Conference Comparison: Final Analysis

This is the fourth 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 1 and Part 2 and Part 3.

Because of my catching up today from delays related to moving, some of you may be seeing this before you see Part 3. I encourage you to scroll down (if you’re reading this on the front page) or click the Part 3 link above and read that first before reading this final analysis.

Now, if you’ve been following this closely, you probably have an idea where this is going. The last step in this process is to take a simple average of the score from each category to arrive at the final score. It’s the simplest way to do this, and while there may be a more complicated method of deriving what the proportions should be, I don’t know what it could be so I don’t care. Plus this year, it wouldn’t affect the winner either:


After winning each category, the SEC wins the outright title with an impressive score of 5.4236. I didn’t know that 5.4236 would be impressive when going into this process, but when you compare to the second place Big 12’s 1.9967 it sounds a bit better. Third place goes to the Pac-10 at 1.8991. Fourth is the much maligned ACC with -1.1391, a respectable showing after the beating it took in the post that started it all. Fifth is the Big Ten with -1.3317, a disappointing result after lofty expectations at the beginning. Last is the poor Big East with -1.9662, ravaged by ACC expansion and poor scheduling.

I had expected the SEC to win this little contest, but I didn’t think it would be such a landslide. The SEC’s success against non-conference top ten teams is really what gave it a boost, and its success in BCS games helped solidify the lead. A lot of people criticize the SEC for scheduling weak out of conference games, and rightfully so, but when the SEC does get to play other big conference teams either in the regular season or postseason, it does make the most of it

I had thought that the Big 12 and Pac-10 would be clumped together at 3 and 4, but instead they were at 2 and 3. They are similar conferences in that the Big 12 is dominated by Oklahoma and Texas and the Pac-10 is dominated by USC. One thing that the Big 12 has going for it is that Nebraska seems to be on the rise potentially giving it a third elite team. Neither of these two conferences has the strength at the top that the Big Ten has, but they appear to be deeper and at least by these metrics, better.

As it turns out, the ACC hasn’t been the worst conference based on on on-field performance, but rather the fourth-best conference. All of those losses don’t count against it since it shouldn’t have won most of those games. Now, it’s time for you, dear reader, to put on your interpreter’s hat and decide whether the abundance of games where the ACC was the weaker team is because of scheduling quirks or if it’s because it just simply has worse teams than everyone else. That’s why I’m providing full records of all games considered in this study.

The Big Ten’s misfortune here seems to be linked mainly to playing USC in bowl games. Of all the negative points the conference earned, only two of them didn’t come from losing to USC (2001 Illinois losing to LSU in the BCS). On the surface, that may be. However, it can also be traced to the fact that all gains from winning as the lesser team or winning push games was negated by bad losses. The Big Ten had chances, but it couldn’t take advantage of them. Overall, it can improve its standing if the teams don’t rely almost exclusively on Ohio State and Michigan to play top ten teams or to appear in BCS bowls.

The Big East’s misfortune can be traced partially to the exodus of Miami and Virginia Tech. That much is true. It’s bigger problem was losing to lesser competition. Some of that may be growing pains, as West Virginia tries to get used to being a national juggernaut and programs like Pitt and USF try to grow into national powers. It will be hard for the Big East to catch up with only 8 teams, but it has the best opportunity to improve in Category 1, performance vs. BCS teams the previous year. Big East teams only play 7 conference games out of 12 regular season games, so aggressive scheduling and pulling some upsets in those 5 non-conference games each could vault the Big East ahead of some of the other conferences.

In the end though, everyone in college football is chasing the SEC, and for that it gets a graphic:



3 Responses to Conference Comparison: Final Analysis

  1. Matt Trowbridge says:

    Your research and numbers are incredible, but your methodology is flawed beyond belief. Yes, your research proves what everybody already knew, that the SEC was the best. But how can the Big Ten with an 8-7 BCS record be ranked behind the 1-8 ACC or 5-7 Big 12? Your system would give the MAC a zero rating. Is the Big Ten worse than the MAC too? How about worse than a high school conference which also would come out at zero? You can’t be negative when you have the MOST qualifiers of any conference AND an above-.500 record with the second-most wins. You should try a system that doesn’t subtract points, but only adds. Your way, the ACC could send a 7-5 Pittsburgh-like team to the BCS, lose every year and never get docked, while a 12-0 Big Ten team could lose by a couple of points in the national title game and come up with a negative score. That’s absolutely nonsensical. Like the old runs created category some people used to use in baseball, where players added runs plus RBIs but subtrated home runs. That way a triple and a single counted for two (1 for the triple and 1 for the RBI single) but solo homers counted for only one (1 plus 1 minus 1). Every run under that formula counted for two, except home runs, which counted for only one.

  2. year2 says:

    The point was to compare BCS leagues against each other, not mid-majors or “high school conferences.” If I was doing that, you can be sure there’d be provisions to judge the difference between the Big Ten and the MAC.

    The idea is to see if the teams that are supposed to win do win. If the Big Ten sent a 12-0 team to a national title game, then it should win over a team from another conference with a loss, right? No penalty for winning games you’re supposed to win, but no reward either. You’re *supposed* to win it. But, if the 7-5 ACC team wins over a team with a better record from another conference, then it should get rewarded for doing so. It wasn’t supposed to win the game but it did, so points are awarded.

    BCS games are only a part of the equation because BCS conference teams play regular season games against each other. I consider them to be about as equal as bowls. Maybe you don’t, but I do.

    In the end, the sample size of inter-BCS conference games is laughably small, so one aberrant game can throw things off. Take this with a grain of salt, and also try to realize that outside of Ohio State, Michigan, and sometimes Wisconsin, the Big Ten hasn’t been that good since the beginning of this study.

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