It’s the most important piece to the College Football Playoff puzzle. How good is your conference? It is a major determination in the perception of a team’s strength of schedule. If your conference plays well in the non-conference slate, you will likely be rewarded. However, if the conference stumbles in the non-conference slate, your CFB Playoff chances could be doomed even if you go 12-0. Just one small blemish could eliminate you in week one and you don’t even realize it. Thus, we rank the conferences. Who is the best conference? Who is the worst conference? The rankings are below.
1. Big Ten Conference (24-7, 6-0 vs. FCS)
The SEC accepted one challenge from the Big Ten Conference this year. There might be a reason for that. The SEC lost. It wasn’t a perfect week for the Big Ten. There were some slip ups. Indiana lost at home to Cincinnati. Northwestern lost on the road to Duke. Nebraska lost on the road to Oklahoma. Granted, these are generally considered the conference’s bottom feeders. Northwestern and Indiana have had decent success recently, but it’s not like they’ve been to a New Year’s Six Bowl. There are some reasons the Big 12 didn’t jump over the Big Ten. First off, Cincinnati is still in the American. It doesn’t count for the Big 12 quite yet. Secondly, Oklahoma should’ve blown the door off of Nebraska. This actually felt like a loss for the Sooners. Let’s not forget, this one close victory at home doesn’t offset the losses against Maryland and Iowa. If Oklahoma can barely hold off Nebraska at home, it’s clear the Big Ten is better than the Big 12. Add in a 21-point road victory for Michigan State over Miami (FL) and a 30-0 shutout for Minnesota over Colorado, and this conference has made quite the case to be the best.
2. Big 12 Conference (23-4, 9-0 vs. FCS)
The Big 12 finished a perfect 7-0 vs. FBS teams this week. The only team who lost was Kansas, which was to conference foe Baylor. The Big 12 is 5-1 against Group of Five schools, with the only loss coming on the road against a ranked team. That team, Coastal Carolina, is currently undefeated. The three Power Five teams who defeated Big 12 opponents are Arkansas, Iowa and Maryland. All four losses came against teams who are currently 3-0.
3. Southeastern Conference (30-6, 8-1 vs. FCS)
The SEC finished 4-3 vs. the FBS this week. It went 0-2 against Power Five schools. The victories came at home against New Mexico, Tulane, Central Michigan, and Georgia Southern. It is 0-1 against the Big Ten now. The SEC is 1-2 against the Pac-12 with its only victory coming by three points. This conference is 16-1 against Group of Five schools. It’s 4-1 against ACC schools. If the SEC is so mighty, then why do I have reason to argue against it? To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. Auburn failed to beat Penn State. It is the only time this conference has played the Big Ten. Oh, and Vanderbilt lost to ETSU. The Big 12 didn’t lose to an FCS team. The SEC lost to an FCS team. I’ll get the world’s smallest violin out for those tired of hearing about Vanderbilt’s 20-point loss at home to ETSU.
4. Mountain West Conference (21-13, 8-2 vs. FCS)
The formula for the Mountain West is to stop playing Big 12 teams and solely focus on the Pac-12. Seriously, could the Mountain West call up the New Year’s Six Bowls and ask to replace the Pac-12 as a Power Five conference? The Mountain West finished this week 2-0 against the Pac-12. It is now 4-5 in road games against that conference and 1-0 at home. The lone home victory came this week when San Diego State knocked off Utah. If BYU was still a part of the conference, the Mountain West would be 8-5 against the Pac-12. Because BYU is currently independent, the Mountain West is 5-5 against Pac-12 teams. Meanwhile, the Big 12 outscored Mountain West opponents 86-20. Ouch! Maybe the Pac-12 might want to add Fresno State and San Diego State.
5. Atlantic Coast Conference (22-12, 8-1 vs. FCS)
One step forward, two steps back. The ACC just continues to embarrass itself. Pitt loses at home to a MAC team. Clemson, in Death Valley, barely squeaked past a Georgia Tech team who lost at home to Northern Illinois. Virginia Tech, who could be the best team in the conference, dropped its game against West Virginia. Miami (FL) was humiliated at home by Michigan State in a 21-point loss. The best victory of the week is Duke over Northwestern in Durham. This is the same Duke team that lost at Charlotte. It’s just not a good conference. Thanks to Duke and Louisville producing home victories, it still has a winning record vs. FBS schools. The ACC is now 14-11.
6. Sun Belt Conference (17-12, 8-1 vs. FCS)
Bill Cowher would like this conference. “So what if we won ugly” seems to be its motto. The conference defeated two HBCU teams by a total of 12 points. Another school wasn’t so lucky against its FCS opponent. “The Elf” Eric Morris lead his Incarnate Word Cardinals to an upset over Texas State this week. Our own Derek Duke, a Texas State fan, was quite flushed about this. Overall, it was a bad week for the Sun Belt. For the most part, expectations were met. It suffered two humiliating road defeats to Power Five schools. It scored victories in all games against the MAC and Conference USA. That one loss to an FCS school just has to get under one’s crawl. That’ll be a sticking point, and it’s the reason for the drop this week. Also, it has an 0-2 record vs. the ACC. Granted, both games were on the road and one of those losses were by two points.
7. American Athletic Conference (17-15, 7-1 vs. FCS)
The American now has a winning record, but it was seconds away from disaster in multiple games. Memphis won, thanks to the officiating crew. SMU defeated Louisiana Tech on a hail mary. East Carolina had to come from behind to beat Marshall. Sure, two of these were road games. Still, if you are calling yourself a “Power 6” Conference, there’s no excuse for you to need last minute drives to defeat multiple Conference USA teams. UCF’s loss at Louisville is more impressive than East Carolina and SMU this week. Temple continues to get obliterated by mediocre Power Five schools. The best team, by far, is Cincinnati. The Bearcats struggled in the first half, but outscored Indiana on the road 28-10 in the second half for a double-digit victory. This Indiana team was ranked in the preseason.
8. Conference USA (18-19, 13-0 vs. FCS)
Conference USA had a good run. It has scored some upsets. It’s exceeded some expectations. The conference was dealt a few heartbreakers this week though. SMU defeated Louisiana Tech on a hail mary. Marshall blew a 38-21 lead, yet still had a chance to win until East Carolina snatched an interception at the goal line with six seconds remaining. Ultimately, The Herd lost 42-38. Conference USA’s 0-7 record vs. FBS schools this week provide it with an overall losing record. It is now 5-19 vs. FBS schools. However, it can take pride in that 13-0 record vs. the FCS. Anytime someone chants “S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!”, Conference USA fans could troll them with “E-T-S-U! E-T-S-U! E-T-S-U!”.
9. Pac-12 (16-17, 7-2 vs. FCS)
My apologies to everyone for advocating to bring the Arizona schools to the Big 12. Arizona is a dumpster fire, and Arizona State is hardly better. Arizona lost to in-state FCS school Northern Arizona. Wildcats fans will be hearing about this for the next century. It’s clear the Big 12 Conference made an excellent choice by inviting BYU. The Cougars are 3-0 vs. the Pac-12, including a 2-0 record against the Arizona schools.
The Pac-12 finished 2-4 against the FBS this week. Stanford dispatched Vanderbilt 41-23.
10. MAC (13-23, 10-1 vs. FCS)
One week ago it was widely considered that Toledo was a contender for the conference title. They played Notre Dame extremely close on the road. This week, the Rockets lost at home to a Colorado State team who was slaughtered by South Dakota State and lost to Vanderbilt. That most recent sentence names two teams who have lost to FCS teams. The other is an FCS team. The MAC finished the week 2-7 vs. FBS schools and one of those two victories came against a UMass team that might not score a victory in an FCS conference. This is clearly not the MAC’s year. It’s a horrible conference. There is one bright spot this week. Western Michigan won at Pitt. Yes, the same Pitt team who went to Tennessee and defeated the Volunteers.