The great ongoing debate among college football fans is simple: what conference is the best? Between the power five conferences, the SEC seems to have the popular vote, but certainly not among fans of the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, or ACC. In this multi-part series I’ll be looking at multiple different statistics in an attempt to answer this question.
This first part is simply an introduction. I dove into some very general numbers and compared the conferences against each other. Both graphics in this post are comparing the conference’s average offensive points per game vs. the average defensive points allowed. The power five conferences (I decided to include the Pac 10 in this group) are marked in difference colors, where the other FBS conferences are in a shade of blue.
This first graphic shows shows each conference by season (each season is a different dot), starting with the 2000-2001 season through the 2018-2019 season. The size of the dot represents the total points the conference scored that particular season (bigger the dot, the more points scored).
What’s interesting here is the clear divide between the power five conferences and the others. The grouping of the power five sits below the others in the scatter plot, which is to say their offenses score more points per game and their defenses allow less points per game compared to the non-power five conferences.
The “best” conference by this measure would be one that scores the most points while allowing the fewest. For this graphic, that would be the dot that’s located in to the bottom rights the most. However, we don’t see a clear winner.
The 2006-2007 SEC certainly had great defenses, but it also only scored about 25 points a game. Darren McFadden at Arkansas was the highest scoring player in the SEC that season, but was 27th overall across all conferences.
Conversely, the Big 12 in 2008-2009 scored almost 35 points a game. Chris Brown at Oklahoma and Dez Bryant at Oklahoma state led the conference with 126 points scored that season, but also allowed their opponents to score almost 29 points on them.
So which is better? Score more, but allow more points; or score less, but allow less points?
The next graphic gets rid of the seasons. Every dot above represents the average offensive points scored vs. the average defensive points allowed since the 2000-2001. The size of the dot represents the total points the conference scored since the 2000-2001 season (bigger the dot, the more points scored).
While this takes some of the seasonality out of things, the questions still stands: how do you decide what is better? I really don’t know.
Wins? Bowl games? Championships? Top to bottom conference success? Points scored?
In the coming posts I’ll be a lot more specific in the “winners” and “losers” across the statistics I’m looking at. While I’ll probably come up with a winner across the numbers I’m looking at, I’m afraid the answer to the long standing question will never truly be answered.