Dogged Sage's Blog
One of the annual debates among those who play, coach, report on or simply enjoy college football involves relative strength of the eleven Football Bowl Subdivision conferences. Bowl games have frequently served as benchmarks of comparison. This has been further highlighted by a cable television network awarding a trophy to the conference with the highest winning percentage during the plethora of bowls.
However, the final scores of bowls result from various factors, some of which have no relation to the size, speed or skills of the players or to the expertise and preparation of their coaches. Every season, high-profile teams lacking motivation to play in lower-tier games flop in the bowls, especially when those serve as consolation prizes for teams predicted to win their conferences but failed. Others face the distraction of coaches having bolted for other jobs or of an interim head coach after a termination, disrupting pre-bowl practices. Additionally, some bowls arrange glaring mismatches such as a conference champion facing someone who finished third or worse in its conference. Even more absurdities include a second place finisher from one conference squaring off against a sixth place team from another. Clearly, results from bowls cannot fully settle the question of how the conferences rank.

In order to help resolve this issue, this writer presents the calculation of the 2010 conference strength results. Only objective data such as wins and losses versus other FBS teams are factored in this report. In order to demonstrate a reasonable comparison, victories over teams in the formerly labeled Division 1-AA do not contribute to a conference's total of points but losses to those do result in penalties.  Wins on the road or at neutral sites carry more value than those at home.  Bonuses go to teams who defeated outright or co-champions of other conferences.  Rankings of teams in the top twenty-five polls are irrelevant for this report.

Therefore, I present the ranking of all eleven conferences previously called ???Division 1-A???. The total points of each are included as a basis of comparison.

Big Twelve:            .821
Southeastern:          .707   
Big Ten:               .635   
Pacific Ten:           .570
Big East:              .529   
Western Athletic:      .470
Atlantic Coast:        .467
Mountain West:         .456       
Conference USA:        .385   
Mid-American:          .080                           
Sun Belt:              .069                           
This result comes with mixed emotions for the Big Twelve. They clearly emerged with the highest total along with five victories over other conferences' outright or co-champions. However, the conference's sole win versus the SEC and the win over co-champion of the WAC belong to Colorado who is stampeding to Pacific Ten for next season. Also, without including soon-to-be former member Nebraska's victory at Washington, the Big Twelve split its four other matches versus the Pacific Ten. Conference pride will be on the line when the champion, Oklahoma, plays the co-champion of the lowly regarded Big East in the Fiesta Bowl. Will the Sooners break their habit of choking in BCS bowls?

These totals lend credence to media reports of the decline in strength of the Southeastern Conference. Every member of the SEC except Vanderbilt played an FCS team, which dragged down the conference's number of points. Also, the SEC finished with a win and loss in two matches against the Big Twelve and Big Ten respectively.
The Atlantic Conference has once again showed itself as a basketball conference with football as a sideshow. Its champion lost at home to James Madison, a mediocre FCS member. The ACC finished 2-5 versus the SEC and 0-2 against the Big Twelve. How many more times can a low ranked Virginia Tech team proceed to Miami before the fellows in the orange blazers seek to end its annual obligation to invite the ACC champion?

The Big East did little to quiet the critics demanding than its guaranteed spot in the Bowl Championship Series should not continue. Its members only won two out of six games versus the equally maligned ACC. They scored just one victory in four tries against SEC members.  The Big East did manage two wins over Florida International, the Sun Belt co-champion, for whatever that is worth.

The Sun Belt made its annual appearance in the cellar of conference rankings. Its co-champions Troy and Florida International finished a combined 1-7 in non-conference games. If a twelve or sixteen team playoff system were ever to be implemented, the Sun Belt has proved that its champion definitely does not deserve an automatic bid. A play-in game versus the MAC or CUSA champion seems a generous compromise offer to this collection of de facto FCS programs.

The Mid-American Conference narrowly avoided the Sun Belt's annual place in the standings. The MAC is the only conference with two losses to FCS teams.  The MAC must win more than one or two of its numerous trips into Big Ten stadia in order to bolster its ranking.

This concludes this season's comparison of conferences. The readers are encouraged to debate among themselves, at least until the bowls have concluded.

December 17, 2010  03:28 AM ET

Interesting article.

I have to say, I disagree with the rankings, but the analysis that followed was very informative.

Good blog.

July 11, 2012  03:10 AM ET

I based the rankings on my objective formula. I do not insert my opinions in the process of determining the order of rankings. I hope that you will read my rankings for 2011 and other seasons to see that I remain true to the results even if I disagree with the outcomes.


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