It has been a couple of weeks since I last provided an update on where the McGuire Metric stands. When I last shared a detailed explanation of where things stand, the Pac-12 was sitting just ahead of the SEC and the Big Ten and Big 12 were trailing Conference USA after just two weeks of games. Now, two weeks later, a different picture is beginning to be painted.
When it comes to non-conference play, the ACC has the best overall resume using this experimental metric. This is based on the strength of Virginia Tech’s win at Ohio State and Boston College’s victory at home against USC. The SEC is in a firm second place, having passed the Pac-12 in the process. The Pac-12 was off to a fast start but has now settled into third place according to these numbers. To the surprise of the national narrative, the Big Ten has distanced itself from the Big 12, which is now the fifth highest-ranked power conference. And it’s not even close.
As a reminder, the McGuire Metric is a cumulative stat through the course of a season and it is based off of AP rankings according to the week games are played. This is why the ACC’s number is inflated by Virginia Tech over Ohio State and Boston College over USC regardless of recent results including Virginia Tech and North Carolina each losing to East Carolina and Miami losing to Nebraska. Only wins are counted in this process. Now that we are about to move into the heart of conference play, the chances to improve numbers as a conference are going to be coming to a crawl (the final week of games between ACC and SEC schools will allow for plenty of opportunities later on).
Here is how the conferences stack up through the end of Week 4, in bar graph form. You can click the graph to view a larger version.
The ACC actually made its move in Week 3 with a handful of road victories starting to add up. Boston College’s victory over USC is tied for second most valuable win of the season. Duke also scored an easy win against tied for second most valuable win of the season. Duke also scored an easy win against Kansas but that comes with a bonus for coming against a power conference opponent. Pittsburgh and Syracuse won easily but did so on the road for two points each. The small point totals add up over time, and with Virginia Tech’s earlier win against Ohio State still tied for most valuable win of the season, the ACC got off to a good jump. What the latest numbers do not do a good job of showing is the disappointments from Week 4. The ACC lost two games at home and another on the road to the Big Ten (helping the Big Ten’s number, of course), one on the road against the American and another on the road at BYU.
The national narrative this season has been writing off the Big Ten, but according to these numbers it is the Big 12 that should be climbing a steep uphill battle to get a team into the College Football Playoff. As I have stated time and time again in the past two weeks, nobody is in or out of the playoff at this point in the year, but if you want to rank the power conferences, you should be taking a closer look at what the Big 12 is doing before placing the Big Ten on the bottom. To the Big 12’s credit, the conference has two unbeaten teams that should have an easier time getting into a four-team playoff field compared to the Big Ten right now, but when it comes to flexing some muscle as a conference, the Big 12 has plenty of work to do on the field.
Through four weeks, the Big Ten has accumulated more than twice the points credited to the Big 12, and with conference play ready to kick into high gear, the Big 12’s window is just about closed. This is ironic because the Big 12 has defeated the Big Ten in head-to-head competition, 3-0. Despite some struggles, the Big Ten has earned multiple wins over the ACC, Pac-12 and the SEC. The Big 12 has just one win out of six games against those three conferences (Oklahoma at home over Tennessee). Since I include BYU in the power conference consideration for this method, the Big 12 is 4-7 against power conference opponents, including three wins over Big Ten schools. The Big Ten is now 5-11 against power conference schools, including Notre Dame.
I have said before I understand this is far from a perfect system, but I want to see how these numbers add up for an entire season before contemplating ways to tweak it to be more accurate or reflective on the tale of the season (Should a Top 15 victory in September be weighed the same in November if the losing team fails to reach a bowl game? No). The ultimate plan is to spend some time in the offseason putting together adjusted numbers that take into account end of the year rankings rather than in-week standings, but for now I will stay the course.
As you hopefully know, I am also using this method to keep track of individual schools this season, which also includes results from conference games. With last weekend’s results, we now have a new number one. Texas A&M had ben enjoying a nice, comfortable stay on top on the strength of a season-opening victory at South Carolina, but it is another SEC West team that sits atop the rankings entering Week 5. Mississippi State takes over at number one this week after recording a victory at LSU. The win in Baton Rouge tied the most valuable wins this season and with small bits and pieces of points picked up in the first three games of the season against Southern Mississippi, UAB and South Alabama for a total of 3.0 points), the Bulldogs are now ringing cowbells on top of everybody for now.
Say what you will about the SEC West, but according to these numbers the top two teams in the country reside in the conference. Texas A&M is a half point behind Mississippi State. LSU is ranked sixth, followed by Auburn. Oregon and South Carolina are tied for third after four weeks, and Boston College and Virginia Tech are tied for fourth based off the strength of their wins against USC and Ohio State, respectively. How long can they hang in those spots though?
East Carolina made a big jump the past two weeks, up to eighth overall with a score of 9.5. With a road win at ranked Virginia Tech and a home win against North Carolina, the Pirates have now become the clear frontrunner in the race for the automatic New Years Bowl spot for a Group of Five conference champion. If Cincinnati can split with Ohio State and Miami, the Bearcats will have a very good shot to pass East Carolina (the two play in Cincinnati on November 13), but to me it appears as though the Group of Five big bowl spot is going to go to a team out of the American. Boise State will have a tough time climbing up high enough and Utah State has already lost twice. The MAC has been a real disappointment and Conference USA has started to fall back to earth a little bit. Unfortunately for Marshall, the Thundering Herd look like a team capable of running the table but there will be almost no chance to make a dent in the Group of Five race to a New Years Day bowl spot.
If you are still confused or wondering how this works, here is an explanation of how the experimental McGuire Metric works. I also have an updated list of the most valuable wins for 2014 and an overall ranking of teams through four weeks of play. If you still have questions, please feel free to leave a comment or send me a message on Twitter. If you think you found an error, please let me know as well so I can address it as soon as possible.