Another losing bowl season cost the Big Ten in the final ESPN.com Stats & Info conference power rankings.
The Big Ten finished fourth, just behind the Pac-12 and trailing the SEC and Big 12 by sizable margins. Not surprisingly, the SEC finished No. 1, thanks to three top-5 teams and a 6-3 bowl record. The Big 12 finishes No. 2 because of an excellent nonconference ledger (33-5) and a strong bowl performance (6-2).
Can't quibble with the top two spots, but I think the Big Ten was a stronger league overall than the Pac-12. While the Pac-12 had two elite teams (Oregon and Stanford), there's a major drop-off after that point. The Big Ten had three very good teams -- Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan -- and two others with nine wins (Nebraska, Penn State). The Big Ten also did better in the bowls than the Pac-12. The leagues split their two head-to-head matchups (Rose, Kraft Fight Hunger).
Interestingly, the Big Ten had a strong computer ranking than the Pac-12 but wasn't as strong in the final human polls.
Looking ahead, colleague Mark Schlabach has issued his way-too-early Top 25 outlook for the 2012 season.
Four Big Ten teams make the rundown:
No. 9 Michigan State
No. 11 Michigan
No. 13 Nebraska
No. 19 Wisconsin
I agree with Michigan State as the Big Ten's top-ranked team, followed closely by Michigan. Nebraska seems a little high given its key personnel losses on defense (Lavonte David, Alfonzo Dennard) and offensive line questions, but Big Red certainly could put up big points this coming season. Some might be surprised to see Wisconsin drop down so far, but I think it's fair after the Badgers lose key players and coaches from the Rose Bowl team.