This was originally going to be a response to a post on the Big 10 vs. other conferences in bowl games, but it got long
enough that I figure it should be its own diary submission. If you are tired about hearing justifications for why the
Big 10 is not as bad as it appears, by all means skip to something else.
Because I'm bored, here are the bowl match-ups for each conference. I also decided to rank the relative match-ups in
terms of conference ranking. For example, if the #4 team for Conference A plays the #3 team from Conference B, then
Conference A played "up" (+) in that bowl and Conference B played "down" (-). Equal rankings meant they were "even"
(=). In situations where non-BCS bowl teams were included, I tried to use my judgment as to how the Conference tie-in
fared. One other caveat - any bowl in the BCS was an automatic "=", no matter how that may play out over a given year.
Big 12 - +3
Fiesta Bowl Big 12 No. 1 vs. BCS At-Large =
Cotton Bowl Big 12 No. 2 vs. SEC No. 3/4/5 -
Holiday Bowl Big 12 No. 3 vs Pac-10 No. 2 +
Gator Bowl* Big 12 No. 4 vs. ACC No. 3 +
Alamo Bowl Big 12 No. 4/5 vs Big Ten No. 4/5 =
Sun Bowl** Big 12 No. 5 vs. Pac-10 No. 3 +
Insight Bowl Big 12 No. 6 vs Big Ten No. 6 =
Independence Bowl Big 12 No. 7 vs SEC No. 6/7/8 =
Texas Bowl Big 12 No. 8 vs. Big East No.3 (2008)/vs.C-USA No. 3/4 (2009) +
Big East - -5
Gator Bowl Big East #2 vs ACC #3 -
Sun Bowl Big East #2 vs Pac-10 #3 -
Meineke Car Care Bowl Big East #3 vs ACC #5/6 -
International Bowl Big East #4 vs MAC #3 -
PapaJohns.com Bowl Big East #5 vs SEC #9 -
St. Petersburg Bowl Big East #6 vs C-USA =
Pac-10 - -3
Rose Bowl USC-err Pac-10 No. 1 vs. Big Ten No. 1 =
Holiday Bowl Pac-10 No. 2 vs. Big 12 No. 3 -
Sun Bowl Pac-10 No. 3 vs. Big 12 No. 4 -
Las Vegas Bowl Pac-10 No. 4/5 vs. Mountain West No. 1 =
Emerald Bowl Pac-10 No. 4/5 vs. ACC No. 7 -
Poinsettia Bowl Pac-10 No. 6 vs Mountain West No. 2 =
Armed Forces Bowl Pac-10 No. 7 vs Mountain West No. 3/4 =
ACC - +1
FedEx Orange Bowl ACC No. 1 vs. BCS =
Chick-fil-A Bowl ACC No. 2 vs. SEC 3/4/5 -
Gator Bowl ACC No. 3 vs. Big 12 3/Big East 2/Notre Dame =
Champs Sports Bowl ACC No. 4 vs. Big Ten 4/5 =
Music City Bowl ACC No. 5 vs. SEC 6/7/8/Navy -
Meineke Car Care Bowl ACC No. 6 vs. Big East 3 +
Emerald Bowl ACC No. 7 vs. Pac-10 4/5 +
Humanitarian Bowl ACC No. 8 vs. WAC 1 +
EagleBank Bowl ACC no. 9 vs. Navy =
SEC - +4
Sugar Bowl SEC No. 1 vs. BCS =
Capital one Bowl SEC No. 2 vs. Big 10 No. 2 =
Cotton Bowl SEC No. 3/4/5 vs. Big 12 No. 2 +
Outback Bowl SEC No. 3/4 pick vs. Big Ten No. 3 =
Chick-fil-A Bowl SEC No. 3/4/5 vs. ACC No. 2 +
Liberty Bowl SEC No. 6/7/8 vs. C-USA No. 2/3 =
Music City Bowl SEC No. 6/7/8 vs. ACC no. 5 +
Independence Bowl SEC No. 6/7/8 vs. Big 12 No. 7 +
PapaJohns.com Bowl SEC No. 9 vs. Big East No. 5 +
Big 10 - +1
Rose Bowl Big 10 No. 1 vs. USC-err Pac-10 No. 1 =
Capital One Bowl Big 10 No. 2 vs. SEC No. 2 =
Outback Bowl Big 10 No. 3 vs. SEC No. 3/4 =
Alamo Bowl Big 10 No. 4/5 vs. Big 12 No. 4/5 pick* =
Champs Sports Bowl Big 10 No. 4/5 vs. ACC No. 4* +
*The Alamo Bowl has the 4th pick in 2007 and 2008, while the Champs Sports Bowl has the 4th pick in 2009. Since at
least 1/2 the time the Big 10 is likely playing up, I give the +
Insight Bowl Big 10 No. 6 vs. Big 12 No. 6 =
Motor City Bowl Big Ten No. 7 vs. MAC No. 1 =
So what do we have
So by my (reasonably) objective rankings, we have a bowl SOS as follows:
1. SEC = +4
2. Big 12 = +3
3. Big 10 = +1
3. Acc = +1
5. Pac 10 = -3
6. Big East = -5
Empirically, this kind of makes sense. The SEC and Big 12 have generally been considered the strongest conferences the
past few years, and what makes this dominance even more impressive come bowl time is that the conference plays a
"tough" schedule against mostly equal or higher-ranked teams from other conferences.
The next tier is occupied by the Big 10 and the ACC, which again makes sense considering the recent bowl performances of both conferences. What surprised me the most, though, was how "equal" the Big 10 matched up in its bowl games - wherever you wound up in the Big 10 hierarchy, a similarly-position team was who you met in December/January. The ACC had a bit more stratification, but the Big 10 is clearly the outlier in terms of bowl tie-ins.
Next comes the Pac-10. This is the point I've seen made on these boards before (I've made it too) - the Pac-10 does so
well during bowl season, at least in part, because they tend to play weaker opponents on a consistent basis. Even
giving the MWC a whole lot of credit - which I do - the Pac-10 tended to play teams that they should beat. Yes, USC is a bear and can beat anyone, but after that it looks like the deck is stacked in the Pac-10's favor come December and
Finally, the Big East. Ugh, but an ugh people have known for years. I'll leave it at that.
One final note - there is no metric that I can think of to account for the fact that most bowl games are played in the South and/or West Coast, which clearly benefits those teams located in those regions. How much it benefits, of course, is open for debate, but it certainly helps teams in the ACC, SEC, and Pac-10 that many of these bowl games happen in or near their own backyards.
But what about OOC (Out of Conference) record?
Before jumping to my conclusions, though, I would be remiss not to discuss the other key factor in determining relative
conference strength - OOC against BCS teams. Thought there are relatively few meetings every year, I figured I might
as well look at the conferences' marks against each other in the fall. Unfortunately, there really isn't an
easily-accessible database for determining how conferences match up against each other OOC. I was able to find a page
on ESPN http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/print?id=3569645&type=story) that tracked all the BCS teams from 1998-2007, with OOC-against-BCS teams records (sans bowl games), which worked well enough. For the record, this is a great way to make a subway ride fly by.
** Caveat - there is obviously a huge difference between pre- and post-2005 Big East (when Miami, VT, and BC left, and USF, Louisville, Connecticut, and Cincinnati joined). I split out Miami's, VT's, and BC's records with the switch, and only counted the four new member's records since 2005.
Conference Wins Losses Winning %
ACC 89 81 52.35
SEC 53 61 46.49
Big 12 56 58 49.12
Pac 10 69 63 52.27
Big 10 81 73 52.6
Big East 65 76 46.1
Now, take these results with a grain of salt. In some of these conferences, there are teams with absolutely atrocious OOC records (e.g. Syracuse [5-18] and Duke [2-15]) and truly stunning ones (e.g. USC [18-6] and Nebraska [13-3]) that skew the numbers a bit. Plus, remember that these records have been accumulated over about a decade, during which time dynasties such as Nebraska, FSU, and Miami have come and gone, while new ones have emerged. Finally, I couldn't find the relative SOS of these records, meaning someone had to crush Syracuse, Indiana, and Duke, and certain conferences obviously benefited more from scheduling them than others. Similarly, elite teams such as Florida, Oklahoma, and Michigan didn't necessarily schedule a large number of tough OOC games, meaning that these numbers skewed mostly to middle-of-the-pack teams in each conference. This certainly helps to qualify the relative depth of each conference, but it doesn't really show the strength at the top.
All of that said, the data are telling that over the past decade, the Big 10 has been one of the top 2 BCS conferences in inter-conference winning percentage. This doesn't mean the Big 10 is living up to that record right now, but I hope it brings certain people back off the cliff a bit about the demise of the Big 10. Where some people may see a pattern of demise, I see a strong conference that has hit a recent rough patch, but one that it should overcome based on historical data.
If you've made it this far, then rest assured I am almost done. What I hoped to show with this data is that while the Big 10 has struggled recently during bowl season, that is not necessarily a harbinger of doom for the conference overall. There are a myriad of factors at play come bowl season, from the long layoffs, the traveling, the match-ups, etc., and to simply go by wins and losses doesn't provide you with a complete barometer of the conference as a whole. Same goes with OOC records - the Big 10 looks pretty strong against other conferences, but there were far more Northwestern vs. Duke match-ups than Florida vs. Michigan.
Overall, I thought going in that the SEC and the Big 12 have been the two strongest conferences over the past decade, with the Big 10 and the ACC next, followed closely by the Pac-10 and the Big East gasping to the finish. Looking at the numbers, that seems to bear out. The SEC and Big 12 play the toughest bowl slates, while the Big 10, ACC, and Pac-10 have played better in the inter-conference match-ups. About the only consistency across the board is just how bad the Big East was, is, and probably will be in the future. Looking to the future with the Big 10, I see it going more the way of the ACC than, say, the Big 12 or Pac-10, where the stratification between the top and bottom teams is quite pronounced. Like the ACC, I see OSU, Penn St., and (hopefully) UM staying at the top, with the second tier a constant shift of Iowa, MSU, Illinois, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, with Minny and Indiana trying to become consistently relevant. That may mean a whole lot for more losses to USC in the Rose Bowl, but it will likely also mean a more competitive conference that will occasionally birth a real MNC contender.