This is the first part of a four part series to find a quantitative answer as to which conference is the best in college football right now. The explanation of how this works is here. See also Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
EDIT: In creating these figures, somehow I missed Louisville’s bowl win over Wake Forest in the Big East numbers, though not on the ACC numbers. I am not going to rerun numbers since Louisville finished with a better record and so was expected to win that game. As a result, no points are awarded.
The first category in the Conference Comparison is previous year’s performance against BCS teams. As a quick reminder, a “BCS team” is not a team that went to a BCS bowl, but any team from a BCS conference plus Notre Dame. The idea of looking at this particular stat is that since we’re looking at which conference is best right now, it makes sense to inspect the goings on of the previous year. By restricting it to BCS teams, we miss teams the best of the mid-majors, like Boise State and Hawaii, but it constricts the study to the relevant conferences, and makes the research a whole lot easier, to be perfectly honest.
In any event, on to the good stuff:
Wins and Losses
In my post about the ACC that started this whole process, I mentioned that the ACC had a 6-16 record against BCS teams. For comparison, here’s how all of the conferences fared:
The ACC did end up tied with the Big 12 for the worst win percentage, but to its credit the ACC also played the most inter-sectional games in 2006. I find this interesting since the ACC, which played the most games, and the Big 12, which played the fewest games, ended up with the same win percentage. The SEC, which receives lots of complaints of poor scheduling every year, ended up playing one less game than the ACC did, and it also lead in wins. To be fair, this does count bowl games.
This kind of comparison isn’t enough, because most, ahem, discussions of the topic of best conference cite these kinds of stats and include nebulous arguments about who schedules the tougher opponents with no number to back them up. That’s where Strength Ratio and Performance Points come in.
Strength Ratio and Performance Points
As you might expect, the ACC and Big 12 had good reason to have the lowest win percentages – they played the toughest slates of non-conference games.
The Big 12 had the highest strength ratio and the ACC’s wasn’t too far behind. The Big Ten and Pac-10 had roughly the same ratios that were slightly above 1, the Big East played competition noticeably lower than its level, and the SEC’s non-conference games were basically evenly matched.
The performance points were where the ACC really took its hit. Virginia Tech (10-3) lost to Georgia (9-4), and Clemson (8-5) lost to both Kentucky (8-5) and South Carolina (8-5) for a 4 point deduction in total. FSU’s bowl win over UCLA (both 7-6) got the ACC a point back, but the damage was already done. All other games played out as expected. A full listing of games played, their results, and won loss records for the ACC’s games, and for all other conferences, can be found at the end of this post.
The Big East joined the ACC in negative territory here. UConn (4-8) winning over Indiana (5-7) scored the conference two points (still important and relevant since the bottoms of conferences count too), but that was squandered away by USF (9-4) losing to Kansas (6-6) and Pittsburgh (6-6) losing to Michigan State (4-8). The Big East was not involved in any push games.
The Big 12 and Pac-10 both came out even. Kansas’ victory over USF was negated by Oklahoma (11-3) losing to Oregon (7-6). I know Oklahoma didn’t really lose to Oregon, but that’s what the record books say. That’s all for the Big 12. Oregon’s win counts for two for the Pac-10, but the Cal Bears (10-3) losing at Tennessee (9-4) negated it. UCLA’s loss in a push game was canceled out USC’s Rose Bowl win over Michigan (both 11-2).
The Big Ten started off strong by snagging two points here in the first category. Together, Indiana’s loss to UConn and Michigan’s loss to USC cost the Big Ten 3 points. However, Michigan State defeating Pitt, Penn State (9-4) defeating Notre Dame (10-3), and Penn State’s bowl win over Tennessee (both 9-4) netted the conference five in the positive column to end up with a net of two.
The top point-getter was the SEC, with three. Tennessee’s loss to Penn State cost the conference a point, but Kentucky and South Carolina beating Clemson gave the SEC two more from push games. Tennessee’s upset of Cal added another two points, giving the SEC three in total.
The SEC ended up with the highest score for the category at 2.9871 since it had the most points and its strength ratio was almost 1. The Big Ten picked up a little bit of ground, moving to 2.1216. The Big 12 and Pac-10 sit a zero, since their games ended up on the whole going the way they should have. This is not a penalty for these conferences, the system just doesn’t reward them for doing what they were supposed to do. The power of the strength ratio to adjust for scheduling shows with the ACC and Big East – the gap was narrowed from a full point down to .1 between the conferences (-2.5722 for the ACC to -2.4799 for the Big East) thanks to the ACC scheduling much better teams than the Big East did.
With one third of the formula down, things are playing out as I had expected – the SEC and Big Ten are on top, the Big 12 and Pac-10 are in the middle, and the ACC and Big East are on the bottom. Will they stay that way? Find out tomorrow as we go on to Category 2: performance versus top-10 opponents since 2002.
Click to link to read the rest of this post if you want to see the complete charts for each conference, which include margin of victory stats along with the ones described above. Read the rest of this entry »