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College football favorites usually *don’t* win their conferences

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As if college football could ever be accurately predicted.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl - USC v Ohio State Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

College football is hard to predict, even when it comes to the basics. With a small sample size of only eight or nine conference games, and with all the players being of such a volatile age, nobody’s gonna get it right much more than half the time.

Here’s one look: Power 5 favorites, according to each conference’s official preseason polls from the last decade-plus, compared to who actually won each year.

The straight-up title record of conference favorites over this span is 27-33, with some conferences’ media faring more accurately than others. That record looks slightly better if we give full credit for split championships in which the conference favorite lost a head-to-head game against another co-champ, but that's the Participation Trophy of conference titles.

To the records, which show this is a hard sport to predict, even for people who are supposed to spend all their working hours studying it.

Predicted ACC champs

Year Favorite Result Actual champ
Year Favorite Result Actual champ
2006 Miami 4th in Coastal Wake Forest
2007 Virginia Tech Champ Virginia Tech
2008 Clemson T-3rd in Atlantic Virginia Tech
2009 Virginia Tech 2nd in Coastal Georgia Tech
2010 Virginia Tech Champ Virginia Tech
2011 Florida State T-2nd in Atlantic Clemson
2012 Florida State Champ Florida State
2013 Clemson 2nd in Atlantic Florida State
2014 Florida State Champ Florida State
2015 Clemson Champ Clemson
2016 Clemson Champ Clemson
2017 Florida State 6th in Atlantic Clemson
2018 Clemson ? ?

The ACC is usually relatively easy to predict, because there are only so many serious football schools.

Predicted Big 12 champs

Year Favorite Result Actual champ
Year Favorite Result Actual champ
2006 Oklahoma** Champ Oklahoma
2007 Oklahoma** Champ Oklahoma
2008 Oklahoma** Champ Oklahoma
2009 Texas** Champ Texas
2010 Texas** 6th South Oklahoma
2011 Oklahoma T-3rd Oklahoma State
2012 Oklahoma T-1st Kansas State*
2013 Oklahoma State T-2nd Baylor
2014 Oklahoma 4th Baylor*
2015 TCU T-2nd Oklahoma
2016 Oklahoma Champ Oklahoma
2017 Oklahoma Champ Oklahoma
2018 Oklahoma ? ?

Just pick Oklahoma every year.

Predicted Big Ten champs

Year Favorite Result Actual champ
Year Favorite Result Actual champ
2006 Ohio State*** Champ Ohio State
2007 Michigan T-2nd Ohio State
2008 Ohio State T-1st Penn State*
2009 Ohio State Champ Ohio State
2010 Ohio State T-1st Michigan State*
2011 Nebraska**** 3rd Legends Wisconsin
2012 Michigan 2nd Legends Wisconsin
2013 Ohio State Leaders champ Michigan State
2014 Ohio State Champ Ohio State
2015 Ohio State T-1st East Michigan State
2016 Ohio State T-1st East Penn State
2017 Ohio State Champ Ohio State
2018 Ohio State ? ?

Ohio State is the Power 5's most frequent conference favorite and is usually a near-miss at worst.

Predicted Pac-12 champs

Year Favorite Result Actual champ
Year Favorite Result Actual champ
2006 USC*** Champ USC*
2007 USC Champ USC*
2008 USC Champ USC
2009 USC T-5th Oregon
2010 Oregon Champ Oregon
2011 Oregon Champ Oregon
2012 USC T-2nd South Stanford
2013 Oregon T-1st North Stanford
2014 Oregon Champ Oregon
2015 USC South champ Stanford
2016 Stanford 3rd North Washington
2017 USC Champ USC
2018 Washington ? ?

Despite being the country's hardest conference to predict on a game-by-game basis, the Pac-12 might’ve had the easiest Power 5 champs to predict. Going back a few more years before 2006 would’ve made that even clearer, since USC would’ve tacked on multiple more.

Predicted SEC champs

Year Favorite Result Actual champ
Year Favorite Result Actual champ
2006 Auburn T-2nd West Florida
2007 LSU Champ LSU
2008 Florida Champ Florida
2009 Florida East champ Alabama
2010 Alabama 4th West Auburn
2011 Alabama 2nd West***** LSU
2012 LSU T-2nd West Alabama
2013 Alabama T-1st West Auburn
2014 Alabama Champ Alabama
2015 Auburn 7th West Alabama
2016 Alabama Champ Alabama
2017 Alabama T-1st West***** Georgia
2018 Alabama ? ?

The SEC media's record of picking champs compares fine with the Big Ten's or Big 12's as of late, but it’s the one most famously associated with a bad record (6-20 all-time), perhaps because only Alabama and a group of like four other schools ever have real chances to win it, so how hard could it be?

* In the event of tiebreakers, I listed the head-to-head winner.

** Big 12 polls until 2010 only listed division favorites, not conference favorites, so I used the AP Poll as a tiebreaker. A previous version of this post used raw Big 12 vote counts.

*** For a few older Big Ten and Pac-10/12 seasons, I couldn't find official releases, so I used the AP. The favorites seemed quite clear for each year.

**** The Big Ten stopped doing an official poll this year — what decorum, valor, sanctity, and scholarship! — so Cleveland.com handles it annually.

***** National champ though, lol.