Bill Trocchi
Monday January 14th, 2008

If LSU proved anything last week in New Orleans, it was this: If you navigated through the Southeastern Conference this year and won the championship, you were going to be ready for anything.

And so the Tigers capped off an outstanding season for the SEC by slamming Ohio State 38-24. It was the seventh bowl win for the SEC and confirmed what almost all college football fans suspected before the three-week bowl season -- the SEC was king in 2007.

The better question is, Which league was second best? Now that the bowls have been played and we've had the most significant non-conference action since early September, it is easier to evaluate the next five BCS conferences. I've added to the criteria used in my pre-bowl rankings with the bowl results.

Note: In order to have a "quality" non-conference win, the losing team must be a BCS team and had to finish .500 or better in its conference. Notable non-conference losses are defeats to non-BCS teams who did not finish in the AP Top 25. Notre Dame is a BCS team.

Teams in final AP Top 10: 2 Teams in final AP Top 25: 5 Bowl record: 7-2 Non-conference record: 47-10 Non-conference record vs. BCS foes: 12-9 Quality non-conference wins (9): LSU over Ohio State; Tennessee over Wisconsin; Auburn over Clemson; Kentucky over Florida State; Alabama over Colorado; Georgia over Oklahoma St.; LSU over Virginia Tech; Georgia over Georgia Tech; Florida over Florida State Notable non-conference losses (1): Louisiana-Monroe over Alabama

Skinny: The SEC confirmed its superiority with a 7-2 bowl record and a national championship. Five quality wins were added during the bowl season, giving it a total of nine (tops in the nation) against one bad loss. True, the SEC did not have the strongest non-conference schedule as a whole, but when league play is that challenging (remember: LSU lost twice), it is somewhat justifiable.

Teams in final AP Top 10: 4 Teams in final AP Top 25: 5 Bowl record: 5-3 Non-conference record: 41-15 Non-conference record vs. BCS foes: 10-9 Quality non-conference wins (7): Kansas over Virginia Tech; Texas Tech over Virginia; Missouri over Arkansas; Texas over Arizona State; Missouri over Illinois; Iowa State over Iowa; Nebraska over Wake Forest Notable non-conference losses (6): Fresno State over Kansas State; Northern Iowa over Iowa State; Toledo over Iowa State; Kent State over Iowa State' Troy over Oklahoma State; TCU over Baylor

Skinny: The most compelling argument for the Big 12 is the four Top 10 teams. Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas all had outstanding seasons and are deserving of their rankings. (Just think if Nebraska gets going under new coach Bo Pelini.) Seven quality wins is also impressive. The biggest problem with the conference are those six bad losses (though three of them belong to Iowa State).

Teams in final AP Top 10: 1 Teams in final AP Top 25: 4 Bowl record: 4-2 Non-conference record: 25-12 Non-conference record vs. BCS foes: 10-7 Quality non-conference wins (5): USC over Illinois; Oregon over USF; Cal over Tennessee; Oregon over Michigan; Arizona State over Colorado Notable non-conference losses (3): Utah over UCLA; New Mexico over Arizona; TCU over Stanford

Skinny: I was a little harsh on the West Coasters in my pre-bowl rankings. Many readers pointed out that the league had the worst non-conference winning percentage because Pac-10 teams played the second-toughest non-conference schedule (behind the ACC). Fair point. Also, Oregon and Oregon State played their way into the Top 25 with bowl wins, and USC looked as good as anyone in the nation in its Rose Bowl rout of Illinois. A blocked field goal by BYU prevented the Pac-10 from finishing with a 5-1 record (and prevented me from winning my bowl pool). The Pac-10 was No. 2 in the final Sagarin ratings, so I'll give it a bump up to No. 3.

Teams in final AP Top 10: 1 Teams in final AP Top 25: 4 Bowl record: 3-5 Non-conference record: 38-14 Non-conference record vs. BCS foes: 11-9 Quality non-conference wins (2): Michigan over Florida; Penn State over Texas A&M Notable non-conference losses (5): Appalachian State over Michigan; Western Michigan over Iowa; North Dakota State over Minnesota; Florida Atlantic over Minnesota; Bowling Green over Minnesota

Skinny: Mediocrity reigned supreme this year in the Midwest. Ohio State was a good team that caught the league in a down year and ended up over its head in the national championship game. Michigan? Wisconsin? Penn State? Illinois? Not among the nation's elite this season. The league did not record a quality win until bowl season and took advantage of weak Notre Dame to pick up four BCS wins during the season. (Remember, however, that ND went 2-1 vs. the Pac-10.) The Big Ten figures to rebound quickly -- with Ohio State being a national title threat next season -- but this season was sub-par.

Teams in final AP Top 10: 1 Teams in final AP Top 25: 2 Bowl record: 3-2 Non-conference record: 32-13 Non-conference record vs. BCS foes: 8-10 Quality non-conference wins (4): West Virginia over Oklahoma; West Virginia over Mississippi State; Cincinnati over Oregon State; USF over Auburn Notable non-conference losses (3): Utah over Louisville; Navy over Pittsburgh; Miami (Ohio) over Syracuse

Skinny: West Virginia was a strong flagship team for the Big East, recording a resounding victory in the Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma. But after a quick start, the rest of the league faded down the stretch. USF was No. 2 at one point and finished unranked. Louisville was No. 8 early and finished unranked. Rutgers was No. 10 at one point and finished unranked. UConn was as high as No. 16 and finished unranked. Cincinnati won the Papajohn' Bowl, so that's something. In other words, after what looked like a promising follow-up to last year's strong season, the Big East became WVU and ... not much else.

Teams in final AP Top 10: 2 Teams in final AP Top 25: 3 Bowl record: 2-6 Non-conference record: 35-21 Non-conference record vs. BCS foes: 13-16 Quality non-conference wins (5): Wake Forest over UConn; Florida State over Alabama; Miami over Texas A&M; Virginia over UConn; Florida State over Colorado Notable non-conference losses (5): Fresno State over Georgia Tech; UCF over N.C. State; Wyoming over Virginia; East Carolina over North Carolina; Navy over Duke

Skinny: The ACC played the highest percentage of its non-league games against BCS opponents, but that doesn't mean the league was up to it. A 2-6 bowl record capped a weak season in which traditional powers Florida State and Miami continued their descent into mediocrity. Virginia Tech disappointed at the Orange Bowl, Georgia Tech lost to Fresno State and Clemson and Virginia failed to come through. BC extended its bowl winning streak to seven games, though it should be noted all seven games have been in December. This league needs the North Carolina schools (with the exception of Wake) and Florida schools to snap out of their funks in order to become relevant again.

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