You might be surprised at my choice for the toughest college football conference. But as much as I am a fan of SEC football, I must remain objective and look at things rationally from a national perspective. It’s the Big XII, not the SEC or any other conference, that is college football’s best conference at the beginning of the 2010 season.
It’s true that the SEC has more teams ranked in the AP Top 25. But if looking at the top of the rankings reveals three Big XII teams reside in the top ten.
The Texas Longhorns, fresh off an appearance in the national championship game, are experiencing life without Colt McCoy, a four-year starter. The Longhorns, however, enter the season ranked fifth. The team seems to be confident in the capable hands of sophomore quarterback Garret Gilbert. Gilbert has some experience thanks to some valuable playing time in last year’s national championship game after an injury to McCoy. As always, an early October date with Oklahoma looms large, but there is also a trip to Lincoln on October 16th. Getting through those two games unscathed is a priority and will put Texas is right where it expects to be… on a course for an appearance in the national championship game.
The Sooners are, in my opinion, are a tad overrated at this point coming off an 8-5 campaign. The Sooners are also replacing a legendary quarterback, Sam Bradford. But the team also has reason for optimism as Landry Jones enters the season as the start quarterback… after quietly throwing for over 3,000 yards last year while subbing for Bradford through much of the season. He did throw 14 interceptions, however, and that number will have to go down some. Oklahoma welcomes Florida State to Norman on September 11 (a great Saturday on the football calendar this season, by the way) and then obviously the battle with the Longhorns in October. That game with the Longhorns will determine the success or failure of this team.
Lying in the weeds is Nebraska. When you think of the 2009 Nebraska Cornhuskers, you think of two things – a near victory over Texas in the Big XII championship game, and Ndamukong Suh. That’s all in the past, though. Head coach Bo Pelini has quickly turned things around in Lincoln and built an outstanding defense. A friendly schedule (only one currently ranked team appears on it) must be getting Cornhusker Nation excited. Are the glory days of Tom Osborne returning? Is the nightmare of Bill Callahan finally a thing of the past? It sure looks that way. A home date with Texas on October 16th has been circled on the schedule for some time now.
In addition to these three highly ranked teams, it is foolish to discount Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. T. Boone Pickens hasn’t spent all this money to let the Cowboys fade back into oblivion. And Texas Tech tries to move past the Mike Leach-Craig James debacle by trying to win a different way with a proven coach in Tommy Tuberville.
There is not another conference with three teams ranked in the preseason top eight. That’s what the Big XII has and that’s why it is the strongest conference to win this season.