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Posted: Wednesday August 13, 2008 2:20PM; Updated: Wednesday August 13, 2008 4:14PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >
COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

A true conference showdown, preseason injuries and much more

Story Highlights
  • Assessing USC's impending quarterback controversy
  • Why staying in school all four years can really pay off
  • Your responses to the Conference Power Index rankings
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The Mailbag is teaming up with DonorsChoose.org to provide college football fans the opportunity to support public-school classrooms by displaying their passion for their favorite conference.

Go to DonorsChoose.org/sishowdown, click on the link to your favorite conference (all 11 FBS conferences and independents are represented) and you'll see a list of classroom projects from that league's states, all of them in desperate need of funding. Each project includes a detailed description straight from that classroom's teacher.

Between now and Sept. 24, pledges of $10 or more to a specific project will be counted toward the overall total raised by each conference's fans. Will the ever-rabid fans of the SEC win this Showdown just as their teams have done on the field the past two years? Will fans of the Big Ten show that this is their year? Visit DonorsChoose.org/sishowdown to see the latest standings and contribute to the cause.
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For the past 19 months -- ever since Florida's national-title game rout of Ohio State -- it's been the Mailbag topic that would not die. Rarely a day goes by that someone from some part of the country doesn't fire off a tome to me about why the SEC is overrated, why the Big Ten is undeservedly bashed, or both.

All the while, I've stood by my long-held stance that conference strength is cyclical -- but that didn't seem to stop anyone.

Hopefully by now you've had a chance to read The Great Conference Debate, SI.com's extensive summer-research project regarding this very topic. Among its findings was that, yes, the SEC is indeed on fire right now, and that the Big Ten is on the skids -- but that it was a much different picture five years ago. Like I said all along, it's cyclical.

Of course, I'm not foolish enough to think one feature story is going to suddenly silence all the intersectional trash-talking. While I will answer a couple of general questions about the project in a bit, it's time to redirect some of this regional chest-thumping toward a greater cause.

Dear loyal Mailbag readers -- it's my great pleasure to introduce "Stewart Mandel's Conference Showdown" to benefit DonorsChoose.org.

If you have a child, know a child, know a teacher or have picked up a newspaper any time recently, you're undoubtedly aware that these are trying times for our nation's public schools. My colleague Andy Staples wrote last month about several prominent high school sports programs struggling to stay afloat as their school's funding goes up in smokes.

DonorsChoose.org is an award-winning charity that enables individuals like you and me to donate money not to some nebulous fund, but to a specific project in a specific classroom of a specific school. Since 2000, more than 74,000 donors have given $23 million benefiting 1.4 million students in all 50 states.

Jeff Wood, executive director of DonorsChoose.org and a longtime Mailbag reader, approached me last month about a potential "conference showdown." Just a few months back, DonorsChoose.org teamed up with The Colbert Report to stage a challenge between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton supporters leading up to the Pennsylvania primaries. Together they raised more than $250,000.

Obviously, Colbert reaches a far larger audience than the Mailbag, but I think you'll agree that most college football fans are every bit as passionate about their favorite conference as political junkies are their favorite presidential candidate. So for all you smack-talking fans of the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, et. al. -- it's time to put your money where your mouth is.

Over the next six weeks, you, the readers, have the opportunity to make a donation of $10 or more to specific classroom projects in your favorite conference's region. If you're a Maryland Terrapins fan, you might choose to fight childhood obesity among at-risk children at a classroom in Baltimore. If you're a USC or UCLA fan, you might help an inner-city 10th-grade teacher to afford a set of Greek mythology books for her students. The list goes on and on.

Just go to DonorsChoose.org/sishowdown, click on the link to your favorite conference (all 11 FBS conferences and independents are represented) and you'll see a list of projects from that league's states. Click on any of those links and you'll get a detailed description of the project, straight from that classroom's teacher. As befitting a sports-related audience, DonorsChoose.org has included a healthy dose of physical-education themed projects.

DonorsChoose.org will be keeping a running tally of the donations raised by each conference's fans, and we'll declare a winner in the Sept. 24 Mailbag -- right around the time league play heats up in each conference. As a Big Ten alum myself, I decided to get the ball rolling by pledging $100 to a teacher in Chicago who is attempting to provide her students with an "indoor gym" after her school was forced to eliminate gym classes from its curriculum.

Now it's your turn.

"DonorsChoose.org is excited to finally settle the age-old question: Which conference is best?" said founder and CEO Charles Best.

And provide some much-needed resources to our nation's schools along the way.

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