Despite a 7-1 conference record, USF is not playing in Saturday’s American championship game. They lost a tiebreaker to 7-1 Temple, who faces 7-1 Navy in Annapolis.
While it’s not unheard of for this to happen, it is pretty unusual. We went back through FBS history and counted up every instance where a team went 7-1 or better in their conference and did not make their conference championship game. This data goes back to 1992, when the SEC was the first to split into divisions and host a championship game. It covers every league in FBS except the Big East (which never had a championship game) and the Sun Belt (which has not yet had one). We even counted the three years when the WAC had 16 teams. Here’s what we found.
Out of 178 times a team finished 7-1 or better in conference play, 41 of them missed the conference title game, or a little over 23%.
A few notes:
- We counted 1993 Auburn and 2012 Ohio State, even though they were both under NCAA sanctions and ineligible for their conference title games. They both went 8-0 in their league, and we only cared if they would have qualified, not if they were allowed to play.
- For leagues with nine conference games, we counted 8-1 but not 7-2.
- For a few years the MAC had unbalanced divisions. One division only played seven conference games, while the other played eight. We counted 7-1 but not 6-1. If anyone had gone 7-0 in the seven-game division, we would have counted it.
- The Big XII was an outlier because the South Division was much stronger than the North Division for most of the 15 years they had divisions. Several times there were 7-1 teams left out in the South while a 6-2, 5-3, or even 4-4 team made it from the North Division. In more balanced leagues, this wouldn’t have happened so often. If you remove them from the data, the percentage drops to just over 20%.
- Although it doesn’t happen often, The American has had a 7-1 team miss the title game both years it has held one. Navy and Houston both went 7-1 last season in the West Division, but Navy lost to Houston in a Black Friday showdown and missed out.
None of this is meant to argue that USF has a case to be in the American title game this year. But as the history suggests, they did get pretty unlucky.