While the Alabama Crimson Tide sits atop the football world in 2019 — or close to it, behind only Clemson — the conference they play is widely considered the country’s best. The SEC has reigned supreme as the dominant football conference over the past decade, but there’s an argument to be made that the Big Ten is still better in some ways. Here are three reasons why.
Big Ten has just as many teams in the AP Top 25 as SEC
With the SEC’s dominance of the college football championship landscape, you’d expect to see fewer Big Ten teams in the mix. However, in 2019, the Big Ten has six teams in the AP Top 25 poll, including:
- Ohio State (fifth)
- Michigan (seventh)
- Penn State (15th)
- Michigan State (18th)
- Wisconsin (19th)
- Iowa (20th)
The six from the SEC are:
- Alabama (second)
- Georgia (third)
- LSU (sixth)
- Florida (eighth)
- Texas A&M (12th)
- Auburn (16th)
This demonstrates that the Big Ten has just as many teams among college football’s elite. Ohio State and Michigan are both title contenders, while PSU, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa all have the ability to sneak into the College Football Playoff if everything breaks their way.
Better, more consistent coaches
It’s hard to argue that Alabama’s Nick Saban isn’t the best (or the second-best coach in football at the very least). After that? It gets a little dicier. Due to the intense pressure to win in the SEC, their teams go through coaches quickly. This is the first time since 2006 that all of the league’s coaches returned at once.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten has a solid crop of coaches who’ve established consistently-great track records. Consider:
- Jim Harbaugh has been under fire due to high expectations at Michigan, but he’s gone 38-14 during his four-year run. This is better than most coaches, even if he hasn’t brought them to the level of national title contender quite yet.
- Kirk Ferentz enters his 22nd year at Iowa, where he’s become an institution on his way to winning 152 games.
- Mark Dantonio enters his 14th year at Michigan State; he’s won 107 games.
- Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald took a program that was once a laughingstock to nine bowl games in 14 seasons.
- Penn State’s James Franklin, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, and Nebraska’s Scott Frost are part of an up-and-coming next generation of great coaches in the Big Ten.
It’s true that none of these coaches can hang with Saban, who’s head-and-shoulders above everyone not named Dabo Swinney. But the coaching talent in the Big Ten trumps the SEC due to their stability in maintaining solid programs.
The Big Ten has more parity
On the subject of Saban and Alabama … While there are several high-quality teams in the SEC, Alabama has kept the conference in the national conversation since Saban came to town. The Crimson Tide has won six of the last 10 SEC championships, with Georgia, LSU, and Auburn making cameos as well. With a few exceptions, it’s pretty clear which team will win each year.
With the Big Ten? This season especially, it’s anyone’s game. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Iowa all have good shots to take the conference championship. Northwestern and Nebraska have small chances and could play spoiler down the line.
Take Alabama out of the SEC equation, and it’s a different conference. It’s debatable whether they’d be considered more dominant than the Big Ten, which has greater depth throughout the league. Of course, the best place to determine the better conference is on the field. Unfortunately, this will prove difficult, as the SEC and Big Ten only clash in one non-conference game this season.