Has the ACC passed the Pac-12 into No. 2?

With Josh Rosen expected to be back behind center, UCLA has one of the Pac-12's few returning starters at QB. Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

Phil Steele's updated "Toughest Conference Rankings" have a new No. 2 (everyone knows who has paid off its mortgage on the No. 1 spot). And it isn't everyone's favorite in 2015, the Pac-12.

Nope, it's the ACC stepping in behind its regional friends at the SEC.

Stop smirking.

Here are his rankings:

1. SEC

2. ACC

3. Pac-12

4. Big Ten

5. Big 12

6. American

7. Mountain West

8. MAC


10. Sun Belt

Again, stop smirking. There's a pretty solid justification here, and it's not only about a pair of top-five teams, Florida State and Clemson, that elevated the ACC over the Pac-12 "by the slimmest of margins," wrote Steele.

The determining factor is top-to-bottom experience. As in, the ACC has by far the most returning experience among Power 5 conferences, as Steele notes. Here is his experience ranking, with the number to the right being the average "experience rank" of the conference's teams:

1. ACC 46.2

2. SEC 70.7

3. Pac-12 71.3

4. Big 12 73.2

5. Big Ten 73.3

While the difference among the other four Power 5 conferences is slight, the ACC's advantage is significant. When you look only at returning starters, the 14-team ACC has eight teams with 15 or more starters returning -- including 11 starting QBs -- while the Pac-12 has just four starting QBs back.

One more interesting aspect of Steele's "experience rankings" is the notable experience returning among the Group of Five conferences, which occupy the Nos. 2-5 rankings overall.

1. ACC 46.2

2. Mountain West 55.1

3. CUSA 56.0

4. MAC 57.25

5. American 67.5

6. SEC 70.7

7. Pac-12 71.3

8. Big 12 73.2

9. Big Ten 73.3

10. Sun Belt 73.8

While experience isn't everything, it is something. This might indicate we'll have more Group of Five teams posting upsets against the Power 5, which might upset a few teams' -- or conferences' -- College Football Playoff hopes.

Or maybe it will pave the way for a Group of Five team to sneak into a semifinal?