Ranking conference power has become a never ending debate for college football fans. Conference prestige leads to better chances of gaining BCS slots and next year, playoff seeds. With only four playoff seeds expect huge feuds between the leagues. And what if three SEC teams get into the four-team playoff? Welcome to Armageddon.
To sift through the propaganda, we need an objective tool to do this. That is where the Sagarin rankings come in. Sagarin, a formula created by Jeff Sagarin, is the only system that rates all FBS and FCS teams. The main components of the system include strength of schedule and margin of victory. As the season goes along it becomes more accurate. Here is an example I did a couple of years ago on how the Big Ten compares to the Mid-American Conference.
Sagarin does create his own conference rankings too but breaks it down by division. Hence, the SEC West is separated from the SEC East. That’s not what college football fans want.
Using the individual team ranking I simply added the conference teams together and divided by the number of teams in the league to find the average. I also found the conference median, an example would be the seventh best team in a 13-team league. Splitting the difference between the average and the median would be the total score. Here are the results. FCS leagues are italicized and non-BCS leagues are underlined. Remember, a lower score means you are closer to a top 25 ranking. SEC and PAC-12 equal?
The difference is virtually insignificant. The biggest distinction is between the outliers of the conference, Kentucky and California. You guessed it, the worst team in each league. Kentucky (2-10) came in at No. 104 while Cal (1-11) was borderline cancer at No. 118. Cal did not beat a single FBS opponent all year and was only competitive once in PAC-12 play (Arizona). Kentucky was nothing to be proud of but it did make South Carolina and Mississippi State work for it. The better margin of defeat (Kentucky’s football slogan and I say that as a Lexington native) gave the SEC the edge.
The real story though is the SEC is not so vastly better than everyone else. Stanford and Arizona State ended up with the No. 1 and No. 2 most difficult schedules respectfully. This is partly because the PAC-12 plays nine conference games, eliminating a soft non-conference game against a FCS or low level FBS team. Contrast that with Alabama, who played FCS Chattanooga and the leaky nuclear reactor known as 0-12 Georgia State.
ACC bottom feeders
Congratulations to Florida State on winning the championship. Problem is your conference only has three teams in the top 40 (FSU, Clemson and Georgia Tech). The PAC-12 and SEC have 10. Having two teams outside the top 100 (Virginia and N.C. State) is a disaster for a power conference looking for credibility. Florida State better go undefeated again next year if it wants to be in that four-team playoff.
No hope for the AAC
If the SEC and PAC-12 are fine dining then the American Athletic Conference is Long John Silver’s. No one in the league had a strength of schedule in the top 60. Connecticut won three conference games and still finished at No. 121. Don’t even mention dead weight South Florida at No. 143. Oh, and Louisville is going to the ACC next year. Good luck.
Missouri Valley and Colonial make the leap
The other eye-popping score came from two FCS conferences. The Missouri Valley blew past two FBS conferences (MAC and Conference USA) and would have caught the Sun Belt too if it had more than eight teams. This is thanks to No. 17 North Dakota State winning its third FCS title. North Dakota State is the first FCS team to even crack the top 25 of the final Sagarin rankings since the end of the 1996 season (No. 21 Marshall). Its win at No. 23 Kansas State inflated the strength of schedule for the rest of conference.
Three other MVC teams cracked the top 100 as even last place Indiana State did its part. The Sycamores went a dreadful 1-11 and stayed in the top 200 at No. 198. This was in part thanks to a close defeat at Big 10 Purdue. While the Boilermakers shot the average of the Big 10, the Sycamores did only moderate damage to the MVC.
The Colonial Athletic Association also had four schools in the top 100 with No. 66 Towson leading the way. Villanova came in at No. 88 despite its 6-5 record. That’s unheard of for a FCS program.
The Ivy League for having an average FCS ranking despite not giving out scholarships. When six BCS teams are behind No. 112 Princeton and No. 114 Harvard, it’s time to point and laugh. Also to the Pioneer League, another league that does not give scholarships, for staying close with the SWAC.