Stats & Info: Sun Belt

No. 2 Conference left out of playoff

December, 8, 2014
12/08/14
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USA TODAY Sports Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU are both left out of the College Football Playoff, despite the Big 12 ranking second in ESPN's College Football Power Rankings.
According to ESPN Stats and Information’s Conference Power Rankings, the second-best conference was left out of the initial College Football Playoff.

The Big 12 enters bowls ranked second in the Conference Power Rankings, largely because of its strength at the top. It has three teams ranked in the top 11 of the AP Poll and four in the top 20 of the Football Power Index (FPI).

When looking at conference depth, the Big 12 ranks third behind the SEC and Pac-12 with an average FPI ranking of 41.6.
The Big Ten, which grabbed the final spot in the College Football Playoff, ranks last among Power 5 conferences in the Conference Power Rankings. Three of its 14 teams – Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin – are ranked in the top 25 of the Football Power Index.

The Conference Power Rankings are not designed to endorse one team over another; each team’s full body of work must be weighed separately. It does, however, put into perspective the difficulty of achieving a team’s record given its conference schedule.

According to FPI’s projections, it is nearly as difficult (though not quite equal) to achieve an 8-1 record with a Big 12 schedule as it is an 8-0 record with a Big Ten schedule. This does not account for non-conference scheduling, which may have been a deciding factor in the CFP committee’s decision.

Elsewhere, the SEC moved back to No. 1 in the Conference Power Rankings. The SEC has nine teams ranked in the top 25 of FPI and seven ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll. Twelve of its 14 teams will be playing in bowl games, including three in New Year’s Six Bowls.

We will learn a lot more about conference strength during bowl season as the top conferences face each other. In the last five seasons, the SEC has a .625 win percentage in bowl games, best among Power 5 conferences. The Big Ten ranks last with a .385 win percentage over that time. These two conferences will face off in four bowls this season, including the Allstate Sugar Bowl (Alabama vs Ohio State) with the national title on the line.

The conference power rankings are a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.

Conference power rankings: Big Ten is up

September, 29, 2014
9/29/14
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AP Photo/Getty Images/USA Today SportsJ.T. Barrett, Connor Cook and Tanner McEvoy helped lift the Big Ten in the last two weeks.
Entering Week 4, when the Big Ten was 1-10 against opponents from the other Power Five conferences, there seemed to be a clear divide between it and the rest of the most prominent FBS conferences. Many analysts had already excluded the Big Ten champion from the College Football Playoff and dismissed the conference until next year.

The Big Ten, however, has bounced back in the past two weeks. It has won 16 of 17 non-conference games during that time, including seven of eight games against Power Five or American Athletic Conference opponents.

Michigan State has won its last two games by 101 combined points, Ohio State seems to be moving on without Braxton Miller, and Nebraska and Wisconsin have been running all over their opponents.

Big Ten, ACC swap positions
Since Week 3, the Big Ten has risen 7.2 points in the conference power rankings and has jumped ahead of the ACC for the fourth-best conference in the nation.

As the Big Ten climbed, the ACC continued to fall. The conference has gone 7-8 in non-conference games in the last two weeks with losses to Akron (by Pittsburgh), Colorado State (by Boston College) and East Carolina (by North Carolina).

The ACC now has two teams - Florida State and Clemson – ranked in the top 35 in Football Power Index. Every other Power Five conference, including the Big Ten, has at least five teams in the top 35.
Given the weakness of the ACC, and Florida State’s struggles in its first two conference games, will the playoff committee question the defending champs if they do not run the table?

In other conference news, the SEC enters the meat of its conference schedule with a 13-point lead over the other conferences. The SEC has seven teams ranked in the top 15 of the Football Power Index and the AP Poll. Many of those teams will face each other in Week 6 in games with conference title implications.

Behind the SEC
The Pac-12 and Big 12 are in a tight race for the No. 2 conference in the nation. The conferences have nearly identical scores in the part of the conference rankings that account for the AP Poll, but the depth of the Pac-12 is apparent in its lead over the Big 12 in average FPI (+12 for Pac-12 vs +9.5 for Big 12).

Next week there are huge conference matchups with playoff implications. As conference play heats up, we will learn more about the strength of the teams within the conferences rather than the strength of the conferences themselves. Nonetheless, as playoff talk heats up, keep in mind what we have learned about the relative strength of these conferences before conference play.

SEC extends lead in Power Rankings

September, 2, 2014
9/02/14
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AP Photo/Tony GutierrezSEC teams went 8-1 in Week 1 as the race for the national championship trophy began.
A quick refresher: Last week, ESPN Stats & Information released its preseason conference power rankings, a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.

After an exciting slate of non-conference games in Week 1, the SEC proved why it was considered the top conference in the nation entering the season. The SEC went 8-1 in non-conference games, the best winning percentage of any FBS conference.

Ole Miss, Georgia and LSU all beat opponents ranked in the top 50 in the preseason Football Power Index, while Tennessee and Alabama took care of business against improved FBS teams. What may be surprising is the way that some of these SEC teams won the games, though.

The SEC was not nearly as dominant in its wins as some may have expected. LSU had the lowest average in-game win probability (34%) of any team that won this weekend, and Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia were all in one-score games in the second half.

Nonetheless, the SEC pulled out these wins and jumped 1.4 points in the conference power rankings. The strength of the top of the conference (six teams in top 15 of the AP Poll) is unmatched by any other conference.

Big Ten falls despite strong Week 1
The Big Ten had the second-best winning percentage in non-conference games of any of FBS conference. Notable wins include: Rutgers beating Washington State in Seattle, Penn State defeating UCF in Ireland, and Ohio State outlasting Navy in Baltimore.

However, the other nine wins for the Big Ten were against six FCS teams and three lower-tier FBS opponents.

The main reason that the Big Ten fell in the ratings, however, is that last week’s numbers were based off of the preseason AP Poll that did not account for Braxton Miller’s injury.

Ohio State struggled in the first half against Navy without Miller, and as a result, the AP voters dropped the Buckeyes from fifth to eighth despite a win. That was the second largest drop in AP ranking for a team that won last weekend (UCLA went from 7 to 11).

ACC falls further behind rest of Power Five
The ACC dropped five more points in the conference power rankings after Wake Forest lost to Louisiana-Monroe, Syracuse almost lost to Villanova, North Carolina struggled against Liberty and Florida State played a closer-than-expected game against Oklahoma State.

Clemson's loss to Georgia also significantly affected the ACC in the ratings because the top of the ACC is considered even weaker than when it began the season.

Florida State is the only team from the ACC ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll; every other Power Five conference has at least three top-20 teams.

In terms of the bottom of the ACC, Syracuse, Boston College, North Carolina State and Wake Forest all have an FPI below zero (zero is considered an average FBS team by FPI). No other Power Five conference has more than two such teams.

Big Week for Big Ten/Pac-12
Week 2 is a big week to prove conference superiority. Highlighted by Michigan State traveling to Oregon, the Big Ten is a part of three marquee games next weekend.

Michigan will look to build upon a strong Week 1 at Notre Dame and Ohio State will look to prove it can be successful without Braxton Miller as it hosts Virginia Tech.

In the Pac-12, Oregon likely needs to win at home against Michigan State in order for it to stay alive in the playoff.

Also out west, USC and Stanford will meet in one of the top Pac-12 games of the season.


SEC leads tight race in Power Rankings

August, 25, 2014
8/25/14
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Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesWith a new college football postseason format comes a new trophy for the national champion
With the dawn of the college football playoff, conference strength will be examined more closely than ever before.

As the selection committee has noted, strength of schedule will be a factor in their decision making process. That means that both out-of-conference and in-conference schedules will be examined.

Tom Osborne, former Nebraska coach and a member of the selection committee, noted, “A lot of teams are going to be at the mercy of the strength of their conference.”

After all, at least one of the Power Five conferences will not have a team selected into the playoff.

Given the increased importance of conference strength, it is time to bring back ESPN Stats & Information’s conference power rankings.

What are the Conference Power Rankings?
Over the past few years ESPN Stats & Information has published weekly rankings of the FBS conferences during the college football season. The formula was originally crafted by then-Analytics Specialist Albert Larcada and has been adapted over the years.

In 2014, the formula is an equal blend of the rankings from the AP Poll (including the others receiving votes section) and ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI).

The AP Poll will not only add a human element to the rankings, but it will also measure the relative strength of the top schools in each conference. Conversely, the Football Power Index will measure the relative strength of every team in the country to determine conference power from top to bottom. For more information on FPI, click here.

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 best and worst conferences in the FBS.

SEC Leads Preseason Rankings
It should not be surprising that the SEC leads the conference power rankings after finishing at the top of these rankings in all four years of their existence.

The SEC begins the season with eight teams ranked in the preseason AP Poll, including five teams ranked in the top 13.

After having the most players selected in the NFL Draft for an eighth straight year, the SEC is ready to reload with more ESPN 300 players signed in the past two years (235) than the next two conferences combined.

However, the Pac-12 is gaining ground. After finishing last year in a distant second (14.1 point differential), the Pac-12 begins the 2014 season just 4.1 points behind the SEC as the top conference in the FBS.


USA TODAY SportsHeisman hopefuls Marcus Mariota (left) and Brett Hundley (right)


A lot of the Pac-12’s strength is based on the projected strength of its offenses. Ten of 12 starting quarterbacks from the Pac-12 return in 2014, including Heisman favorites Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley.

In comparison, only six of the SEC’s 14 starting quarterbacks from a year ago return, which leaves gaping holes for top teams such as Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M.

Some believe that this is the first time in years that the Pac-12 makes a legitimate run at the SEC for the top conference in the nation.

Elsewhere in the rankings, the Big 12 comes in as the third-best conference in the country, largely because of its depth in comparison to the Big Ten and ACC.

Many would expect the Big Ten to slide in the rankings after the news of Braxton Miller's injury. The conference actually did not take too big of a hit because Ohio State remained in the top 15 in FPI even when accounting for its new starting quarterback.

However, the component of these rankings that measures the AP Poll remained unchanged. To give an idea of what a drop in the AP Poll would mean: if Ohio State falls to 10th in the AP Poll, the Big Ten would lose an additional three points in the conference power rankings.

Among Power Five conferences, the ACC is considered the weakest by both the AP Poll and FPI. That means that if the top four conferences place a team in the playoff, it would leave the ACC on the outside looking in. Yet, there is a lot more that goes into those decisions, including the fact that the ACC has the clear No. 1 team in the country. Florida State received 57 of 60 first place votes in the AP Poll and has by far the best chance (39 percent) to finish the season undefeated according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

However, what if Florida State loses a conference game? Does the relative strength of the ACC come into play? Similarly, what if Marshall from Conference USA or Houston from the American Athletic Conference finish the season undefeated? Does the fact that they played in weaker conferences exclude them from the playoff?

All of these questions may arise throughout the season. Stay tuned after an exciting Week 1 of non-conference matchups that could significantly impact the conference power rankings going forward.


Does Ohio State have argument for No. 2?

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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After Baylor lost to Oklahoma State on Saturday, the number of undefeated teams from BCS AQ conferences is down to three with Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State all vying for a spot in the BCS National Championship.

It appears that the No. 2 spot is Florida State’s to lose, but does Ohio State have an argument to be included in the title game based on conference and schedule strength?

Florida State vs Ohio State

According to ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings – a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and Football Power Index (FPI) - the Big Ten has the advantage over the ACC.

Five teams from the Big Ten received votes in the AP Poll, including three teams ranked in the top 15. In comparison, three teams from the ACC received votes and only two are ranked in the top 15.

However, Ohio State has only played one of those Big Ten teams and it was at home. The highest ranked team that the Buckeyes beat on the road, according to FPI, was Northwestern (64th in FPI).

Florida State, on the other hand, won at No. 3 Clemson and is 3-0 on the road against teams ranked in the top half of the FPI. As a result, despite playing in a conference ranked ahead of the ACC, the Buckeyes have played an easier schedule that Florida State, according to ESPN’s SOS rankings.

Looking deeper into the numbers, Florida State has had a higher average in-game win probability than Ohio State, meaning it has been more dominant in its wins. The Seminoles lead the nation in FPI, a forecast of team strength, and are predicted to be 10.2 points better than Ohio State on a neutral field.

The good news is that there is only a 29 percent chance that Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State will all remain undefeated entering bowl season, according to ESPN Stats & Info’s projections. So, the argument of team and conference strength may be settled on the field.

Rivalry Week

After nine straight weeks of primarily conference games, next week features its share of notable out-of-conference matchups.

The ACC has three notable non-conference games against SEC opponents on Saturday as Florida State heads to Florida (12 ET, ESPN), Georgia Tech hosts Georgia (3:30 ET, ABC) and Clemson takes on South Carolina (7 ET, ESPN2). According to FPI, the ACC should be favored in all three of those games. If the ACC can go 3-0 against the SEC, it will get a boost in the Conference Power Rankings next week.

Elsewhere, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri have must-win games that will impact the SEC and National Championship races. Ohio State should be tested at Michigan and Stanford will face a tough test against Notre Dame, which could also shake up the conference rankings next week.

Power rankings: Fresno State has BCS edge

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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The BCS Selection Process is clear:

The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference or the Sun Belt Conference (the "non-AQ group") will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or
B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

However, no more than one such team from the non-AQ group will earn an automatic berth in any year, unless non-AQ teams finish both No. 1 and No. 2 in the final BCS Standings. If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth.


This season, No. 15 Fresno State of the Mountain West Conference and No. 16 Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference are in prime positions to earn an automatic berth to a BCS Bowl game. Both teams rank in the top 16 of the BCS Standings and are ranked higher than No. 18 UCF, the highest-ranked team in the American Athletic Conference.

Only one non-AQ team will earn an automatic berth, so when evaluating the résumés of these two schools, conference strength is an important factor.

ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings can provide an objective measure of conference depth. According to these rankings, the Mountain West Conference is the strongest non-AQ conference from top to bottom.

The Mountain West has seven teams (out of 12) that are .500 or better, and is 18-8 against non-AQ opponents (including independent and FCS). Unlike other non-AQ conferences, the Mountain West does not have many weak teams.

The lowest ranked team in ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) from the Mountain Conference is No. 106 Air Force. In comparison the MAC and Conference USA each has at least six teams ranked below 106 in the FPI.

However, when looking at the top teams of each conference, the MAC has the most teams (5) and highest percentage of team (38 percent) with at least seven wins. Northern Illinois, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo and Toledo are all bowl eligible and have at least seven wins.

When comparing Fresno State and Northern Illinois, voters will have to account for the strength of each team’s conference, their out-of-conference schedules and their dominance in their wins. Using ESPN’s new ratings systems, one can see that Northern Illinois has played a tougher schedule, but Fresno State has been more dominant in its games. It is up to the voters to decide which conference they believe is stronger and how much that affects their thinking.

This week, the MAC will be on display on Tuesday and Wednesday with three games on the ESPN family of networks -- Buffalo heads to Miami (OH) on Tuesday (8 ET, ESPNU), Kent State travels to Ohio on Tuesday (8 ET, ESPN2) and Northern Illinois will look to remain unbeaten at Toledo on Wednesday (8 ET, ESPN2). On Thursday and Friday, the Mountain West and Conference USA will have their time in the spotlight as Rice, UAB, UNLV, Air Force and San Jose State are all in action.

FPI favors Pac-12, ACC in power rankings

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
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The SEC continues to lead ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin after an exciting slate of games in Week 11.

As noted in previous posts, the Conference Power Rankings are a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country.

The idea is that the AP Poll measures a team’s résumé and perception, and the FPI measures a team’s relative strength in order to predict future success. In other words, the AP Poll answers the question, “If there were a playoff, who would deserve to play in it?” and the FPI answers, “If there were a playoff, who would win on a neutral field?”.

How do these compare in terms of conference strength?

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the top 25 of the AP poll, including four teams ranked in the AP top 10. No other conference has more than four total teams ranked in the AP top 25.

In comparison, the Pac-12 leads all conferences with seven teams in the top 25 of the FPI. The SEC is second with six teams, but only one of those teams – Alabama – ranks in the top 8. The Pac-12 has four teams in the top 8.

It is important to note that the SEC has two more teams than the Pac-12, which makes the Pac-12’s lead in the FPI even more impressive.

This is not an indictment of the SEC; the conference had the most teams ranked in the FPI top 25 last season. However, this season, the SEC does not have as many elite teams as in past years. According to FPI, the majority of their teams rank in the 20 to 40 range.

The Pac-12 actually has the most depth at the top of its conference. When Stanford loses to a team like Utah, who has played the hardest schedule thus far according to ESPN strength of schedule rankings, it may not be as much of an upset as many would expect.

FPI also favors the ACC more than the polls. Florida State is the top team in the FPI, and Georgia Tech, Clemson, Miami and Duke also rank in the top 25.

In the annual ACC vs. SEC matchups at the end of the season, FPI projections favor Florida State over Florida, Georgia Tech over Georgia and Clemson over South Carolina.

So, while the SEC is getting all the accolades in the polls, future performance may be on the side of their rival conferences. The good news is that this debate will be settled on the field. Keep an eye on the FPI as bowls approach in order to determine the relative strength of teams and conferences.

For more on FPI, click here.

Big 12 Rises in Conference Power Rankings

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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A quick refresher: ESPN Stats & Information’s 2013 conference power rankings are based off of a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP poll and ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, which will be released later this season, click here or here.

The SEC took its largest lead of the season in the ESPN Stats & Information conference power rankings after five of its top six teams won on Saturday, including three wins over non-conference opponents by a combined 112 points.

The SEC is now 38-7 in out-of-conference games (.844 win pct), which is the best non-conference win percentage of any conference.

Despite two of its top four teams losing on Saturday, the Pac-12 remains the No. 1 conference in the Football Power Index. The Pac-12 has four of the top 10 teams in the FPI, a ratings system that measures overall team efficiency.

However, the SEC has a major edge in the portion of the conference power rankings that measures the AP Poll. Six of the top-15 teams in the AP Poll reside in the SEC, three more than in any other conference.

Elsewhere in the rankings, the Big 12 jumped ahead of the ACC for third place this week. Four of the Big 12’s 10 teams have one or fewer losses, most of any conference. Baylor and Texas are both unbeaten in conference play, which could result in a de facto Big 12 championship game in the final week of the season.

The top teams in the ACC Coastal division had a rough Saturday. No. 7 Miami needed a last-second touchdown in its win against Wake Forest, then-No. 14 Virginia Tech committed four turnovers and was held scoreless for the first 44:49 in its loss to Duke and Pittsburgh was outscored 17-8 in the fourth quarter in its loss to Navy. These struggles were reflected in the ACC’s rating in the conference power rankings.

Fresno State survived a 35-28 overtime thriller against San Diego State to remain unbeaten. The Bulldogs are carrying the Mountain West Conference in the rankings and have a chance to earn an automatic BCS bowl bid if they remain unbeaten. Similarly, the MAC’s eighth place spot in the rankings is a result of strong starts by Northern Illinois (8-0) and Ball State (8-1).

Next week there are only three matchups between ranked opponents, so look for upsets to have a major impact on rankings.

SEC remains on top after wild Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
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Two weeks ago, ESPN Stats & Information released its 2013 conference power rankings, a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP poll and ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, which will be released later this season, click here or here.

Week 8 was characterized by chaos and upsets; No. 3 Clemson, No. 6 LSU, No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 8 Louisville, No. 9 UCLA, No. 11 South Carolina and No. 15 Georgia all lost this week.

Overall, nine ranked teams were defeated, including five teams from the SEC, two teams from the Pac-12, one team from the ACC and the top team from the American Athletic Conference.

How has this wild week impacted the ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings?

The SEC did not fall as far as many would have expected because its losses came against fellow SEC opponents. Many of the points lost in the computer rankings (FPI) and in the AP Poll were picked up by their opponents.

For example, Missouri rose nine spots and gained 448 points in the AP Poll after its victory over Florida. Similarly, Auburn jumped 13 spots and gained 711 points in the AP Poll after beating Texas A&M on Saturday. In these cases, the Gators and Aggies did not lose as many AP points as their opponents gained.

Nonetheless, the SEC lost 2.9 points in the Conference Power Rankings after its top teams went down. The SEC had five teams fall at least seven spots in the AP Poll, and many of those spots were filled by other conferences, specifically the Big 12.

The Big 12 gained 14.8 points in the power rankings after its top four teams -- Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State -- all rose in the polls. As a result, the Big 12 jumped to second in the portion of the power rankings that measures the AP Poll.

Similarly, the Pac-12 moved from second to first in the computer portion of the conference power rankings (FPI). The Football Power Index (FPI) is one of ESPN’s new storytelling metrics that measures the relative strength of a team in terms of scoreboard points on roughly a -30 to +30 scale with 0 being average. The average Pac-12 team has an FPI rating of 14.6, meaning they are 14.6 points better than an average FBS team on a neutral field. In comparison, the SEC’s average FPI rating is 12.8.

Finally, the American Athletic Conference had the largest fall in the Conference Power Rankings after Louisville lost to UCF on Friday. Louisville was carrying the AAC in the polls and the computers after the conference went a combined 19-20 in its out of conference games. With the Cardinals’ loss, and their subsequent fall in the polls, there is a good chance that a non-AQ team will finish ahead of the American Athletic Conference champion in the BCS standings. If that team is also ranked in the top 16, it will be granted an automatic BCS Bowl berth.

If the last two weeks are any indication of what is to come, look for more chaos and upsets this upcoming weekend. Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Miami (FL) will look to avoid losses to unranked opponents at home. UCLA, Stanford, South Carolina and Texas Tech will all go on the road looking to take down a fellow ranked opponent.
It is no surprise that the SEC finished the season atop ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings after winning its seventh straight BCS National Championship on Monday.

It’s impossible to deny the SEC’s dominance. The conference has won seven more BCS titles than any other conference and ended the 2012 season with five of the top 10 teams in the AP poll.

In its bowl games, the SEC went 6-3 -- the best record of any AQ conference -- and outscored its opponents by a combined 85 points. It was the 10th straight season the SEC finished .500 or better in its bowl games, by far the longest such streak in the nation.

Next season, the SEC does not look to be getting any weaker. Quarterbacks AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Connor Shaw and Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel return to the conference with their eyes on an eighth straight BCS title for the conference.

In the race for second-best, The Big 12 narrowly edged the Pac-12 despite an average bowl season. The biggest difference between the two conferences was depth. The Big 12 had nine of its 10 teams play in bowl games compared to eight of 12 teams for the Pac-12.

In head-to-head bowl games, the Big 12 won two of three games against Pac-12 opponents, including Baylor’s 49-26 victory over Pac-12 South champion UCLA. Yet, Oregon ran past Kansas State in the conferences’ only BCS Bowl matchup.

The Big Ten continued to struggle in bowl games (2-5 record), while the ACC surged during bowl season (4-2).

The Big Ten is a combined 4-13 in January bowl games in the past three seasons and has been outscored by a combined 193 points (11.4 per game) in those 17 games. The ACC turned around its dismal bowl record, putting together its first winning bowl season since 2005.

In its final season as an FBS conference, the WAC finished the season as the top non-AQ conference in the nation. The WAC went 2-0 in bowl games and finished the season with Utah State and San Jose State ranked in the AP Poll. Additionally, Louisiana Tech and UTSA finished the season at least four games above .500 but did not play in bowl games.

Conference USA finished at the bottom of the conference rankings despite going 4-1 in its bowl games for the second straight season. The conference could not overcome the weakness of its non-bowl members who were ranked low by the computers.

With 2012 in the books, it is not too soon to start looking ahead to next season. Conference realignment will continue to change these rankings significantly. Pittsburgh and Syracuse will join the ACC, while the fate of the Big East remains uncertain. Utah State and San Jose State will join the Mountain West Conference while four of the remaining WAC teams will head to Conference USA. How will this impact the conference rankings? Check back next season to see how it turns out.

Does new playoff system change anything?

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
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AP Photo/Gerald HerbertThe BCS Presidential Oversight Committee approved a 12-year plan for a four-team seeded playoff to determine college football’s national champion beginning in the 2014 season.
The new plan for a four-team seeded playoff to determine college football’s national champion changes the landscape of college football.

How would the new playoff format have affected the last five national championships if the plan had already been in place?

LAST 5 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

Using the top four teams in the final regular-season BCS rankings for 2007-2011 to simulate the choices that will be made by a human selection committee, AccuScore ran 10,000 four-team playoff simulations. The No. 2 seed actually won the title the highest percentage of the time, which is not surprising given that in three of the five seasons, the No. 2 seed ended up becoming the actual national champion. The No. 3 and 4 seeds won nearly 32 percent of the time.

However, based on AccuScore projections with the new playoff format, the last five college football national champions would have remained the same.

COMPARISON TO OTHER SPORTS

A four-team playoff means 3.2 percent of the 124 college football FBS schools would now be playing for a championship (assuming the number is still 124 by 2014). By comparison, 20.1 percent of men’s college basketball teams play in the Men’s Basketball Championship (68 of 338).

DOES THIS FIX EVERYTHING?

Although this new proposal is a huge step, it no doubt will create the same kinds of arguments that the BCS system did, even though the BCS system did get a few things right.

Six national championship games that occurred during the BCS tenure would not have occurred under the previous system, based on conference commitments to specific bowl games.

Conversely, if the BCS had been in place before 1998, some controversial national championships of the past could have been decided on the field, including Michigan-Nebraska in 1997, Nebraska-Penn State in 1994 and Miami-Washington in 1991.

One of the arguments against a playoff is that regular-season matchups – especially BCS No. 1 vs 2 – would become less important. Since the BCS started in 1998, there have been three 1 vs 2 regular season games after November 1. Two of those times the loser was knocked out of national championship contention, but this past season, Alabama reversed that.

Since the BCS began in 1998, four teams have finished unbeaten AND in the top four of the BCS Standings, but not ranked in the top two. Those four teams were TCU in 2010, Cincinnati and TCU in 2009, and Auburn in 2004.

With the new system, it’s no guarantee, but there’s a better chance that those teams would be able to compete for a national championship.

SEC still top dog heading into bowl season

December, 5, 2011
12/05/11
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Entering the bowl season the SEC maintains a healthy, but not unreachable lead in ESPN’s Stats & Information’s conference power rankings. For more on how we objectively rank conferences check here.

There are many parallels between the final BCS standings and the conference rankings. Most notably the SEC is ahead of the Big 12 primarily because of its human rankings. The Big 12 is actually a stronger conference in most computer ranking systems, but the AP poll more than makes up for the gap with four SEC teams in the top 10 (the Big 12 has one).

In the BCS Alabama is playing in the national championship primarily because of human voters. Four of the 6 computer rankings that make up the BCS have OSU ahead of Alabama, but the Tide had stronger human numbers.

Conference USA was the biggest loser during championship week as undefeated Houston took a huge slide down the AP rankings after its loss to Southern Miss. The loss is almost entirely the reason Conference USA fell behind the Big East in the conference rankings for the first time in weeks.

Interestingly Houston and Southern Miss are both ahead of the Big East BCS participant West Virginia in the AP poll and in each team’s average computer ranking.

With the exception of the national championship game every bowl game will feature inter-conference matchups, making the final conference rankings standings far from set in stone. Stay tuned.

ACC slips in Conference Power Rankings

November, 28, 2011
11/28/11
2:44
PM ET
After an exciting weekend with a handful of inter-conference matchups, ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings remain relatively unchanged at the top.

The SEC holds a solid 5.7 point lead over the Big 12 heading into Championship Weekend. The SEC went 3-1 in inter-conference game this weekend as South Carolina, Georgia and Vanderbilt won by a combined 69 points against their ACC rivals. Overall, the SEC is 42-6 in games outside of its conference, including wins over three of the top six teams in the ACC. The SEC was always going to fall a bit this week because it was likely to lose one team from the AP top 3, but its strong out of conference performance made the drop very slight.

As a result of the SEC’s dominance this weekend, the ACC slid 7.6 points and fell into sixth place in the rankings for the first time this season. Losses by Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia dropped the ACC in the AP Ranks, as the ACC now averages 64.5 fewer AP points per team than the Mountain West Conference.

The Mountain West Conference continues to climb in the rankings based upon the strength of its top two teams. Boise State and TCU are the only two teams in the conference ranked in the top third of the country in the computers, but the their consistency and strong out of conference wins have helped the conference climb into fifth place.

The Pac-12 continues to rise based upon the resurgence of USC. At the beginning of the season, the Pac-12 looked to be a two-team race, but USC’s four-game win streak has catapulted the Trojans into the AP Top 10 and helped the Pac-12 build a solid lead for third place in the conference rankings.

Finally, at the bottom of the rankings the Big East remains behind Conference USA, but for the first time in three weeks the Big East has a team ranked in the AP Top 25. The MAC passed the Sun Belt for ninth place and the WAC continues to miss Boise State as it remains in last place.

SEC dominates conference rankings

November, 21, 2011
11/21/11
12:27
PM ET
There is no debating that the SEC is currently the top conference in the nation. After a weekend in which three of the top five teams in the BCS Standings lost, the SEC came out victorious on the field and in the polls.

The SEC now has the top three teams in the polls after Alabama and Arkansas jumped to 2nd and 3rd respectively. No conference has ever had the top three teams in the BCS Standings, and the last time that three teams from the same conference were 1-2-3 in the AP Poll was 1971, when Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado from the Big 8 were atop the final AP Poll.

The SEC’s dominance in the polls is reflected in ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings. The SEC has opened a season-high 7.8 point lead over the Big 12 after losses by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Although the computers continue to favor the Big 12, the SEC is dominant in the AP Poll, receiving 2,828 more AP points than any other conference.

The Mountain West Conference gained the most from the mayhem this past weekend. Boise State climbed back into the top seven of the AP Poll as Oklahoma, Clemson and Oregon all fell out of the top seven after their losses.

The Mountain West Conference is 30.9 points ahead of the Big East (which does not have a team ranked in the AP Poll for the second straight week) and is within 4.3 points of the ACC. With discussions of changes to the BCS system and the policy of automatic qualifiers, the success of the Mountain West Conference as a whole has come at a valuable time.

Look for more mayhem and upsets next weekend as six different games feature a matchup of Top 25 teams. Arkansas looks to create a three-way tie atop the SEC West and further complicate things in the BCS Standings by beating LSU on Friday. Additionally, inter-conference rivalry games such as Georgia-Georgia Tech and Clemson-South Carolina have the ability to drastically change the conference power rankings next week.

For a brief recap on how we rank the conferences, click here.



Upsets don't impact conference rankings

November, 14, 2011
11/14/11
2:56
PM ET

Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE
Boise State and Oregon shook up the Top 25 on Saturday, but the upsets didn't disrupt the ESPN Stats & Info Conference Rankings.
After a wild weekend that claimed two more unbeaten teams, the ESPN Stats & Info Conference Rankings remain relatively unchanged.

The Big Ten reclaimed third place in the rankings after wins by Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Despite not having a team ranked in the Top 12 of the AP Poll, the Big Ten has five teams ranked in the AP Top 25, which is tied with the SEC for the most of any conference.

The Big Ten does not have one elite national-title contender, but the conference has five teams with an 8-2 record and only two teams with losing records. In contrast, the Pac-12 only has three teams with two or fewer losses and four teams with losing records.

For the first time this year, the Big East does not have a team ranked in the AP Top 25 after Cincinnati lost at home to West Virginia to drop out of the rankings.

The Big East remains below both the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA in ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Rankings after falling an additional 3.1 points this week. The MWC and C-USA each have two teams ranked in the AP Top 25.

TCU’s victory over Boise State helped the conference in the rankings. For the first time since Week 5, the Mountain West has two ranked teams. The Horned Frogs gained many of the points that Boise State lost in the polls as the Mountain West Conference inched closer to the ACC for fifth in the Conference Rankings.

The gap between the top two conferences--the SEC and Big 12--and every other conference is noticeable. If Oklahoma State and LSU remain undefeated, the top conference debate will be settled on the field.

If either team slips up, the relative strength of the conferences could play a role for voters in which one-loss team has a chance at the national title.

For a brief recap on how we rank the conferences, click here.

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