With five ranked teams and three consecutive national championships, it's easy to say the SEC is a clear cut number one.
Although they always seem to get a little extra love from the pollsters, it's important to keep the term "ranked" in proper perspective when it comes to the SEC.
Can you believe that last year Vanderbilt, Auburn and LSU all spent significant time in the top 25?
While the SEC is king of the mountain for now, who is number two?
Hint: It's not who you think.
The smart money would be on the Big 12. Largely considered the second best, if not the best, for most of last year.
Up until they were completely exposed and gutted as an elite conference in the bowls. Which begs the question, how good is this conference really?
So far in 2009, the Big 12 looks strong. Five ranked teams. At least two in this week's new top ten. And off to a terrific start.
Ten wins and only two losses. Oklahoma State 24-10 drubbing of Georgia was impressive, taking it to one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Overall Assessment: Well-qualified candidate. But where did the two losses come from?
I love the Pac this year. Coming into the season, USC, Oregon State, Cal, and Oregon head up one of the most compelling championship races in the country.
While we are still very early in the season the former three look very tough. Best is a beast and should challenge for a Heisman. Barkley seems good enough to allow the NFL-caliber talent around him to succeed as usual.
Oregon State is vastly underrated. Since Jacquizz Rodger's coming out party against USC last year, the Beavers were 7-1 with a healthy Rodgers, 7-0 in the Pac.
So strong is the Pac, that they actually seem destined to receive a second BCS berth this year, their first since 2002. (That will probably be decided this Saturday at The Horseshoe.)
Overall Assessment: Well-qualified. The Oregon loss stings. And the conference still has yet to see somebody outside of USC beat a top-tier out-of-conference team.
The Big Ten looked rejuvenated coming into the year. Two top ten teams and a third—Iowa—crashing the rankings.
Penn State looks terrific.
Ohio State looked weak, barely eeking out a victory over Navy. A careful reminder that this conference has been brutally beaten up by the Big Boys in the Big Bowls.
Until Pryor wins a big game, I don't see them as a top ten team.
But Iowa isn't close to the same without Shonn Green and now Jewel Hampton. Barely beating a 1-AA team is not the makings of a strong contender.
The Hawkeye's will probably stay ranked but they shouldn't be.
Overall Assessment: Not a chance, even if the Buckeyes beat USC this weekend.
Not one team ranked in the top 25. While tonight's winner of the Cincy-Rutgers contest is sure to change that, it doesn't change the fact that public perception of this conference is at an all-time low.
And rightfully so, the Big East hasn't done anything remarkable or shown any signs of recovery since Rich Rod and Petrino left.
Overall Assessment: This is not even a BCS conference anymore unless it can prove it can win big without Miami, Rich Rod and Bobby Petrino.
The flagship program Virginia Tech was doused by Alabama 34-24. Not good.
But I think Georgia Tech will be great this year. Virginia Tech should still be solid, even without RB Darren Evans. Butch Davis and UNC also have an excellent program.
While the conference's claim to fame is parity and strength top-to-bottom, losses to Williams & Mary, Richmond, and Baylor end all debate.
Overall Assessment: Not close.
Before we christen the Big 12 as the next best conference. Let's look again and see if there is anyone else out there.
What if there was a conference that:
- Claims three current top 20 teams.
- Finished last season with two in the top ten.
- Dealt the Big 12 their only two losses this weekend.
- Finished last season 2-0 vs. the vaunted SEC and 6-2 against the Pac-10...including the only victory over a healthy Quizz Rogers after his blow-up game vs the Trojans.
- Is now 11-6 against the top three conferences since 2008.
- Had the bottom of the conference beat teams from the SEC, Big 12, and Pac-10 in 2008.
- Hasn't had a conference champion lose a bowl game since 2002-03...to a team that's now in the conference.
- Boasts the second best Bowl winning percentage since 2005
- Has two blowout victories in their only BCS appearances.
- (Not bad considering that the Big Ten is 2-5 in that time frame and the ACC is 2-9 overall.)
The New No.2
None other than the Mountain West. The new No. 2.
The triumvirate of BYU, TCU, and Utah is as strong or stronger than any other threesome outside the SEC, making for one of the most exhilarating conference title races in the country.
BYU's victory over Oklahoma is now the MWC's third straight against a non-conference top ten opponent.
Two of them top five teams from the SEC and the Big 12. All on neutral fields.
No other conference can come close to saying that.
Many have to go back and collect marquee wins over the last decade to find three better wins. And the MWC has done it in just the last bowl season and in opening week.
Of course the jury is still out for the MWC. They have to sustain this high level of play. Utah travels to Oregon, TCU travels to Virginia and Clemson, and BYU hosts Florida State, all within the next three weeks.
A 3-1 or 4-0 record is well within reach and would send a clear message to the BCS.
Granted, it's early in the season but based on last year's performance, this year's start, and the stellar head-to-head records against the best conferences, the Mountain West has climbed it's way to the upper echelon of college football conferences.
They are the new #2.