Saturday, July 5, 2008

Out of Conference Report 2007 - Final Edition

For those who are new to this blog, I began a feature last season that would attempt to quantify the strength of each BCS league based on the quality of it's non-conference competition. Yes, I realize that football has far too many intangibles and such that can't be broken down into mere numbers. But I'm a stats guy, and if someone is going to tell me that the Big 10 or Big East or whoever is better than the ACC, I'd like to see some justification for that aside from half-informed fanboy drivel.

For better or worse, I've compiled a fairly detailed set of numbers that go a long way in showing where the conferences stack up against each other. One thing some of you may ask is....why not just list how one conference performed against each of the other five leagues last season and leave it at that? For starters, no conference played another league enough times to get an accurate feel. Secondly, even if there were enough games played to make a good determination, that only shows that one conference was better than another, not how one conference stacks up against the other five.

So, I hope that explains this whole endeavor. I have some ACC-centered commentary among all the numbers, but for the most part the stats speak for themselves. And away we go...

Final non-conference records among the BCS leagues, post-bowl craziness:
Conf.RecordPct.
SEC47-10.825
Big XII41-15.732
Big Ten38-14.731
Big East32-13.711
Pac 10
25-12.676
ACC35-21.625
Based on general perception, I don't think it surprises anyone that the ACC is comfortably in last place in these standings, nor that the SEC is in first. But, as this feature has been pointing out throughout the 2007 season, there's more to out-of-conference competition than the above records.

To delve a little deeper, below is the combined record of all 1-A/FBS opposition faced by each BCS league in non-conference play:
Conf.RecordPct.
Pac 10249-194.562
ACC333-285.539
SEC326-280.538
Big XII315-291.520
Big East252-243.509
Big Ten240-311.436
So while the ACC finished last in the win-loss standings, it appears that part of the reason was that they faced stronger out-of-conference opposition than everyone but the Pac 10. It's interesting to note that only the Big Ten had their non-conference opponents collectively finish below .500...and comfortably below .500.

ON THE ROAD
Below illustrates the percentage of games each league played away from home in non-conference action:
Conf.Road Games/OOC GamesPct.
ACC28/5650.0%
Big East21/4546.7%
Pac 10
16/3743.2%
Big XII
24/56
42.9%
Big Ten19/5236.5%
SEC17/5729.8%

FYI: bowl games and out-of-conference neutral site games (i.e. Missouri-Illinois, Florida State-Alabama) were calculated as road games for both leagues.

One-half of the ACC's non-conference competition was played away from an ACC stadium. One half! Meanwhile, seven out of ten of the SEC's non-league games were played at home. The Big Ten wasn't partial to hitting the road either.

BCS COMPETITION
The following indicates the percentage of non-conference competition played against fellow BCS-league opponents:
Conf.BCS Foes/OOC GamesPct.
ACC29/5651.8%
Pac 1015/3740.5%
Big East
18/4540.0%
Big Ten20/5238.5%
SEC21/5736.8%
Big XII19/5733.3%
And each conference's record against other power-league competition:
Conf.RecordPct.
Pac 109-6.600
SEC
12-9.571
Big Ten
11-9.550
Big XII
10-9.526
ACC13-16.448
Big East8-10.444
Furthermore, the following is the combined record of each league's BCS opposition:
Conf.RecordPct.
Big XII
148-83.641
SEC176-108.620
ACC217-140
.608
Pac 10
100-79.559
Big East
119-102.538
Big Ten122-131.482
That's a lot of numbers to look at and gauge. What they tell me is that the ACC has to be applauded for the quality of non-conference opposition it faces. More than one-half of that competition is from the other five BCS leagues. On top of that, it's good competition (witness the .608 winning percentage of the opposition). Unfortunately, the league wasn't quite up to meeting the challenge, given the 13-16 record. I was a bit surprised to see that the Big East fared just a tad worse in the win-loss column. The SEC and Pac 10 appear to have fared the best in this category when you look at all of the numbers (and remember that the Pac 10 is the only league to play 9 conference games, so that's one less non-conference game for each member). Neither the Big East nor the Big Ten impress in this category in any aspect.

OTHER 1-A (OR "FBS" IF YOU WANT TO BE ALL TECHNICAL) COMPETITION
Each league's record against other 1-A/FBS foes...that is, the non-conference results against the poor schmoes from Conference USA, the MAC, the WAC, etc.:
Conf.RecordPct.
SEC26-1.963
Big Ten21-3.875
Big East18-3.857
Big XII24-5.828
ACC15-5.750
Pac 1014-6.700
And, just for kicks, the combined record of the "other 1-A" opponents for each BCS league:
Conf.RecordPct.
Pac 10149-115.564
Big East133-141.485
SEC150-172.466
ACC116-145.444
Big XII
166-208.443
Big Ten118-180.396
That's too many losses by the ACC and Pac 10 given the number of games played, although the Pac 10 can be slightly forgiven given that they played fairly decent non-BCS competition. Overall though, the Big Ten's lack of quality non-conference opposition, whether BCS or non-BCS, is evident. Just .042 percentage points separate the winning percentage of the Big East opponents with the Big XII's opposition, while there's a drop of .047 points between the Big XII and Big Ten.

THE 1-AA (OR "FCS" IF YOU WANT TO BE ALL TECHNICAL) FACTOR
The percentage of non-conference games against 1-AA competition...
Conf.1-AA Foes/OOC GamesPct.
SEC9/5715.8%
Big Ten8/5215.4%
Big XII8/5614.3%
Big East6/4513.3%
ACC7/5712.3%
Pac 102/375.4%
This is one set of standings in which finishing at the top is not something to plaster all over the conference media guide. Nonetheless there's not a big difference between the SEC through the ACC. The Pac 10 deserves kudos for avoiding lower-division matchups whenever possible. If there has to be a big loser in this category, it's the Big Ten, since the six BCS leagues went 40-2 against 1-AA opponents in 2007....and the two losses were by Big Ten schools (Michigan and Minnesota).

FACTUALLY SUPPORTED SUBJECTIVE CONCLUSION
So, what does all of this mean? A few things stand out to me: 1) The quality of the ACC's non-conference competition has clearly affected their won-loss record in non-conference play; 2) I'm surprised that the Big East wasn't more impressive in this category, given the better reputation they seem to hold with many in the media; 3) The SEC deserves it's props as the King of college football, but they play weaker non-conference competition than most, and they stay at home to do it; 4) The Pac 10 looks fairly impressive, but is a bit of an anomaly since they played much fewer non-conference games due to their round-robin league slate; 5) Nothing much stands out about the Big XII except that they could buck up on the number of BCS opponents they face outside of league play; 6) The Big Ten's non-conference opposition was generally horrible, and they didn't exactly set the world on fire against it.

All that said, this is how I'd rank the conferences for 2007:

1) SEC
2) Pac 10
3) Big XII
4) ACC
5) Big East
6) Big Ten

And there's a large gap between the Big XII and the ACC. Still, looking at the numbers, the ACC is better than it's national perception....and even better then the perception I had of it. The Big Ten enjoys far more favorable media coverage than the ACC (and Big East for that matter), but it's loftier tradition can only carry it so far. The Pac 10 is much better than "USC and the nine dwarves". And the SEC is the best...but not quite as dominant as advertised.

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