In rating the college football conferences, I have the SEC first. Second? The Big Ten. Here's why:

The Big Ten nearly went undefeated in bowl play last year, with only Michigan's loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl — a game the Wolverines led by 16 points — dropping the conference to 7-1. Ohio State (over USC in the Cotton Bowl), Penn State (over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl) and Wisconsin (over Miami in the Orange Bowl) all posted impressive victories in New Year's Six bowls.

But what kept the Big Ten from overtaking the SEC was the absence of a team in the College Football Playoff. The stunning 55-24 blowout Ohio State absorbed at Iowa on Nov. 4 ended up denying the Big Ten a playoff team.

This fall, an expected four-team race in the Big Ten East among Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State shows off the league's depth, while Wisconsin returns the talent to repeat in the West and contend for a playoff berth.