Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Out of Conference Report 2008 - Inaugural 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 Ten 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 commentary mixed in with all the numbers, but for the most part the stats speak for themselves. And away we go...

Updated non-conference records among the six BCS leagues through the first month of the season:
Conf.RecordPct.
SEC27-5.844
Big XII38-10
.792
Big Ten31-9.775
ACC26-10.722
Big East
20-11.645
Pac 10
13-13.500
Nice showing by the SEC. The ACC has recovered nicely from the thermonuclear opening weekend. And the Pac 10...just wow. .500?!

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 1068-38.642
ACC63-42.600
Big East62-45.579
Big Ten69-67.507
Big XII81-86.485
SEC47-61.438
Not coincidentally, the SEC has the best record in non-league play, but has faced the worst 1-A competition, while the Pac 10 has the worst record but has faced the strongest FBS opposition. Yes, part of that is because the SEC has taken care of business, thereby causing a lesser overall record among their collective opponents; but even taking that into account, the numbers show that the Pac 10 has still played better non-conference competition.

ON THE ROAD
Below illustrates the percentage of games each league has played away from home in non-conference action:
Conf.Road Games/OOC GamesPct.
Pac 10
8/2630.8%
ACC11/3630.5%
Big East9/3129.0%
SEC9/3228.1%
Big XII
13/48
27.1%
Big Ten10/4025.0%

FYI: non-conference neutral site games (i.e. Missouri-Illinois, Alabama-Clemson) were calculated as road games for both leagues.

A 5.8-percentage point difference between first and last place in these standings is not a huge enough gap for this category to mean much at this stage. One thing that hasn't changed from last year is that the Big Ten continues to shy away from hitting the road in non-league play, moreso than the other BCS conferences.

BCS COMPETITION
The following indicates the percentage of non-conference competition played against fellow BCS-league opponents:
Conf.BCS Foes/OOC GamesPct.
Pac 10
11/2642.3%
ACC15/3641.7%
Big East
12/3138.7%
Big Ten11/4032.5%
Big XII15/4831.3%
SEC9/3228.1%
And each conference's record against other power-league competition:
Conf.RecordPct.
SEC5-4.556
ACC
8-7.533
Big East
6-6.500
Big XII
7-8.467
Big Ten
6-7.462
Pac 10
5-6.455
Furthermore, the following is the combined record of each league's BCS opposition:
Conf.RecordPct.
Big East
38-14.731
Pac 10
35-14.714
ACC46-23
.667
Big Ten34-20.630
SEC22-16.579
Big XII
38-28.576
FYI: For purposes of this analysis, Notre Dame is included as a BCS/power-league team

That's a lot of numbers to look at and gauge. What they tell me is that the ACC comes out the best overall in this category, and the Big XII the worst. The SEC - like last year - continues to fatten up on a feast of opponents in the lower 1-A conferences while the Pac 10 and ACC are knocking helmets much more often against BCS-caliber competition. Think that doesn't make a difference in the overall win/loss standings?

OTHER 1-A/FBS 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.
SEC15-1.938
Big XII21-2.913
Big Ten17-2.895
ACC5-3.625
Big East
7-5
.583
Pac 106-7.462
And, just for kicks, the combined record of the "other 1-A" opponents for each BCS league:
Conf.RecordPct.
Pac 1033-24.579
ACC17-19.472
Big East
24-31.436
Big Ten
35-47.427
Big XII
43-58.426
SEC25-45.357
You gotta give the SEC credit - they at least know how to drop the hammer on the cupcakes. No inexplicable losses to Navy, Middle Tennessee or half the Mountain West.

THE 1-AA/FCS FACTOR
The percentage of non-conference games against 1-AA competition...
Conf.1-AA Foes/OOC GamesPct.
ACC13/3636.1%
Big Ten8/4020.0%
Big XII9/4818.8%
Big East7/3122.6%
SEC7/5721.9%
Pac 102/267.7%
And this is where a lot of the warm and fuzzy feelings about the ACC in this analysis dies. One half of the league's total non-conference wins, and just over one third of all out-of-conference competition, have come from 1-AA opposition. Unacceptable. Yeah, I get it that some 1-AA teams (Richmond, McNeese State) are better than some bad 1-A teams (North Texas, Idaho, Syracuse) but the principle of scheduling FCS squads over lesser FBS squads was clear - fatten up with guaranteed wins and don't even risk the possibility of disaster. Lame.

FACTUALLY SUPPORTED SUBJECTIVE CONCLUSION
So what does all of this mean? It's still a little too early to tell but I think the picture so far tells us the SEC is still the best, the ACC (1-AA scheduling warts and all) is better than most pundits give it credit, and the Big East - as bad as it is - isn't ready for a funeral just yet.

All that said, this is how I'd rank the conferences so far in 2008:

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

I'm toying around with the idea of creating some type of simple formula that takes into account all of the above numbers and then spits out a numerical rating for each conference, which would then take more of the subjectivity out of the above league rankings. But I'm certainly no math wiz, so any suggestions on a formula would be appreciated.

We'll see how things look in a few weeks when another batch of non-conference activity has been played out.

1 comment:

Preston said...

Nice analysis. It's funny, because if you asked me to rank the conferences based on my "half-informed fanboy" knowledge, I'd come up with exactly that. The SEC and Big XII are clearly better than everyone else. I think the Big Ten and ACC are pretty close, and then the Pac-10 and Big East are waaay down there.