Saturday, December 09, 2006

About a week ago, I asked Jon Wilner where he thought the Spartans ranked in comparison to the other Division I programs, he said they were probably in the 50-70 range. That's probably about right, especially considering the paucity of talent the Spartans were allowed to match up with this year. Further cementing that ranking is Jeff Sagarin, the famed statistician who does rankings for USA Today. He pegs the Spartans at No. 69., at the bottom end of the middle third of Division IA. He also ranks five Division I-AA schools above us, which I'll quibble with, but can't really refute.

CBS Sportsline, which ranks all 119 Division IA schools, puts SJSU at No. 50. That's ahead of such notable schools as Florida State, Miami, Alabama and Minnesota -- all schools that finished 6-6.

Comparitively, Sagarin doesn't have us above any BCS-conference schools that have as many as six wins.

Don't know what either of these things mean, ultimately, but they are huge improvements from last year, in which CBS ranked us No. 113 and Sagarin had us at 127 out of 239 and behind 23 AA schools.

The part of my question, though, that Wilner did not answer was how the WAC stacked up agains the other IA conferences. I'll attempt to give us an idea here:

Sagarin, for instance, has Boise -- the WAC's top team -- ranked No. 8, ahead of the winners of both the Big East (Wake Forest, No. 31) and Big XII (Oklahoma No. 14), not to mention way ahead of the other "mid-major" winners like the Mountain West (BYU, No. 21), Conference USA (Houston, No. 51, behind even Hawaii at No. 28 and Nevada at 50), the Mid-America (Central Michigan, No. 61) or Sun Belt (Middle Tennessee, No. 79).

CBS has Boise at No. 5, ahead of even USC and LSU. While I appreciate the gesture, I just don't know how you can really say Boise is better than USC or LSU, so I am somewhat inclined to discount that particular ranking.

I'm also just going to assume the Pac-10, SEC, Big 10 and Big XII are just flat out tougher conferences. I'm going to also throw the ACC out, since week in and week out, I just have a hard time believing that anyone other than Boise could hang in that conference and finish with a winning record.

I'm also going to assume that the Sunbelt is an inferior conference, since even their best school is really a glorified IAA program.

That leaves the WAC competing with the likes of the Big East, Conference USA, Mountain Wet and MAC.

Since my goal is to determine the best conference, and not which has the best one or two schools, I'm going to throw out the top two and bottom two schools of each conference. What I want to determine is which has the toughest week-to-week matchups and is most competitive. That means Boise won't factor into the WAC's overall strength, but neither will Utah State (116 in CBS, 166 on Sagarin). It will also make my job easier, as it will eliminate four schools from each conference.

Next, I'll take the remaining schools rankings from both polls and average them out. For the sake of this discussion, the top averages will be determined better conferences. Fun, huh?

I'll release my findings shortly. But here's my guess: the Big East will come out on top, but barely. The WAC will come in second. Conference USA will edge out the MWC and the MAC will straggle in at No. 5.

The findings are in and ... I vastly overvalued our conference. While our best teams stack up well against the other conference's best and our second tier is fine, the back end of the conference leaves much to be desired.

According to my average the Big East is by far the best of these conferences, better even than the ACC. The Big East, helped largely by Rutgers No. 13 CBS and 16 Sag. rankings, collectively pulled in an average of 44 CBS and 36 Sag. The ACC is a 58/50, but still much better than the next best conference, the MWC (73.4/84.8) which was a nose better than C-USA (75.625/87.375). The WAC was next in line (79.6/97.2) and the MAC pulls up the rear (82.25/107.12).

What this tells me is that Sagarin has much more love for the BCS schools than most others do, but also that the BCS conferences are really quite a bit deeper than even the best mid-majors. Even the MWC has schools like San Diego State that ranked 105/119 winning three conference games.

Take this for what it's worth, though, if TCU, SMU, UTEP and Tulsa had not all left the WAC in the past five years, we would easily have the best mid-major conference and would possibly rival the ACC or Big East, especially considering Louisiana Tech, Idaho, New Mexico State and Utah State took their places and are the schools most responsible for our lack of depth.

On the flip side, SJSU would not be 8-4 with that conference and almost definitely would not be bowling.


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