Ask 10 people in a room who will win the national championship in 2013, and most likely eight or nine are going to pick a team from the SEC. When you win seven straight titles and finish with five teams in the Top 10 of the final AP poll, you begin to build a reputation as the big man on campus.
But that does not mean there are no teams that have a shot to dethrone the kings of college football. Will the conqueror come from the Pac-12 or Big Ten? Well, if you had to pick, your best bet would be to roll the dice with the conference out west.
The Pac-12 has more national championship contenders than the Big Ten. This debate should be about the Pac-12 versus Ohio State. Seriously, can you pick any team in the Big Ten besides the Buckeyes that has a legitimate shot to win the national championship this season?
Even making the big game would seem a little farfetched. Beating Alabama, Texas A&M or Georgia? Forget about it.
The Buckeyes were the only Big Ten team that finished in the top 15 of last year's AP poll. Northwestern was a respectable team at No. 17, but don't confuse progress with being a contender. Michigan and Nebraska were the Big Ten's other ranked teams. They finished with a combined nine losses and were only included because they were less subpar than the rest of the pack.
Nebraska's defense allowed 1,229 total yards in its final two games. Michigan would be a respectable contender, but it has a lot of questions entering the new season. Will the offense take a step forward with Devin Gardner at quarterback? How will the defense respond without injured linebacker Jake Ryan? Where in the world is the pass rush?
An elite football team is needed to dethrone the SEC. A squad that limps across the finish line will not cut it. Right now, the only team that has a real chance to knock off an SEC powerhouse would be Ohio State, but even head coach Urban Meyer said his team has a ways to go, according to Sports Illustrated.
"For me to say we have to get there next year, that's like me talking about how we have to go fly to the moon," he said. "We're nowhere near even having that conversation."
Then, what are we talking about? Of course, that is coach talk, but the undefeated Buckeyes did have plenty of close calls against mediocre teams last season. Let's also not forget that the entire defensive line needs to be replaced, as well as most of the secondary.
As for the Pac-12, teams such as Stanford and Oregon are almost guaranteed to begin the season ranked in the top 10 of all major polls. This doesn't include an Oregon State team that returns seven starters on defense, a rising UCLA program and USC, which will always receive love from the voters, regardless
To even have a shot, a team must begin the season in a nice position in the polls. There aren't many teams that are going to pull off what Notre Dame did last year, going from unranked to No. 1.
Oregon nearly knocked off Auburn in the 2010 National Championship game. Although there was a coaching change, when you have an offense that can score at the speed of light and have elite quickness on both sides of the ball, you have a chance. The Ducks have been in national title conversations for the last three years, and that won't change with 15 starters coming back.
Stanford finished last season ranked 20th in total defense and has seven starters returning. An elite club defensively, the Cardinals were only a bounce or two away from finishing the season undefeated and giving an SEC team a run for its money. The offense should also drastically improve with dual-threat quarterback Kevin Hogan now in place..
While those are the two Pac-12 teams that will remain in the conversation until proven otherwise, you would be foolish to count out USC, which has a loaded roster. There is also a defensive-minded team in Oregon State that forced 31 turnovers.
Beating an SEC team in the national title game would be a daunting task, even for a Pac-12 program. But there are a handful of teams that realistically could make it to the title game. In order to even have a chance, a team has to at least make the big game.
The Pac-12 has the momentum and depth in its favor, while the Big Ten has work to do before even thinking about hoisting a crystal football.
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