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Column: It may not be fun, but the Big Ten is 2016’s best conference

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 26: Happy Ohio State Buckeyes fans celebrate their 30-27 double overtime win over the Michigan Wolverines in their NCAA football game, Saturday, November 26, 2016 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, OH. (Photo by Lon Horwedel/Icon Sportswire)
(Lon Horwedel/Icon Sportswire)

The SEC had its worst year in a long time.

The PAC-12, while full of parity with the dark horse programs climbing the pecking order, underachieved at the top.

The Big 12, as we found out more as time progressed, is comprised of more pretenders than contenders.

Which leaves the final tandem of the Power Five branch — the Big Ten and ACC — as the top two conferences in college football this season.

To intertwine the final bow on the Power Five Power Rankings, the Big Ten edged the ACC this year.

The Big Ten stands alone as the only core in the nation to feature more than two programs with 10-plus wins, and there are four — Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State. Those are four teams that exceeded their combined preseason win totals by seven games. The Badgers or Nittany Lions could find their way into the College Football Playoff with a Big Ten Championship, a showcase that doesn’t even feature Ohio State or Michigan. With the Buckeyes as a lock to get in, it’d be the only conference to feature multiple affiliates in the CFP.

That’s a testament to the born-again Big Ten.

The Big Ten is boring. It’s old-fashioned football. If the Big Ten went to a full-on air raid, Bo Schembechler would do somersaults in his grave. Which is why the perception that the Big Ten is overrated tends to get disjointed with the fact that conference typically isn’t what the kids would call “fun.” There are four teams in the Top 7. The only thing keeping the ACC hanging by a thread is the playmakers.

I enjoy watching Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. An entire evening slate dedicated to Clemson’s Deshaun Watson operating the Tigers offense is frequently high atop the priority list. I’d opt to watch North Carolina and Syracuse dive headfirst into a barn-burner over an Indiana-Minnesota clash.

The Big Ten is the least fun Power Five conference, but it’s also the best in football.

There are arguments to be made. It isn’t a subjective claim, but it should be.

Each conference had its fair share of downfalls at the bottom. Real nice showings by Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Michigan State out of the Midwest; way to go, Duke, Virginia, Syracuse and Boston College.

Some middle-of-the-pack clubs held their own: Nebraska, Iowa, Maryland and Minnesota out of the Big Ten, and North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and even Wake Forest.

It’s the cream of the crop where the B1G has the advantage. And Saturday was a clear indication when the Buckeyes and Wolverines squared off in Columbus. History aside, you can’t tell me that we wouldn’t watch Ohio State and Michigan in a seven-game series spanning a full month than, say, Louisville-Clemson?

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 26: Ohio State Buckeyes running back Curtis Samuel #4 running the ball during the game against the Michigan Wolverines on November 26, 2016, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, OH. Ohio State Buckeyes Won 30-27 in double overtime. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire)

COLUMBUS, OH – NOVEMBER 26: Ohio State Buckeyes running back Curtis Samuel #4 running the ball during the game against the Michigan Wolverines on November 26, 2016, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, OH. Ohio State Buckeyes Won 30-27 in double overtime. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire)

I’m fine with tabbing Clemson as a top-tier team, because it earned it. Louisville’s a good team — or is it? Were we so mesmerized by Jackson’s play all season that we suddenly realized in November that this team had little to no composure and was exposed on defense when it mattered most? Aside from Dabo Swinney’s Tigers, there isn’t another team that deserves to be in the College Football Playoff; Florida State, despite being balanced, doesn’t crack that next tier. North Carolina folded. I’m not buying into Virginia Tech. Another eight-win season for Miami? The grass outside is green.

The Big Ten could realistically send Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan into a four-team playoff. It obviously can’t happen by law of elimination, and by law that four Big Ten affiliates would just bring out all the whiners — people that want dual-threat quarterbacks and 70-point combined scores instead of a good product on the field.

Which traces back to the ones under the headsets. We’re also forgetting the coaching in the Big Ten. Give me an ACC All-Star roster over the Big Ten (an offense with Jackson, Dalvin Cook and Mike Williams? Yes please), to calm you guys down, but give me a Big Ten coaching staff comprised of Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and Mark Dantonio (yes, the guy that went 3-9) over a team led by Dabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher, Mark Richt, Pat Narduzzi and Bobby Petrino.

I apologize, ACC critics. Your conference is fun, it really is. There are some real difference-makers and Heisman contenders alike.

But when it all boils down, the Big Ten, especially at the top, is the best conference in football right now.

Don’t @ me.

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