|Daily Blog •July 23, 2013|
One of the more exciting things about ranking college football conferences is that the order tends to change on almost a yearly basis. However, there is no doubt that the SEC has dominated recently, winning the past seven national titles, and it's held the top spot in my season-ending conference ratings for the past seven years.
There have been a lot of conference changes in the past several years, this year included. A total of 19 teams will be either jumping up to the Football Bowl Subdivision level or playing in a new conference in 2013. These realignments have created some major shifts of power.
There is not an exact science for picking the toughest conference. You cannot rely strictly upon how many bowl wins a conference racks up during the postseason or its overall record in non-conference play. Let’s face it, some leagues’ non-conference slates are much tougher than others. Conferences can play non-conference games against FCS or BCS opponents but, if you go strictly on overall records, the wins and losses count the same.
Some of the components that go into my formula of ranking the toughest conferences are overall non-conference record, record against BCS conferences, bowl record, how many teams finished in The Associated Press Top 10 and 25 and the total number of draft picks in the NFL draft.
Most importantly, I use my nine sets of power ratings to evaluate the teams in the conference for the upcoming season. They break down the strength of the top three teams in each conference, the top five teams, the top eight teams and the overall strength of the entire conference.
With all that in mind, here is my ranking of how every FBS conference will stack up this season.
Was there any doubt as to which league would rank No. 1? The SEC had five teams in last year's final AP top 10 and a record 63 players selected in April's NFL draft. This year, the SEC has six teams that rank in my preseason top 20, led by two-time defending national champ Alabama, which is also my pick to win it all this year. The SEC also has six teams in the top 10 of my Plus/Minus power ratings and seven teams in the top 16 of my Power Poll, which is a combination of all nine sets of my power ratings. For the eighth consecutive season, the SEC reigns supreme.
2. Big 12
This may come as a surprise to many, as the Big 12 figures to not have a single team in this year's preseason AP top 10. However, I have two Big 12 teams in my preseason top 10 in No. 3 Texas and No. 8 Oklahoma State, and both have a legitimate chance of entering their Nov. 16 showdown at 9-0. Oklahoma and TCU also made my preseason top 25, while Baylor and Kansas State made my top 40. Keep in mind, last year it was the Big 12, not the SEC, that had the best overall non-conference record at 26-4 (87 percent), including a 5-1 mark against other BCS conferences in the regular season.
The Pac-12 was the only conference last year to have two teams win a BCS bowl in Stanford and Oregon, and both programs have made a BCS bowl in each of the past three years. The Ducks and Cardinals figure to be in the preseason AP top 10, and I have both in my top 15 this year. The surprise in this league could be USC, which I have rated at No. 6, giving the conference three legitimate national title contenders. Arizona State, Oregon State, Washington and UCLA all made my top 40. The only thing holding the Pac-12 down in my rankings is its non-conference record, which was only 17-11 last year (61 percent) after removing wins over Football Championship Subdivision teams.
T-4. Big Ten
The Big Ten has slipped in the conference rankings due to a lack of national title contenders and poor bowl performances, which includes a 2-13 combined record on New Year's Day in the past three years. However, it could be in store for a higher finish this year thanks to some advantageous scheduling. Unlike the past few years, Wisconsin and Ohio State, two of the perennial top teams from the Leaders Division, do not play Michigan State and Nebraska, two of the top teams from the Legends Division. I have the Buckeyes running the table and playing Alabama for the national title, while Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan all made my preseason top 25.
There is no question that the ACC has had the talent to rank higher than this in the past couple of years. In April's draft, the league ranked No. 2 behind the SEC with 32 players drafted, led by Florida State's school-record 11 picks. What has hurt the conference is its on-field performance, going just 6-14 in nonconference play last year against the other BCS conferences. This year, the conference boasts three teams that made my preseason top 15, including No. 3 Florida State and No. 15 Clemson. The surprise this year could be Virginia Tech, which I have at No. 12, while Miami gives the ACC a fourth top-25 team.
6. American Athletic
The former Big East gets a makeover this year with four new teams and a new conference name. There clearly is a large gap between the top five conferences and the AAC, but the former Big East has gone 5-3 in BCS bowls the past eight years, including Louisville's win over No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl last year. This year, the Cardinals again look to be the best team in the league, as they have a legitimate chance at going unbeaten. The same cannot be said for the rest of the conference, as no other team makes my preseason top 40.
7. Mountain West
The Mountain West has clearly taken a hit in conference realignment, as it has lost the likes of BYU, TCU and Utah in the past couple of years. It does have some nice additions from the WAC, including San Jose State and Utah State, both of which made the final AP Top 25 poll a year ago. Boise State remains the class of the league with seven straight double-digit win seasons, but it is Fresno State, fresh off a nine-win season, that makes my preseason top 25 at No. 22 because of an easier schedule than the Broncos.
While not officially a conference, the independent ranks are filled with seven teams this year, the most since 2001. It has a top-10 team in Notre Dame, a top-40 team in BYU and a perennial bowl team in Navy.
9. Conference USA
Last year was a season to forget for C-USA, as it went just 12-36 in nonconference play, including a 1-23 mark versus BCS conference teams. The league loses four teams to the AAC this year and adds four Sun Belt teams. The conference went 4-1 in bowl games and has two of my preseason top 40 teams in Tulsa and my No. 1 most improved team in the country Marshall.
Last year, the MAC had one of the best seasons in its 67-year history, as the league sent a record seven teams to bowl games, highlighted by the conference's first BCS bowl bid. This year, two-time defending champ Northern Illinois remains the favorite and is a possible top-25 team. However, Kent State, which won a school-record 11 games a year ago, figures to be down a notch or two.
11. Sun Belt
The Sun Belt sent four teams to bowl games a year ago and, despite losing four teams to C-USA, brings all four bowl teams back, highlighted by Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette. Each has won at least nine games each of the past two seasons. It is the only conference that does not have a single team in my preseason top 40.
Only 37 Days Until the First College Football Game!!!