Remember a few years back when people used to argue about which conference is best all the time? It was awful, but I don't think the conference wars are going to stay at their current present-but-in-the-background level for much longer.
Like everything else this year, it stems from the advent of the College Football Playoff. No one knows exactly how things will go. We know the committee is supposed to look at a variety of stats and figures and head-to-head wins and strength of schedule and all of that. We also know that the committee is a bunch of squishy human beings who are capable of being swayed by argument. While conference reputation is not on the list of factors the organizers instruct the committee to consider, there's no way it won't be in the room when they deliberate. So, each league will fight with each other to get any edge it can.
With it being Media Days season, we can see how the battle lines will be drawn.
The SEC is taking its normal strategy of saying it's the best league with the deepest teams and all of that. It has worked for the better part of a decade, so there's no reason to switch it up. We're seeing more interesting developments from the ACC and Big 12 this week, though.
The ACC had a pretty good year last year, so people from there are talking it up. Jimbo Fisher got carried away in his promoting it, and Dabo Swinney took it a bit far too. Dabo also wants to tear down the image of FSU being set apart from the rest of the league, because if it's seen as something categorically different than the rest as it was in the '90s, then no one else gets to bask in the reflected glory of the 2013 national title. The message is clear: we're not fifth of the Power 5. We're strong and getting stronger.
Over in Big 12 land, its main message got lost in its shapeshifting video effects. It's a conference that has waned since its highs of a few years ago, so it's going to hit on the fact that it's the only league to play a round robin schedule. Expect to hear "One True Champion" a lot from the Great Plains this year. No one gets to duck any power teams by playing an unbalanced schedule against the dregs of the opposite division. One. True. Champion.
Bob Bowlsby and Mike Gundy added a little insurance stumping on the top with some comments yesterday:
"Enforcement is broken," [Bowlsby] said. "The infractions committee hasn't had [an FBS] hearing in almost a year, and I think it's not an understatement to say cheating pays presently. If you seek to conspire to certainly bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions."
"I am convinced there are teams that are cheating that are saying, 'Catch me if you can,'" Gundy said.
The implication from the Big 12 being the one to call out cheating is that its own members don't do it. You can roll your eyes an appropriate amount given that this is the conference with five former SWC members and Barry Switzer in its past, but you get the idea. If the Big 12 seems behind some other conferences, well, that's just because the others are cheating.
These two leagues are jockeying for position, and they know it. Witness Fisher and Art Briles. Fisher thinks it's "ridiculous" that the Big 12 doesn't have a conference title game. Never mind that every Big 12 team plays nine league games while the ACC Champ plays nine league games; just go with it. Someone asked Briles about it, and he got very defensive about it and shot back. If the fourth playoff spot comes down to 11-1 Baylor against a 12-1 ACC champ, he's not going to want the lack of a Big 12 championship game to count against him.
Some of this is standard Media Days blather. It happens every year. There seems to be more of it this year, though, and it's only going to get worse. It's likely we'll hear a lot about strength of schedule from the Pac-12, as that is its usual claim to fame with the nine-game schedule. I am not sure what the Big Ten will use; maybe tradition or something about having two BCS teams last year.
The SEC and Pac-12 are going to be the best two leagues this year. We'll see who ends up tops, but they're out front. The rest will be fighting for position amongst themselves, so expect to hear some more sniping from them before December rolls around. Everyone is a politician trying to collect votes, and the stakes (i.e. money) has never been higher.
Today brought more campaigning, with both Bowlsby and John Swofford making the case for their leagues' non-conference slates. It's not going away, people.