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Conference power rankings: Weakest of Power 5 a consideration, too

Conference Power Rankings: Which is the weakest Power 5 conference?

In the college football playoff format, the relative strength of each Power 5 conference is under more scrutiny than ever. Nonconference matchups have an impact on individual teams as well as the perception of conferences as a whole.

Through three weeks, the SEC is the top conference in the nation, according to ESPN Stats & Info’s conference power rankings, after posting an FBS-best 23-4 record (4-2 versus other Power 5 teams) in nonconference play. The Big 12 is gaining ground on the SEC with seven of its 10 teams undefeated, including two -- Oklahoma and Texas Tech -- that beat SEC opponents on the road.

Given that at least one Power 5 conference will be left out of the playoff, the question of which of those conferences is the weakest will come into play, even more so this season with Notre Dame looming as a potential playoff team.

The answer to which conference is weakest really depends on if you are evaluating conference depth or strength at the top of each conference.

Based on average FPI rankings, the Big Ten is the weakest Power 5 conference; it has an average FPI ranking of 49 (out of 128 FBS schools), six spots lower than the ACC. It also has four teams ranked 75th or worse in FPI, two more than any other Power 5 conference. But with Ohio State and Michigan State strong at the top, it might not matter.

Conference depth is important when evaluating a team’s strength of schedule, but ultimately only the top teams in each conference will be in contention for a playoff spot. With its top team (Florida State) ranked 10th in The Associated Press poll, the ACC lacks the strength at the top of its conference that other conferences, particularly the Big Ten, possess.

The conference power rankings equally weigh FPI (to measure conference depth) and the votes from the AP poll (to measure strength at the top) to determine the strongest and weakest conferences in the nation.

Based on this metric, the ACC is the weakest Power 5 conference, largely because it lacks an elite team. Georgia Tech, Florida State and Clemson struggled in Week 3, which is a major reason the ACC fell in this week’s rankings.

Ultimately the College Football Playoff selection committee will evaluate conference strength, but the ACC will have a few more chances this week to make a statement when Virginia hosts Boise State (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET), LSU heads to Syracuse (Saturday, noon ET) and Virginia Tech travels to East Carolina (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET).