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Elite Programs

Since Elite Programs are consistently given more credit than non-elites, there are two moments we need to find. 1) The moment when a program establishes itself as an Elite Program and 2) The moment when a program loses that perception. I researched the history of college football (1936-Current) to let the answer find me.

Along the way, I discovered that Eliteness must be sustained to affect our perception. One Elite Season every 5-10 years won’t do that. Below is what a program must do to establish Eliteness.

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 both of the past 2 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

As you already know, EIliteness isn’t permanent. We don’t perceive Army, Tennessee, and Nebraska as being among the top programs in college football anymore. There is the moment when a program will lose their Eliteness in our eyes. I found that it takes 7 consecutive years of being unable to have an Elite Season for the national perception to flip back to non-eliteness, even if they meet some of the more longevity-oriented criteria above.

Here are the current Programs that fit the above criteria to be called Elite Programs. These are the programs that, given the same record, would be selected ahead of non-elite programs in 2024.

Looking at the list above, keep in mind that the purpose is not to find the best teams the past couple seasons. The purpose is to find the teams that will be given more credit for the same amount of wins by playoff committee members, AP voters, media, recruits etc. the following season. The research shows that just because you see a program down for a couple years, it doesn’t mean they are not an Elite Program.

For example, imagine there is a playoff spot to fill and you have to choose between any Elite Program listed above that went 12-1 during the season and any Power 5 Non-Elite program from a different conference that also went 12-1. Think about the committee having to choose between (12-1) Auburn or (12-1) Oregon St., (12-1) Alabama or (12-1) Iowa, Florida or Baylor, LSU or N.C. State, Clemson or Oklahoma St., Oklahoma or South Carolina. History says that the Elite Programs will get in every time.

Elite Program Expiration Date

14 Elite Programs in 2020 was tied for the most ever in any one year since 1936. I believe this number was high for two reasons: 1. The College Football Playoff has added another game between Elite Teams. 2. College Football is cyclical and we’re probably nearing the end of a cycle. Some programs are cycling in and some are cycling out. And yes, the transfer portal, NIL, and 12-team playoff can all be contributors to that.

Who are the programs in danger of cycling out?

Let’s look below at how many years these programs have to go without an Elite Season to lose their Elite Program perception.

  • TCU, 1 Year
  • Texas, 1 Year
  • Washington, 2 Years
  • Michigan, 3 Years
  • LSU, 3 Years
  • Auburn, 3 Years
  • Florida, 3 Years
  • Clemson, 4 Years
  • Ohio State, 6 Years
  • Oklahoma, 7 Years
  • Georgia, 7 Years
  • Alabama, 7 Years

Michigan State and USC are the two casualties this year as they no longer meet the criteria and are not Elite Programs in 2024.

Elite Program Stats