NCF Nation: 012011-conference-standings

Pac-10 is the No. 2 conference

January, 20, 2011
The Pac-10 chant for the 2010 season: "We're No. 2! We're No. 2!"

Hey, it could be worse.

It should come as no surprise that the SEC reigns supreme in ESPN Stats & Information final college football conference rankings for 2010. Sure, the SEC was only 5-5 this bowl season, but it won a fifth consecutive national championship -- with a fifth different team in the BCS Era -- and finished with six teams in the final AP poll.

The Pac-10 blog has taken issue with the almost reflexive assumption of SEC supremacy a number of times in the past, mostly because the Pac-10 blog -- humbly -- only wished to educate the ignorant. The Pac-10 blog, however, will only tip its cap to the SEC this year.

The SEC was way ahead of the Pac-10 in the final tally, while the Pac-10, No. 3 Big 12 and No. 4 Big Ten were fairly tight. More than a few folks from the Big 12 might give the final rankings a "harrumph." The Big 12, after all, had five teams ranked in the final top-25, the Pac-10 just two.

In an interesting twist, it is the Pac-10 that appears top-heavy compared to the Texas-Oklahoma conference. With No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Stanford, the Pac-10 is the only conference with two teams ranked in the final top-five, but after that no other teams ended up in the top-25, and only one, Washington, received any votes in either final major poll.

And that was just a single vote in the Coaches poll. FYI: Steve Sarkisian was a voter this season.

The Pac-10 is helped in the conference standings by bowl victories against teams ranked in the final AP poll: Stanford against No. 16 Virginia Tech, the ACC champion, and Washington against No. 20 Nebraska, the Big 12 North champ. Further, the Pac-10 posted nonconference wins against Iowa, Notre Dame and Hawaii -- all three received votes in both final polls -- as well as Syracuse and Louisville, which both won bowl games. Victories against Texas, Colorado, Wake Forest, Tennessee and Houston don't carry as much weight as they would in most seasons, but they contributed to a strong 17-12 overall record versus FBS foes and a 12-7 mark against AQ conference foes.

While some are hung up on the Pac-10 only producing four bowl-eligible teams -- it actually was five; USC was just ineligible because of NCAA sanctions -- the tough nonconference schedules and the nine-game conference slate are mostly responsible for that. Arizona State, which lost by a single point at Wisconsin, would have been bowl eligible if San Jose State didn't break a game contract to chase a payday with Alabama, and the same could be said of Oregon State if it didn't schedule a pair of top-10 nonconference foes (No. 2 TCU and No. 9 Boise State).

The Pac-10's arduous schedule is accounted for, by the way, in the highly respected Sagarin Ratings, which rank the Pac-10 No. 1.

Still, the Pac-10 wasn't No. 1 in its final year before it becomes the Pac-12. The SEC earned the top spot after beating the undefeated Pac-10 champion for the national title.

Again, a tip of the cap. No trash talk.

One last thing, though: Oregon-LSU, Sept. 2.

Buckle up.

SEC reigns supreme once again

January, 20, 2011
Here’s a big surprise: The ESPN Stats & Information folks have run the numbers one final time and determined that the SEC was indeed the best conference in the country this season.

It wasn’t even close, either.

The SEC had a final rating of 97.8. The Pac-10 was second with a rating of 88, and the Big 12 was third with a rating of 87.4.

It’s true that the SEC had a mediocre bowl showing, going 5-5. But three of the SEC’s wins in bowl games came against teams ranked in the Top 25 of the final BCS standings.

Moreover, the SEC finished with an FBS-high .766 winning percentage against other FBS conferences.

But the clincher is what happened on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz. For the fifth straight year, the SEC produced the BCS national champion.

Auburn defeated Oregon 22-19 in the Tostitos BCS National Championship game, becoming the fourth different SEC school to win a national title in the past five seasons.

And if you want to go all the way back to the advent of the BCS in 1998, five different SEC schools have won national titles.

No other conference can come close to matching that balance.

Championships are where measurements begin and end in sports, and there’s a reason the SEC has won five in a row and six of the past eight.

Just in the past four seasons, you’ve had six different SEC teams play in BCS bowls, and the SEC has compiled a 6-2 record in those eight games.

National championships, success in BCS bowls, the best winning percentage against other FBS conferences … what else does anybody want?

Those who don’t think the SEC is the best conference in the land are simply in denial.

Now, none of this means the SEC doesn’t have flaws.

Where this league can improve is continuing to upgrade its nonconference schedule, and there’s been a conscientious effort to do just that the past few years.

LSU is opening the 2011 season against Oregon at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and Georgia will open next season against Boise State in the Georgia Dome.

Alabama travels to Penn State next season after facing the Nittany Lions at home this season, and Auburn will play the return game at Clemson.

It’s imperative that the SEC’s big boys play at least one marquee nonconference game a season, and they’re all doing that now. The gripe about Florida has been that the Gators never leave the state of Florida to play any nonconference opponent of note during the regular season, and it’s true that they don’t.

But in the Gators’ defense, they do play Florida State every year, and go back and count the number of times over the past two decades how many times the Seminoles were ranked in the Top 25 or even the Top 10 nationally.

The bottom line in all this is that the SEC has perched itself atop the college football world, and it’s a perch that gets a little higher each season.
ESPN Stats & Information has been ranking the conferences all year using a mathematical formula, and even a strong bowl season couldn't help the Big East climb in the final rankings.

The Big East finished eighth in the standings, behind both the Mountain West and the WAC (though just one spot behind the ACC). What really hurt the league was the formula's inclusion of Associated Press rankings. According to the Stats & Info group, the Big East became the first major conference since the ACC in 1971 to finish without a team in the Top 30 of the final AP poll.


Is this eighth-place finish deserved? Well, the Big East didn't help itself against nonconference competition in the regular season, and its top two teams both got blown out in bowl season. So there's that. But as I've written, it was really a torso league this year: all middle, with no top or bottom. The conference showed in its other bowls that it can be very competitive with midpack teams from other leagues. While there were no elite Big East teams this year, there were no terrible ones, either.

And so the WAC might have ranked high with great years from Nevada and Boise State at the top, a strong showing from Hawaii and a decent one from Fresno State, which did beat Cincinnati. But does anyone really think the bottom half of that league -- Louisiana Tech, Idaho, Utah State, New Mexico State and San Jose State -- could reasonably compete against any of the eight Big East schools? I doubt it.

Regardless, the Big East took some lumps this year, but I expect it to bounce back in 2011. Offenses should be greatly improved thanks to young quarterbacks maturing and new coaching blood. League teams have more of their marquee nonconference games at home. The Big East isn't going to catch the SEC in 2011, but it won't end up behind the soon-to-be-guttted WAC again, either.
ESPN's Stats & Information crew has crunched the numbers and issued its final conference power rankings for 2010.

To no surprise, the SEC finished as the nation's top conference once again. The Pac-10 came in second after a 2-2 performance in the bowls.

The real surprise comes at No. 3. The Big 12 ranks ahead of the Big Ten.

Stats & Info's explanation: "The Big Ten was the real loser during the past month. Its first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth bowl choices all lost by a combined 102 points."

In other words, the Big Ten had no depth.

But neither did the Big 12.

While I recognize the power rankings use the computers to calculate the depth of a league, they also put too much emphasis on margin of victory and too little on other factors.

You can't look at the Big Ten's bowl performance and the Big 12's bowl performance and conclude the Big 12 is the better league.

First off, there's the argument often used against the Big Ten: head-to-head play. The Big Ten went 2-1 against the Big 12 in bowls, as two underdogs (Iowa and Illinois) knocked off two favorites (Missouri and Baylor). The Big 12's only bowl win against the Big Ten came against a team playing without its starting quarterback (Northwestern, Dan Persa).

While the Big Ten's top two teams (Wisconsin and Ohio State) played comparable opponents in BCS games (TCU and Arkansas), Big 12 champ Oklahoma played a four-loss Connecticut squad that had no business being in a BCS bowl. You can't tell me Oklahoma's win against Connecticut has the same value as Ohio State's win against Arkansas in what was essentially a road environment in New Orleans. Oklahoma is a good team, but pounding Connecticut means absolutely nothing.

The Big 12 also had a division champ (Nebraska) losing to a 6-6 Pac-10 team (Washington) and a Texas A&M team -- playing in its home state, by the way -- losing the Cotton Bowl to LSU by 17 points.

Oklahoma State played very well in its bowl win against Arizona, but the Big 12's bowl highlights pretty much end there.

Margin of victory killed the Big Ten in the power rankings, and while there's no excuse for the way Michigan State and Michigan performed, other factors like quality of opponent and location should play a bigger role in this formula.

The Big Ten's bowl performance was labeled as a disaster because of the image-killing 0-fer on New Year's Day. The Big 12's bowl performance actually was a disaster.

While the Big Ten has a tough argument to be any higher than third in the power rankings because of its lack of depth, there's no way this league should be looking up at the Big 12.
The Big 12 entered bowl season in second place in Stats & Info's conference rankings, but a weak showing in the bowls that I say was the worst of any conference in college football dropped it to third in the rankings.

The Big 12 remained No. 1 in the computer rankings, but losses by Missouri, Texas A&M and Nebraska dropped the league to fourth overall in the AP ranking.

So, that's what the numbers tell us.

Where does the Big 12 really rank?

I take a slight issue with the Pac-10 being No. 2. You can't argue with Stanford and Oregon. Those two teams are as good as any in the country. But racking up a combined two losses on the season -- one coming in the game between them -- is a lot easier when the bottom half of the league is as weak as the Pac-10's is.

As strong as it is at the top, it's just as weak at the bottom. That's not the case in the Big Ten or the Big 12, the two conferences that have a more legitimate case as the nation's No. 2 league behind the SEC.

Kansas was pretty poor in 2010, but the league's other 11 teams all at least had a chance to play for a sixth win and bowl eligibility. That's remarkable, and at one point earlier in the season, nine teams in the Big 12 received votes in the polls.

Washington State and UCLA were both pretty poor in 2010.

The Big 12 flopped pretty solidly in the bowl games, matching the Big Ten's 3-5 record, but for reasons previously discussed, the Big Ten's 3-5 mark was significantly more acceptable, even with its New Year's Day meltdown.

Both the Big Ten and the Big 12 were out of the national championship hunt pretty early in the season, but both have impressive depth in the top half of the league. Michigan State looked like a bit of a pretender in its bowl game, but the three one-loss teams in the Big Ten were three more than the Big 12 had at the end of the regular season.

Beyond that group, however, is why the Big 12 deserves the No. 2 spot. Only one of the Big Ten's other eight teams finished with more than seven wins. The Big 12 had four teams with double digit wins and another, Texas A&M, with nine wins. All five finished in both top 25 polls, versus three in the Big Ten.

Hand over that No. 2 spot, Big Ten.

So, what about next year?

Nebraska's move to the Big Ten probably gives its new league a leg up on the No. 2 spot, but if Texas A&M and Oklahoma State can stick around near the top 10, where both should start in the preseason, the Big 12 could grab the No. 2 spot again next year -- or better. Oklahoma would of course need to hope its national championship hopes made it out of October, where they crashed in 2010.

Any movement up these rankings would be aided by a team outside that elite 2011 group -- Missouri, Texas or Texas Tech, perhaps? Baylor? -- rising up in the polls to win 10 games or more and contend for a league title.

With three teams that look solid at the top, the Big 12 is in good shape in 2011, but if it's going to overtake the Big Ten or the SEC to jump into the top two, another contender from that second group will need to emerge.
ESPN’s Stats & Info group released its final conference power rankings for the 2010 season, and if you’ve been following along all year, this should come as no surprise: The ACC ranked seventh behind two non-AQ conferences, the WAC and the Mountain West.

This is exactly where the ACC deserves to be.

Forget the numbers, the polls, the formulas. The ACC lost this argument on the field this year. Virginia Tech lost to Boise State. Boston College lost to Nevada. Georgia Tech lost to Air Force. The highlight? Florida State’s 34-10 win over a 7-6 BYU team that got creamed by the same Air Force team the Jackets lost to. Both the Mountain West and WAC had teams ranked in the top 10 of the final polls, while the ACC’s highest ranked team was No. 16 Virginia Tech, which was clobbered by Stanford in the second half of the Discover Orange Bowl.

Not only have the non-AQs caught up, they’ve surged ahead.

If the ACC -- and Big East for that matter -- want to maintain their positions among college football’s BCS big boys, they have to earn it. (Or do what the Big East did, and steal one of the non-AQ’s national title contenders.)

The only way to change the perception of the ACC is for the conference to win those matchups -- or at least a majority of them. The Virginia Tech-Boise State game was a thriller, nothing to be ashamed of. BC’s loss to Nevada wasn’t entirely a surprise considering the varying level of experience between the two quarterbacks. Georgia Tech’s loss to Air Force was inexplicable.

All of them, though, added up to the ACC’s final place in college football’s hierarchy for 2010 -- a notch above the Big East, Conference-USA, the MAC and the Sun Belt.

Much has been made of the ACC’s 2-11 record in BCS bowls and struggles against elite nonconference competition. Air Force doesn’t quite fall into that category. Before the conference can beat the Alabamas and the Ohio States of the world, it has to be able to handle the non-AQs. If Boise State and Nevada aren’t the “big boys” of college football, the ACC sure did a good job of making them look like it in 2010.
The final conference power rankings are in. Drum roll please ...

The WAC finished at No. 5 and the Mountain West at No. 6, ahead of two automatic qualifying conferences in the ACC and Big East. It is no surprise the two non-AQs finished ahead of those two conferences. We saw plenty of head-to-head wins that showed that to be the case (Boise State over Virginia Tech; Utah over Pittsburgh; Air Force over Georgia Tech; Fresno State over Cincinnati).

Not only that, the Mountain West and WAC each had two ranked teams in the final polls; the Big East had zero. The two WAC teams (Boise State, Nevada) were ranked above the highest team from the ACC (Virginia Tech) in both polls as well.

As for the WAC finishing ahead of the Mountain West, the two leagues jockeyed back and forth all season. ESPN Stats & Information says Boise State's 26-3 win over Utah in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas clinched its ranking ahead of the MWC. On first blush, I was surprised to see the WAC ahead for a few reasons:

The Mountain West went 4-1 in bowl play, with two wins over AQ opponents; the WAC was 2-2, with one win over an AQ opponent.

TCU finished No. 2 in the national rankings.

The Mountain West had four teams with nine wins or more; the WAC had three.

The Mountain West had five bowl teams; the WAC had four.

But a closer look reveals those three WAC teams had 10-plus wins; the Mountain West had two teams with 10-plus wins. Also, if you take a look at the teams that finished with losing records (four in the MWC and five in the WAC), the winning percentage for the WAC teams was slightly higher (.290 for WAC; .184 for MWC).

Both conferences went 6-9 against teams from AQ conferences. The bowl teams in the Mountain West and WAC went 6-3 in those games. Five of those six wins in the Mountain West came against bowl teams, while only three of the six wins for the WAC came against bowl teams. Only one win for each league over an opponent that finished ranked in the final polls.

You can go back and forth with the stats, but the ultimate: the WAC went 9-4 head-to-head against the Mountain West -- including both games featuring a matchup of two bowl teams (Boise State over Utah; Nevada over BYU). The WAC also had one win featuring a losing team over a bowl team (Utah State over BYU). And in three games featuring matchups between losing teams, the WAC went 2-1 (New Mexico State over New Mexico; Idaho over UNLV).

So given all that, you can understand how the WAC finished ahead of the Mountain West. Of course, that is not going to last for long. Four WAC teams are set to join the Mountain West by the 2012 season.