In 2009, the question above is easily the toughest one answer. Obviously I don’t think the SEC is the strongest. Experts will make their case for the Big Ten and mention teams like Ohio St., Penn St., Iowa, Wisconsin, and even Michigan. The first four are all ranked in the BCS standings, which means the Big Ten has more ranked teams than the SEC. Does that mean that the conference is better top to bottom than the SEC, because if it is, and the SEC is supposed to be the best in the nation, does this then mean that the Big Ten is the best? I know that was a long question but that sums up the parity of college football in 2009.
Although it may be a difficult task to name the best conference in 2009, it is not so hard to realize that the Big Ten is not it. Iowa, Ohio St., Penn St., and Wisconsin are all in the top 25, but with 2 games to play (for most Big Ten schools) is anyone a big believer in any of them? Does anyone think that any of them could match up athletically against the top 3 teams of the other conference? Even the Big East with Cincinnati, South Florida, and West Virginia has more speed than any of the Overrated 4 of the Big Ten. It’s like the conference is the new place where time forgot. Every other conference has gone to a more spread and open game where the Big Ten still is stuck in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. They are still tough, grind it out teams, but they are only built for that conference. Once they step out and play a top notch opponent they usually get waxed. These teams know that too, that’s why the out of conference schedules are ridiculously easy.
Ohio St. almost lost to Navy, lost to USC at home, and beat up on Toledo and New Mexico St. New Mexico St.?! Even Temple would be more daring. The Buckeyes slate is bad but nothing compared to Penn St. The Nittany Lions played Akron (2-7), Syracuse (3-6), Temple (7-2, like I said more daring), and I-AA Eastern Illinois (7-2). The combined record is a respectable 19-17, but when your toughest out of conference game is Temple at home, are you worthy of a BCS bowl? All of those contests were also in Happy Valley. Iowa does have a quality win beating Arizona in Iowa City, but Northern Iowa, Iowa St., and Arkansas St. leaves much to be desired for the rest of the schedule. Add to that they beat I-AA Northern Iowa and Arkansas St., both at home, by a combined 4 points, and it should be off no shock to anyone that they finally lost this past weekend. Honestly, it’s about time. The last one of the four, Wisconsin, has home dates with Northern Illinois, Fresno St., and I-AA Wofford on the slate with a season ending road trip to Hawaii. How do any of these teams deserve a BCS bid over some non-BCS teams? The rest of the league is a bunch of mediocre teams beating each other up. The award for the best conference does not go to the Big Ten.
When Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College joined the ACC it was supposed to make it a super conference. A conference in which the winner of the Florida St./ Miami game would be etched into the BCS title game. Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out that way for the ACC. Georgia Tech is the cream of the crop at the moment for the ACC with a 9-1 record and #7 overall ranking. Their only loss was to Miami, which combined with Virginia Tech, make up the only legitimate teams in the conference this season. Each team has played (or will play) solid out conference schedules. Although Tech’s first game was Jacksonville St., the other 3 were road games at SEC Mississippi St. and Vanderbilt, and their rival game with Georgia, another SEC team, to finish the regular season. Miami has 2 cupcakes (Florida A&M and Central Florida) sandwiched around 2 good match-ups (Oklahoma and at South Florida). Virginia Tech has the best slate with Alabama (9-0) to open the season in Atlanta, home games against Marshall (5-4) and Nebraska (6-3), and a road game at East Carolina (5-4). That’s a 25-11 combined record for the Hokies out of conference opponents.
All of this sounds great, until you look at the rest of the conference. Although being solid teams, North Carolina and Clemson just have been too up and down to think that either team is capable of winning big games. The rest of the ACC is really just a bunch of teams, like Boston College, Florida St., Wake Forest, N.C. St., Duke, Maryland, and Virginia, that have no business being in a bowl, especially with a 6-6 record. A .500 team in a paltry conference should be relegated to the New Orleans Bowl, or something comparable. The best win of any of the above teams was the Wolfpack’s win over Pitt. Florida St.’s drubbing of BYU in Provo is still mind boggling, but that’s about it. They also have lost to the likes of Middle Tennessee St. (Maryland, for the second season in a row), Navy (Wake Forest), I-AA Richmond (Duke), and Virginia has lost to I-AA William & Mary and Southern Miss. Apparently the little guys can play with the ACC. TCU has beaten both Clemson and Virginia on the road. The Horned Frogs would play for the ACC Championship at a minimum if they were a full member. So if the ACC isn’t the best, that means we only have 3 BCS conferences left to choose from.
Of all the BCS conferences the biggest disappointment has been the Big 12. Teams like Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri are not as good as we thought, and Kansas St., Colorado, Iowa St., Baylor, and Texas A&M have done nothing to pick up the slack. Oklahoma St. and Texas Tech have been solid but you can mark the Cowboys also as a disappointment. The Dez Bryant situation aside, OSU was thinking BCS title this year until a little team from C-USA, Houston, came into Stillwater and ruined their season. That same Houston Cougar team that also beat Texas Tech. Wow, you mean to tell me that a non-BCS team beat two of the top 3 teams from the Big 12? We’ve been told that can’t happen. Obviously Houston could have competed in the Big 12 in 2009, and most certainly is better than any team from the North Division. Texas, however, will not receive any argument from me that they are not an elite team. Of course even the Longhorns have only beaten one ranked team (Oklahoma St.), and an out of conference lineup of UL-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP, and Central Florida is pretty pathetic. Those four teams have a combined record of 17-19, and none of them may even get to a bowl game. Just to remind you, Texas is ranked 3rd. To give them credit only 2 of their wins have been by less than 24 points. A 34-24 win over Texas Tech, and a 16-13 win in the Red River Rivalry over Oklahoma. Texas may not have a brutal schedule, but they are beating up on their opponents. I would be shocked if the Longhorns stumbled the rest of the way. However, one team does not make the best conference, and therefore the Big 12 is also not the best.
If the Big 12 has been the biggest disappointment as a conference, then the Big East is easily the biggest surprise. With no real marketable, and tradition rich school, the Big East has long been considered as the weakest in the BCS, and possibly not deserving of an automatic bid. That is not the case in 2009. Cincinnati has been lights out all season and headlines what looks like 4 legitimate teams for the conference. The Bearcats are ranked 5th in the current rankings and have played just as well as Florida, Alabama, and Texas. Even with their starting quarterback going down, the Bearcats have kept rolling. I wonder what would happen if Texas lost Colt McCoy or Florida lost Tim Tebow for a couple games. Would they keep rolling the same way as Cincinnati? With Alabama it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is, they can’t score at all, and if they lost RB Mark Ingram for an extended period of time Vanderbilt could shut them out. The Bearcats have beaten two ranked teams on the road (Oregon St. & South Florida), and have another good road win at 6-2 Rutgers. With West Virginia, a suddenly hot Illinois, and Pitt still on the schedule, it would be really hard to keep them out of the title game if they were to win out.
The conference is not done with Cincinnati. Pitt has been a surprise and has been dominant lately, posting an 8-1 record thus far and climbing to #12 in the latest rankings. The meat of the Panthers schedule looms with home games against Notre Dame and Cincinnati, and the Backyard Brawl will be in Morgantown this season. We’ll know soon whether they are elite or not. West Virginia and South Florida have been solid all year, but the Bulls have been better, not only beating the Mountaineers, but also with a solid win in Tallahassee against the Seminoles. South Florida’s game versus Miami in Tampa on Thanksgiving weekend will be interesting to watch. Are the Bulls just good for the Big East or can they knock off a much more legit team from the ACC, and their home state. How much would it help USF’s recruiting if they were to beat Florida St. and Miami in the same year? Some people may put Rutgers in the mix of top Big East teams, but the Scarlet Knights are going to have to start getting more aggressive in the out of conference for me to take them seriously. Playing 2 I-AA teams in Howard and Texas Southern, and having Florida International, Army, and Maryland fill out their schedule is a joke. Howard and Texas Southern aren’t even really good I-AA teams. Howard is 0-6 in the MEAC. Rutgers has no business playing them. Their out of conference opponents are a combined 13-31, so in my opinion Rutgers is a total fraud. The other 3 teams in the Big East (UConn, Louisville, and Syracuse) have a combined 1-12 conference record and have accumulated only 10 total wins between them. Although the Big East is better than most thought, it’s still not the best.
In 2009 the honor of best conference goes to the Pac-10. Now that’s really hard words to hear in the east and south, but it is true. Top to bottom the Pac-10 is on top for two reasons. First, they have the most quality teams of any conference in the country, and second, they actually schedule people out of conference. Oregon, USC, Arizona, and Oregon St. are all ranked, and Stanford should be. Cal is a very good 6th place team and 7th place Arizona St. would be a top tier team in a few conferences. The Pac-10 from top to bottom can compete and challenge anyone in the country sans Washington St. You will see this conference do very well come bowl season.
It is pretty obvious that I am very big on scheduling and challenging yourself to be considered a great, and a title worthy, team. Above all else this is why the Pac-10 is the best. If the Pac-10 scheduled like the SEC or Big Ten there would probably be 8 bowl teams. They like to challenge themselves however, so they may only get 6. I’m going to run down the out of conference slates for all teams, except Washington St., and you’ll clearly see the discrepancy between the aggressiveness of the Pac-10 and the timidness of the other conferences. Keep in mind that the Pac-10 is also the only conference that has 9 conference games so they only have 3 out of conference games. So they have 1 less game than most other schools, and 2 less than the Big East. Here are the schedules and whether they won or lost.
USC: San Jose St. (W)
@ #11 Ohio St. (W)
@ Notre Dame (W)
Oregon: @ #6 Boise St. (L)
#16 Utah (W)
Arizona: Central Michigan (W)
Northern Arizona (W)
@ #10 Iowa (L)
Cal: Maryland (W)
E. Washington (W)
@ Minnesota (W)
Oregon St.: Portland St. (W)
@ UNLV (W)
#5 Cincinnati (L)
Stanford: @ Wake Forest (L)
San Jose St. (W)
Notre Dame (11/28)
Washington: LSU (L)
@ Notre Dame (L)
UCLA: San Diego St. (W)
@ Tennessee (L)
Kansas St. (W)
Arizona St.: Idaho St. (W)
@ Georgia (L)
I could go on and on and on with this, but I think it is clear the Pac-10 is the best conference in the country. They may not have won all of these games, but you have to give credit to some of these teams for putting these teams on their schedule instead of playing it safe to get to 6 or 7 wins, and a bowl game. These days in college football that type of scheduling is refreshing.
Kevin Hornung is the College Football Editor for Taking It to the House and a chief scout for Great Blue North Draft Report. To talk college football with Kevin drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org