NCF Nation: Final 2009 power rankings 011310

Final 2009 SEC power rankings

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
10:42
AM ET
Well, here we are -- the final SEC power rankings of the 2009 season.

For the fourth straight year, picking the No. 1 team was pretty simple. It’s the same team that took home the BCS national championship trophy. For the record, I’ve had Alabama at the top since the middle of November:

1. Alabama: The first 14-0 national champion in the history of the SEC pretty much says it all. The Crimson Tide took down previously unbeaten Florida in the SEC championship game and then knocked off previously unbeaten Texas a month later in the Citi BCS National Championship Game. The best part for Tide fans is that they have enough returning talent to do it all over again next season.

2. Florida: You want bizarre? Go back and look at the last month of Florida’s season. The Carlos Dunlap DUI arrest seemed to trigger everything. Then came the resounding loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game followed by the whole Urban Meyer saga. Through it all, the Gators (13-1) persevered and blasted Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to finish No. 3 in the final polls.

3. Ole Miss: The truth is that there wasn’t a clear-cut No. 3 team this season. Everybody had their warts after Alabama and Florida. But the Rebels (9-4) get the nod based on their head-to-head victory over LSU and second straight win in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Yes, their schedule was soft. And, yes, it would have been nice to see what they could have done with Dexter McCluster at running back the entire season. But top 3 in the SEC is never shabby.

4. LSU: All four of LSU’s losses went down to the final minutes, so the Tigers (9-4) weren’t that far off from being a 10- or 11-win team. Still, the offensive woes and some of the clock management issues were difficult to ignore. The 19-17 loss to Penn State in the Capital One Bowl was another painful reminder for LSU fans of just how bad this offense was this season. John Chavis came in and solidified the defense. But when you’re scoring in the teens, it’s hard to beat anybody that counts.

5. Georgia: The Bulldogs’ finish to the season was what separated them from some of the teams beneath them. They upset a top-10 team to end the regular season, Georgia Tech, and then spanked Texas A&M in the bowl game. The next hurdle for Georgia (8-5) is finding a defensive coordinator who can get the Bulldogs up to speed on that side of the ball. Turnovers were also a killer this season.

6. Arkansas: The Hogs (8-5) also finished strong, and when you look at the difficulty of their schedule this season, to squeeze out eight wins was mighty impressive. Had it not been for close losses to LSU and Florida, it could have been even better. Arkansas secured its most important recruit soon after the 20-17 overtime victory against East Carolina in the bowl game. Quarterback Ryan Mallett announced that he's returning to school. Now, if only the Hogs can improve on defense.

7. Auburn: It was a solid start to the Gene Chizik era, as Auburn racked up eight wins in his first season despite a serious lack of depth. The Tigers (8-5) put a nice bow on the season in finding a way to win in a wild Outback Bowl. It was a struggle down the stretch, though, for this team. Auburn lost five of its last six SEC games, which is why the Tigers aren’t ranked a little higher.

8. Tennessee: Lane Kiffin, we hardly knew you. After 14 months of stirring it up, running his mouth and accumulating secondary violations, he’s off to Southern California. The Vols (7-6) had their moments in their one and only season under Kiffin, but most of the highlights came in “quality” losses. They ended the season with a blowout loss to Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Not even two weeks later, they also lost their coach to USC.

9. South Carolina: Just when you thought the Gamecocks (7-6) might be on the verge of breaking through and really finishing up the season with a bang, they go out and play one of their worst games of the season in a listless 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl. If Steve Spurrier doesn’t break away from the five- and six-loss rut he’s been stuck in at South Carolina, next season may well be his final one in Columbia. Somehow, the Gamecocks have to find a way to run the ball.

10. Kentucky: In what turned out to be Rich Brooks’ final season at Kentucky, the Wildcats (7-6) failed in their bid to win a fourth straight bowl game. They lost 21-13 to Clemson in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. The Wildcats had some historic road wins at Auburn and at Georgia, but disappointing home losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee were what kept this from being a season to remember in the Bluegrass.

11. Mississippi State: Of the teams around the country that didn’t go to a bowl game, Mississippi State (5-7) finished up as strongly as anybody. First-year coach Dan Mullen fired a shot across the bow, too, after soundly defeating rival Ole Miss in the regular-season finale. In short, he said everybody knew which program in the state was headed in the right direction. We’re going to find out over the next couple of seasons.

12. Vanderbilt: Other than freshman Warren Norman’s record-setting performance, there wasn’t a lot to get excited about at Vanderbilt this season. The Commodores (2-10) went winless in the SEC, lost at Army and saw several key players go down with injuries. The defense played respectably most of the season, but Vanderbilt never scored more than 16 points in an SEC game. The Commodores have to find a way to improve their passing game.

Final Pac-10 power rankings

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
10:12
AM ET
These are mostly about 2009. But there's a little 2010 mixed in.

1. Oregon: A disappointing Rose Bowl loss doesn't ruin a great first season for coach Chip Kelly. And it's hard not to look ahead to an extremely promising 2010.

2. Oregon State: Making distinctions from here until No. 9 is difficult, but the Beavers finish No. 2 because, despite a bad loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, they played for the Rose Bowl in their regular- season finale. And the returning cast should inspire optimism for 2010.

3. USC: Team turmoil! Still, the Trojans won their bowl game -- the conference's only bowl victory over a BCS foe -- and that means they finished with the second-most wins in the conference (nine).

4. Stanford: Sure, the Cardinal lost the Sun Bowl to Oklahoma, but it was a competitive game and the Cardinal were playing without their starting quarterback, Andrew Luck.

5. Arizona: The Wildcats fall in here and they know exactly why. Three words: Holiday Bowl disaster.

6. UCLA: While beating Temple isn't the sort of thing to lead a résumé with, a bowl win means the Bruins are one of just three conference teams to head into the offseason coming off a victory.

7. Washington: The Huskies finished the season with a two-game winning streak, beating Washington State and California, and a home run: Quarterback Jake Locker is returning for his senior season.

8. California: When California won five of six after getting whipped by Oregon and USC, it looked like the Bears had righted the ship. Nope.

9. Arizona State: The pressure is on coach Dennis Erickson to get the Sun Devils back to a bowl game in 2010.

10. Washington State: After another terrible season, the big question for the Cougars is what are optimistic yet reasonable expectations for 2010? Ninth in the conference?

Final 2009 Big 12 power rankings

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
10:08
AM ET
Here's my final look at the Big 12 power rankings for this season.

1. Texas: Longhorn fans will always remember Colt McCoy’s injury in the national championship game and what could have been. Texas overcame every challenge during the regular season, but came up lacking without its leader in the biggest game of the year. The way the Alabama game played out will always haunt Texas fans. If they could have ever grabbed a touchdown lead or more over Alabama, was there any real indication that Alabama could have won with Greg McElroy and the Crimson Tide’s leaky offensive line? But it went the other way and the Longhorns were ground into submission by Alabama’s potent rushing attack to put a disappointing capper on an otherwise memorable season.

2. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers finished 10-4 and were only five or six plays removed from winning three of those games -- losses to Texas, Iowa State and Virginia Tech. If that had happened, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Cornhuskers could have finished in the top five or six teams nationally. But the convincing victory over Arizona, especially with the unexpected offensive firepower, should build confidence and embolden Bo Pelini and his team for bigger and better things next season.

3. Texas Tech: A roller-coaster season finished with Mike Leach and Ruffin McNeill looking for work despite an impressive 9-4 record where the Red Raiders overachieved to a Top 25 finish. Tommy Tuberville’s arrival will bring changes, but Tech returns with a strong nucleus starting of quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield and running back Baron Batch. If Tuberville can get the Red Raiders up and running quickly, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that his new team could challenge Texas and Oklahoma next season. But it will be tough as he tries to change the culture of the most memorable era of Tech football.

4. Oklahoma: A fast finish took some of the sting out of Bob Stoops’ most disappointing recent season. The Sooners’ hopes of a Big 12 four-peat were doomed as soon as Sam Bradford was lost for the season. And Jermaine Gresham’s injury before the season changed the way Kevin Wilson’s offense could operate. But at the end of the season, Landry Jones showed enough promise to give him a foothold for the starting position next season. The defense developed some young playmakers like David King and Demontre Hurst who showed promise in the bowl game for future growth. The Sooners will be back challenging for the Big 12 title next season if those players build on their late-season efforts.

5. Oklahoma State: All of the promise at the start of the season unraveled with a disappointing string of injuries and suspensions. And even with all of those struggles, the Cowboys still had a chance to play in a Bowl Championship Series game if they had beaten Oklahoma. Losses in the last two games of the season left a bad taste for what could have been Mike Gundy’s breakout season. The defense played much better than expected under new coordinator Bill Young, but the offense didn’t live up to the promise -- especially when Zac Robinson was hurt and his offensive weapons were stripped away. All things considered, a 9-4 record with everything the Cowboys overcame this season was better than could be expected.

6. Missouri: As well as the Tigers played at times during the season, their season was marked by their fourth-quarter home collapse against Nebraska and their confounding Texas Bowl upset loss to Navy. Truthfully, it was expected to be a rebuilding year after losing Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Co., but some of that was lost after a four-game winning streak to start the season. Blaine Gabbert surpassed expectations and is in line to become the conference’s best quarterback over the next couple of years. And Danario Alexander was the best receiver in the nation over the second half of the season. Defensive woes hurt them, but Gabbert’s return and some young defensive talent should have the Tigers pointed to improvement next season and maybe a challenge at the North title.

7. Iowa State: Was there a better moment in the 2009 Big 12 season than Paul Rhoads’ emotional response to his team’s upset victory over Nebraska which became a YouTube staple? Rhoads’ first season far surpassed expectations with a 7-6 record, the Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota and all of the other surprising accomplishments. Alexander Robinson was the most underrated player in the Big 12 and the gritty Iowa State defense played just like you would expect from a Rhoads-coached team. It won’t be easy for them to duplicate next year as they switch to the Texas-Texas Tech-Oklahoma gauntlet of South Division opponents. But it was a nice first step for Rhoads in building his program.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats missed out on a bowl trip because of playing too many creampuffs during the nonconference season, but Bill Snyder’s first season was better than expected. The Wildcats received huge contributions from Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas, who both arrived before summer practice with no real expectations coming into the season. Thomas developed into one of the conference’s best backs and should return for more next season. If Oregon transfer Chris Harper can develop into a playmaker at either quarterback or wide receiver and the defense comes together, the Wildcats might be a threat to make a bowl appearance in 2010.

9. Texas A&M: For all of their offensive weapons, the Aggies’ defense and special teams were the primary culprits in a 6-7 season capped by a disappointing Independence Bowl loss to Georgia. Jerrod Johnson posted the top statistical numbers ever produced by an A&M quarterback and he’s surrounded by a bevy of strong offensive weapons. But Mike Sherman’s new coordinator is going to need to produce more improvement from a young defense if the Aggies have any hopes of contending in the South Division next season and beyond.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks’ leaky defense did it with mirrors against a weak early schedule, but it all caught up with them during a seven-game losing streak to close the season that precipitated Mark Mangino’s resignation. Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe all finished careers that will go down among the top players in Kansas history. But the challenge for new coach Turner Gill and defensive coordinator Carl Torbush will be to rebuild a defense that allowed at least 31 points in seven of eight conference games.

11. Colorado: Dan Hawkins popped off about challenging for a Big 12 North title at the end of last season. Instead, his team’s struggling performance ended his hopes of “10 wins and no excuses” before conference play even began. The season started off badly with embarrassing nationally televised losses to Colorado State, Toledo and West Virginia and didn’t get much better once conference play began. The Buffaloes did start Kansas’ losing streak and beat Texas A&M, but sputtered offensively as they ranked in the bottom 10 teams in rushing, passing efficiency and sacks allowed and in the bottom 20 teams in total offense. Tyler Hansen emerged as the quarterback of the future. His development will be critical in Hawkins’ hopes at a contract extension.

12. Baylor: The Bears started the season with a confidence-building upset at Wake Forest, but their season for all intents and purposes ended as soon as Robert Griffin sustained a season-ending injury in the third game. Griffin should be back next season but key defensive players like Joe Pawelek and Jordan Lake won’t be. The quarterback's return will be critical in rebuilding offensive confidence that was booming heading into the season. The Bears might have the opportunity to snap the conference's longest bowl drought next season in a more balanced Big 12 South, but the key for the season will be developing a defense that can better challenge the South Division’s powers.

Non-AQ final power rankings

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
10:00
AM ET
Last week, I asked my Twitter followers (@ESPN_Others) to send me their end-of-the-year power rankings. I read every message and came up with the top 10 non-AQ teams, and gave some props to a few teams that didn't quite make the cut, but still had nice seasons.

With the exception of the top two teams, these rankings will look far different as we move toward 2010.

1. Boise State: The Broncos finished the year as the highest-ranked non-AQ team after beating TCU in a defensive Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. It was a huge way for the Broncos to end their season especially since they return almost every starter and should be in the top 5 to start 2010.

2. TCU: The Horned Frogs were a win away from creating yet another national championship controversy, but they had a little stage fright in the Fiesta Bowl and Boise State took advantage. Like Boise State, TCU can use the loss as motivation for 2010 and will start the new season highly ranked.

3. BYU: The Cougars finished the season with a big win over Oregon State and notched their third 11-win campaign in the past four years and the fourth consecutive season with double-digit wins. BYU will be rebuilding in 2010, but has a good recruiting class and a solid group of returners.

4. Utah: The win over Cal in the San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl was the perfect jumping off point for the Jordan Wynn Era at Utah. Wynn had played several tough teams during his short starting career, but hadn’t beaten any of them. He and the Utes needed the confidence boost heading into 2010.

5. Navy: The Midshipmen notched just the third 10-win season in the history of the program behind the record-setting play of quarterback Ricky Dobbs. The 2009 schedule was supposed to be one of the toughest the Mids had faced in some time, but they handled it with ease and topped it off with a beatdown of Missouri in the Texas Bowl.

6. Air Force: The Falcons defense lived up to its billing against Houston and quarterback Case Keenum in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, and that defense should be just as good in 2010. Look for the Falcons to make some major waves next season, especially if the coaching staff stays intact.

7. Central Michigan: The win in the GMAC Bowl was the perfect way to cap a stellar season and the stellar career of quarterback Dan LeFevour. The Chippewas finish the season ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in the program’s history. However, 2010 will be a rebuilding process with a new coach and several key players gone.

8. East Carolina: The Pirates fell short in AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Arkansas (three consecutive missed field goals short), but still had another fantastic season under coach Skip Holtz. And who knows? That might have been the swan song for Holtz, who has been the subject of a couple coaching rumors this week.

9. Troy: The Trojans captured their fourth consecutive Sun Belt title and nearly knocked off the Mid-American Conference champ in the GMAC Bowl. Troy has a lot coming back in 2010, but it will miss its offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who left for Texas Tech.

10. Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders became the first Sun Belt team to win 10 games in a season and did so with a new offense, new coordinator and new quarterback. Several of the players are returning and MTSU could be the team to watch in 2010.

Others receiving votes: Houston, SMU, Idaho.

Final 2009 ACC power rankings

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
10:00
AM ET
Keep in mind that this is not a preseason ranking. The fact that Georgia Tech just lost four of its best players to the NFL draft has nothing to do with this. We’ll save that one for later. Here is the final power ranking for the 2009 season:

1. Georgia Tech (11-3, 7-1) – Despite the loss to Iowa in the FedEx Orange Bowl, this is still the team that beat the best the ACC had to offer. The Jackets’ win over Virginia Tech and their two wins over Clemson are what earned them the top spot. They are still the defending ACC champs, a title Iowa couldn’t take away.

2. Virginia Tech (10-3, 6-2) – The Hokies put together a complete performance in their convincing win over Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and earned their sixth straight 10-win season. They head into 2010 on a five-game winning streak and with a much improved offense.

3. Clemson (9-5, 6-2) – The Tigers made a habit out of regrouping this year. First, after their 2-3 start to the season, and then heading into the Music City Bowl after back-to-back losses to rival South Carolina and Georgia Tech. The Tigers sent C.J. Spiller off with a win over Kentucky.

4. Miami (9-4, 5-3) – The Hurricanes took another step forward under coach Randy Shannon, winning nine games, but remained status quo in the postseason. The Canes ran into a more physical Wisconsin team in the Champs Sports Bowl, and lost their chance at entering 2010 with a top 15 ranking.

5. Florida State (7-6, 4-4) – The Noles earned respect for their surprising upset of West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, and proved they can make the plays on defense if they want to. In one game, the Bobby Bowden era ended, and the Jimbo Fisher era officially began.

6. Boston College (8-5, 5-3) – The Eagles put up a respectable performance against USC in the Emerald Bowl and were in a position to win the game. One glaring weakness remained all season, and that was freshman mistakes at quarterback, where Dave Shinskie is bound to improve with time.

7. North Carolina (8-5, 4-4) – The Tar Heels left much to be desired in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, losing again in the same city to another Big East team. This time Pitt took advantage of UNC’s mistakes, and the Heels couldn’t get their ground game going again.

8. Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5) – The Deacs should be remembered as the ACC’s unluckiest team in 2009, as they were only a few points away from an entirely different season. The win over Stanford, in retrospect, was among the best the conference had to offer in its nonconference schedule.

9. Duke (5-7, 3-5) – The Blue Devils again made progress under coach David Cutcliffe, clinging to bowl hopes for the majority of the season, but they faded down the stretch with a four-game losing streak. If Duke couldn’t make the postseason with quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, it will be difficult to do it without him.

10. NC State (5-7, 2-6) – Tom O’Brien’s career at NC State has been a series of one unfortunate event after another. There is no questioning his ability as a coach -- his resume speaks for itself. But once again, the Pack couldn’t overcome significant injuries, and the devastating news that their offensive coordinator, Dana Bible, had been diagnosed with cancer. They could, however, overcome UNC. Again.

11. Virginia (3-9, 2-6) – The Cavaliers ended the season they way they started -- in disappointment. Six straight losses, including in the season finale to rival Virginia, cost Al Groh his job. The last time the Cavaliers lost nine games in a season was in 1982.

12. Maryland (2-10, 1-7) – There wasn’t a bowl game, but coach Ralph Friedgen escaped a dreadful 2-10 season with his job instead. The one thing the Terps could celebrate this season was their still-baffling 24-21 win over ACC-runner up Clemson.

Final Big Ten power rankings

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
10:00
AM ET
The 2009 football season is in the books, so let's take one final look at the Big Ten power rankings. No major surprises here, and there likely won't be a ton of shuffling at the top until the season kicks off in September.

1. Ohio State (11-2): That Purdue loss feels like a long time ago, doesn't it? Ohio State capped an impressive turnaround with a Rose Bowl championship, snapping a three-game slide in BCS bowls. Terrelle Pryor's performance in Pasadena and a productive defense raises the expectations for 2010, when Ohio State could contend for the national title.

2. Iowa (11-2): Everyone outside Iowa seemed to doubt the Hawkeyes all year long, but this team just kept winning. Iowa delivered its best performance of the season against Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and never looking back. The final score didn't show how dominant Iowa was in this game. Ricky Stanzi and Adrian Clayborn will try to lead Iowa to a Big Ten title in 2010.

3. Penn State (11-2): Quarterback Daryll Clark and a valuable group of seniors went out with a big win in the Capital One Bowl against LSU. Penn State notched a signature victory against a talented opponent, completing an excellent two-year run. The Lions now must overcome some key personnel losses to challenge Ohio State for the league title this coming fall.

4. Wisconsin (10-3): A return trip to the Champs Sports Bowl ended up being the perfect opportunity for the Badgers to showcase the progress they made this season. Wisconsin beat Miami by only six points but thoroughly dominated the game on both sides of the ball. The Badgers return a bunch of key players, including running back John Clay, and will enter 2010 ranked in the top 15.

5. Northwestern (8-5): For the second straight year, the Wildcats participated in one of the most exciting bowl games, only to come out on the losing end again. Pat Fitzgerald's team gained some national respect with their comeback against Auburn, but Northwestern eventually needs to get over the hump in a bowl. The Wildcats lose several key pieces, but the program is on the rise and should again contend for a postseason berth in 2010.

T-6. Minnesota (6-7): The Gophers defense definitely came to play against Iowa State, but the offense couldn't translate good drives into points in the Insight Bowl. Getting the offense on track will be the top offseason priority for head coach Tim Brewster and his staff as they enter a pivotal 2010 campaign.

T-6. Michigan State (6-7): Credit the Spartans for performing admirably without 14 of their teammates in the Alamo Bowl, but their season long struggles in the secondary eventually caught up to them against Texas Tech. Despite a disappointing season, the Spartans are a young team that could make a jump next fall. Mark Dantonio must fix a defense that broke down too often this year.

8. Purdue (5-7): It would have been great to see Purdue represent the Big Ten in a bowl this year, but the Boilers' inability to finish games and avoid major mistakes kept them at home. Purdue is my early pick as the sleeper team in the Big Ten next fall, as head coach Danny Hope returns several exciting skill players and an excellent pass rusher in Ryan Kerrigan. I really liked what I saw in Big Ten play from the Boilers.

9. Illinois (3-9): Ron Zook will be back in 2010, but his coaching staff received a major facelift. Illinois will have new coordinators on both sides of the ball this coming season, not to mention several new position coaches. It'll be a make-or-break season for Zook, who needs young players to step up on both sides of the ball.

10. Michigan (5-7): The offense should be potent in 2010, but Rich Rodriguez must repair a defense that really couldn't stop anybody. Michigan loses its two top defenders in end Brandon Graham and cornerback Donovan Warren, so the coaches need to identify and develop talent during the offseason. The Wolverines simply can't afford another bowl-less season.

11. Indiana (4-8): Much like Michigan, Indiana's offense should be very dynamic in 2010, but the defense has major question marks in all three levels. The Hoosiers were close to getting over the hump this fall, but they lose a good senior class and continue to fight a history of defensive futility.
All the precincts have reported. It's time for one final Big East power ranking for the 2009 season. Note: this doesn't reflect any projections for next season but rather the body of work from '09 and the bowls.

1. Cincinnati (12-1, 7-0 Big East): Sure, the curtain call was pretty bad. But there's no way to ignore that 12-0 first act.

2. Pittsburgh (10-3, 5-2): Pitt finished with 10 wins, beat a pretty good North Carolina team in a bowl and lost its three games by a combined 11 points.

3. West Virginia (9-4, 5-2): It wasn't often pretty this year, but West Virginia managed to win nine games and make the Gator Bowl. A lot of teams would love to settle for that kind of season.

4. Connecticut (8-5, 3-4): The Huskies were playing as well as any team in the league to end the season and will take the longest winning streak -- four games -- into 2010. Still, they did lose to the three teams above them on this list.

5. Rutgers (9-4, 3-4): The Scarlet Knights beat two teams that finished in the top 70 of the Sagarin Ratings this year -- UConn and South Florida.

6. South Florida (8-5, 3-4): Speaking of questionable wins, six of the Bulls' victories came against two FBS teams, Western Kentucky, Louisville, Syracuse and Northern Illinois.

T-7. Louisville (4-8, 1-6): Six of Louisville's eight losses came by double digits. Charlie Strong has his work cut out for him.

T-7. Syracuse (4-8 1-6): The Orange lost to Louisville by one point on the road, but their wins over Rutgers and Northwestern were better than anything on the Cardinals' résumé. So let's call it a tie.

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