College Football Betting: Ranking the Conferences
by Trevor Whenham - 11/20/2008
The regular season is winding down in college football. The Big Ten finishes this week, and others will follow soon. Before we get into the conference championship season, let's take a few minutes to look at the six major conferences and rank them from strongest to weakest. This is purely subjective, of course. Things break down into three distinct groups - the elites, the middle-of-the-pack, and the bottom of the barrel. Without further ado:
Big 12 - Clearly the best, and it's no contest. Three teams - Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech - could play in, and likely be favored in, the BCS Championship Game. All three are in the Top 5. The Heisman is almost certain to go to the conference. The most entertaining football of the year has been played in the conference. The team that ultimately emerges from the Big 12 will have been punished and tested again and again. Even the second tier of the conference is strong - Missouri and Oklahoma State would be the class of the Big East or the ACC. It's not just on the field that this conference has flexed its muscles, though. There are only two conferences in the country that were profitable ATS in non-conference play. The Big 12 was by far the best - 26-13-1.
SEC - Some would argue that the SEC is the best conference because they have been for a while now. They just don't deserve it this year - they are top-heavy, and the mid-level teams have been exposed this year. Alabama is the No. 1 team, but I don't have a ounce of faith in them, and I am far from certain that they will be favored over Florida. The Gators look very good right now, and are probably the class of the conference. Beyond that, though, things get ugly. Georgia has been a disappointment. So has LSU, as their first half against Troy showed. The rest of the conference is average at best. The non-conference schedule for this conference wasn't as kind to bettors - they were 15-18 ATS.
There is a huge gap here between the top two conferences and the next group of two.
Big Ten - This group may not be good, and the conference is definitely on a downswing, but they are the best of the rest. There have been a couple of obvious disappointments - Michigan and Wisconsin. The group still has two teams in the Top 10 and three in the Top 15, though. Minnesota, Iowa and Northwestern are all teams that have overachieved. Outside of Alabama, the SEC doesn't have any that did significantly more than expected. This has not been a good year for the conference, and pointing that out has proven to be a very popular sport for the media, but the fact is that the group isn't as bad as they may appear. Besides, they are the third best by default, because there is no one else to take the spot. The non-conference ATS record is a clear sign of their relative struggles this year - they were only 12-20-2.
Pac-10 - This conference is incredibly top-heavy, but the one team that is elite has probably the best defense in the country. USC is an elite program that wouldn't be out of place in the BCS Championship Game. The Big East and the ACC don't have anything close to that. That's why the Pac-10 is where it is. The Pac-10 also gives us something else - an argument for conference championship games. I generally detest the extra games because they are mostly cash grabs, but the fact that Oregon State could be the team to get the automatic bid from this conference instead of USC is one of the few good reasons why the games makes sense. Given another chance, USC would crush the Beavers. The conference wasn't profitable in non-conference play, but they were close - 12-13 ATS.
There is another big gap here before we reach the dregs of the conferences. I won't complicate things by bringing in the WAC or the MWC, but I'm not at all convinced that these last two conferences would stay in the Top 6 if I did that.
Big East - It has not been a good year for the Big East. They didn't shine in non-conference play, and they have cannibalized each other in the conference. There doesn't seem to be an elite program among the bunch, and each program has obvious flaws and problems. There isn't a team in the group that would even seem to make an interesting matchup against a top Big 12 or SEC team. Or even the Big Ten, for that matter. So why are they not last? Pure math - they have two teams ranked ahead of the top ACC team. The best compliment we can give this league is that the drama over who will win the conference is likely to go right down to the wire. That's something, I guess. The group was a dismal 11-20 ATS in non-conference play.
ACC - I'll be kind to this group and say that they are rebuilding. They do have several teams with good coaching and real potential - Miami, UNC, Maryland (though they seem to be the masters of unfulfilled promise) - but not a lot of potential is being currently realized. Again, there is not a team here that would give a Top 10 team a tough contest. There is one major reason to appreciate this conference, though - they were 17-11-2 ATS in non-conference play. You can decide for yourself if they were profitable because they played well, or because the public just ignored them out of boredom. The only way to make the BCS interesting this year will be to make the Big East and ACC champs meet up. If not, we'll be in for a mismatch.