Ranking the BCS conferences: It's an exercise that guarantees at least one constituency will think you're a genius and another will think you're an idiot.
It's easy to dump the Big East into sixth place: Eight teams, not enough elite teams, not enough depth. After that, the margin of separation between the other five seems thin and wildly subjective.
Of course, SEC adherents will start to fulminate if they are not given a free pass into the top spot. Something about four consecutive national championships (it's an annoying point because it's hard to counter).
But let's look at the 2010 SEC for a moment. Here's a ranking of the SEC quarterbacks. It's basically Ryan Mallett of Arkansas and a bunch of nobodies and question marks. It's fair to say nine teams have serious issues at the position. At the end of the season, when we're talking about dominant SEC defenses, let's remember this cast of "Whos?"
Also, consider this interesting comment from ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper when asked about whether Mallett should be judged differently from other QBs because he plays against "SEC defenses": "First of all, let's dispel this myth that throwing for a bunch of yards and touchdowns in the SEC is somehow a more impressive feat. I wasn't high on Tim Tebow, partly because he threw into massive windows as an SEC quarterback. I was pretty high on JaMarcus Russell as a prospect if he maintained his work ethic, but I said then that he, too, was throwing into massive windows. I don't question that the SEC produces a lot of talent, but the quarterbacks also play a lot of cupcakes, and the depth of the conference is still a matter for debate."
Further, you could make a case that the SEC heading into 2010 is Alabama and Florida and a bunch of maybes. And the Crimson Tide must replace eight starters off their dominant defense, while Florida lost nine guys to the NFL draft. Lots of questions there.
Vanderbilt beats Washington State, Arizona State beats Kentucky, UCLA beats Tennessee, Arizona beats Mississippi State, Washington beats Ole Miss, California beats South Carolina, Stanford beats Georgia, Oregon State beats Auburn, Oregon beats LSU and USC beats Arkansas.
Of course, you can't just drop Alabama and Florida, two of the nation's top-three programs (Texas is the third).
Which is why we're still ranking the SEC No. 1.
The larger point is the difference between BCS conferences is marginal, despite the huffing and puffing you hear to the contrary.
When I began reviewing what was coming back in each conference, I considered ranking the Big Ten No. 1 based on the Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin triumvirate, but then it seemed like the Big Ten has less depth than the Pac-10, ACC and Big 12. Then I thought the Big 12 looked good with Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Missouri. Then the ACC looked underrated.
Then I just needed to get on with it.
(By the way, here's a good place to see how many returning starters each team has).
1. SEC: While I have a hunch the SEC won't be on top at season's end, the impressive track record earns the conference the top spot.
2. Big 12: Five legitimate Top 25 teams and respectable at the bottom.
3. Big Ten: Top-heavy, but very good at the top.
4. Pac-10: The apparent lack of a national title contender hurts, but the conference has nine teams that could win at least six games.
5. ACC: The conference has big upside -- it might end up No. 1 at season's end -- but its track record is disappointment (see Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl). The SEC gets the benefit of the doubt. The ACC still has to prove itself.
6. Big East: Only obvious preseason Top 25 team is Pittsburgh. Based on the Sugar Bowl, we're in wait-and-see-mode with a Brian Kelly-less Cincinnati.