Conference Study: The Big 12 is Not the Best

November 11, 2008

How do you judge conference strength? Do you go by the subjective rankings of writers or coaches? You shouldn't. Media hype is unfortunately responsible for a lot of people's opinion regarding this topic. Take for example the myth of the mighty Big 12.

Many have proclaimed that the Big 12 is either the best conference in College Football or at least tied with the SEC for that honor. How can we find out if this claim is true? There is no easy way, but if one takes subjective rankings out of it, we have only each conference's performance against nonconference opponents to use as a basis for objectively figuring this issue out. (Remember, winning against your own conference doesn't prove anything in comparison with other conferences.)

However, is each nonconference win equal? Of course not. Some teams schedule extremely weak nonconference opponents and they shouldn't be rewarded for that. If we look at the numbers for this 2008 College Football season we will find that very few teams play legitimate nonconference opponents. I define a "legitimate" team to be one from a major 6 conference or a ranked opponent outside of the major 6. How teams fare against these opponents, is the first significant indication of how good a conference is from top to bottom.

But even then, there is a great diversity among these "legitimate" opponents. Under the standard described, Washington State is technically a legitimate team, and nothing could be further from the truth. Thus, I propose we should go further and explore what the record is against "legitimate" teams with winning records. Teams with losing records are also getting beat regularly in their own conference, so how impressive is it to beat them?

Using this framework, let's examine the Big 12 and the SEC. I know, it isn't a perfect system, but it's better than just believing what you are told by the polls. Let's get started:

Legitimate Nonconference wins for the Big 12: - 7

(1) Missouri over Illinois, 52-42; (2) Colorado over West Virginia, 17-14; (3) Texas over Arkansas, 52-10; (4) Oklahoma at Washington, 55-10; (5) Oklahoma over TCU, 35-10; (6) Oklahoma State at Washington State, 39-13; (7) Baylor over Washingon State, 45-17.

Legitimate Nonconference losses for the Big 12: - 8

(1) Nebraska v. Virgina Tech, 30-35; (2) Kansas at South Florida, 34-37; (3) Colorado at Florida State, 21-39; (4) Kansas State at Louisville, 29-38; (5) Iowa State at Iowa, 5-17; (6) Texas A&M at Miami, 23-41; (7) Baylor at Wake Forest, 13-41; (8) Baylor at UConn, 28-31.

Additional Losses: 2

(1) Iowa State at UNLV, 31-34; (2) Texas A&M at Arkansas State, 14-18.

Record against Legitimate Teams with Winning Records:

2 wins (West Virginia, TCU), 8 losses (Virginia Tech, South Florida, Florida State, Louisville, Iowa, Miami, Wake Forest, UConn).

Legitimate Nonconference Wins for the SEC: - 5

(1) Florida over Miami, 26-3; (2) Georgia at Arizona State, 27-10; (3) South Carolina over NC State, 34-0; (4) Kentucky at Louisville, 27-2; (5) Alabama at Clemson, 34-10.

Legitimate Nonconference Losses for the SEC: - 6

(1) Vanderbilt v. Duke, 7-10; (2) Tennessee at UCLA, 24-27; (3) Auburn at West Virginia, 7-34; (4) Mississippi at Wake Forest, 28-30; (5) Mississippi State at Georgia Tech, 7-38; (6) Arkansas at Texas, 10-52.

Additional losses: 2

(1) Tennesse v. Wyoming, 7-13; (2) Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech, 14-22.

Record Against Legitimate Teams with Winning Records:

2 Wins (Miami, Louisville), 4 Losses (Wake Forest, West Virginia, Georgia Tech, Texas).

Both the SEC and the Big 12 have only 2 legitimate nonconference wins against winning teams, but the SEC has 4 losses to such teams while the Big 12 has 8 losses. Of course, the Big 12 might argue that they are playing more difficult teams and therefore, there is a greater chance to lose more games.

But that argument doesn't work. The Pac 10 could claim the same argument then. The Pac 10 has 2 Legitimate wins against teams with winning records (Ohio State, Michigan State) and 13 losses (Penn State, Utah, Boise get the picture). Don't we hold it against them that they lost those extra games? Of course. If they had won them, it would have given them more credibility, but they didn't.

What may be most interesting to discover in exploring the numbers, is how few good nonconference games ever get scheduled. In any case, the Big 12 has no excuses. There is no doubt that the great quarterback play has elevated the Big 12 past the Pac 10 and Big 10 this year. But let's not get carried away. They lost games when they played good teams outside of conference more frequently than the SEC. This is the best indication to me of their strength. We will have to wait until the bowl games to see if I'm wrong.

By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

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