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Quantifying Bowl Results by Conference

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

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

We’ve done this for 2015, 2016 and 2017 already. You know the drill by now.

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 [S&P+] 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 [S&P+] rankings, results, and a column assessing the result. A win where a win was expected by [S&P+] 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.

2018 Conference Bowl Results

Big 12 Result
Big 12 Result
Baylor 1
West Virginia -1
Iowa State 0
Oklahoma 0
Oklahoma State 1
Texas 1
Big 10
Minnesota 0
Wisconsin 0
Purdue 0
Michigan -1
Michigan State -1
Northwestern 1
Iowa 1
Penn State -1
Ohio State 0
Vandy -1
Auburn 0
Florida 1
South Carolina 0
Alabama 0
Missouri -1
Texas A&M 0
Mississippi State -1
Kentucky 1
Georgia -1
Alabama -1
Arizona State 0
Cal 0
Washington State 0
Stanford 0
Oregon 1
Utah -1
Washington 0
Wake Forest 1
Boston College 0
Georgia Tech 0
Duke 1
Miami 0
Syracuse 1
Virginia 0
Clemson 0
Virginia Tech 0
Pitt 0
NC State 0
Clemson 1


Big 12: +2

Big 10: -1

SEC: -2

Pac-12: 0

ACC: +4

Most of the major conferences were within a game of .500 overall, but the ACC and Big 12 proved better than expected based on S&P+. Four-year running totals are below:

ACC: +8

Big 12: +5

SEC: +1

Big 10: -2

Pac-12: -4

Commence argument.