I’ll start with the records. I tabulate these myself, so they could be a game or two off for each conference (especially the “group of five” conferences, due to membership changes). If there is a reliable database somewhere, let me know though.
Best records overall
Big Ten 38-16
Big XII 25-11
Best records vs. FBS
Big XII 19-9
Big Ten 29-16
Best records vs. BCS-conference*
Big XII 7-7
Big Ten 11-13
Notre Dame went 9-4 against the FBS and 6-4 against the BCS conferences, although Temple really shouldn’t count.
*This includes Notre Dame since special provisions were made for them under the BCS. The American (AAC) was an automatic bid conference last season, so they still qualified. The AAC was the only conference outside of the “Big Five” (ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12, SEC) that won more than 1/4 of its games against “Big Five” teams last year. Being that its membership continues to change and is now essentially what the CUSA was a few years ago, I did think it was fair to remove them starting this year. The new Playoff contract also treats them along with the CUSA, MAC, MWC, and Sun Belt (referred to as Group of Five).
I think it’s fair to say the major teams have consolidated themselves into the Big Five conferences. There were 10 fewer teams in the Big Five overall just 11 years ago, so what used to be a competitive Big East has been absorbed by the other conferences (Temple is an exception, but they were removed from the Big East effective in the 2005 season before being invited back to join what became the AAC) . There were a couple of teams that competed in the Big East recently there were not absorbed (such as Connecticut, South Florida, and Cincinnati), but South Florida and Connecticut are still fairly new to the FBS (with transition years in 2002 and 2003, respectively). Cincinnati was in the CUSA as recently as 2004, but I’ll admit they would probably fit in playing in a Big Five conference. There have always been a few outliers since the BCS started though.
Overall rankings and reasoning
Anyway, no surprise, but #1 goes to the SEC. It’s really no contest whatsoever based on those numbers alone. 16 more wins than the Pac-12 versus only two more losses. Even if you whittle it down to BCS-conference opponents, it’s 7 more wins versus two more losses.
It gets a little better when the AAC teams are eliminated, but one of those SEC wins was over Central Florida. That’s better than the Pac-12’s best out-of-conference wins Notre Dame and Wisconsin (which South Carolina also beat). Oklahoma St. (beaten by Missouri in the Cotton Bowl) was also better than those two teams.
Being that the they were the only other conference worth discussing for #1, the Pac-12 takes #2.
I’m actually going to award #3 to the ACC. They’re behind the Big XII in winning percentage against the Big Five, but look how many more games. There are more teams, but it’s approximately an average of one more opponent for every two teams. Ohio St., Georgia, and Auburn are a pretty good top of the list. Of course, LSU was the only team other than Florida St. to beat Auburn all year. Georgia’s only other out-of-conference loss was to Nebraska in the bowl game, and of course Ohio St.’s only other loss was in the Big Ten championship game.
Also, the ACC’s losses are pretty solid. The only bad ones were Northwestern (which beat Syracuse), Ball St. (which beat Virginia) and ULM (which beat Wake Forest).
Despite not having the best strength of schedule, I’m going with the Big XII as #4. Except for the FCS losses, every other loss was to a bowl team. North Dakota St. (one of the FCS losses; the other was Northern Iowa) probably could have been a bowl team had the Bison played in the FBS. I’m not going to pretend Maryland and Rice were very good but these are the rest of the FBS losses: Central Florida, Iowa, Oregon, LSU, Ole Miss, Missouri, and BYU. The wins were similar in strength to those of the Big Ten, who I’d put 5th.
As mentioned, the AAC was #6, due largely to Louisville and Central Florida.
#7 is a bit of a surprise. I’m going with the Sun Belt (SBC), which had a winning record in non-conference games. The only thing the Sun Belt got seriously wrong was letting in Georgia St., which lost to three FCS teams. There were a total of 12 combined losses to the SEC and Big XII, and all but a couple of those were to bowl teams. There weren’t any huge wins, but the SBC represented itself well against the other conferences: 4-2 against CUSA, 3-0 against the MAC, 1-0 against the MWC, and 5-1 against independents.
Speaking of Independents, I would put the independents apart from Notre Dame after the Sun Belt, but since they’re not really a conference we can call them #7.5. The main reason they’re not even higher is because Idaho, New Mexico St., and Old Dominion were included last season.
CUSA is #8. North Carolina (lost to East Carolina) and Maryland (lost to Marshall) were decent wins, but there wasn’t much else to write home about. There were a very high number of losses, include two to South Alabama, which had just fully joined the FBS. There were three other losses to Sun Belt teams, three losses to MWC teams, and four to MAC teams.
#9 is the MWC. Most of Big-Five-conference opponents were in the Pac-12, but there was only the one win over Washington St. The only other FBS win was over Rutgers. There was one other win of substance by Utah St. over Northern Illinois in the bowl game, but I think that was mostly the Huskies being let down by the loss to Bowling Green for the MAC title. There were also some bad losses to Utah, Colorado, UTSA, and Texas St.
The #10 MAC only won 11 games over the FBS. It won 10 games over the FCS but lost two. Northern Illiniois beat a decent Iowa team, but the other three wins over BCS conferences were Connecticut, Virginia, and Purdue. Ohio had three wins over the CUSA, and Bowling Green had one. Also, Toledo beat Navy. Not really an impressive group of wins there.