Trevone Boykin and TCU bolstered the Big 12 with Saturday's win over Oklahoma.Once conference play begins, there generally is not a lot of movement in the conference power rankings. After a historic weekend, however, when five of the top eight teams in The Associated Press poll went down, there was more shuffling than usual. The Big 12 jumped over the Pac-12 for second in the rankings, and the ACC overtook the Big Ten for fourth among Power Five conferences.
Many may question why some conferences gained points and others lost them when their top teams lost in conference play. The answer has to do with the half of the conference power rankings that factors in the AP poll.
As a reminder, the conference power rankings are an equal blend of the AP poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). The AP poll measures strength at the top of the conferences, and FPI measures the conferences’ depth.
When three ranked teams in the Pac-12 lost to unranked opponents in Week 6, the top of the conference took a major hit in the AP poll. The SEC also had three of its top teams lose, but those losses came against other ranked opponents. This did not have a major impact on the section of the rankings that measures the AP poll, because the winning teams moved up in the poll as the losing teams moved down (for example, Ole Miss beat then-No. 3 Alabama and is now ranked third in the AP poll).
Pac-12 and Big 12 swap spots
Week 6 was not a good week for the top of the Pac-12. No. 2 Oregon, No. 8 UCLA, No. 14 Stanford and No. 16 USC all lost; each of those teams fell at least 10 spots in the AP poll. Although Arizona (10th), Arizona State (20th) and Utah (24th) rose into the poll, the Pac-12 does not currently have an “elite” team. It is the only Power Five conference without a team ranked in the top eight of the poll.
What is most alarming for the Pac-12 is that without an elite team, its chances of being left out of the four-team College Football Playoff have risen significantly. According to FPI, there is an 85 percent chance that the Pac-12 champion finishes with two or more losses and a 47 percent chance that the champion has at least three losses.
The Big 12, on the other hand, has the best chance of any Power Five conference (22 percent) to have a champion with one or fewer losses. TCU’s win against Oklahoma hurt the Big 12’s highest-ranked team entering the week, but after the win, TCU rose to ninth in the AP poll and Oklahoma fell to 11th. The Big 12 has as many teams ranked in the top 11 of the poll as the ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten have combined.
Looking at the conference rankings, the Pac-12 has a higher average FPI rating than the Big 12 but has taken such a big hit in the portion of the rankings that measures the top of the conference that it has fallen below the Big 12.
ACC reassumes fourth spot from Big Ten
The same narrative of the Pac-12 holds true for the Big Ten. Nebraska and Wisconsin, two of the top four teams in the conference entering the week, lost. Nebraska’s loss is forgivable, and the Cornhuskers fell two spots in the AP poll because of it. Wisconsin’s loss to unranked Northwestern, however, dropped the Badgers from 17th to 34th, expanding the rankings to the others receiving votes section.
There is a fine line between praising a conference’s parity and criticizing its lack of “elite” teams. The best conferences have a balance of both. We will learn a lot more about the strength at the top of the Pac-12 and Big 12 when Oregon heads to UCLA (3:30 ET) and Baylor hosts TCU (3:30 ET, ABC) on Saturday.