With Clemson’s thrilling win over Alabama in the national title game, the 2016-17 college football season has officially come to an end.
And while the Tigers may have won the title, it still begs the question; did they play in the best conference?
With all the preseason polls and hype five months ago, let’s look back and see which conferences were the most dominant and which ones were more of a cake walk for teams.
For much of the year, the Big Ten Conference looked like it was going to make history and send two teams to the College Football Playoff. The SEC, which has been the king of the college football world, had Alabama in the national title game looking to win its fifth title in eight years.
But in the end, the ACC was the best conference this year and it wasn’t really that close. So with that, here’s a look at where each of the conferences finished after looking at all the data.
Bowl Record: 9-3
Non-Conference Record: 51-17
Average Number of Wins Per Team: (7.8)
Ranked Teams (5): #1 Clemson, #8 Florida State, #16 Virginia Tech, #20 Miami, #21 Louisville
Conference Percentage With Ranked Teams: (36%)
Let’s face it, nobody expected the Atlantic Coast Conference to finish at the top of anything this year, let alone be the top conference in the land. But it’s not a mistake as the ACC dominated right from the start of the season with Clemson’s win over Alabama being the cherry on top.
Out of 14-team league, 11 teams finished with winning records, more than any conference in the country. Add the fact that the conference went 9-3 in bowl games and an impressive 10-4 record against the SEC and 6-2 against the lauded Big Ten. The 51-17 nonconference record speaks for itself and don’t forget about the Heisman Trophy winner.
Louisville’s Lamar Jackson became the youngest person ever to win college football’s biggest honor with fellow conference mate Deshaun Watson of Clemson finishing second. In the end, the ACC was the best conference this past season and it wasn’t even close.
2. BIG TEN
Bowl Record: 3-7
Non-Conference Record: 35-17
Average Number of Wins Per Team: (7.1)
Ranked Teams (4): #6 Ohio State, #7 Penn State, #9 Wisconsin, #10 Michigan
Conference Percentage With Ranked Teams: (29%)
The Big Ten was on the verge of making college football history when it nearly sent two teams into the College Football Playoff.
And then the bubble burst.
It wasn’t quite as bad as 2011 when the league went winless (0-5) on New Years Day, but it was close.
While Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin were in the Top 10 for much of the year, the Badgers were the only ones with a bowl victory. The Buckeyes were shutout, Penn State and Michigan lost and Wisconsin squeaked out a 24-16 win over Western Michigan.
Taking everything into account, the Big Ten wasn’t the best conference top to bottom, but the conference did provide some of the most memorable games this past season.
Bowl Record: 3-3
Non-Conference Record: 29-13
Average Number of Wins Per Team: (7.0)
Ranked Teams (5): #3 USC, #4 Washington, #12 Stanford, #17 Colorado, #23 Utah
Conference Percentage With Ranked Teams: (42%)
Yes, the Pac-12 jumped the SEC, but just barely.
Thanks to some big bowl victories and combined with a rather poor showing by the SEC, the Conference of Champions earned the right to be called the third best conference this season.
The SEC had Alabama, but that was pretty much it.
While both conferences had five teams ranked at the end of the season, looking at the eye test, the SEC should have really only had three schools the Top 25.
The Pac-12 — although Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona had very disappointing seasons — was deeper than the SEC, which I’ll explain in the next section.
The Conference of Champions had newcomers rise to the top in Colorado and Washington State and Stanford and Utah showed that they are still solid programs.
Bowl Record: 6-7
Non-Conference Record: 48-19
Average Number of Wins Per Team: (7.5)
Ranked Teams (5): #2 Alabama, #13 LSU, #14 Florida, #22 Tennessee, #24 Auburn
Conference Percentage With Ranked Teams: (36%)
Alabama has been carrying the conference for years and this year was much of the same.
The Crimson Tide reached the national title game again, but that’s about it as far as accomplishments go for the SEC.
Besides Alabama, the conference didn’t have another team with fewer than four losses.
The league was simply average from top to bottom and the 6-7 bowl record is proof of that.
Heck, Tennessee who garnered so much preseason hype for whatever reason, needed to rally at home to beat Appalachian State in overtime.
Florida had an amazing defense but its offense was simply atrocious. Auburn did make it to the Sugar Bowl, but got embarrassed in a blowout loss to Oklahoma.
5. Big 12
Bowl Record: 4-2
Non-Conference Record: 23-13
Average Number of Wins Per Team: (5.7)
Ranked Teams (3): #5 Oklahoma, #11 Oklahoma State, #18 West Virginia
Conference Percentage With Ranked Teams: (30%)
2017 couldn’t have come fast enough for the Big 12.
Oklahoma looked to be the conference’s banner team and a legitimate national title contender before it promptly went 1-2 to start the season and ended any such talk.
Oklahoma State and West Virginia had great seasons to finish up at 10-3, but the Mountaineers were blown out against Miami in the bowl game and the Cowboys lost to Central Michigan at home earlier in the year.
The conference did have two Heisman finalists in quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Dede Westbrook, but that was about it.
The Big 12 couldn’t stop tripping over itself with the Baylor fiasco, conference expansion talks (that weren’t really even talks), despite making schools jump through hoops. And while the Top 3 (Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., West Virginia) had great seasons, everyone besides Kansas State underachieved with half the conference below .500.
Without a representative in the College Football Playoff this year, the Big 12 now only had one representative over the last three years and is another reason why the conference is officially in the cellar.