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May 19, 2006

SCS.comAll of the colleges have held their spring games now, and spring practices are giving way to the heat of summer and two-a-days. I will cover all the major conferences in this article and give a short rundown on what to expect knowing what we know from spring practices. At the end I will give a quick rundown of how I think the conferences stack up to each other right now, but of course everything will change when summer shifts to autumn and BCS dreams start dropping like leaves.


It is hard to say a team who won the league title in a 12-team league and lost a triple-overtime BCS game by the slimmest of margins to the third best team in the country last year needs to improve, but Florida State did finish an unacceptable 8-5. Although Clemson, Boston College, and Maryland could present a challenge to the 'Noles in the Atlantic Division, each has a brutal schedule, and FSU will definitely be favored to repeat as division champions. Clemson has the best chance to upset those hopes, but CU's second and third games are on the road at Boston College and FSU. With Florida State probably seething off a loss at Miami, I would not want to be Clemson in September. Boston College finally has a QB (Matt Ryan) that they can build around, and they are rewarded with a schedule that unfortunately runs into the best two teams (Virginia Tech and Miami) from the other division, as well as all the powerhouses in their own. Maryland is the long shot, especially considering they play FSU, Clemson, Miami, and BC in consecutive weeks at the end of the season. I predict Florida State, with all their talent and Bobby Bowden's Hall-of-Fame coaching, will come out of their division easily.

The Coastal Division is not nearly as exciting, as Duke and UNC have very little chance of taking the title. Miami has the most favorable schedule in the ACC, getting both their tough games against FSU and VT at home. Virginia Tech also has an easy schedule, missing Florida State and getting Clemson at home. I figure this division will go exactly as last year, except Miami will not give up the division to Virginia Tech. Larry Coker's bunch is the most experienced and most talented team, so expect a rematch of FSU-Miami in December when it counts. I'll take Miami in a resurgent year for the ACC.v

Big East

Louisville was supposed to walk all over this league last season, but West Virginia proved the old guard is still strong with an undefeated league season. Brian Brohm will hopefully not suffer another injury as he did last year, but it is still hard to see a team that lost a lot of receivers and o-linemen winning the league this year. West Virginia returns 9 offensive starters from an absolutely explosive unit, and they have a very favorable schedule overall, despite having to travel to Pittsburgh and Louisville. I expect the Mountaineers to win the league, but Pitt and UL could surprise. I expect South Florida, Connecticut, and Syracuse to be painful to watch. As always in the Big East, watch out for middle caliber teams Rutgers and Cincinnati, as they will steal a win from the competitors on a good day.

Big Ten

The team with the most returning starters (22) is Illinois (0-8 last year), and the two teams who split the conference title last season, Ohio State and Penn State, return only 11 of 24 starters, the lowest number in the league. This makes for a very interesting year in a league filled with parity to begin with. Ohio State is the favorite and has a legitimate shot at a national title if the defense comes together as all spring reports seem to indicate (they return only 2 starters). The September schedule is a little rough with Texas and Iowa on the road and Penn State at home, but the remainder of the slate is very winnable, leading up to a chance at three straight wins against Michigan. Penn State lost 7 defensive starters off the second-best Big Ten unit, but Paul Posluszny should have a fantastic senior season leading this squad. Iowa will also be competitive and misses Penn State on the schedule, and you can never count out Michigan. Early reports look like the league title will come down to UM-OSU at the Shoe in November, but I suspect there will be surprises as always down the road.


Can anybody in the North gain respectability back for this division? Iowa State fell apart last year, allowing Colorado into the conference title game, but CU has a new coach from Boise following Texas's pounding of the lifeless Buffalo in the title game. Colorado has to travel to Oklahoma and Nebraska which does not help, but this team will be better than they were last year. Any team with a kicking game as good as Mason Crosby gives CU will have a lot of problems solved if they keep games close. Iowa State will fall back to mediocrity with roadtrips to Texas and Oklahoma. Kansas State, despite being under new leadership, has a lot of experience and fan excitement behind good receivers and a fabulous pair of good QB's. Nebraska is the odds-on favorite to retake this division with senior leadership at the QB position in Zac Taylor and a schedule with the three toughest games (USC, Texas, Colorado) at home. Nebraska regains the respect for the North this season.

In the compelling South division, the annual battle between Texas and Oklahoma will again determine the division crown. Texas will have trouble early due to quarterback inexperience and a game with a vengeful Ohio State team, but they could recover from a loss and knock off what should be a favored OU team in October. Oklahoma has some offensive line questions, but Adrian Peterson will be back to Heisman contender form this season and is better, in my opinion, than Brady Quinn. Texas Tech will be decent again, but I do not see enough talent to knock off the big boys. Texas A&M will have to reclaim a little glory as an interesting storyline in the bottom half. I'll take Oklahoma over Nebraska in the Big XII final.


While there are some possible contenders to the Trojan crown, USC will win the league again this year barring a collapse of monumental proportions. Oregon, Cal, Arizona State, Notre Dame, and Nebraska are all coming to the LA Coliseum this year, and I doubt any of these teams will be able to surprise the Trojans at home. They do have to show up in the first half of games this season, as there will be no Leinart-Bush-White combination to bring them back into any game they choose not to show up for. Oregon has the best chance to unseat the Trojans, but the defense is porous to say the least. Washington and Washington State will be better this season, and they should not end up in the conference cellar again.


In the East division, Georgia is the favorite by a slight bit over Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Nobody doubts Steve Spurrier's college football skills after shocking the country last season, and the Gamecocks will be a tough road game in early September for UGA to get past. Tennessee will improve on offense, but the main question is if they can avoid silly things like QB controversies that brought them down quickly last season. Georgia is the only team in the bunch that has a respectable running game, and this could make the difference in grinding games out against Florida and South Carolina.

The West was wild last season, seeing LSU eventually prevail by a close margin over the Alabama teams. Mississippi State and Arkansas could be tough outs on the road this season though, as both return about 20 starters. LSU has tough road trips to Auburn, Florida, and Tennessee, but the Bayou Bengals can never be counted out, especially after overcoming all they did last season. Alabama will probably falter with a new QB, but look for Auburn to take advantage of the early home game against LSU to lead them to a division title. Georgia and South Carolina are on Auburn's schedule, so it is possible that they could let LSU back into the race even after beating them. I'll take Auburn over Georgia in the SEC final.

Breakdown of major conferences

This is based on top-to-bottom strength, not which conference has the most national title contenders. The bowl season from last year is somewhat indicative of how the leagues stack up, but it is not dispositive. Here's the initial list.

1. SEC (Lots of good teams which could compete for national title as darkhorses, as well as pretty good "bad teams," not counting Mississippi)

2. Big Ten (Parity explained above; the top 4-5 always play well out-of-conference)

3. Big XII (North division improvements make this much better than the one-team league it was last year; improvement obvious in the South as well, except for Texas)

4. ACC (Brought down by the weaker teams in the league; middle of league is worse than even the Pac-10, but the top echelon makes up for this)

5. Pac-10 (Not a bad league, but does not compare to the others)

6. Big East (Having fewer teams does not help this almost mid-major conference)

Well here's to another month of life gone by and another month closer to the 2006 football season. I'll be back in June again with more insight on the upcoming season, and it should be a nice diversion from all the "football" (read: World Cup Soccer) that will be all over the news next month. Have a good one!

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