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2019 College Football Conference Report

In College Football, Conference Reports on March 21, 2020 at 4:05 PM

I never thought LSU would win all the major men’s sports for an entire academic year, but I guess there are a lot of things going on I thought I’d never see.

I wasn’t going to write this since it’s based on a season that ended two months ago, but I have the time now, and I thought someone might want to read about the last full season we had.  I am writing this on Friday, a day I originally took off in order to enjoy the first round of the basketball tournament.  My last day of work for a while was Tuesday, so I may write something else in the coming days.

Anyway, I used to do conference reports more often.  I would do them weekly after each of the first four weeks and then again at the end of the regular season with a final one at the end of bowl season.  I thought I had done more than one, but the only one I could find was after Week 2.  One reason I haven’t done them as much is I’ve been rating the conferences statistically on my ratings site. Another reason is time of course.

SEC Regular Season

The SEC did not start particularly strong.  In the first two weeks, Tennessee lost twice (to Georgia St. and to BYU), Missouri lost to Wyoming, Ole Miss lost to Memphis (which turned out to be not so bad), and South Carolina lost to North Carolina.  So after two weeks, I had the Big Ten higher in the conference standings. 

Week 3 didn’t really change anything.  Mississippi St.’s loss to Kansas St. on the road wasn’t really a shock.  Arkansas beating anyone in FBS was a good thing (they beat Colorado St.).  The other wins that week would have been complete surprises had they not been blowouts.

Week 4 was a little bit more encouraging with Georgia’s win over Notre Dame.  Ole Miss and Arkansas lost, but those were not unexpected; both games could have gone either way.

Georgia WR George Pickens jumps for a reception against Notre Dame in Week 4 in Athens.

There was nothing else of note out-of-conference until Week 11, when Appalachian St. beat South Carolina.  In the mean time, Vanderbilt went 1-1 against two weak teams and Arkansas lost out of conference yet again, a blowout at the hands of Western Kentucky.  At that point things were looking even worse for the SEC than at the time of my conference report.

Apart from South Carolina’s expected big loss to Clemson (the actual margin of 35 would have been a modest estimate), the SEC won the other major rivalry-week games (Florida-Florida St., Kentucky-Louisville, and Georgia-Georgia Tech) to at least put itself back in contention for best conference.

SEC Bowls

Almost every year, I talk about how the SEC is often held to unfair standards in bowl games.  For instance, in 2018, LSU was in a four-way tie for third and had to play a team on a 25-game winning streak in the Fiesta Bowl.  The major bowls’ going deep into the SEC leaves relatively mediocre teams in big games like the Citrus and Outback Bowls.  Also, the best SEC team not in the Playoff (Georgia in 2018, almost every Alabama team that hasn’t been competing for a national championship) often has a lackluster performance based on disappointment from elimination from championship contention.

None of those seemed to be problems in this bowl season though.  There were two losses that were both understandable.  Auburn was in a tie for fifth and lost to a team who tied for second in a good conference in a competitive game.  The only other loss was by Mississippi St., who only barely made a bowl game and had some intra-squad drama (to put it mildly) in bowl prep.

Obviously, LSU beat two conference champions.  Florida, which was the runner-up in the East, beat Virginia, which was the runner-up in the entire ACC.  Georgia beat Baylor in a matchup of conference runners-up.  Alabama capitalized on a rare favorable matchup for the SEC when the Tide played fifth-place Michigan of the Big Ten. 

Lamical Perine breaks through the Virginia defense in the 2019 Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla. Perine averaged over 10 yards per carry in the game.

In another SEC-Big Ten matchup, Tennessee beat seventh-place Indiana. In record, the Volunteers were tied for fifth in the SEC, but I think when you consider that the Vols played in the (weaker) SEC East while the Hoosiers played in the (stronger) Big Ten East, it was a fair fight. 

Texas A&M beat Oklahoma St. to complete the sweep of the Big XII, and Kentucky beat Virginia Tech to make the SEC 3-1 against the ACC in bowl games.

SEC vs. Big Ten and Pac-12

The fact that the SEC had as many wins over the Big Ten as they had total losses in bowl games was a good start.  The Big Ten lost four of its last five bowl games including both “New Years Six” bowls against major-conference opponents.

The Pac-12, who won one of those NY6 games against the Big Ten, had a good bowl showing, but they have a really weak collection of bowl games and did not have a strong enough showing against other conferences during the season.

So the SEC, despite all the bumps in the road early on, ended up the clear winner.  By my count, the SEC went 17-8 against games against the major conferences (and Notre Dame).  No one else finished more than one game over .500 in such games (and that was the Pac-12, which went 8-7).

Other than the Rose Bowl game I mentioned, the Pac-12 didn’t really beat anyone to write home about.  These are the seven other wins: Florida St., Northwestern, Nebraska, Michigan St., Illinois, Texas Tech, and Ole Miss.

The Big Ten beat USC, Auburn, and Notre Dame and has such excusable losses as Alabama, Oregon, and Clemson.  So despite the bowl record, I’m still going with the Big Ten as #2 over #3 Pac-12.

Other Major Conferences and the American Conference

The Big XII had a similar record to the Pac-12 but with an even less impressive list of wins, so that was an easy choice for #4.

The American conference is next.  The AAC only suffered two losses that were not against a top conference or Notre Dame.  Only two of the losses that were to teams in major conferences (Georgia Tech and North Carolina St.) were to teams that did not make bowl games.  There wasn’t a list of great wins, but American teams did beat two major-conference bowl teams despite not having much chance at such wins in the bowl games themselves.

The ACC had a bad record (6-19) against other major conferences and only went .500 against the FBS.  Other than Clemson’s major wins, the only others are the ones I mentioned by North Carolina and Louisville. 

Remaining Conferences and Independents

That’s still more than #7 Mountain West has to brag about.  The Mountain West had a better record against major conferences but only beat two major-conference teams who made bowl games (Washington St. and Florida St.).  The MWC also lost ten games against other conferences to the ACC’s six.

The Sun Belt, which went 4-9 against the major conferences, is next.  Those wins include North Carolina and Tennessee, which both made bowl games.  Only two of the losses to the major conferences were to non-bowl teams.  The Sun Belt also lost to ten teams in other conferences, but two of those were to Memphis, which made a NY6 bowl.

Obviously, independents aren’t officially a conference, but I’d count them next.  Notre Dame got a lot more decent wins than all the other teams combined, but there were BYU’s wins over Tennessee and USC.  Those were the only wins not by Notre Dame over major-conference teams though.  It also didn’t really help the Irish that five of its wins were against the ACC.  Other wins were over Stanford, Bowling Green, and New Mexico.  Virginia and USC were good wins though.

The bottom of the barrel are the CUSA and MAC.  I have to go with the MAC last given its single win against a major-conference team (albeit a bowl team, Illinois). Ten games   There were nine wins against others, including a couple of bowl teams, so it wasn’t all bad.  The CUSA had three wins against the major teams, two against U. Miami, which made a bowl game. It had 12 wins against other teams, including multiple additional bowl teams.

Week 2 Conference Report and Rankings Comments

In College Football, Conference Reports, Rankings Commentary on September 10, 2019 at 2:17 PM

I mostly wanted to post an update about inter-conference games so far, but I came across an interesting argument on “College Football Nerds” that basically said Texas should have stayed at the same spot or better in the major polls.

“We have two weeks of actual data, and we reshuffle based on the preseason poll…  We don’t vote with our eyes, we vote with who won and who lost.”

What are we supposed to reshuffle if not the preseason poll?  Last year’s final rankings?  Do the records from last year carry over?  If so, I’m not sure 11-5 Texas with two losses in the last four games should be in the top 10 either. 

Assuming that’s not what he wants to do, two games isn’t a lot of “data” that he wants us to rely on.  Looking a certain way in those two games doesn’t necessarily say how the rest of the season will go. The important factor is having a loss right now is significantly worse than not having a loss.

The second guy says you have to be insane to think Auburn would beat Texas.

I honestly don’t know who would win.  Making Joe Burrow look like a runaway Heisman winner makes me think Texas might make Bo Nix look at least above average, and he did look good at the end of the Oregon game.  There is a pretty decent possibility based on what I’ve seen that Auburn has a better defense than LSU does, so maybe with some ball control (which LSU didn’t have) they can hold Texas to two fewer touchdowns (24 points) and score 27 like they scored against Oregon. 

What overwhelming evidence do we have that Texas plays defense better than Oregon?  None.  Losing a game like that at home doesn’t prove that Texas would have beaten Oregon at a neutral site as Auburn did.  Yes, Auburn only beat Tulane 24-6; but if your defense is doing that well, why take chances on offense?  That doesn’t say anything about what you can do when a team is making you score points to stay in the game like Oregon did. 

LSU won a similar game against Tulane on the way to winning the 2007 national championship, by the way.  The Tigers ended up winning by 25 (after a 10-9 first half), but Tulane would only win 4 games that year. I would suspect this year’s Green Wave is at least one touchdown more competent.

Of course, theoretically playing a close game and possibly beating Texas doesn’t count as much as actually doing so, so that’s why LSU is a good number of spots ahead of Auburn.  Theoretically losing to LSU (ESPN gives Auburn only about a 20% chance of winning that game right now) isn’t as bad as actually losing to LSU, so that’s why Auburn isn’t as far down as Texas is.  A 20% chance of winning a scheduled game is better than a 0% chance.

Also, unlike the polls, I had Auburn ahead of Texas at the beginning of the season, so my default position is Auburn is a better team anyway.   If I thought Texas was better going in, I would probably still have Texas ahead; but another difference between me and the polls is I didn’t expect Oregon to beat Auburn.  So I’m not saying the polls are completely right and these guys are completely wrong, but it’s not as hard to see the logic as they pretend it is. 

I do accept the point that Texas played a lot better than Michigan on Saturday, but that’s why Texas actually went up a spot and Michigan went down 5 spots.  That doesn’t mean the Michigan team that on paper in preseason looked like a much better team than Texas should drop below Texas as long as Michigan has a better record than Texas. 

Michigan forced the fumble above to beat Army in double overtime.

After about another month, I’m all in favor of discarding preseason and looking at resumes, but there isn’t enough information from this season to do that now.  In evaluating opponents, you would still need to guess at how good they are and not just look at the opponents’ resumes.  Tulane or Army, for instance, could win 10 games (they both won bowl games last year after all) or they could win 5 games (which would be much more typical of those two programs), we don’t know. 

I at least want to see LSU play Florida before I decide losing to LSU at home by 7 is better than being undefeated with a questionable performance against a “mid-major” type of team. 

I also agree with the point that Auburn will likely have more losses than Texas does, but right now I think there are 5 SEC teams (and Auburn plays all of the other 4) who would all go 3-0 against numbers 3 through 5 of the Big XII (assuming Texas and Oklahoma are the first two), so that could account for a few additional losses even if Auburn is the better team.  I’m not going to penalize a team for having a tougher schedule down the road.  I want to see how they do against that schedule and not just guess.

Anyway, there are only two conferences with winning records against teams of Power 5 conferences.   You could probably guess that the SEC (at 62.5%) is one of them.  The other is the Mountain West (54.5%), which is actually 1-0 against the SEC with the Wyoming win over Missouri.

It looks like the SEC will not be as deep as recent years though. There is a big gap between beating Texas and losing to Georgia St.  Missouri, which dominated West Virginia, is the only team that has both one of the Power 5 wins and one of the apparently bad losses.  Maybe Wyoming will turn out to be a good team, but I doubt it. 

After a disappointing opening against Wyoming, the Missouri defense nearly shut out West Virginia in the Tigers’ home opener.

Ole Miss is probably about #11 in the SEC, so I don’t mind too much their losing to Memphis, one of the best AAC teams in the last two seasons. It is something to take into consideration before giving the SEC too much credit for being far ahead of the other major conferences in terms of Power 5 record though.

In interconference FBS record, the SEC is more pedestrian at only 65%, which is actually fourth.  It’s a much closer fourth though.  It’s only 1.7% back of the ACC and Big XII, who are tied for second.

I would say the Big Ten is the best overall since it only has three total losses to the SEC’s seven.  The 1.7% I mentioned is more than made up by the SEC’s strength of schedule, so I’d rate the SEC second right now. 

I put the Pac-12 third.  It’s only won 60% of its FBS games, but lesser teams in the conference have lost to opponents like Cincinnati and Oklahoma St., so there is relatively little room to criticize.

I considered putting the MWC third, but the 53% record in FBS games made me reconsider.  I think fourth is fair given what I said earlier.

Fifth and sixth are the ACC and Big XII.  Pretty similar numbers, both 33% against Power 5, both 67% against FBS.  I put the ACC ahead because they’ve played twice as many games against the FBS though.  Also, one of the non-FBS teams was Boise St.

The only two left with winning records overall are the AAC and the Sun Belt.  Except for against Power 5 teams, the AAC has better records.  Also, the two have the same number of FCS opponents, but since the Sun Belt has fewer teams the Sun Belt has a weaker schedule as a result. 

The Independents aren’t a conference of course, but I would put them in between if you want to consider them as a group.  They have the same winning percentage against Power 5 as the Sun Belt.  Wins over Louisville and Tennessee are better than wins over Kansas and Tennessee (sorry Les).  The Independents have two non-Power-5 losses to the Sun Belt’s three.

The MAC and CUSA have done almost nothing positive out of conference.  The CUSA is 1-0 against the MAC, but since there are no other wins, that doesn’t help much.  The MAC’s only win is over Coastal Carolina, but since the Chanticleers have a win over a Big XII team, that’s at least some reason to be positive.  Also, the MAC doesn’t have a loss to an FCS opponent.

So if you didn’t follow or want to read all that, this is my current order:

  1. Big Ten
  2. SEC
  3. Pac-12
  4. MWC/Mountain West
  5. ACC
  6. Big XII
  7. AAC/American
  8. Independents
  9. Sun Belt
  10. MAC
  11. CUSA

2016 Final Conference Rankings

In Bowls, College Football, Conference Reports on January 14, 2017 at 4:05 PM

Bowls

I know what the television sports media does is look at bowl records as if that’s the end-all and be-all of a conference, rarely even giving credit for a large percentage of teams making bowls.

Before people tune me out, I will say upfront that the SEC did not have the best bowl season, but it was a strong second.

How is 50% (I’m not counting the national championship since I think it’s fairer to give each team exactly one bite at the apple) a strong second?

We need to look at how good the opposition is. For instance, not many conferences have their #9 team play the runner-up (who went 6-2 in conference, the third-best conference record) of a Power-5 (P5) conference. It was frustrating that Arkansas didn’t beat Virginia Tech after the Hogs built up a large lead, but even being in the game was an accomplishment.

I decided to break down the P5 conferences by team standings and bowl game. This is based on regular-season conference records. Ties are broken by head to head and, failing that, overall pre-bowl record.

Then I gave a projection of the approximate record a major conference should have had against that schedule. The first one I list is Alabama/Washington. Since it’s champion vs. champion, that’s a tossup. So the SEC should have expected ½ of a win (or .5). The SEC should have expected 0 from Arkansas/Virginia Tech, so that isn’t listed. If the SEC team had a better conference record in any matchup by more than half a game, that game would have projected 1 win. No such game took place.

So there were 6 approximately 50/50 games, and the SEC won 6 games. An average P5 conference would have only won 3.

watch-sec-football-online-e1374758489890

(2) SEC
Alabama #1 8-0 W, Washington #1 8-1
Florida #2 6-2 W, Iowa #5 6-3
Auburn #3 5-3 L, Oklahoma #1 9-0
LSU #4 5-3 W, Louisville #2 7-1
Texas A&M #5 4-4 L, Kansas St. #4 6-3
Tennessee #6 4-4 W, Nebraska #6 6-3
Georgia #7 4-4 W, TCU #5 4-5
Kentucky #8 4-4 L, Georgia Tech #8 4-4
Arkansas #9 3-5 L, Virginia Tech #3 6-2
South Carolina #10 3-5 L, South Florida #2 7-1
Vanderbilt #11 3-5 L, N.C. State #9 3-5
Mississippi State #12 3-5 W, Miami U. #4 6-2

The AAC had a very good year (before the bowls), and South Florida lost only one game in conference with wins over Navy and Houston. The non-conference team who beat the Bulls just won the Orange Bowl. The 10th SEC team losing to them in overtime is not in any way a black mark on the SEC, and I’d say that if it were any other conference.

The rest were all against power-5 opponents. If the SEC were an average conference, it would have only been expected to win about 3 bowl games. See below for explanation.

I would have liked to have seen Vanderbilt and Kentucky do better, but both overachieved by making bowl games at all. As I’ve mentioned before, even the two non-bowl teams had decent resumes that included multiple wins over eventual bowl teams.

SEC 52-34 (.605) #6.5
All 72-30 (.706) #4.17
P5 59-27 (.686) #4.4

Texas A&M wasn’t nearly as good of a team later in the season as earlier, but I put them first among the 4-4 teams because of their early-season overtime win over Tennessee. But no other team had as big of a swing as Miami U., which started 0-6 and entered the bowl game at 6-6. So when projecting how many the SEC should have won, it’s really hard to know how to treat that one, so
I’ll just say that was 50/50.

Hopefully you get the idea when I do this for other conferences below.

Bowl games SEC should have won:
#12 .5
#11 .5
#8 .5
#7 .5
#2 .5
#1 .5
Projected record: 3-9 = 25%
Actual record 6-6 = 50%
Difference +25

acc

(1) ACC
#1 Clemson #1 7-1 W, Ohio St. #2 8-1
#2 Louisville 7-1 L, LSU #4 5-3
#3 Virginia Tech 6-2 W, Arkansas #9 3-5
#4 North Carolina 5-3 L, Stanford #5 6-3
#5 Florida St. 5-3 W, Michigan #3 7-2
#6 U. Miami 5-3 W, West Virginia #3 7-2
#7 Pitt 5-3 L, Northwestern #8 5-4
#8 Georgia Tech 4-4 W, Kentucky #8 4-4
#9 N.C. State 3-5 W, Vanderbilt #11 3-5
#10 Wake Forest 3-5 W, Temple #1 7-1
#11 Boston College 2-6 W, Maryland #10 3-6

#11 .5
#9 .5
#8 .5
#7 .5
#4 .5
#3 1
#2 1
#1 .5
Projected record: 5-6 = 45%
Actual record 9-2 = 82%
Difference +37

(3) Big Ten
#1 Penn St. 8-1 L, USC #3 7-2
#2 Ohio St. 8-1 L, Clemson #1 7-1
#3 Michigan 7-2 L, Florida St. #5 5-3
#4 Wisconsin 7-2 W, Western Michigan #1 8-0
#5 Iowa 6-3 L, Florida #2 6-2
#6 Nebraska 6-3 L, Tennessee #6 4-4
#7 Minnesota 5-4 W, Washington St. #4 7-2
#8 Northwestern 5-4 W, Pitt #7 5-3
#9 Indiana 4-5 L, Utah #6 5-4
#10 Maryland 3-6 L, Boston College #11 2-6

#10 .5
#8 .5
#6 1
#4 .5
#3 1
#2 .5
#1 1
Projected record: 5-5 = 50%
Actual record 3-7 = 30%
Difference -20

(4) Big XII
#1 Oklahoma 9-0 W, Auburn #3 5-3
#2 Oklahoma St. 7-2 W, Colorado #2 8-1
#3 West Virginia 7-2 L, U. Miami #6 5-3
#4 Kansas St. 6-3 W, Texas A&M #5 4-4
#5 TCU 4-5 L, Georgia #7 4-4

#5 .5
#4 1
#3 1
#1 1
Projected record: 3.5-1.5 = 70%
Actual record 3-2 = 60%
Difference -10

(5)Pac-12
#1 Washington 8-1 L, Alabama #1 8-0
#2 Colorado 8-1 L, Oklahoma St. #2 7-2
#3 USC 7-2 W, #1 Penn St. 8-1
#4 Washington St. 7-2 L, #7 Minnesota 5-4
#5 Stanford 6-3 W, #4 North Carolina 5-3
#6 Utah 5-4 W, #9 Indiana 4-5

#6 1
#5 .5
#4 1
#2 1
#1 .5
Projected record: 4-2 = 67%
Actual record 3-3 = 50%
Difference -17

(6) AAC
#1 Temple 7-1 L, Wake Forest #10 3-5
#2 South Florida 7-1 W, South Carolina #10 3-5
#3 Navy 7-1 L, Louisiana Tech #3 6-2
#4 Tulsa 6-2 W, C. Michigan #7 3-5
#5 Memphis 5-3 L, W. Kentucky #1 7-1
#6 Houston 5-3 L, San Diego St. #1 6-2
#7 Central Florida L, Arkansas St. #2 7-1

#4 1
#3 1
#2 1
#1 1
Projected record: 4-3 = 57%
Actual record 2-5 = 29%
Difference -28

For the record, I put the Big Ten third on that list because at least they qualified a large percentage for bowl games. The Pac-12 and Big XII (which is 10 teams) only had half their teams in bowl games.

Overall Conference Rankings

But this doesn’t answer what the best conference is.

Before I talk about my own ratings, I’m going to talk about the consensus of objective ratings. Excluding the three ratings (the two major polls and one computer rating) that only have a fraction of the teams rated, only three out of 92 other ratings have the SEC somewhere outside of the top two.

The ACC got a lot of 2s and 1s as well, but seven were outside of the top 2.

The SEC was on top in 57 ratings to the ACC’s 27 by my count. The other eight systems are nuts, I don’t know what more to say on that.

So in my own rating system, I suppose it comes as no surprise that the SEC is first, but the ACC made it very close, particularly with the national championship game. I don’t give that game any extra weight, but the way my system works is you get extra points for winning an extra game. No other team gets an extra game of that magnitude.

The ACC got some wins over SEC schools to be sure, but some of them were along the lines of Arkansas/Virginia Tech and Florida St./Ole Miss.

One thorn in the side of the ACC was Louisville, which lost both its last regular-season game and its bowl game to SEC teams that on paper the Cardinals should have beaten. The only ACC team to beat Louisville was Clemson, so all the other opponents were weighed down by their loss to the Cardinals, who also lost to Houston out of conference.

On the other hand something that might have given the SEC more of a buffer (at least in my ratings) was the two games that were not played as a result of moving the LSU/Florida game. As I mentioned last week, LSU would have moved up to about #20 with the addition of a win over South Alabama. Beating Presbyterian would have helped Florida in points slightly, but the Gators were too far behind Colorado to move ahead.

I think it’s fair to say this was a relatively weak year for the SEC at the top, but if it’s a weak year and the average team in your conference is better than the average team in any other conference, it’s hard to argue you’re not the best. Here are my averages:
1 SEC 0.441645
2 ACC 0.440546
3 Pac-12 0.314229
4 Big Ten 0.285768
5 Big XII 0.217209
6 AAC (American) 0.106448
7 MWC (Mountain West) 0.029324
8 SBC (Sun Belt) -0.008889
9 Independents -0.038589
10 MAC (Mid-American) -0.095654
11 CUSA -0.131416

“Best Conference” Arguments & Final “SEC Wednesday” of 2016

In College Football, Conference Reports, SEC Wednesdays on December 1, 2016 at 7:59 PM

I did take a few paragraphs out of this, so it’s less thorough than it could have been, but it was too long.

sec football

I’ve seen a lot of nonsense about the SEC having an off year even from SEC fans lately. Maybe the SEC has had more dominant years, but there really isn’t any legitimate doubt about the SEC still being the top conference top to bottom.

As has been the case for probably more years than I’ve been keeping track, the SEC is the consensus number 1 in computers top to bottom.

big10_logo_detail

SEC vs. Big Ten

Why are people forgetting that the SEC still has the best overall record? Now I know if you exclude FCS games, the Big Ten has the best record, but I think it matters that the Big Ten lost two games to FCS opponents. I’m not talking about bottom-of-the-barrel teams either. Iowa finished 6-3 in conference, and Northwestern finished 5-4 in conference.

The media talks about how there is only one SEC team in the top 10. That’s true, but why is that? Records. Why are the records the way they are? (1) Opponents like Wisconsin, Clemson, and Florida St., and (2) other SEC teams.
There are a couple of losses that weren’t too pretty by teams who finished .500 and below in the SEC, but that’s not why LSU, Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, and Texas A&M aren’t a game or two better and in or nearer to the top 10 as a result.

Apart from the few teams from other conferences I mentioned, the reason for that is simply that if any of that group played one another, both teams had a reasonable chance to win and it evened out over the course of the year. If Alabama does as expected and wins Saturday, all five other teams will go into the bowls with exactly 4 losses. That doesn’t mean the SEC is having a down year, that means Alabama is beating everyone and no one is making a particularly strong claim on second-best in the conference.

I’m going to compare the SEC teams to the Big Ten, just because the Big Ten happens to be the conference were their wins and losses ended up placing four teams in the top 10. It could have happened just as easily in the Pac-12 or ACC.

There is a group of teams of relative parity in the Big Ten as well, but that group is right at the top of the Big Ten. That’s the main reason why the Big Ten has four teams in the top 10. The highest group just isn’t very vulnerable to losing to anyone lower (the only in-conference exception was Iowa over Michigan).

Another thing that helped is big wins were by this top group instead of lower teams. On the other hand, three of the four best SEC wins were by teams that finished 4-4 in conference (Kentucky over Louisville, Tennessee over Virginia Tech, and Georgia over North Carolina).

Imagine the following. LSU beat Alabama and Florida, Tennessee beat Texas A&M, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt, and Auburn beat Georgia and Texas A&M. Without changing out of conference results at all, the result is two one-loss teams (Alabama and Tennessee) and two two-loss teams (Auburn and LSU). All four would easily be in the top 10.

We didn’t change how good the SEC was, we just made the lower SEC teams worse and the second-tier (the group below Alabama) better with the exception of Florida. If we add in a couple of Florida conference wins (Arkansas and Tennessee), maybe we could get 5 SEC teams in the top 10. Would anyone say the SEC was having an off year then? Probably not. At least not anyone who doesn’t claim that every year. But the perception of the SEC is ironically hurt by the middle and lower teams being better. It’s nice to have a relatively easy opponent at some point in conference play, but that didn’t really happen.

There was one 2-6 team per SEC division, Missouri and Ole Miss. Missouri beat two bowl-eligible teams, and Ole Miss beat three. There were no 1-7 or 0-8 teams. There were 3 teams in the Big Ten who finished with one conference win or fewer, and those teams had one more chance to pick up a conference win than the SEC teams did. The lone 2-7 team (Illinois) didn’t beat anyone bowl-eligible; the Illini’s only FBS wins were over teams that finished below them in the Big Ten. So all Big Ten teams were guaranteed to have two less-dangerous conference games than anyone in the SEC faced in conference all year. Most had three such games (although Ohio St. to its credit wasn’t one of them).

ACC

SEC vs. ACC

There is one other conference argument I’ll address and that’s, “You just went 1-3 against the ACC [in the final weekend].” Let’s look at that another way.

I’m going to take out the names of teams and just put a list of the records. These are games over the course of the year. I just listed them in order of ACC record.

4-4 SEC beat 7-1 ACC
7-1 ACC beat 3-5 SEC
7-1 ACC beat 5-3 SEC
4-4 SEC beat 6-2 ACC
4-4 SEC beat 5-3 ACC
5-3 ACC beat 6-2 SEC
5-3 ACC beat 2-6 SEC
4-4 ACC beat 4-4 SEC

So the SEC won three games in which the SEC team had the worse conference record, while the ACC only won one game in which the ACC team had the worse conference record. Also, all of these games but two (7-1 ACC vs. 5-3 and 5-3 ACC vs. 2-6) were played by teams in the SEC East, the lesser SEC division. Five of the eight games were played by the top three teams of the ACC Atlantic, the better ACC division.

SEC WED

“SEC Wednesday”

I’ll keep the SEC Wednesday relatively short this time.

I guess I’ll finally give up and take Alabama -24, which probably will make the game close. It seems like Florida is fading. Judging by their games against LSU, it should be a nail-biter, but that’s not how it works. LSU played much worse against Florida, at least for the last 2 ½ quarters. For one analogy, I’m sure Arkansas thought LSU (who beat them by 28) was much better than Florida (whom they beat by 21).

Anyway, Florida seemed to fade toward the end of the last few games (they almost let LSU win after all), and Alabama always seems ready to get that one more score to beat the spread at the end. Alabama just beat a much-improved Auburn team by more than they beat them last year. So it might be Alabama by 14 at the half and they end up winning by 27 or something with a late touchdown or field goal.

Well, that’s it for predictions in this season. Bowl games have too many variables for me to include. I’ve made good bowl predictions in the past, but I’ve also made really bad ones. It’s like flipping a coin.

There might be a lot of this Saturday.

There might be a lot of this Saturday.

So a team favored by 7.5 (Vanderbilt) pulled an upset (over Tennessee), but I picked the wrong one (I picked Florida. Unfortunately, the wrong team scored meaningless points right at the end in multiple games (Florida St., LSU, and Alabama, for instance), which hurt me in the spread. I did not pick the 26.5-point underdog who won (Kentucky), but I did caution it could come down to the end. I did take the points in both upsets though. Too bad I couldn’t use the excess.

Georgia was in great shape up 13 late, but then they lost by 1.

I was wrong about LSU against the spread again. Maybe I should pick the other team more often so LSU plays well more consistently.

The Missouri team who beat Vanderbilt showed back up again against Arkansas, but I admit I didn’t see that coming. That was one reason I didn’t pick Vanderbilt to beat Tennessee. It’s like these teams try to screw with me.

South Carolina didn’t really show up at all, so that was another game that was completely uncharacteristic of the rest of the season. Same with Mississippi St. but for the opposite reason.

I think my readers can add one to either side of these after this weekend, so almost-final records: 85-26 and 42-52-1 against the spread.

SEC Wednesday #12

In College Football, Conference Reports, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on November 16, 2016 at 7:30 PM

Last Week

The way things are looking, I guess Alabama will beat any line you put up there. On the other hand, maybe Mississippi St. is just that bad.

Kentucky scored late to beat the spread, but late in the third quarter the Wildcats had a great chance to score but instead fumbled inside the Tennessee 10 for no points, so I think the result was still fair.

Florida also deserved to beat the spread. It only got within a score somewhat late in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach (barring 21 points in 7 minutes).

I don’t know what happened to Auburn. It’s like they just deflated after the Ole Miss game. They look like a middling SEC East team all of a sudden. I thought they just had a bad week against Vandy, but they look pathetic.

Speaking of Vandy, the Commodores were the first team to make Missouri look good in a long time.

So when I pick a team to go against the last several weeks, I lose; and when I pick a team to go with the last several weeks, I also lose.

guice

Then if I pick teams to play similarly to last week like I did with LSU and Arkansas, that doesn’t work out either. I guess I should have figured out that unlike in past seasons Arkansas has trouble with teams who can run the ball, and Florida isn’t so good in that department.

LSU is pretty decent, but I didn’t expect the longest play from scrimmage in LSU history as just one component of the second-best rushing performance in team history from Derrius Guice. He did this sharing a backfield with Leonard Fournette. Jon Gruden once said his dream job was running backs coach at LSU. I can see why. It’s just hard not to look at the previous match-up between opponents, which is what I should have done with LSU last week.

The last game was tied for the third-largest LSU victory in over 60 games in the series against Arkansas. Next week, LSU will be looking for its fourth consecutive win over the Gators and sixth in seven games.  That series has been about the same number of games but it’s had a lot more games after World War II than the Arkansas series has.

Ole Miss trailed 21-6 before new QB Shea Patterson led the Rebels to 23 points in the fourth quarter.

Ole Miss trailed 21-6 before new QB Shea Patterson led the Rebels to 23 points in the fourth quarter.

I have no idea where the Ole Miss comeback came from, but it was a funny weekend. The night games are killing me every week. I should just pick the opposite of what I expect, but I’m sure if I do that, I’ll be right about them.

Next Week

Even though UTSA (+27.5) just lost to a lesser team by 28, that was out of character. Frank Wilson coached at LSU and seems to be doing a really good job rebuilding the Roadrunners from a disappointing end to Larry Coker’s tenure. Also, Texas A&M has not had a good four weeks. I believe they failed to beat the spread in every one. They did blow out their fellow Aggies from New Mexico, but not by enough.

I’m also not taking the bait with Georgia (-22.5) despite their good performance in the last game. The Bulldogs have repeatedly played down to lesser competition. ULL isn’t good, but they’re probably a good bit better than Nicholls St.

SEC WED

I’ve picked against LSU three times now since Orgeron took over. The only one where I was wrong was when I took LSU with the points, but they were against spread juggernaut Alabama. I’ll begrudgingly take the Tigers -13.5. I think if you can beat Arkansas on the road by 28, you should be able to beat Florida at home by 14 even though it will be an early game. It should be the CBS game of the week at least. Missouri, really?

Speaking of which, Tennessee is favored by 16 over Mizzou. I’ll give the 16 points. It’s also Senior Day in Knoxville, and they’re not going to be looking past the Tigers to Vanderbilt or anything. Missouri surprised me last week, but if you can beat Kentucky by 13, you can beat Missouri by 16.

Four teams play FCS opponents, so I won’t bother with the lines (which ESPN doesn’t publish): South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, and Auburn.

Vandy +10 would have been an easy pick last week, but it’s much harder when they looked bad and Ole Miss looked good (at least at the end). Still, Vandy is a running, ball control team, and Ole Miss has a lot of trouble with that.

The only upset I’m picking is Arkansas (+1.5) against Mississippi St. The Hogs are a much better team than they looked last week. Mississippi St. is really not good. Losing to Alabama is understandable. Losing to Alabama and not making it close is also understandable, but not by 48. The Bulldogs managed good games against South Carolina and A&M, but like with Missouri, the chances still aren’t good in any given week.

Conference Summary and Week 4 Preview

In College Football, Conference Reports on September 23, 2016 at 6:13 PM

Guess which conference has the fewest losses in non-conference play? (discussion of conference losses will mean non-conference play below)

140812_EYE_SEC1.jpg.CROP.original-original

The SEC has only lost one (Vanderbilt to Georgia Tech) since opening weekend. Five of its 7 losses were against Power-5 opponents. Only the Mississippi St. upset at the hands of South Alabama and Kentucky’s loss to Southern Miss were not to that group.

big10_logo_detail

The Big Ten still has a higher overall average winning percentage, but it has faced twice as many FCS opponents, two of which were victorious. Also, although there are many Power-5 wins, they’re often not against quality opponents. Four of the wins were Duke, Iowa St., Oregon St., and Colorado.

In the SEC, on the other hand, four of the five wins against the Power-5 were against teams that were ranked in the preseason. 78% and 75% aren’t far enough apart to overcome the strength of schedule disparity, so I’d give the SEC a slight edge at this point, but it will depend on some future games, and the SEC will have more of them.

ACC
Pac-12

For #3, I’m going to go with the ACC. They played five SEC opponents as well as Oklahoma St. and Oregon. The Pac-12 has similar records against slightly worse teams.

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big12logo

The Big XII is only 15-11 right now. The best wins were over Notre Dame and Pitt. Not only would I put them last among the Power-5, I would also argue the American (AAC) should go ahead.

The bottom tier of conferences is harder to rank. I would say the MAC and MWC are roughly even. The MAC would be ahead if it weren’t for the three FCS losses. The Sun Belt is a little better than CUSA. Mississippi St. is a better key win than Kentucky, and Southern Miss and Ohio are better than Bowling Green and Miami U.

Week 4 Preview

There are a few major inter-conference games this weekend. I already covered the SEC games.

I’ll address the ones going on right now first. If Eastern Michigan beats Wyoming, that could arguably break the MWC/MAC deadlock. TCU vs. SMU is another chance of an upset by the AAC over the Big XII.

Similar to TCU, Boise St. is only a story if they lose, but it’s still good to get a road Pac-12 win even if it is against Oregon St. Central Michigan is another G5 (meaning not in the Power-5 of ACC, Big XII, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC) team on the road that should probably win, at Virginia in their case.

Another game in the state of Virginia is East Carolina against Virginia Tech. The Pirates were able to beat North Carolina St. but were not so lucky against South Carolina. The Hokies have a chance to rehabilitate somewhat from their previous non-conference game against Tennessee.

BYU will play its fourth Power-5 opponent, this time traveling to West Virginia. The Cougars beat Arizona before losing to Utah and UCLA in close games.

I’ll be very interested in the Wisconsin-Michigan St. game, the big game between two ranked teams.

The Pac-12 has a couple of big games involving Southern California teams. USC is playing Utah right now, and UCLA plays Stanford tomorrow Of course Stanford beat USC last week, so they’re trying to sweep L.A.

I also wanted to mention there is a big game in the ACC Coastal between North Carolina and Pitt in conference openers for both.

Post-Game Comments and Week 3 Top 25

In College Football, Conference Reports, General LSU, Post-game on September 12, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Inter-conference Play and LSU Recap

So there was a lot of critical talk last week about the SEC being that there were a few losses. The conference went 6-6 against strong outside competition while other conferences mostly played slates of FCS or low-level FBS opponents. Now that the SEC had opponents more similar to what the other conference had last week, it didn’t lose any. Not to minimize the wins over TCU and Virginia Tech, but there were a lot of expected wins by the conference as a whole.

The Big Ten did well last week but Northwestern, who won 10 games last year, fell to 0-2 with a loss to Illinois St., an FCS team. I mention how many they won last year because I wouldn’t pick on some team who had finished last in the conference or something of that nature.

The Big Ten will no longer be scheduling FCS opponents, but their non-conference schedules would be pretty empty without MAC opponents, and the MAC has split its six games against the FCS so far. There are good FCS opponents even though there are also very bad ones. The same is true of the MAC.

Speaking of FCS opponents, LSU played a high-quality FCS opponent, Jacksonville St., which was the national runner-up in last year’s FCS playoffs. Their success has been aided over the years by a number of SEC transfers. They were good enough to expose a couple of weaknesses in some of the defensive reads, and they were also good enough to show that starting QB Brandon Harris does not seem to have what it takes to run an effective offense.

When Etling couldn't complete a pass in the second half, he was able to score on the ground.

When Etling couldn’t complete a pass in the second half, he was able to score on the ground.

Danny Etling, a Purdue transfer, came into the game and led the team on three consecutive touchdown drives. With a ridiculous punt return added in, that helped give the Tigers a 27-10 halftime lead. Etling didn’t have a good second half, but he didn’t need to. The running game and defense were able to dictate the rest of the game, and the Gamecocks were never a serious threat again.

LSU has had the other pieces in place; they just need a decent game-managing quarterback of the type that Alabama has seemed to produce on an annual basis the last 9 years.

The Tigers were without star running back Leonard Fournette, who got banged up at the end of the Wisconsin game, but it is reportedly just a soft-tissue injury. Etling could be made even more comfortable by his presence on the field. Derrius Guice played well in Fournette’s absence, but he was tackled in the backfield a few times to force some long-yardage situations in later downs. Fournette is better at turning 1-yard losses (for normal people anyway) into 3-yard gains. He can break off long runs too of course.

It's not always fun to be the first defender to reach Leonard Fournette.

It’s not always fun to be the first defender to reach Leonard Fournette.

Anyway, the SEC is the only Power-5 conference without a loss to an FCS opponent. All conferences but two have now matched or exceeded the SEC’s six inter-conference losses. Those are the ACC and the American Conference (AAC), with 5 apiece. The SEC has now played 9 Power-5 opponents, but the ACC and AAC have only played 7 apiece. The SEC and ACC are one game over .500 in such games, and the AAC is one game under. Also, the SEC has played 18 FBS opponents compared to the ACC’s 14 and the AAC’s 11.

I’d put the Big Ten third, the AAC fourth, the Pac-12 fifth, and the Big XII sixth right now. The Pac-12 may improve, but as of right now their Power-5 wins consist of Virginia (which lost to FCS Richmond, and it wasn’t even very close), Rutgers, Texas Tech, and Kansas St. I guess BYU is a quality win by Utah, but it’s balanced with a loss to BYU by Arizona.

Top 25

I decided that all competitive programs with two FBS wins should be in the rankings somewhere. I tried to do this without moving other teams down for no other reason, but you can see the teams that stayed in the same spot below.

The teams I excluded are Army, Indiana, and Wake Forest. They really haven’t beaten anyone so far, and I just don’t think any of the three have the talent to be ranked, at least not at this stage. Another FBS win or two (depending on the opponent), and maybe it’s a different conversation.

Also, I wasn’t really comfortable with removing any teams apart from the ones that I removed below, so that squeezed them out. Oklahoma St. was dropped substantially, but I didn’t want to take them all the way out, particularly since the game should have ended before the final play.

I thought I caught ESPN making a mistake, but it turns out ESPN was right and the referees were wrong.  Still, you shouldn't report a final score until the refs leave the field.

I thought I caught ESPN making a mistake, but it turns out ESPN was right and the referees were wrong. Still, you shouldn’t report a final score until the refs leave the field.

A fun fact about that. You probably know that Les Miles coached at Oklahoma St. before he went to LSU, but you may not know that his wife went to Central Michigan. He says he doesn’t watch other teams on game day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he at least checked out the highlights or was told about it.

Teams like North Carolina, USC, and Ole Miss didn’t do anything wrong, but I’d rather rank teams that have two FBS wins ahead of them at this point.

September is always tricky because it’s a transition from expectations to solid results that gets stricter every week. People ask me, “why did you do x when you did y last week?” It’s because we’re not in last week anymore. The rules have to change slightly every week or it would just be an abrupt change the second I bring in the computer formula. That happened with Missouri when they won their first SEC East title. I keep not believing they were actually good and keeping them out of the top 20, and then they jumped 20 spots in one week.

North Carolina was hurt in my opinion when Georgia struggled though. That was the only team that was somewhat securely in the top 25 at #21 last week. This won’t have much impact in my formula when I implement it though. The rest can pretty easily play their way back in. If Ole Miss wins next week, for instance, they’ll be in good shape.

I don’t really think there will be multiple Big Ten teams in the semifinals, but a decent number of them started with two FBS opponents. Next week I’ll be more critical about who those teams are (and it will be easier to assess who the better teams are anyway. The week after that I might be able to make a dry run of my rankings and do some kind of average of subjective and objective ratings.

rank/team/previous
1 Alabama 1
2 Florida St. 2
3 Michigan 4
4 Iowa 7
5 Wisconsin 11
6 Ohio St. 14
7 Tennessee 17
8 Houston 8
9 Stanford 9
10 Clemson 3
11 Utah 6
12 LSU 12
13 Oklahoma 13
14 Arkansas 22
15 Texas 16
16 Texas A&M 15
17 Florida 19
18 Georgia 10
19 Oregon 18
20 Mich. St. 20
21 Boise St. —
22 Washington —
23 Louisville —
24 Nebraska —
25 Okie St. 5

Out of rankings: (21) N. Carolina, (23) Ole Miss, (24) TCU, (25) USC

2015 Final Conference Report

In College Football, Conference Reports on January 18, 2016 at 4:06 PM

This is my last regularly scheduled blog of the college football season. Five months go by so fast. Hopefully, I will get a chance to index things on here so they’re easier to find.

For the final blogger poll, click here.

I’ll get to the point now.

The SEC was #1 going into the bowls, so going 9-2 (counting the championship game) was obviously good enough to stay #1.

I do want to stress a little bit how impressive that is. Only one of the SEC bowl teams (Auburn, the worst of the SEC bowl teams) played an opponent that was not in a Power 5 (P5) conference.
Contrast that with the Pac-12, who played three non-P5 (Group of Five or G5) opponents in 10 bowl games.

(BYU isn’t in any conference, but it was most recently in the Mountain West and never has been a P5 program, so it’s classified in the G5 group.)

One of the Pac-12’s P5 opponents was Nebraska, who was granted a waiver as a 5-7 team because there were not enough normal bowl-eligible teams.

sec-pinwheel-logo

These were the match-ups for the SEC:
#1 vs. Big Ten #1 (then vs. ACC #1 in championship)
#2 vs. Big XII #2 (Ole Miss is counted as #2 because it got a better bowl selection than Florida; Oklahoma St. is likewise counted over TCU for the same reason)
#3 vs. Big Ten #4
#4 vs. Big Ten #5 (four teams went 5-3 in the SEC, so some of these will be debatable)
#5 vs. Big XII #7 (Kansas St. was actually #8 in the standings, but Texas did not qualify for a bowl game)
#6 vs. Big XII #6
#7 vs. Big Ten #7
#8 vs. ACC #5
#9 vs. ACC #9
#10 vs. AAC #5

These were the Pac-12 match-ups:
#1 vs. Big Ten #2
#2 vs. Big XII #3
#3 vs. Big Ten #6
#4 vs. ACC #6
#5 vs. Independent
#6 vs. Big Ten #8
#7 vs. MWC #2
#8 vs. Big XII #5
#9 vs. CUSA #2
#10 vs. MWC #3

I don’t look at margin of victory for the purposes of these rankings, but I think they do help show that most of these SEC bowl wins weren’t just luck.

The Big Ten ended up with a worse record than the Pac-12 even though Nebraska and Minnesota got to play in bowl games with losing records. The win by Nebraska was good, but you expect any but the worst Big Ten teams to beat Central Michigan. I would also give the Big Ten credit for not playing any other G5 opponents.

There was a clear enough gap between the Big Ten and the Pac-12 to begin with, so even if the bowls were harder, there isn’t any reason for the Big Ten to pass up the Pac-12. Also if you look at the apples-to-apples games, USC-Wisconsin was a 50/50 game and Stanford beat Iowa soundly.

The Big XII went 3-4 in bowl games, so likewise, I see no reason they should pass up the Big Ten.

The AAC only had two wins. Although both were against the ACC, the ACC still won four bowls. The two conferences were so close, I think that was enough to flip the two.

The other conferences were all within a game of .500, so there was no reason to make any other changes. The lower-ranked conferences don’t play as many bowl games, so those are a smaller percentage of overall games anyway.

2015 Pre-Bowl Conference Report

In College Football, Conference Reports on December 18, 2015 at 6:21 PM

1. SEC
2. Pac-12
3. Big Ten
4. Big XII
5. AAC
6. ACC
7. MAC
8. MWC
9. CUSA
10. Sun Belt

If anyone is interested in my blogger top 10 poll on MacApp, click here.

Before I begin, I just wanted to reiterate that I believe the correct way to evaluate conferences is to look at the games between conferences. I don’t think any result within a conference weakens it. So when I talk about wins, assume I mean non-conference.

Also, I will refer a lot to P5 and G5. P5 are the traditional Power 5 conferences: ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12, and SEC. Notre Dame is included in this group since it primarily plays a major-conference schedule and is given special privileges in bowl consideration.

G5 are the other conferences: AAC (American), CUSA, MAC, MWC (Mountain West), and SBC (Sun Belt). Discussion of these will include BYU and Army.

WHY THE SEC REMAINS THE TOP CONFERENCE

I opted just to do one for the season overall rather than trying to evaluate everything that happened since the last conference report separately.

ACC-SEC Rivalry games

The ACC won three games against the SEC on the final week of the regular season; but with the relative weakness of the SEC East in recent years, this wasn’t that surprising. Any negative implications were overcome by earlier games between the two conferences.

South Carolina kept North Carolina's offense wrapped up to open the season, although the two teams went in drastically different directions since.

South Carolina kept North Carolina’s offense wrapped up to open the season, although the two teams went in drastically different directions since.

In hindsight, one of the best non-conference wins was by an SEC team that didn’t even make a bowl game when South Carolina beat eventual ACC Coastal champions North Carolina in the opening week. I don’t hold it against the Gamecocks that they later (in the final week of the regular season) lost to eventual ACC Champions Clemson by 5. The Gamecocks also suffered the worst loss of an SEC team by losing to the Citadel in controversial fashion, but you expect non-bowl teams to lose such games from time to time.

The two bowl teams who were playing non-bowl teams, Louisville and Georgia, both won their rivalry games. Louisville only went 1-1 against the bottom half of the SEC though, as the Cardinals had lost to Auburn early in the season. On the other hand, Georgia had no non-conference losses.

The only game that on paper should have been competitive—Florida St.’s win over Florida—is a credit to the ACC, although the Gators were showing major signs of weakness against such opponents as Vanderbilt (won by 2) and Florida Atlantic (won by 6 in overtime) in prior weeks. The Gators would have likely finished much worse in conference than 7-1 had they not played 6 SEC games by the end of October and had the remaining two games not come against two of the worst SEC teams.

Why the SEC Led before Rivalry Week

Watch-SEC-Football-Online-e1374758489890

To talk a little more about why the SEC had a significant enough lead to remain #1 despite the final week, we can look at another of the worst SEC teams, Missouri. The Tigers beat Connecticut, not a good opponent by any means; but the Huskies were the only team to beat Houston, so they certainly had the talent to beat Mizzou. The Tigers also had a really quality non-conference win over BYU.

I do give credit to the fact that teams like South Carolina and Missouri were even able to compete and in some cases win against good competition out of conference.

Vanderbilt only went 1-2 against FBS opponents out of conference, but they got a road win over a Middle Tennessee team that will finish with a winning record. They also were a late two-point attempt away from tying Western Kentucky in regulation.

This is why SEC teams have such good schedules in my formula. They are guaranteed eight games against tough teams at a minimum. It happens there were three teams in the SEC who went 2-6 in conference and one that went 1-7, but I think the results I discussed indicate they might beat some of the best teams in other conferences and would have a shot at some of the mediocre teams.

If before the season you took the top 14 teams in the preseason poll and had them play 8 games against one another, there may well have been some that finished 2-6 or 1-7. As you might remember, Auburn was in the top 10 in most preseason projections and was actually #3 according to the ESPN power rankings.

The numbers

You can accuse me of trying to spin the results in these arguments, but I really don’t need to.

By my calculations, the SEC won 81.5% of its games out of conference. That’s 3.1% better than the Pac-12, which is second. To show how big of a gap that is, the Pac-12 was only 2.0% better than the #4 Big Ten.

Yet you can turn on ESPN any day of the week and probably listen to someone tell you it’s a down year for the SEC because it didn’t place a bunch of teams in the top 10.

To be fair, all but a couple of the SEC teams played an FCS opponent whereas in the Big Ten (for instance) only half of the teams did.

I would point out though that Big Ten teams played an average of exactly two games per team against either the bottom four conferences (being the MAC, CUSA, Sun Belt, or MWC) or 2-10 independent Army. The SEC played six fewer games against that latter group.

Regardless, the SEC was similarly better than the other conferences when you subtract out FCS opponents. SEC 78.6%, Pac-12 75.9%, Big Ten 72.9%, Big XII 72.7%.

Strength of schedule

You might also quibble about FBS strength of schedule, but further analysis only strengthens these numbers.

Other than the SEC, the only conference to win a majority of its games against the P5 (adding in Notre Dame) is the Big Ten. I think the SEC wins out in FBS strength of schedule because it played five games against the AAC while the Big Ten only played one, which it lost.

I believe Houston, Memphis, Temple, and Navy were the best four teams in the G5 conferences as a whole, so that’s why I treat that conference a little bit differently. The four teams I mentioned only lost two conference games that weren’t against one another (unfortunately for Memphis, they played and lost to all three of the others). Apart from those two, the only non-conference game any of that group lost were Notre Dame’s wins over Navy and Temple.

In that context, I think it’s understandable that Ole Miss and Vanderbilt both lost to teams from that group. Clearly, Ole Miss’s loss to Memphis was a negative for the SEC. It’s a negative for any conference to have one of its top teams lose a non-conference game, but that sure is better than a team like North Carolina losing to South Carolina or even a team like Stanford losing to Northwestern.

The only non-AAC team with a strong argument for being among the top four G5 teams was Bowling Green, which lost to Tennessee, the same Tennessee team that lost late (in overtime actually) to eventual playoff team Oklahoma. Yet the Vols only finished in a four-way tie for fourth in the SEC if you combine the two divisions (so actually a two-way tie for sixth if you give LSU and Arkansas credit for being in the better division).

Speaking of the MAC, I think that Tennessee win helps to balance out Arkansas’s loss to Toledo. The Rockets did not play in the MAC title game, but they were in a four-way tie for the MAC West title and went undefeated against a good non-conference slate.

So losing to Toledo was not as bad as it was made out to be when it happened. I also mentioned here how Arkansas was better statistically in the game. It’s pretty clear that they learned as the season went on to better translate yards into points as Brandon Allen’s passing improved.

I mentioned the other conferences a bit above, but I’ll mention some things I left out below.

OTHER P5 CONFERENCES

big10_logo_detail

The best Big Ten win was when Michigan St. beat Oregon, but to be fair, Michigan St. won its conference and Oregon didn’t win theirs. So that’s much less of a boost in my view than Northwestern’s win over Pac-12 champions Stanford.

pac-12

Utah’s win over Michigan was the best non-conference win by a Pac-12 team, followed closely by Stanford’s win over Notre Dame, but neither one was a lower-ranked team beating a top team of another conference. I think if Notre Dame had played a full ACC schedule, it would have finished second or third, so Stanford should have won that game. The Big Ten East was a good bit better than the Pac-12 South (don’t get me started on why they put Utah in the South), but I don’t know that third in the Big Ten East is much better than tied for first in the Pac-12 South.

big12logo

I haven’t talked much about the Big XII because it didn’t do much. Another part of Arkansas’s early-season struggles was a loss to Texas Tech. That seems to be the best non-conference win for the Big XII. The champion of the conference was supposed to beat Tennessee, so that’s not it. Minnesota is 5-7, and that was the best opponent that Baylor, TCU, or Oklahoma St. played out of conference. There were no good wins by the lower half of the conference, although West Virginia had a couple of borderline-decent wins over Maryland (which was had some bad luck in going 3-9 this year but made a bowl last year and is still a major-conference opponent) and Georgia Southern.

ACC

Other than Clemson’s win over Notre Dame and the SEC wins mentioned, I didn’t go into details about the ACC’s other three wins. They were Purdue twice and Illinois. So I that FSU win over Florida was actually the conference’s best win.

G5 DISCUSSION AND BEST WINS

I mentioned the best wins by the MAC, CUSA, and AAC because they came against the SEC. That’s right, the best CUSA win was over Vandy.

The Sun Belt’s best win was San Diego St., which went undefeated in conference after losing to South Alabama.

The MWC’s best win was Boise St. over Washington. The Broncos finished in a four-way tie for second in the Mountain division. The Huskies finished with a losing record in conference, but you still don’t expect a loss in hindsight to a team like Boise.

The winning percentages tell you pretty well who belongs where.

One exception of sorts: I give the MWC the nod over the CUSA even though the CUSA had a slightly better FBS record because MWC teams also beat Virginia and Colorado. I know three wins, none of which were won by the conference champion or runner-up, weren’t against great teams. Colorado might not even qualify as mediocre. But I don’t think Vanderbilt by itself is really a comparison. I certainly can’t put Purdue or Central Florida ahead of any of those.

The AAC had a better FBS record than the ACC but not a better overall record. I sided with the AAC because it played only one fewer P5 opponent despite having two fewer teams, and it won more games against P5 opponents. It was very close though. Had Georgia Tech upset Georgia or had Army beaten Navy, for instance, that would have made the difference. This was the only change from the prior Conference Report.

Full blog

Conference Report #3: Midseason

In College Football, Conference Reports on October 9, 2015 at 4:12 PM

Previous Conference Report

I know it’s not really the middle of the season yet, but the majority of inter-conference games have been played, and this will be the only conference report before the end of November.

Once again, the SEC doesn’t win the time period, but one first place and two second places is much better than any other conference.

The Pac-12 comes out first over Weeks 3 to 5 because it hasn’t lost an inter-conference game since Week 2.

Texas A&M ran away from Arizona St. late in the only game between the SEC and Pac-12 this season.

Texas A&M ran away from Arizona St. late in the only game between the SEC and Pac-12 this season.

Arkansas’ loss to Texas Tech was the only loss for the SEC, so that’s good enough for #2.

The Big Ten is third as it was the only other conference to finish with a winning record against the P5 (again, that’s Notre Dame or any member of the ACC, Big XII, Big Ten, Pac-12, or SEC) over the time period.   The BIG also won 84% of its games against other FBS teams in that time.

The Big XII, the best conference of Week 2, achieved a .500 mark against the P5 and won 7 of 10 overall, good enough for fourth.

The records for the AAC and ACC were very similar so I made a list of wins and losses to compare.  The ACC had slightly better wins, but that wasn’t decisive.

The losses were what convinced me the ACC deserves to be higher.  Every team an ACC team lost to over the period has a winning record.  The only ones that were sort of mediocre were East Carolina, Indiana (although the Hoosiers are 4-1 at the moment), and Cincinnati.  The AAC lost to Furman, James Madison, Maryland, and South Carolina, among others.

So finally the P5 actually constitutes the top five conferences in this list.

The ACC went up a spot with Clemson's win over Notre Dame.

The ACC went up a spot with help from Clemson’s win over Notre Dame.

The MAC was 2-9 against the P5 and 6-16 overall, but only one other lower conference even recorded a single win over the P5 (that was the MWC, who went only 1-12 against the P5).  Only the CUSA had more wins over the five other conferences, but the CUSA went 0-9 against the P5.

I looked more into the MWC wins versus the CUSA ones, and the CUSA ones were a joke.  It only beat one team with multiple wins, which was 2-3 Kent St.  One of the Golden Flashes’ wins was over Delaware St. and the other was over Miami U., another of the teams the CUSA beat during the period.

The MWC didn’t have a great list either, but it did beat Virginia and it won the only contest between the MWC and CUSA when beat Colorado St. beat UTSA on the road.

Even though the CUSA beat hardly anyone, it still did better than the Sun Belt, which beat three teams with a total record of 4-11.  Those three teams (San Diego St., Old Dominion, and Wyoming) have gone a combined 2-1 against the FCS.

For the overall records, the Pac-12, Big XII, and Big Ten were close.  But I think looking at the teams they beat and lost to sorted it out pretty easily.  The Pac-12 has no bad losses apart from Washington St.’s loss to Portland St. in Week 1.  Hawaii (which beat Colorado) is the only other loss to a team not currently ranked.  The wins aren’t astounding for either conference (Wake Forest, Kansas, Iowa St., and Oregon St. make up 4 of the Big Ten’s nine P5 victories), but the Pac-12 only has half as many losses as the Big Ten does and almost 2/3 the number of wins against FBS opponents.

The Big XII, on the other hand, comes out behind the Big Ten.  Although it has the same P5 record as the Pac-12, the Big XII has five fewer wins over the FBS overall and has questionable losses such as Rutgers, UC-Berkeley, and South Dakota St.  I know UC-Berkeley is currently ranked, but they haven’t really played a tough opponent yet, with the possible exception of Washington.  Also, it’s not like the Bears beat Iowa St. or Kansas, they beat Texas.  I know the Longhorns aren’t what they were five or six years ago, but they did make a bowl game last year.

The rest of the overall rankings proceed pretty logically from combining the Week 1 and 2 standings with those for the period since then.  The AAC and ACC were extremely close going in, so the ACC winning the period gives it an edge overall.  Those FCS losses made it somewhat easier.

Same thing with MWC and CUSA, but the MWC started off badly enough that this decision deserved a closer look.  The MWC has actually done pretty well after Week 1.  The wins are pretty similar (although I’d argue Washington and Virginia are better than Purdue and Vanderbilt), but I think you can tell more from the losses, since I’m comparing conferences with clearly losing records.

Thirteen of the MWC’s 19 P5 losses have come to the Pac-12 or SEC, and the other six were against the Big Ten.  There are some teams in there that aren’t too good like Colorado, Oregon St., and Washington St., to be fair.  Only five of the CUSA’s 18 P5 losses came against the SEC or Pac-12, and two of those were against Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

The new chart is below.

sec football

Rank Weeks 1&2 Since Total
1 SEC Pac-12 SEC
2 Big XII SEC Pac-12
3 Big Ten Big Ten Big Ten
4 Pac-12 Big XII Big XII
5 AAC ACC ACC
6 ACC AAC AAC
7 MAC MAC MAC
8 CUSA MWC MWC
9 MWC CUSA CUSA
10 Sun Belt Sun Belt Sun Belt