Part I: Frame of Reference
Part II: King of the Bowls
Part III: Overall Bowl Performance
I’m going to start with acknowledging that if you look solely at winning percentages against the P5 or even against the FBS, the Pac-12 has a better winning percentage than the SEC. In overall winning percentages, the SEC and Pac-12 are in a virtual tie (I will discuss that more below).
I’m going to give some records below. Since I’m trying to get this out before it’s too late in the day (I’m on the West Coast), I haven’t checked them with other sources since the bowl games, so if I missed one or two games, I apologize in advance.
I also want to mention that while this is my last entry about the conferences, I do plan at least one more blog about the rankings (comparing my pre-season list to the current list) and something about LSU. Apart from the Notre Dame “Rivalry” blog. I haven’t done an LSU-specific blog since Thanksgiving weekend.
My philosophy for ranking conferences in my “conference report” series is as close as I can get to my philosophy for ranking teams. From watching the playoff games, the overwhelming consensus is that the team who entered those undefeated (Florida St.) was the worst of the four teams. So much so that they finished 6th in the coaches’ poll and in a tie for 5th in the AP poll.
You can’t get better than 100%. A lot of reasonable people had Alabama, who had only won 92.3%, ahead. The committee (and a few individuals) had Oregon (same winning percentage as Alabama) ahead. That winning percentage was also shared by Ohio St.
Oregon, the loser of the title game, won 86.7%, about 6 points below Florida St.’s current winning percentage.
In Part III of this series, I determined that the Pac-12 had a better bowl season than the SEC. The overall records of the conferences also reached a tipping point, as the Pac-12 record against other FBS conferences surpassed the SEC record against other FBS conferences for I believe the first time this season.
There is only a gap of 3.7% though. I think based on the discussion above, when it’s a winning percentage that close, you need to look a bit deeper.
When you go down the line, the SEC’s opponents are consistently better though. Judge for yourself though. I’ll start with how they did against the ACC, Big Ten, and Big XII, respectively. I think the top four teams of each conference are fairly easy to determine, so I’ll separate it there. Unfortunately, there were no games between the SEC and the Pac-12.
After giving the records, I will list the wins over the top four, followed by other losses to teams outside of the top four. “Good” losses don’t prove as much and neither do wins over mediocre teams.
Pac-12 vs. ACC: 1-0 vs. top 4 , 2-1 vs. others
SEC vs. ACC: 2-5 vs. top 4, 1-0 vs. others
Oregon beat Florida St.
Boston College beat USC
Georgia beat Clemson
Georgia beat Louisville.
Pac-12 vs. Big Ten: 1-1 vs. top 4, 5-1 vs. others
SEC vs. Big Ten: 2-2 vs. top 4, 1-1 vs. others
Oregon beat Michigan St.
Rutgers beat Washington St.
LSU beat Wisconsin
Missouri beat Minnesota
Indiana beat Missouri
Pac-12 vs. Big XII: 1-0 vs. top 4 (UCLA), 1-1 vs. others
SEC vs. Big XII: 1-2 vs. top 4 (Auburn), 4-0 vs. others
UCLA beat Kansas St.
Oklahoma St. beat Washington
Auburn beat Kansas St.
So the SEC played 14 games against top-4 opponents of the other power conferences against only 4 for the Pac-12. You can’t tell me that’s not a disproportionate ratio. It happened to be that the team who played two of three was the best team in the Pac-12, and the one who won the other was arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, UCLA. UCLA beat the same team SEC #6 Auburn beat.
The Pac-12 makes up some ground with Notre Dame, but I don’t believe they would have been a top-4 team in any power conference apart from possibly the Big XII (unfortunately, their recent games with Oklahoma didn’t take place this year to let us know more clearly). Arizona St. and USC beat Notre Dame. The Irish beat Stanford of the Pac-12 and LSU of the SEC. LSU and Stanford were similarly ranked in their respective conferences, and Notre Dame beat both by a field goal.
LSU was also denied what could have been a game-changing touchdown right before halftime. I don’t bring that up to say LSU is better than Stanford or their loss is more excusable, but I think we can infer that if Notre Dame played two higher teams in the SEC like they did in the Pac-12 (Arizona St. and USC were higher in the Pac-12 than Stanford), they most likely would have lost both games.
Anyway, the differences in schedules don’t end there. I think CUSA, MAC, and Sun Belt only have two teams worth considering apiece, but I’ll go with the top 4 for the MWC and AAC. Neither of those are very deep, but they’re centered around a few serious teams. The MWC had four teams who each won at least 10 games, so I think they’re all worth considering strongly (though not as strongly as the top 4 of the power conferences of course). The AAC had three teams tie for first. East Carolina was not in that tie, but I think they made up for having a couple more losses (two to teams in that tie) with their wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech out of conference, so I’ll give them credit for 4 too. I’ll break these down collectively.
Pac-12 vs. G5: 2-3 vs. top teams, 16-1 vs. others
SEC vs. G5: 10-0 vs. top teams (Auburn), 18-1 vs. others
UCLA beat Memphis
Utah beat Colorado St.
Nevada beat Washington St.
South Carolina beat East Carolina
Florida beat East Carolina
Missouri beat Central Florida
Missouri beat Toledo
Ole Miss beat Boise St.
Ole Miss beat Memphis
Ole Miss beat ULL
Auburn beat Louisiana Tech
Arkansas beat Northern Illinois
Tennessee beat Utah St.
Temple beat Vanderbilt
Despite winning 11 games over the Mountain West, the Pac- 12 only won the bowl game against a 10-game winner. The Pac-12 was 0-2 against those teams otherwise and also lost to Nevada, the #6 MWC team. The Pac-12 also suffered a loss to BYU, who I included as one of the good G5 teams even though they’re independent.
The only SEC loss to a non-P5 team was by the worst team in the SEC, Vanderbilt. They lost to Temple.
I mention who won the games because I have no problem with Oregon and UCLA both being in the top 10. You can even put them both ahead of Alabama if you want to, but they got all the major wins for the Pac-12, except for the two over Notre Dame and the one over Colorado St.
I just don’t think the accomplishments of those two teams put the Pac-12 as a whole ahead of the SEC. The fact that teams so far down the SEC won major games, not to mention that 5 teams that weren’t even in the top half of the SEC won bowl games. These are not the games mentioned above, except for the Florida win over East Carolina.
If you evaluate conferences anything like teams are evaluated in the main, you’d have to acknowledge that the SEC was far more tested in terms of opposition, and that how tested they were overcomes the slight deficit in winning percentages.
Some people only want to look at performance among the top teams or don’t care at all (win or lose) what happened against non-P5 opponents, but that’s not how anyone I know of looks at teams. The concepts overlap, but I’ll give analogies.
Regarding the former outlook, West Virginia and LSU looked like two of the best teams when they played top teams. WVU was within a possession of Alabama for 50 minutes (losing by 10), beat Baylor, and lost by a single point to TCU. LSU beat Wisconsin, beat Ole Miss, and lost to Alabama in overtime. No one I know of is going to ignore that LSU lost to Arkansas and Notre Dame or that West Virginia lost to Texas and Texas A&M though.
Regarding the latter outlook, the problem many people had with Ohio St. was that they lost to Virginia Tech, who barely even qualified for a bowl game. Imagine they had lost to Navy instead. That wouldn’t count against them? So when the Pac-12 loses to BYU and Nevada, that should count against them.
Still others might say that you look at the performance at the end. So between the last week of the season and the bowls, the SEC lost nine games to other conferences (even all of those were either the best independent team [Notre Dame] or in the top 4 of P5 conferences).
Anyway, as I indicated at the beginning, I’ll grant that there are ways of looking at this that would not put the SEC first, but not the way I’ve ever approached this discussion.
The demise of the SEC West was also greatly exaggerated. Even counting the bowl losses, the SEC West won 85.7% of its non-conference games. Granted, the Pac-12 South won 86.9%, but refer back to what I said about strength of schedule. Most of those quality SEC wins were by the West. Then take out the Oregon wins when you consider the Pac-12. It’s not even close.
Also, it’s been overlooked that the SEC East went 5-0. They got a lot closer to the SEC West in the process. The SEC East won a total of 78.8% of their non-conference games. The Pac-12 North, on the other hand, won only 73.9% of their non-conference games.
The numbers I just gave count FCS opponents, so that’s where some of the discrepancy is, but I excluded those games initially because strength of schedule matters.
Including the FCS games, the Pac-12 was only 0.4 percentage points ahead, and there wouldn’t even be that difference had the Florida/Idaho game not been canceled. Even if you don’t place a high premium on it, if you don’t think strength of schedule can change the outcome of just one game out of dozens, then I guess this just isn’t for you. Also, I guess Marshall should have been in the top 2 going into Thanksgiving, and Florida St. was the best team going into the playoff games despite how those games turned out.
I think the bowl results are pretty conclusive as to the rest of the Power 5 conferences and many of the others, so rather than trying to fill up another blog with that, I’ll just list the teams and mention any highlights briefly.
3. Big Ten
Like the SEC/Pac-12 discussion, the B1G had a slightly worse record than the ACC against the P5, but the level of competition was higher. For instance, it played six games against the top half of the SEC compared to only four by the ACC. The ACC had a better record against the SEC than the B1G did, but mostly because they played Florida, South Carolina, and Kentucky. Also, the Big Ten had fewer losses overall, meaning they had fewer bad losses. It also helps that the B1G went 5-1 against the ACC, the only loss to Virginia Tech by Ohio St.
If you’re not convinced, this is the list of their P5 wins to compare with the others: Pitt, Syracuse, Miami, Boston College, North Carolina, Baylor, Washington St., Oregon, Missouri, Alabama, Auburn.
This is more a symptom of the weakness of the Big XII, who went only 6-11 against P5 conferences compared to the mark I mentioned by the ACC (nearly .500).
P5 wins by the Big XII: Maryland, Iowa, Minnesota, Washington, Tennessee, Ole Miss. Two were against top teams of those conferences, but both were wins by TCU. Not a lot of depth.
P5 wins by the ACC: Ohio St., Oklahoma St., Kansas, Oklahoma, USC, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi St.
Also, if you didn’t notice, the ACC went 3-0 against the Big XII.
5. Big XII
Even though 6-11 vs. the P5 isn’t great, it beats the 5-18 mark of the MWC by far enough that we don’t really have to look into the specifics much. The other four conferences went a combined 10-79. I did give the CUSA credit for having a better bowl season, but the bowl win by Louisiana Tech over Illinois was the only win of the season by the CUSA over a P5 opponent. Also, the Big XII only lost two games to a non-P5 opponent compared to the MWC’s nine losses against that group.
Notre Dame, BYU, and Navy were all a bit above average (at least in records) while Army was a bit below. They went just under .500 against P5 opponents, and a few games over .500 against the FBS. Most of the big wins were by Notre Dame, but BYU beat Texas, Cal, and Houston. Navy didn’t do anything spectacular, but they did beat three teams with winning records: Texas St., Georgia Southern, and San Diego St. The only somewhat bad losses were by Army: Yale, Kent St., and Wake Forest.
7. Mountain West (MWC)
The MWC, as usual, was clearly the best of the rest. It was competitive with many P5 opponents and had the best record of the G5 conferences against them. Also, it suffered no embarrassing losses. It went undefeated against FCS opponents (unlike the Big XII, by the way). There were only three losses to non-bowl teams. Colorado and Oregon St. beat Hawaii, and Oregon St. beat San Diego St. Colorado was a bad team, but they didn’t beat one of the MWC’s seven bowl teams. As to the Oregon St. win over San Diego St., it’s not shameful in any way for a low-level G5 bowl team to lose to possibly one of the best P5 non-bowl teams. If there were a losing-record championship game, I probably would have liked to have seen Oregon St. vs. Kentucky.
The CUSA has to have been happy with how well it fared given the defection of so many teams to the American (AAC), who I believe it just barely edged out. I mentioned the CUSA only had the one win over a P5 conference, and while that was certainly a negative, as were the two FCS losses. The CUSA had better games against everyone in between, however. 21-25 vs. the FBS is a lot better than the 10-31 mark of the AAC. The CUSA went 3-1 against the AAC (losing only to Memphis), it beat three of the MAC bowl teams (compared to only one such win by the AAC), and it beat three MWC teams (compared to only one). The wins over ULL and Navy roughly cancel out the two AAC wins over BYU.
10. Mid-American (MAC)
Like the AAC, the MAC only had 10 wins, but unlike the AAC, the MAC didn’t beat teams like North Carolina and Virginia Tech and did lose to two FCS teams. The MAC only beat three bowl teams: Pitt, South Alabama, and Arkansas St. The last two were wins in bowl games.
11. Sun Belt (SBC)
The Sun Belt won only 5 FBS games, two over bowl teams. ULL beat Nevada, and Arkansas St. beat Utah St. It did get one P5 win, but Wake Forest (who lost to ULM) barely counts.