Next year, can this be a picture of a B1G team winning the Rose Bowl or the BCS Championship game? Please? That's not too much to ask, right? (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
For the past few weeks, I have been immersing myself in data. I am not an analyst by trade, but I am extremely fascinated by what information can tell us and I am also a little obsessive when I begin researching something I find interesting. And so when the OTE team decided to work on assessing the State of the B1G, I knew that I wanted to tackle the issue of "National Competitiveness." This was twofold:
1) Let's be honest, I'm still the new guy to the group and I felt like I could provide as non-biased an approach to the conference as a whole as possible (insert inability to be unbiased jokes here)
2) I had always revered the B1G as the premier conference in football, but with obvious hate getting thrown around by major media post-bowls for the past two seasons, I wanted to dig into the pieces that really make the B1G 'competitive'
After trying to come up with some legitimate parameters and failing miserably, I started researching everything from bowl records to rankings, net worth to attendance, and most anything on education I could find. The results? A aforementioned ridiculous amount of data that had to be parsed into consumable bites because no website wants to make this task easy.
What we are left with is a 3 part Series on The State of the B1G 2012: National Competitiveness. This first piece focuses solely on the B1G's current state of On the Field Competitiveness and will dive into what numbers say from a Rankings, Bowl Record, and National Championship (or lack thereof) view. Spoiler alert: It's pretty much what you expect. The second piece will dive into the B1G's competitiveness nationally as it pertains to Fans in the Stands and Net Worth. After all, this is all a money game, right? Finally, we're going to look at the one competition B1G fans think they rule - education. I mean, these are still student-athletes, right? We'll look at NCAA APR, Graduation Rates, and School Rankings and I'll try to make sense of it all. These three pieces will give a good snapshot of how the B1G compares to its national brothers and hopefully make sense of the conversation, "My conference can beat up your conference." So, that's the plan. On to the breakdown!
So... The B1G isn't the best football conference?
Before we go too much further, it's probably important to point out that all information I am accessing is trying to assess where the B1G is currently. While some of the information in future pieces are not going to have data from 2011, I have done my best to try to provide a snapshot of where we are as a conference relative to this moment. I have not gotten historical, and I really don't plan on it in the immediate future (mostly because of the previously mentioned stacks of paper and personal penchant for obsessive behavior... pieces like this aren't healthy for me or my wife's love of a non-cluttered office). Anyhow, at this moment, it probably wouldn't surprise you that the B1G is not the top conference in football. In fact, if you had to take a stab at it, most of you would guess somewhere around 3rd or 4th, right? Right. The numbers agree with you.
Mythical National Championship Game
Okay, I know it was a crock and to be perfectly honest, I'm beginning to wonder if it's a valid MNC indicator anymore. Still, this would not be a valid conversation without at least mentioning that as of right now the SEC rules all because they won the game and had the runner up. Moving right along...
Well, We Got TWO BCS Teams in, so there's that...
No matter what side of the aisle you are on (mostly that of Michigan winning a game or Michigan State believing they deserved to be in that game), we can all agree that it's better for the B1G to have two BCS teams than one regardless of the team. I know that there is a lot of chatter about what it matters, and that it's just money driving the decisions, but to qualify for the BCS, you have to have a good season and be a fairly decent team. Along with the SEC and Pac-12, the B1G sent two instead of the one automatic bid which gave the conference more exposure and money AND showed that the conference is still fairly deep. Big XII fans probably have a decent argument as to why they should have had two teams, but when K-State is the second team, they'll always lose out to Michigan. It's just kind of what happens. Oh, and the B1G went 1-1, which is nice (as opposed to going 0-2... we're looking at you ACC).
You haven't told me anything interesting yet. BOOOOOOO!!!
Sorry about that. When you've done research and have a stack of papers in front of you, it's hard to churn out interesting really interesting information. I mean, I'm recapping... bear with me. For those people who need pictures and fancy graphs, I give you this:
So what does this poorly colored and awkward graph tell us? Well, a couple of things. First and foremost, an important part of assessing the B1G's competitiveness starts with looking at how deep the conference is. With ten out of twelve teams going bowling, the B1G sent the highest percentage of its teams to a postseason game. That's remarkable and is better than both the SEC and Big XII. Of course, the flipside to that is that the B1G isn't winning at a high clip. The argument has and will continue to be that the B1G plays 'up' but that's not an excellent longterm excuse. Sooner or later you gotta win the games that are on the schedule. I will note that it's also not as absolutely dire as it could be. In a 'down' year as a conference, the winning percentage still was good enough for third overall. At least we're not the Pac 12... wait, we're partnered with them? Awesome...
Third overall? I guess that's not so bad...
As I've tried to really figure out exactly where the Big Ten stands in terms of overall competitiveness, I wanted to tackle it from many different angles. I did not go absolute head-to-head because the amount of data available is only so deep. What I was able to do was rank each conference according to their final F/+ (via Football Outsiders), BCS, and Sagarin. BCS did not have a final ranking post bowl season that I could find, so those numbers skew things a little bit. Still, this gives a good overall view of what we're working with. Here's what the numbers say:
So here's the deal, as we all knew, the B1G is squarely in third place as of right now. For what it's worth, I think the new Big XII will be slightly better off with their two new additions in West Virginia and TCU, but it's a marginal change at best. That is, of course, assuming those teams don't implode. The only question that remains is what do you do with all this? Most fans who watched football from sunup to sundown on Saturdays last season probably knew the B1G was trending around third place among the major conferences, but what good does it do to recap? Well, as a fan of the B1G, I think it is necessary to look at these numbers and say that something has to be done to be more competitive on the field. The Buckeyes hiring Urban Meyer was a good step forward. The improvements at the lower end of the spectrum at places like Minnesota and Indiana are hopefully going to pay off as well. OTE will tackle coaches and Urban in more depth, but those are great starts. The good news from this information is that not all is lost. The B1G was competitive overall and sent a lot of teams to bowls. As the impending
doom playoff system approaches, it will be interesting to see where the conference lands. It seems like things are still setup nice and cozy for success in the future.
In the next post, we'll be discussing why the B1G might not really care about MNC's, rankings, and what the SEC is doing... You know, because we got $$$.