2009 Spring Preview - Ranking The Leagues
Florida State QB Christian Ponder
Florida State QB Christian Ponder
Posted Mar 24, 2009

What's the best league going into the season? How will the conferences rank against one another? The ACC should be the most competitive, but will it be the best? Here's the way-too-early call on how good each conference is with the best team in each league in the 2009 Pre-Spring Overview.

Spring Preview 2009

The 20 Big Questions ... No. 7

By Pete Fiutak 

Spring Preview 2009
20 Big Questions

- No, 8 - The teams that could tumble

- No, 9 - The teams that could surprise

- No, 10 - The 10 coaches who must win now
- No, 11 - Is the SEC worth the hype?

- No. 12 - Will the Pac 10 finally get some respect?
- No, 13 - The top BCS. vs. non-BCS games

- No. 14 - Why no Big East love?
- No, 15 - Does the Big Ten suck?

- No. 16 - Was the Big 12 exposed?

- No, 17 - Just how good is the ACC?
- No. 18 - Are we any closer to a playoff?

- No, 19 - Potential BCS Busters

- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 1 to 10)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 11 to 20)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 21 to 30)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 31 to 40)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 41 to 50
With spring ball underway, here are the 20 Big Questions to start off the offseason.

7. Which conference will be the best in 2009?

11. Sun Belt
But it’s not a slam dunk. The league is far, far better than it was a few years ago and it could instantly move up the charts if Western Kentucky turns out to be decent in its first year as a fully-fledged FBS team. Troy should be loaded if the secondary can come through, Middle Tennessee is the best it’s been in the Rick Stockstill era, Florida Atlantic, led by QB Rusty Smith, is solid again, and even the bottom teams like North Texas and UL Monroe should be good enough to come up with a surprise Sun Belt win or two. There will be some non-conference upsets (watch out Clemson for the Blue Raiders on September 5th), and while there will be some major blowouts (FIU at Alabama and UL Lafayette at LSU), the league will represent itself well overall.
The best team should be ... Troy

10. MAC
The league was loaded from top to bottom with veteran teams last season. It didn’t really matter. The star of the show, Ball State, crashed and burned late in the year, and now head coach Brady Hoke is gone to San Diego State and QB Nate Davis is off to the NFL. Buffalo, the defending MAC champion, is fine, but it’s not a world beater. However there are some bright spots. Central Michigan should be fantastic with Dan LeFevour leading a veteran team that should be the odds on favorite to win the MAC title for the third time in four years. Western Michigan will have a fun offense, Northern Illinois will be dangerous, and there are new coaching staffs at Ball State, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Miami, and Toledo to bring some new blood to the conference. This might not be a great year outside of conference play, but the league should be entertaining from top to bottom with a race in the West that should be as wild as any in college football.
The best team should be ... Central Michigan

9. WAC
Boise State boosts up a lousy conference. Louisiana Tech will be good, really good, especially on the offensive line and against the run, and Nevada will be one of the nation’s most interesting teams in non-conference play with games against Notre Dame and Missouri (don’t be shocked if the Pack wins both of them), but there are problems everywhere else. Idaho will be experienced, but not that great, New Mexico State and Utah State have new coaching staffs and will need a while to be decent, and Fresno State and Hawaii will do what they always do. The Bulldogs will throw a scare into someone big, and lose, while the Warriors will be great at home and mediocre on the road. And then there’s Boise State, who’s loaded once again and will be a near-lock for another double-digit win season.  
The best team should be ... Boise State

8. Conference USA
The potential is there for the conference to make a nice jump up in status with the bottom improving and the top teams almost certain to be better. East Carolina, Houston, and Southern Miss should be good enough to hang around with anyone on the schedule. Tulsa loses offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, Rice loses QB Chase Clement, WR Jarett Dillard, and TE James Casey, and SMU and Tulane are still trying to find their way. The key will be a sound middle class with Marshall, Memphis, and UTEP all wild-cards with interesting teams coming back. UCF won’t be that lousy again offensively, and UAB could be a sleeper with an improving team around QB Joe Webb.
The best team should be ... Houston

7. Mountain West
Coming off a breakout season, the league will need to do some rebuilding. The stars, Utah, BYU, and TCU all have major holes to fill, but it’s the midsection of the conference that should make the most noise with Air Force, Colorado State, and UNLV potentially better and all nearly certain to come up with a few upsets. New Mexico, San Diego State, and Wyoming are undergoing coaching changes with upgrades at all three schools. Of course, the reason why this is the best of the non-BCS leagues is because of the top teams. The Utes, Cougars, and Horned Frogs will still be really good even if they’re down a peg.
The best team should be ... BYU

6. Big East
If Syracuse can improve under new head man Doug Maronne, there won’t be a dog in the conference. West Virginia has the potential to be a killer while Cincinnati, Pitt, and South Florida (even with a ton of rebuilding to do) will all come up with some big wins for the conference. Louisville might still have problems, but it’ll be better, and Rutgers and Connecticut will go bowling. If nothing else, this will be a fun, wide-open race that’ll come down to the last week.
The best team should be ... West Virginia

5. Big 10
The much-maligned league is in a major rebuilding phase with Ohio State undergoing wholesale changes on defense, Penn State replacing some key parts, and Michigan State losing its backfield. On the plus side, Northwestern should be better than it’s been in the young Pat Fitzgerald era, Illinois should bounce back and be decent, and Iowa should be able to fill in its gaps at running back and defensive tackle to be strong again. Wisconsin has to get night-and-day better play from the quarterback, Minnesota has to find an offense again, and Michigan has to prove that the pieces are in place to be far more competitive. There’s a good chance the league makes a big improvement as the season goes on, but it could take until November with so many new faces in key places.
The best team should be ... Ohio State

4. Pac 10
The problem is the bottom. The top is terrific. USC certain to be in the national title hunt again, even with all the turnover on defense, California could hover around the top ten all season long, and Oregon should be terrific, but Washington and Washington State still have a long way to go before they’re merely respectable. UCLA will be strong with one more year and another good recruiting class, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Can Arizona State rebound? Will Arizona be able to go bowling again with so much turnover? Can Oregon State reload and can Stanford improve enough to be a threat week in and week out? There are a lot of question marks, but the league is coming off a tremendous bowl season and will be demanding more respect. It’ll come with a good September.
The best team should be ... USC

3. Big 12
There’s a chance the conference will be every bit as good as last season. Oklahoma and Texas will likely be ranked in the preseason top three, and the top five at absolute worst. Texas Tech won’t be anywhere near as good as it was last year, but Oklahoma State should be better with all the key parts, except for TE Brandon Pettigrew, returning from last year’s unstoppable attack. Nebraska might not be a killer quite yet, but it’s getting close, while Colorado will be healthy compared to last year, Kansas will have a big-time offense, and Baylor will be exciting thanks to QB Robert Griffin and rising head coach Art Briles. Texas A&M won’t be a pushover and could be surprising. Iowa State and Kansas State have issues with their coaching changes, but they each have enough talent returning to hope for a surprising season.
The best team should be ... Texas

2. ACC
The ACC No. 2? Take a look at what the league did last year in non-conference play and now there are several improved teams. If you thought last year’s ACC race was wild and wacky, just wait until this season’s battle. No, there isn’t a sure-thing killer like the rest of the BCS leagues have, but outside of Duke there isn’t a bad team in the bunch a year after the conference sent ten teams to bowls. There will likely be a new leader in the clubhouse depending on the week with Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Boston College, NC State and Maryland will all picking each other off.  
The best team should be ... North Carolina

1. SEC
Even in a down year by the SEC’s high standards, Florida won a national title, Georgia and LSU came up with impressive bowl wins, Vanderbilt beat the ACC’s No. 2 team, Boston College, and Ole Miss was impressive in the win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. Florida will be everyone’s preseason No. 1 and the odds on favorite to win the national title, but the rest of the league will be better. LSU should build on the big Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Georgia Tech and once again be among the nation’s most talented teams. Even though Georgia has to find some major replacements, it’ll still be solid. Vanderbilt could be even better than last year if it gets decent quarterback play, Kentucky will be dangerous, Arkansas should be much improved, and South Carolina has enough returning talent to be a threat to pull off a few upsets. Of course, all eyes will be on Tennessee and Auburn with their new head coaches, and they’ll need time to be back to normal, but they should be able to go bowling. And then there’s Alabama and Ole Miss, last year’s stars, who should be strong once again. The conference still might not be top-to-bottom dominant, but the talent level and athleticism is still higher than the rest of the leagues.
The best team should be ... Florida