College bowl season's winners and losers

Alabama and Texas vie in the deciding game of the college football season Thursday night, but it's not likely to create any kind of shift in perception.

The Crimson Tide and Longhorns are stocked with talent and are well-coached, and each will be among the top five preseason teams for 2010 regardless of the outcome. There have been, however, plenty of changes in the perception department as a result of the bowl games that already have taken place.

A look at who's benefited and who's been hurt:


1. Mountain West: What else does this league have to do to earn an automatic spot in the BCS landscape? Utah whipped Alabama in last season's Sugar Bowl, BYU derailed Oklahoma early this season, and the league is 4-0 so far in bowl games.

TCU could make it 5-0 by defeating Boise State in Monday night's battle of undefeated teams in the Fiesta Bowl.

When asked this season why three or four Mountain West teams have become so good every year, one SEC coach said, "because their juniors never leave early."

2. Penn State: The Nittany Lions have become the anti-Ohio State when it comes to facing SEC teams. Since Alabama produced its famous goal-line stand in the Sugar Bowl after the 1978 season, Penn State is 7-2 against SEC opposition in bowl games.

The losses were to Florida after the 1997 season and to Auburn after the 2002 season, with both occurring in Orlando, the site of Friday's 19-17 win over LSU. The Big Ten has rebounded this postseason because of Penn State's continued success against the SEC and Ohio State controlling Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

3: Georgia: By blasting Texas A&M in last Monday's Independence Bowl after defeating Auburn and Georgia Tech late in the regular season, Mark Richt's Bulldogs proved they're still quite relevant. They have slipped from 11 wins to 10 to eight the past three seasons but have 10 offensive starters returning next season along with some stout special teams and the potential of renewed energy defensively under new leadership.

"When you have a group of guys that will not give in and will not quit and will not surrender to adverse times, then I think it is a sign that your program is strong," Richt said. "I've never really had any doubt about that whatsoever. We certainly don't want to say that 8-5 was the greatest season in Georgia football by any means, but I like the way we finished."

To reflect the consistency Richt has produced in Athens, the Bulldogs were the only SEC team to suffer just one five-loss season last decade.

4. Gene Chizik: This time last year, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs was taking heat after hiring a guy who went 0-8 in the woeful Big 12 North Division (Iowa State's Chizik) over a guy who went 7-1 in the loaded Big 12 South (Texas Tech's Mike Leach).

Now, Chizik has a New Year's Day victory for the Tigers and Leach is unemployed.

Auburn's 38-35 overtime win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl capped an 8-5 debut for Chizik, but it's not a program without some structural concerns. The Tigers allowed 625 yards to the Wildcats -- that's not a typo -- and almost lost a third consecutive game in which they led 14-0.

5. Nebraska: Speaking of the Big 12 North, it may now have a pulse again because of the Cornhuskers.

Bo Pelini's first season at Nebraska ended with a four-game winning streak, including a Gator Bowl downing of Clemson, and a 9-4 record. His second year produced 10 wins, a close-as-they-come loss to Texas in the Big 12 championship and a 33-0 ripping of Arizona in the Holiday Bowl.

Nebraska has been much better since Pelini's arrival, and LSU hasn't been as strong since his departure as defensive coordinator.


1. Miami: When the Hurricanes opened this season 3-1 against the gauntlet of Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma, it appeared they could win out and return to the national elite. A home loss to Clemson and a loss at North Carolina brought Miami back to the land of the decent, and a 20-14 loss to Wisconsin at the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando was a case of saving the worst for last.

The Hurricanes were fortunate the score against the Badgers was that close, and they head into 2010 as a team that has improved from 5-7 to 7-6 to 9-4 under Randy Shannon but is still miles from the Miami of old.

2. January bowls: They just don't mean what they used to.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier signed a contract in 2005 that included him making an extra $50,000 for taking the Gamecocks to a bowl and $100,000 if it was a January Bowl. Well, there they were Saturday embarrassing themselves in the Bowl against Connecticut.

Spurrier will earn $50,000 for the trip to Birmingham, but he knew that was coming.

"It's not supposed to be for bowls like this," he said leading up to the game. "ESPN will put these things anywhere they want to."

3. The Pac-10: After going 5-0 in bowl games last season, the league went 2-5 this time around. The two victories were way down the importance chart as well, with Southern Cal defeating Boston College in the Emerald Bowl and UCLA rallying past Temple in the EagleBank Bowl.

4. Tennessee: Lane Kiffin's Vols were better than Phillip Fulmer's Vols of last season, make no mistake. Yet improving from 5-7 to only 7-6 leaves them with their worst two-year mark (12-13) since the first two seasons (9-12-1) under Johnny Majors in 1977-78.

The early departure of Eric Berry results in Tennessee losing 14 of 24 starters, including specialists, from a team that was surprisingly hapless in the second half of Thursday night's 37-14 loss to Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Vols were at their best this season against Georgia and South Carolina, but those teams return more starters and will host Tennessee in 2010.

Expect Tennessee to be pegged fourth in the SEC East preseason projections for a second straight year. Then again, South Carolina's sorry showing Saturday may have bumped the Vols up to third.

5. Tebow bashers. This always has been difficult to comprehend.

Disliking rival SEC schools is one thing, but those who reveled in the tears of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow seemed a bit bizarre. The SEC is better off for having him as an exciting player the past four seasons and a positive role model as well.

And what a finale, as Tebow completed 31 of 35 passes for 482 yards in Florida's 51-24 rout of Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl.