Sunday's Top Ten: A salute to all 10 conference champions
There are 10 conferences in FBS, so it feels only natural to devote today's top 10 column to a salute of each conference champion.
Head coach: Gus Malzahn (12-1, first year)
Last conference title: 2010
Clinched: With a 59-42 win in the SEC championship over Missouri
Likely postseason destination: BCS National Championship vs. Florida State
When it looked bleakest: No one was thinking SEC championship after the Tigers' 35-21 loss to LSU in late September. Orange and blue confetti also seemed unlikely when Alabama had the ball with a 28-21 lead last Saturday.
Best performance: Auburn put on an absolute clinic Saturday, but these past eight days have been Week of the Malzahn.
Head coach: David Shaw (34-6, 3rd year)
Last conference title: 2012
Clinched: With a 38-14 win over Arizona State on Saturday night
Likely postseason destination: Rose Bowl vs. Michigan State
When it looked bleakest: Stanford seemed to have voided its Pac-12 North stranglehold with its loss at USC on November 16, but the Cardinal was re-gifted control of the division a week later when Oregon lost at Arizona.
Best performance: Demolishing a white-hot Arizona State squad was mighty impressive, but not everyone can grab a 26-0 lead over Oregon and physically impose its will on the Ducks the way Stanford did on November 7.
Big 12: Baylor
Head coach: Art Briles (44-31, 6th year)
Last conference title: 1994 (shared), 1980 (outright)
Clinched: With a 30-10 win over Texas on Saturday
Likely postseason destination: Fiesta Bowl vs. Central Florida
When it looked bleakest: Oklahoma State looked every bit the class of the Big 12 with its 49-17 blowout of Baylor on November 23, and again appeared Fiesta-bound after taking a 24-20 lead over Oklahoma with 1:46 to play on Saturday. But the Cowboys couldn't close the deal.
Best performance: If we can't submit the Bears' play over the entire month of September, how about spanking a 10-win Oklahoma team 41-12 on November 7?
Big Ten: Michigan State
Head coach: Mark Dantonio (63-29, 7th year)
Last conference title: 2010 (shared), 1987 (outright)
Clinched: With a 34-24 win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship on Saturday night
When it looked bleakest: The Spartans couldn't have felt confident after building a 17-0 lead, only to see the No. 2 team in the country take a 24-17 lead in what felt like about 47 seconds.
Best performance: There are plenty to choose from. This was a special season for Michigan State. You can't go wrong with either the upset of Ohio State or the 29-6 crunching of Michigan on November 2.
ACC: Florida State
Head coach: Jimbo Fisher (44-10, 4th year)
Last conference title: 2012
Clinched: With a 45-7 win over Duke in the ACC Championship on Saturday night
Likely postseason destination: BCS National Championship vs. Ohio State
When it looked bleakest: Never. The Seminoles dominated every opponent they've faced from opening kickoff to final gun.
Best performance: A 51-14 win on the road, at night, against an undefeated and then-No. 3 ranked Clemson was a sight to behold on September 28.
American: Central Florida
Head coach: George O'Leary (71-54, 10th year)
Last conference title: 2010
Clinched: With Louisville's 31-24 overtime win over Cincinnati on Thursday night
Likely postseason destination: Fiesta Bowl vs. Baylor
When it looked bleakest: The Fiesta Bowl was the furthest thing on the Knights' minds after they fell behind heavy conference favorite Louisville 28-7 on October 18....
Best performance: .... then UCF outscored Louisville 31-7, on the road, over the game's final 20 minutes to take down a darn good football team.
Mountain West: Fresno State
Head coach: Tim DeRuyter (20-5, 2nd year)
Last conference title: 2012 (shared), 1991 (outright)
Clinched: With a 24-17 win over Utah State late Saturday night (or Sunday morning, depending on where you watched) in the Mountain West title game
Likely postseason destination: Las Vegas Bowl vs. USC
When it looked bleakest: Never. Disappointing as that San Jose State loss was, Fresno State controlled the Mountain West from that 41-40 win over Boise State on.
Best performance: Hw about Saturday? Fresno didn't put up their typical gaudy numbers, but those figures came against a schedule that featured eight teams ranked 92nd or worse in scoring defense, plus an FCS team. Utah State ranked seventh. And the Bulldogs' defense rose to the occasion, collecting two late stops when Utah State could've forced overtime with a touchdown.
Conference USA: Rice
Head coach: David Bailiff (40-43, 7th year)
Last conference title: 1994 (shared), 1957 (outright)
Clinched: With a 41-24 win over Marshall Saturday in the Conference USA title game
Likely postseason destination: Liberty Bowl vs. Mississippi State
When it looked bleakest: The Owls lost control of the C-USA West with a 28-16 loss to North Texas on Halloween night and didn't get it back until North Texas lost to UTSA on November 23. The Owls had to beat Tulane 17-13 on November 30 to clinch the division.
Best performance: How about Saturday? Rice took a Marshall team scoring 53 points a game since late October and winners of five in a row and made it look average. The Owls out-gained Marshall by 116 yards and led 14-0 after one quarter and 34-10 through three.
MAC: Bowling Green
Head coach: Dave Clawson (32-31, 5th year)
Last conference title: 1992
Clinched: With a 47-27 win over Northern Illinois on Friday
Likely postseason destination: GoDaddy.com Bowl vs. Arkansas State
When it looked bleakest: The Falcons fell into second place in the MAC East with a 28-25 loss to Toledo on October 26, and didn't regain first place until Northern Illinois beat Toledo on November 20.
Best performance: This one's easy. Bowling Green ended Northern Illinois' undefeated season and forcefully snapped its 25-game MAC winning streak by tattooing the Huskies for 574 yards of total offense. The Falcons led 17-7 after one, 31-13 at the half and ran off 16 straight points to start the fourth after Northern Illinois pulled within 31-20.
Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette
Head coach: Mark Hudspeth (26-11, 3rd year)
Last conference title: 2005 (shared), 1940 (outright)
Clinched: With Arkansas State's 34-31 loss to Western Kentucky on November 30
Postseason destination (announced): New Orleans Bowl vs. Tulane
When it looked bleakest: The Ragin' Cajuns appeared to have everything under wraps after getting off to a 5-0 start in Sun Belt play, but then they lost two straight games to close the season. It took Arkansas State's losing to Western Kentucky on Thanksgiving Saturday to give Hudspeth's team the crown.
Best performance: Over a game-and-a-half period from the second quarter of the Western Kentucky game on October 15 through the first three quarters of the Arkansas State game a week later, Louisiana-Lafayette outscored a pair of teams that finished 15-7 this season by a combined score of 60-17.