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Elite Teams

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When I first started, the primary motivation was to quantitatively show other Clemson fans how you cannot “back your way in” to Eliteness. During the Bowden era, many Clemson fans (often repeating what was said by Clemson media members) were selling a path to greatness by hoping for our opponents to be weak so we could beat them. It seems silly now, but the logic was that when we beat all of the weak teams, the BCS system would have to put us in the Natty. The reality is that it takes winning on the elite level, often for multiple years, before a non-elite program gets that shot. That’s why UCF is reduced to complaining about a “CFP cartel” and Clemson’s road to the 2015 CFP (College Football Playoff) actually started in 2012 against LSU.

It HAS to work that way and here’s why. College Football is a perception sport. There is no 130 team round-robin tournament where everybody plays each other. There are 12 games and most FBS teams will schedule an FCS team as well, lowering that number to 11 FBS games. Each team plays just 8.5% of the available competition (it’s 37.5% in the NFL for example). Further clouding the perception is that most of those games are confined to groups of 10-16 teams that we call conferences. That means that only 2.3% of all games played can be used to determine the strength of one conference vs. another (it’s still 37.5% in the NFL). That means that when you have one of these extremely rare out-of-conference games against an Elite Team, it has an effect on program perception that can last for years. So what is an Elite Team by definition?


Elite Teams Defined

I define an Elite Team as a team that finishes in the Top 5 of the AP Poll or any team in the Top 15 that has defeated another Elite Team.

I use one rule and two factors as the basis for this definition.

The one rule is that “Only elite wins change elite perception.

This is the main culprit for the ongoing disrespect of programs like UCF, TCU, Boise St., and Washington. Winning games can earn an opportunity, but what happens with that opportunity defines the program and sometimes an entire conference for years.

The two factors that determine an Elite Team are “Collective Opinion” and “The Circle of Proof.”

Collective Opinion is represented in the Final AP Poll. The top 5 are agreed upon elites nationally. The Circle of Proof, also known as the transitive property, questions the AP Poll and brings in checks and balances based on what happened on the field. The Circle of Proof says that any top 15 team that has proven on the field that they can beat an elite team is, therefore, also elite.

These two factors work together to quantify the accepted truth that nestles itself in the “gut” of fans, playoff committee members, AP voters, media, recruits, and athletic departments. I use the term “gut” to explain that place where we can internalize truths that our conscious minds cannot always explain or confirm to be true.

For example, we all knew the LSU win in 2012 was huge for the Clemson program, but it’s hard to explain why in words. The Elite Team and Elite Program definitions tell you why and can pinpoint the moment when a program begins to make the transition to Eliteness.

Because I was aware of those definitions, I knew how monumental that win could be as soon as the game was announced. I knew that the last Elite Team Clemson had defeated was 23 years ago (Florida State, 1989). I knew that LSU would be considered elite based on their Natty appearance the year before and their wins over both SC and Manziel’s Texas A&M team that had beaten Bama. When Chandler Catanzaro’s kick went through the uprights, 23 years of “not good enough to play with elites” turned into national credibility. This created future opportunities for both Clemson and it’s conference champion, Florida State. The ACC went from possibly losing its football powers to The Big 12 in 2012 to never missing the CFP and winning 3 National titles over the next 6 years.

Elite Teams 2014-2018

Elite Wins below their name


Elite Teams Previous Years


  • Elite Teams 2004 Season
    USC (defeated Oklahoma)
    Oklahoma (defeated Texas)
    Auburn (defeated None)
    Utah (defeated None)
    Texas (defeated None)
  • Elite Teams 2003
    USC (defeated Michigan, Washington St.)
    LSU (defeated Oklahoma)
    Oklahoma (defeated Texas)
    Ohio St. (defeated Kansas St., Iowa)
    Texas (defeated Kansas St.)
    Kansas St. (defeated Oklahoma)
    Michigan (defeated Ohio St)
    Iowa (defeated Michigan)
    Washington St. (defeated Texas)
    Miami (defeated None)
  • Elite Teams 2002
    Ohio St. (defeated Miami, Washington St.)
    Miami (defeated None)
    Georgia (defeated None)
    USC (defeated None)
    Oklahoma (defeated Washington St., Texas)
    Kansas St. (defeated USC)
    Washington St. (defeated USC)
    Texas (defeated Kansas St.)
  • Elite Teams 2001 Season
    Miami (defeated Nebraska)
    Oregon (defeated Colorado)
    Florida (defeated LSU)
    Tennessee (defeated Florida, LSU)
    Texas (defeated Colorado)
    LSU (defeated Tennessee)
    Oklahoma (defeated Texas)
    Colorado (defeated Texas, Nebraska)
    Nebraska (defeated Oklahoma)
  • Elite Teams 2000 season
    Oklahoma (defeated Florida State)
    Miami (defeated Florida State)
    Washington (defeated Oregon St., Miami)
    Oregon St. (defeated Oregon)
    Florida St. (defeated None)
    Oregon (defeated Washington)
  • Elite Teams 1999 Season
    Florida St (defeated Virginia Tech)
    Virginia Tech (defeated None)
    Nebraska (defeated None)
    Wisconsin (defeated Michigan St.)
    Michigan (defeated Wisconsin)
    Michigan St. (defeated Michigan)
  • Elite Teams 1998 Season
    Tennessee (defeated Florida St., Florida)
    Ohio St. (defeated None)
    Florida St. (defeated Florida)
    Arizona (defeated None)
    Florida (defeated None)
    UCLA (defeated Arizona, Michigan)
    Wisconsin (defeated UCLA)
    Michigan (defeated Wisconsin)
  • Elite Teams 1997 Season
    Michigan (defeated Washington St.)
    Nebraska (defeated Tennessee)
    Florida (defeated Florida St., Tennessee)
    Florida St. (defeated None)
    UCLA (defeated None)
    LSU (defeated Florida)
    Georgia (defeated LSU)
    Tennessee (defeated UCLA)
    Washington St. (defeated UCLA)
    Arizona St. (defeated Washington St.)
  • Elite Teams 1996 Season
    Florida (defeated Florida St.)
    Ohio St. (defeated Arizona St.)
    Florida St. (defeated Florida)
    Arizona St. (defeated None)
    BYU (defeated None)
  • Elite Teams 1995 Season
    Nebraska (defeated Florida, Colorado, Kansas)
    Florida (defeated Florida St., Tennessee)
    Tennessee (defeated None)
    Florida St. (defeated None)
    Colorado (defeated Kansas St.)
    Kansas (defeated Colorado)
    Kansas St. (defeated Kansas)
  • Elite Teams 1994 Season
    Nebraska (defeated Colorado, Miami)
    Penn St. (defeated None)
    Colorado (defeated None)
    Florida St. (defeated None)
    Alabama (defeated None)
    Miami (defeated Florida St.)
    Florida (defeated Alabama)
  • Elite Teams 1993 Season
    Florida St. (defeated Nebraska, Florida, Miami)
    Notre Dame (defeated Florida St.)
    Nebraska (defeated None)
    Auburn (defeated Florida)
    Florida (defeated Arizona, West Virginia)
    Boston College (defeated Notre Dame)
    Miami (defeated Boston College)
    West Virginia (defeated Boston College, Miami)
    Arizona (defeated Miami)
  • Elite Teams 1992 Season
    Alabama (defeated Miami)
    Florida St. (defeated None)
    Miami (defeated Florida St.)
    Notre Dame (tied Michigan)
    Michigan (tied Notre Dame)
  • Elite Teams 1991 Season
    Miami (defeated Florida St., Penn St.)
    Washington (defeated Michigan)
    Penn St. (defeated Notre Dame, Tennessee)
    Florida St. (defeated Michigan)
    Alabama (defeated Tennessee)
    Florida (defeated Florida St., Alabama, Tennessee)
    Syracuse (defeated Florida)
    Notre Dame (defeated Florida)
    East Carolina (defeated Syracuse)
    Michigan (defeated Notre Dame)
    Tennessee (defeated Notre Dame)
  • Elite Teams 1990 Season
    Colorado (defeated Washington)
    Georgia Tech (defeated None)
    Miami (defeated Florida St.)
    Florida St. (defeated None)
    Washington (defeated None)
    Notre Dame (defeated Miami)
  • Elite Teams 1989 Season
    Miami (defeated Notre Dame, Alabama)
    Notre Dame (defeated Colorado)
    Florida St. (defeated Miami, Auburn)
    Colorado (defeated None)
    Tennessee (defeated Auburn)
    Alabama (defeated Tennessee)
    Auburn (defeated Alabama)
    Clemson (defeated Florida St.)
  • Elite Teams 1988 Season
    Notre Dame (defeated West Virginia, Miami, Michigan)
    Miami (defeated Michigan, Florida St.)
    Florida St. (defeated None)
    Michigan (defeated None)
    West Virginia (defeated None)
  • Elite Teams 1987 Season
    Miami (defeated Florida St., Oklahoma)
    Florida St. (defeated None)
    Oklahoma (defeated None)
    Syracuse (defeated None)
    LSU (defeated None)
  • Elite Teams 1986 Season
    Penn St. (defeated Miami)
    Miami (defeated Oklahoma)
    Oklahoma (defeated Nebraska)
    Arizona St. (defeated None)
    Nebraska (defeated None)
    Arizona (defeated Arizona St)
    UCLA (defeated Arizona)
  • Elite Teams 1985 Season
    Oklahoma (defeated Penn St.)
    Michigan (defeated Iowa)
    Penn St. (defeated None)
    Tennessee (defeated None)
    Florida (defeated Tennessee)
    Iowa (defeated Michigan)
    UCLA (tied Tennessee, defeated Iowa)
    Ohio St. (defeated Iowa)
  • Elite Teams 1984 Season
    BYU (defeated None)
    Washington (defeated Oklahoma)
    Florida (Tied LSU)
    Nebraska (defeated LSU, UCLA)
    Boston College (defeated None)
    USC (defeated Washington)
    Oklahoma (defeated Nebraska)
    LSU (defeated USC, Tied Florida)
    UCLA (defeated USC)
  • Elite Teams 1983 Season
    Miami (defeated Nebraska)
    Nebraska (defeated None)
    Auburn (defeated Georgia, Florida)
    Georgia (defeated Texas)
    Texas (defeated Auburn)
    Florida (defeated Miami)
    Clemson (tied Georgia)
  • Elite Teams 1982 Season
    Penn St. (defeated Georgia, Nebraska)
    SMU (Tied Arkansas)
    Nebraska (defeated None)
    Georgia (defeated None)
    UCLA (defeated None)
    Arkansas (Tied SMU)
    Washington (defeated UCLA)
  • Elite Teams 1981 Season
    Clemson (defeated None)
    Texas (defeated SMU, Miami, Alabama)
    Penn St. (defeated Pittsburgh)
    Pittsburgh (defeated None)
    SMU (defeated None)
    Miami (defeated Penn St.)
    Alabama (defeated Penn St.)