College Football Conference Power Rankings Post Bowl Season

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2014

College Football Conference Power Rankings Post Bowl Season

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    Florida State beat Auburn, 34-31, in the final BCS National Championship Game on Monday evening, snapping the SEC's seven-year reign with the crystal football.

    But did it stop the SEC's reign atop the final conference power rankings?

    During the last half decade, calling the Southeastern Conference the best in college football has become second nature. The other BCS leagues were always jockeying for second-best, playing on a different, lesser field.

    Is that still the case, though? Even after Auburn and Alabama both went down in their BCS bowls, against teams from the ACC and Big 12? Did any conference do enough to raze the SEC's pedestal?

    Here's a final look.

11. MAC

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    Previous Ranking: 9

    Bowl Record: 0-5

    Not unlike Ball State safety Brian Jones (pictured above), the entire MAC fell flat on its face this postseason, losing all five of its games.

    It was a fitting end to a bad season for the Hustle Belt, albeit one that fans of the conference didn't expect. MAC Football, as the story goes, isn't bad—just top heavy. Once you eliminate the Eastern Michigans of the world, you find some decent quality.

    But that theory was disproven—at least for the sake of 2013—during the postseason, when Ball State, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, Buffalo and Ohio all went down, some by a considerable margin.

    Simply put, this was the worst conference in football.

10. Sun Belt

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    Previous Ranking: 11

    Bowl Record: 2-0

    Seven of eight teams in the Sun Belt finished with a winning record this season, but only two—Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette—were extended a bowl invitation. The consensus worst conference in America was slighted, as usual, and not given much of a chance in either game.

    Who's laughing now?

    The Red Wolves and Ragin' Cajuns both came out victorious—over Ball State and Tulane, respectively—and the Sun Belt was the only undefeated conference in postseason play. Was the sample too small for that to be important? Sort of.

    Does that diminish the accomplishment? Not at all.

9. C-USA

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    Previous Ranking: 10

    Bowl Record: 3-3

    Rice, the Conference-USA champion, was embarrassed at the hands of Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl, but that's to be expected against SEC competition.

    Otherwise, it was a pretty successful end to a very successful year for C-USA, which went 3-2 in its other five bowl games. Marshall scored a convincing win over ACC foe Maryland, while East Carolina and North Texas also scored easy wins over lesser-conference opponents.

    Next season, Western Kentucky and Old Dominion join the upstart league, and both programs showed shreds of respectability in 2013. Unfortunately, Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina will transition to the AAC, so even those additions will likely result in a step backwards.

8. MWC

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    Previous Ranking: 8

    Bowl Record: 3-3

    It was a confusing year in the Mountain West. Fresno State proved itself to be a charlatan late in the season, despite winning the conference championship, while Boise State took a big step back and lost head coach Chris Petersen.

    While not as strong on top, however, the league flashed impressive depth during bowl season. San Diego State's rout of Buffalo came out of nowhere, Colorado State beat a Pac-12 team in Washington State and Utah State slowed down Northern Illinois.

    If Boise and Fresno can stomach the losses of Petersen and Derek Carr—big "ifs," granted, but not impossible ones—the MWC might come back with a vengeance next season. That holds doubly true if Chuckie Keeton's knee rehab goes well.

7. Independents

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    Previous Ranking: 7

    Bowl Record: 2-1

    The Independents went 2-1 in postseason play, though only Navy looked good in the process. Notre Dame's win over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl was...well, let's say just a step down from playing in the BCS National Championship Game.

    But at least it won this one, right?

    Seriously, though, the Independents had a solid enough year in 2013. The bottom of the non-league was awful, but Idaho and New Mexico State will be gone to the Sun Belt next season, which means sunnier days might lie ahead.

    The big three of Notre Dame, BYU and Navy all return some key pieces in 2014, so between that and trimming some fat, the Independents should be even stronger next season.

6. AAC

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    Previous Ranking: 6

    Bowl Record: 2-3

    The AAC is what we thought it was: A two-team league with little in the way of depth. But those two teams at the top are very, very good.

    Central Florida overcame some early turnovers to beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, and Louisville dispatched of Miami with ease in the Russell Athletic Bowl. They were easily two of the 10 most impressive teams during this postseason, and the conference should be recognized because of it.

    Of course, that news is bittersweet. Louisville is leaving for the ACC next season, and UCF is losing its entire starting backfield. Rutgers will be gone for the Big Ten, too, while Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina come in to fill the gaps.

    It's hard to say what this conference will look like in 2014, especially given the ugly way Houston and Cincinnati went down in their bowl games. For now, the AAC should enjoy a year where it finished with two top-15 teams.

    It might be a while before that happens again.

5. Big Ten

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    Previous Ranking: 3

    Bowl Record: 2-5

    Like I said in the final version of the regular-season conference power rankings, the Big Ten cannot be evaluated solely on the basis of bowl record. Its tie-ins are harder than that of any other conference—featuring more games against the SEC—so even a .500 record would be a very good postseason.

    Alas, this is not a .500 record. It's not even close. Michigan State's Rose Bowl win and Nebraksa's upset of Georgia carried the banner, but Ohio State's close loss to Clemson, Minnesota's close loss to Syracuse and Michigan's blowout loss to Kansas State all sealed the Big Ten's fate for the season.

    Finishing fifth isn't the end of the world. Truth be told, there is just a tiny gap separating Nos. 3-5, and they all could have rightfully been declared even. With Maryland and Rutgers joining next season, the B1G is about to start a new chapter.

    This current chapter didn't end on a high note, but it isn't quite a low one either. 

4. Big 12

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    Previous Ranking: 4

    Bowl Record: 3-3

    Oklahoma's upset win over Alabama gets offset by Baylor's upset loss to UCF. We expected the Big 12 to go 1-1 in BCS bowls, and that's exactly what it did, just not in the way we expected.

    Elsewhere, the conference got a boost with huge performances by Kansas State and Texas Tech. The Red Raiders, in particular, were supposed to lose by a couple of touchdowns, so a comfortable win over Arizona State was a big one for the league.

    Texas lost in predictable fashion—though the defense held Oregon's offense to just one touchdown—and Oklahoma State acclimated itself well against Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. Even in defeat, the Cowboys showed well against a team that dominated the SEC for most of the season.

    All in all, it was a pretty good bowl year for the Big 12, which might have reached No. 3 if not for its champion, Baylor, laying such a massive egg in the Fiesta Bowl.

3. ACC

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    Previous Ranking: 5

    Bowl Record: 5-6

    The ACC was saved, per usual, by its two strongest teams. Heading into the BCS bowls with a 3-6 record, the league appeared to have been exposed, confirming what skeptics had seen about it all season long.

    But Clemson and Florida State would have none of it.

    The Tigers beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl and the Seminoles beat Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game, making the ACC the only conference in America with two BCS wins. It also has the honor of snapping the SEC's national title streak, which everyone from outside the Southeast is thoroughly grateful for.

    The rest of the league had its struggles in bowl play, especially with Miami and Virginia Tech—the prohibitive third- and fourth-best teams in the conference—getting drilled by Louisville and UCLA, respectively.

    If its any consolation, though, the Cardinals that blew out Miami will be joining the ACC next season. This league might trending up.

2. Pac-12

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    Previous Ranking: 2

    Bowl Record: 6-3

    A banner year for the Pac-12 ended in not-quite-banner style. Stanford lost the Rose Bowl to Michigan State, Arizona State got upset by Texas Tech and Washington State choked away the New Mexico Bowl to Colorado State.

    Still, the season-long body of work of this conference makes it an easy choice for No. 2, despite not winning a single BCS bowl. From top to bottom, this deep league gave us the most competitive football in America—even better than the conference ahead of it.

    This banner year might just be the tip of the iceberg, too. With Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley announcing their return, the Pac-12 should be even better in 2014.

    Next season could be the one where it finishes first.

1. SEC

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    Previous Ranking: 1

    Bowl Record: 7-3

    Yes, the SEC went 0-2 in BCS bowls. And sure, Auburn lost the national title game, snapping the league's seven-year streak with the crystal football. If ever there was a year for the SEC to drop out of the No. 1 spot, this would appear to be it.

    But it's not.

    It could have been, had the Pac-12 performed better in the postseason, but alas, upset losses by Stanford and Arizona State make that a hard argument to indulge. The SEC is still the best conference in football, and the margin is still fairly big.

    Just look at the final AP Poll. Despite down years from Georgia and Florida, which were both national title contenders in 2012, the SEC still finished with four of the top seven teams in America. It also finished with five of the top 14, six of the top 18 and seven of the top 25. Those are pretty staggering numbers.

    That's how good this conference can be sometimes; when two teams go down as national powerhouses, another two come up to replace it. The ACC has the bling and the Pac-12 made the biggest strides, but the SEC still reigns supreme.

    Case closed.