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Elite Programs

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The Elite Programs for 2018

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


How’d you come up with those teams?

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. Some of that is due to strength of schedule, but there is definitely something else going on. I researched the history of college football (1905-2017) 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 what needs to be done for programs moving forward…like Clemson for instance.

You 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 has other advantages as well, like skewing our objectivity when comparing two teams in any given year.

Why is that important?

The reason we have a “playoff committee” and not an objective computer program becomes obvious. Previous year’s results matter, even though the current position is that they don’t. For example, even if UCF was the best team on the field all year this year, we would not accept them being in the playoff over Alabama, Ohio State, or even USC.

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 6% of the time.
  • Since 1994, Elite Programs have an Elite Season about 43% of the time (4 out of 11 last year).
  • So far, in the Playoff Era (2014-2017) the selection committee selected 13 Elite Programs and 3 Non-Elite Programs (Clemson 2015, Washington 2016, and Georgia 2017). That’s 81% Elite Programs.

Being an Elite Program is almost as important as having a great season. You can see that those receiving the opportunities at the highest level usually have both.

Here’s 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 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 Auburn got in over one loss 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…
  • 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 Penn State was passed over for an Ohio State team that they defeated in the regular season. We were told that the 4th spot was between PAC 12 champion Washington and Big 10 champion Penn St. Clemson beat Ohio State 31-0 in the semifinal game.
  • In 2017, undefeated UCF (12-0) was passed over for an Alabama team that finished 2nd in its division. UCF finished undefeated after they defeated the only team to beat Alabama, the SEC West champion Auburn Tigers, in their bowl game.

Interesting, 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 one of the following as well:

  • played in the National Championship game within the past 2 years
  • been 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 the past 20 years of Eliteness.

Each “E” and dark green square = Elite Team that season. Each E/NC and dark green square = National Championship Game Appearance. Each E/NC and bright green square = National Champion. Elite Programs’ names are highlighted in bright green.

Georgia is back as an Elite Program for the first time since 1985. You can see above though, that they have an elite season every 5 years like clock work. Had they not made the Natty, this would be a normal one-year upswing for them. However, with the Natty appearance, the perception is that they have exploded on to the scene behind Kirby Smart and are an Elite Program now. However, if they do not have an Elite Season in the next two years that perception will change right back to where they were before.

Auburn has dealt with this fluid perception issue also, but following their elite season this past year, they are back to being an Elite Program after a one year absence. Auburn has piled up enough Elite Seasons over the past 20 years to where they’re going to stick this time.

Clemson is an Elite Program by virtue of having an Elite Season in 2012, playing in the National Championship game in 2015, winning the National Championship in 2016, and having an Elite Season in 2017. After 2017s Elite Season, my research says that Clemson will be thought of as an Elite Program until 2021. Maybe “the best IS yet to come” as Dabo says.

Speaking of that, Eliteness has an expiration date. We no longer think of Army or Notre Dame as one of the top dogs in college football.


Elite Program Expiration Date

This is how many years my research says these programs have to go without an Elite Season to lose their Elite Program status.

  • Florida, 2 Years
  • Georgia, 2 Years
  • Stanford, 3 Years
  • Oregon, 3 Years
  • LSU, 3 Years
  • Michigan State, 3 Years
  • Florida State, 4 Years
  • Clemson, 5 Years
  • USC, 6 Years
  • Ohio State, 7 Years
  • Oklahoma, 7 Years
  • Auburn, 7 Years
  • Alabama, 7 Years

There is 1 program that can make the jump to Elite Program status with an elite season next year, Miami. Had they beaten us in the ACCCG, they would’ve been “back” as an Elite Program.

It’s been 13 years since Miami fielded an elite team. However, with a whopping 13 elite seasons in the past 30 years, Miami will still be a threat to flip the perception of their program to elite for two more years. Florida State was able to do that successfully under Jimbo Fisher and Miami is hoping MarkRicht can do the same thing. The talent is certainly there for such a resurgence and Miami has improved both years under Richt.