National perspective

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CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson knows a thing or two about conference debates. During last season's SEC championship game, he argued Florida, not Michigan, deserved a spot opposite Ohio State in the BCS title game. His argument was largely on the strength of the SEC vs. the Big Ten, and it created more than a few elevated heart rates in the Midwest.

"When people talk about which conference is best, they are usually just giving opinions and not really much else," Danielson said. "You have to put pencil to paper and really look at it. But you know what? When you do that, it gets even harder. It is really splitting hairs."

After giving my opinion over the first two months of the season on this topic, I decided to let a national panel of experts split the hairs this week, ranking the six BCS conferences. Assembled for this exercise are Danielson and Spencer Tillman (CBS), Mark Schlabach (ESPN), Tom Dienhart (Sporting News), Dan Wetzel (Yahoo! Sports), Mitch Light (Athlon Sports), Pete Fiutak ( and Chris Dufresne (Los Angeles Times).

Each submitted a list and explained their thought process, and as you can see in the graphic to the right, the SEC was unanimously named the nation's top conference. Here is every individual ballot and commentary:

First Tier: SEC, Pac-10Second Tier: Big 12, Big Ten, ACCThird Tier: Big East

This is not easy to do. I would put the SEC at 1A and the Pac-10 at 1B, because if you look at it in terms of embarrassing losses, the SEC really has none. The Pac-10 has lost to Notre Dame, New Mexico, Cincinnati, Utah. Also, when you play in the SEC, you travel with that 75 years of history to those games. Week after week, that is draining.

The Big Ten is going to have Michigan and Ohio State go undefeated two years in a row. That doesn't say much for the conference. It is like that conference is stuck in the 1970s while everyone else has moved on.

I would say this year, the conference differences are a good tie-breaker, but not a leap-frogger. One team shouldn't leap-frog another just because of conference.

1. SEC2. ACC3. Pac-104. Big 125. Big Ten6. Big East

Viewing this with a critical eye, you have to judge a conference's strength from the bottom up. I don't see a conference that measures up to the SEC from the bottom up. The Pac-10 has USC, Cal and Oregon, but it doesn't measure up at the bottom. In the SEC, you have Vanderbilt being competitive, Kentucky was in the national championship hunt, Alabama is supposed to be a fringe Top-25 team and you see what they are doing. From top to bottom, the SEC is the best.

1. SEC: Outside of LSU, the SEC's upper crust isn't as good as it has been in the past. But every SEC team except Ole Miss is capable of springing an upset of LSU.

2. Big 12: With Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas in the top 10, it might be argued the Big 12 is stronger than the SEC. Alas, Nebraska weighs the league down too much at the bottom.

3. Pac-10: If Oregon gets to the BCS championship game, the Ducks will have earned it. The Pac-10 is so strong this season USC might only be the third-best team in the league.

4. Big Ten: Ohio State has won a Big Ten-record 20 consecutive conference games and has faced little resistance this season. Only Illinois and Michigan -- the Buckeyes' November punching bag under coach Jim Tressel -- stand in the way of an unbeaten regular season.

5. ACC: Boston College and Virginia Tech are legitimate top-15 teams, and Clemson and Virginia are two of the hottest teams in the country. Florida State finally showed life upsetting B.C.; Miami is still on life support.

6. Big East: The conference has taken a big step back this season, with Louisville, Rutgers and now South Florida struggling. But West Virginia still figures to finish among the top five teams in the country, if the Mountaineers don't slip before the BCS bowls.

1. SEC: Lack of elite-level teams is overcome by quality depth that is 11 schools deep. Sorry, Ole Miss.

2. Big 12: No league features more top-end teams -- Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas.

3. Pac-10: Equal parts good (Oregon, Arizona State, Cal, USC, Oregon State) and bad (Washington, Washington State, Arizona, Stanford, UCLA).

4. Big East: There's one elite team (West Virginia), one surprise (UConn) and lots of mediocrity.

5. Big Ten: There's Ohio State and Michigan. Did I mention Ohio State and Michigan are REALLY good?

6. ACC: Hands down the worst BCS league, with nary a legit national title contender.

1. SEC: The league should play more national non-conference games, but that said, the depth of quality and intensity of competition of virtually every single game is simply unmatched. This year is no different.

2. Pac-10: Tremendous at the top, Oregon has every right to complain if it is left out again.

3. Big 12: The weaknesses at the bottom drags this just a bit, but the top two or three are very good. Kansas has a chance to prove its for real.

4. Big East: There is a gap from the Big 12 but there are still a bunch of good, if not great, teams here.

5. ACC: At least basketball has started. When the league standard bearer lost by 41 to LSU, you knew it was going to be a dull season.

6. Big Ten: Horrendous. This league has bottomed out. Best non-conference victory was Ohio State over 3-6 Washington. Buckeyes should get to BCS title game without ever being tested.

1. SEC: The league might only have one elite team (LSU), but there are several other very, very good teams like Georgia, Florida and Auburn. The thing that puts the SEC on top, though, is its depth. The league is better on the bottom than ever before. Aside from Ole Miss, there are no bad teams in the SEC this season.

2. Pac-10: The Pac-10 is a very close second to the SEC. This league has a lot going for it when you start comparing out-of-conference scores, like Oregon¹s win at Michigan, Cal's dominating win over Tennessee, Arizona State's win over Colorado, etc. The bottom half of the league might not be as good as expected at the beginning of the season.

3. Big 12: This is a strange league this year -- very good at the top, but soft in the middle and bad at the bottom. With three teams in the top 10 of the BCS, some may argue that the Big 12 should be higher, but there are too many mediocre-to-bad teams.

4. Big East: This league has one great team in West Virginia and three or four other really good teams. If UConn, which needed a bad call to beat Temple, wins the Big East, some fans around the nation will question just how good the league can be.

5. Big Ten: One great team (Ohio State), one really good team (Michigan), one really bad team (Minnesota) and bunch of other teams that seem to be pretty average.

6. ACC: Now that Boston College is out of the national title picture, the ACC has nothing to hang its hat on. The middle and bottom of the league don¹t seem to be too strong this year.

1. SEC: And it's not even close. Ole Miss isn't that bad a bottom feeder. Ten teams will likely be bowl eligible, and it could be 11 of 12 if Vandy pulls off an upset.

2. Big 12: I know everyone's in love with the Pac-10, but the Big 12 is just as strong up top and has gotten better since Iowa State stopped being a pushover.

3. Pac-10: It'll be interesting to see what the league does in the bowls. When USC is the possible No. 3 team, it's a good league.

4. Big Ten: It's better than it gets credit for. Wisconsin and Penn State are better than you think, while the middle of the pack teams aren't that bad.

5. ACC: Tons of average teams, a few above-average, and a clunker in Duke, but the Blue Devils beat Northwestern.

6. Big East: I'm not sold on UConn, but West Virginia is national title-worthy. It's a good league from 1-7, but there aren't enough overall teams to get higher than 6.

1. SEC: Seven schools ranked in the top 25 of this week's BCS standings. The SEC East may be better than the NFC East. Irony: The conference is so strong it may cost the SEC a national title berth.

2. Pac-10: Tough as it's been in years and, as always, QB driven. Everyone just had the wrong teams at the top, Oregon and ASU instead of USC and Cal. Injuries and inexplicable game-planning have decimated UCLA's grand plans, though Bruins can still get to the Rose Bowl if they win out.

3. ACC: Solid, not great. No one dominating team like FSU was in years past. BC got exposed but appears solid.

4. Big East: West Virginia probably blew its national title chances with loss at South Florida, which has now lost three straight. Not sold on UConn yet. Rutgers and Louisville have been disappointments.

5. Big 12: Interesting how the worst two major conferences this have the best chance of putting teams in the BCS title game. Kansas has a shot because it missed Texas and Oklahoma on the schedule. Oklahoma is the best team, and it lost to Colorado.

6. Big Ten: There's a decent chance Ohio State will be in the title game with NO other Big Ten teams eligible for a BCS bowl since you need to be in top 14 in the BCS to be considered for an at-large bid. Two-loss Michigan right now is No. 12.

Our panelists above may like the SEC, but the feeling is not unanimous among fans, even ones that live in SEC cities.

I hate to tell you but close thrilling games doesn't equate to superiority. Duke, NC State, and UNC can battle to thrilling finishes every week, doesn't mean the ACC is superior, just means the games were close. The SEC is overrated as always. In any other conference you say parity equals mediocrity, but not in the "Big Bad SEC." You're a joke. What has the SEC done vs BCS conferences this season?? Not much. First off they don't play many games against BCS conferences and second of all, the only decent win for the SEC was that LSU win over VaTech. UK beat Louisville, but who doesn't these days? Auburn needed a TD in the last min of the game to escape with a win against mediocre KSU. How about FSU from the "lowly" ACC beating Alabama on a neutral field (yes it was neutral, each side had 50% of the tickets, just as many bama fans as fsu fans there), USF beating big bad auburn on auburn's home field. UT getting blasted by Cal. MSU getting blasted by WVU. Ole miss got whipped by Mizzou. I could go on and on. But if the SEC is sooooo deep and better than any other conference, why dont they play anybody and why do they lose so much when they do? Wake up and actually look at the facts.Derek A., Columbia, S.C.