My name is Michael Wilson (aka The Kraken), a former Clemson football blogger with Shakin’ the Southland and Clemson Paws. I specialized in detailed football Xs and Os, talent evaluation, and film reviews. This site consists of 15 years of research into a more big-picture oriented contribution that I call, “Eliteness.”
This site is set up to where the definition and explanation for each metric can be found by clicking on the static menu links at the top of each page (i.e. Elite Teams). All of the information here is cumulative. That means that you need to understand one concept before moving to the next. Fortunately, they are listed in order on the main menu from left to right.
This is both a measurement and definition of the term “Elite” as oft used in college football conversation. This is not a complicated algorithm, but instead, a system that people can understand and verify themselves. This is a measurement heavily determined by winning on the field at the highest level as opposed to overall consistency of performance throughout a season.
There are advantages to being an elite program and disadvantages to not being one. I went through the history of college football (1905-2018) to discover what it takes to create the perception to where programs with the same record are given opportunities over other programs.
When I first started, the primary motivation was to show other Clemson fans how going 11-1 or 12-0 against a weak schedule was fool’s gold. Fans will always overrate their favorite program, but sometimes that can be detrimental to that program.
During the Tommy Bowden era of the mid-2000s, many Clemson fans (as well as members of the Clemson media) were of the mindset that Clemson’s path to greatness would be by winning a lot of games over weak conference and non-conference opponents. The justification for this theory was supported under the guise of “only caring about Clemson” and not Clemson’s opponents. The irony, of course, is that they blocked out the idea of Clemson having to get better. Instead, they placed their hopes on getting more credit for less impressive efforts.
Perhaps it seems unbelievable now, but due to Clemson’s weaker schedule in their National Championship season in 1981, many fans embraced this logic. Fortunately, the AD and Dabo Swinney did not. History has shown that the BCS system decided not to put an unproven team in the National Championship Game and the CFP Committee has followed suit.
The reality is that it takes winning on the highest level, and often, a program’s opponents winning on the highest level, before a program earns the credibility I call “Eliteness.” That’s why a common complaint from fans is that they are watching the same teams every year in the CFP and UCF’s AD is reduced to complaining about a “CFP cartel.”
Don’t get me wrong, with 130 FBS teams and only 4 of them selected for the CFP, I actually do not see this as a problem. To have the best chance of getting the best 4 teams in the playoff, it has to work this way and here’s why.
College Football is largely a perception sport until you get to the highest level. There is no 130 team round-robin tournament where everybody plays each other. There are only 12 games per team. 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). In other words, previous year’s games on the highest level are a more reliable indicator than that 2.3%. CFB fans of a certain age will remember the other ways of crowning a national champion.
From 1936-1997, College Football tried what I refer to as the “Regional Courtesy” system of crowning a national champion. Since there was way less TV, writers and coaches had a much more difficult time trying to rank teams in the polls. For example, if you lived in the south, you almost never saw UCLA or USC play, only the final scores of their games. So out of regional courtesy, writers would largely just rank teams according to record, thus giving teams they never saw the benefit of the doubt that all schedules were of equal strength. There were also bowl tie-ins at the highest level, which made it even more difficult to gauge the relative strength of conferences from year to year. Perhaps rock bottom for that system came in 1984 when BYU was crowned the National Champion by beating a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl.
Even today, with the internet and on demand viewing, watching 60 FBS games every week is literally impossible. Nobody can watch 790 games a year. It would take over 3 months of continuous football watching with no sleep and a photographic memory for a playoff committee to make a science out of it. For that reason, most of our perception stems from the teams that have already proven they can win on the highest level. Even Vegas understands how we think. If a 6-0 UCF team that won their games all in blowout fashion hosted a 5-1 Alabama team, where would you put your money in a pick ’em? UCF? I don’t think so. We’ve seen Bama embarrass out-of-conference competition too many times over the past decade to ignore. That’s Eliteness.
Therefore, when a program has one of these rare out-of-conference games against (what I have defined as) an Elite Team or an Elite Program, it has the ability to shift program perception. That positive perception is what I call “Eliteness” and it can only be earned by winning at the highest level.
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, however, most CFB fans know that there is definitely something else going on. Hence the UCF AD’s “CFP cartel” comment.
I dove in and researched the history of college football (1905-2018) to find this missing component. 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. We also know that college football is cyclical. So with this definition, I intend to accurately show when our collective perception has changed about a program as well as how long it will last.
It would be accurate to say that there is not as much opportunity for the non-elites out there. Since this “Eliteness” system is based on history, the evidence supports the phrase “only elite wins change elite perception.” 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. However, it appears that many in the media, many fans, and many ADs don’t understand this truth. Most of our energy goes toward debating the results of the current season.
If I may humbly suggest that the CFB committee just come clean and use a system like this one (or just this one). Why not admit the truth that pervious year’s results matter? The most transparent and accurate thing to do is to show programs what they have to do to be selected. Eliteness is a multi-year journey, not a one season sprint, because it has to be. We should just admit that.
The argument against publicizing this revelation could be that there is just not that much opportunity out there for all the teams. Why spell that out and risk alienating a lot of your consumers? In 2018, 58 teams (45% of all FBS teams) faced an eventual Elite Team during the season. Only 9 non-power 5 teams got that opportunity. That is what needs to improve. Group of 5 teams need to lobby and press to get on Elite Program’s schedules. If the NCAA has to step in, so be it. Either that, or have the Power 5 conferences break away from the Group of 5 conferences. In American sports, we like Cinderella stories, so I would hope the NCAA would get rid of the FCS games and force Power 5 schools to schedule Group of 5 teams instead (or just take over the scheduling and use a formula like the NFL does).