Non-Conference Games: How does the ACC compare?

We Take a Look at How the ACC Performs Out-of-Conference, Compared to Other Leagues

Conferences earn their reputations relative to each other when they play non-conference (or inter-conference) games. Win a bunch and your reputation soars; lose these games and, well, you’re just a loser. With that in mind, how does the ACC compare to the other major football conferences?

We’ve seen three weeks, or almost one quarter of a season of college football, so far.  What have we learned? If you just look at the raw numbers tossed out by most newspapers, magazines, websites, and ESPN, you’ll see something like this:

Big XII 22-2, SEC 23-6, ACC 23-7, Big Ten 26-10, Pac-12 23-9Many people would point to these numbers and say “See, the Big 12 and the SEC are clearly the two best conferences!” Never mind for the moment that the SEC only leads the ACC by one game in 30; this chart doesn’t tell the whole story. In particular, this doesn’t tell us anything about the quality of those wins.

What if we only look at non-conference games versus teams from the six BCS AQ conferences? (That means we will be including games against the Big East). Here’s how those results look:

Big XII 3-1, Pac-12 6-3, ACC 4-7, Big Ten 4-7, SEC 2-4Whoa, what’s this? The SEC is on the bottom? There must be something wrong with this data!

No, there isn’t. Through week #3, the SEC has the worst record of any of the five major football conferences against BCS AQ-quality opponents.  Furthermore, while the Big 12 remains in the top spot, your eye is drawn to how small the sample size is — only four games against BCS teams?  What are they doing over there in Big 12 country?

I’ll tell you what they are doing – they are getting fat on cupcakes! Here are the conference records against non-AQ teams:

ACC 15-0, Big XII 19-1, Big Ten 21-2, SEC 19-2, Pac-12 17-5.A couple of things are worth noting here:

  • The Big 12 is the smallest conference at only 10 teams, yet they have already played 20 games against non-BCS AQ teams (many of those were actually FCS teams).  That is an average of two “cupcake” games per team!
  • The only conference which is undefeated against non-BCS competition is the ACC.  The Pac-12 has lost 5 such games! Even the mighty SEC has two of these bad losses.

In fact, we can evaluate conferences more accurately if we consider both “good” wins (i.e. wins over BCS opponents) as well as “bad” losses (i.e. losses to non-BCS opponents).  Here is a chart summarizing these results:

Viewed this way, we see that the ACC has four “good” wins vs. no “bad” losses. The Big Ten and Pac-12 both have more quality wins, but they also have several embarrassing losses to counter balance them. Every major conference has more good wins than bad losses except the SEC, which is 2-2 in this regard.

As we stated earlier, this is only week four; there remains a lot of football to be played. Still, this is not an insignificant sample size, and from what I’m seeing, the 2012 version of ACC football is actually pretty good!

Read more from Hokie Mark over at ACCFootballRx, where he gives his prescription for fixing what ails the ACC on the gridiron.

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4 thoughts on “Non-Conference Games: How does the ACC compare?

  1. Interesting analysis. The SEC and Big 12 have been attacked by some as having weak non-conference schedules (which seems to be true). It’s pretty cool that the ACC hasn’t lost any of the games “it’s not supposed to” (as far as against non-BCS teams).

    I think to be fair, it would have made sense to include the Big East’s stats in this, since you were including them as a BCS conference (even though they unfortunately did well against the ACC last week).

  2. Also worth noting ULM’s near-upset of Auburn. The top of the SEC may be just as good as ever. But I almost think it’s worst breaking that league into tiers, to show just how poorly the bottom is performing.

    • At one time the SEC could claim to have the highest in-conference strength of schedule, but I’m not so sure that’s true anymore. I see plenty of easy conference wins for Alabama, LSU and Georgia this year.

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