Probably the biggest loser of all was the Pac-10. The conference won only two out of seven bowls, with both of those coming in fairly non-descript games between the UCLA Bruins and the Temple Owls and Southern Cal Trojans and Boston College Eagles. The conference also suffered the ignominy of having its conference champion abet the end of the Ohio St. Buckeyes infamous bowl drought. I've been a fan of Pac-10 football for some time. The conference features good coaches, exciting offenses, and talented rosters. However, it didn't help its image this year, and with Pete Carroll out as Trojans head honcho and his former team almost surely staring down probation, it's probably about to lose its marquee program, as well.
The ACC didn't have a horrible bowl season, netting nice wins in the Gator (Florida St. Seminoles over West Virginia Mountaineers) and Chick-fil-A (Virginia Tech Hokies over Tennessee Volunteers) Bowls. The Clemson Tigers also beat the Kentucky Wildcats in the Music City, giving the conference an enviable 2-0 record against the SEC. However, their overall record was still 3-4, and the conference yet again failed to win a bowl that matters, with the champion Georgia Tech Yellowjackets losing to the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Orange. Combined with the embarrasment the ACC suffered during the final week of the regular season, these failures mean that the conference still has plenty of questions to answer. Over the past few years, I've thought the ACC was probably the fourth best major conference, but with the Big 10 managing to flex a little muscle this year, it may be time to drop the ACC to fifth, above only the Big East.
The Mountain West's TCU Horned Frogs lost to the Boise St. Broncos in the Fiesta Bowl, but overall the conference continued to make its case for inclusion in the BCS with a 4-1 record that included the Utah Utes' victory over the Cal Bears and the Brigham Young Cougars victory over the Oregon St. Beavers. The bottom half of this conference is shaky, but the triumvirate of TCU, BYU, and Utah is good enough to run with the best in any conference in the nation.
The story on the SEC this year was that it was low on depth but great at the top. That played out predictably in the bowls, with the conference shining in BCS bowls but going 4-4 otherwise for an overall 6-4 record. That's not the level of dominance of the past few years. However, while 4-4 in non-BCS games isn't great, it's not exactly bad, either; the fact that it's being portrayed that way says a lot about the level of dominance expected from the SEC right now. Moveover and perhaps most importantly, the conference netted an unprecedented fourth straight national title and scored a blowout win in the Sugar Bowl. Even if you don't want to buy the middle of the conference, you have to admit that the top is incomparable. And if I had to bet on it, I wouldn't count the Auburn Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs, or LSU Tigers out for long.
The Big 10 went 4-3 in its bowls. That isn't particularly mind numbing, but after the trials the conference's image have suffered over the past few years, the Big 10 will take it. Perhaps most importantly, the conference proved that it can compete with the nation's best in its two BCS wins. With Ohio State returning a talented roster next year, 2010 could be the year that the Big 10 gets its chance to redeem itself.