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May 3, 2009

Roundtable: Most exciting conference race

At the College Football Roundtable, we ask each member of the coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in the sport.

Today's question: While we're 18 weeks (man ) from the start of the college football season, we're looking for your pick as to the most exciting conference title chase in the nation this fall.

Olin Buchanan's answer:
The Big 12 South race had intrigue, controversy and general nastiness last season when Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech finished in a three-way tie. There could be more of the same this season, except that Oklahoma State is likely to take Tech's spot in the knot. The team that wins the Red River Rivalry in October will have to watch its step against Oklahoma State, or last season's three-ring circus could be repeated. Oklahoma State's offense should be among the nation's most explosive, and the Cowboys' conference schedule is advantageous. Texas has to travel to Stillwater, where it has had some narrow escapes. This could be the season the Cowboys finally knock off the Longhorns. They will be a threat to Oklahoma, too; remember, Oklahoma State scored 41 points against the Sooners last season.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
I am interested in the Big Ten title chase. To me, there is no clear-cut favorite. You can make an argument for Penn State, Ohio State or Iowa. Still, all of those teams have what could be fatal flaws the Nittany Lions' rebuilt lines, the Buckeyes' offensive skill players, the Hawkeyes' defense so it's not crazy to envision a squad like Illinois rising up and winning the Big Ten behind QB Juice Williams. And don't totally count out rising Michigan State behind Mark Dantonio and a Wisconsin program that has a big sense of urgency following a three-year slide down the Big Ten standings. Bottom line: This will be a fascinating race.

David Fox's answer:
The Big 12 doesn't play defense. So what? That's not going to diminish the entertainment value of the regular season, especially in the Big 12 South. This division alone was more compelling last season than entire conferences, and it might even be more exciting this season. Texas-Oklahoma will be a spectacle all its own. There's a ton of bad blood here, even by Red River Rivalry standards. There's the Sam Bradford-Colt McCoy Heisman race, the still-fresh division championship debate and Texas' affinity for asterisks. Even without Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech still will be dangerous, but Oklahoma State is the true national title sleeper in the league. Baylor will make a run at a bowl and play the role of spoiler behind quarterback Robert Griffin. As for Texas A&M, well, the Aggies might have to wait a while to shut up Mike Leach.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I'm intrigued by almost every one. For instance, in the Pac-10, if opponents don't get USC this season, it may be a while. The Trojans have a rebuilt defense and a new quarterback, but the main contenders Cal, Oregon and Oregon State have some questions, too. If Kevin Riley is an effective quarterback, this might be the season Cal coach Jeff Tedford gets a Pac-10 title. The Big Ten is interesting because the two perceived favorites Ohio State and Penn State have a lot of holes. Penn State must rebuild its offensive line, its wide receiver corps and its secondary. Ohio State needs some wide receivers, two new starting corners and two new starting linebackers, and must find out if there's a feature back on campus. And the SEC West is filled with intriguing story lines; there are new coaches at Auburn and Mississippi State, new quarterbacks at Alabama and Arkansas, a new defensive coordinator at LSU and high expectations for the first time in a while at Ole Miss. If I have to pick one, it would be the SEC West.

Steve Megargee's answer:
The easy answer is to pick the SEC because that league has gone on to produce the past three national champions, but Florida seems so far ahead of the rest of the pack that I chose to look elsewhere. I do think the SEC West race should be interesting because of all the new coaches and quarterbacks, but I think the winner of that division will just end up losing to Florida in December. That's why I'm picking the Big 12 South. That division created the most excitement in college football last season and also added more intensity to the white-hot Oklahoma-Texas rivalry when the Sooners lost to Texas and still earned a spot in the conference championship game and eventually a berth in the BCS title game by virtue of the league's tiebreaker procedures. Oklahoma and Texas should be ranked in the top five at the start of the season. Texas Tech probably won't be as strong as it was last season, when it finished in a three-way tie with Oklahoma and Texas for the division title, but Oklahoma State should step up and fill that role of the upstart looking to challenge the division heavyweights. All four schools once again should boast explosive offenses. And this season, at least a couple of division teams also might play respectable defense.

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