Conference USA was, for the 2nd straight year, the "winner" of our conference bowl performance rankings, which take into account wins, the magnitude of those wins, and prior expectations for the conference.
The C-USA won big this year because they were expected to go just 1-4, but finished 4-1 for the bowl season. SMU, Rice, and Tulsa were the underdog and all won their games along with favorite Central Florida, who beat the spread against Ball State. C-USA received three points in each column for a total of +9.
The oft-maligned ACC finished 2nd, going 4-2 when they were expected to go 2-4. Marquee teams Florida State and Clemson both won, with FSU beating the spread against Northern Illinois and Clemson upsetting LSU of the SEC. With North Carolina and Miami on the sidelines, the 2nd tier teams had mixed results: North Carolina State was whipped by Vanderbilt but Virginia Tech beat Rutgers in overtime and Georgia Tech embarrassed pre-season #1 USC 21-7. The ACC could have tied for the #1 spot if not for Duke's tragedy: with the game tied against Cincinnati in the final minute the Blue Devils fumbled on the goal line, gave up an 83-yard game-losing touchdown pass, and to make matters worse they gave up another TD in the closing moments that beat the 8 point spread.
The WAC and the Big East round out the top four, as both fragmenting conferences did well in the post-season. The WAC had only 2 teams and both won as expected, but Utah State and San Jose State both beat the spread against their MAC opponents. The Big East was supposed to go just 1-4 but managed to go 3-2, with Louisville shocking Florida and Syracuse upsetting West Virginia. Of course the end of the Cincy-Duke game is what kept the Big East in +4 territory and tied for 3rd place.
Actual Record Expected Record Rec vs. spread Grand
Conference W L Pts W L Pts W L Pts Total
C-USA 4 1 +3 1 4 +3 4 1 +3 +9
ACC 4 2 +2 2 4 +2 4 2 +2 +6
WAC 2 0 +2 2 0 0 2 0 +2 +4
Big East 3 2 +1 1 4 +2 3 2 +1 +4
SEC 6 3 +3 8 1 -2 5 4 +1 +2
Big Ten 2 5 -3 1 6 +1 4 3 +1 -1
Ind 1 2 -1 1 2 0 1 2 -1 -2
Pac-12 4 4 0 7 1 -3 4 4 0 -3
Sun Belt 2 2 0 4 0 -2 1.5 2.5 -1 -3
Mac 2 5 -3 0 7 +2 2.5 4.5 -2 -3
Big 12 4 5 -1 5 4 -1 3 6 -3 -5
Mtn West 1 4 -3 3 2 -2 1 4 -3 -8
The SEC was #5 and in positive territory despite always-lofty expectations. Favored to go 8-1, they went 6-3 as Florida lost to Louisville and LSU fell in the final seconds to Clemson. But they finished 5-4 against the spread which helped them exceed expectations overall by a nose. In the end it was Alabama's 42-14 domination of Notre Dame that delivered the goods.
The Big Ten slightly underperformed. Expectations were the opposite as those for the SEC, which makes sense because the conferences met in in 3 games, the SEC is considered much better, and two of the Big Ten's best teams were ineligible which watered down their offerings. Considering all that, the Big Ten didn't do nearly as bad as their 2-5 record. Northwestern was an underdog at first but by game day they were favored, so we count them as such; they beat Mississippi State, while Michigan and Nebraska fell to better SEC teams. Michigan State was the only other winner, beating TCU by a late field goal, and Minnesota played Texas Tech close. But Purdue was embarrassed by Oklahoma State, 58-14, making the conference 1-2 against both the SEC and Big 12.
But the Pac-12 and Big 12 overall didn't do as well. The Pac-12 was favored in 7 of their 8 bowl games and ended up just 4-4, with Oregon State, UCLA, and USC getting upset. The Big 12 only finished one game worse than their 5-4 Vegas prediction: TCU, West Virginia, and Iowa State were upset while Texas and Baylor upset their Pac-12 foes. But Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech all lost against the spread which made the conference 3-6 against expected performance and -5 overall.
Independents Navy and Notre Dame lost big, but BYU won which kept the group only slightly underwater. The Sun Belt and MAC tied with the Pac-12 at -3 since we could the Arkansas State 17-13 win over Kent State as a wash against the spread, which was dancing around 4 points. Though the MAC got no respect, expected to go 0-7, they won two games over the Sun Belt (Ohio beat ULM and Central Michigan beat Western Kentucky), which was expected to go 4-0! With the Arkansas State win and ULL's win, the Sun Belt was 2-2.
The loser this year was the Mountain West, expected to go 3-2 but finishing 1-4 as Fresno State and Air Force were both embarrassed in games they were favored to win. Fresno fell to SMU 43-10 and Air Force lost to Rice 33-14. Tellingly, both winners were from the C-USA, the #1 outperformer this year.