People love rankings. Any types of rankings. Whether it's pop-tarts, computers, uniforms or Capri Sun flavors, people are infatuated with rankings.
The potential for debate is astronomical, especially with subjective items, including academic rankings. Most reputable academic ranking services mirror each other and have significant evidence backing up their reasoning, thus technically making them pseudo-objective but still very subjective and open for controversy, especially for outliers and ones that covet the top spots.
Academic rankings of FBS institutions will never grab headlines similar to college football rankings but they're still immensely important and oftentimes overlooked. It's easy to forget that the 18-23-year-old players running around every Saturday are real college students at really colleges. As a result, we are stepping away from the gridiron before the 2015 season kicks off and have ranked all ten FBS conferences by their average member institution ranking.
Although Independents are people too and their three-team contingent of Army, BYU and Notre Dame would lead these rankings with an impressive average of 43, this only includes conferences. Here are all 10 FBS conferences ranked by their member schools' average ranking (according to Forbes): [divider]
1. Big Ten
Average Ranking: 126
The single biggest reason for the Big Ten's victory is Northwestern, who ranks as the 16th-best institution in the country. Other notable schools include Michigan (41), Illinois (68), Wisconsin (69) and Maryland (93). Nebraska (270) is by far the conference's outlier, as the conference's third-youngest member is only school ranked outside the top 200 (Iowa is 199). [divider]
Average Ranking: 133
The ACC boasts a nation-high of six schools inside the top 100, led by Duke (22) and followed closely by Virginia (36) and Boston College (37). The conference would see a significant boost in their stock without the inclusion of Louisville (503), who ranks nearly 300 spots worse than their next lowest member, Pittsburgh (212). [divider]
Average Ranking: 163
Stanford is the highest-ranked FBS program. At No. 3 overall, the institution is the only FBS member ranked inside the top 10. Other Top 100 programs include Cal (35), UCLA (45), USC (71) and Washington (75) but those are weighed down by five sub-200 rankings, including Arizona State (292), Oregon State (327) and Washington State (363). [divider]
Average Ranking: 219
Avid SEC haters will be thrilled to see them sitting in fourth place, only ahead of the Big 12, in terms of power conference teams. Two Top 100 institutions are carrying the load, with Vanderbilt (47) and Florida (83) preventing college football's big boys from falling even further down the list. Georgia (102), Texas A&M (150) and LSU (191) sit in the middle of the pack while the likes of Kentucky (319), Ole Miss (332) and Mississippi State (353) round out the bottom. [divider]
5. Big 12
Average Ranking: 277
The Big doesn't boast any Top 50 programs like each of the other five power conferences and Texas (82) is the only program in the Top 100. Baylor is the next closest at 197 but all eight of the other members are below 200, with two being below 400 in Texas Tech (403) and West Virginia (421). [divider]
Average Ranking: 308
The ACC has Navy to thank for landing in the middle of the conference rankings, as the prestigious service academy is the only school ranked inside the Top 100. SMU (108), Tulane (134), UConn (162) and Tulsa (173) are worth mentioning, but two sub-500 rankings in East Carolina (519) and Memphis (595) hurt the conference's overall position. [divider]
Average Ranking: 354
Similarly to Navy's boost in the AAC, Air Force is providing much of the same power in the Mountain West, but with an event greater impact. At 38th overall, the Colorado Springs school is the only one ranked in the Top 200. Wyoming (235) is next closest, followed by San Diego State (248) and Colorado State (296). [divider]
Average Ranking: 499
The Conference USA can thank Rice (32) for bumping up their overall mark. They're the only institution ranked in the Top 300 and one of two (Louisiana Tech, 389) in the Top 400. Middle Tennessee State (635) and UTSA (642) are their lowest-ranked members. [divider]
Average Ranking: 501
The MAC is led by Miami (Ohio) at No. 167 and UMass at No. 207, but those are the only two programs inside the Top 400 for a conference that leads the FBS with five sub-600 teams in Akron (607), Bowling Green (614), Central Michigan (622), Toledo (629) and Eastern Michigan (638). [divider]
10. Sun Belt
Average Ranking: 508
The smallest conference in the FBS with just nine members, the Sun Belt comes in dead last with an average ranking of 508. Idaho (384) and Appalachian State (385) are leading the charge for a league that could make some serious noise on the gridiron in 2015. [divider]
Editor's Note: Rankings are not available for Marshall (Conference USA), Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt) and Arkansas State (Sun Belt). These institutions were excluded from the conference average.