As we are reaching the end of the football season, my first through was to write about which G5 program would make it to the New Year’s Day bowl, but since I could not come up with a scenario where an MWC team make it, that column got scratched until next year (hopefully). Instead, today we are going to compare the MWC to the future AAC conference and Sun Belt as to whom can lay claim to the top G5 conference. With the changes to the AAC the MWC should be able to lay claim to that title, but after this season, that may not be the case. For a recap of realignment, 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 taking Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UT San Antonio, and UAB from Conference USA. For now, the Mountain West kept everyone (looking at you San Diego State), and did not add any schools (a problem in my opinion), and the Sun Belt conference losing Little Rock and UT-Arlington and gaining James Madison, Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss . Of course, current alignment could change at any time for any of these conferences. This week’s rankings come from CBS Sports.
AAC: UAB, Charlotte, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Memphis, Navy, North Texas, Rice, SMU, South Florida, Temple, Texas-San Antonio, Tulane, Tulsa (split into 4-5-5)
MWC: Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State, Wyoming (split into 4-4-4)
Sun Belt: Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, James Madison, Louisiana, Louisiana-Monroe, Marshall, Old Dominion, South Alabama, Southern Miss, Texas State, Troy (split into 4-5-5)
AAC: Tulane #16, UTSA #37, East Carolina #40, and SMU #48
MWC: Boise State #53, San Jose State #59, Air Force #61, and Fresno State #65
Sun Belt: Coastal Carolina #26, Troy #45, James Madison #50, South Alabama #54
The top third of the conference are the headliners. These are the teams which get the national rankings, the TV games with more eyeballs, hopefully the sold-out home crowds, and the New Year’s Day Bowls. To be the top G5, your top teams (yes, that is plural), need to be nationally ranked and able to compete with the Power 5 teams.
Despite losing Central Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston the AAC still holds the top headliners. Tulane is getting national attention and UTSA, ECU, and SMU are solid teams. It really feels like East Carolina is a big loser in the realignment, being left behind and becoming, once again, a big fish in a small pond. The Sun Belt has a strong hold on second place, with one good team followed by 3 solid teams. One stat that boosts the Sun Belt is during week two, Marshall beat Notre Dame, App State beat Texas A&M, and Georgia Southern beat Nebraska and the total payout was over $4.1 million. Not back for a week of cupcake games. This section shows how far the MWC has fallen. The AAC has 4 teams ranked higher than the MWC banner holder Boise State and the Sun Belt has 3 schools ranked higher than the Broncos. Not the MWC best year.
Rankings: ACC, Sun Belt, MWC
AAC: North Texas #70, Memphis #77, UAB #78. Florida Atlantic #85, Rice #89
MWC: Wyoming #75, San Diego State #84, UNLV #100, Utah State #107
Sun Belt: App State #60, Marshall #63, Georgia Southern #72, Georgia State #87, Southern Miss #90
The middle third of the conference needs to be good to counter the argument “You have a good record, but who did you play?”. Part of the reason why the SEC and Big 10 can lay claim to an annual playoff spot is because the middle third of their conference contains ranked teams and teams receiving votes. This has been a problem with the PAC 12 getting into the playoff, their top teams lose a game and the middle third of the conference is below average making it difficult to get in. Granted this paradigm favors the SEC, as the argument is the rest of the SEC was so good their top teams can lose a game and still be in the playoff picture.
For each of the three conferences, there is a pretty big drop off in average teams from the headliners. The Sun Belt gets to claim this section. When comparing teams, the Sun Belt ranks a little higher than the AAC. App State and Georgia Southern also have the big Power 5 road wins, and nice payouts, to help with their rankings. The MWC on the other hand, has some lousy average teams. In years past, a ranking in the 80s would get you in the bottom third of the conference, not average, and teams qualifying for bowl game would not have triple digit rankings.
Rankings: Sun Belt, AAC, MWC
The Bottom Feeders
AAC: Tulsa #97, Navy #113, Temple #117, Charlotte #125, South Florida #129
MWC: Nevada #124, Hawaii #126, New Mexico #127, Colorado State #128
Sun Belt: Louisiana #91, Old Dominion #98, Louisiana Monroe #114, Arkansas State #115, Texas State #118
Not every school in the conference can be good, or even average, as by definition someone has to be below the average, the Big 12 has Iowa State, Big 10 has Rutgers and Nebraska, the SEC has Vanderbilt, and the PAC 12 has Colorado. However, when a conference has multiple teams who are consistently doing poorly it can drag the conference down and, by extension, make things difficult for the top teams to reach national recognition with the “well, anyone can beat those teams” argument.
The Sunbelts gets the nod here, only three schools in the triple digits compared to 4 for AAC and MWC. I wonder if the AAC is regretting inviting Charlotte over some other schools. The MWC is just really bad in the bad division. Four schools ranked in the bottom 8 in the country. For a conference that wants to be the best of G5, that is not going to do it.
Rankings: Sun Belt, AAC, MWC
Last year when I did this, the MWC was by far the best, when you removed Cincinnati and Houston from the AAC. Things have definitely changed. By every measurement available, it has been a down year for the MWC. This year, they are the third best of the G5, and even Conference USA is giving the Mountain West a run for its money.