The Report Card : Final Regular Season Rankings for Power 5 Conferences
A Weekly Look at the Power 5 Conferences and Independents
On December 6, 2015 the College Football Playoff Selection Committee presented its sixth and final rankings of the season based on strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents, conference championships won and other factors.
Each week, The Rebel Walk’s Jeff Tetrick presents a national report card on the Power 5 conferences and independent schools. The aim is to rank and grade the 5 conferences based on the cumulative results of each league’s teams that weekend.
Jeff will offer a brief weekly summary for each conference and suggest which teams are most likely in the hunt for a playoff berth. The Independent schools will have a section but not be ranked with the conferences. Below are the criteria as well as his final regular season rankings.
Report Card Criteria:
Good Day: Regardless of the score, a win over a non-Power 5 school is a good day. A team who plays great but loses the game to a Power 5 school can be placed in this category.
Key Losses: A loss to a non-Power 5 team is a key loss. As well, a loss to a non-conference Power 5 school is a key loss because of the missed chance to make the claim that conference A is better than conference B. In conference play, a loss goes into this category unless the losing team played an exceptional, close game.
Final Regular Season Power 5 Conferences Rankings
1. Big Ten
Bowl Eligible : 8 Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, Indiana
The Big Ten earns the award as the best Power 5 conference for the 2015 season. The Big Ten has 4 teams with at least 10 wins and 6 teams with at least 9 wins. No other league comes close to matching that feat this year. The Big Ten has 3 teams ranked in the Top 7 of the final College Football Playoff rankings, and all 3 schools were legitimate playoff contenders until the end of the season. In all, the conference has 3 schools in a New Year’s Six bowl and 5 teams ranked in the top 14 spots of the final CFP standings.
While the bottom 6 teams in the conference had 5 or fewer wins, the strength at the top of the Big Ten was unmatched by any other conference this season. In a lot of ways, the Big Ten has relied on strong teams at the top of the league the past 2 seasons, much like the SEC did during its incredible run from 2006-2012. The major difference is that the SEC had better teams in the middle-of-the-pack back then than the Big Ten does currently. With Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan looking like elite programs for the foreseeable future, the Big Ten may be primed to challenge the SEC and PAC-12 for top league honors on a yearly basis. Northwestern, Iowa, and Wisconsin give the conference 3 more programs who play old-school football, win a lot of games, and are Top 25 teams.
Bowl Eligible : 10 Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia
The battle for second place among the Power 5 conferences was a season-long battle between the PAC-12 and SEC. Both leagues had an elite team (Alabama and Stanford), a dynamic/talented/9-win team (Ole Miss and Oregon), and a decent third team with a strong defense/poor offense (Florida and Utah). Both conferences have 10 bowl eligible teams.
The SEC’s 4-6 teams (LSU, Tennessee, Georgia) are pretty similar to the PAC-12’s 4-6 teams (USC, UCLA, Washington State). Yet, the SEC beats the PAC-12 for second place by virtue of much stronger teams in the 7-10 spots in each league. Texas A&M (8-4), Mississippi St. (8-4), and Arkansas (7-5) are much better teams than Cal (7-5), Washington (6-6), Arizona State (6-6), or Arizona (6-6). The SEC’s 10th bowl eligible squad, Auburn (6-6), is as good as 3 of those teams. So, the SEC has better-quality depth than the PAC-12.
One more comparison is that 7 SEC teams had a winning conference record, while 9 SEC teams were .500 or above in league games. In contrast, 6 PAC-12 schools had a winning league record, and 6 schools had a losing conference record, including the 4 bowl eligible teams listed above as the PAC-12’s 7-10 teams.
The SEC should win 6-7 of its 10 bowl games and make amends for last season’s poor bowl performance. Alabama, Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, and Arkansas are the schools who can really make a national splash for the SEC in the postseason against the Big Ten and Big 12.
Bowl Eligible : 10 Stanford, Oregon, Washington State, Washington, Cal, USC, UCLA, Utah, Arizona State, Arizona
As mentioned in the previous section, the SEC edged out the PAC-12 for second place among the Power 5 leagues. The top 6 teams in the league had strong seasons and are among the top 30 teams in the nation. Then, there was a big drop-off from the conference’s best teams to the lower-half of the PAC-12. The bottom 6 teams in the league were under .500 in league play. None of them showed any signs of competing with the better teams in the conference.
Stanford played as well as any team in the country, but 2 uncharacteristic fourth-quarter fumbles led to a loss against Oregon that cost them a playoff spot. Had Vernon Adams not been injured early in the season, Oregon likely would have been in the playoff race and a NY6 bowl. UCLA had championship aspirations but could not overcome injuries to multiple star players. USC was as talented as any team in the country, but the off-field issues with their coach were too much to overcome for the Trojans. Utah had a strong defense, but the Utes lacked an offense to go with it, similar to Florida.
4. Big 12
Bowl Eligible : 7 Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas State
The Big 12 won the battle for fourth place among the Power 5 conferences over the ACC this year. Much like the ACC, this conference had some strong squads at the top of the standings. Then there was a notable drop between the top 4 teams and the rest of the league. Oklahoma won the Big 12 and is playing in the College Football Playoff. League runner-up Oklahoma State grinded out 10 wins and a berth in the Sugar Bowl. TCU and Baylor were playoff contenders who were decimated by injuries in November. These 4 schools have been the face of the Big 12 in recent years, and all of them look likely to remain as top-notch programs.
Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Kansas State are the other 3 bowl eligible Big 12 schools. All 3 teams are mediocre, and none of them scored a win over the league’s top teams. Texas, Iowa State, and Kansas were the bottom-tier teams who combined to win 8 games all year. Texas remains mired in mediocrity, and they compounded the problem with a poor coaching hire 2 years ago. Until the Longhorns find the guy to right the ship in Austin, like Houston’s Tom Herman, the Big 12 will likely keep battling the ACC for the basement spot among Power 5 conferences. When Texas returns to prominence, the Big 12 will elevate its status.
Bowl Eligible : 9 Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina, Duke, Pitt, NC State, Miami, Louisville, Virginia Tech
While the ACC featured 3 elite teams with 10 or more wins, there was an enormous gap between these 3 schools and the rest of the league. The lack of any depth in this conference is why the ACC sits in last place among the Power 5 leagues. If Miami is the fourth-best team in the conference, it is a sad state of affairs for the ACC. Miami, Pitt, Louisville, NC State, Duke, and Virginia Tech are bowl eligible with 6-8 wins apiece. However, most of their wins came against the bottom 5 teams in the league and bad non-conference foes. None of those 6 teams are quality teams, and none of them would fare well in any other Power 5 conference. None of the 6 teams mentioned had a single quality-win in non-conference games. Thus, the ACC is truly a league with 3 very good teams and 11 mediocre-to-poor teams.
On the bright side for the ACC is the top 3 teams. Clemson is the country’s only undefeated team heading into the College Football Playoff. The Tigers have been as good as any team in the country all season. Florida State won 10 games and is playing in a New Year’s Six bowl for the second straight season. With a wealth of talent returning next year, the Seminoles could make a run at the national title next fall. North Carolina was the surprise story in the ACC, winning 11 games and finishing as runner-up to Clemson.
Bowl Eligible : 2 Notre Dame, BYU
Notre Dame was 2 plays away from being undefeated and playing for a national championship. The Fighting Irish were one of the top teams in the country despite losing more key players on both sides of the ball than any other school in college football. Notre Dame was in the playoff hunt until the final second of their regular season finale at Stanford. The Fighting Irish lost 2 games all year, close losses to #1 Clemson and #5 Stanford, both on the road. Yet, Notre Dame’s best win is against either USC or Navy. So, the only knock on the Fighting Irish is that they lack a signature win. They get one last chance at a major win against #7 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
BYU had a solid season, finishing with a 9-3 record. The Cougars began the year with consecutive, improbable Hail Mary wins over Nebraska and Boise State. After that, BYU won 7 more games but lost to its 3 Power 5 opponents (UCLA, Michigan, Missouri). BYU gets one more crack at a Power 5 foe when they meet archrival Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Army struggled through a 2-10 season. Yet, the Cadets at West Point are always winners. Few people understand the demands of playing football at Army. Academics and preparation to serve the United States come before football at West Point. For Army to be competitive on a weekly basis at the FBS level is quite an accomplishment. Hats off to all 3 service academies for giving their best efforts on the gridiron while dedicating their future lives to serving our country.
This section is our guess at which teams or conference champions the Selection Committee would choose or leave out based on the body of work up to this point in the season. Please note that this list is not a ranking of the 4 best teams or a projection of who will be the 4 playoff teams. Rather, it lists the teams with the top playoff resumes based on who they have played through the end of the regular season and conference championship weekend.
Based on week 14, the Selection Committee should go with…..
1- Clemson (ACC) versus 4- Oklahoma (Big 12)
2- Alabama (SEC) versus 3- Michigan State (Big 10)
On the outside…..
Top 25 Teams
This section is our view of the top 25 teams in the country after the regular season. This list is not based on the CFP rankings or exclusively on a team’s record. Thus, a two-loss team may be ranked higher than a one-loss team. This ranking is based on our view of which teams played the best football against a high-quality schedule throughout the entire season.
After 14 weeks of action, the Top 25 Teams are…..
- Michigan State
- Notre Dame
- Ohio State
- Ole Miss
- Florida State
- North Carolina
- Oklahoma State