- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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Editor's note: ESPN.com is asking its experts and SportsNation to predict which conference will be the best in 2007. Follow our bracket-style tournament throughout the week to see which teams our experts picked and to vote in the SportsNation polls.
If Florida State and Miami were still national powers, the ACC would be a stronger conference than the Big 12.
But until the Seminoles and Hurricanes prove they're ready to compete for conference and national championships again, the Big 12 is a better conference from top to bottom.
Going into the 2007 season, the ACC has one legitimate top-10 team -- Virginia Tech. The Hokies finished 10-3 last season, the fourth time in five seasons they have won 10 games or more. Virginia Tech has one of the country's best defenses and might be a BCS championship contender if quarterback Sean Glennon plays more consistently.
The Big 12 has two legitimate top-10 teams: Oklahoma and Texas. The Sooners must find a replacement for departed quarterback Paul Thompson, but the running game should be stout with senior Allen Patrick and freshman DeMarco Murray carrying the load. Bob Stoops has rebuilt Oklahoma into such a national power that its 11-3 record in 2006 was considered a rebuilding season.
Texas, which won the 2005 national championship and won 55 games the past five seasons combined, returns quarterback Colt McCoy and one of the country's best receiving corps.
The second tier of ACC teams compares favorably with its counterparts in the Big 12. Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are potential Top 25 teams and each is capable of winning its division. If Florida State and Miami can improve on offense this season, they'll be in the ACC title hunt, too.
Likewise, Missouri and Nebraska are favorites in the Big 12 North Division and are capable of winning more than 10 games this season. Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech should play in good bowl games, but none figures to be strong enough to challenge the Longhorns and Sooners in the Big 12 South.
While the Big 12 annually produces a national championship contender, the ACC gives its fans more intrigue. The Big 12 has been dominated by teams from the South Division. Wake Forest, of all teams, won the ACC last season.
Each league has teams that are in rebuilding modes (North Carolina and NC State in the ACC; Colorado and Kansas State in the Big 12), programs that are looking for a kick start (Maryland and Virginia in the ACC; Kansas in the Big 12) and programs that seemingly will always struggle (Duke in the ACC; Baylor in the Big 12).
What will really separate the Big 12 from the ACC will be quarterback play. The Big 12 is loaded with good, young quarterbacks: Texas' McCoy, Texas A&M's Stephen McGee, Missouri's Chase Daniel, Kansas State's Josh Freeman, Oklahoma State's Bobby Reid and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell. Former Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller takes over at Nebraska.
Conversely, Boston College senior Matt Ryan is the ACC's only star quarterback. Wake Forest's Riley Skinner played remarkably well as a freshman, leading the Demon Deacons to an unexpected ACC title. But the rest of the league's quarterbacks are largely unproven. Several ACC teams have built their offenses around tailbacks: Clemson's James Davis and C.J. Spiller, Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice, Virginia Tech's Branden Ore and Miami's Javarris James.
While the ACC has fared well in head-to-head competition in recent seasons, winning eight of 12 games against Big 12 foes since 2002, the Big 12 should have the upper hand in 2007.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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