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Attempting to Quantify Bowl Results by Conference

Let's take a different approach to assessing conference bowl performance.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

One of college football's favorite pastimes is reaching knee-jerk conclusions once bowl season is over. One additional data point after a season of 12 (or 13) games, in games that are glorified exhibitions featuring teams with varying levels of interest and motivation, some of whom have coaching staffs in flux, are REALLY IMPORTANT Y'ALL.

Sorry. Rant over.

Most attempts at assessing overall conference bowl performance are little more than a comparison of overall conference record, with an ad-hoc look at specific matchups that support the chosen narrative. Conferences with better overall records are anointed as superior.

Of course, this assumes uniformity in bowl matchups, which doesn't exist. This mindset stems from the days when there were only a handful of bowls pitting one of the top two teams from each major conference. Hello, early 1990s Orange Bowls. And mindless football fan/media groupthink.

Today's bowls often feature teams with sharply different season performances. K-State and Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl was a prime example. On the surface, it was a matchup between a 6-6 Big 12 team and a 7-5 SEC team. On closer inspection, specifically using F/+ rankings which attempt to evaluate play-by-play performance and ignore uncontrollable variables such as the vagaries of bounces and other luck associated with a violent game played at high speeds by young men throwing and carrying an oddly shaped ball, we often find great disparity in the matchups when better metrics are employed.

The charts below show each conference's bowl matchups with F/+ rankings, results, and a column assessing the result. A win where a win was expected by F/+ is a zero; a positive one means the conference's team won a matchup where it was the underdog, and a negative one means the opposite.

Big 12
Win/Loss Conference School CS F/+ Rank Opponent Opp F/+ Rank Conference +/-
W TCU 16 Oregon 26 0
L K-State 77 Arkansas 15 0
W West Virginia 31 Arizona State 52 0
L Oklahoma State 29 Mississippi 7 0
L Oklahoma 3 Clemson 2 0
W Baylor 12 North Carolina 21 0
L Texas Tech 47 LSU 11 0
Sum 0

Win/Loss Conference School CS F/+ Rank Opponent Opp F/+ Rank Conference +/-
W Arkansas 15 K-State 77 0
W Georgia 36 Penn State 46 0
L Florida 20 Michigan 10 0
W Tennessee 19 Northwestern 42 0
W Mississippi 7 Oklahoma State 29 0
W Alabama 1 Michigan State 6 0
W Mississippi State 23 NC State 41 0
W Auburn 49 Memphis 27 1
L Texas A&M 37 Louisville 43 -1
W LSU 11 Texas Tech 47 0
Sum 0

Win/Loss Conference School CS F/+ Rank Opponent Opp F/+ Rank Conference +/-
W Clemson 2 Oklahoma 3 0
L Florida State 9 Houston 32 -1
L NC State 41 Mississippi State 23 0
W Louisville 43 Texas A&M 37 1
L North Carolina 21 Baylor 12 0
L Pitt 39 Navy 13 0
W Virginia Tech 53 Tulsa 93 0
W Duke 75 Indiana 62 1
L Miami 61 Washington State 56 0
Sum 1

Win/Loss Conference School CS F/+ Rank Opponent Opp F/+ Rank Conference +/-
L Oregon 26 TCU 16 0
L Arizona State 52 West Virginia 31 0
W Stanford 8 Iowa 25 0
L USC 17 Wisconsin 33 -1
W Cal 44 Air Force 58 0
L UCLA 30 Nebraska 38 -1
W Washington 22 Southern Miss 54 0
W Washington State 56 Miami 61 0
W Utah 28 BYU 34 0
W Arizona 85 New Mexico 98 0
Sum -2

Big 10
Win/Loss Conference School CS F/+ Rank Opponent Opp F/+ Rank Conference +/-
L Penn State 46 Georgia 36 0
W Michigan 10 Florida 20 0
W Ohio State 4 Notre Dame 5 0
L Northwestern 42 Tennessee 19 0
L Iowa 25 Stanford 8 0
L Michigan State 6 Alabama 1 0
W Wisconsin 33 USC 17 1
W Minnesota 57 Central Michigan 68 0
W Nebraska 38 UCLA 30 1
L Indiana 62 Duke 75 -1
Sum 1

You're probably saying "that's great, TB, but what's the HOT TAEKAWAY from this? I want to go brag to my friends about how superior my team's conference is!"

There's no great discovery here, unless you didn't already realize that the real world is mostly boring and that our excitement is usually invented fantasy. Your team's conference probably performed about as expected overall. The ACC and the Big 10 were one game better than expected overall, while the rest of the conferences were net zeroes (EDIT: The Pac-12 was actually -2, because UCLA losing to Nebraska is not a positive result). Only the Big 12 performed exactly to expectations, winning or losing each matchup as F/+ predicted.

Sorry to leave you with such an unsatisfying conclusion. We'll ramp up our clickbait game soon.