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Posts Tagged ‘Pac-12’

Conference Championship Rematches

In College Football, Preview on December 1, 2017 at 3:33 PM

I’ve talked about how I think Auburn is basically being treated as if they already beat Georgia a second time, but when there is anything approaching parity between two teams, I think the loser has the advantage in a rematch.

Kerryon Johnson dives for a touchdown in the Georgia @ Auburn game a few weeks ago.

Of course the most obvious rematch in recent years was LSU and Alabama. After the Tigers won at Alabama, the Tide won easily at a neutral site for the national championship.

There was a similar result in the same stadium in 1996 when Florida easily won a rematch over Florida St. after a close game during the regular season. Usually rematches are for the conference championship rather than the national championship though.

LSU’s first win in the SEC Championship in 2001 was a rematch against Tennessee. That was so long ago that the West was much easier to win than the East. LSU won the West despite 3 losses that year, one of which was to Tennessee. Tennessee won by 8 in September of 2001 and lost by 11 in the championship game; so it wasn’t quite as dramatic of a swing as LSU/Alabama in the 2011 season, but it was close.

Matt Mauck jumps for a touchdown in the SEC Championship in 2001.

There was an example ESPN cited of Texas beating Colorado easily in 2005 in both the regular season and the championship, but all of these rematches are between teams where apart from the previous game, it would either be difficult to pick which team is better or the loser would seem to be the better team. In 2005, Texas would have beaten Colorado probably 10 out of 10 times.

Most of the SEC rematches were closer to the Texas-Colorado category. In 2000, Florida was still one of the best teams in the county; and like I said, winning the SEC West wasn’t very impressive back then. I don’t think anyone was surprised that Florida beat Auburn easily in both the regular season and the championship. Four years later, Auburn went undefeated and had already beaten Tennessee by 24 in Knoxville. The Vols made it closer (38-28) in the rematch, but the gap was too large to start out with.

Granted, Georgia would have to make a bigger swing in the final score than LSU did in 2001 (they lost by 23), but I don’t think either the Bulldogs offense or defense was playing the way they normally would toward the end. When you throw the ball a lot, you can have much quicker three-and-outs, which puts more pressure on your defense than it wouldn’t normally feel.

As we saw against LSU, Auburn can score in bursts, and it’s a matter of being able to stop them and respond before it gets too bad. Once Auburn had scored 30 unanswered points against Georgia, it was too late. Had they only scored 20 unanswered instead (or had Georgia re-established its offense sooner), it would have been a one-possession game into the fourth quarter and changed the approach of both sides.

My feeling is that if Auburn is able to get a big lead, they can easily grind out Georgia the rest of the way again. We don’t know what happens if Georgia roughly keeps pace for three quarters though.

Although the TCU-Oklahoma game had a closer final score (38-20), it was 38-14 at halftime, so I think it will be easier for Oklahoma to overpower the Horned Frogs early and often than it will be for Auburn against the Bulldogs. Auburn only led 16-7 at the half.

Clemson-Miami and Wisconsin-Ohio St. are not rematches, so the other notable rematch likely does not have a bearing on the national championship, but USC-Stanford may be the best game of the bunch.

Freshman RB Stephen Carr had 129 all-purpose yards against Stanford in September, but it’s unclear how relevant that game will be tonight.

Although the Trojans won by 18 back in Week 2, Stanford has been the better team in the last two months. Both have lost at Washington St. by 3 points, but Notre Dame beat USC by 35 and lost to Stanford by 18. Stanford has no other losses since September 17.

Stanford has had more of a habit of playing down to opponents than USC has, but I don’t think that will be relevant to this game. I think it’s interesting that USC is favored, but ESPN’s FPI power index gives Stanford a 57% chance of victory. It may be that gamblers have been burned by picking Stanford more times than they have by USC.

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Final Top 25 of the 2016 Season

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on January 11, 2017 at 7:36 PM

I’ll keep you in suspense with my conference assessment (although you can find the summary here), but I thought it was interesting that Ohio St. and Washington were able to stay in the top 4. I know the last time I did a blog Penn St. was #4, but they actually fell to #5 after the Army/Navy game and FCS postseason games were added in.

Clemson didn’t win by as much as the champions have won previously in the CFP era, so my only concern is what if a 2-loss team ends up winning the national championship over a previous unbeaten? The winner might not be the best team in my rankings in that scenario; but it would be hard to have an NFL ranking that would put a 10-6 Super Bowl winner first, so I don’t regard that as a huge issue.

Congratulations to Clemson for not only having the best team (at least in the fourth quarter on Monday) but also the best schedule.

Congratulations to Clemson for not only having the best team (at least in the fourth quarter on Monday) but also the best schedule.

I also thought it was interesting that for the first time since I’ve been doing this the team with the best schedule is the national champion. Of course it didn’t hurt that they played three SEC teams and Ohio St. in addition to their ACC schedule.

Back to the other teams… to be fair, if you divide by playing week, Oklahoma and Florida St. would have passed up Washington. Also, Western Michigan (which had a conference championship game) would have fallen to #11.

USC closed the gap with Penn St. pretty well, but they were too far apart to start with for the Trojans to go ahead. USC did finish in the top 10 though, while Michigan fell out of the top 10 for the first time since Week 4.

LSU didn’t squeeze into the top 25 even though they beat the #25 team Louisville, but the Cardinals had built up enough of an advantage over the course of the season. The ACC bowl results didn’t hurt, although as I’ll discuss in the next blog the SEC didn’t do too badly either.

It also hurt the Tigers to have one fewer playing week. If you average ratings by playing week, LSU would have finished 22nd. If you give the Tigers a win over South Alabama (the canceled game), LSU would have probably finished 20th.

Other big movers were Tennessee, Oklahoma St., and Florida, which all improved 4 or 5 spots. Along with the teams that fell out (and Louisville), big movers in the wrong direction were Colorado, Boise St., and West Virginia.

South Florida actually fell a few spots despite beating South Carolina, but that was largely due to a disastrous bowl season for the American Conference (or AAC).

Stanford only had a modest gain after beating North Carolina, but the Pac-12 didn’t have a great bowl season either. It only qualified 6 teams, and only 2 other Pac-12 teams (USC and Utah) won bowl games. Stanford did not play Utah this season and USC was also in the other division, so the other wins didn’t help the Cardinal as much as another Pac-12 North win would have.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Clemson 2
2 Alabama 1
3 Ohio St. 3
4 Washington 5
5 Oklahoma 8
6 Florida St. 10
7 Wisconsin 9
8 Penn St. 4
9 W. Michigan 6
10 USC 13
11 Michigan 7
12 Tennessee 16
13 Okie St. 18
14 Stanford 17
15 Colorado 11
16 Florida 21
17 Boise St. 12
18 S. Florida 15
19 App. St. —
20 U. Miami —
21 Virginia Tech —
22 West Virginia 14
23 W. Kentucky —
24 Georgia Tech —
25 Louisville 19

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings: (20) Nebraska, (22) Temple, (23) Houston, (24) Auburn, (25) Pittsburgh

Week 13 Top 25 and Comments

In College Football, College Football Playoff, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 22, 2016 at 8:38 PM

Since I didn’t get a chance to post my rankings blog until today, I’m delaying the SEC Wednesday blog to Thursday. Of course I will try to release it by game time on Thursday, but you may want to check the blog directly in case I’m delayed in one of the various ways I share this.

Before I get to the teams, I wanted to note that the SEC fell out of the top spot of the top-40 conference rankings but not the top-to-bottom ones. There is only one SEC team in my top 10 now, and of course LSU fell out of my top 40. The middle-of-the-pack SEC teams do enough to hurt the higher teams but don’t do enough to put themselves in the top 40.

It’s been strange to have the top-to-bottom so at odds with the top-40 rankings this season.

Top 40:
1. ACC
2. Big Ten
3. SEC
4. Pac-12

Top to Bottom:
1. SEC
2. ACC
3. Pac-12
4. Big Ten

The Big Ten East takes top division in my standings. It did so with its top three teams alone even though both the SEC West and ACC Coastal have more top-40 teams apiece. I don’t average out the divisions, but I would guess the SEC West would be #1 if I did. Maybe I’ll add room for that in the off-season.

The only thing I have to contribute to the playoff conversation is that the first three spots look pretty straightforward (Alabama by winning 2 games, Clemson by winning 2 games, and a 1-loss Big Ten champion or 1-loss non-champion Ohio St.). Even though they’re ahead now, the Sooners have a disadvantage against the Huskies because Washington potentially has two games left instead of one.

If Ohio St. beats Michigan, there is also a strong possibility that the Big XII would be shut out even if Washington were to lose. It would be hard to put the Sooners ahead of a two-loss Big Ten champion (which would be inevitable if Penn St., Ohio St., and Wisconsin all win this weekend). It’s worth noting that one of the teams to beat Oklahoma was Ohio St.

In addition to Oklahoma and Washington, Colorado also make a significant move upwards. The bad news for Washington and Colorado is that now both of their rivalry opponents are damaged as Utah also lost to Oregon. Colorado has not clinched the South, but obviously that should be the opponent that Washington should hope for.

The Pac-12 South will be decided in Boulder, where Colorado has not beaten Utah since 1957.

The Pac-12 South will be decided in Boulder, where Colorado has not beaten Utah since 1957.

I was surprised a little bit by how high Florida climbed in the top 25, but I expected them to make the top 25 with a win. LSU has a long way to go to make the top 25, but it’s not impossible with two quality wins (A&M and a bowl game).

Stanford, USC, and Virginia Tech garnered wins over losing teams who weren’t too terrible, but their progress had more to do with losses by others. The Hokies are one win away from getting the honor of playing Clemson for the ACC title, and USC makes the Pac-12 title game if Utah beats Colorado.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Ohio St. 3
4 Michigan 4
5 Penn St. 5
6 Oklahoma 13
7 Boise St. 8
8 Washington 12
9 Wisconsin 9
10 W. Michigan 7
11 Tennessee 10
12 Colorado 23
13 Louisville 6
14 Florida St. 14
15 Nebraska 16
16 Okie St. 19
17 Houston 21
18 Florida —
19 Auburn 11
20 Texas A&M 17
21 S. Florida 24
22 USC —
23 Stanford —
24 Virginia Tech —
25 N. Carolina 20

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings:
15 Wash. St.
18 West Virginia
22 Utah
25 Troy

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.

american
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.

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

Conference Report Week 1

In College Football, Conference Reports on September 11, 2015 at 3:07 PM

The new inter-conference week doesn’t start until Utah/Utah St. tonight.  A formerly WAC and Mountain West and currently Pac-12 team against a formerly WAC and Sun Belt and currently Mountain West team.

Louisiana Tech, a former WAC team, is now in the same conference as Western Kentucky, a former Sun Belt team, so that was not an interconference game last night.

A couple of disclaimers and reminders.  In these conference reports, I basically evaluate each conference as if it were a team.  For instance, “team SEC” beat Wisconsin when Alabama beat Wisconsin, and “team Big Ten” lost to Alabama.  So the SEC gets credit for beating Wisconsin just like a team would.  I don’t treat them as “generic Big Ten team”.  So even though only one week has passed, it’s almost like evaulating one season for a team against another since I believe only one conference game has been played.

Another thing to point out is this is NOT picking the conference who has the best team on average.  Alabama can go 0-8 in the SEC, and the important thing is it got that big non-conference win.  Baylor is apparently a very good team, but how good they are won’t matter too much in these because they don’t appear to have any quality non-conference opponents.

Also, records are against FBS opponents unless otherwise indicated.

I always liked this version of the logo.

I always liked this version of the logo.

The SEC was the unquestionable top conference of week 1, going 10-1 with wins over Wisconsin, Arizona St., Louisville, and North Carolina.  The only loss was to that Western Kentucky team I just mentioned.  The Hilltoppers beat Vanderbilt by two points after the SEC ’Doremats failed on a late two-point conversion attempt.  According to most gambling sources, Vandy either beat the spread or came out even, so while it would have been nice for the SEC to get that win, it’s not a huge problem that it didn’t.

The only record by a P5 conference (those are SEC, Big Ten, Big XII, ACC, and Pac-12) that came close was that of the 5-1 Big XII.  But the ten teams of the XII only combined to beat one major-conference opponent.  This was TCU’s win over Minnesota.  The other major opponent was when Texas lost to Notre Dame.  The other four wins were nothing special: SMU, Central Michigan, Akron, and Georgia Southern (which just became a full member of the Sun Belt after being in FCS and a transitional year).  Also, that record is not counting the fact that Kansas lost to FCS South Dakota St.  So even if Kansas is the Vanderbilt equivalent, losing to Western Kentucky is probably better than losing to South Dakota St.

The Mountain West went 2-1 with wins over Washington, and Colorado, but they also lost to an FCS team (Wyoming to North Dakota).  I can’t fault UNLV (another possible worst-in-conference team) much for losing to Northern Illinois.

The only other conference with a winning record was the CUSA at 5-4.  The CUSA did not beat any impressive teams, although it was a surprise that FIU beat Central Florida (which is now and American Conference [AAC] team).  The two wins over P5 teams were over Purdue and Vanderbilt, who are possibly the worst teams in their respective conferences.

The ACC is last among the power conferences, although it didn’t really do anything wrong, but there should have been a toss-up or something close where they won.  The only one where the ACC should have had a chance was North Carolina vs. South Carolina (in Charlotte); and the Tar Heels were respectable competition, but they didn’t win.  I can’t hold the losses by Virginia to UCLA, by Virginia Tech to Ohio St., and by Louisville to Auburn against the conference to any large extent.

The Pac-12 was relatively disappointing.  Arizona St. was supposed to be one of the best teams in the conference (based on returning starters anyway), and Stanford was supposed to be a sleeper team in the North Division.  So those losses (to Texas A&M and Northwestern, respectively) are worse than the ACC losses.  As for the wins, they are: Michigan (Utah probably isn’t great, so this is a positive), Virginia (which UCLA should have won easily anyway), UTSA (which Arizona should have won easily and didn’t), and Arkansas St. (by USC in a blowout that was expected).  Colorado might be the worst team in the Pac-12, but Hawaii was certainly a winnable game.  Also, another contender for worst in the Pac-12 is WSU, which certainly should have beaten Portland St.

So I mentioned two big wins by the Big Ten above, but there were somehow six losses.  They were all fairly excusable though.  Michigan and Minnesota put up a good fight in games few expected them to win (I picked Michigan, but hard to win on the road against a P5 opponent with four turnovers), and Nebraska of course lost the heart-breaker to BYU.  The other two wins were against MAC teams that probably won’t even be competitive in that conference, but still I think there were more positives than negatives despite the losing record.

Since we’re down to three independents, I’m not going to go into those as a category this year.  They don’t even play one another, so it’s hard to take pride in each other’s accomplishments, which is kind of the point of this. You might not be happy if your team goes 8-5, but you can take some pride in playing a lot of good teams that did well against other conferences and still making a bowl game.  It was different when Navy was there and played Army and Notre Dame annually, and Notre Dame has also played Army and BYU in recent years (I consider 2010 a recent year anyway).

The rest is mostly just a matter of who had the ugliest losses.  The good news is I mentioned the three relevant FCS losses already.  I’m just going to call it a tie between the MAC and AAC.  On the one hand, the AAC beat Penn St., but on the other hand (as mentioned) it lost to FIU.  The MAC just had vanilla results up and down the line.  Idaho and UNLV are possibly two of the worst teams in the FBS, and I can’t blame them for losing to teams that will likely make bowls.  Illinois and Old Dominion may not, but if the MAC is to beat such teams, EMU (I always wondered why their mascot wasn’t the emus) and Kent St. are probably not going to be the ones to do it.

The Sun Belt went winless (apart from against the FCS), so you can’t really do worse.

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

Ranking the Conferences, Part IV: Full Season 2014

In College Football, Conference Reports on January 17, 2015 at 5:29 PM

sec-pinwheel-logo

Part I: Frame of Reference
Part II: King of the Bowls
Part III: Overall Bowl Performance

1. SEC
2. Pac-12

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.

4. ACC

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.

6. Independents

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.

8. CUSA
9. AAC

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.

Ranking the Conferences, Part II: King of the Bowls

In Bowls, College Football, Conference Reports on January 7, 2015 at 4:30 PM
I believe these are all of this season's bowl games.  Apologies if I missed something.

I believe these are all of this season’s bowl games. Apologies if I missed something.

Part I: Frame of Reference

This went long enough just covering the top two conferences, so I plan at least one more blog to finish off the bowl list and another for the overall list.

Before assessing the overall strength of conferences, we should discuss the bowl games, since that’s often the first place people go when talking about conference strength.

I’m skeptical about the bowls being very decisive because all but four teams (until 2014, all but two teams) aren’t really playing for anything but a nice trophy that few people really care about. Not only that, but there is a month layover after the games that really count.

Granted, anyone who lost more than a game or two was out well before the season ended, but there were few teams who didn’t at least have a rivalry game to get excited about in the last couple of weeks of the season. Also, what often happens is a team will be disappointed or disinterested in a bowl game.

There is a lot of talk about let-down games during the season, but a fair percentage of the time the better team ends up winning games like that. It’s a little bit different in bowl games. A relative lack of interest and motivation over a month makes a bigger difference than over a week. Also, you’re pretty much guaranteed an opponent who will beat you if they have a fairly good game by their standards and you have a fairly poor game by your standards.

Nonetheless, if you take the bowl games as one week, that’s still the most important playing week of the season when determining relative conference strength.

The most important consideration for me is how many wins a conference has. I think this is more important than winning percentage, because winning percentage is based more on who your competition is and which teams you have qualify. If only your best five teams are put to the test in a bowl game, what about the other half or more of your conference? They wouldn’t likely have won bowl games. Also, you have to look at who the wins came against.

The SEC, the #1 conference going into the bowl season, had the most wins with 7, 6 of which were against Power 5 conferences. The SEC had 12 teams qualify (and was very close to a 13th). The ACC was second with 11, but the ACC only won a total of 4 bowl games, two of which were not against other Power 5 conferences.

The Pac-12, the #2 conference going into the bowl season, did very well with 6 wins (5 over Power 5 conferences) out of 8 bowl teams. As a result, discussion of the best conference of the bowl season should rightly center in on the SEC and the Pac-12

Where I may part with some is I believe strength of schedule should not only be evaluated in the abstract (how good the opponents are on their own) but also by how difficult the opponent is in light of how highly ranked the conference member.

For instance, the most impressive non-conference win of the season in my opinion was by the ACC when Virginia Tech beat Ohio St. Virginia Tech was about #10 in the ACC, and they beat a team that made the championship game. If Florida St. had beaten Ohio St. instead, it would have been a lot less impressive.

All of the Pac-12 bowl games were fairly even match-ups. I think the combination of Arizona and Utah was a fair match for Boise St. and Colorado St. of the MWC. Each conference won one of the two. The combination of UCLA and Washington was also a fair match for Kansas St. and Oklahoma St., and again each conference won one of the two.

Since there were no other losses, everything else goes in the plus column for the Pac-12. Of course, Oregon beat Florida St. going away. Arizona St. was #4 in the Pac-12 and beat the ACC #5 Duke. Stanford was #7 in the Pac-12 and beat Big Ten #6 Maryland. USC was #5 and beat Big Ten #5 Nebraska.

Returning to the SEC, the results were contrary to what one would have expected. Most of the season, the top five teams of the SEC West beat all the other teams. It wasn’t until the last few weeks that that group lost to ANYONE else. Auburn lost to Texas A&M and Georgia, and Ole Miss and LSU lost to Arkansas. Still, it was interesting that three of those losses were still inside the SEC West. Also, despite the fact that the SEC lost more inter-conference games in rivalry week than it had lost the entire rest of the season combined, not a single one of those losses were by the SEC West.

Those five top SEC West teams were curiously the only teams to lose bowl games though. I think part of it was that disappointment, letdown sort of phenomenon I mentioned, but obviously that wouldn’t apply to Alabama. I think what happened there is the Tide defense got worn down, and then the Tide offense couldn’t keep up with the Buckeyes. That’s not the kind of game Alabama is accustomed to having to win, although they did manage to win a similar game against Auburn.

Also, those teams gave each other a beating. The most notable injury in an inter-SEC West game was to Laquon Treadwell, but I know LSU lost a lineman in the Alabama game, and some other players (such as Kenny Hilliard) were banged up as well.

Out of the five games lost, there was only a game and a half that was bad. Auburn took Wisconsin to overtime, LSU lost in the last second, Alabama was alive in their game until the final minute. The second half by Mississippi St. and the whole game by Ole Miss were pretty ugly though.

I believe I counted accurately that despite those five teams not winning any bowl games of their own, they got a total of 18 wins over teams that won bowl games. That’s more than the top five of any other CONFERENCE. The only one that comes close is, of course, the Pac-12.

I was a bit surprised that with Arkansas playing Texas in Texas (#10 SEC vs. #6 of the Big XII), Texas A&M playing West Virginia (#9 SEC vs. #5 of Big XII), South Carolina playing U. Miami (#12 SEC vs. #10 of the ACC), and Tennessee playing Iowa (#11 SEC vs. #7 of the Big Ten), no other SEC team lost a game. I won’t pretend I was at all surprised by Missouri, Georgia, and Florida winning all of theirs, but that doesn’t make them count for less.

It’s frustrating that there were no games between the SEC and the Pac-12 of course, but there are a few different ways to look at this.

There were four bowl wins by the Pac-12 over teams in the top 5 of power conferences and two losses to other teams. If we limit that to the top 4, the Pac-12 had two wins inside and two losses outside.

The SEC had three bowl wins over teams in the top 5 of power conferences, and Notre Dame was the only loss outside of that group. Notre Dame barely had a winning record against Power 5 opponents (even though they generally played pretty good ones), but we don’t have to count them as of that quality. Of course, if we discount the Irish too much, that devalues the season as a whole for the Pac-12 (three games against them vs. only one by the SEC). If we limit it to the top 4, it’s two wins and one loss. These are both better ratios than the Pac-12 had. I would also note that the Pac-12 didn’t have a sub-top-5 team beat a top-5 team of another conference.

Here’s another way to look at it. The Pac-12 wasn’t really over- or under-matched in any of their games, so they’re 6-2 in games in which they weren’t over-matched or under-matched.

The SEC was 3-2 in games in which they were over-matched. The wins I mentioned were by Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Tennessee; the losses were by Ole Miss (#4 SEC vs. #1 [tie] in the Big XII) and Auburn (#6 SEC vs. #3 in the Big Ten).

You could argue Florida was under-matched by East Carolina (#8 SEC vs. #4 American/AAC), but even though they struggled against the top of their own conference, East Carolina did beat ACC #6 North Carolina 70-41, so I think it’s fair to say that was basically even as well.

If the SEC and Pac-12 had the same number of teams, I would honestly struggle to pick a better conference despite the Pac-12’s 75 winning percentage in bowls vs. the SEC’s 58.3%. But since ½ of each conference won bowl games, I think it’s fair to give the Pac-12 a little slack for not being over-matched in any games and for having a smaller percentage of teams qualify. So they’re my #1 for the bowl “week”.

I do want to note that I don’t blame the Pac-12 for not having better bowl opponents. There aren’t that many great bowls out west that the other major conferences really want to play in. Also, the bowls in the East aren’t particularly disposed to trying to get Pac-12 opponents. Just because they’re good teams doesn’t mean a large group of fans want to travel two or three thousand miles to go to the game. But just like with my team standings, I can only judge on the games that actually take place.