In Defense of the B1G: The Conference Really Isn’t That Bad (Except When We Are)

Are we really that B1G? Yes, yes we are.

The B1G is dead. At least that’s what most everyone at the WWL would have you believe. With the BCS Rankings officially out, and Wisconsin sitting at a, ‘pitiful’ sixth, it seems as if the B1G was nothing more than a punchline for the SEC and Big XII. The funny thing about this stance, aside from the audacity of such a claim, is that everyone inside the B1G (from what I can tell) seems to be buying what the media tells them. Yesterday, Brian Bennett had this little gem during his weekly B1G chat, "…though Michigan State seems to be coming on. Ohio State being down and Nebraska not living up to hype have hurt the league." Really? So the entire conference is down because Nebraska isn’t quite as good as people hoped, and Ohio State is down? Really?

Well, I am not one of those guys who likes to believe the hype (caveat, I can be convinced that Nebraska is far better than they are AND I can be convinced that éclairs are the best dessert pastry in the world). So I took to the brand new BCS rankings and decided to do a little analysis of my own. Quick warning: This is a long post… Nonetheless, I have always believed that it’s not always about making a good argument that proves I am right, it’s about making sure everyone else is wrong. In this case, it’s not that the B1G is the best, it’s that the other conferences really aren’t that much better. Let’s call it the "Thank You For Smoking" effect… and I’m never wrong. 

The Premise

I don’t think the B1G is the worst conference top to bottom. In fact, I had a sneaky suspicion going in that if it weren’t for the basement of the conference, the B1G would be the best or close to it. So, from a methodology standpoint, this is very simple. I listed the rankings for each school via their BCS ranking and averaged that ranking across to determine where a conference, ‘stands’ as an initial bias. Realizing fully that this has some human element and isn’t perfect, it at least gave me a good place to start. Here is what you get as a baseline:

Conference

Average BCS Rank

Big XII

29.5

SEC

36.9

ACC

48.3

B1G

49.2

Big East

50.8

Pac 12

56.6*

*USC is unranked by the BCS officially (although listed as 999, how fun is that?)… Let’s just assume the PAC is 11 teams for the sake of argument.

Initially, this more or less makes sense, falls into line with what the WWL is saying, except… THE ACC IS NOT BETTER THAN THE B1G. I will not accept this as reality. So yeah, it was time to dive into the conferences. Surely the Pac12 is also not the worst conference in the nation. This is stupid. It was time to make sense of everything.

A Tiered Approach

Each conference has always broken down into the elite, the trying, and the bodybags. While each division generally varies as to just how many teams is in each, we will be assuming that 12 team leagues are broken into thirds with four teams each. I took a little more liberty with the Big East and Big XII because they don’t really have enough teams to make this easy. The advantage to breaking down tiers is that you really get to see depth. It’s kind of like breaking down games by quarters. The first quarter lets you see talent on talent, the second sees how a team can fight, the third sees how you adjust, and the fourth sees just how deep you are.

In this breakdown, I assumed the following. The top tier will help us see just how strong you are nationally, the middle lets you see how deep you are, and the bodybags lets us see how much statistical error there can be when assessing things like ‘conference rank’ and stuff like that. This seems like as good a time as any to fully admit that there might be a breakdown by a real economist or statistician or someone like that. If so, please let me know. This was a lot of work, and I’m a salesperson, not a mathematician… I’d like to see their thoughts. Back to the analysis!

Tier 1: The Strongmen

If I was asking who the best conference in the nation was, all of you in internet land would say… who? The SEC, right? Okay, maybe not, but it’s a given that they are pretty tough up top. With an average ranking of 6.5, the top four teams in the SEC are pretty unbelievable. The full rankings are as follows:

Conference

Average Tier-1 Rank

SEC

6.5

Big XII

8.75

B1G

13.25

Pac 12

17.25

ACC

19.25

Big East

26.67

This is more like it. As opposed to the initial full conference breakdown (which represents national perception more than anything), this represents what might happen in bowl time situations. The top four teams from each conference are the power teams. Even averaging in only three teams, the Big East is still the worst conference here. Seriously, though, this really makes sense when you think about it and helps start to shed light on where everyone stands. Of course, the real interesting piece is in the second tier.

Tier 2: The Depth

One of the only reasons I think Nebraska football will be okay this season is that we are developing a ridiculous amount of depth. I know this is conceding that we have to play young guys and all, but hey… silver linings people. Anyhow, similar to the necessity for a great team to have depth, a great conference proves its worth in the middle. Generally, this is where people are clamoring about how bad the B1G is. In reality, this is a much different look:

Conference

Average Tier-2 Rank

SEC

33.75

B1G

34

Big XII

34.5

ACC

43.75

Big East

44.35

Pac12

60.75

Okay, so the SEC is still king of the mountain, but we see a lot more statistical clumping. Whereas the SEC and Big XII were up top by a sizeable margin in the first tier, we have a much more interesting 1-3 with the B1G actually coming out on top of the Big XII. Other things that are funny here. The Pac 12 thought adding Utah and Colorado would be helpful… It isn’t and for them to be successful, they need much more help. Note, the Big East only has two teams in this tier (USF and Cuse) and as such are probably an anomaly of being that high… you know, except for the fact that USC is screwing with the hierarchy. Let’s move on to the bodybags.

Tier 3: The Bodybags

These are the bad teams in the conference. This represents just how many free wins you get and how easy it is to look good. These teams also represent just how far down your conference will look to the nation until bowl team. Unfortunately for the B1G, this isn't pretty.

Conference

Average Tier-2 Rank

Big XII

61

SEC

70.5

Big East

79

ACC

82

B1G

100.25

Pac12

103.67

Wow… 100.25 average standing for our bottom tier. That is not a good statistic. If not for a USC-less Pac12, we would be the bottom of the conferences at the bottom. While I did say the second tier was about depth, this shows just how deep some of the other guys really are. The Big XII’s lowest ranked team via the BCS is 66 (Kansas). The SEC’s lowest ranked team is 84 (Kentucky). Those are higher than all four of the B1G teams in this category (Purdue 90, NW 94, Indiana 106!, Minnesota 111!!!). This is why I think perception of the conference is so bad. The bad teams really are that bad!

Making Sense of it All

Again, I don’t claim to be a statistician, economist, mad genius (sometimes I claim to be this), or mathematical guru. I am just a guy who really likes looking at why a perception nationally doesn't equate to a perception internally. The B1G really is a tough conference. There are no weeks off (sorry Minnesota, you’re pretty close this year… it’s not your fault) and everybody is tough. However, the bottom third of the conference is dragging things down this year (I’m looking at you Northwestern), and when discussing things like, "Can Wisconsin really hang with the other elite teams?" it’s important to realize that they still have tough competition. Still, I am not going to really say that any of this means anything specific other than to say that there is a bigger picture out there that we often don't dive into.

Okay, I’m coming in for a landing. If you've gotten through all this, congratulations… seriously. I don’t know if this says the B1G is the best, worst, most in-between, or whatever else you can label them as. I do know they probably have one of the deepest middle tiers of teams in the nation, a decent elite tier, and a terrible bottom tier. Over the next few weeks, Wisconsin will climb their way up this poll, and I’ll try to revisit how things look later. Stats are funny. They can fuel the machines that make us believe who is good and bad, but they don't play the games on Saturdays. Week 7 is still pretty early. It will be fun to see where things land in December. 

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