Best Conference 2008-2009

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Best Conference 2008-2009
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Who won the imaginary best conference title for the 2008-2009 season?

Results: Inclusive and Irrelevant.

First, anyone that watched this year’s Sugar Bowl or some of Boise State’s games in the last few years has to realize that there are really good Non-BCS schools within the ranks of the Non-BCS conferences.  Also, the Mountain West’s 6-1 record over the PAC-10 can’t be overlooked.  But, I don’t think we are quite ready to crown the WAC or MWC champs just yet. 

The obvious candidates would be the Big 12 or SEC.  But that falls directly into the common trap of examining a conferences strength or weakness based off its best performers.  The argument usually only concentrates on the winning teams and conveniently ignores 70-80 percent of the rest of the conference which is composed of the mediocre and traditional losers of the league.

If we look at best BCS vs. BCS out of conference records for 2008-2009, the ACC is the clear winner with 17 wins over non-conference “BCS automatic berth conference” opponents. No other conference achieved more than 11 such wins.  Not to forget they played an impressive, 31 out of conference games against other BCS conferences and Notre Dame. 

Despite having performed so well out of conference during the regular season and sending 10 teams to bowls, their miserable bowl performance and lack of 1-2 true power house teams last year keeps them from being a unanimous choice as the 2008-2009 best conference in the eyes of most fans.

And, for sake of argument, I would add that the Big East finished with the best winning percentage over the same category of foes at .550 just barely edging the ACC who finished with a .548 winning percentage. 

Further more, through either a greater degree of parity or mediocrity there was not a lot of difference between any of the major conferences this past season.  The composite looked the same for each. Most had 1-2 superior teams, 2-5 mediocre teams (which are capable of beating any of the superior teams on any given Saturday), and 3-5 bottom of the barrel teams. This was virtually the same across the board. 

But, like I said, the ACC’s inability to produce the necessary dominant 1-2 teams to grab media attention left most of their overall conference achievements to go unnoticed. So, one would be hard pressed to convince the SEC or Big 12 this year that the ACC was tougher from top to bottom.

The winner is unclear because it is impossible to have a rational argument about the subject because of the influx of personal bias, media perception, and the creation of hypothetical match-ups that have not and will not occur.

When taking into account all of these complications of truly deciding the “best conference,” I often ask myself...Who cares?  But, it is apparent that someone does as we have all seen a development of something that is slightly new in college football in recent years. 

A large majority of college football fans appear to have sworn their allegiance to not only their favorite team, but the entire community of teams within their given conference. 

As was most evident, over the last few years as chants of “SEC, SEC, SEC” emanated from stadiums across the southeast during both regular season match-ups and bowl seasons. The root of this perceived conference loyalty is the root of the ridiculous, un-ending debate of who has the best conference.

So the true question is: Where did this emergence of “conference loyalty” come from?

One has to look no further than the BCS. Fans have quickly realized that their teams benefit from media exposure and the successful propaganda campaign that their team belongs to the toughest, strongest conference in the land. It is an easy way to put the proper spin on a conference slip up that may occur here and there.  It doesn’t have to be true, so long as the pollsters believe it and vote accordingly. 

Under that presumption I have to believe that the recent increase and veracity of conference “smack talk” is nothing more than fans trying to bolster their winning team or make excuses for their losing team. In any case, it is a losing argument that is impossible to rationally resolve as there is no true way to objectively determine the strength of conference.

I feel that every true fan subscribes to that same fundamental belief that it is okay to be completely irrational in terms of defending your favorite team.

Our fanaticism permits us to put blinders on and interpret stats in whatever manner best suits us.

It is this "rational irrationality" based approach to the support of our team that always makes us feel we have a chance every year to do something special, that pleases us when bad things happen to our rivals (excluding actual personal injuries or tragedies because we do have to remember it is just a game in the end), and makes us feel compelled to explain away every loss through a myriad of excuses.

But that is what makes college football great and stokes the fires of rivalries.  

As a college football fan, I for one have not caught the conference fever and do not advocate it to others. A college football season, good or bad, is one of the most mentally exhausting events from the perspective of its faithful followers. The basic psychology of it is simple.  We as “fans” (derivative of fanatics for good reason) attach ourselves to a team and live vicariously through all of their successes and failures. 

It is this ability for a game to control our full range of emotions that leads me to believe it is physically and mentally impossible for any fan to truly pull for more than one team, let alone an entire conference.  So, I apologize to the whole of the SEC, but there is no room in my heart for any other team. 

Aside from that, a pure hatred for intra-conference rivals is reason enough to avoid jumping on the conference bandwagon. I was raised under the belief that Alabama represents the good guys and everyone else was the enemy. I truly could not care less how the rest of the conference does unless it produces second order effects that somehow assist Alabama in the polls. 

So, in a down year for the Tide when polls are irrelevant (as we have had all too many of in recent years), it wouldn’t bother me to see the entirety of the SEC finish .500 or less. My only desire is to see Alabama excel each season, and, in lieu of that, I’d settle for victories over Tennessee and Auburn.

With that in mind, I can’t come to terms with truly pulling for the whole of a conference because it would mean hoping that hated rivals win which somehow degrades the nature of the rivalry to me.

So, this coming season, let’s all band together, pick our favorite team and roll with them good or bad. Keep chats boards free of mindless chatter about who has the best conference in place of who has the best team. All in hopes of avoiding another fruitless year long debate on who deserves the 2009-2010 imaginary best conference title.

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