Not Knowing How Good You Have It
How did we get so spoiled?
by Cody McClure | @CodyMcClureCFB | mail@3PSMag.com
What the hell is wrong with some college football fans of the elite schools?
They get so caught up in their team winning a national championship that they lose sight of tangible, consistent success. Everyone who wants Mark Richt fired every year comes to mind. Bo Pelini, whom indeed did stir up some off-the-field controversy, never won fewer than nine games as the head coach at Nebraska, yet was fired at the end of the 2014 season.
Don’t get me started on the people who ran Phillip Fulmer and Steve Spurrier out of their respective college football towns. When a program is successful, expectations grow higher and higher until at some point, people begin questioning the offensive line coach’s decision to start Jimmy at left guard instead of Joe for the home opener against University of Phoenix. Sure, a national title is the ultimate goal of every team in America. Even schools like UMASS and Southern Miss have players and coaches who think, in the back of their minds, “you know, if we somehow went undefeated and there were a whole bunch of two-loss power five teams, then maybe…” but why is it so important?
Realistically, there are only a handful of programs capable of winning a national championship. Now, with the playoff, the list of teams is even shorter. Non-power five schools are automatically eliminated. Even if a Utah State somehow snuck in the playoff, it would have to win two games. Even if they pulled a Boise State-esque Fiesta Bowl upset over Oklahoma, then they’d have to do it again – against say, Alabama or Florida State. Some folks say nothing is impossible, but that’s about 100 percent improbable.
So, let’s keep the discussion with the power five teams since the playoff will be comprised of only them 999 out of 1,000 times. That leaves us with 64 teams in the ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12, and SEC, plus independent power Notre Dame giving us a total of 65 teams. Now, to break it down into the real contenders, we have to eliminate a few more. Eliminating teams by geographical recruiting inhibitors is the easiest starting method. For instance, in the Pac-12, we would automatically do away with the Washington schools, Colorado, Utah, and Oregon State. But even with that method, you still have to account for programs with winning coaches that can sustain success. For example, Oregon is a contender because they play a unique brand of football and their coaches do a great job of developing players. Oregon State, not so much.
So, we look at the location first, hence recruiting possibilities, then we look at the coaches, hence development of players, and of course, the ability to coach. When we do this, based on the current landscape of college football, here’s what we are left with: Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and everyone in the SEC besides Kentucky and Vanderbilt – seriously. Look, that is as unbiased as I can get it.
There are 12 legitimate teams in the SEC that are capable of being in contention for a national championship, at least five seasons per decade that is, not necessarily every year. That is an important distinction to remember here. By the way, “in contention” means if all the cards fall the right way and a team can manage its schedule, they can get in the national championship conversation. Look, this is just one guy’s opinion and it’s not to say that Cal or Rutgers couldn’t sneak in every now and then, but the point here is to try to break it down into the most legitimate, consistent threats. And if I forgot a team above, sorry. We’re trimming the list again anyway, because the first set of teams includes those who can make noise, but which ones really win championships?
Let’s take a look at the last 20 national champions as a sample size. Specifically, we will look at the AP national champions. Alabama and Florida each have three titles. Florida State, Ohio State and USC each have two titles. Auburn, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas each have one title. Are these not, for the most part, your true college football powers? Every team to win a national title in the last 20 years besides Nebraska is resting on or is extremely close to fertile recruiting ground. That does, indeed, correlate to success, by the way. Also, each of these teams are part of major universities and they all have a longstanding tradition of success in football.
To correlate, we can see that the 10 winningest programs in major college football all-time are, in order: Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas, Nebraska, Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Penn State, Tennessee and USC. So, eight of the ten winningest programs in college football history also have at least one national championship in the last 20 years. This is simple logic. The only ones missing are Notre Dame and Penn State, which both won AP national championships in the 80’s.
These 15-17 schools are your national contenders 95 percent of the time. Of course, there are outliers. BYU won it all in 1984. Colorado did it in 1990. Today, Baylor and Oregon are really good. So are Clemson, Mississippi State and TCU at the moment, but they are not your college football ‘blue bloods.’ Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas and USC are the ones who run the show. Roughly 15 schools can be considered true destination jobs.
But even within the parameters of the 15 ‘blue bloods’ there is room for debate. Miami is hardly relevant now, while Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas have all experienced colossal failure in the past decade. LSU is kind of on the borderline, and lurking just outside ‘blue blood’ status are schools such as Clemson and Georgia, which could certainly make respective cases to push the ‘blue blood’ figure to 17 schools. However, the point is that only roughly 13 percent of the teams in the FBS actually contend for championships on a regular basis. That’s a pretty small number. It also means this: 87 percent of FBS teams will never come close to winning a national championship. There’s no need to burn couches, riot in the streets or even poison trees.
Just enjoy your 10-win seasons while they last.