Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Out of Conference Report - Midseason 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.

Alrighty then, pesky explanations are now out of the way. Let's get going...

Updated non-conference records among the six BCS leagues through the first month of the season:
Big XII38-10
Big Ten
Big East
Pac 10
At first glance, the SEC looks incredibly dominant, while the Pac 10 looks horrid on a legendary level. But there's a bit more to non-conference play than just the above records, as we will see.

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:
Pac 10120-66.645
Big East
Big XII133-130.507
Big Ten115-114.502
Not coincidentally, the overall win-loss standings are almost flipped entirely when it comes to the opposition's record. Earlier in the season, you could argue a direct causal relationship between the overall standings and opposition record...not so much anymore, now that most conferences are 3 or 4 games into intra-league play.

Below illustrates the percentage of games each league has played away from home in non-conference action:
Conf.Road Games/OOC GamesPct.
Pac 10
Big East
Big Ten10/4124.4%

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

Again, we see part of the reason for the Pac 10's awful non-conference showing. But the SEC deserves a lot of credit for playing a decent percentage of road games and still looking good in out-of-conference play. In general, up until the last weekend of the year, there appears to be a close correlation between overall non-conference losses and the amount of road games played outside the league.

The following indicates the percentage of non-conference competition played against fellow BCS-league opponents:
Conf.BCS Foes/OOC GamesPct.
Pac 10
Big East
Big Ten13/4131.7%
Big XII15/4831.3%
*For purposes of this analysis, Notre Dame is included as a BCS/power-league team

And each conference's record against other power-league competition:
Big East
Big Ten
Pac 10
Furthermore, the following is the combined record of each league's BCS opposition:
Pac 10
Big East
Big Ten
That's a lot of numbers to look at and absorb. Surprised to see the ACC faring the best in this category? Me neither, but I'll bet a lot of SEC and Big Ten blogs/message boards would be.

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.:
Big XII21-2.913
Big Ten17-3.850
Big East
Pac 106-8.429
And, just for kicks, the combined record of the "other 1-A" opponents for each BCS league:
Pac 1065-41.613
Big East
Big Ten
I'll repeat what I said in the last Out of Conference 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 Toledo. That said, holy schnikees do they play some crapola Sun Belt and Conference USA dregs, while the Pac 10 is getting knocked around multiple times by BYU, Utah, TCU and Boise State.

The percentage of non-conference games against 1-AA competition...
Conf.1-AA Foes/OOC GamesPct.
Big Ten8/4119.5%
Big East7/3619.4%
Pac 102/287.1%
And again, this is where a lot of the hopeful feelings about the ACC get torn asunder. One third of all out-of-conference competition has 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.

So what does all of this mean? The Big East and Pac 10 are better than you think, but they're still the bottom of the BCS-league barrel this year. The Big XII looks the best, with the SEC right behind. The ACC and Big Ten are close in overall quality. The biggest movers over the final half of the season will be the ACC and SEC. The ACC has six non-league games left, with five of them coming against the SEC; the SEC has a whopping 15 out-of-conference matchups still to play.

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

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

I'm still 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. I've tried a few calculations and I'm not happy with any just yet. Suggestions would be most appreciated.


Preston said...

Again, I think you hit the nail on the head. I think the Big Ten and ACC are dead even except for one huge factor: the powerhouse team(s). We're not sure if Penn St. is really a powerhouse team due to their weak schedule, but they, along with Ohio St., are certainly in the upper echelon. The ACC, on the other hand, does not have a team to carry the banner, and that hurts their reputation a LOT. If GT, BC, or FSU can run the table (a tall order for such untested teams), then we can rise to the Big Ten's level. Until then, we can at least say we're not as bad as the Pac-10 or woeful Big East.

Lee said...

Why are Penn St and Ohio St surely in the upper echelon? Nothing in the numbers woudl put the big 10 above the ACC. They have the 2nd weakest schedule vs the BCS and the 2nd to worst record. Pretty shabby stuff. and then Ohio State and Penn State beat the subpar teams in their conference. whoop dee doo!!! Just becuase 90,000 midwesterners decided to skip the county swap meet to go to a football game does't mean they went to a good one...

Marcus said...

Lee & Preston-

I've got the ACC a tiny notch below the Big 10 for basically one reason - those 1AA matchups. There's just too many for the ACC this year, and too many of those games were too close: UNC-McNeese, MD-Delaware, GT-GardnerWebb. The fact that some of those FCS games were close was part of the subjective nature of my final ranking. The ACC looks very good ( and better than the Big 10) in all the categories until you get to the 1-AA Factor.

I agree with Preston, at least about Penn State being upper echelon...they have a solid OOC win (Oregon State) and they're blowing away everyone they play. Ohio State is probably better than any other ACC team as well at this point, but that may change by season's end. The ACC doesn't have an BCS title caliber team and right or wrong, that hurts perception. The ACC's strength is in teams 5-11, and perhaps 5-12. There's a decent chance ACC team 11 (Duke) could beat SEC team 5 (Vandy) this weekend. That's where the ACC's strength lies.

Bryan said...

good read, any way you try to formulate the ranking will be biased depending on how you weight the different components. Heck, the component rating is what sagarin is for, no need to be solely based on statistics, leave room for your own opinion.

I think the media is starting to catch on that the SEC isn't so good this year, maybe we won't have to hear about how thrilling their 3-2 games are.

Lee said...

Another head to head notch in the belt for the Big East last night. Maybe they aren't terrible...

Marcus said...

Good win by WVU...but who knows how it'll look in the whole scheme o' things by season's end. WVU may win the Big East and Auburn could go 5-7.

Just as Bama's win over Clemson looks completely ho-hum now.

Lee said...

Yeah but the SEC is still going to benefit from all those "quality wins" over Aubrun earlier in the season. It's what help Vandy and LSU get their lofty rankings which led to Florida moving back up which led to...

This is why all preseason polls need to be done away with. They simply make no sense. Anyone who watched Auburn win 3-2 never in a million years would've put them at #11 in the country. I went to the MD/Cal game that day and watched the entire Auburn game. Regardless of MD having lost a week earlier there was simply no difference in the 2 teams. You want to rank Auburn #25 after that game because they were still undefeated go for it but #11, come on...

The fact of the matter is that when leagues like the SEC and Big Ten start the year with 5 or so ranked teams no mattter what those teams do (outside of totally crapping the bed out of conference) the league is going to keep that many ranked teams. The team that beats the overrated team just takes their spot in the rankings, rinse cycle repeat...

Lee said...

and Bamas win over Clemson is another example when you think about it. Bama shoots into the top 25, Clemson drops like a rock and ACC is determined to be crap. Without preseason rankings that win wouldn't mean any more for the SEC than MD's win over Cal would... That isn't even a fair comparison for the ACC because Cal is 5-2 and still in contention for a Pac 10 title and Clemson is in the bottom third of the ACC standings...