College Football's Best Conferences
The Big Noon Kickoff crew is back this week, ranking its Top 5 conferences in college football.
And it's no shock who landed in the top spot.
Let's go through the Top 5:
Urban Meyer, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Joel Klatt and the rest of the crew unanimously selected the Southeastern Conference as the best conference in college football.
And when looking at the numbers, it's easy to see why the SEC reigns supreme.
When it comes to winning, the other four Power 5 conferences combined don't match what the SEC has been able to accomplish in recent decades.
Since 2006, an SEC team has won 10 of the last 14 National Championships, and this past season, arguably the greatest SEC team in history, the LSU Tigers, completed an undefeated season with a 42-25 win over the defending champion Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff National Championship, led by eventual No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Joe Burrow.
And speaking of first round draft picks, the SEC has been dominant in that department as well.
In the 2020 NFL Draft, the SEC saw a record 15 players selected in the first round, six of which were in the top 10 picks, highlighted by Burrow at No. 1 and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at No. 5.
In terms of maintaining its dominance for years to come, it looks like the SEC is right on track.
Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner at USC, explained why SEC football – and football in the South in general – is outpacing football in other conferences.
"I talked to an SEC coach this week about this ... He said two things: the weather and the lack of pro sports teams ... When you talk about the weather, it is hot. It's unbearable in the summer. But he told me it makes these kids a lot tougher growing up. This is all they know, so they're hardened ... The other thing is really the lack of sports other than college football in those areas. You talk about Los Angeles – we have how many pro sports teams within a 30-mile radius? Kids grow up loving all sorts of different sports ... In the south, all they have is college football. So these kids grow up and it's ingrained in them. It's in their blood.
Meyer spent six seasons as the head coach of the Florida Gators from 2005-2010, and he said what separates the SEC from other conferences is its "attitude" about winning and recruiting.
"When I was in the SEC, the attitude was about how to dominate. It was about recruiting ... and that's all they talked about in the SEC. It was all about players. It was all about National Championships ... They weren't concerned about the Pac-12 or the Big Ten – they really didn't care about anything other than themselves, and you kinda admire that."
2. Big Ten
While each of our six analysts chose the SEC [as the best conference in college football], you – the fans – chose the Big Ten, the conference in which Meyer solidified himself as one of the greatest college coaches of all-time, serving as the head coach at Ohio State for seven seasons from 2010-2018.
The Buckeyes have become the conference's perennial powerhouse dating back to Meyer's tenure. They've represented the Big Ten in three of the six CFP seasons, and with Justin Fields at the helm this year, Ohio State is expected to qualify for the championship playoff once again.
Meyer, having had success in both the SEC and Big Ten, said that the only thing separating the two conferences is quantity of quality players in nearby recruiting regions.
"Can [the Big Ten] recruit at a national level? If you do, there's not enough quantity. That's the only thing in my mind that's missing."
In addition, while the SEC saw 63 players selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Big Ten came in second with 48 players selected, including 10 apiece from Michigan and Ohio State, two players in the top five – Ohio State's Chase Young at No. 2 and Jeff Okudah at No. 3 – and five players in the top 24.
3. Big 12
Ironically, the Big 12 is made up of only 10 teams. [Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU, Kansas, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State and West Virginia.]
But similar to the Big Ten, it has a clear top dog.
The Sooners have represented the Big 12 in four of the last five College Football Playoffs, but have gone 0-4 in those matchups, falling to one ACC team (Clemson) and three SEC teams (Georgia, Alabama and LSU).
In addition, the conference has only had 13 first round picks in the last five NFL Drafts, the fewest among the Power 5 conferences.
However, two of the last three Heisman Trophy winners have emerged from the Big 12 – Baker Mayfield in 2017 and Kyler Murray in 2018.
Both Mayfield and Murray would go on to be the No. 1 picks in the 2018 and 2019 NFL Drafts, putting a feather in the Big 12's cap.
The Big 12 will enter this season looking to end a 15-year national championship drought. The conference last won a national title in 2005, when Vince Young's Texas Longhorns defeated Bush and Leinart's USC Trojans.
Potentially none of the Power 5 conferences have a single program as dominant as Clemson is in the ACC, a fact that Joel Klatt was quick to point out.
"I didn't know we were gonna have a Clemson segment because that's all they got."
Clemson has represented the ACC in each of the last two CFP National Championship Games, defeating Alabama in 2018 and falling to LSU this past season.
Clemson has made it to the College Football Playoff bracket in five consecutive seasons and is the only team in the ACC to finish the 2019-20 season ranked in the Top 25, but Leinart believes that trend of in-conference dominance will come to an end with the emergence of North Carolina and the reemergence of Florida State in the coming seasons.
"We know Clemson is the cream of the crop, much like Ohio State and Oklahoma in their respective conferences. I really believe in what Mack Brown is doing [at North Carolina]. He's a championship coach ... And what they did last year, you saw signs. They're on the rise ... Florida State is a major disappointment, but Mike Norvell coming from Memphis, he just gives them instant organization ... That's an upgraded staff from what they had before. We know Florida State always has talent. You just have to be able to maximize that ... I think the ACC, in the next two to three years, isn't going to only be Clemson."
Rounding out the Top 5 is the Pac-12, the premiere West coast conference. [that features USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah in its South Division, and Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in its North Division.]
However, the conference has been anything but "premiere" in recent years. Only two teams have made an appearance in the College Football Playoff in six seasons, and over the last three seasons, the Pac-12 is 8-15 in bowl games, worst among the Power 5 conferences.
Bush, who also starred in the conference years ago, believes that if the Pac-12 wants to reverse course and send a team to the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2016, scheduling will be paramount.
“As far as the Pac-12 goes, teams like Oregon have to stop scheduling tough opponents early in the season. Last year, they scheduled Auburn. This year, they’ve got Ohio State. What are you doing? You’re only making life harder on yourself.”
Leinart, a former superstar at USC, said it comes down to keeping great West coast talent on the West coast.
"It starts with recruiting and it ends with recruiting ... The two top quarterbacks in the country out of St. John Bosco and Mater Dei leaving Los Angeles, USC's backyard, to go to Clemson and Alabama. The recruiting has changed."
So, give us your thoughts on the Top 5 conferences!
Did our Big Noon Kickoff crew get it right?
If you missed Wednesday’s show, you can enjoy it in its entirety below!