football-fbs flag | September 2, 2014

After the SEC, which is the best conference in college football?

  The Pac-12 and ACC each feature returning star quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.
After the SEC, which is the best conference in college football?

Even though Florida State ended the SEC's run at the top of college football last season, I will not be arguing that there is a stronger, deeper conference than the SEC again this season. As the rest of the conferences try to play catch up, the Pac-12 stands ahead of the rest as the league with the best shot at giving the SEC a run. To find the second-best conference, one must head west.


Expectations are high for the Pac-12. Six of its members were ranked in the AP Preseason Top 25, which is not only the most ever for the conference, but the second most of any conference this season, only behind the SEC’s eight and two more than the Big Ten’s four.


But we know the preseason poll is all speculation, so let’s talk results.


Last season, Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Southern California all reached double-digits in the win column. A record nine Pac-12 teams made a bowl game, achieving a 6-3 record. The SEC was the only other major conference to have better than a .500 record in bowl games.


Perennial contender Oregon has made a habit of beating up on teams from other major conferences. In the past two seasons, the Ducks have defeated Texas, Virginia, Tennessee and Kansas State by an average of 33.75 points. The Ducks are the preseason No. 3, and return one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country in Marcus Mariota.


But the Ducks aren’t the only ones who are bringing back a star quarterback in the Pac-12, with UCLA seeming to be primed for one of its best seasons in a long time behind Brett Hundley. The Bruins come in with their highest preseason ranking since 1998 at No. 7.  Other likely contenders with proven returning quarterbacks include USC (Cody Kessler), Arizona State (Taylor Kelly) and Stanford (Kevin Hogan).


The Pac-12 is also abundant with exceptional coaching. Steve Sarkisian left the Washington program he helped bring back to prominence for Southern California, but the Huskies found a very suitable replacement in former Boise State coach Chris Petersen. Add those to already present names like Stanford’s David Shaw, UCLA’s Jim Mora, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez -- I could keep going -- and there are some studs on the sidelines.


The Pac-12 is a deep league (in which Utah can upset Stanford) that seems especially wide open this season. I don’t know which team will win the Pac-12, but I do know that whoever does should be a shoe-in for the College Football Playoff, because no conference (except the SEC) is as tough.


-- Eric Vander Voort,

What has your conference done lately?


When Florida State defeated Auburn in the 2014 BCS National Championship, the Seminoles solidified the Atlantic Coastal Conference’s positon as the second-best in college football -- behind, of course the Southeastern Conference.


In a century-old sport where “every dog has had its day,” history alone isn’t enough validate the stature of a conference. Even Yale dominated the early years of intercollegiate football with 27 championships dating back to 1897. The criterion for judging a conference or team should instead be its recent body of work.


Conference history can be discussed later but for now, let’s look at the ACC’s recent performance in recruiting, bowl wins and NFL draftees.


According to ESPN’s Recruiting Nation Football, ACC schools (Florida State and Miami) ranked in the top 10 for the 2014 recruiting class. The No. 3 Noles and 10th-ranked Canes were second to the SEC which featured seven programs in the top 10. Ohio State was the lone Big Ten program while the Pac-12 hasn’t had a team in the top 10 since Lane Kiffin coached USC in 2011. As evidenced by FSU’s recent gridiron accomplishments, three consecutive years (2012, '13 and '14) of top-10 recruiting classes, coupled with great coaching, equate to championship success.


The ACC’s bowl game performance is another reason for its “second-best” moniker. In 2013, the conference emerged 5-5 in bowl games with 11 teams playing in bowls. The Pac-12 posted a 6-3 record but played only one ranked opponent (No. 3 Michigan State). The ACC played four ranked opponents in No. 18 Texas A&M, No. 16 UCLA, 12 Ohio and No. 2 Auburn. Additionally two teams (Florida State and Clemson) finished the season with a top 10 ranking while Oregon was the only Pac-12 team.


The ACC also prepares student-athletes to play at the next level. The conference saw 42 players drafted in this year’s NFL Draft, just five short of the SEC’s 49. The Pac-12 came in third with 39 players drafted. Eight ACC players were drafted in the first round alone. Of those two (Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and North Carolina’s Eric Ebron) were picked among the top 10. The SEC dominated the first round with 11 players drafted.


It will be interesting to see how the ACC fares in the new playoff system but for now, the second-best conference is the reigning college football champion and has the Heisman Trophy.


-- Tesalon Felicien,

Florida State's Pillars of the Program
USC's Pillars of the Program


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