Conference realignment has shaken college football to its core, but certain trends still remain. Many college bowl games maintain traditional matchups, and perhaps there are no more valuable trends in college football to follow than college football bowl trends.
Players and coaches come and go, but it always seems that conference strengths and weaknesses hold true, and those manifest themselves every late December and early January during bowl season. Here are the top five conferences you can bank on in their matchups come bowl season.
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SEC vs. Big 12
Despite sending their third or fourth selection compared to the Big 12’s second selection and playing in the heart of Big 12 country, the Cotton Bowl has been owned by the SEC. The SEC has won and covered in four consecutive years and is 6-1-2 against the spread and 8-1 straight up over the last eight Cotton Bowls, including Arkansas defeating Kansas Sate 29-16 last season at Cowboys Stadium. Since the game moved to Cowboys Stadium, the SEC domination has increased.
LSU thrashed Texas A&M 41-24 at the “House that Jerry Built” in 2011, and the prior two years Ole Miss knocked off Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The last Big 12 team to win the Cotton Bowl was Missouri in 2008, and they are appropriately enough now in the SEC.
ACC vs. BCS opponents
The BCS is the worst nightmare of the ACC. Perhaps the consistent failure by ACC teams in the BCS is a reason they acted so aggressively in realignment. The ACC has the worst winning percentage in BCS bowl games, mostly due to their performance in the Orange Bowl, where Florida State lands this season.
The ACC has lost nine of its last 10 BCS bowl games, an incredible figure. And before you say, “well Florida State is playing Northern Illinois this season,” look back at some of the teams to knock off ACC competition. Kansas in 2008 and Louisville in 2007 won the Orange Bowl against the ACC Champion. And then there was last season, an all-time embarrassment for the conference. No. 22 West Virginia, a three-point underdog, ran No. 14 Clemson out of the Orange Bowl, 70-33.
There are many offenders in the ACC; some teams more than others. Florida State (1-5), Virginia Tech (1-3), Maryland (0-1), Wake Forest (0-1) and Georgia Tech (0-1) have all generally failed miserably on the BCS stage.
The ACC has a worse winning percentage than the Mountain West (3-1), WAC (2-1) and Big East (7-7).
Big Ten vs. SEC
The Outback Bowl and Capital One bowl generally pit the Big Ten against the SEC on New Year’s Day.
Of course, everyone remembers Florida and LSU taking turns running over Ohio State in the 2006 and 2007 BCS National Championship Games. And two years ago Florida covered against Penn State, 37-24, and Alabama manhandled Michigan State, 49-7.
But looking at the big picture and focusing on the second-tier teams from those conferences shows an entirely different angle to this misconceived rivalry. The Big Ten is 7-4 ATS in the last 10 Outback Bowls and 5-5 ATS in the last nine Capital One Bowls.
Often the case is the SEC team is disappointed to be in the bowl game. Or, as is the case this year, instead of sending the second-place SEC team to the Capital One Bowl, the third-place team goes because the SEC has two BCS representatives. Last season, as a three-point underdog, Michigan State knocked off Georgia, 33-30, in overtime but South Carolina did make easy work of Nebraska, 30-13.
This year Georgia (-10) plays Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl while South Carolina (-5) plays Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
Big Ten in the Rose Bowl vs. Pac-12
The Big Ten has lost eight of its last nine Rose Bowls and is 2-7 ATS in that span as well. Re-read that sentence and just know how dominant the Pac-12 and Big 12 have been in the Rose Bowl. The reason the Big 12 is mentioned is because Texas and TCU both landed in that game (and both won). Ohio State won the Rose Bowl in 2010 over Oregon, but before that you have to go back to Wisconsin in 2000 to find the next Big Ten Champion. Most of the Pac-12 success has been tied to USC’s dominance in the mid-2000s, but it is clear that the Big Ten struggles in Pasadena. Last season, Oregon defeated Wisconsin, 45-38, to cover the four-point spread. This season Stanford is a 6.5-point favorite against Wisconsin. The Badgers are making their third consecutive Rose Bowl appearance, but they are the first five-loss team ever to reach Pasadena. The last two seasons Wisconsin has lost to TCU and Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
SEC vs. ACC in the Music City and Chick-Fil-A Bowl
The ACC has turned the table on the SEC in the Music City Bowl and Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
The SEC had enjoyed dominance over the ACC in the past, but with more SEC teams being gobbled up by the BCS and other affiliations, the SEC leftovers have struggled against the ACC runner-up. Virginia Tech throttled Tennessee, 37-14, in 2009 and Florida State won as two-point underdogs against South Carolina, 26-17, two years ago. The ACC is 4-2 SU and 5-1 ATS over the last two years in those two bowl games.
Last season Mississippi State defeated Wake Forest, 23-17, but couldn’t cover the seven-point spread while Auburn made easy work of Virginia, 43-24, as a three-point favorite.
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