Here's how I rank them heading into the bowls.
1. Texas: The Longhorns earned their BCS championship game berth, but it wasn’t pretty. They struggled all night offensively against Nebraska and were lucky to escape Arlington with the Big 12 championship. The most immediate concern for this team will be the return of the running game and to find some kind of pass blocking after all of the struggles in the championship game. If Texas struggled against teams like Oklahoma and Nebraska, the same bodes for the game against Alabama. Colt McCoy’s Heisman hopes took a big hit. Fortunately for him, Ndamukong Suh will be wearing a coat and tie the next time he sees him rather than a football uniform.
2. Nebraska: It was amazing that the Cornhuskers were so close to the Big 12 title, considering all of their struggles on offense. But even after producing five first downs and 106 total yards against Texas, the Cornhuskers were close because of the play of their defense, particularly Suh. Some of the comments that the Pelini brothers made after the game that were reported in the Omaha World-Herald will only increase the intensity of next season’s game when Texas visits Nebraska. But after Saturday night, there’s no doubt that Bo Pelini has pushed the Cornhuskers program ahead faster than most expected. And the Holiday Bowl will be another way for the Cornhuskers to continue their growth.
3. Oklahoma State: A week after their demolition at the hands of Oklahoma, it will be interesting to see how the Cowboys respond to the start of Cotton Bowl preparations. The Cowboys will face a determined challenge in the trenches against Mississippi, which stunned Texas Tech last season. The Cowboys sure could use Donald Booker in a physical game like that -- and a healthy Zac Robinson.
4. Texas Tech: Mike Leach has never missed a bowl during his 10-year tenure with the Red Raiders. Tech is running into the bowl game in good shape with Steven Sheffield recovering from his foot injury and Taylor Potts coming off a strong finish. The Red Raiders also might end up catching a very winnable bowl game in the Alamo Bowl as they face a fractured Michigan State program that is being torn apart after a controversial series of suspensions. A win likely would enable the Red Raiders to crack the final Top 25, so a big effort is important in bowl preparations.
5. Missouri: It’s hard to believe that a team ranked this high will end up playing in the Big 12’s bowl game with the smallest payout. Actually, Gary Pinkel probably isn’t complaining too much. Navy’s one-dimensional offense shouldn’t pose that much of a problem to the Tigers. They get a shot to play in another Texas city for a bowl game -- it will be four different ones in four years in Houston -- but it will keep the Tigers as a prime topic of conversation in one of Texas’ most fertile recruiting areas. Even though the trip might not be as glamorous as a trip to Arizona, it will still be a bowl trip and a winnable one at that.
6. Oklahoma: The Sooners will be making their first visit to El Paso since 1993 with their trip to the Sun Bowl. It’s a big disappointment after all of the high expectations coming into the season. But the game against Stanford should be a challenging one. It will be a test for the Sooners to check Andrew Luck, Toby Gerhart and all of the Cardinal’s offensive weapons. But the opportunity to win after losing five of his last six bowl games should be something that will drive Bob Stoops and his team during the next several weeks.
7. Texas A&M: Expect one of the most entertaining bowl games when Texas A&M hooks up with Georgia in the Independence Bowl. With Joe Cox and Jerrod Johnson throwing passes and the relative struggles of both team’s pass defenses, the first team in the 50s might end up winning. It will be a good challenge for the Aggies -- particularly on defense -- as they try to stem a recent bowl tailspin that has seen them lose seven of their last eight bowl games since 1998.
8. Kansas State: No bowl game for the Wildcats, but Bill Snyder is hitting the junior-college recruiting trail in earnest as he tries to find playmakers who will fill in for departing seniors like Jeffrey Fitzgerald and Grant Gregory. The Wildcats came much closer to making a bowl trip this season than most expected before the season. Their inability to practice in December will be a huge impetus for Snyder to make sure he includes only one FCS team on his future schedules.
9. Iowa State: Cyclone fans have traditionally stepped up with the kind of interest that makes bowl directors take notice -- even pushing them ahead of teams like Missouri that had significantly better records and head-to-head victories over the Cyclones. Paul Rhoads won’t apologize for his trip to the Insight Bowl, or a chance at a winnable game against Minnesota. ISU will be looking to hand Minnesota its third straight Insight Bowl loss from a different Big 12 team. Considering the Gophers’ late-season offensive struggles, the Cyclones should have a good shot at their first bowl victory since 2004.
10. Kansas: After Mark Mangino’s “resignation” last week, Lew Perkins is looking for a new coach. That chore obviously overrides all other aspects of running the program. Perkins is under the gun a little bit, considering that recruiting can be started by the new coach as soon as he is hired. The coaching search at least will take some of the focus away from the seven-game losing streak that will keep the Jayhawks home for the holidays after a promising 5-0 start this season.
11. Colorado: Dan Hawkins is answering questions about his secret new e-mail address. That’s what happens when you talk about winning “10 games with no excuses” and end up not making a bowl game. But after Hawkins’ one-season reprieve, he’s probably not complaining too much.
12. Baylor: The Bears remain tied with Duke for the nation’s longest bowl drought at 15 seasons and counting. The key for Art Briles’ team to break it next season is getting Robert Griffin healthy and developing a defense that can stand up to the rigors it will face in the South Division next season.