The Big Ten…the new BCS bully on the block?

As I was getting ready for Week 3 of an already scintillating season of college football I thought the unthinkable. I questioned the unquestionable. Is the Southeastern Conference, which has seemingly dominated college football over the last 5 years, the far-and-away toughest conference in this 2010 version of college football? For the first time in a while, I wasn’t so sure.

I’ll admit that it was easy to dismiss the vast majority of other BCS conferences as I explored the answer. The Big East, with West Virginia as its only ranked representative, simply shouldn’t even be discussed here. The Big 12 is really just too top heavy – although the top is pretty highly ranked. And the ACC, which beat its chest with Virginia Tech, Miami and FSU as legit contenders at the beginning of the season, has retreated from the conversation faster than Desmond Howard can tie a softball-sized double windsor knot.

This really only leaves as potential challengers the two oldest conferences in college football, the Pac 10 and Big 10, both of whom will ironically field 12 teams in the near future. And while Oregon looks offensively unstoppable at the moment, the rest of the conference is filled with formidable, yet uninspiring teams like Stanford, Oregon State, Lane Kiffin’s USC, and Arizona. All are good football teams, but none are likely to truly fear into the heart of an opposing BCS foe.

So with Big 10 seemingly the best of the rest in 2010, how does it stack up against college football’s recent golden standard? Pretty damn well, in fact. The SEC does boast a one-team advantage in a quick survey of the AP Top 25. But pre-season hype – which is what much of the polls are based on at this point – should not be the only measuring stick (as the ACC has so aptly illustrated in just two weeks time).   For comparison’s sake, here’s a look at what can probably be agreed upon as the eight best teams from each conference, with their AP ranking in parenthesis.

1. Alabama (1) / Ohio State (2)
2. Florida (10) / Iowa (9)
3. Arkansas (12) / Wisconsin (11)
4. South Carolina (13) / Michigan (20)
5. Louisiana State(15) / Penn State (22)
6. Auburn (16) / Michigan State
7. Georgia / Northwestern
8. Mississippi State / Indiana

One thing that jumps out is that the Big 10 and SEC occupy spots 9-13, and more than half (11) of the Top 20. This should solidify the fact that these are 2010’s two best college football conferences. However, there is an appreciable separation that takes place between the two after the Top 6. I say Top 6 because, although not ranked, Michigan State is a tough, talented team that will likely be ranked if it beats a solid Notre Dame team this weekend. Still, even the most intensely mustached midwesterner would not take Northwestern and Indiana in a street fight against Georgia and Mississippi State.

So it would seem that fans of the SEC may once again claim superiority over all others in college football, albeit by possibly more narrow a margin than in any other year during the conference’s half-decade of dominance. But what will they say in 2011 I wonder, when #8 Nebraska joins the Big 10 party? One thing is for sure, if the Big 10 does outgun the SEC next season, SEC fans won’t be willing to admit it…

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