Stats & Info: Conference Power Rankings

SEC still the best in college football

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
Despite losing its first national title in eight seasons, the SEC finished atop ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin.

The SEC lost its two BCS bowl games but went 7-1 in its eight other bowl games. Its only non-BCS blemish came when Georgia, without quarterback Aaron Murray, lost by five points to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.

Overall, the SEC finished with seven teams ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, including four in the top seven. Only the Pac-12 had more than three teams ranked in the entire AP Top 25.

What sets the SEC apart is its depth. Mississippi State, which finished fifth in the SEC West, won its bowl game by 37 points. Similarly, Vanderbilt, which finished fourth in the SEC East, won by 17 points without its starting quarterback. In all, 10 of the SEC’s 14 teams finished with winning records, including seven teams with at least nine wins.

The Pac-12 also showcased its depth during bowl season. Despite losses by its top two teams, Stanford and Arizona State, the middle of the Pac-12 was dominant. All six of the Pac-12’s bowl wins came by at least 15 points, and Pac-12 teams' average margin of victory in those games was 22 points.

Overall, the Pac-12 finished with six teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and five teams ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's Football Power Index. As a result of its strength in the computers, the Pac-12 was the clear No. 2 conference in the Power Rankings.

The Big 12 finished third in the Conference Power Rankings for a second straight season. Oklahoma's win over Alabama was the highlight of bowl season for the Big 12, but losses by Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas all hurt the conference.

After sending nine of its 10 teams to bowls last season, the Big 12 had only six bowl-eligible teams in 2013. The lack of depth and having no “elite” team kept the Big 12 from emerging as a top conference this season.

The Big Ten had the worst bowl record (2-5) of any BCS automatic-qualifying conference, but the conference won its most important game, the Rose Bowl.

Michigan State rallied from a 10-0 first-quarter deficit to defeat Stanford and give the Big Ten its first Rose Bowl victory since Ohio State won in 2010. The Spartans finished ranked third in the final AP poll, their highest finish in the national polls since 1966, and fourth in ESPN’s Championship Drive Ratings.

However, the Big Ten had a losing bowl record for a fourth straight season. Since its last national championship in 2002, the Big Ten is 30-52 in bowls and has only once had a winning bowl season (2009).

The ACC won its first BCS championship since 1999 and broke the SEC’s streak of seven straight titles. Clemson also won its bowl game against Ohio State to give the ACC two BCS bowl victories.

Despite sending a record 11 teams to bowls, the ACC’s bowl season will be defined by its two wins in BCS bowls. The only reason that the ACC is not ranked higher in the conference rankings, however, is the conference is still lacking depth; the ACC went 3-6 in its non-BCS bowl games, with the six losses by a combined 103 points.

Non-AQ conferences had an up-and-down bowl season, with the Sun Belt winning both of its games and the MAC losing all five of its contests.

The Mountain West finished the season as the top non-AQ conference, but the gap between the Mountain West and the “Big 6” conferences is quite large heading into the 2014 playoff. Many questions remain heading into the playoff, but the fate of the non-AQ conferences seems dim with only one spot guaranteed in the six major bowls for teams in the American, C-USA, Mountain West, MAC and Sun Belt conferences.

Next season, look for the Pac-12 to challenge to the SEC for the top conference in the nation. The Pac-12 should only get stronger with Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Oregon State and Arizona State returning their starting quarterbacks.

Conversely, seven of the SEC’s top eight teams will have to replace their starting quarterbacks next season. Check back next year to see where your conference ends up.

SEC leads 1st conference power rankings

October, 7, 2013
After six full weeks of football, it is again time to see how the conferences stack up.

Over the last few years, ESPN Stats & Information has published its weekly conference power rankings – a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and a compilation of available BCS computer rankings in order to determine which conference is the best and worst in the country.

This season, ESPN Stats & Information will be using ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) instead of the BCS computers, but the premise of the rankings remains the same. The AP Poll will measure the strength of the top schools in the conference and the FPI will measure the depth of the conference.

The AP Poll and FPI will be weighed equally and the results will be calculated on a 0-100 scale in order to determine the top conference in the country.

FPI is a one of ESPN’s new storytelling metrics designed to determine which team is the best in the country. FPI does not necessarily answer the question of who DESERVES to be in a playoff; instead, it is designed to answer the question of which team would WIN if two teams were to meet on a neutral field. FPI ranges roughly between -30 to 30 and the difference between two teams amounts to a projected point spread.

The SEC has run away with the conference power rankings each of the last three years. However, the race for the top conference in the nation is much closer in 2013.

SEC vs Pac-12: The SEC leads the Pac-12 by 6.6 points through six weeks of football. The biggest difference between the top two conferences is the strength of the SEC’s top schools.

The SEC has six teams ranked in the Top 20 of the AP Poll, compared to four Top-20 teams in the Pac-12.

Many would argue that that Pac-12 has the best record in the FBS against non-conference opponents (29-4). However, 23 of their 29 wins came against opponents from non-BCS AQ conferences, including eight wins against FCS opponents.

In comparison, the SEC went 32-7 against out-of-conference opponents, but played five more games against BCS-AQ conference teams than the Pac-12.

The SEC and Pac-12 have split their only two games against each other as Oregon beat Tennessee 59-14 and Auburn beat Washington State 31-24.

SEC West vs Pac-12 North: The popular debate over the last few weeks has been whether the Pac-12 North is better than the SEC West. The rankings say that the race is very close, but the Pac-12 North has a 1.3-point advantage over the SEC West. It is important to note that the rankings system averages the points based on the number of teams in the conference, so the fact that the SEC West has one additional team does not give it a boost.

ACC and Big 12: Perhaps the most surprising results relate to the rise of the ACC and the fall of the Big 12 this season. The ACC has three undefeated teams, tied for the most of any conference, and all three of those teams are ranked in the Top 13 of the AP Poll. In comparison, the Big 12 has just one team ranked in the Top 13 of the AP Poll after finishing the regular season as the third-best conference in the country last season, according to conference power rankings.

SEC finishes regular season atop rankings

December, 5, 2012
At the end of the regular season, it should be no surprise that the SEC leads the ESPN Stats and Info Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin.

Six of the top 11 teams in the AP Poll reside in the SEC, including No. 2 Alabama, which will be playing for the conference's seventh straight national championship.

Nine of the SEC's 14 teams are bowl eligible, including six teams with at least 10 wins this season.

Like the SEC, the Big 12 has nine bowl-eligible teams. That is impressive considering that the conference has only 10 teams. Yet the Big 12 remains behind the SEC and the Pac-12 in the conference rankings because it lacks multiple “elite” teams.

The Big 12 has two teams currently ranked in the AP Poll, its fewest of any week this season. To put that in perspective, both the WAC and MAC have two teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25.

Speaking of the WAC, the conference finished the regular season as the sixth-best conference in the country according the power rankings.

Considering that the conference is in its final season of existence in football, the WAC had an impressive year. Four of its eight teams finished with at least eight wins, which is more eight-win teams than the Big 12, ACC or Big East.

The WAC finished the year ranked ahead of both the Big East and the MAC. Although the top of the MAC is strong -- as indicated by Northern Illinois’ berth in a BCS bowl game and the thrilling MAC championship game -- the bottom of the conference struggled. Six of its 13 teams did not win more than four games, which brought down its overall ranking as a conference.

All of the conferences will have the chance to prove their relative strength during bowl season. The ACC will try to improve upon its abysmal 2-6 bowl record last season, and the Big Ten will look to play better in its January bowl games than its 3-9 record over the last two seasons.

Big East tumbles in conference rankings

November, 12, 2012
The SEC remains atop the ESPN Stats & Info Conference Power Rankings despite its top team, Alabama, losing to Texas A&M on Saturday.

Alabama’s loss barely fazed the SEC in the rankings because of the depth of the conference. The SEC now has five teams ranked in the AP Top 10 and six teams with two or fewer losses. No other conference has more than one team ranked in the AP Top 10 or four teams with two or fewer losses.

Unlike the SEC, the Big East was greatly impacted in the conference rankings after its top team, Louisville, lost to Syracuse on Saturday. There are two reasons for the Big East’s drastic fall.

First, the Big East only has eight teams, so a loss by any of its top teams has a greater marginal impact than a loss by a top team in a conference with 14 members. Additionally, the Big East has just three teams that are currently above .500, so the conference relies on those three teams to carry it in the rankings.

Louisville was ranked 11th in the AP Poll last week after a 9-0 start. The Cardinals dropped to 20th in that poll after its loss, resulting in the Big East losing 454 AP points from last week. There is a very real possibility that the Big East will not be able to fill all six of its bowl tie-ins with three teams currently bowl eligible and 11 games remaining.

One conference that will fill its bowl tie-ins is the WAC. The WAC is its final football season as a conference and is finishing strong with three teams battling for its conference title. Louisiana Tech is ranked 20th in the BCS Standings and has a chance to play in a BCS Bowl game if it finishes 16th or higher and ahead of a conference champion from an AQ conference.

If San Jose State can beat BYU Cougars next weekend to move to 9-2, there is a chance that the WAC also could pass the Big East in the conference power rankings.

Elsewhere in the rankings, the Big Ten continues to rebound from a slow start largely because of Ohio State ’s 10-0 record. The Buckeyes are not bowl eligible this season, but they are accounted for in the conference power rankings because they are receiving votes in the AP Poll and the computers. If Ohio State and Penn State were excluded from the formula, the Big Ten would rank below the ACC in the conference power rankings.

Next week there are plenty of games with conference title implications. Rutgers travels to Cincinnati in the Big East, Louisiana Tech hosts Utah State in the WAC, Duke takes on Georgia Tech in the ACC, Toledo travels to Northern Illinois in the MAC and USC takes on rival UCLA in the Pac-12. All of these games will shape conference title races and impact the bowl season.

Tight race at top of conference rankings

September, 24, 2012
The Big 12 remains slightly ahead of the SEC in the Stats & Info Conference Power Rankings after another strong weekend in non-conference games.

The Big 12 went 3-1 out of conference this past weekend, including wins over two ACC opponents when TCU beat Virginia and West Virginia beat Maryland.

Overall, the Big 12 is 25-3 in games outside its conference, the best record of any AQ conference.

The SEC continued to climb in the AP Poll after losses by top teams in the Pac-12 and Big 12 the last two weeks. The SEC has four of the top six teams in the poll and is tied with the Big 12 with a total of six ranked teams.

Arkansas’ loss to Rutgers continued a trend of SEC teams being upset by out-of-conference opponents. The conference already has seven non-conference losses, which is three fewer than it had all of last season (including bowl games).

The Big Ten continued its free fall with losses to by Iowa, Michigan and Illinois on Saturday. As a result, the conference saw the greatest drop in the conference rankings this week.

The WAC climbed in the rankings as a result of a 52-24 victory for Louisiana Tech over Illinois. Louisiana Tech now has beat Houston, Rice and Illinois and has received votes in the AP Poll for the second straight week.

Finally, the MAC had a successful weekend with Central Michigan winning at Iowa, Northern Illinois defeating Kansas, Ball State beating South Florida and Western Michigan outscoring Connecticut. The MAC has six wins over BCS AQ teams this season, and four of them came on Saturday. The bottom of the conference weighs down its ranking though, as the MAC has three of the seven lowest-ranked teams.

Next weekend’s slate of games is full of intra-conference matchups. As we have seen over the first few weeks though, upsets are aplenty and have the ability to shake up next week’s edition of the conference rankings.

ACC, Big Ten fall in conference rankings

September, 17, 2012
After three weeks of football, the Big 12 remains slightly ahead of the SEC in the ESPN Stats & Info Conference Power Rankings - a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and a compilation of available BCS computer rankings in order to determine which conferences are the best and worst in the country.

The Big 12 continued its dominance in non-conference games this week, winning all seven of its games outside of the conference on Saturday. Overall the Big 12 is 22-2 in non-conference games, the best record of any conference in the FBS.

The majority of the Big 12’s non-conference victories have come against non-AQ opponents, though. Of the Big 12’s 24 non-conference games, only four have been against AQ opponents (3-1 in those games). This mild schedule is one reason why eight of 10 teams are currently undefeated and nine teams received at least one vote in the AP Poll.

The SEC remains slightly behind the Big 12 after losses by Ole Miss (to Texas) and Kentucky (to Western Kentucky). While the top half of the SEC is the strongest of any conference, losses by the league’s bottom half is hurting its overall ranking.

The ACC and Big Ten dropped the furthest in the rankings this week.

The ACC took a major hit when No. 13 Virginia Tech lost at Pittsburgh. Overall the ACC went 0-3 against Big East opponents and lost all four non-conference games against AQ teams on Saturday.

The Big Ten continued to fall in the rankings after its highest-ranked team, Michigan State, lost to Notre Dame. Currently there is no school from the Big Ten ranked in the AP Top 15 (the SEC has five and Big 12 has four). The Big Ten has just four wins against other AQ schools – and three of the wins are by Northwestern.

Next week is highlighted by several conference games between ranked opponents. We will find out which team is atop the ACC and Big 12 in two Top 15 matchups Saturday that will likely affect the next week’s conference rankings – No. 10 Clemson at No. 4 Florida State (8 ET on ABC) and No. 15 Kansas State at No. 6 Oklahoma (7:50 ET).

Big 12 has early conference bragging rights

September, 10, 2012
After two full weeks of the 2012 college football season, it is again time to see how the conferences stack up.

Each week for the remainder of the season, ESPN Stats & Info will publish its College Football Conference Power Rankings -- a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and a compilation of available BCS computer rankings in order to determine which conference is the best and worst in the country.

Two weeks into the season the Big 12 is atop the Conference Power Rankings. It is important to note that it is still early in the season so only four of the six computer rankings have been released.

Nonetheless, the Big 12 got stronger this off season with the additions of West Virginia and TCU, two teams that won their respective conferences last year.

The Big 12 has gone 15-2 in games outside of its division in the first two weeks, the highest non-conference win percentage of any conference in FBS. Big 12 schools only played three AQ opponents in those games, though.

The SEC is a close second to the Big 12 with four teams ranked in the AP Top 10, two more than any other conference. While the SEC may have more total ranked teams than the Big 12, the conference has four more teams so the average AP ranking is slightly lower.

Despite big wins for LSU and Alabama over non-conference opponents, the SEC was hurt by out of conference losses by Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Auburn in the first two weeks.

It should be no surprise that the Pac-12 is in third place after going 6-1 against AQ opponents on Saturday, including four wins by double digits. Pac-12 teams upset three ranked opponents at home (No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 16 Nebraska and No. 18 Oklahoma State) on Saturday and are 17-6 overall in games outside the conference.

After finishing last season as the fourth-best conference in college football, the Big Ten has fallen into fifth place following its rough start. Half of the Big Ten lost on Saturday to unranked opponents and only Nebraska scored more than 17 points in those games.

The Big Ten is now 16-8 in nonconference games this season. Only the Big East (8-5) has a worse win percentage amongst AQ conferences.

The Big Ten has a chance to redeem itself next week as Cal travels to Ohio State (12 ET on ABC), Navy takes on Penn State (3:30 ET on ABC) and Notre Dame faces Michigan State (8 ET on ABC). If they can win these games they may again jump into fourth place.