles can point to their ring fingers to prove their college accomplishments.

2. Big Ten: The gap between 1 and 2 is miniscule, not doing anything to quell the constant fire that is the Big Ten/SEC rivalry. I can tell you this, it will be as compelling as the SEC once conference play gets going in full force with the conference boasting six of its 11 members hold Top 25 rankings. Just wait until Nebraska joins.

3. Pac-10: All this talk about a down year in the Pac-10 is hogwash. For too long the strength of the conference has been tied to USC's success, but Oregon has asserted itself as the team to beat while Stanford and Arizona are doing a lot for the overall strength. And it's not like USC is bad -- yet.

4. Big 12: The top three (Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska) from the Big 12 can compete with any other conference for supreme trio, but the depth in the league is lacking. Nebraska is all but assured a berth in the conference title game out of the dreadful North Division and the South has a steep dropoff after the Red River rivals.

5. Mountain West: For another year, at least. Quietly, TCU is as strong as last year and Utah keeps chugging along under Kyle Whittingham. The drop in BYU's performance is offset by Air Force, which, despite losing, impressed a lot of people at Oklahoma. The middle is reaching respectable levels now with San Diego State getting going under Brady Hoke.

6. ACC: The conference is still reeling from the worst day in its football history. Week 2, lowlighted by Virginia Tech's unbelievable loss to James Madison, saw the ACC drop every significant game and it didn't get any better last week. When Clemson falling in overtime at Auburn is your league's most impressive showing, you're in trouble.

7. WAC: Boise State obviously carries the conference's banner, but the league gets the nod over the Big East because of Nevada and Fresno State. Those two have each scored nice early season wins by beating Cal and Cincinnati respectively. But Boise's dominance only goes so far in offsetting the league's depth dearth.

8. Big East: It's proving time for the Big East. Pitt lost its opener at Utah and it gets Miami this week. West Virginia has started perfect but nearly tripped up at Marshall. And we've all seen UConn stumble out of the starting blocks. West Virginia will feel the weight of the conference on its shoulders when it visits LSU.

9. C-USA: Houston's punishing loss (losing two QBs and the game) hurts the conference cred level a lot, but Southern Miss did score a nice win over Kansas. This conference gets the nod over the bottom two because of the depth it has in comparison.

10: MAC: The one thing the MAC has going for it is the penchant to produce a Top 25 team every other year or so. This time it looks like it's Temple, which garnered a few votes after its sound beating of UConn. Before that it was Central Michigan and Ball State. Bonus points for Miami of Ohio scaring the living daylights out of Florida at the Swamp.

11. Sun Belt: Here's the tricky part for the Sun Belt: The teams in the league do seem to be getting better and more competitive, but the conference isn't gaining any steam. Troy has established itself as a headache for a lot of teams that schedule it and go ahead and ask Texas A&M how pesky FIU has become. But still, tough fights have to start translating into big wins or the conference remains stuck in the mud.

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