Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

06 Mar 2010

Associated Press Top 25 Connectivity Update

Based on the feedback of several FO readers, I filled in the gaps of the infographic from earlier in the week with this table, identifying the number of bowl games, conference championship games, regular season conference games, non conference games, independents, and FBS vs. FCS games played each season, 1989-2009.

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 06 Mar 2010

14 comments, Last at 27 Mar 2010, 4:38am by sports-veronica


by Ryan D. (not verified) :: Sat, 03/06/2010 - 4:30pm

It looks like our suspicions were correct. Over time, more and more of the pairings of top 25 teams have become forced pairings. The number of voluntary meetings of top 25 teams is declining, while the number of games against FCS teams is increasing. Is USC the only consistently highly ranked major conference team that seemingly tries to find a solid top 25 opponent to play out of conference every single season?

by Kibbles :: Sun, 03/07/2010 - 6:37am

A lot of teams have non-conference rivalries that generally result in top-25 matchups, too. Florida always plays Florida State, and often plays Miami. Georgia Tech always plays Georgia. Clemson always plays South Carolina. Kentucky always plays Louisville. I suppose it's up to you whether you'd rather count these as "voluntary" pairings or "forced" pairings.

by Ryan D. (not verified) :: Sun, 03/07/2010 - 2:25pm

These are definitely voluntary pairings. It would be nice to see more major conference schools playing other major conference schools, instead of picking on directional state university.

by lionsbob :: Sat, 03/06/2010 - 5:22pm

I guess it depends, a lot more schools are trying to do it. Ohio State does as well. Alabama is doing it more often now (Clemson, Virginia Tech, Penn State this year and next year) and Alabama helped bring back a "Kickoff Classic" between SEC/ACC schools as LSU and North Carolina will play each other this year in Atlanta.

I wonder if that would help-where did the old "Kickoff Classics" go to?

by jebmak :: Sat, 03/06/2010 - 6:34pm

What happened in 2004 with only two indy teams?

by Brian Fremeau :: Sat, 03/06/2010 - 6:52pm

Troy and Connecticut were independent in 2003. In 2004, Troy joined the Sun Belt and Connecticut joined the Big East. In 2005, Army left Conference USA to resume its independent status. Temple was independent in 2005 and 2006 in between stints with the Big East and MAC.

by jebmak :: Sun, 03/07/2010 - 1:02am

Thank you, I had no idea.

by LarryinLA (not verified) :: Sat, 03/06/2010 - 7:21pm

Looks like 2009 was a bit of an outlier. The number of T25 games looks pretty constant since '92. An interesting comparison might be to how many T25 games you'd expect given the total number of games and the total number of teams.

Naiively, that would be
(25/Nteams) * (24/(Nteams-1) * Ngames
(This ignores avoiding repeat games, which makes this estimate a little low. But since only 680 out of the 14000+ possibilities get played I don't think it is a big effect.)

Ignoring bowl games:
2009 gives 28.5 vs. 29 actual
2008 gives 28.5 vs. 35 actual
1989 gives 30.0 vs. 42 actual

The extra 40 FCS games would give about 2 more T25 games if they were played randomly. So, it really does seem top teams used to seek each other out, now they don't.

by peachy :: Sun, 03/07/2010 - 1:34am

Yeah, this line kind of bugged me - "this table more fully demonstrates the decline in frequency of games between top teams over the last 20 years." In the sample 1989 and 2009 are the second-highest and second-lowest respectively - if the comparison period ran from 1990 to 2008 the decline would have been all of three games, hardly noticeable among the fluctuations between. Conversely, if the period was from 1999 to 2004 it would have been a "shocking" decline of nineteen games in only five years, surely cause for alarm... except that the numbers bounced right back up.

Look, '09 was weird in its even distribution of the power teams - we all remarked on it at the time. How often do you get six undefeated teams going into championship weekend? But it would be a mistake to theorise from one off-beat season, just as it would have been a mistake to theorise about anything based on '07, which had no power teams at all and consequently was a bizarre free-for-all most of the year, culminating in the bizarre spectacle of a 2-loss champ. (Not that LSU was undeserving by any means, but it's a rare year a 2-loss team can even dream of a championship date.) Matt Hinton's imprudent insistence over the the past two years that Illinois would soon regress to a mean of "very good" has been due to this fallacy.

by Frank (not verified) :: Sun, 03/07/2010 - 8:04pm

Its annoying that the top teams do not play each other anymore in non-conference games. Everyone is concerned about protecting their a*s, securing 7-8 home games a year, and getting the auto wins against the UL-Monroe's of the world (exception: Alabama in 2007). Last year, OU played BYU and Miami in non-conference and lost both. Switch those games with say North Texas and Arkansas State, then OU's season looks a lot better.

I cannot remember the last time Florida played a non-conference game outside of the state of Florida (excluding bowl games). Florida's non-conference sked is usually a joke, aside from the Florida State game (which they are required to play by state law). Hell, even Notre Dame is choosing to play more chumps (a first-ever match-up with a MAC team is coming soon).

There is no incentive to play another big team; a loss and you have an uphill fight to get back in national championship contention. A couple of losses, ala OU in 2009, puts in you in the Sun Bowl as opposed to a potential match-up in the Cotton or Holiday.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 1:57pm

Syracuse - Spurrier's first year - horrible loss.

Highly doubt it's a state law that UF and FSU play.

If Florida's non-conferense schedule was FSU - Miami - USF - UCF - wouldn't that be better than all other non-independent schools? Why include "outside the state of Florida" when merely scheduling other Florida teams would provide a strong schedule?

by Frank (not verified) :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 12:45am


Fiction: There was never a law enacted that ordered Florida to play Florida State in Football.

Fact: The State Board of Control Ordered Florida to play Florida State in Football.


by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 11:34am

A quick search of Florida Statute reveals no instance of "university of florida" and "football", or "florida state university" and "football".

I concede that at some point, a governmental agency used some sort of persuasion to schedule the first game(s).

I repeat that there is no law that forces Florida and Florida State to play football. If there was such a law on the books, the referenced website could cite something current.

You're splitting hairs with "was" and "is". If I had my druthers, the state universities could only schedule non-conference football games with other state universities (preferably the public ones), to keep the generated revenues inside of the state.