Well, that's that....nearly.
The conference games are done, the pancakes are cooked, and the rivalries are stoked. It's time for the conference championship games, and the final shakeout to see who lands where in the bowl picture.
What have we learned?
Well, Notre Dame is good, and lucky enough, to have gotten a shot at the title...deserved or not.
The other representative will be out of the SEC, and if it's not Georgia, they aren't going to be in the BCS.
Overall, the SEC is still the best at the top, but the Pac-12 and Big-12 are closer than people thought. On the flip side, the Big 12 is much better top to bottom than either of the other schools.
In my ranking system, looking at those 3 conferences, the top and bottom look like this.
TOP 10 TEAMS
BOTTOM 10 TEAMS
As you can see, the SEC is a league of the haves, and the have-nots this year. The BIG-12 is solid from the top to bottom, with the exception of the Kansas Jayhawks of course. The Pac-12 is somewhere in between the two, but is improved and looks to continue on their upswing. On to MY rankings. I make the point to capitalize because no one else in the country is likely to agree with them.
1. Oregon Ducks: The Ducks were hurt by playing Stanford so late in the season, and admittedly, it would be hard to justify putting a team in the national title game who didn't win their division, let alone their conference. That said, they played a tougher schedule than the Crimson tide, won just as many, and won them by more. If the Tide deserve to be in, then so do the Ducks, on overall quality. These conference championship games are giving us a horrid mix of tournament and non-tournament. I look forward to the beginning of the playoff system...course don't we all.
Oh, and the Ducks finished strong by destroying a very good Oregon State Beaver team.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide: The Crimson Tide just rolled over a terrible Auburn Tiger team in their last warm-up for the SEC championship game. The last thing they needed was a game that hurt their SoS, but at least they won it in convincing fashion.
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: The Irish made it through a very tough schedule unbeaten, and I want to congratulate them for that. They have achieved so much more than anyone thought that they would this season. They are not a top 2 team though. They, if you believe the film, lost to Stanford, and were a missed chip-shot field goal from losing to a very average Pittsburgh team. You can say what you want about 1 point being as good as 30, that doesn't make it true. Oh, and their season-ending win over USC was with their rival rolling out a freshman QB, and a winning margin of 9. You have to do better.
Their defense is top-notch, and they have proved that all year long. They can play with anyone, but they just don't seem to dominate like a national title contender should. That said, my opinion is not taken into account here, only the record, the opponents, and the scores. They aren't good enough.
4. Florida Gators: If only this Gator team had not laid an egg against Georgia in Jacksonville. But then again, that's what they get for playing the 2nd toughest schedule in the country. When you play 5 team that are in the top 15 at the end of the year, and your only loss is by 8 on a neutral site to #10 (in my rankings), I just can't ding you that hard. Georgia is a team that has seemed to get stronger as the season went and finished the season by physically dominating a very good Florida State team.
It's true enough that FSU was the more explosive of the 2, even though they have lost their most dynamic running back, cornerback, returner, and defensive end for the season. That said, the Gators were more physical and proved themselves the better team, and they did it in Tallahassee, which is no small feat.
5. Texas A and M Aggies: What a year for the Aggies. They found their star of the present, and future, while proving that Kevin Sumlin's attack can work in the SEC. They knocked off #1, and look to be beginning an ascent towards the heights of the college football world.
Oh, and they ended their regular season by absolutely whipping the limping Missouri Tigers.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes: Speaking of surprising season, I don't anyone out there who was predicting that the Buckeyes would finish the season unbeaten. They are not getting a lot of love nationally, and that is not only due to their lack of eligibility, but also due to their SoS and the large number of close games that they found a way to win. That said, they are unbeaten and are looking a very promising future square in the eye with Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller leading the vanguard.
Finishing it up with a statement win over their biggest rival just makes it all the sweeter. You look at a 5 point spread and don't think it's much of a statement? That statement was made by the Buckeyes defense in that second half. Pitching a shutout in a rivalry game is huge, especially for a unit that had been considered the weakness of the team.
7. Stanford Cardinal: Stanford is the bully on the block in the Pac-12 right now. When I look at them, I see Wisconsin in the Big-Ten at their peak. They go get the big boys, and they coach them up, which allows them to live in their base system and force people to beat them. They are the Yin to Oregon's Yang, and it works. They were robbed at South Bend, but are probably and upset at Washington away from being in the national title hunt. That sounds like a pretty good year right? When you take into account that they did this the year after losing multiple 1st round picks, including Andrew Luck, and it becomes astounding.
They are on their way to the Pac-12 championship rematch with UCLA and a potential spot in a BCS game.
8. Florida State Seminoles: This is a rough week for the Noles. They lost to one of their biggest rivals, at home. Then they lost their Defensive Coordinator. What's next?
Well, they are a huge favorite in the ACC title game, and if they can hold court there, they will have a BCS game waiting for them. 10 wins and a BCS bowl is never a bad year, but they Noles will always wonder what could have been.
9. Kansas State Wildcats: Kansas State had a week off to see how things are shaking out.
They are surely disappointed to be sitting outside the National Title picture, but they still control their own destiny to a BCS bowl game. Texas is coming to Manhattan, and if they can handle their business, this will be a season that the Wildcat faithful would have gladly taken if offered 3 months ago.
10. Georgia Bulldogs: Georgia is whole, and appears to be peaking at the right time. Say what you want about how lucky they were with how their conference schedule fell this season, they won their division and have a spot in the SEC championship and control their own destiny. An interesting though about how they managed that occurs to me though. They didn't look good early in the season, especially on defense. That was primarily due to a handful of veteran starters who were suspended and the growing pains of the defense in their absence.
That side of the ball improved, as would be expected, after those players became available. The flip side of that is that those players did not put the same wear and tear on their bodies as they would have if they had played every game and it has possibly saved them injuries, and allowed them to be fresher for the conference season. It is possible that those suspensions actually helped them to get to a point where they control their own destiny.
11. Oklahoma Sooners: Saying that a team is one of the best 2 loss teams in the country sounds like a backhanded compliment. In this case, it is no slight to the Sooners. Their only losses are to #3 and #9 in the country. Yes, OU is a team that is chasing a title every year, but they have accounted pretty well for themselves this year.
12. South Carolina Gamecocks: Every year we see the Gamecocks put together high-ranking recruiting classes, but they always seem to overachieve. This season showed the value of all those classes. This team has been decimated by injuries, including losing their All-American running back and starting QB. Even with all that, they lost 2 games, both on the road, to #4 and #13.
13. LSU Tigers: The Tigers are loaded as ever, but they were missing balance on offense most of the season. After their bye week, they seem to have found it, or moved towards it anyway. Since the bye week, Zach Mettenberger's passing yards per game has been 90 yards higher than it was before. That is striking when you realize that the non-conference games fell in the first section and Alabama was included in the second. That is very promising for them looking at next year.
14. Clemson Tigers: Clemson fields one of the best, if not the premier, offense in the country. Their defense is, once again, their weakness, and it is a glaring weakness. If they want to take the next step forward as a program, they need to find a more physical identity on that side of the ball.
15. UCLA Bruins: Short one disappointing loss to Cal; this was a complete turn-around season for the Bruins. They won 9 games, beat USC, and, for the second year in a row, are the South representative in the Pac-12 championship game. Oh, and they are YOUNG. They aren't going anywhere, and I expect to see them make big strides in recruiting this season.
16. Michigan Wolverines: I was worried for the Wolverines going forward until the Denard Robinson injury. When they were forced to start Devin Gardner, they actually got better. It took the pressure off of shoelace, who they have re-implemented quite creatively since. Gardner played well, and the defense seemed to step up. Brady Hoke wants to build a traditional Michigan team, which means the defense will be physical, the running attack will be effective, and they will stretch the field vertically. That requires a quarterback who can be effective throwing the ball. Gardner gives them the opportunity to do that.
17. Oklahoma State Cowboys: The Cowboys knew this was going to be a rebuilding season, and that was before they had to go 3 deep at the quarterback position. Even after losing 1 round picks at QB and WR, their offense, and having QB's drop like flies, their offense kept humming. Their defense is where they had trouble, but they have to be happy if they can end with an 8 win season.
18. Nebraska Cornhuskers: The Cornhuskers are the second best team in the Big Ten, and are the best eligible one. They are the favorite for the Rose Bowl, and that is never going to be considered a disappointment. Their defense had some bad moments this season, but they had more than enough offense to offset those shortcomings. They have to be excited about the potential that Taylor Martinez has shown this season. He made tremendous strides in the passing game. He has previously been inaccurate and the offense had been unbalanced. This season he was much better in that phase, completing over 63% of his passes with a TD/Int ratio of better than 2.5 to 1. There are still improvements to be made, as he had trouble against a couple of the tougher defenses, but if he can take another big step, we might be looking at a Heisman dark horse for next year.
19. Cincinnati Bearcats: The Bearcats lost out on their chance to win the Big East, but they can still pull out a 9 win season if they can win against UConn next week. That is a very solid season, and they will hang their hat on a nice road win over a solid Virginia Tech team. Their change to Brandon Kay late in the season dramatically changed the dynamic of their offense, and makes them difficult to project. Regardless of that, I am confident that they are going to be a top 25 team more often than not.
20. Kent State Golden Flashes: Kent State has never been unbeaten in conference play. They have been playing football for 90 years. Not until now. They are matched up against the similarly unbeaten Northern Illinois Huskies for the MAC championship, and are going to play the best bowl game in their history. This is a very exciting time for Kent State.
21. Oregon State Beavers: Oregon State is not going to a BCS game, nor are they are going to win the Pac-12 championship. They did, however, surprise the world by dramatically returning to relevance after a couple of down years. People forget, but there was a time when it was a very real question which Oregon team was going to take the leader's role in the Pac-12 (then the Pac-10). They are not quite there, but they are very good.
22. Penn State Nittany Lions: This was just the kind of season that the Penn State faithful, and the team needed. They started slow, which was not surprising considering the turmoil and changes around the team in this last offseason. The question was not if they would schedule as we were all pretty sure that would happen. The question was how would they respond. They responded well, going 8 - 2 after a rough start. Matt McGloin carried the offense and, with coach O'Brien, transformed the public view of the Penn State offense. It is going to be interesting to see how they can recruit to the new offense with its improved passing dynamic.
23. Fresno State Bulldogs: The Bulldogs are not getting much attention nationally, but they are the conference champs for the Mountain West and won 9 games. They have an outstanding QB in Derek Carr who threw for over 3700 yards and 36 Touchdowns. It is important to note that their stats may be inflated by playing in the MWC, but those are impressive numbers regardless of conference.
24. San Jose State Spartans: This is the best season in the history of San Jose State. Their only losses are at Stanford and to the WAC champions Utah State, and finished the season with quality wins over Louisiana Tech and BYU to finish with 10 wins.
25. Texas Longhorns: By Longhorn standards, this is a disappointing season, but after last season it is a tremendous step forward. They have 8 wins going into their season-ending road trip with the Kansas State Wildcats. If they pull the upset, they knock KSU out of the BCS and send their rivals OU as the conference champs. But, they quiet all the naysayers for the off-season and take another step back towards their standards of excellence.
26. San Diego State Aztecs: They won 9 games and lost the conference title on a tie-breaker. They are a team that has built their success on a strong rushing attack. I look forward to seeing how they match up in a bowl game.
27. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs: What a fun offense to watch....and what a horrid defense.
28. Utah State Aggies: I know it's odd that the WAC champs are below the team who came in behind them, but they just didn't play the same kind of schedule that San Jose State did.
29: Boise State Broncos: How quickly can they reload?
30: Arizona State Sun Devils: A solid first season for the Todd Graham era, if not outstanding. They are bowl eligible, and they are the best team in Arizona. I can't say much more.
BIG EAST: 1
BIG TEN: 4