My brother from another mother extended a challenge to find out which College football conference holds the title of "best in the land." He limited the historical analysis to his lifetime (roughly the 1970s); but in a previous conversation, I mentioned the past 30 years. Since there is only a few years difference between them, I think it's safe to stay within that range.
I would like to start off by saying that I DO have a particular bias...and I don't think there's any question which side I fall on. Having exposed my partiality, I would like to posit my method of determining the winner.
Just about every week for the past...I dunno....10 years, I've always looked at the top 25 in each poll and counted the number of teams from each conference. Frankly, I think this is a legitimate account since it comes from varied sources and from people who make their living analyzing each team's playing ability. I know some people will take issue with this, but the fact remains that these people control the process and I don't think there's any predetermined bias that goes into their calculations.
I found the following information on another website. You'll notice it's bias just in the web address (http://www.secsportsfan.com/top-all-time-college-football-conference-record.html), but I challenge anyone to disprove these numbers. It should be noted that this data is based on the CURRENT conference affiliations.
Top 25 Top 50
SEC 6 8
Big Ten 3 6
Big 12 5 5
ACC 2 7
Pac-10 3 5
Big East 1 4
I would also like to note that if you consolidated the schedule strength of each team in their respective conference, it could serve as a respectable gauge. In this category, you would have to look at INTERNAL strength rather than overall strength. By simply looking at overall strength of schedule, you are forced to consider ALL the opponents a school plays, rather than just their conference opponents. This blog post (http://www.collegegameballs.com/2009/05/20/2009-out-of-conference-schedule-strength-by-conference-and-team/) uses the highest OUT OF CONFERENCE estimate, which obviously doesn't account for their conference opponents' strength. My argument against this is that the SEC has such good internal competition that it doesn't need to legitimize itself against another conference. After all, isn't that what the Bowl season is for???
Lastly, I was able to find this data from the past 10 years regarding conference strength.
SI.com's Conference Power Index (Based on a highest possible score of 42)
1. SEC (40) Big Ten (35)
2. Pac-10 (29) SEC (31)
3. ACC (23) Big 12 (25)
4. Big Ten (22) Pac-10 (21)
5. Big 12 (19) Big East (18)
6. Big East (16) ACC (17)
If you average out these two scores, you'll see that the SEC wins by a landslide (of course, this is ONLY for the past 10 years).
Hope this information helps in solidifying SEC's title as "best in the land."
I'm sure there will be much more information thrown out there, but just wanted to add my two cents.