Every year one of the most heated conversations in college football is which conference is the best. Although some conferences change year to year, some have better reputations than others. This coming season will see some interesting competition amongst conferences, perhaps the best ever.
In judging conferences, you must not only consider the top teams but the bottom teams. A conference is judged by all of its teams, not just one or two.
11. The Sun Belt Conference
Last season the SBC sent two teams to bowls, with four eligible. Sporting a 14-28 non-conference record, the Sun Belt certainly wasn't filled with teams that were punching bags for the power conferences.
Middle Tennessee State, who finished tied for fifth in the conference, defeated Maryland by 10. Troy nearly beat LSU in Baton Rouge after jumping out to a big lead. They also fought Ohio State and Oklahoma State.
Arkansas State beat Texas A&M. Overall, the conference has a long way to go in terms of earning respectability, but a few wins over power conference teams can go a long way in getting there.
10. The Mid-American Conference
A step up from the Sun Belt, the Mid American conference was highlighted by two stories in 2008.
One: Ball State, who fell one upset defeat shy of an undefeated regular season.
Two: Buffalo, who earned a bowl bid for the first time after upsetting the aforementioned Ball State in the conference title game.
A 22-35 non-conference record is still a long ways off, but the conference was improved last year.
There weren't any marquis wins. But some lower-power conference wins and some close battles with top tier teams showed the conference's potential.
9. The Western Athletic Conference
The clear favorite the last few years has been Boise State, who once again had an undefeated regular season in 2008. The WAC sent five teams to bowls but didn't fare so well. This year might not be as successful for Boise State, but expect the conference to send a hand-full of teams to bowl games again.
8. Conference USA
Last year the highlight of this conference was East Carolina's run at the beginning of the season. Victories over Virginia Tech and West Virginia were impressive, but perhaps product of a team that overachieved a bit at the beginning. Despite that, East Carolina could find their way into the top 25 this season with a vastly experienced bunch.
Another solid team was Tulsa, who was in the top 25 at a time last year before falling to a down Arkansas club. The conference sent six teams to bowls, including the high-powered offense in Houston. This year should be another good year for the conference with East Carolina leading the way.
7. The Mountain West Conference
After the recent success of the Mountain West, many have vouched for the conference to be represented in the BCS. Last year's Utah team made the biggest splash, as they beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, leaving them as the only undefeated team in the country.
The success Texas Christian and Brigham Young can't be overlooked, either, as both teams had very good seasons.
This year Utah may not be looking at another BCS berth, but the Utes should field a solid team. BYU always has a good club, and TCU should be the favorite, as they will be ranked in the pre-season top 20.
The conference has had success on the top, but level of competition at the bottom is still not on the same level as the BCS conferences.
6. The Big East Conference
Last year the Big East had good success in Bowl games, which has been a pattern over the last few years. But much of that can be attributed to match ups. The Big East has ties with many bowls against inferior competition, and the most important game, the Orange Bowl, they lost.
Cincinnati was a big surprise last year, while West Virginia was disappointing. This season should be slightly worse than last year, as many teams graduated a lot of talent.
Pittsburgh might be the favorite, along with Rutgers and West Virginia sporting good teams.
5. The Pac-10 Conference
The Pac-10 has been a strange conference to judge the last few years.
Southern Cal might be the most talented team year in and year out, but always seem to trip up once on some lowly conference opponent. On the other hand, they seem to destroy everyone else in the conference.
Oregon should be good this year, and California could be a bit of a surprise. Oregon State should be decent, along with Arizona State.
Last year the bottom of the conference was terrible, with Washington and Washington State combining for just two wins—one of which was an inevitability, as the two squads faced off in the season finale.
This season should be a bit better down at the bottom, as both UW and WSU should be improved. This, along with USC being a national title contender, propels the Pac-10 ahead of the Big East
4. The Big Ten Conference
The inability of Big Ten teams to win bowl games is much documented, but regular-season success can not be ignored.
Ohio State should be decent this year, along with Penn State again. Iowa could be a surprise, while Michigan State and Wisconsin should be good, too.
Michigan's worst season in a very long time hurt the conference last year, but the emergence of Minnesota and Northwestern made up for it. Overall, the conference might not be what it was a year ago, but it won't be off by much.
3. The Big 12 Conference
This might be a surprise, but I'm not convinced about this conference being as good this year.
Last year they played second fiddle to the SEC despite having four top-10 teams. I'm never impressed by the non-conference schedules of conference teams, and the bowl losses of Oklahoma and Texas Tech did nothing to help the reputation of terrible defense.
This year Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State could all be top-10 teams, while Nebraska should be in the top 25.
Beyond that, Missouri and Kansas should be good enough for bowl bids, but aren't top 25 clubs. The bottom of the conference will be weaker because Texas Tech will drop off this year, and bottom feeders Baylor and Iowa State aren't ready to break through.
Overall, the top is nice, but the middle and bottom of this conference don't stack up against the top two conferences this season.
2.The Atlantic Coast Conference
Yes, the ACC.
It's getting better. Although they were mediocre in bowl games last year, the conference showed plenty of signs that it's ready turn the corner and become the conference it was supposed to be when it was reformatted a few years ago.
Virginia Tech is a top-10 team, and Georgia Tech is on the border. Florida State is definitely a top-25 team, while N.C. State, Clemson, Miami, and UNC all could find their way in, too.
Boston College and Maryland both look to be good enough to make bowls, while Wake Forest could, as well. Virginia and Duke look like they will round out the bottom, but are no pushovers.
Duke won four games last year and will have a better team this season, while Virginia barely missed out on becoming the 11th bowl-eligible team from the conference.
Although a repeat of 10 bowls bids isn't likely, nine is certainly very possible. There will be plenty of non-conference tests to help the ACC prove itself, and I'd rather see teams challenge themselves than load up on low-end FBS and FCS schools.
Overall, the conference is going to be better than last year and might just be better than the Big 12, top to bottom.
1. The Southeastern Conference
Not a surprising pick on top, as the SEC has been the class of college football the last few years. This season Florida is the pre-season favorite to win it all, while Alabama, Louisiana State, and Mississippi all could vie for the top 10.
Additionally, an improved Tennessee and Auburn will help, while Georgia, South Carolina, and Kentucky could all wind up in bowls. The conference's competitiveness from top to bottom is unrivaled, as even the bottom teams seem to have success out of conference.
Overall, this should be a fun year and the difference in the conferences is too minimal to even be sure.