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Conference Power Rankings

Odds say Pac-10 gets the nod over SEC for top spot

Posted: Thursday September 20, 2007 12:46PM; Updated: Saturday September 22, 2007 7:51PM
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Stafon Johnson and the Trojans showed their versatility in running roughshod over the Cornhuskers -- a scary sight for future foes.
Stafon Johnson and the Trojans showed their versatility in running roughshod over the Cornhuskers -- a scary sight for future foes.
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The debate has reached the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated -- Pac-10 or SEC: Which is stronger? Colleague Austin Murphy witnessed USC's destruction of Nebraska last Saturday, but still feels the Southeastern Conference is deeper than its western counterpart. The gap has narrowed, but Kentucky's win over No. 9 Louisville went a long way toward showing the SEC's depth.

I have argued for the SEC along those same lines, but given the Pac-10 its props this season in my first three power rankings. I have been accused of being both an East Coast and West Coast homer during that time. While bias is a bit overstated by college football fans, it certainly exists, especially when debating something as ambiguous as conference strengths.

Given that, I decided to take the Pac-10-SEC debate to a neutral source -- a professional oddsmaker. These guys know their business. They're not trying to sell newspapers or magazines or gather Web site hits. They're not hoping State U. signs that running back stud. They don't sit around a tailgate and fantasize about a BCS championship for their alma mater. College football is black and white, and whatever the numbers spit out in their power rankings, that's what they go with.

For this particular exercise, I forwarded Ken White, the senior oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, 10 hypothetical matchups. Keep in mind that White's company sets the odds for 90 percent of the casinos in Nevada. These matchups were created by the following: The teams in the SEC and Pac-10 were ranked 1-12 and 1-10 based on SI.com's current 119. In an effort to be as balanced as possible, the SEC's sixth and seventh teams (Arkansas, Kentucky) were thrown out. So the top five teams in the SEC were matched up against the top five teams in the Pac-10, and the bottom five teams in the SEC were matched up against the bottom five teams in the Pac-10. Seems fair, right?

White then provided his line for each game, should the teams meet this Saturday on a neutral field. Here are the results:

USC over LSU by 3.
Florida over Cal by 3.
Oregon over Alabama by 3.
South Carolina over Washington by 8.
Arizona State over Georgia by 1.
Tennessee over Washington State by 7.
UCLA over Vanderbilt by 7.
Oregon State over Mississippi State by 7.
Auburn over Arizona by 4.
Ole Miss, Stanford is a pick-'em.

So there you have it. The Pac-10 squeaks out a 5-4-1 record in these 10 matchups. Armed with this new information, and given the Pac-10's record vs. BCS foes this year is 6-2 while the SEC's is 4-3, and considering the Pac-10 won the only real matchup between the two conferences, the Pac-10 grabs the top slot this week.

1. Pac-10

Last week: 2

Skinny: UCLA's bewildering performance against Utah was a black mark, but USC's tour de force more than made up for it. We know John David Booty can pass, we know the defense can smother. But if USC's running game is as dominant as it looked against Nebraska, watch out. And don't forget about Dennis Erickson and Arizona State. The Devils are a quiet 3-0 and may have something brewing in the desert.

2. SEC

Last week: 1

Skinny: So how did the SEC slip with its only relevant nonconference action being Kentucky's stirring win in Lexington? You'll have to read above. These two conferences are truly neck-and-neck, and the hope here is that the SEC championship winner (LSU-Florida) will take on USC for the crystal football. No disrespect to Oklahoma, but that one would have Instant Classic written all over it. The conference will likely not remain here long, not with a mind-numbing seven teams in SI.com's top 20, but I have to respect the boys in Vegas for at least a week.

3. Big 12

Last week: 4

Skinny: Oklahoma might be fourth of the current Big Four when it comes to national title contenders, but it is definitely in there. The Sooners have been a machine for three weeks. Iowa State helped the conference with an upset of Iowa, Missouri and Texas Tech have looked good all season and Texas is a top 10 team, even if it hasn't played like it much yet. Oklahoma State's loss at Troy? Ouch. Texas A&M needs to beat Miami on Thursday for the Big 12 to stay comfortably in the No. 3 slot.

4. Big East

Last week: 3

Skinny: Louisville got a pass after that bizarre 58-42 performance against Middle Tennessee State. Not anymore. One of the Big East's flagship teams has been exposed. As good as Louisville is on offense, no team can be taken seriously when it gives up 40 points in back-to-back weeks. Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson found a wide-open receiver in the final seconds for a 57-yard touchdown. Let me repeat that: wide open. South Florida's win at Auburn is still good but looks less so after Auburn's three-week span is viewed in full (should have lost to Kansas State, lost to USF, lost to Mississippi State). UConn scraped by Temple and Syracuse looked awful again. The Big East is 4-5 vs. BCS competition this season.

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