Conference call: Where does the Big Ten rank?

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A peek inside Big Ten media days last week served as proof that the debate about conference strength is alive and well.

It seemed like Big Ten coaches received more questions about the league's struggles against the SEC than anything to do with their own teams. Illinois' Ron Zook, who coached in the SEC at Florida, addressed the speed argument. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz praised the SEC but didn't think the gap separating leagues is that great.

Still, by almost any measure, the Big Ten has slipped behind the SEC, which has won the last three national titles, two against Big Ten member Ohio State.

The SEC has become the nation's preeminent conference, but how many other leagues separate the Big Ten from the top?

I put the Big 12 at No. 2 in my conference power rankings, but well behind the SEC and not far in front of the Pac-10 and Big Ten. The Big 12's quarterback play is superb and the offensive innovation from Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas and others is fun to watch. But the Big 12 was less than impressive during the postseason. Though the Big Ten went 0-3 against the Big 12 in bowls, two of those games (Fiesta and Alamo) easily could have gone the other way.

Still, the Big Ten's putrid postseason performances can't be overlooked. Six consecutive BCS bowl losses. Six consecutive Rose Bowl losses. A 1-6 record last year. The Big Ten's bowl lineup is harder than that of any other league, but teams have got to start winning again.

No team has hurt the Big Ten more than USC, and other Pac-10 teams, including Oregon, have notched key wins against the Big Ten. The Big Ten has dropped its last six bowl matchups against the Pac-10. Geography undoubtedly plays a major role in these games, but I'm giving the Pac-10 a slight edge entering the fall. Both leagues have some depth questions, and things could go either way.

The Big Ten finishes No. 4 in my power rankings, ahead of the ACC, Mountain West, Big East and WAC. A lot of folks love the ACC this year, but the league plays a flimsy bowl lineup, nothing resembling the Big Ten's, so it's hard to get a good read there.

Conference Rankings

1. SEC
2. Big 12
3. Pac-10
4. Big Ten
5. ACC
6. Mountain West
7. Big East
8. WAC