Unlike any other time of the year, the bowl season provides us with a unique, in-depth look at how the top tier schools from each conference stack up against each other.
With so much emphasis placed on conference strength and shedule difficulty to valuate a team's rankings, the objective, on-the-field outcomes from the bowls will go a long way in shaping future public and voter perceptions.
For example, in the 2009 pre-season poll we saw a significant correlation between last year's strong bowl performers (SEC, Pac-10 and the MWC) and higher rankings.
Although pre-season polls have zero tangible value, they do help establish vital (unfortunately) pole positions entering the season that can have a dramatic impact on who winds up in the National Championship Game.
Here are the final conference rankings for the 2009-10 bowl performance. (Click here for previous rankings through January 2nd.)
1. Big Ten (4-3)
Key Wins: Miami, LSU, Oregon, Georgia Tech
Losses: Iowa State, Auburn, Texas Tech
For starters, I am not a Big Ten fan in the least. But how can you argue against a conference that has notched top 15 victories over four major conferences?
For the first time in half a decade, the Big Ten has captured the elusive Rose Bowl Trophy with a solid win over a very explosive Oregon team. Helping the Big Ten to more BCS bowl victories in January of 2010 than they have had since 2004, collectively.
While an overall 4-3 record isn't much to write home about, the quality of victories far outweighs the losses, two of which were negligible—a one-point setback by Minnesota to Iowa State and an overtime loss by Northwestern to a resurgent Auburn.
Close but not quite.
Which is exactly how the Spartans must feel right now. They played well for being so short-handed. If only Taylor Potts had stayed in the game.
One day we may very well look back and see Jan. 2, 2010 as the night Steven Sheffield became a football name. The young QB from Texas Tech looked phenomenal in just two drives: one that came from behind to take the lead and the other that iced the cake.
Perhaps Mack Brown wished he had a backup as explosive.
With the Hawkeyes' solid defensive performance over Georgia Tech's dynamic offense, the Big Ten finished the season with three teams in the top ten.
Maybe that week off the first week of December ain't so bad after all.
Key Wins: Texas A&M, Northwestern, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, East Carolina, Texas
Losses: Clemson, Penn State, Virginia Tech, UConn
Once again, the SEC proved king of the BCS conferences. Alabama topped Texas to lay claim to the SEC's fourth straight National Championship.
Florida took Cincinnati to the woodshed in what appears to be the most definitive game, in terms of conference strength, thus far.
It's always an impressive feat when your runner-up takes down an undefeated team from a BCS conference in that fashion.
The SEC's other three victories pose little meaning. Georgia laid a beatdown on a mediocre Texas A&M team, and Auburn eked out an overtime victory over Northwestern, a team who hasn't won a bowl since Harry Truman.
Arkansas needed overtime to put away East Carolina, whose placekicking performance was reminiscent of the Oklahoma Sooners in a BCS bowl—after the fourth failed attempt, you wonder why they bother getting a fifth chance.
Two of the SEC's four losses were no surprises, coming at the hands of elite ACC teams, with Tennessee falling to Virginia Tech and Kentucky falling to Clemson. Not too much can be taken away from the SEC other than Clemson's victory eases the sting from their disastrous loss to South Carolina.
Perhaps the most telling defeat of the SEC bowl season was LSU's muddy loss to Penn State. It doesn't help the SEC's pristine image when the third best Big Ten team takes down the third best SEC team.
It also doesn't help when a Steve Spurrier-led offense scores fewer points against UConn than Rhode Island.
Regardless of the mid- and lower-tier performance, another National Championship and two solid performances at the Sugar Bowl and at the Cotton Bowl close the SEC on a high note going into 2010.
However, one has to wonder if UF can continue to play at a high level come next year. Perhaps the SEC will become Alabama and the 11 dwarfs. (Don't worry—that didn't prevent Texas from getting into the National Championship Game.)
3. Mountain West Conference (4-1)
Key Wins: Fresno State, Oregon State, Cal, Houston
Losses: Boise State
The Mountain West got off to a terrific 4-0 start with quality wins over strong Pac-10 opponents and a drubbing over Houston, a team that beat Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
TCU's loss to Boise State was a huge blow to the conference in terms of bowl performance. Hard to gauge whether TCU was rusty, intimidated, or if the Broncos were really that good.
I think the latter, which is scary. Just about everyone who donned blue and orange will be coming back in 2010.
If the MWC expands to accept Boise State, as many expect will happen this offseason, this could prove a compelling win for the conference in hindsight.
Outside of that, the MWC's lack of a top 10-caliber win (last year they had two) keeps them below the SEC and the Big Ten despite boasting the better record.
4. Big East (4-2)
Key Wins: North Carolina, Central Florida, South Carolina, Northern Illinois
Losses: Florida, Florida State
The Big East has been schizophrenic this bowl season. On one hand, they boast the second-best record amongst the major conferences.
They have posted solid victories over mid- and lower-tier competition from other conferences with solid victories over Central Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Northern Illinois.
On the other hand, when it came to the most defining bowl game of all, the Bearcats were completely overmatched by Florida.
Beginning next season, the Big East will not have a single head coach with experience coaching in a BCS bowl game. Meanwhile, the non-BCS MWC may have as many as three.
5. Big 12 (4-4)
Key Wins: Arizona, Stanford, Minnesota, Michigan State
Losses: Navy, Georgia, Ole Miss, Alabama
The Big 12 amassed a fairly solid collection of victories over mid-tier Pac-10 and Big Ten opponents. But as usual, they fell in the most important game of the year.
You have to feel for Colt McCoy, a phenomenal athlete, a great competitor, and an overall class act. Getting hurt in the second series in the biggest game of your life is tough.
But at the end of the day, Texas' lack of balance and mediocre run game came back to haunt them.
Nebraska's stunning 33-0 victory over Arizona illustrated just how dominating the Huskers' defense has become.
What really weighs down the Big 12 in this ranking is the ugliness of their losses to three unranked teams. Missouri was annihilated by Navy, A&M proved no contest against Georgia, and Oklahoma State laid down for Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl.
It's hard to believe that the Cowboys were just one win away from a BCS bowl. It's even harder to believe that all a team has to do is beat them and Nebraska to get a berth in a National Championship game.
The Big 12 went 0-3 versus the SEC and 4-0 versus the other BCS conferences.
6. ACC (3-4)
Key Wins: West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky
Losses: USC, Pitt, Wisconsin, Iowa
7. Pac-10 (2-5)
Key Wins: Boston College, Temple
Losses: BYU, Utah, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio State
After losing their stranglehold on the Rose Bowl and losing in embarrassing fashion, the end of the bowl season couldn't come soon enough for the Pac-10.
What a difference a year makes! Just one year ago, the Pac finished 5-0 in the bowls with victories over the Big Ten, the MWC, the Big East, and the Big 12.
In fact, just a few weeks have passed since some insiders were making a case for the Pac-10 being the strongest conference in all of college football.
Not this year. The Pac-10 has once again allowed the "inferior" MWC to bitch-slap them for dominance out west with surprising losses to both BYU and Utah. (The Pac was 2-6 vs. the MWC in 2008.)
Could you imagine how ugly this bowl season would've been for the conference of champions had Temple hung on to beat the Bruins?