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Elite Programs

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The Elite Programs for 2019

Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Michigan State, Ohio St., Oklahoma, Oregon, Stanford, Texas, and USC.

Coming into the season, there were 2 programs that could make the jump to Elite Program status with an elite season, Texas and Miami. Had Miami beaten us in the ACCCG in 2017, Miami would’ve been “back” as an Elite Program. Didn’t happen. Texas, on the other hand, defeated both Oklahoma and Georgia last year and are back as an Elite Program. No program dropped off the list this year.

In the BCS/CFP era, the average number of Elite Programs per year is 10.8. 2019’s 14 Elite Programs is tied for the most ever in any one year since 1937. Only 1984 and 1985 had 14 Elite Programs. This can’t last and likely signifies the end of a cycle as it did back then. It’s just a matter of who is going to be dropping out. More on that below.

How’d you come up with this?

I started with the truth that every year, some programs at the top are given more credit than others for winning the same amount of games. In the CFP era, we are told this is related to a team’s “strength of schedule” that year, but throughout college football history, there is definitely something else going on. I researched the history of college football (1905-2018) to find the missing component and I call that component “Eliteness.” I allowed the definition of an Elite Program to find me in order to show, based on historical accuracy, what needs to be done for programs moving forward.

You already know how winning at the highest level affects recruiting. It’s understood that programs at the top of the food chain get access to better high school players. That’s a given. However, being at the top of the food chain also has other advantages as well, like skewing our objectivity when comparing two teams in any given year.

Why is that important?

Because that means that previous year’s results matter, even though we are told every year that they don’t. With 130 teams in FBS, using the eye test to decide which is the better team is literally impossible. Nobody can watch 1,560 games. It would take over 6 months of continuous football watching with no sleep and a photographic memory for someone to make a science out of it. Instead, logical human beings with limited time will nestle opinions, often false opinions influenced by emotion, in their gut. These are opinions we can’t fully explain, but “know” to be true.

For example, in 2018, everybody “knew” Alabama was the best team by far and everybody else was on the “ROY bus.” We “knew” Clemson played no great teams, but were still elite level. We “knew” Georgia was better than some playoff teams because they played Alabama close. We “knew” UCF didn’t belong in the playoff because of their strength of schedule.

Not one of the above assumptions could be proven after the conference championship games, and most of them were wrong, but they were all accepted as probable truth by the college football public. Why? Because we all know the results on the highest level every year. When looking at teams with the same record, most of us are willing to accept that a program that has won on the highest level previously is most likely better than a team that hasn’t. That’s Eliteness.

That means that Non-Elite programs are running uphill to field an Elite Team and Elite Programs are running downhill to field one. Historically this pans out.

  • Since 1994, the average FBS team has an Elite Season about 4% of the time (1 of 117 last year).
  • Since 1994, Elite Programs have an Elite Season about 41% of the time (4 out of 13 last year).
  • So far, in the Playoff Era (2014-2018) the selection committee has selected 16 Elite Programs and 4 Non-Elite Programs (Clemson 2015, Washington 2016, Georgia 2017, and Notre Dame 2018). That’s 80% Elite Programs.
  • From 1998-2013, the BCS NCG also chose 80% Elite Programs and only selected 2 programs that had never been elite before out of 32 teams over 16 years (Virginia Tech 1999, Oregon 2010).

There is not a lot of opportunity for the non-elites out there. Having that Elite status lowers the burden of proof for the program. Since this system is based on history, we know that “only elite wins change elite perception” and put you among that group. Non-elite programs must make the most of the few opportunities they do get, as well as create their own opportunities by scheduling elite programs. If they don’t, well, the road to Eliteness is paved with the carcasses of the Boise States, West Virginias, Kansas States, Cinncinatis, TCUs, Baylors, and UCFs.

Here are the past 20 years of injustices for non-elite programs.

  • In 1998, Elite Programs #4 Ohio St. and #8 Florida made BCS bowls while #3 Kansas State did not.
  • In 1999 we saw #6 Kansas St. passed over for a 2nd time to the benefit of Elite Program, #8 Michigan.
  • In 2000, we saw Washington defeat Miami, Miami defeat FSU, and then all three teams end up with one loss at the end of the season. The obvious choice, Washington, was passed over for Elite Program, FSU, to go the NC game.
  • In 2004, undefeated Oklahoma and USC were Elite Programs and undefeated Auburn was not. USC blew out an overmatched Oklahoma 55-19 in the NCG. Auburn finished the season undefeated and #2.
  • In 2006, when Ohio St. and Michigan reemerged as Elite Programs, they were afforded the perception that they were the two best teams all season. Many were clamoring for a Michigan/Ohio St. rematch for the National Title. That is, until they both got humiliated by Florida and USC in their bowl games and it was clear that Ohio State and Michigan’s strength was a media creation in August.
  • In 2009, Elite Program and undefeated Texas played Alabama for the NC over other undefeated teams Cincinnati, Boise St., and TCU. Even if there was a playoff in 2009, which team gets left out? Or, should I ask, how many of those teams would’ve been left out for 1 or 2 loss P5 teams?
  • In 2011, LSU and Alabama were Elite Programs and Oklahoma State was not. Alabama and LSU had a rematch in the NCG instead of giving Oklahoma State their shot.
  • In 2013, one loss Elite Program, Auburn, got in over one loss non-elite Michigan State with no controversy. #SEC
  • In 2014, a one loss Alabama, Oregon, and Ohio State made the playoff over a one loss TCU and Baylor. We are told that the reason TCU and Baylor are left out is the lack of a Big 12 Championship game. Then, the very next year…
  • In 2015, a one loss Oklahoma, despite the lack of a Big 12 Championship game, gets in the playoff over a one loss Iowa, Houston, and Ohio State.
  • In 2016, Big Ten Champion and non-elite, Penn State, was passed over for an Ohio State team that they defeated in the regular season. Clemson beat Ohio State 31-0 in the semifinal game.
  • In 2017, undefeated non-elite UCF was passed up for a one-loss elite, Alabama, that finished 2nd in its own division. UCF went on to beat Auburn, the one team that beat Alabama, in the Peach Bowl.
  • In 2018, undefeated non-elite UCF was again passed up for a one-loss Oklahoma team.

So what is the definition of an Elite Program?

An Elite Program is a program that has had an Elite Season (aka Elite Team) once in the past 7 years AND has done any one of the following as well

  • played in the National Championship game within the past 2 years
  • played in the NC game and had another elite season in the past 3 years
  • won the National Championship twice in the past 5 years
  • had an Elite Season 3 times in the past 5 years
  • had an Elite Season 4 times in the past 10 years
  • had an Elite Season 6 times in the past 20 years
  • had an Elite Season 10 times in the past 30 years

Here is what the chart looks like for the past 20 years of Eliteness.

  • Each “E” and black square = Elite Team that season.
  • Each black E/NC square = National Championship Game Appearance.
  • Each E/NC in team colors = National Champion that year.
  • Current Elite Programs’ names are highlighted in team colors in the far left column.

Elite Program Expiration Date

Eliteness doesn’t last forever. You don’t see Army, Tennessee, Nebraska, and Michigan on the list. I mentioned above about how 14 Elite Programs is not sustainable. A “cycle change” can be expected within the next 5 years. This is how many years my research says these programs have to go without an Elite Season to lose their Elite Program status.

  • Florida, 1 Years
  • Georgia, 1 Years
  • Oregon, 2 Years
  • LSU, 2 Years
  • Michigan State, 2 Years
  • Florida State, 3 Years
  • Stanford, 3 Years
  • Texas, 5 Years
  • USC, 5 Years
  • Auburn, 6 Years
  • Ohio State, 7 Years
  • Oklahoma, 7 Years
  • Clemson, 7 Years
  • Alabama, 7 Years

This is going to be a huge year for Kirby Smart and Georgia. Right now, Georgia is living off of the forward momentum from the Smart hire and the subsequent NCG appearance. Their recruiting, especially, is top notch right now. With missing the playoff and then losing to Texas, last year has slowed the forward momentum. Eliteness says that, right now, we’re not sure about Georgia. It says we’d be willing to admit that 2018 was an aberration if they have an elite season next year. Otherwise, we’ll consider 2017 as the aberration.