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Attempting to Quantify Bowl Results by Conference

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

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship Game-Alabama vs Georgia Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve done this for 2015 and 2016 already. Relevant portion quoted below.

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.

Totals

Big 12: +1

SEC: +1

Pac-12: 0

ACC: 0

Big 10: -1

The interesting news is that the Big 10, despite its 7-1 record, performed below expectations given its opponents. Meanwhile, the Big 12’s 5-3 record and the SEC’s 4-5 record were a game better than expected. The Pac-12 and ACC performed exactly to F/+’s expectations.

Over three years, here is each conference’s cumulative total:

ACC: +4

Big 12: +3

SEC: +3

Big 10: -1

Pac-12: -4

Commence arguing.