Pac-12: Sagarin Ratings

Why Stanford is better than your team

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
4:48
PM ET
Stanford is better than your team because it's got a better quarterback than your team. Stanford is better than your team because your team hasn't shut out three BCS conference opponents this year. Stanford is better than your team because its offensive line would make your defensive front cry uncle. Stanford is better than your team because it's ranked eighth in the nation in scoring offense and 11th in scoring defense, and no other BCS conference team can match that.

And, finally, Stanford is better than your team because its coach can kick your coach's butt.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck finished the season with more than 3,000 passing yards and 28 touchdowns.
Stanford is 11-1 playing against the nation's eighth toughest schedule in the nation's toughest conference, according to the highly respected Sagarin Ratings. Its only loss came at Oregon, which is No. 1 in all the major polls and No. 2 in the BCS standings.

Ewwww. Yuck. Heads just exploded everywhere outside the West Coast.

Are we being intentionally provocative and just a bit disingenuous? Yes. Why? Because those who follow Pac-10 football get to be provocative and disingenuous at this time every year because you get so much lunkheaded and disingenuous analysis that questions the quality of the nation's toughest conference.

No, we are not saying the Pac-10 is the nation's "best" conference. It's the toughest because it plays by different rules, and Stanford's stunning success playing by those rules sets it apart.

  • The Pac-10 plays nine conference games, which no other conference does. That means five more defeats are guaranteed to be scattered throughout the conference every season, thereby making it a mathematical fact that it's more difficult to become bowl eligible in the Pac-10 than any other conference.
  • The Pac-10 plays the most challenging nonconference schedule among the BCS conferences. Not only has it played six top-17 teams in the current BCS standings, it played five of them all on the road. And that list doesn't include Iowa, Texas, Notre Dame, Tennessee and BYU.

That combination of nine conference games and tough nonconference scheduling also leads to this: No Pac-10 team played fewer than five road games this year. Seven played six -- including Oregon and Stanford -- and USC played seven.

Contrast that with other top-10 BCS programs: Auburn (four road games), Wisconsin (five), Ohio State (four), Arkansas (four), Michigan State (four), Oklahoma (five) and LSU (four).

If you don't believe playing two fewer road games a season is a huge advantage, you know nothing about college football.

This is a long setup to this: Stanford critics point out it has only beaten three teams with a winning record. That sounds like a meaningful critique. But again reference the bullet points above.

Then consider this: There are 19 other bowl-eligible BCS conference teams that are 6-6 or 7-5. How many would not be bowl eligible if they played an extra conference game, another road game (or two), one fewer nonconference patsy and one more tough nonconference game?

[+] EnlargeJim Harbaugh
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh's only loss of the season was against No. 1-ranked Oregon.
Arizona State likely will finish tied for seventh in the Pac-10 if it loses Thursday at Arizona. Yet the Sun Devils were good enough to push Wisconsin to the brink before losing 20-19 on the road.

UCLA will finish ninth in the conference if it loses to USC on Saturday. Yet the Bruins were good enough to beat Texas and Houston. Sure, those teams fell well short of preseason expectations, but which team finishing second to last in a BCS conference has a better nonconference resume?

In other words, 5-7 in the Pac-10 is much different than it is in the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and ACC. That's what the non-biased Sagarin Ratings take note of when it rates the Pac-10 ahead of other conferences.

And that's what Stanford emerged from -- with a 22.5-point average margin of victory.

Of course, proving the quality of Stanford is only part of the issue. Most who aren't blinded by fandom recognized early on that the Cardinal were an elite team. But it's also fair to say that the Cardinal are not an elite team in terms of attendance, which is why Stanford might not have received a BCS bowl berth if it hadn't climbed to No. 4 in the BCS standings, which earned it a guaranteed spot.

It's worth noting that Stanford fans turned out last year for the Sun Bowl, which set a stadium and game record with 53,713 fans in attendance.

But the Cardinal this year also have two of the biggest drawing cards in the country, for ticket sales and TV ratings: quarterback Andrew Luck and coach Jim Harbaugh. Those two will attract not only college football fans, but also NFL fans who are curious about the top-rated college quarterback and a coach who is on a lot of wish lists -- college and pro.

The honest truth is that we do not know if Stanford is better than your team. We just typed that to make you mad. Sorry.

What we do know is Stanford belongs. It has earned a berth in a BCS bowl game because it is an elite team.

And what we suspect is the Cardinal will have proven that when the bowl season ends.

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