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November 3, 2008

SEC narrowly our top baseball conference

VOTE: What is the best baseball conference?

Perhaps I'm just adding fuel to the fire, but the great conference debate continues and yours truly is doing his part to make sure the debate turns into a virtual bonfire.

While the SEC has received criticism the past few seasons for not winning a national title, the conference holds an impressive advantage over the ACC in super regionals, and also has made 10 College World Series appearances the last five seasons.

By comparison, the ACC has made 8 appearances and the Pac-10 has made 7, while the Big 12, C-USA and Big West each have made four appearances.

The SEC obviously hasn't dominated the CWS the past few seasons, but Florida played Texas for the '05 national title and Georgia played Fresno State for the '08 title.

In other notables, the Big West and Conference USA continue to make impressive strides while some programs in the WCC are mastering the art of building something special with limited supplies.

We rank college baseball's top 10 conferences.

1. SEC

I struggled with the decision of which conference is the best, but at the end of the day it's truly hard not to go with the Southeastern Conference. Sure, before last season, the SEC had not been overly impressive in the College World Series for a few seasons. Georgia's performance last season, however, has really caused me to change my tune. Here's additional food for thought: the SEC is 6-3 against the ACC in super regional action the last five seasons. They also lead all conferences with 10 CWS appearances the last five years. It certainly can be debated that the SEC hasn't had ultra elite teams in recent years, but overall, it is the nation's most balanced conference.

2. Pacific 10

The great debate the past few seasons has been between the SEC and ACC, but out west the Pac-10 is dangerously close to overtaking the SEC, at least in my eyes. The Pac-10 has accomplished many things the past few seasons. Oregon State has won two of the last three national titles, while the conference also has made seven CWS appearances the last five years. Only the ACC and SEC, which have eight and 10 appearances, respectively, boast a larger number. Moving forward, the Pac-10's future remains bright. Arizona State is a perennial power and Arizona and Stanford are coming off productive campaigns. Then there's UCLA, which has the talent to get to Omaha. The Pac-10 programs do not have the most resources, but do a great job with what they have.

3. ACC

Critics are welcomed to say whatever they want about the ACC's inability to win a national title, but the conference continues to get stronger. North Carolina now can be considered a perennial power, Clemson and Georgia Tech are perennial powers, N.C. State has a good program, and Miami has made waves since joining the league in '04. I'd argue the ACC certainly is stronger than the SEC at the top of the conference standings, but the league as a whole has some work to do. Where as the SEC had Auburn and Mississippi State in the cellar last season, the ACC had bad programs such as Boston College and Virginia Tech leading the charge. The ACC recently has made major strides, but still has some work to do.

4. Big 12

It's probably time for the Big 12 to rejoin the party at the College World Series. Since Texas claimed its sixth national title with a series win over Florida in '05, the Big 12 has done virtually nothing in the postseason. The Longhorns have failed to get out of a regional the last three seasons, while Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are the league's saving graces. The Cowboys played Louisville in a super regional two seasons ago, while the Aggies have appeared in a Super Regional the last two seasons. Overall, the Big 12 has four CWS appearances the last five seasons. Sadly, three of those appearances by Baylor, Texas and Nebraska were in the same year, 2005. The other appearance was in '04 when Texas lost to Cal State Fullerton in the CWS championship series.

5. Big West

It's time to give the Big West a wealth of credit. There was a time in the not too distant past when the league practically consisted of perennial powers Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State. That certainly is no longer the case. The Big West has made amazing strides the past few seasons. Cal State Fullerton continues to be a perennial power, while UC Irvine also has become a national power in recent years. Overall, the Big West has made four CWS appearances the last five seasons with Fullerton and Irvine each making it to Omaha in '07. As for the rest of the league, UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside have reasons for optimism while UC Davis made a bold statement last season.

6. Conference USA

This is yet another conference that continues to get better each season. Look for UCF to be the next team to make a move with new coach Terry Rooney leading the charge. Though the conference has shown marked improvements the past few seasons, Rice is a chief reason for its national rise. The Owls are a perennial power and have been one of few mainstays at the College World Series the past few seasons. Overall, the conference has made four CWS appearances the last five seasons. Three of those appearances belong to Rice, while Tulane was one of the nation's best teams in '05.

7. West Coast

Many WCC programs accomplish a lot with very little. San Francisco, for instance, played in the Lincoln regional in '06 and somehow still has one of the worst facilities in California. Gonzaga also has made some noise recently while Santa Clara had a strong argument to be in an NCAA regional last season. San Diego and Pepperdine lead the way for the WCC. San Diego has yet to advance to Omaha but has made impressive strides with a less than stellar facility. Pepperdine, meanwhile, also is a consistent regional participant. The WCC probably will never have several premier programs, but it certainly has made a strong statement.

8. Southern

Given the fact many programs in this conference compete with programs in the SEC, ACC and C-USA for recruits, it's impressive how far this league has come the past few seasons. Unfortunately, the NCAA selection committee still views the SoCon as a consistent one-bid league. College of Charleston certainly knows how it feels to be shunned on Selection Monday, while Elon is one of college baseball's most intriguing success stories. The SoCon doesn't have a perennial national power, but possesses many programs that are more than competitive in the south.

9. Sun Belt

The Sun Belt has been a tough conference to figure out the past few seasons. Louisiana-Lafayette garnered the conference some recognition when it surprisingly reached the CWS in '00, but the league hasn't since done much. Louisiana-Lafayette still is a respectable program, while New Orleans is a rising program. It'll also be interesting to see if Louisiana-Monroe can build off last season's Sun Belt regular season crown, while Troy and South Alabama are programs with good tradition. The Sun Belt is an OK conference but could be much better.

10. Big East

There probably won't be a time when the Big East is considered to be a power conference, but the league certainly has gotten better the past few seasons. Louisville reached the CWS two seasons ago and could accomplish the feat again in '09. St. John's also is a consistent postseason contender and won the Big East regular season crown last season. Then there's Cincinnati, which finished last season with an impressive overall record of 39-20. Notre Dame and South Florida are programs to watch. The Irish actually have some tradition and the ability to be a good program, while USF is nestled in the middle of rich recruiting grounds.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.