Aside from incessantly looking behind their backs for the next Harvey Updyke, I'd wager the biggest thorn in the sides of the College Football Playoff's selection committee will be the concept of "strength of schedule."
The sport loves its debates, but none seems to produce as much controversy as the old S.O.S.
What are we even trying to measure?
- The likelihood of a team sustaining a loss?
- The best compilation of opponents from start to finish?
- How many tomato cans did you paste?
- How good are the foes from outside your conference?
How about all of the above?
Even if there was some level of agreement about what S.O.S. is, how do you come up with a solid statistic to reflect it? The NCAA method, for instance, uses opponents' win-loss record, which treats all wins and losses the same.
So, I started going over ways to develop a better picture of what teams go through in the regular season. That raised a key question for me: What does it take to win a major conference? After all, we can assume that the vast majority of playoff qualifiers will come from this group.
I thought it would be useful to assemble a profile of the body of work of a typical champ from each of the major conferences. To do so, I used Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings for each opponent on the schedule of every major conference winner since 2006 (as far back their numbers go). From there, I counted up how many teams each played that were ranked in the top 10, top 25 and top 50. I also included teams ranked 100 or worse and the number of FCS teams faced. Lastly, I threw in the total number of opponents from the other five power conferences.
So, what do the power conference champs typically look like?
A few off-the-cuff observations:
*Sorry, #HATERZ. From here, it appears as though the SEC usually presents the toughest slate for any league champion. Yes, there’s a high likelihood that this team has played an FCS team. On the other hand, the SEC champ usually plays two opponents ranked in the top 10, whereas the Big Ten or ACC champ might have played one. You’re also playing an average of about two more opponents per season ranked in the top 25 than any other conference.
In other words, the road traveled by the SEC king has trumped other conferences champs more often than not.
*Conversely, the B1G and ACC look like they usually offer the easiest route to a conference crown.
*The profile of the Pac-12 champ surprised me. Even with the late move to a title game, I figured the league’s nine-game conference schedule and relatively cavalier approach to non-conference contests would pump up the body of work a bit more.
*Frankly, I don't see the differences between leagues as that extreme.
*The realignment shuffle makes this entire exercise somewhat murky. Only the SEC and ACC have had conference championship games throughout this stretch. Meanwhile, as the other leagues have expanded, the Big 12 has contracted and bled teams to the other conferences.
*The usual caveats apply, of course. Past performance isn't indicative of future returns, and this is hardly scientific.
I’ll try to dig a little deeper in future posts.