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Elite Teams

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College Football is a perception sport at the highest level. There is no 129 team round-robin tournament where everybody plays each other. There are only 12 possible games for a team to prove themselves. Often, an FBS team 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 of the teams is that most of those games are confined to groups of 10-16 teams that we call conferences. That means that 2.3% of the available games played can be used to determine the strength of one conference vs. another (that number is still 37.5% in the NFL).

That means that what you see happen with your own eyes in non-conference games at the highest level has a lasting effect on your perception, often for years (see SEC Bias). I set out to find out how and why that happens.


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 Clemson’s disrespect in the Bowden years. Just “winning games” against mediocre competition doesn’t fool the nation, only a certain segment of that team’s fanbase (see UCF being left out of the playoff). This is the main culprit for the current disrespect of programs like UCF, TCU, Washington, and Penn State. Winning games can earn the team an opportunity, but what happens with that opportunity defines the team.

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 and the top 15 are the agreed upon teams at the doorstep of eliteness. The Circle of Proof questions the top 5 rankings and brings the checks and balances based on what you saw happen on the field. The Circle of Proof says the top 15 teams that have proven on the field that they can beat an elite team are also elite. For example, you saw UCF defeat Auburn on the field, so how can you say they are not 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 mind cannot always explain or confirm to be true.

For example, your gut may tell you that the LSU win in 2012 was the turning point for the Clemson program but you can’t explain why.  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 would be as soon as the game was announced. I knew that the last Elite Team Clemson had defeated was Florida State in 1989.  I knew that for 23 years, Clemson had not had an Elite Win.  I knew that LSU would be elite based on their Natty appearance the year before and their wins over 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.

Elite Teams 2013-2017

Elite Wins below their name


Elite Teams Previous Years


  • Elite Teams 2006 Season
    Florida (defeated Ohio St.)
    Auburn (defeated Florida, LSU)
    Ohio St. (defeated None)
    LSU (defeated None)
    USC (defeated None)
    Boise St. (defeated None)
  • Elite Teams 2005 Season
    Texas (defeated USC, Ohio St.)
    Penn St. (defeated Ohio St.)
    Virginia Tech (defeated West Virginia)
    USC (defeated None)
    Ohio St. (defeated None)
    West Virginia (defeated None)
  • 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.)