As we reach the end of non-conference games (mostly), Stats Corner is going to look at who is the best of the non-Power 5, or 4, conferences. Power 5 being AAC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC, and PAC whatever. Those in the running for the best G5 are American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt. This week, we are going to break each conference into thirds and compare the rankings of the groups. For those of you who remember quartiles from your Stats courses, I agree quartiles are what is typically used, but the number of members in each conference makes a using third more effective, but nice job remembering your stats procedures. Rankings come from Athlon Sport.
AAC: South Florida, Memphis, Tulane, SMU, Tulsa, Rice, North Texas, Florida Atlantic, UTSA, Temple, Charlotte, East Carolina, UAB, Navy
C-USA: Liberty, Jacksonville State, Louisiana Tech, Western Kentucky, New Mexico State, Middle Tennessee, Sam Houston, Florida International, UTEP
MAC: Miami (OH), Ohio, Buffalo, Bowling Green, Akron, Kent State, Toledo, Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Northern Illinois
MWC: Air Force, Fresno State, UNLV, Wyoming, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State, Hawaii, San José State, Nevada, San Diego State
Sun Belt: James Madison, Marshall, Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Georgia State, Old Dominion, Coastal Carolina, Texas State, Arkansas State, Troy, Louisiana, UL Monroe, South Alabama, Southern Miss
AAC: #33 Tulane, #48 Memphis #51 SMU, #76 USF
C-USA: #50 Liberty, #75 Western Kentucky, #94 Jacksonville State
MAC: #56 Ohio, #62 Miami, Ohio, #65 Toledo, #68 Central Michigan
MWC: #31 Fresno State, #36 Air Force, #44 Wyoming, #53 Boise State
Sun Belt: #39 James Madison, #45 Troy, #49 Marshall, #66 Georgia State
The top third of the conference are considered the headliners. These are the teams which get the national recognition, the TV games with more eyeballs, hopefully the sold-out home crowds, and the New Year’s Day Bowls. When someone mentions the conference, these are the teams people automatically think about, Alabama for SEC, Ohio State for Big 10, Boise State for Mountain West, and App State for the Sunbelt. 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.
The Mountain West has the advantage: Fresno is ranked with wins over Purdue and Arizona State, Air Force is getting votes, and Wyoming is getting votes and has a victory over Texas Tech. Tulane’s only loss is against Mississippi, and while Liberty and James Madison are undefeated, they fall into the “who have you beaten?” camp. New Mexico State, Buffalo, and Bucknell are not going to do it. James Madison does have a Power 5 win over Virginia, but is there a worse P5 program right now?
Rankings: MWC, Sun Belt, AAC, MAC, C-USA
AAC: #80 Rice, #85 UTSA, #95 FAU, #100 Tulsa, #107 East Carolina
CUSA: #110 FIU, #113 Louisiana Tech, #117 New Mexico State
MAC: #103 Northern Illinois, #105 Bowling Green, #108 Eastern Michigan, #122 Western Michigan
MWC: #83 UNLV, #87 San Diego State, #93 Colorado State, #101 San Jose State
Sun Belt: #69 South Alabama, #73. Texas State, #74 Georgia Southern, #79 Appalachian State, #86 Coastal Carolina
The middle third of the conference needs to be good to counter the argument “You have a good record, but who did you play?”, (see Liberty, Marshall, and James Madison above). 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.
The Sun Belt is quite deep this year, even with 14 teams, the middle 5 help boost the conference. South Alabama as 33-7 beat down of Oklahoma State, Texas State is 4-1 with a win over Baylor, and Georgia Southern and App State are 7-3 combined. That is a strong resume for the middle of the pack. For the MWC UNLV is 4-1 with a win over Vanderbilt, not a powerhouse but still a P5 win, but the combined record of the middle MWC teams is 9-11.
Rankings: Sun Belt, MWC, AAC, MAC, CUSA
The Bottom Feeders
AAC: #111 Navy, #112 North Texas, #115 Temple, #121 UAB, #130 Charlotte
CUSA: #119 Middle Tennessee, #127 UTEP, #128 Sam Houston
MAC: #125 Buffalo, #126 Akron, #131 Ball State, #133 Kent State
MWC: #109 Utah State, #116 Hawaii, #120 New Mexico, #132 Nevada
Sun Belt: #99 Louisiana, #102 ULM, #114 Old Dominion, #118 Arkansas State, #124 Southern Miss
Not every school in the conference can be good, or even average, as by definition someone has to be below the average, the ACC has Virginia, Big 10 has Rutgers and Nebraska, the SEC has Vanderbilt, and the PAC 12 has Arizona State. 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.
There are a lot of G5 schools at the bottom. The Sun Belt gets the “we suck the least” award. The only team in the double digits and the lowest team stops at 124, with every conference having a lower team. For the MWC, it seems to be the same bottom three teams, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Nevada.
Rankings: Sun Belt, AAC, MWC, CUSA, MAC
The top spot goes to the Mountain West over the Sun Belt. While the Sun Belt is definitely deeper, two things put the Mountain West on top. First, both Fresno State and Air Force getting votes in both polls with the Bulldogs ranked. Second, James Madison is not bowl eligible this year, because the NCAA has completely rational rules and equally enforces them, the Dukes cannot play in a bowl game or even the Sun Belt title game. Having your top team ineligible hurts the overall rankings of the conference. But at least the Sun Belt is a stronger conference than the American, who could have seen that coming?
Overall Rankings: MWC, Sun Belt, AAC, MAC, CUSA