The Second Best Conference in College Football

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by P. Joseph Donovan

Second best isn’t that bad. It gets you a silver medal (the Olympics), a BJ (sex), or $67 billion (Bill Gates). In College Football, second place gets you a sizeable slice of what is now the second most popular sport in America. That’s actually kind of zen, now that I think about it.   

The SEC is the consensus number one football conference in America; that much should be clear. In the past seven years the SEC has won seven National Championships. In 2013 the SEC recorded 63 total draft picks, including 12 in the first round. The SEC West tied the ACC for second place with 31 draft picks. The SEC had four teams with eight or more picks (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and LSU). By comparison, the “well-balanced” Big 12 had only 22 players drafted- fewer than the top three SEC teams. 

“But wait, eight of the ten Big 12 Teams [pause for laughter] went to a bowl game!”  

First of all, nobody cares about bowl games. The “Beef-O’Brady Bowl” sounds like an experimental sex-move you would try on a fat chick just to see if she would let you. Second, let’s indulge Big Game Bob for a moment and compare apples to apples. How do the bottom six SEC teams stack up against the bottom six Big 12 teams in the NFL draft? Well, predictably, the SEC had 33% more players drafted than the Big 12 did (12 from the SEC compared to 9 from the Big 12). The NFL also drafted far more elite players from the “weak” SEC schools. The bottom of the SEC produced seven players that went in the first three rounds: two 1st rounders, one 2nd rounder, and four 3rd rounders.  Meanwhile, the bottom of the Big 12 produced only four such players: one 1 first rounder, 1 second rounder, and 2 third rounders.  So while the top of the SEC utterly annihilated the top of the Big 12 (producing far more draft picks than the entire Big 12 combined), the bottom of the SEC merely dominated the bottom of the Big 12.

But yeah, it’s just propaganda, Bob Stoops.

The SEC also dominates incoming talent. According to Rivals, 7 of the top 12 recruiting classes are SEC teams–including 2 teams from the “bottom” of the SEC. Meanwhile, all SEC teams have a top 30 recruiting class. While recruiting classes are a far from a perfect measure of talent, this doesn’t bode particularly well for other conferences.

So, if we assume that the SEC is the best conference in college football–and it seems like Clay has built an entire career around that premise (that and the gay muslim thing)–then the question is: who is number two?


Well, I’m glad you asked. Because instead of drinking, dating, or pleasuring myself, I actually have given this question quite a bit of thought in recent days.


Before we begin, let’s start off with a few basic premises:


(1) I don’t care about academics.


“But ohemgee, Joe,” you whine, “practically every school in my conference is in the AAU and we still parti hard and are awesome at football.”


First of all, screw you for spelling party with an i. You are a goddamn communist (and not the good kind like Keri Russell). Nobody gives a crap how awesome your school’s engineering program is. The only relevant question here is your football program. In the words of a stumbling-drunk Auburn fan I met one time, “Scoreboard, Motherf*cker.”  More to the point, any conference trying to use this argument is just half-assing it, since the only real “academic” conference is the Ivy League–and they don’t care about sports.


(2) Money is a symptom, not a disease.


“But my conference TOTALLY makes more money than the SEC and we have our own network and our commissioner uses platinum-plated toilet paper!”


Money is a great indicator of success, but it’s not the most important indicator. Moreover, it’s a lagging indicator. Right now there are two fundamental shifts happening:

(1) college football is EXPLODING in popularity; and (2) major media is just figuring out how to monetize that growth. That means that each generation of media contract is growing. Compare the SEC’s 2008 contract with the Big 12’s 2012 contract. That growth makes an apples-to-apples comparison among the conferences difficult if you’re looking solely at cash.


(3) The only relevant timeframe is right now.


Yeah, I’m looking at you, Princeton, with your 27 pre-war national titles. Yes, Princeton takes even Alabama to the woodshed when it comes to claiming national titles that happened before color TV was a thing. There’s no point in arguing over who used to be awesome. Lindsay Lohan used to be awesome. Now she’s just a chain-smoking, self-absorbed druggie who walks around in a drunken stupor wearing short shorts. Come to think of it, Lindsay Lohan would make a great fraternity president.


(4) Other sports are irrelevant.


“But my school just won a national championship in women’s lacrosse!

Listen, Stanford has won the Director’s Cup for the last 18 straight years. They have 36 varsity sports including Fencing, Sailing, and Women’s Synchronized Swimming. Nobody else can compete and I refuse to engage in a pissing match where Stanford has a loaded deck that is founded on fencing. FENCING!  Plus, all of those other sports are basically funded by revenue from football. Oh, and not for nothing, but the SEC owns the Director’s Cup standings too, with three schools (Florida, Georgia, and Texas A&M) in the top ten.  


(5) If your conference hasn’t at least played for a national title in the last decade, it’s not in the conversation.


Fine. I admit it. This is only a rule so I don’t have to talk about the ACC or the Big East (or the *shudder* AAC). But it does make sense. I get that these conferences might have a big upset win here and there, but that’s all it is: an upset. And an upset win is a little like being the second best-looking tranny on your cell block.


Okay. I’ve laid out the ground rules for the discussion. No academics, money isn’t everything, history is history, non-football sports suck, and we are ignoring the Big East and ACC. Down to business.


The Big 12.


So this is not very promising. The Big 12 began life in 1996 by trying to one-up its better, older cousin–the Big Ten, which began in 1896. You started out in a hundred year hole. Then, of course, you have to look at the dynamic of the conference itself.  The Big 12 is really just Texas and a perverse farm system of teams for them to play. Why quality programs like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State continue the self-punishment is beyond me. Unless they’re into that kind of 50-Shades-of-Grey stuff. I mean, Texas created an entire (failed) network just for itself and didn’t include any of the other teams. Was that not a red flag for any of the Big 12 athletic directors? Texas A&M and Mizzou have to be just thrilled to get out of that mess.


Worse still is the fact that the Big 12 actually only has 10 schools. Yes, E. Gordon Gee, we can count. Sometimes. As long as we don’t run out of fingers. So the name is the Big 12, but they only have 10 schools. And they can’t change to the Big 10 because that’s already taken. If college football were middle school, the SEC just three-way-phone-call attacked the Big 12, stole its coolest friends, and now the Big 12 has to sit alone at lunch. Awkward.


Since 2003 the Big 12 has five national championship appearances (2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009) with one win (2005–against USC). All of those appearances were by Oklahoma (and Big Game Bob) except for the win in 2005 which was Texas (and Vince Young before he was doing it big at the Cheesecake Factory). (But don’t worry, the Big 12 isn’t “top heavy” like the SEC). The Big 12 fired one of their best coaches because he hurt ESPN Analyst Craig James’ feelings after forcing his son, Adam James, to sit in a time out. Not for nothing, but that coach (Mike Leach) recruited and mentored one of the best-looking quarterbacks human beings ever: Kliff Kingsbury (who I believe to be the love child of Ryan Gosling and Steve Spurrier).


So, your conference is dominated by a single massively arrogant team (that lacks any appreciable reason to be confident, let alone arrogant), it craps the bed 80% of the time it has a chance to win big, and it fired one of its best, most innovative coaches because an ESPN analyst was whining. Your lone bright spot? A coach that you wanted to nickname “Hollywood” so that Texas Tech could become “the cool kids.”  So. Sad. Just not second place material. Sorry Big 12 (10).


The Big Ten.


In an ironic twist the Big Ten (sometimes “B1G”) is actually the Big 12 (soon to be Big 14). But as we just established in the middle school metaphor above, nobody wants to eat lunch with the Big 12, so obviously a name change is out of the question. Inaccurate? Sure, but who cares? They will probably be the Big 16 soon enough anyway. Don’t think we forgot about that whole “Legends and Leaders” debacle though.


We already went over the fact that money isn’t everything. But as the yacht-building, Ukrainian-actress-dating, island-buying billionaire Larry Ellison will attest, money is something. And if the Big Ten were a person, wouldn’t it be Larry Ellison? Super rich, super arrogant, and sporting a kinda-creepy-but-I-pull-it-off-because-I’m-rich goatee. The Big Ten is simply the richest conference in college sports. We’ll see how the SEC network goes, but not so long after the SEC Network begins, the Big Ten goes back to the negotiating table in 2016 with a proven track record of success (unlike the LHN) and several new major media markets.


The Big Ten also does pretty well when you look at tradition, fan and alumni participation, facilities, and coaching staff. The schools in the Big Ten are all big, old, mostly AAU member schools. On the high end, they have the biggest stadiums in the country and the schools are generally all well-established. Obviously not all members are “football schools” (Northwestern has SUCH a great journalism school, though!), but they mostly seem to get the job done.


The Big Ten has hasn’t had much success when it comes to national championships recently (just two losing appearances, both by Ohio State), but they will probably be pre-season number one and that’s just as good. Right FSU?


The Big Ten makes a strong case for the second best conference but, for reasons I’ll elaborate on below, I think it comes just short.


The Pac 12.


I don’t want to harp too much on names, but the Pac-12 has been the most consistently honest about it’s name. Beginning life as the Pacific Coast Conference in 1915, it changed its name to the Pac-8 in 1968 when it added two new members. When two more schools joined in 1978, it updated its name to the Pac-10, which it remained until 2010 when it became the Pac-12.


The Pac-12 is also a leader in the super-conference movement–in 2010 it added Colorado and Utah, setting off the current spat of conference realignment. While not a long-time commissioner, Larry Scott plays hardball.

Although not relevant to football, the Pac-12 kills when it comes to elite academic institutions (with Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, and USC) and absurdly hot coeds (with them).


The Pac-12 has won a single (vacated) national championship in the past decade (USC in 2004) and appeared two other times (USC in 2005 and Oregon in 2010).

The Pac-12 also has a solid bowl record with 8 bowl teams going 4-4 in 2013 (the SEC had 9 teams go 6-3). Compare that to the Big 12 (9 teams going 4-5) or the Big Ten (7 teams going 2-5).


Perhaps the most important factor in my analysis, is my opinion that the Pac-12 is actually at a low point right now. Oregon and Stanford are transitioning coaches and reloading, USC is under sanctions and coached by an idiot (who definitely outkicked his coverage), and their worst team (Washington State at 3-9 in 2012) is being developed by one of the best coaches in the business. Even more promising is the fact that the conference is centered on talent-rich California and is poised to more fully dominate recruiting in that state.  


While the Big Ten is a solid conference, the Pac-12 edges out a win in this close race. Both have solid high-end teams and are in almost a dead heat right now, all things considered. But the Pac-12 has something that the Big Ten just doesn’t have. In a word, the Pac-12 has potential.


So that’s my two cents. The second best conference in America is the Pac-12, followed closely by the Big Ten. I’d like to get your opinion, so send any well-thought-out comments, pay-pay passwords, or female nude selfies to You can send angry rants, viruses, and other hate mail to Clay. He seems to relish it.


Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.