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Ranking College Football Conferences After September


A perennial topic of debate among college football fans has involved this question: Which conference is the strongest? Unfortunately, the answers are too often tainted by personal or regional biases. Local media focus on teams in their respective markets so they tend to underestimate or ignore teams located elsewhere. Even the talking heads covering college football at the national level cannot give an answer based on a thorough comparison of all inter-conference games played.

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In hopes of trying to resolve this ever-present issue, I present the results of my formula for ranking conferences according to a series of objective factors. These factors are used to calculate scores for all 10 Football Subdivision (FBS) members. The criteria include:

*Wins by each member of every conference when facing non-conference foes.

*Games on the road are worth more than those at neutral sites or at home.

*Victories versus other conferences’ previous season (in this case, 2014) champions or second-place teams/divisional winners count for more points.

*Wins against FBS opponents have much more value than those against FCS members.

Below, is how the 10 conferences shake out with September now in the books. Each conference’s score is in parenthesis. For those curious about the scale of my formula, a perfect score for a conference is 3.188.

1. SEC (.726)

The SEC has done quite a lot to show its reputation as the strongest conference is deserved so far. The results include 3-0 versus the ACC, 2-0 versus the American Athletic, 1-0 versus the Big Ten and the Pac-12, respectively. 

2. Big Ten (.698)

The Big Ten prevented what looked like another horrible September after the first week of the season. The conference has held up its own reputation with respectable results: 4-3 versus the ACC, 2-2 against the Big 12 and 3-2 against the Pac-12.  Nine wins in 11 games against Mid-American Conference opponents have bolstered its score as well.

3. Big 12 (.567)

This conference is only 2-1 versus the MAC and 0-1 versus the Pac-12. Eight of the ten members played a team from the FCS; Kansas lost to one of those, South Dakota State. On the bright side, the Big 12 is 2-0 against the SEC.

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4. Pac-12 (.550)

Washington State lost to Portland State. Two members each lost a game to the Mountain West.  Two games versus Notre Dame are the only chances of the Pac-12 improving upon its score before the end of the regular season.

5. ACC (.409)

Every member in the ACC has at least one opponent from the FCS on its schedule.  That is dragging down the conference's score. The ACC also has a losing tally against the other Power 5 conferences except for the Big 12, which it is not scheduled to play in the regular season.

6. American Athletic (.324)

The College Football Playoff committee excluded the AAC's champion from automatically receiving a bid to one of the New Year's Six bowls. The AAC has proved the committee was right to do so.

7. MAC (.302)

With the exception of Bowling Green, the members of the MAC remain the punching bags of the Big Ten.

8. Conference USA (.291)

CUSA has played 16 games so far versus Power 5 teams. The results (0-2 against the ACC, 1-5 versus the Big Ten, 0-5 versus the Big 12, 0-1 versus the Pac-12, 1-3 against the SEC) show how far below the Power 5 that CUSA truly is.

9. Sun Belt (.118)

The Sun Belt continues its role as rent-a-wins for the SEC (0-5) and ACC (0-4).

10. Mountain West (.073)

The Mountain West finished September 5-23 versus FBS opponents. Wyoming lost to FCS member North Dakota. This conference looks awful with few opportunities left to prove otherwise.

So this is just one person’s take on how the conferences stack up against each other. I do not claim to be the sole authority on settling this question. Nevertheless, my findings are based solely on results of inter-conference games. Perhaps the College Football Playoff selection committee can also decide on a means to rank conferences, which could be used in the process of setting the postseason pairings.

— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.