As we are about halfway through the season and the realignment has sort of made itself clear, we are going to look at how the future conferences compare to each other in this season to give some idea of how they will look in a couple years. For a recap, Texas and Oklahoma started it off by leaving the BIG 12 for the SEC, the Big 12 took Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF from the American Conference. The American Conference is reportedly taking Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UT San Antonio, and UAB from Conference USA. The Mountain West kept everyone, and did not add any schools, ignoring a Stats Corner proposed PAC 12/MWC merger, and the Sun Belt conference is probably feeling nervous about now. Earlier this season Stats Corner contrasted the MWC, AAC, and Sun Belt conferences over the last three seasons, this time we are just going to look at the current alignment for this season. Of course, current alignment could change at any time for any of these conferences. This week’s rankings come from CBS Sports.
AAC: SMU, UTSA, UAB, Memphis, Charlotte, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Tulsa, Temple, Tulane, Navy, Rice, South Florida, and North Texas (split into 4-5-5)
MWC: San Diego State, Nevada, Fresno State, Air Force, Boise State, Wyoming, Utah State, San Jose State, Colorado State, Hawaii, New Mexico, and UNLV (split into 4-4-4)
Sun Belt: Coastal Carolina, Louisiana, Appalachian State, South Alabama, Georgia State, Troy, Louisiana Monroe, Texas State, Georgia Southern, and Arkansas State (split into 3-4-3)
AAC: SMU #17, UTSA #24, UAB #55, Memphis #68
MWC: San Diego #21, Nevada #34, Fresno State #35, Air Force #40
Sun Belt: Coastal Carolina #12, Louisiana #38, App State #48
Any way you look at it, the AAC losing Cincinnati #2 and Houston #41 hurts. Getting UTSA was a good boost, assuming their program can keep playing like this in years to come. The surprising thing, in my opinion, was passing on Coastal Carolina and App State. These are two solid programs which would have given the AAC natural rivals with Charlotte and East Carolina and a stronger foothold in the Carolinas which is currently ACC territory. While the top team in both the AAC and Sunbelt are ranked higher than the MWC, as a whole thing section belongs firmly to the MWC. Four schools ranked in the top 40 provides some depth and competition to the upper programs. UAB and Memphis are ranked too low to provide strength of schedule support needed in the upper third of the conference. The Sunbelt is in a better position than the AAC, but still too low to counter the “Coastal is undefeated, but who did they play in the conference?” argument (Of course, after I wrote that, App State had to answer that question).
AAC: Charlotte #77, East Carolina #82, Florida Atlantic #89, Tulsa #96, Temple #104
MWC: Boise State #63, Wyoming #72, Utah State #74, San Jose State #83
Sun Belt: South Alabama #86, Georgia State #95, Troy #99, Louisiana Monroe #105
Boise State as an average MWC team? Seems like it. The average teams need to be good enough that losing to them does not kill your rankings, see Air Force losing at home to Utah State and still be ranked in the top 40. The Mountain West seems to have it, the other conferences, not so much. The top 3 schools in the category are from the MWC, with San Jose State in at number 6 and Boise State would be in the top third of the AAC replacing Memphis. There is a steep drop-off for the AAC after UTSA and the Sun Belt has a gorge between App State and South Alabama. The choice of the AAC to add Charlotte and Florida Atlantic is a little confusing. They do offer a rival to East Carolina and South Florida and are located in large cities, but do not improve the standing of the conference as they currently stand. That could change in the next couple years, of course, but they do not bring much to the table by themselves. For a conference to be considered strong this is the section that is most overlooked by fans, but so important when it comes to ranking the headliners.
The Bottom Feeders
AAC: Tulane #108, Navy #110, Rice #114, South Florida #115, North Texas #117
MWC: Colorado State #90, Hawaii #94, New Mexico #116, UNLV #128
Sun Belt: Texas State #111, Georgia Southern #113, Arkansas State #121
Other than a spot and a rivalry in Texas, want does Rice and North Texas bring to the AAC? They are both ranked in the triple digits and on the edge of the new AAC. Currently they are bringing the conference down, giving the AAC six teams with triple digit rankings, if you include Tulsa at #96, half the conference in ranked in the bottom quarter of the FBS. Not a good look for a conference trying to claim they are a P6. It would seem UTEP #51 would have been a better choice. The Sunbelt is in the same boat, with all of the bottom three in the triple digits and with Louisiana Monroe and Troy, half of their conference is in the bottom quarter of the rankings. The leader of the Mountain Division for the MWC is in the bottom tier, they are 2-0 but leading the division is leading the division. If you need triple digit rankings, keep the number of teams low and keep the games close, the last 3 of UNLV losses and 4 total for the season have been one score games and New Mexico has two victories this year. The report is UTEP is not happy with being 900 miles from their closest conference foe, maybe the MWC should call UTEP and SMU to boost their own rankings a little.
While they may not have the top team, the MWC conference from top to bottom is far superior to both the new AAC and Sun Belt conference. While having one great team can generate news for the conference, a conference needs multiple teams to be good in order to sustain long term success rather than a one and done or two and done experience. With Conference USA being raided, this the opportunity for the MWC to separate itself from the other Group of Five conferences. The AAC took a massive hit with the loss of Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF and opted for quantity over quality when it came to realignment. This has led to the MWC being the big fish in the G5 pond, without needing to do anything. The focus now, needs to be on improving the product on the field top to bottom to prevent the other conferences from catching back on after they fell. The MWC is in the lead, but can they do what they need to in order to keep it?