Inside the Numbers: The Big East, Best in Show
by Matt Sleeth
TSL Extra, Issue #3

The Big East made a great showing in this year’s bowl season, and here are the statistics to help you prove it - whether that be to a co-worker, message board poster, or just an annoying neighbor.  I’ve broken down all kinds of stats on the bowl season, by conference, to help you break down any weak arguments that you may run into.

The conferences are ranked using the final rankings from the AP and coaches' polls, margin of victory, winning percentage, and even a few imaginary numbers.  I’ve tried to include as many aspects as I could that message board posters thought should be represented in defining which conference had the best showing.

The rankings are based on averages of all the teams from each conference that participated in a bowl game. They do not include non-bowl teams.  These rankings are not all-inclusive and are not meant to demonstrate that one conference is “better” than another.  The rankings do however, demonstrate how well each conference’s bowl teams did as a whole, or how well the conference showed in the bowl season.

The conferences ranked below include the “Big Six” or BCS conferences, along with Conference USA, to demonstrate how a non-BCS conference fares in these rankings. The Mid-American Conference would also have been included, but their only bowl participant was Marshall, and since the rankings are based on averages, I left them out to prevent skewed results.

So, without further ado, here are the results:

Winning Percentage

Which conferences had the highest winning percentage?  The Big East went 4-1 and had the highest winning percentage of any other conference. Here’s how the rest stack up.


Rank Conference Record Winning %
1 Big East 4-1 80%
2 Pac 10 3-2 60%
3 Big XII 4-3 57%
4 C-USA 2-2 50%
5 SEC 4-5 44%
6 Big Ten 2-4 33%
7 ACC 1-4 20%


Participation Percentage

It was pointed out to me that a conference should get credit for having a high percentage of its total teams participate in bowl games, so giving credit where credit is due, the SEC has us beat. Here's the results.

Rank Conference Bowl/Total Teams % Participation
1 SEC 9/12 75%
2 Big East 5/8 63%
3 Big XII 7/12 58%
4 ACC 5/9 55%
4 Big Ten 6/11 55%
6 Pac 10 5/10 50%
7 C-USA 4/9 44%

The Big East dominates in winning percentage, and gets a second place finish for percentage of bowl participants.  With the amount of bowls today, most conferences should have more than half of their teams in bowl games.

Polls and Rankings

The final Poll results are important in ranking how well a conference did. How can we judge the level of competition each conference played against? All of the following were compiled using the AP and Coaches polls final post-season results.

The total number of votes, or "points" were added up from both polls for each of the teams, then divided by the number of bowl teams. The first is a look at how highly each of a conference's team were ranked in the final polls, on average.  The far right column is to show where the amount of average points each conference has would land the team ranked in the final AP Poll. Yes, this will be slightly off, since I used the Coaches' Poll in the points, but they are all off the same, and it is not used to rank the conference, just to give an approximation and relate to "real world" results of where the average bowl team finished.


Conference Rankings

Rank Conference Avg. Points Total Points AP Rank
1 Pac 10 1,612 8,062 4th
2 Big XII 1,606 11,242 5th
3 Big East 1,154 5,771 6th
4 ACC 969 4,844 12th
5 Big Ten 694 4,163 14th
6 SEC 482 5,336 20th
7 C-USA 65 259 29th

As we can see, the Pac 10 barely edges out the Big XII for number one, aided by Oklahoma gaining all number one votes in both polls.  The Big East lands solidly in number 3, also third in total votes, not that bad.

We want to give credit to the rankings of the level of competition, as well as the teams in the conference, so here are the average amount of points per team each conference played against. The rankings are derived the same as the ones above, only for the competition.


Conference Opponent Rankings

Rank Conference Avg. Points Total Points AP Rank
1 ACC 1,377 6,886 7th
2 Big Ten 1,174 7,044 10th
3 Pac 10 904 4,520 12th
4 Big XII 876 6,130 13th
5 SEC 853 7,673 14th
6 Big East 674 3,368 15th
7 C-USA 495 1,979 19th

The ACC is heavily aided by playing Oklahoma, the winner of every number one vote.  The Big East struggles in this category, but we can partly attribute this to the fact that we beat all of our ranked opponents, thus they fell in the rankings.  I should point out that these are the final rankings, and since the Big East won most of its bowl games, the opponents all dropped in the rankings.

To be more accurate, the rankings going into the bowl season should have been used.  Notice that the conferences with the two worst winning percentages come out in the lead in this ranking, reverse from the Big East, an important point to bring up when arguing our case.

Points Scored

On average, who scored the most points in bowl games? The Big East, of course.  Led by the high-powered offenses of Virginia Tech and Miami, we rack up an average of 37 points a game.  These numbers are found simply by dividing the total points scored by a conference by the amount of bowl teams.


Rank Conference Avg. Points
Total Points
1 Big East 37 187
2 Big XII 36 249
3 Pac 10 29 147
4 SEC 28 253
5 C-USA 25 99
6 Big Ten 22 130
7 ACC 18 88

The Big XII comes in a close second, helped by Nebraska's 66-17 blowout of Northwestern.  These rankings show which conferences feature powerful offenses.

Next, we look at defenses. The following shows us who has the best defenses, with regards to average points allowed per bowl game.


Rank Conference Avg. Points
Total Points
1 Pac 10 23 115
2 C-USA 24 95
3 Big East 25 132
4 Big XII 27 187
5 SEC 29 259
6 ACC 30 149
7 Big Ten 35 210

As you can see, these rankings are pretty close at the top, but the Big Ten is a clear loser here, allowing an average of 35 points a game (Northwestern's rollover act against Nebraska didn't help here).  The Big East does fairly well in this category, given the small margins at the top.

Here are some interesting numbers -- the margin of victory ranking.  The BCS is trying to minimize the use of this statistic in their rankings, but we use it here to show how dominating a conference was over its opponents.  These numbers are derived just by dividing the margin of victory by the amount of bowl teams, and therefore do not show the average amount each winning team won by, but rather the total average margin.  Thus the conferences with losing records have a negative average margin of victory.


Rank Conference Avg. Margin
of Victory
Total Margin
1 Big East 11 55
2 Big XII 9 62
3 Pac 10 6 32
4 C-USA 1 4
5 SEC -1 -6
6 ACC -12 -61
7 Big Ten -13 -80

These numbers show us that the Big East dominated opponents, especially since this includes games lost.  We won our games by a total of 187 to 132, a margin of 55 points. Conference USA won its two games by only 4 points, and the SEC, on the other hand, lost its games by an average of less than 1 point, a total margin of only 6. The Big Ten clearly shows that overall it was dominated by opponents, being outscored 210 to 130 in bowl games.

Some Imaginary Numbers

It was pointed out to me that conferences should get some credit for having more than one team in the BCS, for going to the National Championship, or for winning their BCS game, etc.  So I have used some imaginary numbers to incorporate this into some rankings.

Each team participating, but losing a BCS bowl: 1 point
Having a team participate in, but lose the National Title Game: 2 points
Each team that wins a BCS game: 3 points
Having a team win the National Title: 4 points

I think that we can all agree these numbers are pretty fair as a representation for participation in the BCS bowls. The following are the rankings based on these numbers:


Rank Conference Points
1 Pac 10 6
2 Big XII 4
3 Big East 3
4 ACC 2
5 Big Ten 1
5 SEC 1
7 C-USA 0

The Pac 10 dominates, and the National Title winners come in second. The Fiesta shaft hurts the Big East here.

The Final Tally

So now you're asking, "Okay, so there's a bunch of numbers, but who is number 1?"  Well, to find that out, lets use our own "BCS Computer Formula."  Below is the final rankings, taken from an average of the above rankings.  The rank is based on the "Average Rank" column, which is the other categories divided by eight.


Rank Conf. Avg. Rank Winning Percent. Partici-
pation Percent.
Final Poll Rank Compe-
tition Rank
 Pts. Scored
Pts. Allowed
Avg. Margin BCS Pts.
1 Big East 2.5 1 2 3 6 1 3 1 3
2 Pac 10 2.5 2 6 1 3 3 1 3 1
3 Big XII 2.75 3 3 2 4 2 4 2 2
4 SEC 4.5 5 1 6 5 4 5 5 5
5 ACC 4.875 7 4 4 1 7 6 6 4
6 Big Ten 5.25 6 4 5 2 6 7 7 5
7 C-USA 5.375 4 7 7 7 5 2 4 7

As you can see, we end up in a tie for number one. We have an argument over our 'Hoo friends, because the ACC represented fairly poorly this season, and we even have a decent argument over the National Champion conference.  It's our hated enemy, the Pac 10, who continue to give us fits.  The rest of the conferences are clearly spread, but the Big East and the Pac 10 stand together at the top, tied at an average ranking of 2.5. So who had the best showing?

This is where it becomes apparent it was important we get an at-large BCS bid. If we had been asked to play the Fiesta Bowl rather than Oregon State, and assuming we beat Notre Dame (which is reasonable, given the margin OSU beat them by), we win this little formula. Not only would the BCS points go up, but also the rankings of Big East teams and their competition also.  But would the number three Big East team have beaten Clemson? Most likely the Big East would have enough of an advantage to pull ahead in these rankings, but we would really never know what else would result.

If it wasn't for the crybaby-I'm-taking-my-ball-and-going-home-overrated-flash-in-the-pan-Huskies/Beavers conference, we wouldn't have this problem, this not nearly being the biggest of them, by the way (can you say $1.3 million + heavy national exposure?).

But we aren't bound to lot of preset rules like the real BCS system.  In a situation like this, its always nice to use head to head competition (I know all 'Canes fans would be behind me on this one):

Boston College 31
Arizona State 17

If only the BCS were this accurate.


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