Why Auburn outranks Arizona State!


What every top sports pundit knows: Who belongs in the BCS title game? Following yesterday’s award-winning post, we offer several additional points:

The six computer systems: Yesterday, we linked to one of the computer services used by the BCS. If you want to review the other five, you can just click this.

Note: In standard BCS fashion, that page links to all Sagarin computer rankings except his rankings for football! To review those rankings, click here.

Alleged SEC results: The SEC has a fabulous football culture. That said, how strong has the SEC been on the field against the other major conferences?

Last year, the southern-hating writer Chuck Thompson compiled the data for the BCS era, starting in 1998. We can’t vouch for his data, although he seems to be right regarding the Pac-12:

SEC versus the world, 1998-2011
SEC vs. Pac-12: 11-12
SEC vs. Big 12: 27-18
SEC vs. ACC: 58-45
SEC vs. Big 10: 26-23
SEC vs. Big East: 19-23
Overall: 141-121

We wouldn’t call that dominance, although it’s a winning record. Thompson can explain it away. Click that link for his full chapter.

Concerning strength of schedule: In the past seven years, the SEC and the Pac-12 have almost surely been the two best circuits overall. Why has the Pac-12 only played in one title game?

In part, it’s a matter of strength of schedule. Here’s how this turkey flies:

Each year, SEC teams play eight conference games. So do teams in the ACC, the Big 10 and the Big 12.

Pac-12 teams play nine conference games. That’s a problem. Here’s why:

Under current conventions, most major conference teams schedule one serious non-conference opponent each year. This means that SEC teams typically schedule three non-conference turkeys.

Pac-12 teams schedule two.

As a general matter, this means that Pac-12 teams have one additional realistic chance to lose a game each year. This tends to improve Pac-12 strength of schedule in computer rankings. But it also tends to hurt Pac-12 won-loss records—and won-loss records are considered sacrosanct by the top sports pundits who create the nation’s scripts and vote in the national polls.

By far, this strikes us as the toughest year to pick two teams for the title game. Over the weekend, John Feinstein expressed Standard Pundit Certainty concerning Auburn’s obvious greatness.

In our view, he overstated wildly. But what else are top pundits for?

Now, let’s compare combs: Arizona State played nine conference games this year. Auburn played only eight.

Here’s who they scheduled out of conference:

Auburn: Washington State, Arkansas State, Western Carolina, UAB
Arizona State: Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Sacramento State

Auburn scheduled three turkeys from the lesser circuits. Arizona State scheduled one.

On October 5, Arizona State lost by 3 to Notre Dame. The next week, Auburn blasted Western Carolina. That’s why Arizona State is a pitiful two-loss team. By pundit standards, that makes them plainly worse than magnificent one-loss Auburn.

People, two losses is more than one! Every top pundit understands this, or has someone to help with the math.


  1. "Following yesterday’s award-winning post"

    Yes, based on commentary volume, compared to the latest on PISA test scores, it won hands down. Or at least it was leading, just like Georgia when they planted that second loss on Auburn.