Sedge Court Journal
Providing sports fans with expert analysis since 2004

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The answer just might surprise you.


With the College Football Season rapidly drawing near, we are subject once again to the self-gratification and endless discourse of football pundits who debate the legitimacy of where their school belongs in the rankings. No doubt, the loudest and most vocal of the punditry tend to favor either the Big Ten or the SEC Conference. Alumni of these schools gleefully propagate their notions that their conference is either "the toughest" or "most competitive" without any factual basis to support their claims.

I intend to, once and for all, answer some of the most ubiquitous and provocative questions in all of College Football. The answers to these question, quite frankly, surprised me in some cases and simply confirmed anecdotal evidence in others. The questions were:

1.)Which Conference is most Overrated; The Big Ten or the SEC?

2.)Which Conference is Better; The Big Ten or the SEC?

3.)Which is the most Overrated/Underrated team in the Big Ten and SEC?

Before I begin, please let me say that I did not seek any specific outcome. I did not set out to impugn one school over the other, I simply asked myself what was a fair and uniform way to quantify the information available and discover the truth. As I set about this process I also recognized that it was important to define what I considered, better, over-rated, and under-rated. As such, I submit the following definitions:

Over-Rated: Results that consistently under perform expectations.

Under-Rated: Results that consistently exceed expectations.

Over-Hyped: To receive a disproportionate amount of media attention. Note: It is important to recognize that a team can be over-hyped and under-rated, as I will illustrate shortly.


The most available and consistent measurement of whether a team and conference is over/under-rated is the AP poll. In order to reach my conclusion I examined rankings from the last 5 years of The Associated Press Top 25 poll.

First, I examined both the Week 1 (expectations) rankings and compared them to the Week 17 (Results) rankings. My theory was that at the beginning of the Season these rankings are based on "Hype" whereas at the end they are based on "results". Thus "Overrated" conferences in theory should be ranked higher at the start of the year and lower towards the end.

Secondly, I averaged the annual Conference results over the 5 year period to determine if one conference was consistently over-rated. More importantly, I was looking at who was historically over-rated as opposed to who was over-rated last year.

Third, I looked at each individual team, whom had either started or finished in the Top 25 for each of the 5 years examined. This was done to determine the relative degree over over-rating for each individual school. An assigned uniform ranking of "26" was used if the School measured was not in the Top 25 either at the beginning or at the end of the season.

Keep in mind, I am not a statistician, however, I believe there is some legitimacy to these numbers. Like other great thinkers before me, novel ideas often begin with clear vision and intentions but may be flawed in methodology. I welcome a peer review and comments to expand upon and enhance my theory.

The Results:

Big Ten:

In the Week 1 AP Poll the Big Ten has traditionally had 4.6 teams in Top 25 with an Average Ranking of 13.8. By the end of the season, there are 4.0 teams remaining with an Average Ranking of 10.05.


In the Week 1 Ap Poll the SEC has 4.8 teams in the Top 25 with an Average Ranking of 10.47. By the end of the season, there are 5.0 teams still in the Top 25 with an average ranking of 12.18.


As these number clearly illustrate the "SEC is OVER-RATED". Teams from the conference when weighted together typically rank higher at the beginning of the season and finish lower. On the other-hand the "Big Ten is UNDER-RATED" because, as you can clearly witness they tend to move up by season end and thus exceed expectations.

Which brings us to which conference is "better". Clearly the SEC wins this argument for the shear fact that although both Conferences start with the same number of schools being represented, the Big Ten tends to have more that fall out of the rankings as opposed to the SEC which actually add teams by season end. Thus the more teams in the Top 25 at year end would be indicative of the Conference as a whole being superior.

Over-rated: SEC

Under-Rated: Big Ten

Better: SEC

Of course, what fun would such a study be without calling out someones alma-mater. That's why after compiling the data I decided to figure out where each of the individual schools ranked in the process. As I mentioned earlier, I focused only on the schools who had either started and/or finished in the Top 25 for each of the 5 years I looked at. Only 9 teams met this criteria. Of those 9, I averaged their annual starting ranking and their annual ending ranking. If they were "un-ranked" either at the start or finish of the season, I assigned them a ranking of "26". In other words, you could start no better than 26 and finish no worse than 26. From there, I either added or subtracted the average starting rank from ending rank and determined the percentage difference. A positive number indicated they were under-rated, whereas a negative number indicated they were overrated. The larger the percentage the more over-rated/under-rated it was assumed they were. Here are the results starting with most underrated and ending with the most overrated:

9.) Iowa

Average Start: 19.6

Average End: 14.2

27.55% Under-Rated


Average Start: 23.8

Average End: 18.0

24.46% Under-Rated


Average Start: 13.8

Average End: 14.0

1.44% Over-Rated

6.) Georgia

Average Start: 10

Average End: 10.2

2.00% Over-Rated

5.) Ohio State

Average Start: 6.2

Average End: 6.4

3.22% Over-Rated

4.) LSU

Average Start: 9

Average End: 10.6

17.77% Over-Rated

3.) Florida

Average Start: 12

Average Finish: 17

41.6% Over-Rated

2.) Michigan

Average Start: 8.4

Average End: 13.2

57.14% Over-Rated

1.) Tennessee

Average Start: 11.4

Average End: 21

84.21% Over-Rated

So there you have it. Tennessee and Michigan are the two most over-rated teams in their conferences. Iowa is the most under-rated in the Big Ten and Auburn is the least over-rated in the SEC.

Undoubtedly, labeling Michigan at 57% over-rated and Tennessee at 84% will invite some criticism of my methodology. However, I must stress again that this was not designed to determine who is better or worse, but who has consistently, over the last 5 years, failed to meet their expectations.

Obliviously, their is a correlation between dropping in the rankings and performance on the field. But, to further test my theory I decided to look at the two most "Over-Hyped" teams of all time; Notre Dame and Southern California. It is common knowledge that the expectations are always high for these perennial Top 25 squads. Therefore you would expect them to be at least over-rated or fairly rated.... you'd be wrong.

Notre Dame

Average Start: 20

Average End: 17.8

11% Under-Rated

Southern California

Average Start: 7.2

Average End: 2.6

63.8% Under_Rated

What use this will provide, other than to add to the un-ending bore-ass of Top 25 punditry, I know not. I do know that from a handicapping perspective it is always useful to get a sense of where the public is and to adjust properly.



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