Updated Nov. 30
All right, Big 12, it's your turn to ride shotgun.
With season profiles complete in the last year of the league as we know it, the Big 12 enters the bowl season with a tenuous grip on No. 2 in these rankings. It's hard to discredit four teams with 10 wins and another with nine. Not too shabby.
It brings up the old debate of quality vs. quantity when comparing the Big 12 to the previous No. 2, the Big Ten. The Big Ten is very strong at the top, but there is a four-game drop in the standings between team 3 and team 4. You can't find such a drop in the Big 12, although the top doesn't look as heavy. Hmmm, decisions, decisions.
How to answer the debate? Find the best mixture of quality and quantity. A cop-out, I know, but the answer is usually somewhere in the middle. For me, the balance tips more toward the Big 12 than the Big Ten.
Plus, any league that can take the defending national runner-up to below .500 in the next year can't be too easy. No matter how much Texas lost personnel-wise, programs like that reload rather than rebuild. Mack Brown has had top recruiting classes continually, so you know the cupboard isn't bare.
One of the contributing factors to the Longhorns' fall is the step forward for Texas A&M. Amazing how quickly Mike Sherman went from hot seat to cool coach. A 9-3 season with a Thanksgiving night win over the 'Horns can do that for your job security. Aggies faithful might be thankful their beloved program looks like it might be back on track.
Overall, the Big 12 performed so well this year that eight of its 12 teams are bowl-eligible -- including Baylor, for the first time since 1994 -- and three of the remaining four fell just one win shy. The only comparable leagues are the top-ranked SEC and the ACC, which can hardly compete with the Big 12 in terms of quality.
Piece it all together, and this league deserves to be No. 2 over the Big Ten before the bowls get going. Of course, that all changes next year, when Nebraksa goes to the Big Ten. So enjoy it while you can, Big 12 -- it may be the big last hurrah.
1. SEC (Last week: 1): I was this close to dropping the SEC this week after the conference went 2-2 against the ACC in rivalry games over the weekend. But three 10-win teams and seven unbeatens in non-con? Still on top. You might not believe it, but there are a few decent wins out of league in there. But the ice is thin entering bowls.
2. Big 12 (LW: 3): It makes the jump this week past the Big Ten. Four teams here with 10 wins and another with nine. That's a more competitive top tier than the Upper Midwest league can boast. Also, it has the best record vs. other BCS teams. The downside? The 12 teams combined to play only a dozen games against other BCS-league programs.
3. Big Ten (LW: 2): Iowa's loss to Minnesota, of all teams, is a hit and a half for the league. Given their season profile, the Gophers shouldn't have stopped the Hawkeyes. Also, Wisconsin is very good, but the Badgers shouldn't run roughshod that easily through league foes.
4. Pac-10 (LW: 4): Only four teams have enough wins for bowl games and one can't go. That, of course, would be USC, which just earned the league another lump with the home loss to Notre Dame. Two in the top four in the nation is nice, but the average lull in the middle of the standings drags the conference down.
5. ACC (LW: 5): Not an awful showing for the ACC over the weekend. At least Florida State got the league a nice out-of-conference win. Also, the worst in the ACC is better than the SEC's worst (Wake over Vandy), so at least there's that. Still, Miami's loss to South Florida lost some of the mojo built by the other games.
6. WAC (LW: 7): Some team was able to challenge Boise State. That's what I had been looking for. Amazing ending to that game, right? Exactly why we love college football. Still, whatever depth the conference was building fell flat, as it looks like only the top four are bowl-bound.
7. Mountain West (LW: 6): The jockeying between the leagues out West continues. Again, head-to-head the WAC was better this year and I had just been looking for a team good enough in either league to truly challenge the leader. Sorry to the folks in Utah, but I never bought completely into the Utes.
8. Big East (LW: 8): With USF's victory at Miami, the Big East moved its win total vs. BCS-conference opponents to three. Amazingly, there's still a scenario that could see a 7-5 Pitt team in a BCS game. While UConn has the inside track, West Virginia -- with no bad losses and only three L's overall -- might be the best to represent the league.
9. C-USA (LW: 9): Told ya that Tulsa/Southern Miss game would be a fun one -- 106 total points! Half of the teams here ended up qualifying for bowls -- not terrible for one of the lower-echelon leagues. Flirted with elevating the MAC to this spot, but the bottom of this league doesn't seem to reach the depths of the MAC.
10. MAC (LW: 10): The conference has a plethora of bowl-eligible teams, and they'll be poaching spots from other leagues, most likely the Pac-10. Also, congrats to Northern Illinois for breaking into the Top 25. Amazing how little attention the Huskies have received this year for going 10-2. I thought those mid-week games were supposed to help with exposure.
11. Sun Belt (LW: 11): How about Mario Cristobal at Florida International? He has guided the Panthers to their first .500 season, including a Sun Belt title just a few years after the team went 0-12. Maybe his name will pop up in his alma mater Miami's coaching search? The only thing left to be sorted is whether Middle Tennessee can give this conference three bowl teams, but it first has to win at FIU.