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December 15, 2010
League success in bowls depends on opponents
You could win plenty of bets in sports bars across the country by asking what conference has posted the best bowl record during the BCS era.
It's not the mighty SEC, which has produced each of the past four national champions. Nor is it the Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-10.
The answer instead is the much-maligned Big East, which has gone 36-23 in bowl games since the 1998 season. The only league with a higher bowl winning percentage is the Big West, which went 3-0 in bowl games from 1998-2000 before it got out of the FBS business.
The Big East's .610 winning percentage in the BCS era gives it a razor-thin edge over the Mountain West, which has posted a 25-16 bowl record (.609) since forming in 1999. The SEC has the best record in BCS games with a 14-5 mark (.737).
As we get ready for Saturday's kickoff of the 2010 bowl season, we decided to see how each conference has fared in overall bowl games and BCS contests since the start of the BCS era.
For the purposes of this report, we didn't erase any bowl wins that have been vacated as a result of NCAA investigations. We also didn't allow teams to transfer bowl wins to their new conferences after they switched leagues. For example, TCU played in the WAC through the 2000 season and was a Conference USA member from 2001-04 before joining the Mountain West in 2005. The Horned Frogs' bowl results are attributed to whatever league they belonged to at the time of the game.
The most remarkable element of the Big East's bowl success is that it continued to succeed in the postseason after Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College left for the ACC. Miami and Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004 and Boston College followed in '05.
The Big East is a sizzling 16-6 over the past four years and hasn't had a losing record in the postseason since 2005.
The caveat: That postseason success is due in part to a relatively lightweight bowl schedule. That 16-6 mark includes an 8-0 record in bowl games against teams from outside the six major conferences. The Big East has played 36.3 percent of its bowl games in the past four seasons against teams from the MAC or Conference USA.
The Pac-10 also faced non-AQ teams in one-third of its bowls over the past four seasons - with the bulk of those games coming against MWC heavyweights BYU and Utah - but none of the other four major conferences played more than 16.7 percent of its bowl games against non-AQ programs during that stretch.
Our research underscored how much the balance of power has shifted in the past several seasons. For instance, the Big Ten posted a 19-12 bowl record and a 5-3 mark in BCS games from 1998-2002. The SEC was 20-20 in all bowls and 5-3 in BCS games during that same stretch. Since the 2003 season, though, the SEC has a bowl record of 36-19 (9-2 in BCS games), while the Big Ten is 19-31 (5-8 in BCS games).
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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