The goody bags have been distributed to the thousands of college football players who participated in the 41 bowls this postseason. The trophies for the dozens of winners of glorified exhibition games have been awarded. The two-plus weeks of college football excess have ended. Now, it is time to weigh the results to see how the 10 FBS conference fared against each other over the course of the 2015 season.
To do this, I apply my formula to rank the conferences according to a series of objective factors. These factors are used to calculate scores for all 10 FBS conferences. The criteria include:
1. Wins by each member of every conference when facing non-conference foes.
2. Games on the road are worth more than those at neutral sites or at home.
3. Victories versus other conferences’ champions or second-place teams/divisional winners count for more points.
4. Wins against FBS opponents have much more value than those against FCS members.
Below is how the 10 conferences measured up to one another at the conclusion of the bowl season and College Football Playoff. 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 (.848)
The SEC's champion won the national championship, beating the ACC’s and Big Ten’s champs in the process. Additionally, SEC members proved to be collectively superior to the other FBS conferences with regular-season victories over the eventual champions of Conference USA (Western Kentucky went 1-1 against Vanderbilt and LSU), the MAC and the Sun Belt. Spectacular bowl results, 9-2 to be exact, put the SEC back at the top of the ranking after the conference found itself in second place in October. The SEC had a winning percentage of 60 percent or higher versus all of the other FBS conferences during the season. The postseason success allowed the SEC to slip past the Big Ten and win by a nose in the final standings.
2. Big Ten (.845)
The mediocre bowl record (5-5) looks more awful than the numbers indicate. Both divisional champs, Iowa and Michigan State, were steamrolled in their bowls. Two of the wins were by members with losing records. Nebraska and Minnesota only played in the postseason due to the absurd glut of bowls. Although the Pac-12 and SEC champions crushed the Big Ten's divisional champions, other members of the conference did defeat the runners-up from both of those conferences.
3. Pac-12 (.755)
A record 10 bowl teams from the Pac-12 produced a winning mark of 6-4, albeit with some bewildering results. The Pac-12 beat the divisional champs of Conference USA, the Mountain West and Big Ten. Arizona also went to Albuquerque and beat New Mexico on its own field.
However, the rest of the Pac-12 struggled in bowls played in their home states. Three members located in California played Big Ten members at a site inside the Golden State; but only one (Stanford in the Rose Bowl) defeated its Midwestern opponent. Both teams from Los Angeles lost to Big Ten teams while playing in San Francisco and San Diego respectively. Arizona State also lost a de facto home game versus a Big 12 team in a stadium within same metro area as the Sun Devils’ campus. How could anyone forget Oregon's astounding collapse against TCU in the Alamo Bowl?
4. Big 12 (.588)
Good news: The Big 12 won both games versus the Pac-12 and beat an ACC divisional champion. Also, the Big 12 champion was not excluded from the College Football Playoff this season.
Bad news: The Big 12 lost all three bowls versus the SEC to finish with a losing tally against the top conference. Oklahoma, the conference's champion was routed by Clemson in the second half of its College Football Playoff semifinal.
5. ACC (.530)
Clemson had a remarkable season. The Tigers had the only perfect record heading into the bowls and advanced to the national title game. However, most of the ACC bowl teams could not do their part to bolster the conference's reputation in the postseason.
The ACC won three of the four intra-state rivalries on Thanksgiving weekend. However, its members only won one of three bowls versus the SEC to finish 4-6 against their football-obsessed neighbors. The ACC only finished with a winning tally against one other conference in the bowls (1-0 versus the Big Ten). They also lost two of three bowls against the American Athletic Conference (AAC).
6. American Athletic (.455)
All the hoopla over non-conference victories in October is a distant and irrelevant memory. A combined 0-5 mark versus Conference USA, the MAC, Mountain West and SEC in the postseason buried those. The AAC proved itself as the top conference among the Group of 5. The AAC also showed that its cumulative strength remains far below that of any of the Power 5 conferences.
7. MAC (.377)
The MAC only won three of its seven bowls. Plus, the MAC summed up its inferiority to the conference with which it shares the Midwestern region. Central Michigan only missed playing in the MAC's conference title game due to a tiebreaker in four-way photo finish. The Chippewas went to a bowl in their home state. Despite playing only 157 miles from its campus, CMU lost to a 5-7 Big Ten team.
8. Conference USA (.303)
A respectable showing included winning both bowl games versus the AAC. Also, a Conference USA member, Louisiana Tech, beat the Sun Belt's champion. However, CUSA lost its only bowl against a Power 5 conference team.
9. Sun Belt (.229)
Fortunately for the Sun Belt, its members avoided playing anyone from the Power 5 in the postseason. With that in mind, the conference managed a commendable tally of 2-2. Both wins were against MAC members, including champion Bowling Green.
10. Mountain West (.181)
The MW reinforced its second-class status compared to its upscale neighbors in the Pac-12. MW teams lost both bowls against the Pac-12. That includes New Mexico losing to Arizona, which was 6-6 entering the bowl game, on its own home field.
The Mountain West might have had a chance to improve its 3-3 postseason record had two members (Nevada vs. Colorado State) not been paired against each other in the Arizona Bowl. That is something that the NCAA and bowl executives must work together to avoid for all conferences in the future.
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)