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SEC Is King, But Not Of 2013

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Duke, behind coach David Cutcliffe, left, is one reason the ACC gained ground on the SEC. Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images.
Duke, behind coach David Cutcliffe, left, is one reason the ACC gained ground on the SEC. Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images.

Somebody finally harmed Goliath, but ’tis but a flesh wound.

Florida State slapped the SEC down from its national title pedestal, all the while giving the ACC reason to cheer its season.

But that’s all just a dent in the armor of the SEC, which still stakes claim to the best FBS conference thanks to finishing with four teams in the AP’s top seven and seven overall in the Top 25.

The conference also went 7-3 in bowl games. Teams like Vanderbilt and Mississippi State picked up big wins. And that right there is what makes the SEC the king of kings — depth. Ten of the SEC’s 14 teams had winning records, and Florida (4-8) and Tennessee (5-7) could best the bottom feeders in most conferences (like 4-8 Illinois, for example, in the Big Ten).

While it’s the top dog, the SEC should be getting a tad uncomfortable. It all starts at the top. The SEC lost its two BCS bowls — as Alabama fell to Oklahoma and Auburn to Florida State. And another top-tier team, Georgia, also lost a bowl game — this one in a battle of beat-up teams.

With the ACC's 11 bowl teams, the Pac-12's stellar postseason and other big showings across the land, the shift of the tide is starting to be recognizable. The SEC won't wear the crown forever, but who will take it from them? The answer may lie in the conference rankings for the 2013 season. Here are the major conferences that had the best season: 

1. ACC

Bowl games: 11 (five wins)

Preseason AP Top 25 teams: Two

Teams in the final AP Top 25: Three (Florida State, Clemson, Duke)

The ACC boasted the national champ and a conference record 11 bowl teams. Miami may have fallen off the map, but the Hurricanes (9-4) wound up right where we thought they would in August. Six of the seven teams in the Coastal Division played an extra game. Leading that charge was Duke with its 10-win season. Three Top 25 teams isn’t overly exciting and two conferences had more bowl wins. The league needs to get deeper after its top tier. Take out the BCS wins and it went 3-6 in bowl games. But the ACC’s glamour, improvement and potential (Duke, Miami, North Carolina) put the league at the top. 

2. Pac-12

Bowl games: Nine (six wins)

Preseason AP Top 25 teams: Five

Teams in the final AP Top 25: Six (Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Arizona State, Washington)

This league showed depth all season and it may be the most fun conference to watch. Its division champs (Stanford and Arizona State) lost their bowl games, but the rest of the Pac-12 made a strong impression. Oregon looked great, UCLA looked great, USC … well, you get it. There are some power teams in the Pac-12 and they are either on the rise or already risen. The Pac-12 has overtaken the Big 12 as the biggest threat to the SEC.

3. SEC

Bowl games: 10 (seven wins)

Preseason AP Top 25 teams: Six

Teams in the final AP Top 25: Seven (Auburn, South Carolina, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt)

The SEC is so good it’s irritating. But it did not have the best season. Success is relative. The SEC’s run of national championships is over and it lost its two BCS bowl games. It still, however, boasts perennial powers that aren't going anywhere next season in Alabama, Georgia and LSU. Missouri should take a step back, but Florida should take one forward. South Carolina and Texas A&M are becoming regular contenders, while Vanderbilt is on the rise. And if Tennessee and Ole Miss get the right synergy of players, they can pop up at any time.

4. Big 12

Bowl games: Six (three wins)

Preseason AP Top 25 teams: Four

Teams in the final AP Top 25: Three (Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State)

Despite some early promise, the season was a wash for this power conference. Oklahoma wound up being the toast of the league after a BCS win over Alabama, while Baylor fell to mid-poll with its two late-season losses. Oklahoma State was up and down, Texas was a disaster but managed some good wins, and TCU was disappointing. The rest (Kansas State, Texas Tech) were all, meh.

5. Big Ten

Bowl games: Seven (two wins)

Preseason AP Top 25 teams: Five

Teams in the final AP Top 25: Three (Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin)

Another tumble for the once-mighty Big Ten. Michigan State was the lone bright spot with a season that saved an otherwise sorry conference. Ohio State’s finish (loss in Big Ten title game and Orange Bowl to Clemson) wasn’t as bad as the choke job by once-ranked Michigan (7-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten) and Northwestern (5-7, 1-7). Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota had nice seasons, but weren’t relevant. A lot of blame is on perception, but to get where it wants, the Big Ten needs to crash the national party. Outside of Ohio State and maybe Michigan State again, it's not likely to happen next season either. 

From the non-major conferences, big ups to the Quarterback League, i.e. the American Atlantic, which placed Central Florida and Louisville in the national spotlight and showed depth with Cincinnati and Houston. The MAC also had some strength as Northern Illinois and Bowling Green made some waves, but all five bowl teams ended with a loss. The Mountain West, however, went 3-3 in its bowl games.