Few college football fans would disagree with the premise that the best way to judge the strength of a football conference is the won / loss record. Unfortunately, without a college playoff system this will only take us so far.
No less a luminary than John Heisman was skeptical of things like margin of victory and out of conference records. His scheduling of Cumberland and the ensuing 222-0 score was his effort to illustrate a point he had been making about that for several years.
So what would an objective system be for evaluating the relative strength of a conference in lieu of a playoff system? I propose that we get some good Tech student who has the time (and we all know how much time they have) to run the numbers. The numbers would be collected by using something akin to the grading system that coaches use to grade each player after watching game films. Team grades could be determined from compiling the position grades. Obviously teams with high composite grades would also have good win / loss ratios. What would be eliminated would be the hype and bluster that comes out of conferences when a good team is upset by an average team or when a strong team mercilessly pounds a weaker sister by four touchdowns.
Once individual team strength is determined within a conference each team could be given a numerical rating. The following is a description of the rating system along with a brief interpretation.
POOR TEAMS - 0.0-1.9 Poor teams are those hapless creatures which have breakdowns in multiple phases of the game, scoring so low on so many positions that there is no possibility of the team winning consistently.
GOOD TEAMS - 2.0-2.9 Good teams generally have winning records because they have high scores in several key positions. They may have an athletic quarterback, a pro-caliber running back or a monster defensive line. However they may also have some glaring weaknesses such as a sub-par secondary that frequently gives up big plays or a special teams unit or place kicker who perform below average.
COMPLETE TEAMS - 3.0-3.9 Complete teams have the attributes of good teams but without any glaring weaknesses. In other words they may have one or two positions or areas with the highest grades a coach could give while the other areas of the team all score above average.
GREAT TEAMS - 4.00 Great teams border on the mythical but theoretically could be determined by identifying that 60% or more of the positions on the team receive grades as high as any other team in the nation. From defensive end to running back to safety to wide receiver to kicker these teams not only do not have any weaknesses they are in most areas as strong as any team in the nation. Great teams always have a chance to go undefeated.
Now if I were to offer my subjective opinion about say the relative strengths of say a conference like the ACC versus a conference like the SEC it would go like this. The SEC had perhaps two great teams this year -Auburn and Alabama. In my opinion it had one complete team -Arkansas. It had several good teams such as South Carolina, Mississippi State, LSU and Florida. The ACC had no great teams and no complete teams. Two teams, FSU and VA Tech, would in my opinion be on the upper scale of good teams, say in the 2.9 range. Unfortunately for both teams there were glaring weaknesses that showed up several times throughout the course of the season. Just off the top of my head it might be that the ACC had more teams in the Good range than did the SEC. However if one were to average the scores of the respective teams of the two conferences the SEC comes out ahead both because of the presence of complete teams and great teams, and because the poor teams probably score slightly higher overall than the poor teams of the ACC. For the record I would rate Georgia Tech a poor team this year, albeit at the upper end of the poor scale. Fix a few key areas of this team and Tech easily jumps into the Good range. Likewise if Florida State and Virginia Tech were to take care of a few of their weak areas they might jump into the Complete team category.
O.K., now all that is necessary for you to determine in an objective way the relative strength of different conferences is to punch in the numbers. Of course for all of us blow-hards that really would take the fun out of it.