- Phil Steele, ESPN Insider
Editor's note: This article was adapted from Phil Steele's college football preview magazine, which is available here.
One of the more exciting things about ranking college football conferences is that the order tends to change on almost a yearly basis. However, there is no doubt that the SEC has dominated recently, winning the past seven national titles, and it's held the top spot in my season-ending conference ratings for the past seven years.
There have been a lot of conference changes in the past several years, this year included. A total of 19 teams will be either jumping up to the Football Bowl Subdivision level or playing in a new conference in 2013. These realignments have created some major shifts of power.
There is not an exact science for picking the toughest conference. You cannot rely strictly upon how many bowl wins a conference racks up during the postseason or its overall record in nonconference play. Let's face it, some leagues' nonconference slates are much tougher than others. Conferences can play nonconference games against FCS or BCS opponents but, if you go strictly on overall records, the wins and losses count the same.
Some of the components that go into my formula of ranking the toughest conferences are overall nonconference record, record against BCS conferences, bowl record, how many teams finished in The Associated Press Top 10 and 25 and the total number of draft picks in the NFL draft.
Most importantly, I use my nine sets of power ratings to evaluate the teams in the conference for the upcoming season. They break down the strength of the top three teams in each conference, the top five teams, the top eight teams and the overall strength of the entire conference.
With all that in mind, here is my ranking of how every FBS conference will stack up this season.
Was there any doubt as to which league would rank No. 1? The SEC had five teams in last year's final AP top 10 and a record 63 players selected in April's NFL draft. This year, the SEC has six teams that rank in my preseason top 20, led by two-time defending national champ Alabama, which is also my pick to win it all this year. The SEC also has six teams in the top 10 of my Plus/Minus power ratings and seven teams in the top 16 of my Power Poll, which is a combination of all nine sets of my power ratings. For the eighth consecutive season, the SEC reigns supreme.
Phil Steele ranks every conference heading into the 2013 college football season. The SEC claims the No. 1 spot, led by two-time defending national champion Alabama.