NCF Nation: Power rankings 120709

1. TCU: The Horned Frogs finished the regular season the best non-AQ team in the country and some even thought they deserved a spot in the national championship. Although that didn’t happen, TCU could still vie for the AP championship after the bowl season.

2. Boise State: The Broncos are in the BCS, which is where they should be, but they needed some Longhorn luck to get them in. The Broncos will play their toughest game of the season against TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. TCU is the only team Boise State has lost to in the past two seasons.

3. BYU: The Cougars didn’t play this weekend, but are the third-highest ranked non-AQ team in the country. They’re headed back to Las Vegas, but have an intriguing matchup against Oregon State, one of the only matchups outside of the BCS featuring two ranked teams.

4. Central Michigan: The Chippewas wrapped up their first undefeated conference campaign (all wins) and now get to square off against Sun Belt champion Troy. The Chippewas jumped into the AP poll for the first time in school history.

5. Utah: The Utes didn’t finish the season the way they wanted, but their bowl matchup should be fun. Cal running back Jahvid Best might give Utah’s run defense fits, but Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn could give Utah fans a glimpse of next year against a porous Cal secondary.

6. East Carolina: The Pirates become the first C-USA team to win back-to-back titles since the conference moved to the championship format. This is a senior-laden team that’s looking to end the season on a high note. The win over Houston should give them confidence heading into bowl season.

7. Troy: The four-time Sun Belt champions will get a break from New Orleans and head to Mobile, Ala., to face Central Michigan in what should be a home game for the Trojans. Troy matched North Texas in becoming the only other team to win four consecutive Sun Belt titles.

8. Houston: Quarterback Case Keenum had a decent game in the C-USA championship, but made too many mistakes to give his team the title. The Cougars face Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl for the second consecutive year, which will be yet another stiff test for Keenum and the passing offense.

9. Navy: If the Midshipmen beat Army this weekend, they will capture their seventh consecutive Commander-in-Chief Trophy. Navy will face Missouri in the Texas Bowl, which will test their passing defense and their run game against one of the best run defenses in the country.

10. Ohio: The Bobcats had too many injuries to stay with a fresh Central Michigan team in the MAC championship, but still put up a good fight. They’ll play a head coachless Marshall team in the Little Caesars Bowl and have a good chance of notching their first 10-win season since 1968.

SEC power rankings

December, 7, 2009
After Alabama’s statement of power on Saturday in the SEC championship game, we take a look at the final regular-season SEC power rankings.

For the record, I should point out that I had Alabama No. 1 the last couple of weeks:

1. Alabama: No big surprise here. The Crimson Tide physically whipped Florida in a 32-13 SEC championship game victory and looked like they were a step ahead from the outset. It was their best performance of the season, not a bad way to go into the BCS National Championship Game.

2. Florida: As disappointing as it was, one bad game doesn’t knock the Gators down too far. They’re still one of the top two or three teams in the country and will get to prove it against Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. We knew this club had its limitations on offense after watching the Gators all season, but who saw the defense crumbling the way it did in Atlanta?

3. LSU: The stench from that Ole Miss loss (and the way it happened) still resonates on the Bayou, but the chance to win 10 games for the fourth time in five years under Les Miles still awaits the Tigers (9-3) in a Capital One Bowl matchup with Penn State. It's hard to argue with that kind of consistency.

4. Ole Miss: As much as any team in the SEC, Ole Miss (8-4) has to be itching to play again to get that bitter taste out of its mouth from the 41-27 spanking the Rebels suffered at Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. An AT&T Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State would help ease the pain.

5. Tennessee: The Vols (7-5) get a shot at No. 11 Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which finally matches up those two teams after so many talks about playing the last decade. It also gives Tennessee one last chance at a win over a nationally ranked team, which would be a nice way for Lane Kiffin to end his first season in Knoxville.

6. Georgia: The Bulldogs (7-5) are down to one defensive assistant after Mark Richt fired coordinator Willie Martinez, ends coach Jon Fabris and linebackers coach John John Jancek last week. They will have their hands full on defense against Texas A&M and the Aggies’ explosive quarterback Jerrod Johnson in the Advocare Independence Bowl.

7. Kentucky: The Wildcats (7-5) are still smarting from not being able to end the drought against Tennessee. They were still able to make a little history with their wins at Auburn and Georgia and will get a chance to make a little more history with a fourth straight bowl victory. They head back to the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl to face Clemson.

8. Arkansas: The only thing missing for the Hogs (7-5) this season was a little defense. They had stretches were they were OK on that side of the ball, but couldn’t consistently stop people. Not many people were able to stop sophomore quarterback Ryan Mallett, who’ll be shooting for 30-plus touchdown passes in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against East Carolina.

9. South Carolina: The Gamecocks (7-5) landed in the final SEC bowl spot and will head to Birmingham, Ala., to face Connecticut in the Bowl. Steve Spurrier and crew are looking to continue their momentum from a 34-17 pasting of arch-rival Clemson two weeks ago. That was a game that really showcased the young talent in the Gamecocks’ program.

10. Auburn: One of the six SEC teams that finished 7-5 this season has to be ranked near the bottom, and it’s Auburn. The Tigers are getting a sweet trip to Tampa to take on Northwestern in the Outback Bowl and played extremely well in their 26-21 loss to Alabama. The reason they’re ranked lower is because they lost five of their last six SEC games.

11. Mississippi State: Of all the teams nationally not going to bowls, the Bulldogs (5-7) have to feel pretty good about the way they ended their season. They whipped Ole Miss 41-27 and did so with a lot of younger players making big plays. Brighter days are ahead for this program, which certainly seems to be on the move under first-year coach Dan Mullen.

12. Vanderbilt: Not much of anything went right for the Commodores (2-10). Their offense was dreadful, and they suffered through one crippling injury after another. There were some promising performances by younger players, namely freshman running back Warren Norman, but this is a program that has to improve drastically on offense if it’s going to get back to seven wins.

Big 12 power rankings

December, 7, 2009
Here's how I rank them heading into the bowls.

1. Texas: The Longhorns earned their BCS championship game berth, but it wasn’t pretty. They struggled all night offensively against Nebraska and were lucky to escape Arlington with the Big 12 championship. The most immediate concern for this team will be the return of the running game and to find some kind of pass blocking after all of the struggles in the championship game. If Texas struggled against teams like Oklahoma and Nebraska, the same bodes for the game against Alabama. Colt McCoy’s Heisman hopes took a big hit. Fortunately for him, Ndamukong Suh will be wearing a coat and tie the next time he sees him rather than a football uniform.

2. Nebraska: It was amazing that the Cornhuskers were so close to the Big 12 title, considering all of their struggles on offense. But even after producing five first downs and 106 total yards against Texas, the Cornhuskers were close because of the play of their defense, particularly Suh. Some of the comments that the Pelini brothers made after the game that were reported in the Omaha World-Herald will only increase the intensity of next season’s game when Texas visits Nebraska. But after Saturday night, there’s no doubt that Bo Pelini has pushed the Cornhuskers program ahead faster than most expected. And the Holiday Bowl will be another way for the Cornhuskers to continue their growth.

3. Oklahoma State: A week after their demolition at the hands of Oklahoma, it will be interesting to see how the Cowboys respond to the start of Cotton Bowl preparations. The Cowboys will face a determined challenge in the trenches against Mississippi, which stunned Texas Tech last season. The Cowboys sure could use Donald Booker in a physical game like that -- and a healthy Zac Robinson.

4. Texas Tech: Mike Leach has never missed a bowl during his 10-year tenure with the Red Raiders. Tech is running into the bowl game in good shape with Steven Sheffield recovering from his foot injury and Taylor Potts coming off a strong finish. The Red Raiders also might end up catching a very winnable bowl game in the Alamo Bowl as they face a fractured Michigan State program that is being torn apart after a controversial series of suspensions. A win likely would enable the Red Raiders to crack the final Top 25, so a big effort is important in bowl preparations.

5. Missouri: It’s hard to believe that a team ranked this high will end up playing in the Big 12’s bowl game with the smallest payout. Actually, Gary Pinkel probably isn’t complaining too much. Navy’s one-dimensional offense shouldn’t pose that much of a problem to the Tigers. They get a shot to play in another Texas city for a bowl game -- it will be four different ones in four years in Houston -- but it will keep the Tigers as a prime topic of conversation in one of Texas’ most fertile recruiting areas. Even though the trip might not be as glamorous as a trip to Arizona, it will still be a bowl trip and a winnable one at that.

6. Oklahoma: The Sooners will be making their first visit to El Paso since 1993 with their trip to the Sun Bowl. It’s a big disappointment after all of the high expectations coming into the season. But the game against Stanford should be a challenging one. It will be a test for the Sooners to check Andrew Luck, Toby Gerhart and all of the Cardinal’s offensive weapons. But the opportunity to win after losing five of his last six bowl games should be something that will drive Bob Stoops and his team during the next several weeks.

7. Texas A&M: Expect one of the most entertaining bowl games when Texas A&M hooks up with Georgia in the Independence Bowl. With Joe Cox and Jerrod Johnson throwing passes and the relative struggles of both team’s pass defenses, the first team in the 50s might end up winning. It will be a good challenge for the Aggies -- particularly on defense -- as they try to stem a recent bowl tailspin that has seen them lose seven of their last eight bowl games since 1998.

8. Kansas State: No bowl game for the Wildcats, but Bill Snyder is hitting the junior-college recruiting trail in earnest as he tries to find playmakers who will fill in for departing seniors like Jeffrey Fitzgerald and Grant Gregory. The Wildcats came much closer to making a bowl trip this season than most expected before the season. Their inability to practice in December will be a huge impetus for Snyder to make sure he includes only one FCS team on his future schedules.

9. Iowa State: Cyclone fans have traditionally stepped up with the kind of interest that makes bowl directors take notice -- even pushing them ahead of teams like Missouri that had significantly better records and head-to-head victories over the Cyclones. Paul Rhoads won’t apologize for his trip to the Insight Bowl, or a chance at a winnable game against Minnesota. ISU will be looking to hand Minnesota its third straight Insight Bowl loss from a different Big 12 team. Considering the Gophers’ late-season offensive struggles, the Cyclones should have a good shot at their first bowl victory since 2004.

10. Kansas: After Mark Mangino’s “resignation” last week, Lew Perkins is looking for a new coach. That chore obviously overrides all other aspects of running the program. Perkins is under the gun a little bit, considering that recruiting can be started by the new coach as soon as he is hired. The coaching search at least will take some of the focus away from the seven-game losing streak that will keep the Jayhawks home for the holidays after a promising 5-0 start this season.

11. Colorado: Dan Hawkins is answering questions about his secret new e-mail address. That’s what happens when you talk about winning “10 games with no excuses” and end up not making a bowl game. But after Hawkins’ one-season reprieve, he’s probably not complaining too much.

12. Baylor: The Bears remain tied with Duke for the nation’s longest bowl drought at 15 seasons and counting. The key for Art Briles’ team to break it next season is getting Robert Griffin healthy and developing a defense that can stand up to the rigors it will face in the South Division next season.
1. Cincinnati (12-0, 7-0 Big East): Perhaps you've heard the Bearcats are pretty good.

2. West Virginia (9-3, 5-2): Both the Mountaineers and Pitt had two conference losses. Both lost to Cincinnati. Pitt's nonconference defeat was at NC State, while West Virginia's was at Auburn. And, of course, the Mountaineers beat the Panthers. That gives WVU an ever-so-slight edge here.

3. Pitt (9-3, 5-2): Of all the possible ways to lose, a botched extra point has to be one of the most painful. You get the feeling Pitt botched all three games it lost.

4. Connecticut (7-5, 3-4): Ending the year on a three-game winning streak, UConn established itself as a top-four team in these rankings and a legit 2010 league title contender.

5. Rutgers (8-4, 3-4): The best news for Rutgers is that, although the team is heading to another Big East lower-level bowl, at least St. Petersburg is a nice place to be.

6. South Florida (7-5, 3-4): The Bulls showed a lot of fight in the snow at UConn. Still, they've only won three games since Sept. 26, and two of them were against Louisville and Syracuse.

7. Louisville (4-8, 1-6): Should the Cardinals be knocked down a notch because of how Charlie Strong's defense played against Alabama?

8. Syracuse (4-8, 1-6): Doug Marrone is looking for a new offensive coordinator. He should find somebody who can call plays like his old boss, Sean Payton. Or better yet, just find another Drew Brees to play quarterback.

ACC power rankings: Week 15

December, 7, 2009
Georgia Tech has been declared ACC champs, following suit with the power rankings for the past seven weeks, and deservedly so. The Jackets are the best team in the conference. The only team that has been able to stop the Jackets’ offense this season was Miami, and Georgia Tech should head into the Orange Bowl with confidence after winning the school’s first ACC title since 1990 in Paul Johnson’s second season.

For the first time all season (and probably in the past two), there was no change in the rankings:

1. Georgia Tech (11-2, 7-1 ACC; LW: No. 1) – The Yellow Jackets have had rapid success in just two seasons under Johnson, and if receiver Demaryius Thomas stays true to his word and decides to return instead of entering the NFL draft, this program could be headed for an even brighter future. First, though, the Jackets must fare better in their bowl than they did last year.

2. Virginia Tech (9-3, 6-2; LW: No. 2) – Saturday’s championships revealed that the Hokies went 2-1 against their nonconference opponents who played for their respective league titles. Virginia Tech beat East Carolina and Nebraska (which should’ve beat Texas), and lost to Alabama. The Hokies deserved their spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and have a great shot against Tennessee.

3. Clemson (8-5, 6-2; LW: No. 3) –The Tigers need more than just C.J. Spiller, and Georgia Tech exposed that on Saturday in Tampa. Clemson’s defense couldn’t stop the spread option, and it turned into a shootout, but Georgia Tech is one team you don’t want to get into a shootout with. It was, as one reader pointed out, Spiller vs. Georgia Tech.

4. Miami (9-3, 5-3; LW: No. 4) – The Hurricanes are a better team than they were at this time last year, when Jacory Harris was again thrust into the starting role on a big stage. Harris has improved, and so have the players around him, so Miami fans should expect a more inspired bowl performance.

5. North Carolina (8-4, 4-4; LW: No. 5) – The Tar Heels are in a sense staying home for the holidays by playing in Charlotte’s Meineke Car Care Bowl for the second straight year, but considering how much the team struggled in the first half of the season, any bowl game should be considered a success. Besides, maybe this year they’ll win.

6. Boston College (8-4, 5-3; LW: No. 6) – The Eagles get the consolation prize of heading to San Francisco for the Emerald Bowl, but this is another team that should take pride in what it has accomplished this year given the trying circumstances and obstacles. On paper, BC and USC look quite similar this year. The Trojans have taken a step back, but it will still be a great challenge for the Eagles.

7. Florida State (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 7) – It’s been a sad state of affairs in Tallahassee, with the underplayed, poorly announced retirement of legendary coach Bobby Bowden, and Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett is hoping for a more celebratory sendoff for Bowden in his bowl. The move was unfair to both Miami and Boston College, who were still available with better records.

8. Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5; LW: No. 8) – The Demon Deacons are lucky there has been so much added drama going on with the bowl selection process and coaching changes throughout the conference that their poor finish this year was overshadowed.

9. Duke (5-7, 3-5; LW: No. 9) – For the second straight year under coach David Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils created some positive buzz and made improvements, but once again, it fizzled at the end of the season. The next step will be to build on that progress each week during the season, but they’ll have to do it without graduated star quarterback Thaddeus Lewis.

10. NC State (5-7, 2-6; LW: No. 10) – Tailback Toney Baker has been granted a sixth year of eligibility, but he’s not sure if he’ll use it yet. Baker is considering his options with the NFL draft, but the Pack could definitely use him back.

11. Virginia (3-9, 2-6; LW: No. 11) – The Cavaliers have reportedly shown immediate interest in Richmond coach Mike London as soon as his season ended, but nothing has been confirmed yet. The sooner the Cavaliers announce a new coach, though, the more success they’ll have keeping their recruiting class intact.

12. Maryland (2-10, 1-7; LW: No. 12) – Ralph Friedgen isn’t going anywhere, but entire staffs don’t usually survive a 2-10 season, nor should they. There has been too much mediocrity in College Park for some changes not to be made. The question still remains what moves Friedgen will make, if any, to improve his program.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 14

December, 7, 2009
The regular season is complete, so let's take one final look at the league before the bowls begin later this month. Wisconsin kicks off the Big Ten slate against Miami on Dec. 29 in the Champs Sports B0wl.

1. Ohio State (10-2, 7-1): Once again, the Buckeyes are carrying the Big Ten banner, this time to a place (Pasadena) they haven't played since Jan. 1, 1997. A win against Oregon would mark the first big step toward regaining national respectability. A loss would simply continue the Buckeye bashing for another offseason, until Jim Tressel's team enters 2010 ranked in the top 5.

2. Iowa (10-2, 6-2): The Hawkeyes got what they deserved, a BCS at-large berth. Now they need to beat Georgia Tech to truly validate this season in the eyes of the nation. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi returns to the field, but Iowa's stout defense will have to be the difference against Georgia Tech's effective triple-option offense led by Jonathan Dwyer.

3. Penn State (10-2, 6-2): Guys like Daryll Clark and Sean Lee have done a lot to put Penn State back where it belongs among the Big Ten's best. It would be nice to see those guys end their careers with a Jan. 1 bowl victory. Penn State gets its chance against LSU, a fellow national powerhouse that it has faced just once before. Will the Lions' veteran leadership prove to be the difference?

T-4. Northwestern (8-4, 5-3): After years of getting leapfrogged for bowls, Northwestern got the postseason destination it desired and will face Auburn in the Outback Bowl. There are so many similarities between NU's season and Iowa's 2008 season, and the Wildcats hope to end on an equally good note in Tampa.

T-4 Wisconsin (9-3, 5-3): I moved up the Badgers one spot after their dominating performance against Hawaii on Saturday night. Unfortunately for Bret Bielema's team, the game clearly didn't matter to the Outback Bowl selection committee. Still, Wisconsin has a more exciting matchup against Miami and can reach the 10-win plateau.

6. Michigan State (6-6, 4-4): The Spartans will be shorthanded in San Antonio, which could result in disaster or a gutsy victory against a favored Texas Tech squad. Head coach Mark Dantonio needs big performances from quarterback Kirk Cousins, linebacker Greg Jones and a secondary that has struggled for most of the season.

7. Purdue (5-7, 4-4): It must not have been easy for Purdue to watch the bowl selections, as a .500 Big Ten record almost always gets a team into the postseason. The Boilers turn their attention to 2010, as linebacker Jason Werner might return for a sixth season and Miami transfer Robert Marve enters the competition at quarterback.

8. Minnesota (6-6, 3-5): A return trip to the Insight Bowl wasn't ideal for the Gophers, but they received a pretty favorable draw in Iowa State. The Cyclones are a lot like Minnesota, with an up-and-down offense and a defense capable of carrying the team. It's critical for Tim Brewster to win this game and show some progress on offense before a make-or-break 2010 season.

9. Illinois (3-9, 2-6): The Illini endured a heartbreaking end to a miserable season, losing in a manner I never thought was possible. Running back Mikel LeShoure was fabulous and quarterback Juice Williams deserved a win in his final collegiate game, but the defense totally let them down. Changes are coming to Champaign, and the program certainly has reached a crossroads.

10. Michigan (5-7, 1-7): Rich Rodriguez is looking toward 2010, but Michigan's defense could once again be a problem as end Brandon Graham departs and cornerback Donovan Warren likely will declare for the NFL draft. The offense should be pretty solid next fall, but revamping and rebuilding the defense during the offseason should be Rodriguez's top priority.

11. Indiana (4-8, 1-7): Like Michigan, Indiana will lose several key contributors from a defense that wasn't great to begin with. The Hoosiers could be explosive on offense next fall with Ben Chappell, Tandon Doss and Darius Willis, but until the defense gets on track, the program will linger at the bottom of the Big Ten.

Pac-10 power rankings

December, 7, 2009
Note: These reflect the week that was, not necessarily the Pac-10 standings.

1. Oregon: Oregon's No. 6 rushing offense vs. Ohio State's No. 5 run defense in the Rose Bowl. Should be interesting.

2. Arizona: You hear that? Neither do I. Yes, Mike Stoops' critics have hushed up.

3. Oregon State: Beavers fans might not like falling to the Las Vegas Bowl, but it's a great destination and BYU is a higher ranked foe than the Holiday, Sun or Emerald bowls will offer.

4. Stanford: Toby Gerhart vs. Oklahoma's outstanding defense in the Sun Bowl. But will it be "Heisman Trophy winner" Toby Gerhart vs. Oklahoma's outstanding defense?

5. USC: Pete Carroll will need to examine all aspects of his program this offseason. There's no shame in not winning the rugged Pac-10, but there is shame in a team seeming to play with little fire -- or direction for that matter.

6. Washington: In Steve Sarkisian's first year, Washington made Husky Stadium again a tough place to visit (ask LSU, USC, Arizona, California and rival Washington State). After going 0-12 in 2008, a 5-7 season is a success by just about any measure.

7. California: Just when it seems like Cal is finding itself, it goes splat.

8. UCLA: The Bruins are a bowl team but they also finished 3-6 in conference play.

9. Arizona State: Dennis Erickson is looking for a new offensive coordinator to boost his team from the nether regions.

10. Washington State: Nothing new down here.