Which Conference Is Nation's Best?

The 41st annual Walter Camp Football Foundation Award Ceremony was held January 12th at the Yale Commons in New Haven, Connecticut. Attended by over 950 people, the black tie affair attracted first and second team All-America players from across the country representing many conferences. The three-day event is recognition of the oldest college All-America Football Team (dating from 1889).

Players participated in the "Stay in School" rally and visited the children's wards of local area hospitals. The year-long volunteer organization raises money for many local charities.

Persistent polling promotes the constant discussion of conference comparisons as the rankings are established weekly. Words written in newspapers, magazines and on the internet supplemented with hot air from television analysts and radio talk shows is enough to splash the rainbow hue colors of the Grand Canyon with black ink and warm the atmosphere of Alaska for a winter. Voices rarely heard in the debate made themselves available for comment about the aforementioned hierarchy of leagues.

Football fans in the Southeast, including Alabama fans, feel there is ample proof on the field, in the stands, and in the National Football League, to support the belief that the Southeastern Conference is the nation's strongest in college football. What did some of those at the Walter Camp affair have to say about that?

Walter Camp Football Player of the Year, University of Arkansas running back Darren McFadden aligned his allegiance to his conference as he stated, "I feel like the SEC week in and week out is the best. You may have a team from the bottom of the league that can come out and beat the team that's number one in the league. Just the total size and speed in the SEC. It's a fast conference. The SEC is the best by far to me."

Equally committed is his Arkansas teammate and fellow All-America, running back/kick returner Felix Jones. "The best conference is the SEC because on any given week anybody can get beat. That's with any conference but we've got the toughest conference because we've got the speed, we've got the power and the toughness. So I believe the SEC is the toughest conference. I believe every week you're going to play a good team in the SEC."

Standing by the strength of the Big 12 conference are two of Missouri's finest, quarterback Chase Daniel and tight end Martin Rucker. "I think the Big 12. You look at the top ten teams in the nation and the Big 12 has four of them (Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas)," said Daniel. "The SEC, PAC 10, we played against all of them. The SEC has a lot of speed and they're up there as well as the PAC 10."

Rucker emphasizes two points in particular replying, "We (Big 12) have the best athletes and the best teams. I'd say the bowl records (5-3) speak for themselves. KU won this year. We won. We (Missouri) beat four SEC teams in a row (2005-07) in bowls and non-bowl games and I think that says a lot about us."

One player straddled the fence perched on the dreaded "p" word embraced by the league (NFL) officials where they pay for play. Ryan Stancheck, offensive tackle of West Virginia, explains, "I think there are a couple of great conferences out there. I don't want to list one. I think the SEC is a great conference. It's hard to pick one. I think there is so much parity. Everybody says speed in this conference and this conference is power but every conference has its own balance of speed and power."

Political partisanship was not always the choice. Kevin Huber, Cincinnati punter, mentioned two specific rivals before selecting one as his choice, "The Big Ten is known for smash mouth football and the SEC is known for its speed. Every week teams from each conference are beating each other. If I had to say which is the strongest conference I would have to say the SEC because their overall speed as a conference is greater than the overall speed from other schools. Each conference has their strong points but overall probably the SEC has the strongest conference."

Chris Long, University of Virginia defensive end, also switched parties and opted for a tandem vote as he said, "I'm going to say it's the SEC and the PAC 10 in a tie. The best teams in the PAC 10 and the best teams in the SEC are the best teams in the country. The places they recruit from are where the best athletes reside."

Jordy Nelson, Kansas State University wide receiver, completed the trifecta as he sang the praises of a conference other than his own. "I think it's the SEC. The teams they have top to bottom, I think really compete around the country. I think it shows in the bowl games. Year in and year out they have the majority of the best teams. They play a style of ball where you have to be fast. We went down this year and played Auburn and got a taste of it. It's just a great conference and they've got a lot of tradition I think as well."

USC's defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis recognized one conference's potentially late season Achilles heel as a strong point as he explained, "I'm going to be biased to my own conference. I think a lot of people underestimate the Pac 10 and what it has to offer. We have a lot of prolific offenses in the PAC 10 and it makes it really hard on the defenses. The only reason I would say another conference like the SEC would be better is because you're playing a top ranked school every week and you can play one more in the conference championship. In the future I would hope the PAC 10 would adopt a championship style of conference because it's more catered to the best team at that time."

Jamie Silva, Boston College defensive back, felt unqualified to remark on the rankings stating, "As a player, the fair thing to say is I really don't know seeing that I haven't played in all the conferences. The only real way to tell is go out and play against the teams I feel. I think the ACC is pretty tough and competitive and I think there are good teams (ACC) that could beat any teams around the country but as far as the best overall conference I don't know."

University of Florida's 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow was non-committal due to the time constraints he faces each weekend yet firm in his feelings about his personal experience in his own league as he stated, "There really has been a lot of discussion as to which conference is the best. I think that is a deal that is great for the fans to talk about and really does help add to fun conversations about the game. As far as which conference I think is the best it would be hard to say because as a player, I don't get the opportunity to sit down each Saturday in the fall and watch all the games. I can tell you that the SEC is awfully tough and the stadiums we've played games in have been full of very loyal fans."

Kansas's Mark Mangino, Walter Camp Coach of the Year, pledged his vote along party lines. "I don't know if you can answer that clear cut in terms of who's the best at what. Some conferences are more physical. Some are more faster. I don't know how you can sit down and point out what is the best conference. If I had to pick one I'd say the Big 12. We were 5-3 in bowl games. We represented the conference well against other conferences."

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