Bruce Feldman of ESPN recently rated his top conferences. Go to this link and you can read it, provided you are an ESPN Insider.
Here’s his rankings and commentary. He breaks the conferences down like he would a group of boxers, with the programs divided into weight classes:
1. ACC: Anyone who thinks FSU is deteriorating into some doormat is crazy. The difference between the ‘Noles and those other fallen-by-the-wayside programs is that FSU still has an armada of game-breakers, while those other places had sawdust. Obviously, the expansion helped boost the ACC, but so did the hires of Ralph Friedgen (Maryland), Jim Grobe (Wake Forest) and Al Groh (Virginia) a few years ago.
Heavyweight: FSU, Virginia Tech and Miami.
Light heavy: Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia.
Middleweight: North Carolina, NC State, Clemson, Maryland and Wake Forest.
Total: 43. Average: 3.58.
2. Big 12: Texas A&M’s return, coupled with the rise of Texas Tech and Iowa State, offset the decline of Nebraska, K-State and CU.
Heavyweight:Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M.
Light heavy: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State.
Middleweight: Iowa State, Missouri, Nebraska, K-State, Colorado.
Total: 41. Average: 3.42.
3. SEC: The good: There’s not another conference with five programs capable of winning a national title. The bad: There are five teams in this league that probably wouldn’t win three games in Big Ten league play.
Heavyweight: Tennessee, Florida, LSU, Auburn, Georgia.
Light heavy: Alabama.
Welterweight: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State.
Total: 41. Average: 3.42.
4. Big Ten: It’s a slightly more balanced version of the SEC. But this league seems to have more pretenders than any other conference.
Heavyweight: Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa.
Light heavy: Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin.
Middleweight: Penn State, Michigan State.
Flyweight: Illinois, Indiana.
Total: 37. Average: 3.36.
5. Pac-10: It does have the heaviest of all heavyweights at this point. Trouble is, do you think any other team in the league would be higher than fourth in any of the conferences listed above? (I don’t, now that Aaron Rodgers has bolted for the NFL.)
Light heavy: Cal, Arizona State, Oregon.
Middleweight: UCLA, Oregon State, Washington State, Stanford.
Welterweight: Washington, Arizona.
Total: 33. Average: 3.30.
6. Big East: The Cards proved they are a legit top-10 program, and I think Pittsburgh (under new coach Dave Wannstedt) might be in that class soon.
Light heavy: Pittsburgh, West Virginia.
Middleweight: Syracuse, UConn.
Welterweight: Rutgers, Cincinnati.
Flyweight: South Florida.
Total: 24. Average: 3.00.
7. Mountain West: The mix here has really been shaken up in the last two years. I suspect it will change almost as much in the next two years. It sits atop the mid-major crop because of Utah’s rise and because of coach Joe Glenn’s work at Wyoming.
Light heavy: Utah, New Mexico.
Welterweight: BYU, San Diego State, TCU, Colorado State, Air Force.
Total: 22. Average: 2.44.
8. WAC: In truth, I’d take the WAC’s top two teams over any other teams right now in the non-BCS bunch. Both are on the brink of “heavyweight” status. Too bad the rest of the league’s a mess, although I think New Mexico State will become a bowl team fast now that Hal Mumme is running the show.
Light heavy: Boise State, Fresno State.
Welterweight: New Mexico State, Nevada, Louisiana Tech.
Flyweight: Utah State, San Jose State, Idaho.
Total: 20. Average: 2.22.
9. MAC: A batch of very underrated teams, but the MAC sinks below it’s western counterparts because the rest of the conference has dipped too far down.
Light heavy: Toledo, Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green.
Middleweight: Northern Illinois.
Welterweight: Akron, Kent, Eastern Michigan.
Flyweight: Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Ohio, Buffalo and Ball State.
Total: 26. Average: 2.17
10. Conference USA: The league was really hurt by the Big East defections (the loss of Louisville especially hurts). Some solid programs are still in the mix, but it’s pretty watered down. And while I’m at it, where’s the outcry for former ECU coach Steve Logan?
Light heavy: None.
Middleweight: UAB, Memphis, Southern Miss, UTEP.
Welterweight: Houston, Tulane, Marshall
Flyweight: SMU, Tulsa, Rice, East Carolina, UCF.
Total: 23. Average: 1.92.
11. Sun Belt: UNT is, pound for pound, the best deal in college football if you consider how much they win in light of those facilities. Each of these three welterweights has promise, but it’s still a long elevator ride to get up to mid-major level.
Light heavy: None.
Middleweight: North Texas.
Welterweight: Middle Tennessee, Troy, FAU.
Flyweight: Louisiana-Lafayette, FIU, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas State.
Total: 13. Average: 1.63.
Our order would differ slightly, looking something like this:
1. ACC–Top to bottom, the toughest group.
2. Pac-10–Best coaching league, combined with superior style of play.
3. Big-10–Very good talent, solid coaching.
4. SEC–Best talent, improved coaching, still behind schematically.
5. Big 12–One half of the league is a joke, the other half filled with paper tigers.
6. Big East–A dying league.
7. MWC–Should be a BCS conference, at least if the Big East continues to be one.
8. WAC–Like the MAC and MWC, the WAC is a proving ground for new offenses and systems.
9. MAC–Great coaches, top teams can play with almost anyone.
10. CUSA–Getting better, but may lose more teams, too.
11. Sunbelt–Algae for the upper food chain of college football.
Other quibbles and bits:
–We wouldn’t put Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in the Light Heavyweight division. Both middleweights in our view. We’d also drop Iowa State and Missouri to welterweight. Nebraska’s spot as a middleweight is mostly on reputation. It can just as easily be a welterweight, considering that’s the denomination for traditionally tough–though currently weak–Washington.
–Although Wake Forest is a fun team to watch and can give teams fits, we’d drop them to welterweight.
–We’d drop Vandy and Mississippi State to flyweight.
–We’d move Cal and ASU up to heavyweight. Feldman doesn’t consider the Bears at that level since Aaron Rodgers departed to the NFL. But, Auburn is a ‘heavyweight’ in the SEC despite losing three first round picks out of its backfield. Will Cal be at least as good as Auburn this year? I would say yes. ASU is coming off a season in which it crushed Big 10 heavyweight Iowa. Also, put UCLA at light heavyweight (again, if Alabama is a light heavyweight, UCLA is, too), drop Stanford to welterweight and Washington to flyweight (yes, they will still be very bad this year).