Inside the Numbers: A decade of parity in football and basketball

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It’s a debate in sports that seemingly never ends, especially in college athletics because of the heightened passion – which sport has more parity? Which sport has been more unpredictable?

There are countless angles to look at this topic. We here at DSN have done some digging and research, looking at various ways to compare and contrast college basketball with college football. Part of the number-crunching will determine which conferences reigned supreme over the others over the last ten academic seasons. That’s the 2006 season onward for college football; 2006-07 basketball season.

In addition to disparity between leagues, while we know as well as anyone the potential flaws coming with the AP rankings every season, we decided to look at every week in both sports over the last decade. This will at least help us further determine which conference is considered the alpha of the pack. We also looked at the post-season win percentage for each conference in both sports (bowl games for CFB, NCAA Tournament for CBB).

Some of the results were not so surprising with the naked eye, while others will make you scratch your head some. We do remind you to take this with a grain of salt and dissect it however you wish, this is merely our approach. We also have to take into some consideration the wave of conference realignment moves that have happened over the years.

Let the debate begin.

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3. THE TOP 25 – COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Usually when the first true preseason top 25 list from the Associated Press is released, that means that our favorite sport is just right around the corner, whether it be football or basketball. It gets fans of their respective teams hyped up for a potential run at a national title, but it can also prove to give nothing but false hope as teams fail to live up to that preseason expectation.

Let’s start with the boys on the gridiron. We found that since the 2006 preseason AP Top 25 rankings, there have been 48 different teams start off ranked and finish in the final AP poll unranked, with 30 programs have done it multiple times during that span. Two schools fall under this category having done it four times each – Georgia (2009-10, ’13 and ’15) and Nebraska (2006-07 in Big 12; 2013-14 in Big Ten).

Both Michigan State (2012) and Michigan (2013) each did it one time.

All in all, it has happened 93 times where a team started ranked and finished on the outside looking in. Here is a breakdown of the football conferences and the number of times their league’s teams have ‘underachieved’ if you will (# of different teams).

  • SEC: 20 times (10 teams)
  • BIG 12: 17 (10)
  • PAC-10/12: 16 (9)*
  • ACC: 14 (7)
  • BIG TEN: 13 (9)
  • BIG EAST: 6 (5)
  • MTN WEST: 3 (2)
  • INDEP: 3 (all Notre Dame)
  • WAC: 1 (Boise State)

[*Includes after additions of Colorado and Utah, neither were included in findings*]

ACCNow let’s look at the flip side, teams that started off the season unranked and were not getting as much love but cracked the top 25 in the final publishing of the AP polls. What we found was 49 different CFB teams who accomplished this feat over the last decade, with only 22 teams doing it more that once. A pairĀ of schools were ‘overachievers’ during this time – Oregon State (2006-08 in Pac-10; 2012 in Pac-12) and Cincinnati (2007-09, ’10 in Big East).

The Wolverines did this twice in 2011 and again this past year in 2015, while the Spartans pulled it off three times in 2008, ’10, and ’13. Even the Chippewas of Central Michigan rose to the occasion in 2009 when they finished the season 12-2.

81 times over the last ten college football seasons did a team finish with a highly-coveted number next to their title by season’s end. Here is a conference breakdown for those 81, which features a little more variety.

  • ACC: 12 (8)
  • BIG TEN: 12 (7)
  • BIG 12: 11 (7)
  • SEC: 9 (8)
  • MTN WEST: 5 (4)
  • WAC: 5 (4)
  • PAC-10: 5 (3)
  • PAC-12 5 (3)
  • C-USA: 4 (4)
  • AAC: 3 (3)
  • MAC: 2 (2)
  • INDEP: 1 (Notre Dame)

So what do we see here with the college football aspect of the rankings? More conferences, particularly the second tier ones, end up having some representation as the season progresses. There is now 128 FBS Division I football programs being considered for this study. And over the last decade, 91 of those 128 have been ranked in the AP Top 25 for at least one week of the season, whether it be preseason, post-season, or anywhere in between.

As of how the conferences were realigned this past 2015-16 season (past or present), only the SEC has had every one of its teams crack the illustrious top 25. That includes recent newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M, who were also ranked during their days in the Big 12.

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