Commentary

SEC still No. 1 in conference rankings

Updated: October 16, 2009, 12:11 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

The SEC race played to form last weekend, with No. 1 Florida winning at LSU and No. 2 Alabama winning at Ole Miss.

We'll see whether the Big 12 race holds form Saturday, when No. 3 Texas plays No. 20 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game in Dallas. Two other games -- Texas Tech at Nebraska and Missouri at Oklahoma State -- also will impact both Big 12 divisional races.

SEC 1. SEC
The SEC boasts the top two teams in the Associated Press top 25 poll: No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama. The defending BCS national champion Gators and the Crimson Tide seem to be on a collision course for the SEC championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Two other SEC teams are ranked -- No. 10 LSU and No. 22 South Carolina -- but Ole Miss and Auburn fell out of the poll after losing last week. With Ole Miss failing to meet its lofty preseason rankings, and traditional power Georgia struggling mightily at 3-3, the SEC might not be as strong as it has been in the recent past. But with the nation's top two teams hailing from the SEC, it's hard to argue it's not the best conference in the country.

Big 12 2. Big 12
Saturday's Red River Rivalry game between No. 3 Texas and No. 20 Oklahoma in Dallas might go a long way in determining whether a Big 12 team plays for the BCS national championship this season. The Longhorns will be right on track to reach Pasadena, Calif., if they beat the Sooners for the fourth time in five seasons. Oklahoma desperately needs to upset Texas to save its season. The Big 12 has three ranked teams in addition to Texas and Oklahoma -- No. 15 Nebraska, No. 16 Oklahoma State and No. 17 Kansas. But it's hard to imagine one of them reaching the BCS title game. Any of the aforementioned five teams would probably reach a BCS bowl game by winning out.

Big Ten 3. Big Ten
West Coast fans might not agree with this selection, but the top of the Big Ten is deeper than the cream of the Pac-10. Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State are legitimate top-15 teams, and Michigan and Wisconsin aren't bad. Northwestern, Minnesota and Michigan State have been playing better football lately. But the bottom of the conference -- Illinois, Indiana and Purdue -- is pretty bad. Those schools almost create a Bermuda Triangle of bad football.

Pac-10 4. Pac-10
We know No. 6 USC and No. 13 Oregon are the class of the Pac-10. But which team comes next: Stanford or Oregon State or Arizona or Washington? We'll begin to find out over the next few weeks. Stanford plays at Arizona on Saturday night, and the Beavers are idle this weekend before playing at USC on Oct. 24. The Huskies play at Arizona State on Saturday night. USC can help the Pac-10's stock by continuing its dominance of Notre Dame on Saturday in South Bend, Ind. California and UCLA, both of whom started the season with such promise, will try to avoid an 0-3 conference record when they play in Los Angeles on Saturday.

ACC 5. ACC
The conference's overall depth isn't great with Florida State, North Carolina and NC State struggling, but this might actually be the season in which the ACC gets two teams into BCS bowl games. No. 4 Virginia Tech is a legitimate BCS national championship contender, especially if the Hokies can win at Georgia Tech on Saturday night. Miami has put itself in great position for a BCS bowl game, and the Yellow Jackets would rocket up the rankings with an upset of Virginia Tech. The Coastal Division is much better than the Atlantic, in which Wake Forest looks to be the strongest team with a 4-2 record. The Demon Deacons and Boston College are the only Atlantic Division teams with winning records.

Big East 6. Big East
It could be argued that the Big East should be ranked higher, with all but two of the conference's eight teams currently boasting winning records. It also might be a Big East race to remember, with at least four teams battling for the title, including No. 8 Cincinnati and No. 21 South Florida. West Virginia and Pittsburgh are also in the race, and might be close to joining the national rankings, as well.

Mountain West 7. Mountain West
All signs point toward No. 12 TCU and No. 18 BYU staging the conference's best game in Provo, Utah, on Oct. 24. The Horned Frogs must survive a visit from Colorado State on Saturday, and the Cougars play at San Diego State. No. 24 Utah also is alive in the MWC race and plays reeling UNLV in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Surprising Wyoming can gain a dose of legitimacy by winning at Air Force on Saturday.

C-USA 8. Conference USA
Tulsa missed a good chance to earn Conference USA some national recognition Wednesday night, losing to No. 5 Boise State 28-21 at home. But the Golden Hurricane showed they are going to be a factor in the conference race. C-USA teams still have a chance to make some noise this weekend. Marshall plays at West Virginia. UAB plays at Ole Miss. Central Florida hosts Miami. And SMU plays host to Navy.

WAC 9. WAC
Boise State's results in Tulsa were closer than expected, but the Broncos still look to be the class of the WAC. Whether the Broncos were impressive enough to stay in the top five of the first BCS standings is certainly up for debate. Two of the WAC's most surprising teams can continue their fast starts Saturday. New Mexico State, which is 3-3 in Coach DeWayne Walker's first season, plays at Louisiana Tech. Idaho, which has produced one of the sport's most unlikely turnarounds with a 5-1 record, plays host to Hawaii on Saturday night.

MAC 10. MAC
MAC quarterbacks take center stage this weekend when Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour and Western Michigan's Tim Hiller face each other for the final time. The Chippewas look like the team to beat in the MAC West. Western Michigan rebounded from an ugly 38-3 loss at Northern Illinois on Oct. 3 by blasting Toledo 58-26 on the road last week. Temple recovered from a slow start to move to 3-0 in the MAC East. The Owls play Army on Saturday.

Sun Belt 11. Sun Belt
The Sun Belt has been as unpredictable as any league in the country. Preseason favorites Arkansas State (1-4, 0-2 Sun Belt) and Florida Atlantic (0-4, 0-1) are struggling, and Louisiana-Monroe (4-2, 3-0) is leading the conference race. The Warhawks handed Arkansas State its fourth straight loss with a 16-10 victory Tuesday night. Defending Sun Belt champion Troy (3-2, 2-0) is also unbeaten in Sun Belt play. Middle Tennessee State will look to pull off its second upset of the season when they host Mississippi State. The Blue Raiders won at Maryland 32-31 on Sept. 19.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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