Rounding out the top five in both the AP and Coaches' polls are LSU, Oklahoma State, Oregon and Arkansas.
The season also ended on a happy note for the University of Houston Cougars and new head coach Tony Levine. They convincingly defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions, 30-14, in the Ticketcity.com Bowl in Dallas last week. Case Keenum ended his college career with another record-setting day, completing 45 of 69 attempts for 538 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Penn State fell behind early - the Coogs were up 17-0 by the end of the first quarter - and the Lions' anemic offense simply couldn't catch up.
The naysayer might argue that Houston's victory over Penn State means little; that the Nittany Lions were unfocused after suffering through a devastating sex abuse scandal that resulted in the unceremonious firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno. However, the fact remains Penn State was ranked, had finished the regular season with a 9-3 record, and was a Big Ten powerhouse: one of the most historically-storied programs in all of college football. As the Houston Press's John Royal argues, this truly is a big win for the Coogs:
The Cougars ended the season ranked 18th in the AP poll, which is a pathetic travesty but which probably speaks to the fact that the national sportswriters were unimpressed by Houston's weak schedule as well as their crushing defeat at the hands of Southern Miss on national television. The coaches were a bit more generous, placing the Cougars 14th in the final USA Today poll, and I think that's probably more accurate. Regardless of their placement, the Cougars end their season with a national ranking for the first time since the 1990 season. The Coogs also end the season with 13 wins for the first time in school history (LSU was the only other program in major college football to do so this season) and a victory in a bowl game for only the second time since 1980.
There will probably still be doubters. Those critics who say the Cougars season was a fluke. That they would have been demolished if they made a BCS Bowl. And the detractors will probably say this game proves nothing, what with all of the distractions going on around Penn State this season.
But the Cougars were beset by distractions this past month, too. And they set aside those distractions and played their game of the season, demolishing a ranked opponent before a national audience. They beat a squad that should have been able to dominate them physically, and probably had the better players, more highly recruited players.
It may just be the TicketCity Bowl, but the Cougars are winners. And they won this game without a single doubt. So criticize all you want because right now, the Cougars don't care. Instead, the question should probably be: How in the hell did Penn State manage to win nine games this season?
It's true that no team ended the season with a winning record. It's also true that the Southern Miss team that handed he Coogs their only loss of the season was pretty good (the Golden Eagles ended the season with a 12-2 record, a bowl win of their own, a #20 ranking in the AP poll and a #19 ranking in the USA Today poll). Nevertheless, the Cougars and their fans will forever look back at last December's C-USA title game and wonder what could have been.
The North Texas Mean Green, under new head coach Dan McCarney, ended the season with a 5-7 record, which is a two-win improvement over the 2010 campaign. It's a step in the right direction.
Anyway, on to the offseason. Sigh...