Climbers and Decliners: How did your conference do in 2018?

Conference Rankings 2018

conf ranking image edit

by bobby albrant

Now that 2018 is in the books, what can we expect next season?

One way to begin unraveling that complex string of factors is to take a look at how conferences progressed or declined in the past year.  For the Savvy Index prediction model, the conference-value data is vital because it reflects much of a conference’s ability to achieve on the field, appeal to recruits, and attract coaches.

Like most things, we are taking a simple path to discovery by looking at each conference and averaging the final rankings of its teams.  No weighted values, no “caps”, etc.

I’m sure no one is surprised that the SEC and ACC were the top two conferences again, although that is not what it seems, as you will see.  For the sake of brevity and not boring you too much, I will skip past conferences that only went up or down by one ranking position.  Instead, I’ll focus on two conferences that changed by two positions.

The BIG-10 was the biggest “decliner” as it dropped from third to fifth.  Two causes for the BIG-10 demise were   1) only two of its teams finished 2018 ranked higher than the year before, and  2)  the PAC-12 and Big-12 each had at least four teams that improved rankings.

Perhaps the BIG-10 decline had some influence on why Ohio State was not selected for the national playoff.

The biggest “climber” was the Sun Belt Conference, the bottom-feeder of 2017, as it jumped from 10th to eighth.  All but two SBC members finished higher in 2018 than in 2017.  Although that sounds impressive, you’ll see in a minute why it really isn’t.

Here are the Savvy Index Conference Ranking Averages f2018:

Conference Values



 Average Rank  of teams
rank conf value last year
1 SEC 39.6 1
2 ACC 50.9 2
3 PAC-12 51.2 4
4 BIG-12 51.9 5
5 BIG-10 55.4 3
6 MtnWest 74.6 6
7 AAC 79.9 7
8 Sun Belt 80.2 10
9 Conf USA 82.2 8
10 MidAmer 92.2 9

Notice the Power Five teams are separated from each other by about 16 points and the non-Power Five teams are separated from each other by about 18.  Then notice this:  The gap between the Power Fives on top and the non-Power Fives on the bottom—just that one gap!— is more than 19 points.  That gap makes a lot of difference to recruits looking for their best opportunities.

It is nice to know how conferences changed in their ranking positions compared to others, but sometimes, a conference might be similar to the prior season, yet gain or lose in its placement among others because those around them were much more dynamic.  Therefore, if we said the BIG-10 lost two positions but didn’t compare it to itself from the prior year, we might not have a clear picture of what actually happened.  To get a broader view, we need to compare each conference’s value (average ranking of teams) to what it was the year before.

This is where the smoke screen of the ACC begins to dissipate.  Yes, the ACC repeated as the second-best conference, but in 2017, ACC members posted an average ranking of 36.8 while in 2018, it was 50.9.  Same ranking— much different performance. In fact, the ACC lost more value than any other conference in FBS and the question now is whether it’s a one-time thing or an early sign of decline.

And now let’s get back to the Sun Belt Conference.  Yes, the SBC improved its status by 24% and climbed two positions, but the problem is that its 2017 ranking was 104.9—or—dead, flat, awful.  Thankfully, the SBC is better.  But honestly, it couldn’t have gotten much worse.

The following data shows the change in average team rankings for each conference compared from the year before.


    Change in average ranking
rank conf 2017 2018 change in rankings
1 Sun Belt 104.9 80.2 -24.7
2 Conf USA 92.5 82.2 -10.3
3 MtnWest 81.4 74.6 -6.8
4 MidAmer 94.8 92.2 -2.6
5 AAC 81.8 79.9 -1.9
6 SEC 36.3 39.6 3.3
7 PAC-12 45.3 51.2 5.9
8 BIG-12 45.9 51.9 6.0
9 BIG-10 42.4 55.4 13.0
10 ACC 36.8 50.9 14.1

You might notice that all of the Power Five conferences finished in the lower half while all of the non-Power Five’s finished in the upper.  The nation is tightening and the differences contracting.  We can expect it to be harder to produce reliable predictions in that environment yet we are excited because Savvy’s refined prediction system has tested with outstanding results.

Besides, remember 50 years ago when the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and it didn’t take an ounce of ‘rithmetic to cypher who would win?  Those were the boring bad ol’ days.  But FBS fans, the bad ol’ days are gone and it’s time to get out our cameras and buy us some new scrapbooks because no matter our leanings, we are on the threshold of some new and exciting good ol’ days.