Bill Trocchi
Wednesday October 24th, 2007

As anyone who follows college football knows, parity has struck the nation this season like no other. Upsets have been rampant and the New World Order of the college football landscape gets flipped seemingly every week.

In no other place does parity reign as much as in the SEC East, where the pecking order has been relatively stable for the past 10 years. Florida, Tennessee and Georgia have pretty much taken turns at the top, followed by South Carolina. And Kentucky and Vanderbilt have battled for No. 5, with the Wildcats landing there more often than the Commodores.

In 2007, however, one through six is a jumbled mess. Barely halfway through the season, five SEC East teams have two conference losses, and cellar-dweller Vanderbilt is sitting one game out of first place with three. After this weekend's action, assuming Kentucky beats Mississippi State, there will be three teams with two losses and three teams with three losses.

And Kentucky beating Mississippi State is no sure thing, even though the game is in Lexington. As daunting as SEC stadiums are, and as rabid as the home crowds can be, homefield advantage has been minimal this year. In SEC games, road teams are 15-13, further demonstrating the parity throughout the conference.

Parity does not mean mediocrity, however. The SEC has produced several classics. LSU's successive games with Florida (win), Kentucky (loss) and Auburn (win) were all thrillers. Alabama stunned Arkansas in the final minute, then lost to Georgia in an OT nail-biter. The Bulldogs won at Vanderbilt on the final play of the game, as did Auburn at Florida.

The SEC likes to think of itself as the closest thing college football has to the NFL. In terms of parity, at least this season, that feeling is not far off.

Last rank: 1

The skinny: Ten teams dot's current top 40, and No. 11 (Mississippi State) owns a win at Auburn. The league has quality depth this season, plus a true national title contender (LSU) and one on the fringe (Florida). Tennessee has regressed this season, but with Kentucky, South Carolina and Alabama improving, and Florida and LSU staying among the elite, the "Any Given Saturday" mantra rings true in this historically strong conference.

Last rank: 3

The skinny: Nebraska's accelerated fall this season from nine-win North champs to also-rans has certainly been ugly, but the majority of teams in the conference are in very good health. Kansas continues to win as its competition steadily increases, Missouri's only blemish is at Oklahoma, Texas Tech is still a team you don't want to play, Oklahoma State is 3-1 since the Mike Gundy rant and Kansas State is a fringe top 25 team in Ron Prince's second year. Oh yeah, Oklahoma and Texas are pretty good, too.

Last rank: 2

The skinny: Remember when the Pac-10 had two top-five teams in USC and Cal. Well, they're gone ... but Oregon and Arizona State have replaced them. The Ducks are an ill-timed fumble at the goal line from being unbeaten, and Arizona State is unbeaten. The meat of Arizona State's schedule awaits, but as numerous teams have shown this season, it ain't easy staying undefeated, no matter what the slate. One big knock against the league: UCLA is 4-0 in conference play, yet owns a 38-point loss to Utah and a 14-point loss to Notre Dame.

Last rank: 5

The skinny: Has anyone noticed Michigan has won six straight games since that ridiculous start to the season? Maybe the Wolverines are the top-10 team many projected, and they simply extended their summer vacation by two weeks. Ohio State stands No. 1 in the current BCS standings, giving the league its signature power team. After that, there is some strong parity, with five teams owning two Big Ten losses. Illinois' rise looks legit, Penn State should give No. 1 a run this week and Wisconsin and Purdue are two solid teams capable of springing an upset.

Last rank: 4

The skinny: The ACC puts its two marquee teams on display Thursday night as Boston College and Matt Ryan travel to Lane Stadium to battle Virginia Tech. BC may be No. 2 in the BCS, but the Eagles are three-point underdogs despite some injuries for the Hokies. It will undoubtedly benefit the league should the two teams put together a great game, which is definitely possible. But if BC is exposed against its first decent opponent since Georgia Tech, the league will lose its power team and Ryan's Heisman campaign will end. Let's hope this is a preview of the ACC championship game. These are clearly the two best teams in the league.

Last rank: 6

The skinny: As colleague Stewart Mandel pointed out, South Florida's loss puts the Big East out of the national picture, at least until the next rash of upsets. South Florida had the stage to itself as the No. 2 team in the nation and came up short against twice-beaten Rutgers. The Bulls did not play their best game, and as a consequence, the perception of the whole league will suffer. Connecticut's ugly win over Louisville was another non-Saturday national telecast, and the biggest play of the game occurred when a UConn punt returner waved for a fair catch, caught the ball and then ran for a touchdown as the Louisville defense stopped. Not exactly what you're looking for out of your national exposure.

Last rank: 7

The skinny: Thanks to TCU's win over Stanford and Utah's win over Louisville, the Mountain West now claims a 7-8 record vs. BCS members this season -- quite a respectable number. It is interesting to note that TCU went 2-1 vs. BCS teams (beating Stanford and Baylor, losing to Texas) but stands at 1-3 in conference play. Utah also went 2-1 vs. BCS teams (wins over Louisville and UCLA, loss to Oregon St.) but is only 2-2 in MWC play.

Last rank: 8

The skinny: With Boise State, Fresno State and Hawaii all sporting unbeaten league marks, the top of the conference gets kudos for what will shape up to be an entertaining race for the championship. All three teams should reach bowls, though Fresno State's case would be that much better if not for that crazy, triple-overtime loss at Texas A&M. Round 1 of the three-team round robin for the league title will take place on Friday night when Fresno State hosts Boise State.

Last rank: 10

The skinny: East Carolina missed a chance at the North Carolina/North Carolina State sweep last weekend, falling to the Wolfpack 34-20. Still, Skip Holtz' squad has been better than advertised, and some of the top programs in the league -- Southern Miss, Central Florida, Houston -- are rounding into shape as the season winds down. The league has a shot at five bowl bids, which is all it can hope for after a less-than-impressive non-conference showing this year.

Last rank: 9

The skinny: Here's all you need to know about the MAC. Central Michigan is the league's lone unbeaten team in league play, winning three conference games by an average of 22 points. Take the Chippewas out of the MAC, and here's what you get: a 45-point loss to Kansas, a 23-point loss to Purdue, a 56-point loss to Clemson and ... a 30-point loss to Division I-AA (FCS) North Dakota State.

Last rank: 11

The skinny: Middle Tennessee's win over Memphis a few weeks back was another feather for the nation's bottom conference. This season, the league can claim two wins over Memphis, plus victories over Oklahoma State, Minnesota and SMU. Troy appears poised to run away with the league title and berth in the New Orleans bowl.

Last week, I named each conference No. 1 in something and received solid feedback. Two themes emerged -- Mark Richt should have been mentioned among the SEC coaches, and there is NO WAY Ohio State is taking the 'Linebacker U' tag away from Penn State. Fair enough. Here's one reader that didn't appreciate the Pac-10's rank as No. 1 in "Spectacular Upsets."

How come every conference but the Pac-10 gets complimented? You pretty much called them the No. 1 Chokers. Why can't you say something nice about them too? You are much better writer than that. -- Jason, Hayward, CA

Here is my Pac-10 compliment: Best Uniforms, as a whole. Even Oregon somewhat made up for past transgressions with those sweet all-whites last weekend.

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