College football definitely has a problem with hoarding a majority of their most talented programs within a few conferences. But that's for another thread. This one is all about which of the loaded conferences is the best overall, from a talent standpoint. And I think that question is way harder to answer than you might think. Lemme explain..
There are 10 NCAAF conferences (Division I FBS teams that can make the playoffs), plus all the independent conference teams. So technically 11. But the powerhouse conferences are known as the 'Power Five'. That would be:
Those are the ones up for debate. Time and again they have the most teams ranked in the top 25 nationwide and when it comes to national championship and playoff games, almost always the teams come from one of these conferences.
Each of these conferences have all taken turns being the conference to beat, but currently the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 have the most teams ranked in the top 25 to begin the 2019-20 season. The Big Ten has 7 teams in the top 25, the SEC has 6 and the Pac-12 has 5.
Question answered then right? Big Ten has the most ranked teams so they win? Not exactly..
You could argue that's an unfair way to look at it as each conference has a different amount of teams in it. The SEC, Big Ten and ACC have 14 teams. The Pac-12 has just 12 teams, and the Big 12 only has 10 teams. More entries gives you a better chance to have more ranked teams.
And even though the ACC has the least amount of highly ranked teams, they have Clemson, the best team in the country at the moment and for the foreseeable future.
So how do you decide? Do you think the conference that routinely produces the most playoff teams would be the best? If that's the case then it would be the SEC.
Of the 20 teams that have made the playoffs since they have existed (from 2014-2019) the SEC has been represented 6 times. Though 5 of those were Alabama. So does that really make the conference as a whole the most talented? The ACC has been in the playoffs 5 times so far (the second most), with Florida State just once and Clemson 4 times. Same issue.
If its not # of ranked teams in the AP 25 poll or the amount of times represented in the CFP playoffs, what is it?
Here's how I think of it. It's a combination of considering the polling, playoff representation and most importantly how good their weakest teams are. Like if you were to do a lottery type system and get any random opponent from any given conference, which conference would you most likely NOT want to draw (assuming you want the easiest win possible)?
In that light you can eliminate the ACC as they have 12 teams not ranked in the top 25. And the SEC has 8 teams not ranked so they can go as well. Leaves the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12. All have just 7 teams not ranked in the top 25.
The Pac-12 can then be eliminated has they only have 2 playoff appearances. The Big Ten and Big 12 have 3 a piece. So now the field is narrowed to 2 with this system.
I would then argue that the Big 12 has the edge as their bottom tier teams (currently) have more of recent history of success in the NCAA, with teams like Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, OK State, TCU and West Virginia. Texas Tech is the outlier but even being the weakest team historically, they are still a sound competitor.
Compare that to the Big Ten's unranked of Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue and I think it's clear that in the last decade the Big 12 has produced more quality teams and results. Its only when you go back through college football's full history that you start to see how historically great the Big Ten is, but not necessarily of recent.
So there you go. A long-winded way to say that surprisingly I believe the Big 12 is the best conference of the Power Five. Odd to say as you think it would most definitely be the SEC. And you can certainly make that argument. But would like to know if you agree with my logic or if you see it differently? Of course when rankings change throughout the season my answer will as well.