Final rankings for Big 12 teams will be interesting
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
MIAMI -- Tonight's game between Oklahoma and Florida should provide a clean, fitting ending for the season. The winner of the game will receive the USA Today coaches' poll as contractually obligated by the BCS.
The Associated Press media poll could be a different story as Utah and USC all staked significant claims to the title with earlier impressive bowl victories.
But Friday will be just as interesting for some other Big 12 teams, who will see their hopes of being ranked finally play out in the season-ending polls. Here's my look at where I think Big 12 teams might end up when the polls are released.
If the Sooners win tonight's FedEx BCS National Championship Game, they will claim the eighth national champion in school history. But if they lose, the Sooners could drop to the middle of the top 10 -- I'm thinking maybe even as low as fifth, as most pollsters would have them behind Texas (who they lost to) and ahead of TCU (who they beat) earlier in the season.
This will be one of the most interesting teams in the nation in the final polling. Mack Brown says he's going to vote his team No. 1. More power to him. The Longhorns were only one second from an undefeated season. But after talking to many AP voters around Miami this week, I'm thinking the Longhorns will end up third or fourth when the final polls are released. I really sense a big push to put Utah in the No. 2 poll because of the Utes' undefeated season. That means USC and Texas likely will be battling for No. 3. And in the minds of many pollsters, the Trojans played better in their bowl game against a better representative from the Big Ten. That's why I'm expecting USC to finish in front of Texas on Friday.
The free fall will continue for this team after it was ranked second nationally in early November. Most, however, remember the way the Red Raiders cratered in losses to Oklahoma and Mississippi and struggled against Baylor in their final three games. That will likely mean that Tech will be the third-ranked Big 12 team, finishing up somewhere in the mid-teens. The Red Raiders had their most successful season in terms of wins with an 11-2 record. But the late losses will keep them from breaking the school's previous rankings marks at the end of the season -- 11th in the AP poll in 1938 and 1973 and 10th in the coaches' poll in 1965. How about 14th?
The Cowboys finished a solid season with an unexpectedly good 9-4 season. The bowl loss to Oregon hurt and slightly diminished the national respect for Mike Gundy's team. But the Cowboys still will finish with their best record since going 9-4 in 2003. All of their losses will be to teams that will likely finish the season ranked among the top 15 teams in the country. Most of their top players will be coming back. The offense developed into a potent attack that should be even better next season. I'm betting that if you would have told Gundy before the start of the season his team would finish 9-4, he probably would have taken it. Look for them to crack the top 20 in their highest ranking since 1988.
The Big 12's North Champions claimed a gutty overtime bowl victory over Northwestern and finished with back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history. But the season was a disappointment considering the BCS aspirations coming into the year. The Tigers came into the bowls ranked 25th and it will be interesting to see if the overtime victory over Northwestern resonated enough to push them into the top 20. It might be tough, considering several teams around them like Oregon State, Iowa and Florida State all had more impressive bowl triumphs. If the Tigers can finish in the top 20, it would mark the first time since 1968-69, they placed in the top 20 in the AP poll in back-to-back seasons. It's going to be close.
The Cornhuskers finished the season as the North's hottest team by winning their final four games and six of their last seven. Their bowl comeback against Clemson in the Gator Bowl was one of the most stirring in the bowl season. Will that and a 9-4 record translate into a top 25 position? It should, but look at the other teams around. The Cornhuskers were ranked 34th in the AP poll coming into the start of the bowl season. Their chances might be hurt because some of the teams around them had impressive bowl victories, too. It will be interesting to see if Nebraska stands out enough from teams like West Virginia, California, Rice, Tulsa and Rutgers. Nebraska belongs in the top 25 and if the Cornhuskers could crack the final poll, it would be their first top 25 finish since 2005. But I'm not sure pollsters will see it that way.
Another team that likely belongs in the top 25, although it probably won't make it there with an 8-5 record. But a late slump that saw them lose four of their last five before a fast finish likely dooms those hopes. The Jayhawks instead will comfort themselves for the next few weeks on another bowl victory -- Mark Mangino's third-straight bowl triumph -- and a victory over hated rival Missouri in their final two games. That marks only the third season that the Jayhawks have accomplished that feat in any season (also in 1995 and 2005) and never in back-to-back games. There won't be a final ranking in the top 25, but I bet most Kansas fans will gladly settle for that consolation.