These days, you don't just hear that the SEC is the best conference — it's that the SEC West is the best division in college football. And the Big Ten might not be back, but the Big Ten East sure is. As conferences have expanded, we've found a new thing to argue about: DIVISION PRIDE.
That makes sense, given how different two divisions in the same conference can be. The SEC West has dominated the East in SEC Championship Games, winning every year since 2009. The Pac-12 has had some woeful championship games, with 6-6 UCLA making it one year.
So as college football breaks up into smaller and smaller subsets, here's a look at how the divisions rank by the average S/P+ projections of each team. There are other ways to judge division strength — for instance, if you value having elite teams, the Big Ten East and Pac-12 North could be higher — but this method places a premium on having good teams top to bottom.
1. SEC West
Average S/P+ projection: 10.7
The SEC West was one of the best divisions in college football history last year. That was due in large part to recruiting — there were more blue chip recruits in the SEC West last year than in any other CONFERENCE in the country. There might not be a dominant team in the division, but all seven teams should be very good. In fact, the entire division ranks higher than any team in the Big Ten West.
2. Pac-12 South
Average S/P+ projection: 32
The Pac-12 North has dominated the division era of the new Pac-12, with Oregon and Stanford winning every Pac-12 title game since the game was instituted in four years ago. This might finally be the South's year, as it showed just how deep it was in 2014 and now has two elite national contenders in USC and UCLA. In addition to the two L.A. teams, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah are all capable of winning the division crown.
3. SEC East
Average S/P+ projection: 34.4
This ranking is based on how good the SEC East should be, but over the past few years, the top SEC East teams have underachieved. This year, the potential is there once again. Georgia looks like a national contender. Mizzou has to be respected as the two-time reigning division champ. Beyond that, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida all have talent and potential, but they have yet to assert themselves. This division will be among the most interesting to watch this season because of those question marks, but there certainly is a lot of potential.
4. ACC Coastal
Average S/P+ projection: 36.4
Georgia Tech was very impressive in last year's Orange Bowl run, and the Yellow Jackets should be good once again. Virginia Tech has a chance to make a jump, as well, if the offense will cooperate. Someone among Duke, Virginia, Pitt, North Carolina and Miami should be good, but who? There might not be any elite teams in the ACC Coastal, but there aren't any bad teams, either, which helps the division's ranking.
5. Big Ten East
Average S/P+ projection: 42.7
It's not a stretch to think that at some point in the near future, the Big Ten East will be the best division in college football. Urban Meyer is building (or has built) a juggernaut at Ohio State and Michigan State has earned a consistent spot among college football's elite. Michigan and Penn State are both recruiting well under Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin, respectively, and those four should make the Big Ten East very strong in the future. But for now, they're still lagging behind.
6. Pac-12 North
Average S/P+ projection: 42.8
The Pac-12 North's biggest problem is that it is top-heavy. Oregon and Stanford are the favorites once again, and since 2011, those two teams have combined to lose only once to another Pac-12 North opponent that is not each other (Stanford lost to Washington in 2012). Washington and Cal have potential, but this year, it looks like Oregon and Stanford, then everyone else, once again.
7. ACC Atlantic
Average S/P+ projection: 46.1
Florida State and Clemson are the frontrunners, and either of them could challenge to be elite nationally. Overall, the Atlantic should be significantly weaker in 2015 than it was in 2014. Clemson and NC State look in better shape than last year. FSU, Louisville and Boston College all seem more likely than not to take steps back.
8. Big Ten West
Average S/P+ projection: 50.4
The Big Ten West doesn't have any team that looks remotely close to a national contender. Wisconsin and Nebraska are both going through coaching transitions. Iowa has been consistently mediocre (or worse) every year since winning the Orange Bowl in 2009. Minnesota has taken a step up, but it hasn't done better than 8-4. The Gophers also face a brutal schedule without a proven offense. Bottom line: The Big Ten West might be the most uninteresting division in college football.