Daily Blog •February 9, 2013

Let me help clarify the great debate on which conference is the toughest. One of the most exciting things about NCAA Football is that the toughest conference changes are on a yearly basis, but of course lately the SEC has dominated winning the last 7 National Titles as well as the top spot in my final Toughest Conference Ratings for the last 7 years. I remember back in the late 1960's, when it could have been argued that the SWC was the top conference in the country with powerhouses like Texas and Arkansas battling it out for #1. Nittany Lion fans are still not too pleased with President Nixon's proclamation that Texas was #1 after they beat Arkansas in 1969 when their undefeated Penn St team finished #2. In later years, it was the Big 8 with Nebraska and Oklahoma dominating the landscape. The SEC, of course, is usually near the top, as is the Big Ten. Both conferences have had their powerhouse years, with Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide and the rivalry between Woody Hayes (Ohio St) and Bo Schembechler (Michigan). They, of course, have also had some off-years. There have been a lot of conference changes in the last 12 years (a lot this year!). These realignments have created some major shifts of power.

Another interesting point is that there is not an exact science for picking the toughest conference. You cannot rely strictly on how many bowl wins a conference racks up during the postseason, or on its overall record in non-conference play. Let's face it, some leagues' non-conf slates are much tougher than others. Conferences can play non-conference games vs FCS or BCS opponents and if you go strictly on overall records, the wins and losses count the same.
I have decided to do a blog series on each on of the components to my toughest conference ratings and today will feature a look at the bowl results from the past year.

Before I get into that part of my toughest conference component, first let me explain how I derive some of the other results. I complete 9 primary sets of power ratings at the start of the year. First is a pure power rating. I rank the positions (QB, RB, WR, etc) from 4 to 10 points with 10 points being the highest. I then add up all of the positions, factor in coaching and special teams, and derive my Power Rating for each team.

The second Power Rating is based on my Plus/Minus Power Ratings. These take into account the production of the team not only in terms of points, but yards gained and allowed. I compile a lengthy list of areas of improvement and spots that are weaker and either upgrade or downgrade each team's Power Plays numbers. I then add up all the different numbers and get my Preseason Plus/Minus Power Ratings number for each team.

Three other sets are based on last year's final numbers. I grade every position for each team (QB, RB, WR, OL, DL, LB, DB) on their scale of improvement from one year to the next. The scale ranges from +6 points to -6 points for each position. I take the total team number and factor it into last year's 3 final sets of Power Ratings. This gives me 3 very different ways of gauging the strength of the teams.

The question is, how do I add up the points? Conferences all have a different number of teams. If I ranked the teams by the average of the entire conference, that would give a good indication of the average rating of all the teams. But the bigger the conference the weaker the grade could possibly be. I did use that as one factor. I added a second factor and that was an average grade of just the Top 5 teams. This would give me an even comparison of all the conferences. The only thing this rating does not show, of course, is the depth of the conference. For example, let's say one conference had 9 bowl caliber teams and 1 non-bowl team and another conference had 5 bowl caliber teams and 5 non-bowl teams. The thinner conference would be rated higher if the Top 5 teams had a higher average, even though the deeper conference was probably tougher. I also rate leagues by the Top 3 and the Top 8. By merging the 4 ratings, I get a fairly accurate assessment of the strength of the conferences.

Basically, after all of that is done, I have 4 different sets of rankings. They break down the conferences based upon the strength of the Top 3 teams in each conf, the Top 5 teams, the Top 8 teams and then the overall strength of the whole conference. I also include other factors like non-conference record, record vs BCS conference teams and bowl records with emphasis on bowl wins over ranked teams. In 2004, I eliminated wins vs FCS schools but did include losses vs them. I also include the number NFL draft picks each conference has.

In future days I will go into the conference vs conference record details including their records vs BCS conferences and also vs FCS schools from this past year but today here are the conference bowl results.

First back in my December 13 blog, I gave my predictions for how the conferences would do as far as their win totals according to how many teams were favored to win by the experts in Las Vegas. I was quite pleased with the results as I correctly predicted 9 of the 12 conferences accordingly as whether they would go OVER or UNDER their win total.

2012-13 Conference Bowl Win Projections
My Proj
on Dec 13
Actual Actual OVER/UNDER
Big 10 0-7 OVER 2-5 OVER
Big 12 5-4 PUSH 4-5 UNDER
Pac-12 7-1 UNDER 4-4 UNDER
Big East 1-4 PUSH 3-2 OVER
Sun Belt 4-0 UNDER 2-2 UNDER

Now to the actual results of which conference fared best in the 2012-13 bowl season.

Conf W L % Bowl Wins
over Ranked Tms
SEC 6 3 66.67% 4
CUSA 4 1 80% 0
ACC 4 2 66.67% 2
Pac-12 4 4 50% 1
Big 12 4 5 44.44% 2
Big East 3 2 60% 1
Sun Belt 2 2 50% 1
Big 10 2 5 28.57% 0
MAC 2 5 28.57% 0
WAC 2 0 100% 0
INDEP 1 2 33.33% 0
MW 1 4 20% 0

As you can see the SEC once again had an outstanding bowl season with an overall 6-3 (67%) mark including four wins over ranked bowl teams highlighted by Alabama’s 42-14 crushing of #1 Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship game. You could also make a legitimate argument that the ACC surprisingly was the 2nd best conference in the bowl season this past year even though traditionally the conference has performed below expectations during past bowl seasons. Two of their wins were over ranked opponents highlighted by Clemson’s upset over LSU and Florida St’s BCS Orange Bowl win. The  Pac-12 and Big 12 each had four bowl wins but both conferences were expecting better according to Vegas. The Pac-12 did win two BCS bowls something they had not been able to accomplish in the past two years. While the Big 10 did finish with just a 2-5 record, keep in mind they were an underdog in all seven of their games. Probably the biggest surprise of the bowl season was CUSA finishing with a 4-1 (80%) mark after arguably one of their more disappointing regular seasons in conference history.

Keep in mind, bowl records are just one component in ranking which conference is toughest. In my next blog coming up on Monday, I will break down non-conference records particularly taking a look at how the conferences did vs one another.