1. SEC - Like most Buckeye fans, I hate the SEsleaze, but this conference will be strong once again this year. The main reason I give them the nod over the Big 12 is because I think that they will set a record this year and could send nine teams bowling. Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, and South Carolina are all among the top 40 teams in America. I also wouldn't count out Mississippi State, who should be better than last year's disaster. Of course, Alabama is in trouble with the NCAA and most likely won't be appearing in the postseason (they have appealed, but I'm assuming right now that they won't), which might mess up the 9 teams to bowl games record. But this year, as the NCAA has increased the amount of bowl games and will allow 6-6 teams to go to bowls if their conference is obligated to a bowl, nine teams from this conference isn't out of the question. I like the top five of the Big 12 a bit better than the SEC, but from top to bottom, the SEC has the quantity and quality. This will equal more chest-thumping from southern fans who think that Vanderbilt could win the Big Ten, which no one up here likes to listen to, but it's hard to deny that this conference is rugged. This year though, there's an added bit of intrigue as there seems to be a lot of parity in this league and many people feel like the conference title could be up for grabs.
2. Big 12 - Right now, the top of the Big 12 looks better on paper than the top of the SEC. The Big 12's top 5 of Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, and Texas A&M looks to be a tad better than the SEC's top 5 of Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and take your pick. But the 6-12 in the SEC is stronger than the 6-12 in the Big 12. There are eight teams that could be good enough to go bowling this year from the Big 12 -- the five above as well as Kansas State, Iowa State and Texas Tech. The two conferences are close though and I had trouble picking between the two for a leader. We will have to see what happens on the field.
3. Pac-10 - Like the Big Ten, I don't think the Pac-10 has a team that will be a national title contender, but unlike the Big Ten, the Pac-10 has three teams that have top ten potential in Oregon, Washington and Washington State. But the Pac-10 drops off after those three. USC, UCLA, Oregon State, and Stanford should be competitive, but they don't look like the caliber of the top three right now. Arizona and Arizona State are sleepers who will be competing for lower-level bowl bids. Cal doesn't have much again though. I hate to do this, but I give the Pac-10 the edge due to those top three teams.
4. Big Ten - There's no national contender, but I think one can safely say that there are at least seven teams -- OSU, PSU, MSU, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Purdue -- that should be playing in bowls this year. Iowa could also jump up there. Minnesota most likely will finish towards the bottom, but they have the ability to win a game here and there, upset a team or two and scrap together a bowl season. And that's what the Big Ten has that the ACC and Big East don't -- quantity. The ACC and Big East have Florida State and Miami and a solid second and/or third place team, but that's about it. You look at those conferences and wonder who is going to fill all their bowl spots. That doesn't seem to be the case in the Big Ten. The Big Ten is not on the level that it was in the late 1990s, but it's going to have several competitive teams.
5. ACC - Last year, strange things were afoot in the ACC. This year, things should be back to normal, meaning that the ACC will consist of Florida State and eight other teams that won't beat them. The drop-off is big after FSU; only Maryland and maybe NC State have the potential to be considered for preseason top 25 ranking, and only Georgia Tech and North Carolina may be other teams in the top 40 or 50. Those five should go bowling this year, with UVA, Clemson, and Wake Forest potentially battling for a postseason spot. Duke will be Duke, and unfortunately for them, with Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Mike Dunleavy all leaving the hoops team, there might not be that much anticipation for basketball down there either.
6. Big East - The drop-off after Miami is gaping. The Hurricanes should have zero problem winning this conference this year. Virginia Tech is down and has a lot of question marks. Syracuse won't be what they were last year. Boston College will be solid, but they are looking like a 20-25 ranked team right now at best. West Virginia and Pittsburgh might have enough to go to a bowl. Temple and Rutgers should remain terrible.
7. Conference USA - It's time to give Conference USA some credit. This is a conference that plays some good football. Louisville will be a top 25 team this year, and Southern Miss, Cincinnati, TCU, and East Carolina all are capable of going bowling. The conference also boasts some of the nation's top players in Louisville QB Dave Ragone, DB Anthony Floyd and DE Dwayne White and Tulane RB Mewelde Moore. Don't get me wrong; this is not a juggernaut conference by any means. But there is some talent in this conference as well as some teams that have the capability to jump up and bite the big conference teams. C-USA has definitely become the best conference of the mid-majors in front of the MAC, Mountain West, Big West, and WAC.
If you think about it, the argument for best conference is a little overblown... it's almost like it's just something that comes up when we're sick of arguing with fans in-conference and we need something to argue about something with someone new. But it's still fun to be proud when a team representing your conference goes out and beats a team from another big-time conference. This year, the Big Ten has some opportunities to do that as Penn State hosts Nebraska, Ohio State hosts Washington State, and Michigan hosts Washington (but we'll likely cheer against UM in this instance). Hopefully this is a year the Big Ten can win some of those games and move up the rankings!