Last year I used the Sagarin ratings to find a quantitative method of determining the best conference of college football. I like the Sagarin ratings because it gives a score and ranking for every team in both FBS and FCS levels. Sagarin splits conference rankings into divisions so I had to do some work to see how the conferences stack up.
I found a conference average and median then split the difference to determine a total score.
The results are going to make SEC fans very happy. The Southeastern Conference had 13 of its 14 teams in the top 50 leaving Vanderbilt was the weak link as an outlier. Eight teams were in the top 15. That’s right, over half the SEC is ranked in the top 15 of the Sagarin rankings.
Alabama’s loss to Ohio State only dropped the Tide to No. 4 but the big surprise was Georgia at No. 5. That is because the Bulldogs went 6-2 against top 30 teams including wins over Clemson and Louisville from the ACC. This doesn’t mean that everyone should view Georgia as a top five team, but it does mean Georgia beat many quality teams this season that should not be overlooked.
While SEC critics will point to the elite teams losing on New Year’s Day the conference did go 7-5 in bowls. While the front of the pack teams in Mississippi State and Ole Miss lost, they couldn’t fall far because teams they beat in the regular season (Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Tennessee,) all won. Ole Miss blew out a Boise State squad back in August and that win looks better after Boise won the Fiesta Bowl over Arizona.
Arizona’s loss is a blemish on a great bowl season for the PAC-12, who went 6-2 in the postseason. The PAC-12 is the SEC’s biggest competition just like last season as half the conference is among the top 25 teams. The PAC-12’s issue is the bottom half with Washington State, Oregon State and Colorado outside the top 80. Washington State dropped to two games out of conference and Oregon State won but struggled with Hawaii and FCS Portland State. Colorado had a dismal 2-10 season with close calls to UMass and Hawaii as well. This pulled the PAC-12 down just enough to give the SEC the edge.
The Big 12, ACC and Big Ten pretty much evened out. Although it’s important to note TCU is the No. 1 team here. I doubt being the No. 1 Sagarin rating team is going to make up for missing the playoff. All three conferences had too many teams dragging their rankings down. Looking at you Iowa State, Kansas, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Indiana and Purdue.
The most surprising find was the Missouri Valley Conference of the FCS being ahead of all five FBS mid-major leagues. Half the Valley made it to the 24-team FCS playoff and the league did well. North Dakota State will meet Illinois State for the title tomorrow in a battle between conference rivals.
NDSU defeated Iowa State handily to boost the valley. Northern Iowa was competitive enough with Iowa and Hawaii to make an impact as well. Middle of the pack Indiana State won at Ball State. The result is a FCS league with 70 percent of the teams with winning records.
I thought the Mountain West would be a little higher but Boise State was the only team in the top 50 at No. 37. Little things like Air Force struggling to beat Georgia State, Colorado State getting pasted by Utah, and UNLV having a dismal year added up. It’s not good win Fresno State carries the West division despite a loss to the No. 172 team in UNLV.
The American Athletic had the largest variety with teams in the top 50 like Memphis and teams outside the top 200 in SMU. Little improvement among the back of the league will go a long way next season.
Conference USA may feel cheated to learn that Marshall had the highest ranking among mid-major teams but did not get to play in the Fiesta Bowl. The problem for CUSA is the bottom eight of the 13 teams were outside the Top 100.
It’s hard to rate the Sun Belt with two of its top four teams being denied bowl opportunities (Georgia Southern and Appalachian State) but it somehow rated higher than the MAC. Northern Illinois was the highest ranked in the MAC at No. 71 and that’s lowest ranking for any No. 1 team of a conference. The entire MAC East was a disaster with Bowling Green being the best at No. 120.
Instead of UMass, or some other team back East, the Mid-American Conference should be looking at the Missouri Valley for expansion. Go west young MAC. Go west.
The Sagarin rankings could change a tiny bit after the championship games this weekend but not much as Oregon and Ohio State are both secured in the top 3. For that I have to go with Oregon and North Dakota State in the FCS title.