Friday, December 16, 2011

2011 College Bowl Games: A look at the conferences

The perceived strength of a conference is oftentimes based on out of conference records.  Most of these games are played early in the season and so the bowl games provide an opportunity to get a lot more data points to support or refute conference strength.

However, simply looking at records can be misleading.  Many good teams schedule at least 1 if not 2 weak teams on their schedule so you'd expect them to have good records.  So what we should really be looking at is actual record in these games versus what the record should be.  And the bowls still provide a great opportunity for this.  If a conference goes 6-2 in bowls, that doesn't necessarily mean they had a great bowl season if given the match-ups they should have gone 7-1 or 8-0.

So let's take a look at this bowl season to see what we should look for and expect from the conferences.  We'll look at 3 areas, the Vegas pick, my computer's pick, and the most likely record for the conference according to my computer, taking into account the likelihood of winning each game.

Here is the full table for all of the conferences.

ConferenceVegasComputerMost Likely
SEC7-07-05-2
Big-126-27-16-2
Sun Belt2-11-21-2
Mtn West3-23-23-2
ACC4-42-63-5
Independents1-11-11-1
MAC2-34-13-2
C-USA2-33-23-2
Big-East2-31-42-3
WAC1-21-21-2
B1G3-61-94-6
Pac-121-63-43-4

So the SEC is the only conference picked to win each game, but even with that, the most likely record is 5-2 as they aren't overwhelming favorites in each game.  The Big-12 is also expected to do well by all three measures.  But there are some interesting projections too.

The surprising one is the Pac-12 picked by Vegas to only go 1-6?  My computer is a bit kinder projecting 3-4, but this will be interesting to watch.

The Big Ten is also picked to have a losing record, 3-6 according to Vegas but in individual games, only 1-9 by my computer.  Their most likely record is a still below 0.500 4-6.

Some of the smaller conferences could have good records in the bowls thanks to some favorable match-ups.  The Mountain West seems a strong 3-2, but the MAC and Conference USA, a game under 0.500 according to Vegas, are both liked by my computer with 3-2 records the most likely.

What can we learn from this?   Primarily that it isn't just record to tell you how strong a conference is, but who they play.

For example, the Pac-12 is my #3 conference and the Big Ten #4 based on average rating, but they have tough match-ups so don't be surprised if they both have a losing record and that doesn't necessarily mean the conferences are weak.  Also, the MAC is my #11 conference but they have favorable match-ups and so a winning record doesn't mean they are strong.

I'll track this during the bowl season and update the table to see how things play out.