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It's still an SEC world

Ranking the conferences in college football is one of those exercises that keeps producing the same result, at least at the top, no matter how you shake it up or what variables you include.

The bottom line: The SEC enters the 2010 season seeking its fifth straight BCS national championship and its sixth title in the last eight years.

Three different SEC teams have won championships the last four years, and a fourth (Auburn) went 13-0 in 2004 and never got a chance to play for the title.

Now, those college football pundits around the country who are both tired of hearing about the SEC’s dominance and tired of seeing their teams get smacked around by the SEC in the money game every year might say, “We’re not talking about what’s happened in the past, but what the landscape looks like right now.”

Fair point, so let’s go there.

The team to beat nationally in 2010, according to just about everybody, is defending national champion Alabama. The Crimson Tide have some key holes to fill on defense, but should be even more explosive on offense. The Mark Ingram-Trent Richardson backfield combo is the best in the country.

Florida, which had won 22 straight games before losing to Alabama in the SEC championship game last season, will also start the season in the top 10, maybe the top 5.

The Gators get their first taste of life without Tim Tebow since he showed up in 2006 and will be rebuilding somewhat on defense, but are nonetheless oozing with talent.

And showing the overall strength of the conference, both Alabama and Florida figure to face tougher paths to the SEC championship game than they did a year ago.

Arkansas, Auburn and LSU will be ranked in a lot of preseason top 25’s and will challenge Alabama in the West. The Hogs' offense has a chance to be special. Georgia has 10 starters returning on offense and will be somebody to watch in the East along with a South Carolina team that could be Steve Spurrier’s best in Columbia.

If you want star power, the SEC’s got it.

Alabama’s Nick Saban and Florida’s Urban Meyer are easily two of the top five coaches in college football. Between them, they’ve won four of the last seven national championships. Saban's done it at two different schools.

And in terms of players, the lineup is even more impressive.

Ingram is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and returns as the best running back in college football. Try to find two better receivers in any conference than Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett has already been named to some preseason All-America teams, and LSU’s Patrick Peterson would make a strong case as the top cornerback in college football.

Ultimately, it comes down to hardware when you’re ranking the best conferences, and nobody in college football can match the SEC’s collection.

My conference pecking order:

1. SEC

2. Big Ten

3. Big 12

4. Pac-10

5. ACC

6. Big East

7. Mountain West

8. WAC