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January 11, 2010

Monday with Mike: Big Ten, SEC shine in bowls

Before we finish talking about the 2009 season, let's take one final look at the bowls and which leagues truly stood out.

Looking at a league's postseason won-lost record can tell you some things, but it's not necessarily a good gauge unless you look more closely at the wins. And that's what we're going to do.

We're defining a "good" postseason win as one over a team that was above .500 in its Big Six league.

Record: 3-4, all against Big Six opponents.
Good wins: One.
How did the champ do: Georgia Tech lost in the Orange Bowl to Iowa, which tied for second in the Big Ten.
Buzz: This was not a good postseason for the ACC. Florida State's victory over West Virginia was the only good win. Virginia Tech (over Tennessee) and Clemson (over Kentucky) beat teams that were .500 or worse in their leagues. In addition, the ACC lost three matchups of teams that basically finished somewhat equally in their leagues: Miami (to Wisconsin), Georgia Tech and Boston College (to USC).

Record: 4-2, with two wins over non-Big Six opponents.
Good wins: None.
How did the champ do: Cincinnati lost in the Sugar Bowl to Florida, which was the runner-up in the SEC.
Buzz: This was not a postseason to remember. Connecticut (over South Carolina) and Pittsburgh (over North Carolina) beat Big Six foes -- but both foes finished .500 or worse in their leagues. USF (over Northern Illinois) and Rutgers (over UCF) beat non-Big Six foes that didn't win their divisions in their leagues. West Virginia lost to a Florida State team that was .500 or worse in its league, and league champ Cincinnati got blistered by Florida.

Record: 4-3, all against Big Six opponents.
Good wins: Four.
How did the champ do: Ohio State beat Pac-10 champ Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Buzz: The Big Ten regained a lot of lost luster with its postseason showing. Each of the four wins was a big one, with Ohio State and Iowa (over Georgia Tech) beating league champs and Penn State (over LSU) and Wisconsin (over Miami) beating "equal" Big Six opponents. Two of the losses came to teams .500 or under in their leagues -- Northwestern to Auburn and Minnesota to Iowa State -- but Minnesota was under .500 itself, and the other loss was Michigan State, which was .500 or under, to Texas Tech. Thus, only Northwestern's can be called a "bad" loss, and the four wins far overshadow that setback.

BIG 12
Record: 4-4, with one of the losses to a non-Big Six opponent.
Good wins: Two.
How did the champ do: Texas lost to SEC champ Alabama in the BCS championship game.
Buzz: This was a mediocre postseason for the Big 12. Two of the wins came over teams that were .500 or under in their leagues, and the other two came over teams from the Pac-10, which had a nightmare postseason. Plus, one of the four losses, Texas A&M's (to Georgia), came against a team that was .500 or worse in its league. Another loss came to Navy, a non-Big Six team. Three of the four losses came to SEC schools.

Record: 2-4, including 0-2 against Big Six opponents.
Good wins: None.
How did the champ do: East Carolina lost to Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl.
Buzz: Wins by Marshall (over Ohio) and SMU (over Nevada) came over title contenders from other non-Big Six leagues, but three of the losses hurt. ECU's loss came to a team that was .500 or under in its league, Southern Miss lost handily to a Sun Belt team and Houston -- which lost in the league title game -- was destroyed by a Mountain West also-ran. UCF lost to a Big East team, but the Knights were beaten easily.

Record: 1-4, including 0-2 against Big Six opponents.
Good wins: None.
How did the champ do: Central Michigan beat Sun Belt champ Troy in the GMAC Bowl.
Buzz: This was another poor postseason for the MAC. While Central Michigan's victory came against a league champ, each of the four losses -- two of them to Big Six schools -- came against teams that were .500 or worse in their leagues.

Record: 4-1, including 2-0 against Big Six opponents.
Good wins: Two.
How did the champ do: TCU lost to WAC champ Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Buzz: TCU's loss put a slight damper on the Mountain West's postseason. BYU (over Oregon State) and Utah (over California) each beat Pac-10 schools, and Wyoming (over Fresno State) and Air Force (over Houston) beat solid teams from other non-Big Six leagues.

Record: 2-5, including 1-3 against Big Six opponents.
Good wins: One.
How did the champ do: Oregon lost to Big Ten champ Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
Buzz: This may have been the worst postseason of any Big Six conference -- and that's saying a lot. One of the wins came over a MAC school and two of the losses came to Mountain West schools (granted, good Mountain West schools but ). The one good thing for the conference is that none of the losses came to schools .500 or under in their leagues.

Record: 6-4, with one of the wins over a non-Big Six opponent.
Good wins: Four.
How did the champ do: Alabama beat Big 12 champ Texas in the BCS championship game.
Buzz: A conference team won the national title for the fourth season in a row, which means life is good in the SEC. The league also tied with the Big Ten for the most "good" postseason wins. Florida (over Cincinnati) and Arkansas (over East Carolina) joined Alabama in beating league champs. Georgia's win (over Texas A&M) and South Carolina's loss (to Connecticut) came against teams .500 or under in their leagues. The Gamecocks' loss was one of three by SEC schools that finished .500 or under in the league, joining Tennessee and Kentucky.

Record: 1-1, with no games against Big Six opponents.
Good wins: None.
How did the champ do: Troy lost to MAC champ Central Michigan in the GMAC Bowl.
Buzz: The victory, by Middle Tennessee State, came over a Conference USA team that was .500 or below in its league.

Record: 2-2, with no games against Big Six opponents.
Good wins: None.
How did the champ do: Boise State beat Mountain West champ TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.
Buzz: The WAC didn't play any Big Six schools in the postseason. The wins came over schools from the MAC and Mountain West and the losses were to a Conference USA school and a Mountain West school; that loss came to a team that was .500 or worse in its league.

The pressure is on at USC
If someone tells you it doesn't matter what USC does if Pete Carroll leaves, that he or she could coach the Trojans to the Pac-10 title, you better look at them and start laughing.

Carroll had an unreal run with the Trojans from 2001-2009, but that came on the heels of an 11-season stretch (1990-2000) that saw USC go to one major bowl (the Rose) and stay at home during the postseason five times.

The coach matters -- a lot.

Look at Alabama, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas -- every major program. The wrong coach means mediocrity or worse, so USC's hire is vital to keep things rolling along.

This is akin to what USC officials faced when John McKay left USC after the 1975 season to take over as coach of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Officials promoted John Robinson and the train kept a-rollin'. But when Robinson left after the 1982 season, USC went through four coaches (including a return engagement by Robinson) before hiring Carroll in 2001. Ask any USC fan about the Ted Tollner or Paul Hackett years if you want to know how important it is to hire the right guy.

A tale of two quarterbacks
Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead announced he was leaving for the NFL draft, while Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett said he would stay in school.

One of those SEC West players made a good decision -- and it wasn't Snead.

Snead went into the season as a dark-horse Heisman contender, but he struggled the whole season, finishing with 20 touchdown passes but also 20 interceptions. Snead has some physical tools, but his mechanics and decision-making are a mess.

After the season -- and before Snead made his decision -- Rebels coach Houston Nutt said Ole Miss' quarterback job would be opened for spring ball, and perhaps that's why Snead decided to turn pro. But it's obvious from Snead's performance this season that he has a lot of work to do before he becomes even an adequate NFL quarterback.

As for Mallett, he threw for 3,624 yards, with 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in his first season as a full-time starter. But when you look at his performances against "good" defenses, you realize Mallett made a wise decision to return.

Mallett completed 55.8 percent of his attempts, which was 1 percentage point better than Snead but roughly the same as South Carolina's Stephen Garcia and Georgia's Joe Cox. Against the four best defenses he played -- Alabama, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss, all in the top 20 nationally in pass efficiency defense -- he completed 39.3 percent of his passes, with four TDs and two picks. Fourteen of his 30 TD passes came in non-conference games, and 10 more came against Georgia and Mississippi State, which were 10th and 11th, respectively, in the SEC in pass-efficiency defense.

With another season under Bobby Petrino, Mallett should be able to increase his completion percentage to 61 or 62 and his TD total to the high 30s, all the while keeping his interception total low.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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