It’s a question that gets brought up whenever media types discuss College Football Playoff rankings or examine bowl records.Which conference is the best in college football?
After the 2017 season, it’s easy to say the SEC, given the All-SEC national title game, along with Auburn beating both teams. The Big Ten has a case to make, as it went 7-1 in bowl games with the lone loss coming because of Michigan and Jim Harbaugh. The ACC saw one its traditional powers falter, Florida State, and yet there were still two teams alive (Clemson and Miami) for the College Football Playoff in the final week of the regular season.
So with another major checkpoint, National Signing Day, reached in the college football off-season, it’s time to reexamine where each conference ranks in regards to each other. And while these might not mean much now, people will hammer the strength of each conference when it comes time to debate whether or not a team belongs in the College Football Playoff.
1. Big Ten
The Big Ten got shut out of the College Football Playoff in 2017, but it was almost more because everyone beat everyone, rather than the conference lacking an elite team. And there’s an argument that the conference will be better in 2018. Ohio State and Penn State both secured top-5 recruiting classes, and Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State bring back a ton of returning talent. There’s a world in which the Big Ten has 5 of the top 10 teams in the first AP Poll come the fall. And while it’s hard to see them getting two teams into the playoff like the SEC, the top end of the conference is a clear-cut above that of the SEC.
As proven by the 2018 recruiting rankings, Alabama and Georgia are clearly a step above everyone else the conference. There’s a very good chance that both teams could get into the College Football Playoff once again, and 10 months out, the 2018 SEC Championship game certainly looks like a probable College Football Playoff play-in game. But the rest of the conference doesn’t quite stack up to the top cut of the Big Ten. Auburn loses a lot from last year’s team, and LSU might struggle given next year’s schedule and the questions about its offense. We don’t know how new Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead will look and Florida and Tennessee were total trainwrecks in 2017 and seem at least a year away. Given the instability that came as result of the many coaching changes, the SEC likely won’t be able to claim it is the top conference in college football next year.
Clemson is still going to be excellent in 2018 and will very likely make the College Football Playoff once again. Miami should still be a team that wins 10 games and if things break the right way, possibly contend for a playoff spot. Florida State can’t possibly be as bad as it was a season ago, when it went 7-6. While the top of the conference isn’t as good as the SEC and the Big Ten, it might be the best in terms of quality from top to bottom.
4. Big 12
Oklahoma is going to take a step back after losing a player as talented as Baker Mayfield, even if Kyler Murray proves to be a capable replacement. Texas won only seven games last year and still seems like a year away, despite bringing in the Big 12’s top recruiting class. West Virginia could be fun, but can we really take them seriously. TCU has to replace a lot on offense, as does Oklahoma State. The Big 12 certainly looks like a league that could possibly miss out on the playoff. Oklahoma is the only team from the conference to make the playoffs so far, and there’s a decent chance that is still true after the 2018 season.
Whether it be top-end talent, or possible playoff teams, the Pac-12 is clearly at the bottom. Washington is the conference’s only serious playoff contender. Stanford and USC both could make runs, but each school has to replace a lot production — Stanford on defense, USC on offense. UCLA and Arizona could be on the upswing given their coaching changes, but for 2018 ,the conference as a whole seems a step behind the other Power 5 conferences.
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