It seems like every year when a bunch of teams make it into the top 25 from the SEC that the claim is made that it’s just SEC hype. These are three common arguments: “They play too many FCS/Sun Belt/CUSA teams,” “All but a few teams are having down years,” “SEC fans only argue the middle of the conference is good because the top of the conference has a bunch of losses.”
I’m not one to argue that you can tell anything by conference records. If one conference has 4 teams with one loss or fewer and another has none, that gives you absolutely no information about which conference is strongest. So we have to look at non-conference records.
Every week with my computer poll, I publish a page called “Conferences & Divisions“. This is an attempt to rank the conferences according to top 10/25/40 membership in my unbiased computer poll. What I’m going to look at here, however, is how the conference as a whole has fared against other conferences.
The next section is how I arrived at #1; the discussions go a lot more quickly (usually with less depth) after that.
1 vs. 2
The best conference record against other conferences, at least by my tally that I keep throughout the year, is the SEC’s at 39-6. Admittedly, that includes 10 FCS wins, which is tied for second-most with the MAC and behind the ACC. Consider that the Pac-12, for instance, has played 10 games against FCS schools, but one was a loss. The ACC, SEC, and Big Ten are the only conferences that are perfect against the FCS this year. Keep in mind that the ACC and SEC each have two more teams than the Big Ten(+2) does. The Big Ten has 9 wins over FCS opponents.
If we take those games completely out, the Pac-12 is slightly better with an 80.8% winning percentage as compared to 80.6%. I think the SEC should still be considered better, all things being equal, due to the lack of an FCS loss. But all things aren’t equal, so we can explore further.
I have Notre Dame as a stand-alone category because they used to have special provisions in the BCS formula as one of the original signatories. Also, I think a program that played in the national championship game last season should qualify for that category anyway.
Anyway, other than that one-team category, the lowest number of losses overall (6 apiece) belong to the SEC and Pac-12. As mentioned, the Pac-12 has the one FCS loss (Oregon St. to Eastern Washington). Cal lost to Northwestern and Ohio St., Notre Dame beat Arizona St. and USC, and Washington St. lost to Auburn. The SEC has nonconference losses by lower teams to Rutgers (by Arkansas), Louisville (by Kentucky), and Western Kentucky (Kentucky again).
Western Kentucky is not a good team, but I think they might beat Eastern Washington. Even if they wouldn’t, I think it’s more understandable for possibly the worst SEC team (the Wildcats are winless in conference) to lose such a game. Western Kentucky only has two more losses than Eastern Washington does. In contrast with Kentucky, Oregon St. is 4-2 in the Pac-12.
I don’t think there is anything to take away from Tennessee losing to Oregon or Washington St. losing to Auburn. Georgia lost to Clemson, and Florida lost to Miami, but Georgia and Florida are probably the 6th and 7th SEC teams right now. That was against the ACC’s #2 and #3, and the ACC is having a relatively strong year, at least at the top.
I guess with Notre Dame’s loss to Michigan, you can be a little more critical of the two Pac-12 teams for losing to the Irish, but Arizona St. is the only one where it looks a little bad so far. USC is more the equivalent of Florida and Georgia in terms of in-conference strength.
The SEC is 8-5 against BCS conferences (+Notre Dame), and the Pac-12 is 6-5 against that same group. The AAC is only barely a BCS conference, so if you take that out, the SEC’s 7-4 is still better than 6-5.
So I think the SEC is fairly #1 and the Pac-12 is fairly #2. Both are over 80% against FBS, and no other conference is over 80% even if you include all opponents including FCS.
Nos. 3 to 7
I’m going with the ACC next. Even though their winning percentage dips to 68% when the FCS wins are taken out, they have fairly big wins. Among the BCS, the Big Ten has beaten Notre Dame (good win, don’t get me wrong), Iowa St., Cal twice, and Syracuse twice, along with a few insignificant AAC teams. The Big XII only has Notre Dame and Mississippi St., along with two wins over SMU.
I think based on Michigan’s position in the Big Ten, the Big Ten’s win over Notre Dame is more significant. Cincinnati and Syracuse twice is better than SMU twice. The bad losses of Rice and Navy are roughly equal, but the Big XII has the two FCS losses.
The AAC is the sixth conference at least, so it shouldn’t be too painful to watch its champion in a BCS bowl. It has a better Division I and FBS record than the Sun Belt, the surprising #7. The Sun Belt is very balanced though, and notably has no teams in my computer ratings above ULL at #49.
Nos. 8 to 11
If I counted Notre Dame as part of the independents, that would make the independents 6th, but apart from playing Navy, the Irish aren’t really in the loop with the other independents, who are now three Western teams along, two service academies, and Old Dominion, which has hardly played any other FBS teams anyway. So I think it makes more sense to just leave them out of that group. Anyway, without Notre Dame, I would put them at #8. BYU has been the only impressive team (despite the baffling loss to Virginia), but Navy’s win over Indiana was another plus.
The MAC and the Mountain West are pretty even. The MAC has a few more wins over BCS teams, but really they each have one meaningful win: Northern Illinois over Iowa and Fresno St. over Rutgers. Against the FBS, the MWC has won 25%, the MAC has won 24.4%. I’m just going to call that a tie.
The CUSA was pretty similar to those two, but I put them last because of some ugly games. Also, they had losing records against the MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt. One of their better teams by record is Tulane, which lost to South Alabama. The one major win was East Carolina over North Carolina, which isn’t impressive. There is a loss to Kansas and a loss to Arkansas, the two teams only having 3 FBS wins between them all season. There are also bad losses to New Mexico, Colorado St., Troy, Army, and Bethune-Cookman.
4. Big Ten
5. Big XII
7. Sun Belt
8. Independents (excepting Notre Dame)
9 (tie). MAC
9 (tie). MWC