by Bill Connelly
The F/+ ratings are almost final for 2014. We have one FBS game remaining, the first ever Playoff Championship Game, and it looks almost literally dead-even according to the F/+ ratings -- No. 1 Ohio State holds an overall advantage of 0.4 percentage points over No. 2 Oregon.
A title game blowout could skew the final numbers a bit, but while we wait to find out which school claims the national championship, I thought it would be fun to look at what else the F/+ ratings are telling us about 2014.
1. The SEC was still awesome
There was plenty of schadenfreude to go around this bowl season as the SEC West, proclaimed by some ("some") as the best division of all time earlier in the year, went 2-5 in bowl play. And with as much strutting as the league does when it's winning, it has to take some medicine when it loses.
That said, this was still by far the best conference in college football this year.
|Conference||Avg. F/+||Rk||Avg. Off. F/+||Rk||Avg. Def. F/+||Rk||Avg. ST F/+||Rk|
First, the SEC East, the black sheep of the conference this year (and in many recent years), went 5-0 in bowl play to pull the conference's overall bowl record over .500. Second, from a stat perspective, 12 bowl games simply aren't going to have that much impact on the conference's overall ratings. The increased connectivity is lovely, but it doesn't change the hierarchy much.
At one point in the season, the SEC West had the top four teams in the country according to not only F/+, but quite a few computer ratings. Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, and Mississippi State were all dominant, Texas A&M wasn't far behind (at the start of the year), LSU was nearby, and Arkansas was only floating around .500 because of round-robin play. All seven West teams spent a portion of the year in the F/+ top 20.
Six are still in the top 20. Alabama fell from first to third by losing to new No. 1 Ohio State. Ole Miss fell from fourth to seventh after getting its doors blown off by new No. 4 TCU. Mississippi State fell from sixth to 12th after getting run over (and around, and through) by new No. 6 Georgia Tech. Auburn fell one spot after losing a tight game to No. 17 Wisconsin. LSU somehow managed to move up two spots after losing a heartbreaker to No. 35 Notre Dame. And Arkansas stayed at 20th after destroying Texas. Plus, Texas A&M moved back up to 45th after handling West Virginia.
In the end, West teams lost a bunch of tossup games. That's not going to hurt you too badly. And I'd say that from a stat perspective, this is still quite possibly the best division college football has seen ... even if I don't have the energy to write an entire column about that (and deal with the nuclear comments section that followed).
2. Hello, ACC
Every game is zero-sum, and while the SEC was deemed a big loser in bowl play (again, for "only" going 7-5), the Big Ten was deemed the big zero-sum winner for its 3-1 performance on New Year's Day. Ohio State beat Alabama, Wisconsin survived Auburn, and Michigan State unleashed a hellacious, three-touchdown comeback in the fourth quarter to knock off Baylor. Minnesota still lost to Missouri, but... that's a good day!
Of course, outside of January 1, the conference only went 2-4, with Illinois (against Louisiana Tech), Maryland (Stanford), and Iowa (Tennessee) all losing by 17 or more points. And for the season as a whole, the conference was still probably the weakest of the power conferences.
The Big Ten can have January 1, but maybe the unexpected winner for the rest of the season was the ACC. The conference went only 5-6 in bowl play, and its champion got its doors blown off by Oregon in the Rose Bowl. But from top to bottom, this was a deep, underrated conference in 2014.
Georgia Tech finishes the year sixth in F/+; Clemson's complete destruction of Oklahoma moved the Tigers all the way to ninth; and Florida State still comes in at 10th despite the Oregon loss. The conference boasts the nation's best offense (Georgia Tech) and two of the top six; the best defense (Clemson) and two of the top four; and eight top-35 teams. Its standing is aided by the Pac-12's early underachievement, I think, but second place (in the table above) is still second place.
3. Hello to you, too, Conference USA
Before 2013, the former Big East (now the American Athletic Conference) plucked away a good number of teams from Conference USA, and in turn, CUSA invaded the Sun Belt. The result was a pretty mediocre conference in 2013, but power to CUSA for surging forward in 2014.
Former CUSA members Tulane (F/+ No. 105), Tulsa (No. 117), and SMU (No. 127) all bottomed out; along with No. 114 UConn and No. 122 USF, they significantly dragged down the AAC's averages. Meanwhile, while only Marshall saw a ranking better than 50th, quite a few teams in the middle of the pack improved. Louisiana Tech's defense surged to 24th in its one year with coordinator Manny Diaz (who has already moved on to Mississippi State); Western Kentucky's offense was awesome post-Petrino; UAB's final year pre-extinction was pretty great; Rice avoided total collapse after losing a good chunk of its 2013 title team; and teams like UTEP and FIU improved by good margins.
This wasn't a good conference by any means, but on average, teams in Conference USA ranked 13.2 spots higher than they were projected in the preseason (the best differential in the nation), and AAC teams ranked 15.3 spots worse (the worst). If you lose a good chunk of your membership to another conference, then tie that conference on the field, that's got to feel pretty good.
4. Speaking of underachievers and overachievers...
Average finish compared to preseason projections:
1. Conference USA (+13.2)
2. Sun Belt (+11.3)
3. ACC (+6.1)
4. Mountain West (+3.1)
5. MAC (+0.2)
6. SEC (-2.7)
7. Big Ten (-3.4)
8. Pac-12 (-4.7)
9. Independents (-5.5)
10. Big 12 (-9.0)
11. AAC (-15.3)
The AAC had five of the 13 biggest underachievers, and CUSA had three of the seven biggest overachievers. The SEC had two of the nine biggest underachievers (Vanderbilt, South Carolina) and two of the 13 biggest overachievers (Tennessee, Arkansas), and the Big 12's averages were dragged down significantly by Oklahoma State (projected 17th, finished 67th) and Texas Tech (projected 43rd, finished 77th).
It has been a unique year -- not quite as thrilling top-to-bottom as the 2013 season, but as with every season, it has had its moments. January 1 was awesome, though, and hopefully we will be talking about a phenomenal championship game this time next week.