Which Conference Proved They Were the Strongest?

Posted by: Avinash on Monday, March 24th, 2008

Who’s the best conference?

This seems to be part of a minimal but growing debate–and by debate I mean chest-thumping–about the Pac-10 (usually USC fans angry at how indifferent southern college football fans are to recent Trojan dominance) and the SEC (indifferent to West Coast bluster, every year). The heat has been rising summer after summer, culminating in Tennessee romping Cal last September and asserting Southern football was the cradle of pigskin civilization. Then Cal beat Tennessee and everyone talked about hippies in the trees.

This past fall, the loudest reaction in the Deep South was not Jacob Hester blowing into the end zone against Florida, or Kentucky stuffing LSU in three OTs, or Matt Caddell twisting in the end zone to beat Arkansas. Nope, it was Stanford 24, USC 23.

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Usually a Left Coast fan alleges that the Pac-10 plays a tougher all-around schedule, has a true conference round robin (each team plays all nine other teams–SEC teams are only obliged to face eight of twelve). The SEC fan argues that playing eight of their brethren is far more deluxe, like switching from business class on United to Business Class on Singapore Airlines.


Yes, this is a plane.

So while I can’t really measure who the best conference is statistically, there is a good way to measure who proved themselves the most this past offseason–out-of-conference performance. Every conference has their slate of quality opponents, complemented with its weak-willed group of beaten drums. Who really proved themselves on the field with big wins OOC and showed they deserved the merit of greatest conference in the land?

This is not a post meant to define who the best is, just who showed the most in their contests against the other conferences of the land.



Most impressive win: LSU 48, Virginia Tech 7. A dominating performance from start to finish. If there were any doubts about the wide gap between the SEC and the ACC, they were all cleared up that Saturday in Death Valley. This would be the last impressive performance LSU would muster until the title game.

Most embarrassing defeat: Louisiana-Monroe 21, Alabama 14. Teams should get their bowl privileges revoked for performances like these. Losing to a 6-6 Sun Belt team at home right before the Iron Bowl is completely unacceptable and is punishable by Nick Saban baring undergarments.


Toughest schedule: Hard to say. At a pinch, I’ll say Florida, because they at least played four quality opponents. Four quality opponents that got blasted apart in the Swamp, but it wasn’t as if there were many good candidates. You could make a case for Georgia, but Georgia Tech was a dead man walking team by the end of the season.

Weakest schedule: Arkansas. Three games against the power of the Sun….Belt. Two of their opponents, North Texas and FIU, finished a combined 3-19. Just for fun, let’s add in a game against a 2-9 Division I-AA team. Talk about proving less than nothing.

Noteworthy performances: Does beating Troy of the South (not to be confused with Troy of the West) count as a signature moment? After LSU beating Virginia Tech, no other team defeated a Division I opponent with more than eight wins. Again, the SEC’s accomplishments were internal (beating up on each other) rather than external (11-1 against the Sun Belt! POWER LEVEL RISING!)

At-a-glance Grade: B

Pac-10 and the rest after the jump.


The Pac-10 has been jawing at SEC dominance ever since the return of USC–and did no favors for itself when Cal got blasted out of the water at Rocky Top in 2006. While the Bears redeemed that win with a decisive smashing of Tennessee on opening day, how did the rest of the conference fare?

Most impressive win: Oregon 39, Michigan 7. After Appalachian State, everyone assumed Michigan would right the ship by blasting Oregon. Apparently no one thought Michigan might not be that great. Dennis Dixon blitzed the poor Wolves around with one Statue of Liberty play after another.

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Most embarrassing defeat: Notre Dame 20, UCLA 6. Seven turnovers. How the hell do you turnover the ball seven times at home? If Stanford hadn’t beat USC that same night, I’m certain Dorrell gets fired the next day.

Noteworthy games: There were other games that really set the Pac-10 apart from its other opponents–Cal 45, Tennessee 31 (considering the way things turned out, a big upset that Vols fans must be kicking themselves for blowing defensively), USC 49, Nebraska 31 (not even as close as that score prescribed; this one was oooover early), UCLA 27, BYU 17 (Dorrell’s last win before the fanbase turned on him totally and inexorably).

In the loss column, the only decisive defeat from a big conference opponent occurred in Cincinnati, when Oregon State practically beat themselves with eight turnovers. Alex Brink played back and forth with Wisconsin for three quarters before Wazzu let the Badgers get away. Washington beat a ranked Boise State team, hung around with Ohio State for three quarters, and took Hawaii to the wire in the last game of the regular season.

Toughest schedule: Oregon. Two hardfought victories against quality opponents in Houston and Fresno State coupled with the roadtrip to the Big House made the path that much tougher for the Ducks–just goes to show how close Dennis Dixon alone had the Ducks on the verge of the BCS title game.

Weakest schedule: Heh, actually, both USC and Arizona St. had two weak schedules this year, but at least the Trojans had to go on the road for two of them (and the Nebraska game did seem like a toughie to begin with). Almost everyone had ASU pencilled in at 3-0 when they saw Colorado, San Jose St. and San Diego St. were the opening competition in Tempe.

Damn: Eight of the ten OOC losses for the Pac-10 came against teams that finished the regular season with eight wins or more.

Caveat: Well…those two losses to losing teams? The Pac-10 handed feeble Notre Dame two of its three wins, and both of those were HOME games. Those two teams that lost to Notre Dame went on to beat Cal.

At-a-glance Grade: B+

Big 10


Most impressive win: Ohio State 33, Washington 14. I wish I were joking about this. But yes, Ohio State dominating the second half against a team that would eventually finish in last in the Pac-10 provided the Big 10’s shining moment in conference football.

Most embarrassing defeat: Take one guess. (If you said Duke over Northwestern, you are funny and wrong).


Toughest schedule: Michigan. So they have that going for them.

Easiest schedule: Ohio State’s schedule was pathetic, but since they managed to find a big conference opponent, I’ll go easy on them. We’ll go with Penn State, who faced a couple of MAC/Sun Belt teams along with Notre Dame–their combined record was 13-35.

Noteworthy: The Big 10 did not defeat a single team above .500 from the big conferences. Not one. Not any. No no no.

At-a-glance Grade: D-

Big 12


Just like the SEC, too many teams in conference to play a round robin. Outside of the six FCS teams they had to play, a fairly solid schedule, and the majority of the teams they had to face were not rollovers. On the other hand, most of their big wins came against the second tier Division I schools.

Most impressive win: Missouri 40, Illinois 34. Go figure that this would be the most impressive win of the season, but Missouri and Illinois’ fierce battle would provide a sign of things to come for two teams that would end up being surprise BCS contenders at the end of November.

Most embarrassing loss: I have to say I was pretty impressed by the Big 12 overall-the good teams thumped the bad teams, the bad teams lost to the good teams. However, for a fanbase, Nebraska getting obliterated by the Men of the Troy ranks up there. The Huskers actually had a smidgen of hope that this was the year they turned things around. That was thwarted pretty quickly. At least they don’t have to worry about Bill Callahan anymore.

Toughest schedules: Oklahoma State, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas State earned their keep with some solid OOC opponents. They suffered .500 seasons and ignominity as a result of their sacrifices.

Easiest schedules: Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas played a combined two teams with winning records–and those teams were from Conference USA and the MAC. Two of them earned BCS bids while the other played on New Year’s Day as a result of their crappiness.

Noteworthy games: 1-4 against ranked teams, but to be fair to the Big 12, all these losses came against notably better teams and (aside from Nebraska) were all road losses. Only the Pac-10 played more ranked teams among the Big Six conferences.

At-a-glance grade: B+

Big East


The Big East is in a strange spot, because it houses the bare minimum eight teams rather than twelve. So they’re stuck playing five teams OOC regardless. It doesn’t make the schedule easier (six of the eight teams played an FCS opponent, and one of the teams that didn’t was hapless Syracuse).

Most impressive win: South Florida beating Auburn in Auburn (it should have been bolded along with them beating North Carolina, apologies). Cal beating Tennessee was mighty impressive, but it’s always tougher to go into SEC country and win it. South Florida took advantage of Tiger mistakes and blasted their way to victory. Cincinnati obliterating Oregon State was a close 2nd.

Most embarrassing loss: Maryland beating Rutgers. So the Big East at least held its own against tougher opponents.

Noteworthy games: West Virginia did not get Croomed, soundly thumping Mississippi State. UConn and Virginia battled to a 1 point loss for the Huskies, and both managed to finish with nine wins. Louisville lost to Kentucky early on, sending them quickly into their painful downward spiral. Rutgers also managed to beat Navy, giving the Big East a very impressive record against good OOC teams.

Toughest schedule: South Florida sweeping their OOC schedule looks even more impressive now, considering their easiest game came against the ACC. Beating Central Florida (10-4), Florida Atlantic (8-5), North Carolina (4-8) along with Auburn definitely proves that the Bulls showed the most outside of their conference.

Easiest schedule: Everyone played a tough opponent (every Big East team played at least one OOC with eight wins or more), so I’ll go with UConn, who managed to take advantage of the likes of Akron (yuck), Temple (gag), Duke (AIYEEE!) and Maine (4-7 in FCS). It’s no wonder at all at how the Huskies managed nine wins with the likes of those teams on their schedule–one could have assembled a rag-tag team of oil drillers and gone 4-0 against those teams. Where are you Bruce Willis?

At-a-glance grade: A-



The whipping boy of the six big conferences. 20 of their OOC opponents were from the other five big conferences. Although they didn’t prove much by going 0-5 against ranked teams (and again, to be fair, they were all ranked in the top FIFTEEN by the end), this seems like a much higher percentage for the ACC to face compared to other conferences.

Most impressive win: Wake Forest beating Navy. Really all I can find.

Most embarrassing loss: Virginia Tech proved how wide the gap was between SEC and ACC by going into Death Valley and getting knocked around for four quarter. Considering how much the Tigers struggled the remainder of the regular season, it has to sting the Hokies that much more knowing that if they had played a few weeks later, they might have been able to pull off the win. Runner up is Wake Forest getting stung by Nebraska in Wake Forest, although this was before Nebraska realized they weren’t really that good.

Noteworthy games: The one-sidedness of the SEC-ACC rivalry games has been on full display the past several years, not including LSU-Virginia Tech. Florida State and Georgia Tech got their asses handed to them by their Gator and Bulldog brethren respectively. A fading South Carolina team came close to beating a ranked Clemson team before the Tigers took care of business. Miami is a shadow of its former self and didn’t put up a fight in Norman against the Sooners. The ACC was facing superior competition, and they were throttled.

Toughest schedule: Florida State had to go to Boulder (and won), play the Tide (and won) along with getting beaten by the Gators. Thanks to their glorious past, the Seminoles will not be having any light schedules anytime soon.

Weakest schedule: Boston College’s toughest OOC opponent this year was UMass, which should tell you something about how much the Eagles proved. Notre Dame, Army, Bowling Green were the sacrificial lambs of the crazed BC fanbase.

At-a-glance grade: Thanks to the toughness of their schedules, C+

Preliminary conclusions

The Big East comes off the best because of the relative quality of the opponents they beat, with the Pac-10, Big 12 and SEC trailing just behind. The ACC is predictably where it belongs while the Big 10 looks like a total embarrassment in terms of the opponents they face. It’s almost hard to believe why they’ve performed so badly during BCS season–they never look totally prepared for what’s coming to them.

So it seems we have a four-way race to who is really the strongest. I hope to explore who proved the most out of these four in the next few weeks. Eventually, I’ll move onto statistical inferences about who really proved the most, then discuss the merit of the bowl games (which, outside of the BCS, I just consider glorified regular season games).

Any additional thoughts?

To view the spreadsheet, click here.

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