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May 6, 2011

Which Big Six race will be most interesting?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in college football. There are two questions this week, one today and one Sunday.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Spring practices are over everywhere, which means it's time to hunker down with the calendar and start counting the number of days until the first game of the 2011 season. Let's look ahead to the season: Which Big Six conference race is going to be the most interesting?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
Although the SEC champion more than likely will play for the national title, the Big Ten race is most compelling to me. After all, that race ended in a three-way tie last season. Ohio State is without five of its top players and its coach for five games, including a key conference game against Michigan State, which should be good again. Wisconsin has a new quarterback, Michigan has a new coach, Penn State has its old coach and, of course, Nebraska is the new team in the league. The Big Ten typically has clung to tradition, so the change to divisions and a championship game makes that league even more interesting this season.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
I think the Big Ten will be wide open. Ohio State would be the clear favorite to win a seventh league title in a row in the new 12-team, two-division conference. But five-game suspensions for coach Jim Tressel and five players - including quarterback Terrelle Pryor - to start the season muddle the picture for the Buckeyes in the Leaders Division. Nebraska looks like the favorite in the Legends Division, but the Huskers have issues on offense and a revamped coaching staff. And Nebraska has the most brutal schedule in the Big Ten. Wisconsin? Penn State? Michigan State? Iowa? Each has at least one nagging issue that prevents it from being picked as the favorite in its division. What's it mean? The Big Ten race will be fun.

David Fox's answer:
It was the SEC last season, and it will be the SEC again this season. Alabama and LSU should be national championship contenders. Arkansas will be in contention for a New Year's Day bowl even without Ryan Mallett. Mississippi State is a sleeper, and Auburn is trying to prove its national title wasn't entirely thanks to Cam Newton. Making the league more interesting is the East. That division should rebound after a dismal 2010. If South Carolina can find a quarterback that doesn't get himself in trouble every few months, the Gamecocks are right in the mix. Tennessee and Georgia had freshman quarterbacks last season. With Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray starting their second seasons as starters, the Volunteers and Bulldogs will make the East race far more interesting than it was last season.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I'm most intrigued by what's going to happen in the Pac-12. The Big Ten and SEC also are going to have interesting division races, but I think the Pac-12 trumps both. Oregon and Stanford look to be the best teams in the North. Both were in the top four in the nation at the end of last season; the Pac-12 North is the only division with two teams that can say that. But both have big questions this season. What kind of line play is Oregon going to get? And how will Stanford fare in the post-Jim Harbaugh era? The Pac-12 South looks wide open. Arizona State's offense will be on the spot; the same goes for USC's defense. What is Utah going to do in its first season in the league? Can UCLA find an offense? Can Arizona quickly rebuild its defense? The Pac-12 is riding high this offseason because of its new TV deal, and that high should carry over into the season.

Steve Megargee's answer:
You always have to start with the SEC because it's produced the past five national champions. The SEC race is particularly interesting this season because it doesn't have a clear-cut favorite. Last season, Alabama was the obvious front-runner at the start of the season. Two years ago, Florida was the prohibitive favorite. Of course, the preseason favorite each of those years did not go on to win the conference title, but there was no doubt at the start of the season which team everyone was chasing. This season, it's much more wide open because every team has questions. Defending national champion Auburn must replace Heisman winner Cam Newton and Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley. Alabama is breaking in a first-year starting quarterback. LSU has its annual quarterback concerns. Florida is beginning the post-Urban Meyer era. South Carolina doesn't know whether it can bank on quarterback Stephen Garcia. All those question marks make it tough to predict the winner of the SEC, but recent history suggests that whichever team comes out on top will have an excellent shot at winning the national title.

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