2008-09 College Football Conference Grades



By Peter Christian

The College Football Season is over but the debating has just begun. Instead of becoming infuriated over the ridiculousness of the current system, let’s take a look at how each of the Division I FBS Conferences did collectively over the course of the regular and bowl season.

Each conference will receive two grades. The first grade will reflect the body of work during the regular season; the second will be based upon the bowl season performances. (Note: the expectations set by the regular season performances do have an affect on the bowl grades).


The ACC came into the season with relatively low expectations. Former perennial powers Florida State and Miami are no longer a National power house or even a conference power house. Since late last season when Matt Ryan had Boston College ranked #2 in the nation, the ACC has flown under the radar and been relatively irrelevant in college football. As a conference the twelve teams only had 4 wins against ranked non-conference opponents (Maryland over #23 Cal, UNC over #24 UConn, NC State over #15 East Carolina and Georgia Tech over #11 Georgia).

Regular Season Grade: C-

Although the league was rather pedestrian, it did send 10 teams to bowl game. However many of those bowls were low tier games. Overall the ACC finished 4-6 in the 2008-09 Bowl season with its biggest win being the Virginia Tech win over Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl, although that Orange Bowl match-up has been referred to as the worst BCS match-up ever. In what could have been the biggest statement game for the conference, Georgia Tech got its doors blown off by LSU. Had GT been able to compete with LSU it would have been a big step for the ACC’s football credibility. UNC played a great game but came up short against West Virginia’s Pat White and his record breaking fourth bowl win as a starting quarterback.

Bowl Grade: C

Big 12

The Big 12 was chocked full of drama last season and this season was like drama on crack. Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma all went into the season with BCS on their mind and their hopes resting on the arms and legs of their starting quarterbacks. Chase Daniel, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford all had plenty of hype going into the season and the latter two did not disappoint. With Daniel’s slip from the top of the mountaintop Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell made some room for himself and his prime target Michael Crabtree in the conference spotlight. At the end of the regular season the Big 12 had 7 bowl eligible teams, three teams in the top ten and five in the top 25.

Regular Season Grade: A+

The regular season created high expectations for the Big 12 conference and more specifically for the South Division. All four bowl bound teams from the Big 12 South were ranked within the top 15 in the nation. As it stands now that division has been a major letdown. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State both lost to their underdog opponents in high tier bowls. Texas looked very mediocre against an Ohio State team that was thought to be overrated. The North division bowl teams (Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas) each won their games but in lower tier bowl games (Alamo, Gator and Insight). The Oklahoma loss to the Gators was apparently expected but it was still a poor performance from the most prolific offense in the country.

Bowl Grade: C

Big East

Teams within the Big East were quite the enigma this season. Teams with high expectations started slow (Pitt, Rutgers, West Virginia) while a few surprise teams jumped out to a quick start (UConn, South Florida). In the end the Big East teams were who we thought they were (yes, that was a Denny Green reference). UConn and South Florida both finished in the lower half of the conference but qualified for low tier bowls and won against inferior competition. Pitt, Rutgers and West Virginia all rebounded to compete for the automatic BCS bid given to the Big East Champ but lost out to the team that should win an award for “Team That Best Flew Under the Radar”, Cincinnati who earned its first BCS bid and only the 10th Bowl bid in team history.

Regular Season Grade: B-

Of the six bowl teams from the Big East, five of them looked very good in their bowl games. Only Pitt looked awful (and takes the distinction of the only bowl team that failed to score a point) in its 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl (absolutely putrid game). Cincinnati was the only other Big East team to lose its bowl game, but at least looked respectable against BCS stalwart Virginia Tech. West Virginia won what might have been the most exciting bowl game of the year and provides a very good bump to the Big East’s bowl grade.

Bowl Grade: B+



Big Ten

For a conference that was supposedly “down” this year, it sure did garner a lot of attention. Penn State’s wire to wire championship was very impressive, Ohio State looked like a second rate Buckeye team but was a premier team nonetheless, and Minnesota, Northwestern and Michigan State all jumped out to great starts and looked like good football teams in the process. Iowa’s late surge granted them a berth into a New Year’s Day bowl and even Wisconsin was able to correct enough of its inconsistencies to become bowl eligible. Obviously, Michigan missing a bowl for the first time in 32 years is something worth noting, but they should rebound quickly. Although the manner in which Minnesota lost its final four games to finish the regular season and Wisconsin’s lucky escape against Cal Poly (Div.1 FCS, by the way) to become bowl eligible were both rather pathetic.

Regular Season Grade: B+

The bowl performance by the Big Ten was nothing more than atrocious. Wisconsin was blown out by the previously mentioned ho-hum Florida State; Northwestern blew a lead against Missouri; Minnesota was crushed by Kansas; Michigan State was held in check by Georgia; Penn State was dominated by USC. Only Iowa and Ohio State had good showings for the Big Ten and the Buckeyes still lost. A 1-6 bowl record was a pitiful performance by teams who were trying to prove that the Big Ten wasn’t having a “down” year.

Bowl Grade: D-


Conference USA

I know what you are thinking, and no, Conference USA isn’t just a basketball conference, they do field a football conference as well. The conference wasn’t too bad this year either. East Carolina shocked two BCS schools out of the gate and was ranked as high as #15 in the country but quickly fell back to Earth with double digit losses to Houston and Virginia. Tulsa also was a quiet surprise with a very potent offense and averaging over 47 points per game. Overall, C-USA finished with three nine win teams and six bowl eligible teams.

Regular Season Grade: C

Conference USA teams may not have gotten invited to any appealing bowl games but they made due. A 4-2 bowl record with Tulsa and Rice both recording blow out wins led C-USA to a respectable season finish and higher in the Bowl Challenge Cup standings than two BCS conferences.

Bowl Grade: B-

Mid-American Conference

The MAC was surprisingly a topic of conversation all year long. Bowling Green shocked Pitt to start the season, Toledo defeated Michigan in the Big House and Ball State nearly ran the table, going undefeated until losing to Buffalo in the MAC Championship. With Buffalo’s win, head coach Turner Gill was mentioned as a possible candidate for many other higher profile jobs, including Auburn.

Regular Season Grade: B+

Unfortunately for the 5 MAC teams that were bowl eligible things just didn’t go right in December and January. Central Michigan couldn’t tap into the magic it had last season in the thrilling Motor City Bowl against Purdue as it fell to Florida Atlantic. Northern Illinois lost to Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, Western Michigan looked overmatched against Rice, Buffalo hung with UConn for a while but let it get out of hand late and Ball State finished the season 0-2 after starting 12-0, getting trounced by Tulsa. 0-5 in the bowls isn’t exactly what the MAC was hoping for but at least they sent 5 teams.

Bowl Grade: F


Mountain West Conference

The Mountain West joined the Big 12 as the only conference to have three teams finish the season with 10+ wins. Utah, TCU and BYU were all mentioned as good teams with the ability to play in the BCS conferences. Utah’s undefeated season was good enough to earn them a BCS bid but was very underrated. TCU’s only losses came to BCS Bowl teams (Oklahoma and Utah) and BYU averaged more than 35 points per games in their 10-2 regular season. Air Force and Colorado State were also able to become bowl eligible.

Regular Season Grade: A-

The early bowl shocker was BYU losing to Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl and people quickly discounted the MWC. The other bowl teams rebounded nicely with wins by Colorado State, TCU (over previously undefeated Boise State) and Utah over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to post a 3-2 bowl record for the conference. The play of Utah over Alabama was further proof that MWC can play with anyone.

Bowl Grade: A-


The Pac-10 was considered to be one of the weakest BCS conferences in the land this season. With the exception of USC, no other team was expected to do squat. When Oregon State shocked USC on national television it was thought as a horrible loss and one that would cost USC a shot at the national championship. However later in the season when Oregon State was still in the running for the Pac-10 Championship, no one really gave notice and USC was still stung by the loss. The regular season was considered a mild success with 5 teams heading to bowl games.

Regular Season Grade: B

The Pac-10 was the surprise of the bowl season, sweeping their 5 games. USC’s romp of Penn State was the icing on the cake for the Pac-10 who will win the Bowl Challenge Cup due to Arizona’s surprise upset of BYU, Oregon State’s ugly win over Pitt, Cal’s win over Miami and Oregon’s dismantling of Oklahoma State.

Bowl Grade: A+


The SEC had many teams with championship hopes. However it was quickly realized that LSU was not going to repeat. Georgia lost to Alabama who was then thought of as good but not amazing. Florida lost at home to a then pedestrian Ole Miss. Even Vanderbilt started hot (5-0 #13 in the rankings). Consistent bowl teams such as Auburn and Tennessee were bowl-ineligible however due to poor play in the conference. Through it all SEC teams remained near the top of the national polls just for beating each other and playing few meaningful non-conference games. Alabama was undefeated and ranked #1 before getting beat by Florida in a rather ho-hum game. Georgia was destroyed by in-state rival Georgia Tech at the end of the season and Florida was allowed to overcome their loss by poll voters because they were Florida (whereas Texas, USC and Oklahoma weren’t).

Regular Season Grade: B-

Still the SEC sent 8 teams to bowl game and while Georgia was unimpressive in beating Michigan State and Alabama was outplayed by Utah, the conference has a 5-2 record in the bowls this year. Most impressive was Ole Miss beating Texas Tech by getting to Graham Harrell and turning turnovers into points followed by LSU’s destruction of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Kentucky and Vandy also turned in good wins. Florida’s win over Oklahoma in the National Championship proved to much of the nation that they aren’t just the Tim Tebow show.

Bowl Grade: A

Sun Belt

While it may be impossible for any one person to name all eight teams within the Sun Belt Conference without cheating it should be noted that they are still Division I FBS and if they are bowl eligible they can be invited to a bowl. That being said, the Sun Belt had four eligible teams this season and only two were invited. Louisiana-Lafayette (yes, the Ragin Cajuns) and Arkansas State were left out. Troy (college of DeMarcus Ware) won the conference and is beginning to be a recognized name among college football fans.

Regular Season Grade: C-

The two bowl teams from the Sun Belt Conference split their games (Florida Atlantic won, Troy lost) to other non-BCS Conference teams. Troy played well but lost to Southern Mississippi in OT and Florida Atlantic beat Central Michigan on their home turf (not their home field) in the Motor City Bowl. The Motor City Bowl sucked compared to last year’s game.

Bowl Grade: C


Boise State was the class of the conference again this year going undefeated through the regular season and only getting denied a chance at another BCS Bowl because another unbeaten (Utah) non BCS Conference team finished with a higher BCS rating. Louisiana Tech finished well (5-2) over its final seven games and finished second in the conference. Four other WAC teams finished with bowl eligible records but a one team got left at home (San Jose State) without a bowl invitation.

Regular Season Grade: B-

In one of the most anticipated bowls of the year the Boise State Broncos were beaten by the also highly ranked non BCS Conference team TCU in the Poinsettia bowl. That loss was just a micro chasm of the bowl season for the WAC teams. Hawaii was crushed by a surprisingly good performance from Notre Dame, Fresno State was beat by 5 in a high scoring affair in the New Mexico Bowl and Nevada was beat by Maryland on the blue turf in Boise. Only Louisiana Tech was able to win their bowl game by beating Northern Illinois in Shreveport, Louisiana.


Bowl Grade: D

Division I Independents

These four teams that make up the Independents were pretty tough to predict. Notre Dame was a train wreck some weeks and a serviceable offense others. Navy was boring as hell to watch but would run the ball all over their opponents. Army and Western Kentucky were both awful and didn’t qualify for bowls.


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  1. paulmbanks says

    The Idnepdnts comment was hilarious! I agree completely!!!

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