After posting a Power 5-best 6-3 record in bowls, the Pac-12 rose to No. 1 in ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings -- a system that equally weighs the rankings from The Associated Press poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) to determine the best and worst conferences in the country.
Best Nonconference Record
vs. FPI Top-40 Opponents, 2014 Season
The Pac-12 not only had the best record, but it also outscored its opponents by more than eight points per game in bowls. Oregon, Utah and Stanford won by 24 or more points, and UCLA, Arizona State and USC won hard-fought contests. After an impressive bowl season, which included a trip to the national championship, the Pac-12 finished the year with six teams ranked in the AP poll, tied for the most of any conference with the SEC.
As the Pac-12 excelled, the SEC’s top teams struggled through bowl season. The SEC West in particular -- which was 28-0 against nonconference opponents entering bowls -- went 2-5, including 0-4 in New Year’s Six bowls.
Although many were quick to bury the SEC, the Conference Power Rankings account for the entire season and all teams in the conference, and the strength at the bottom of the SEC is unrivaled in college football.
Conference Bowl Records
Power 5 Schools, 2014 Season
We learned throughout bowl season, however, that there is more parity across the top of conferences than might have been expected. Each Power 5 conference had two teams in the top 10 of the final AP poll, and all had a team ranked in the top six.
After Ohio State's 42-20 victory over Oregon Monday night, the national champion is from the Big Ten for the first time since 2002. The Big Ten’s reputation had taken a hit in recent years, but Ohio State helped dispel the myth that the Big Ten could not compete with other top conferences by taking down the SEC and Pac-12 champions on its path to the title.
Michigan State and Wisconsin also beat top-20 opponents to help the Big Ten post its first winning record in bowls since 2009. Even more impressive is that the Big Ten was a Vegas underdog in all 11 of its bowl games and was expected to win about four games, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. After exceeding expectations, the Big Ten rose 6.1 points in the Conference Power Rankings, the biggest rise of any conference during bowl season.
Elsewhere, the Big 12 had the worst bowl record of any Power 5 conference. Besides TCU’s 39-point victory over Ole Miss, the Big 12 was outscored by an average of 10.7 points in its other six games. The Big 12 ended the year 3-12 against nonconference opponents ranked in the top 40 of ESPN’s Football Power Index, the worst record of any Power 5 conference.
Next year, expect another great competition between the Pac-12 and SEC for the top conference in the nation. The SEC’s weakness this year, inexperience at quarterback, should become a strength as nine of 14 teams are returning their starting QBs next season.
The Big Ten and Big 12 also should make a splash with TCU, Ohio State and Baylor ranked as the top three teams heading into next season in Mark Schlabach’s Way-Too-Early Top 25. Keep an eye out for ESPN’s Preseason FPI, which will be released this spring, to see where your team and conference rank heading into next season.