I am shocked that college football is over (I miss it already)!
With the end of the college football season, though, comes the final bit of analysis to close out 2009 where we must determine which teams and which conferences had the most success during the bowl season. There were several conferences which put forth outstanding results this year, including the WAC (proving with yet another BCS victory that they can hang with the big boys), the Mountain West (4-1 overall record) and the Big East (4-2 overall), and the SEC (winning two BCS games, including a fourth consecutive national championship).
However, only one conference defied all expectations, and won ALL of its biggest games, on the biggest stages, against the toughest opponents – The Big Ten!
During the 2009-2010 bowl season, the Big Ten was one of only two conferences (along with the ACC) in which every one of its opponents came from another BCS-Conference. The Pac-10, Big XII, SEC, and Big East, contrarily, each had at least one game scheduled against a non-BCS school from the Sun-Belt or MAC, for example. In addition, four of the Big Ten matchups came against higher ranked opponents, all of whom were ranked in the top-15, and two of which were BCS games.
With all due respect to the Mountain West’s impressive bowl record of 4-1, the conference accomplished that record by playing the WAC (two games), Conference-USA (one game), and Pac-10 (two games). Its teams did not face any teams from the Big East, SEC, Big XII, Big Ten, or the ACC. Likewise, the Big East had a record of 4-2, but those games were played against Conference-USA (one game), the MAC (one game), the ACC (two games against one of the WEAKEST BCS conferences), and the SEC (two games). In addition, only two each of the Mountain West and Big East opponents were ranked among the top-25 teams in the nation.
BCS matchups also carry additional weight, because they feature the best that each conference has to offer. Winning games against unranked MAC opponents is not quite the same as winning games against ranked opponents from the SEC or Big Ten. Consequently, BCS victories carry more weight because they earn more credit for the conference.
Of the five BCS matchups, only one game was won by a conference OTHER than the SEC (Florida in the Sugar Bowl and Alabama in the National Championship) or the Big Ten (Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and Iowa in the Orange Bowl). With those results it is difficult to argue that the Mountain West or Big East had the best bowl performances, despite their impressive overall bowl records, because their premier teams lost on the biggest stage against the other premier teams in college football. In fact, the Big East lost its BCS game AGAINST the SEC. Likewise, the ACC, Pac-10, and Big XII also lost BCS games.
Because the SEC and Big Ten both won two BCS bowl games, is it logical to move down the hierarchy of remaining bowl games, beginning with how each conference performed against each other, before deciding the best performance as a conference overall.
There were two bowl games which pitted the SEC against the Big Ten, and each conference won one game. However, the Big Ten victory came in the Capital One Bowl (where #13 Penn State defeated #12 LSU) while the SEC victory came in the Outback Bowl (where unranked Auburn needed overtime to squeak past unranked Northwestern, which has not won a bowl game in 60 years). In the only game between a ranked SEC team and a ranked Big Ten team, it was the Big Ten that emerged victorious.
Last, the Big Ten went 4-0 against ranked opponents in the bowl season, while the SEC went 3-2 against ranked opponents, including that loss to the Big Ten. In each of those games against ranked opposition, the Big Ten was expected to lose. Yet, in each of those games the Big Ten defied the odds and came away victorious. With a win against #15 Miami (ACC), in addition to the aforementioned victories over #12 LSU (SEC), #9 Georgia Tech (ACC), and #7 Oregon (Pac-10), the Big Ten had a perfect record against four of the best teams in the country!
The Big Ten has been much maligned of late for struggling in bowl games. Although the criticism has been warranted in previous seasons, it was not the case in 2009-2010. Instead, the Big Ten faced arguably the toughest bowl schedule in the country, walking away with not just a winning record, but an UNDEFEATED record against ranked opponents, two BCS wins, and a whole lot more respect than it had entering the bowls season.
Congratulations to the Ohio State Buckeyes, Iowa Hawkeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, and Wisconsin Badgers for bringing victory (and restoring pride) to the best conference in college football!