If you want to stump the family in holiday trivia this weekend, toss this one out there, light the fuse, and walk away:
Since 2002, when ESPN launched something called the Bowl Challenge Cup — yes, this is an actual thing, an actual trophy with an actual sponsor (thanks, Progressive) — which Football Bowl Subdivision conference has won it the most times?
(The cup goes annually to the FBS league with the highest bowl winning percentage, with a minimum of three league schools in any one postseason.)
Ready? You’ve got 30 seconds, and no Googling:
Answer: The Mountain West, with four victories: 2004-05; 2007-08; 2009-10; 2010-11.
Runner-up: Conference USA, with three: 2011-12; 2012-13; and 2014-15.
If someone walked over and tried to convince you the MWC and C-USA are the best two leagues in college football, you’d think somebody just spiked their eggnog.
— Jeremy Guy (@JGuyMAC) February 24, 2012
When it comes to bowl records, always read the fine print. Always.
Starting Monday in Detroit, the Big Ten postseason parade begins in earnest, or however earnest a Quick Lane Bowl between 6-6 Maryland and 6-6 Boston College can be once the pistons start flying.
Of the 10 games on the card between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2, according to VegasInsider.com, league schools are underdogs in six of them — and ‘dogs by a touchdown or more in two matchups: boycott-wracked Minnesota against Washington State (10.5 points) in the Holiday and Indiana against Utah (7.0 points) in the Foster Farms.
Numbers guru Brian Fremeau, godfather of the Fremeau Efficiency Index, has projected every postseason contest over at this blog and has the Big Ten winding up at 5-5 in the Bowl Challenge — after an 0-5 start that kicks off with a projected 2-point setback for Maryland.
And it could get worse. Before the Gophers landed in public-relations hell, he counted on their secondary being exploited to the tune of a 31-22 Wazzu win, pegged the Utes to take out the Hoosiers by 12, Pitt’s Panthers to top Northwestern by 5 and tapped Tennessee over Nebraska — Ryker Fyfe-led Nebraska, presumably? — by 10.
So, no, the early matchups, on paper, aren’t especially pretty. This isn’t the NCAA Tournament, in which a committee and an S-curve are charged with the fairest pairings possible. Bowls are America’s oldest reality show, a marriage of convenience and contrivance, schools paired up to put butts in seats inside the building and/or to keep eyeballs on the television sets back home. “Fair” has nothing to do with it.
Nor, as a measuring stick, is it worth a damn.
It’s among the falsest of false equivalencies, the most farcical of traditional sporting tropes.
To put it another way: Did you judge your favorite band’s last concert on the encore? Or the set list as a whole?
And yet we’ve already found this shoved into our digital stockings, courtesy ESPN.com’s KC Joyner, riding the clickbait train while poking hundreds of thousands of Ohio State and Michigan fans with a digital stick along the way:
— ESPN Insider (@ESPNInsider) December 22, 2016
The “reasons,” no shock, get a bit wonky. In his piece, he bags on the bowl matchups, which, again, were designated by contract, not by any mandate toward actual competitiveness. He dogs the Big Ten’s ensemble of quarterbacks compared to Power 5 peers — a fair point, J.T. Barrett notwithstanding, although it’s also low-hanging fruit.
But when he beats on the league’s schedule the way a 9-year-old beats a pinata, it smacks of antagonism over reason. Actually, it doesn’t so much lose logical grounds so much as tie logic to a typewriter and toss both out a ninth-floor office window.
Because among the top 50 most difficult schedules in the FBS, as charted by statnik Kenneth Massey, it’s interesting to note how the Power 5 leagues fared, comparatively:
Big Ten — 11 schools
SEC — 11
ACC — 10
Big 12 — 5
Pac-12 — 12
Logic 1, eggnog 0.
If the eye test doesn’t work for you — the Big Ten went 1-0 head-to-head vs. the SEC in the regular season, 2-0 vs. the Big 12, 3-1 vs. the Pac-12 and 1-3 vs. the ACC — then let’s go back to Fremeau’s Efficiency Index, which rates teams against FBS opponents only and in terms of drive efficiency.
Here’s how many Power 5 schools happened to land in Fremeau’s top 10, the realm of legitimate College Football Playoff contenders:
Big Ten — 4 (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin)
SEC — 2
ACC — 1
Pac-12 — 1
Big 12 — 0
And among those ranked 11-30, the best of the rest:
Big Ten — 1 (Iowa)
SEC — 2
ACC — 6
Pac- 12 — 2
Big 12 — 3
And 31-60, the middle tier of bowl squads:
Big Ten — 3 (Nebraska, Minnesota, Northwestern)
SEC — 6
ACC — 2
Pac-12 — 3
Big 12 — 3
The ACC wins on depth of “good” teams, the SEC on depth of “decent” teams and the Big Ten on depth of quality teams.
The MWC? One team in the top 10 (Boise State at No. 10). None in 11-30. Four in 31-60.
Overrated? We’ll see. If 0-5 happens, and it could, be ready. They’ll say the Big Ten is down. They’ll say the league talks a good game but never backs it up. They’ll say the reckoning has arrived.
You tell them this:
Big Ten bowl opponents in the FEI Top 30: 6
SEC bowl opponents in the FEI Top 30: 5
MWC bowl opponents in the FEI Top 30: 3
And if they persist, just tell them to pass you the freaking eggnog. Because chances are, you’re going to need it.