Spring Blog • March 12, 2015

Who played the toughest schedule -Bowls?


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 on a yearly basis. The SEC has of course dominated lately and coming into this season they have finished as the top spot in my final Toughest Conference Ratings for the last 8 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 13 years. 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-conference 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 one 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, however 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.

SEC 7-5 6-5 XX - 2-2 2-1 2-1 0-1 1-0 - - - -
P-12 6-3 5-2 - XX 2-1 1-1 2-0 - - - 1-1 - -
B10 6-5 6-4 2-2 1-2 XX 1-0 2-0 - - - - 0-1 -
B12 2-5 2-5 1-2 1-1 0-1 XX 0-1 - - - - - -
ACC 4-7 2-6 1-2 0-2 0-2 1-0 XX - 2-1 - - - -
IND 2-1 1-0 1-0 - - - - XX 0-1 - 1-0 - -
AAC 2-3 1-3 0-1 - - - 1-2 1-0 XX - - - -
MAC 2-3 0-0 - - - - - - - XX 0-1 0-2 2-0
MW 3-4 1-1 - 1-1 - - - 0-1 - 1-0 XX 1-1 0-1
CUSA 4-1 1-0 - - 1-0 - -   - 2-0 1-1 XX  
SBC 1-2 0-0 - - - - - - - 0-2 1-0 - XX



The SEC, Pac-12 and Big 10 all have ammunition-laying claim to the best overall bowl performance. The SEC was the only conference with 7 wins but did go 0-2 in the new Big 6 bowls. The Pac-12 had the best win% among the P5 in both overall bowls and versus other Power 5 teams winning 67% and 71% respectively. The Big 10 looked dead in the water early but a 21 pt 4Q comeback by Michigan St and a Wisconsin OT win gave Ohio St a boost towards the national Championship.


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.