Big Ten tops our conference rankings

Is the SEC still king? Or the Big 12? Or can the ACC or Big Ten knock them off? Here's how our experts rank them.

Originally Published: August 10, 2005
By Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Who are the top conferences? We asked our experts -- Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde -- to rank them all, and here are their lists. Agree? Disagree? Give us your vote now.

Ranking The Conferences
Ivan's Rankings
Pat's Rankings
1. Big Ten. Not often do you have four teams from the same league mentioned as top-five teams. Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Purdue are all getting pub. 1. Big Ten. Three national title contenders in Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa, plus possibly a fourth in Purdue, thanks to the scheduling gods. Penn State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin aren't too bad, either.
2. SEC. Six teams in the first coaches' Top 25, and Steve Spurrier to boot. Power ebbs and flows in most leagues -- not this one. 2. SEC. Should have six very good teams: Florida, Tennessee and Georgia in the East; LSU, Auburn and Alabama in the West. The question is whether anyone in that group is a Rose Bowl team. And returning Steve Spurrier to the mix is never a bad thing.
3. ACC. It will be interesting to see how the teams adjust to divisional play. Virginia Tech-Miami is destined to become an even greater rivalry. 3. Big 12. The only thing seriously hurting this league is the dramatic imbalance in divisions. The South is loaded: Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas Tech are all Top 25 caliber. The North needs someone -- anyone -- to step forward as a viable champion.
4. Big 12. Three top teams in the South, and maybe, in Texas Tech, a fourth. The North? Well, there are three top teams in the South, and maybe, in ... 4. ACC. Breathing down the Big 12's thick neck. Coastal Division mates Miami and Virginia Tech look like top-10 teams. FSU is the big question mark after a tough summer, and could be pushed by BC in the Atlantic Division.
5. Pac-10. On the upswing. Look for improvement from Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA. USC will have more tough conference games than it's had since Pete Carroll's first season (2001). 5. Pac-10. Unfair to call it USC and nine pencil necks -- but tempting. If Cal sustains last year's success after major turnover, or Oregon rebounds, or Arizona State makes a smooth transition at QB, or UCLA finally lives up to expectations, this league will have some second-tier quality. If not, the Trojans' toughest opponents might be Fresno State and Notre Dame.
6. Big East. Louisville brings credibility and a top-10 presence. Dave Wannstedt at Pitt and Greg Robinson at Syracuse can help restore the league's stature, too. 6. Big East. Adding Louisville gives the beleaguered Big East a top-15 team and dark horse national title contender. The rest of the league is in flux: new coaches at Pitt and Syracuse, new quarterbacks at West Virginia and UConn, new blood from South Florida and Cincinnati. Same old paralysis at Rutgers.
7. MAC. Quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski of Toledo, Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green and Josh Betts of Miami make this league the best of the rest. 7. Mountain West. Talk about a league in transition. Utah gave the MWC a year to remember -- then virtually disbanded. With three new head coaches and a new member (TCU), it's tough to say who rises to the top. But the top and bottom shouldn't be too far apart this year, which will make things interesting.
8. Conference USA. UAB, Memphis, Southern Miss and UTEP provide a solid foundation in the new two-division format. Getting Marshall up to speed quickly will help. 8. WAC. There's a huge disparity between the top and bottom here. Fresno State and Boise State are Top 25 teams, while San Jose State, Idaho and Utah State could be outside the top 100. But it's better to have a couple of teams of national consequence than none at all.
9. Mountain West. The afterglow of Utah's run last season helps. So do the rise of Wyoming and the ongoing renovations of BYU and UNLV. 9. MAC. Similar to the WAC. Bowling Green, Toledo and Miami look very strong at the top, but it's a long way down the line to the lower levels of this 12-team league. Losing Marshall and Central Florida helps geographic continuity.
10. WAC. After Boise State and Fresno State, the league drops off. Keep an eye on Dick Tomey at San Jose State. All he did at Hawaii and Arizona is win. 10. Conference USA. Probably better at the middle and bottom than the WAC or MAC -- but why get caught up in the middle and bottom of a league? The top is what matters, and C-USA is pretty soft there. A league with no teams in the top 50 doesn't command much attention.
11. Sun Belt. Two best teams, North Texas and Middle Tennessee State, play at LSU and at Alabama, respectively, in paycheck games Sept. 3. That will be a good barometer. 11. Sun Belt. The plucky little league has made two improvements: Members have stopped scheduling eight road games, and the Belt has closed down its Rocky Mountain Bureau, settling more sensibly into the Southeast. Still waiting for someone to dethrone North Texas.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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