It's the great debate in college football.
Which conference is the best?
It seems as though this debate sparks some of the most heated arguments among college football fans. Maybe that's due to not only are there so many factors to consider, but there is also a certain amount of pride involved.
For many fans, cheering for their hometown team also means cheering for the conference as a whole.
Why? Simply because the better the conference looks as a whole, the better your team looks.
But what is the best way to determine which conference is best?
National championships over the past few years? BCS bowl appearances? Bowl records?
Or should it be the number of bowl representatives each year?
No, this metric may not provide a clear winner when it comes to determining the "best" conference in college football, but it should help in deciding which conference is deepest.
Let the debate begin.
Note: Numbers and projected 2010 bowl teams were based on CollegeFootballNews.com's 2010 bowl picks.
Also, two independent teams, Navy and Notre Dame, are projected to compete bowl games in 2010-11 season. However, they are not included in the following slides.
If college football fans can agree on anything, it's that the nine-team Sun Belt Conference is the weakest league in college football. And if bowl appearances are an accurate indicator, there's a reason for that sentiment.
Of the 35 bowl games in 2010, there will likely only be three teams representing the Sun Belt. That is mostly because there are only two bowls that save a spot for the conference, but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who strongly feels there should be more.
Regardless, who are the three powerhouses who will be representing the Sun Belt in 2010? Well, it will most likely be Middle Tennessee State (10-3 in 2009), Arkansas State (4-8), and Troy (9-4).
But which bowls they go to is much more of a challenge to predict. The two bowls games reserved for the Sun Belt, the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and the GMAC Bowl, will be the featured prizes.
However, the Sun Belt is an alternate for the Little Caesar's Bowl, and unless nine Big Ten teams are bowl-eligible, it is likely that the Sun Belt could sneak another team into the postseason mix.
Still, there is no doubt that the Sun Belt has some serious work to do if it ever wants to be considered among the country's elite conferences.
The only reason why the MAC trumps the Sun Belt in terms of being the "deeper" conference is because they are guaranteed three bowl games as compared to two.
Also, with 13 teams, the MAC has four more potential winning football teams than the Sun Belt.
The Roady's Humanitarian Bowl, GMAC Bowl, and Little Caesar's Bowl all have the privilege of hosting a team from the greatest mid-major conference in all the Midwest.
But, it gets even better. Not only will the GMAC and Little Caesar's Bowl get a MAC team, but they'll also get a Sun Belt squad! Talk about a clash of the titans!
But in all seriousness, it looks as though Central Michigan, Temple, and Northern Illinois are the frontrunners to grab those three bowl slots.
The Chippewas of CMU have been the class of the MAC for the past decade and their 12-2 record in 2009 was just the icing on the cake.
Temple gained notoriety last year as a football program after their close loss to UCLA in the EagleBank Bowl and Northern Illinois will look to get back on track after a few tough years.
Although certainly not the most attractive conference, MAC teams do usually put up a good fight in bowl games, even if there are only three of them.
Although the WAC may have one of the best mid-major football programs of all-time in Boise State, it's fair to say that the conference as a whole isn't in the same class as the Broncos.
Other than Boise State, the WAC just simply doesn't have a whole lot of quality teams. So there is legitimate reason for controversy every time Boise makes a run at the BCS. Simply put, compared to other supposedly elite schools, their conference schedule is full of cupcakes.
Now, if the Broncos do go undefeated yet again in 2010, they will still undoubtedly get a BCS invite, if not a national championship berth. And, they would deserve it. It's not like they haven't proved themselves in the chances they've been given. But still, their schedule isn't anything to brag about.
That said, the WAC will still have a minimum of four bowl participants in 2010.
Teams like Nevada, Fresno State, and Hawaii should all still be playing in December. Plus, if Boise State does once again get a BCS invitation, a fifth WAC program could go bowling as well.
The New Mexico Bowl, Roady's Humanitarian Bowl, Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, and the Kraft Fight Hunger (former Emerald) Bowl all have spots reserved for WAC programs.
With the loss of Boise State after next year, the WAC will need to do some serious revamping if it ever wants to be considered an elite conference. However, it has had it's share of memorable teams.
Boise State, Fresno State, and Hawaii have all made national headlines. Just never at the same time.
It's tough to be a "deep" conference when only one team deserves national recognition in any given year.
Gasp! A BCS conference at No. 8?
Well, since it is the Big East, it's not like it's a surprise. The conference is not only the smallest in the FBS in terms of number of teams (only eight), but the league's reputation for producing quality football has been fading ever since the ACC decided to raid and hijack its top teams in 2005.
Despite all that, the Big East will still get at least five teams into bowl games in 2010. And yes, despite their small size and falling reputation, they'll still get an automatic BCS bid.
The Beef O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl (if Notre Dame isn't available), New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Meineke Car Care Bowl, and PapaJohns.com Bowl are all reserved for Big East teams, with a couple of other bowls having qualified Big East teams as back-ups.
Along with a BCS bid, that's still a pretty impressive postseason resume for such a fledgling league.
Teams like South Florida, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and West Virginia will all be fighting for that BCS bid, but even the ones that fall short will still be playing in an attractive bowl game.
The Big East has certainly seen better days, but it should never be counted out.
Make it two BCS conferences that will likely field only five bowl teams in the 2010 season.
But unlike the Big East, the Pac-10 is in this situation not because of the size or strength of their league, but because of the fact that USC isn't eligible for a bowl next year due to the whole Reggie Bush fiasco.
However, the teams that will likely represent the conference in postseason play should be more than adequate in upholding league prestige.
Washington, Oregon State, California, Oregon and Stanford will all likely be playing in bowl games come December and January, with one of them heading to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.
For those teams that don't make it to a BCS bowl, there are still some spots reserved for the Pac-10 in quality bowls.
The MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, Valero Alamo Bowl, Brut Sun Bowl, Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl all have the Pac-10's name on it.
Now, if you're thinking to yourself "Those five bowls plus the Rose Bowl means there should be six, not five Pac-10 bowl teams," then just remember that USC is postseason-ineligible, not dead.
The Trojans can still win games and still knock Pac-10 teams out of bowl eligibility.
So yes, the Pac-10 has six bowls reserved for it, but USC's play will determine whether five or six teams go bowling in 2010.
Although only a mid-major, many consider the quality of football played in the nine-team Mountain West to be on par with the BCS conferences.
After all, Texas Christian went to the Fiesta Bowl last year, Utah has won two BCS games in the last decade, and Brigham Young has come about as close as you can get to the BCS.
That respect is now starting to show in postseason eligibility.
The Mountain West will likely field six postseason teams in 2010—two-thirds of their conference—and more than both the Big East and Pac-10.
Plus, one of those teams, TCU, will likely be reappearing in the BCS. Whether it's the Fiesta Bowl again or the national championship, it appears as though TCU will once again have the goods to go undefeated in the regular season.
Not to say it will be easy. The Mountain West is a deep league.
Along with TCU, San Diego State, Utah, BYU, Air Force, and Colorado State will all probably be going to bowls.
The New Mexico Bowl, MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, Advocare V100 Independence Bowl, and Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl are all reserved for Mountain West teams.
Now, if TCU does falter at some point during the season, the Mountain West will likely have one less bowl team. But if not, six seems like the magic number.
Anything but cupcakes here.
Like the Mountain West, Conference USA is packed with mid-major schools who have been making noise at the national level over the past few years.
However, unlike the Mountain West, Conference USA has yet to break into the BCS.
Could 2010 be their year?
With seven teams projected to go bowling, it's certainly possible.
Along with Case Keenum and the Houston Cougars, Southern Methodist, Central Florida, Marshall, Southern Mississippi, East Carolina and Tulsa all expect to compete for the Conference USA crown and, at the very least, participate in some postseason action.
And no, while the bowls Conference USA has reservations for aren't as prestigious as those reserved for BCS conferences, it still shows their depth as conference if over half the teams in their league will likely be headed to a bowl game.
The R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Beef O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl, Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, EagleBank Bowl, Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl, AutoZone Liberty Bowl, and Dallas Football Classic will likely see Conference USA teams in 2010.
It's not quite up to BCS standards in terms of quality of football, but Conference USA has a bunch of good teams.
Postseason participation only reinforces that notion.
Often considered one of the weaker BCS conferences in terms of football, the ACC will have the 2010 bowl season to disprove those doubts.
After all, with an estimated eight teams going to bowl games next year, the conference will be in the national spotlight for a good chunk of time.
Three teams—Virginia Tech, Miami (FL), and Georgia Tech—will be in the running for the conference's automatic BCS berth, but that's not to say the ACC doesn't have other prestigious bowls lined up.
Heck, if the conference as a whole performs well enough, two teams could be headed to the BCS.
Other than the aforementioned teams, Boston College, Maryland, Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina will also probably be headed to bowl games in 2010.
The Advocare V100 Independence Bowl, EagleBank Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl, Brut Sun Bowl, Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Meineke Car Care Bowl, Chick-fil-A Bowl and, of course, a BCS bowl will all host an ACC team in 2010.
So yes, the ACC can either disprove any notion of inferiority with strong postseason performances or give the doubters even more ammunition with poor play.
In its last year with 12 teams in the conference, the Big 12 will hope to go out with a bang before losing Nebraska and Colorado in 2011.
Over its 14-year run with its current members, the Big 12 has produced some of college football's greatest teams.
Because those teams made it through the Big 12, where depth is an inherent part of the conference.
Virtually every game in conference play will test teams to the max.
That aspect will remain the same in 2010, where three teams—Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska—will challenge one another for the conference crown and maybe even a national championship.
In all, eight teams will likely represent the Big 12 in bowl games in 2010.
Along with the three title contenders, Texas A&M, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech expect to be still playing come winter.
Where to find them?
Check out the Texas Bowl, Valero Alamo Bowl, New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Insight Bowl, Dallas Football Classic, AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, and likely two BCS bowls.
Like the ACC, the Big Ten was much maligned for under-performing on the football field following a string of seasons in which the conference lost virtually every big non-conference game and had losing bowl records each season.
However, that all changed last year when the Big Ten notched Rose, Orange, Capital One, and Champs Sports Bowl victories and appeared to be on the way back up.
Expect more of the same in 2010.
The Big Ten will likely feature eight teams in bowl games, and three of them—Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin—will challenge for BCS bids.
Purdue, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan State will also likely be participating in bowls in 2010 and could make some noise, further enhancing the Big Ten's reputation revival.
Other than the Rose Bowl and an at-large BCS bid (or maybe even a national championship appearance), Big Ten teams will be found at the Texas Bowl, Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, Insight Bowl, Outback Bowl, Capital One Bowl and Gator Bowl.
A good bowl season from the Big Ten would definitely help re-establish the conference at the top of the college football heap.
There really shouldn't be much of an argument here.
The SEC is the deepest conference in college football. It's really not even close.
Of the league's 12 teams, it expects to send 10—yes, t-e-n,—to bowl games in 2010.
While the other BCS conferences are slowly beginning to catch back up to the SEC after its decade of dominance, it's still apparent that the Deep South is unmatched in college football.
Of those 10 teams, two of them—Alabama and Florida—should not only compete for the conference title, but the national championship as well.
Three others—Georgia, LSU and Arkansas—also hope to compete for a spot in the SEC Championship Game and if things fall their way, that's a distinct possibility.
The other five bowl-bound squads—Tennessee, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Auburn and Kentucky—may not have the talent to compete for the SEC just yet, but should still notch six wins and qualify for postseason play.
Where to look for the SEC come December?
Oh, just about everywhere.
Along with their almost-assured two BCS bids, the SEC has spots reserved at the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Chick-fil-A Bowl, Outback Bowl, Capital One Bowl, Gator Bowl, AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic and PapaJohns.com Bowl