Future Power: Can the Big Ten Replace SEC as College Football's Best Conference?
Much like we recognize Michael Jordan as the best basketball player of all time, or the idea that peanut butter and jelly just work together, it's been one of the few near-indisputable notions in college football that the SEC is the best conference. It's hard to make a case against the Southeast being football's top division.
Since the beginning of the BCS in 1998, the SEC has won six of 12 titles—and they might win a seventh this offseason if USC gets stripped of its 2004 title, in which case Auburn would likely be the recipient of some belated hardware.
The past three years have been all SEC, with LSU, Florida, and Alabama winning national titles. As far as recruiting and potential, pundits have four SEC teams placed in next year's preseason top 25 (with the three recent title winners and Georgia).
But despite all of that evidence in favor of the former confederacy and its football teams, the new Big Ten conference could soon challenge the SEC as college's best football conference.
Let's take a look at exhibit B: the Big Ten.
The Big Ten gaining Nebraska only adds to the rich tradition that included perennial powers Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan (although, right now we can replace them with Iowa).
The "middle" teams in the conference are still legitimate football schools at Wisconsin and Michigan State, and one could even make a case for Illinois, who participated in the Rose Bowl just three seasons ago.
Even the usual bottom-feeders of the conference are showing improvement, with a strong season from Northwestern and a new stadium helping Minnesota's program along. And no, I can't make a case for Indiana. But neither can the SEC for Vanderbilt.
As far as rivalries, it doesn't get much bigger than SEC games. The Iron Bowl and The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party jump to mind. But in my opinion, Ohio State and Michigan is the best annual rivalry game in college football (with the possible exception of the Civil War).
As an Iowa fan, there's nothing better than the annual Penn State game, and I cannot wait to attend the first game with Nebraska. Michigan and Michigan State have a healthy rivalry, and Wisconsin claims a trophy in the annual game with Minnesota.
That's a long list. And while the teams involved aren't necessarily the best, as a conference those are some intense midseason contests.
With regards to the future of the conferences, the SEC doesn't appear to be making any changes during this conference-alignment-palooza 2010. But most signs point to the Big Ten adding more than just Nebraska, possibly Missouri, which would be a mid-level team, or Notre Dame, which pushes rivalries to an elite level.
Pretty much every team in the Big Ten is at the top level or improving (although that's yet to be seen with Michigan). The SEC is becoming more and more top-heavy, with a good top four or five, and horrendous bottom teams (Vandy, Mississippi State, and Kentucky come to mind) that are years away from a decent bowl.
The best conferences are well-rounded, not ones with its two best teams dominating inferior opponents. If that was true, then the Mountain West would be considered a top-three conference.
Also, if a conference has parity, it doesn't necessarily mean it's a good conference (I'm looking at you Pac-10 basketball). But the Big Ten has legitimate title threats next season in Ohio State and Iowa, yet as a Hawkeye fan there's a lot of treacherous games on the schedule from teams looking at an upset. Northwestern always scares me, and Penn State hopes to break their luck (yeah right!).
With all the realignment, and the SEC resting on its throne, don't be surprised if the new and improved Big Ten gets the conversation stirring about a new best conference in college football.
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