Conference power rankings: Weakest of Power 5 a consideration, too

Clemson's struggles with Louisville on Sept. 17 didn't help the ACC's profile. Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports

In the current College Football Playoff format, the relative strength of each Power 5 conference is under more scrutiny than ever. Nonconference matchups have an impact on individual teams and on the perception of conferences as a whole.

Through three weeks, the SEC is the top conference in the nation, according to ESPN Stats & Information’s conference power rankings. The SEC has posted an FBS-best 23-4 record in nonconference play (4-2 versus other Power 5 teams). The Big 12 is gaining ground on the SEC; seven of 10 Big 12 teams are undefeated, including two – Oklahoma and Texas Tech – that beat SEC opponents on the road.

Since at least one Power 5 conference will be left out of the playoff, the question of which of those conferences is the weakest will come into play, even more this year since Notre Dame looms as a potential playoff team.

The answer to which conference is weakest really depends on whether you are evaluating conference depth or strength at the top of each conference.

Based on average FPI rankings, the Big Ten is the weakest Power 5 conference; it has an average FPI ranking of 49 (out of 128 FBS schools), six spots lower than the ACC. The Big Ten also has four teams ranked 75th or worse in FPI, two more than any other Power 5 conference. But with Ohio State and Michigan State strong at the top, it might not matter.

Conference depth is important when evaluating a team’s strength of schedule, but ultimately only the top teams in each conference will be in contention for a playoff spot. With its top team (Florida State) ranked 10th in The Associated Press poll, the ACC lacks the strength at the top that other conferences possess (particularly the Big Ten).

The conference power rankings equally weigh FPI (to measure conference depth) and the votes from the AP poll (to measure strength at the top) to determine the strongest and weakest conferences in the nation.

Based on this metric, the ACC is the weakest Power 5 conference, largely because it lacks an elite team. Georgia Tech, Florida State and Clemson struggled in Week 3, which is a major reason the ACC fell in this week’s rankings.

Ultimately, the College Football Playoff selection committee will evaluate conference strength, but the ACC will have a few more chances this week to make a statement when Virginia hosts Boise State (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET), LSU heads to Syracuse (Saturday, noon ET) and Virginia Tech travels to East Carolina (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET).