UPDATED - Only because you all asked for it, I will feed your ceaseless fascination with all things Michigan. I've added the Wolverines' totals to the first table. Not great, but not as bad as you might've expected/hoped for. 6-14 in the CFP era. Coincidentally, that's identical to their favorite OOC opponent, Florida. They're below Michigan State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Penn State.
Thursday’s Skull Session had an interesting Tweet from Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) regarding Alabama’s record over the past three seasons versus the Top 25 (as ranked in the final AP poll of each season) compared to the rest of the SEC versus Top 25 competition. As most of us would imagine, Bama looks great and the rest of the SEC (in the aggregate) is pretty horrible.
Last 3 seasons combined, only one SEC program has a winning record vs. Top 25 opponents
Alabama is 14-3
The rest are 38-118 (.243)
— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) September 18, 2019
A few Dubbers (MichiBuck12, Iowabuckeyes & TMac) made comments regarding this stat being somewhat ‘loaded’, because the majority of those wins and/or losses come from SEC-vs-SEC match-ups. If a T-25 SEC team plays an unranked SEC team and wins, it’s not counted as a win; but if the underdog wins it counts as a loss. Additionally, if a T-25 SEC team beats another T-25 SEC team, it counts as a win for one and a loss for the other; it's a push. In the aggregate, the higher ranked teams are going to win the majority of those games, and the best conference average you could ever come up with is .500, because…math.
The same is true in the Big Ten, which generally has as many teams in the Final AP Top 25 as the SEC on a yearly basis. (2014 is the only season during the CFP era that the SEC and Big Ten were not within one team of the other in the final AP poll). The Big XII, PAC 12 and ACC may have fewer teams in the Top 25, but the "no better than .500" principal still applies, and nearly all of their T-25 match-ups happen in conference.
I thought it would be interesting to look at the entirety of the College Football Playoff era (2014-2018 seasons) and expand this beyond the SEC. Maybe it will show some stratification when it comes to win-loss records versus the final AP Top 25. Low and behold, it does. (Note: The CFP committee does not release new rankings after the bowl games, thus I'm using the Final AP Poll from each season. Using the final poll avoids all those early season games against teams that everyone thought would be good, but end up losing 6 games - looking at you Mississippi State.)
In the chart below, I’ve listed several ‘marquee’ programs with their win-loss records versus the Top 25. Only five teams on that list have an overall winning record against Top 25 competition: Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Georgia. Within those five, Ohio State, Clemson and 'Bama are clearly the cream of the crop. The next group is pretty good, but definitely not elite. They hover between roughly 39 and 45 percent: Michigan State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Florida State and Oklahoma State (oSu went a surprising 3-1 versus T-25 in 2018 but finished 7-6 and unranked for the year). Below them are teams with MLB Hall of Fame averages between .333 and .368: Northwestern, Ole Miss, USC, LSU, Auburn, and TCU. After that is just a lot of noise.
To give this another level of fidelity, the next chart contains 2018 season final AP Rankings, win-loss records, W-L records versus the T-25, but further breaks that out for conference and non-conference games. I added Oklahoma State and UCLA, because they're some weird outliers.
|AP Rank||Team||W-L||vs. T25||vs T25 OOC||vs T25 Conf||Wins||Losses|
|1||Clemson||15-0||4-0||3-0||1-0||#2 Bama, #5 ND, #15 'Cuse, #16 A&M|
|2||Alabama||14-1||4-1||1-1||3-0||#4 OU, #6 LSU, #7 UGA, #16 A&M||#1 Clemson|
|3||OSU||13-1||4-0||1-0||3-0||#13 UW, #14 UM, #17 PSU, #21 NU|
|4||OU||12-2||3-2||1-1||2-1||#9 Texas, #19 Army, #20 WVU||#2 Bama, #9 Texas|
|5||ND||12-1||3-1||3-1||#14 UM, #15 'Cuse, #21 NU||#1 Clemson|
|6||LSU||10-3||2-3||1-0||1-3||#7 UGA, #11 UCF||#2 Bama, #7 UF, #16 A&M|
|7-T||UGA||11-3||2-3||0-1||2-2||#7 UF, #12 UK||#2 Bama, #6 LSU, #9 Texas|
|7-T||UF||11-3||2-2||1-0||1-2||#6 LSU, #14 UM||#7 UGA, #12 UK|
|9||Texas||10-4||2-2||1-0||1-2||#4 OU, #7 UGA||#4 OU, #20 WVU|
|11||UCF||12-1||1-1||0-1||1-0||#24 UC||#11 LSU|
|12||UK||10-3||2-2||1-0||1-2||#7 UF, #17 PSU||#7 UGA, #16 A&M|
|13||UW||10-4||1-1||0-1||1-0||#10 WSU||#3 OSU|
|14||UM||10-3||2-3||0-2||2-1||#17 PSU, #21 NU||#3 OSU, #5 ND, #7 UF|
|15||'Cuse||10-3||1-2||1-1||0-1||#20 WVU||#1 Clemson, #5 ND|
|16||A&M||9-4||2-2||0-1||2-1||#6 LSU, #12 UK||#1 Clemson, #2 Bama|
|17||PSU||9-4||1-3||0-1||1-2||#25 Iowa||#3 OSU, #14 UM, #12 UK|
|18||Fresno St||12-2||1-1||1-1||#23 Boise St||#23 Boise St|
|20||WVU||8-4||1-2||0-1||1-1||#9 Texas||#4 OU, #15 'Cuse|
|21||N'western||9-5||1-3||0-1||1-2||#25 Iowa||#3 OSU, #5 ND, #14 UM|
|22||Utah St||11-2||0-1||0-1||#23 Boise St|
|23||Boise St||10-3||2-1||2-1||#22 Utah St, #18 Fresno St||#18 Fresno St|
|25||Iowa||9-4||0-2||0-2||#17 PSU, #21 NU|
|OK State||7-6||3-1||1-0||2-1||#9 Texas, #20 WVU, #23 Boise St||#4 OU|
|UCLA||3-9||0-4||0-3||0-1||#4 OU, #13 UW, #18 Fresno St, #24 UC|
The stat that should jump out is the low number of T-25 teams most teams play out of conference. The teams which finished in the AP Top 25 only played 28 games versus non-conference, T-25 opponents. That’s an average of 1.12 per team. Of note: this total includes ND (Independent) playing four T-25 teams ‘out of conference’, as well as Clemson (CFP finalist) playing three non-conference T-25 teams.
So unless you’re Notre Dame, or you make it to the CFP National Championship Game, or you’re unlucky enough to be UCLA, who played Oklahoma, Fresno State and Cincinnati in their non-conference schedule (all three made the final AP T-25), odds are that you played one, non-conference T-25 team in either your bowl game or OOC schedule. In fact, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Syracuse were the only T-25 teams not in the CFP, which played a T-25 out of conference in the regular season and in a bowl game. Six teams played zero non-conference T-25 opponents, most notably P-5 Washington State and Iowa.
My big take away from this is, despite the many claims made about Clemson, Bama, and Oklahoma having soft schedules, they don’t fail to deliver the goods when playing teams that go the distance and finish in the Top 25. And, if Ohio State could avoid losing to badly to garbage teams in the regular season, they would would do well in the College Football Playoff. Lastly, the Big Ten and SEC are the best two conferences in college football based on this data.