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, however, consists of over 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. For that reason, they are listed in order on the above menu from left to right.
This is both a measurement and definition of the term “Elite” as oft used by fans and media alike in college football conversation. This is not a complicated algorithm, but instead, a simple system that people can verify themselves, often while it’s happening. That’s because this is a measurement heavily determined by winning on the field at the highest level.
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 the missing ingredient to being selected is a team’s “strength of schedule” or “style points.” However, most CFB fans know that it varies from year to year and team to team. There is definitely something else going on. Hence the UCF AD’s accusation of a “CFP cartel” a few years ago.
I dove in and researched the history of college football (1905-2022) to find this missing component. I allowed the definition of an Elite Program find me in order to show what needs to be done for programs to get respect that a specific team didn’t actually earn. I set out to accurately show the moment when our collective perception about a program changed, as well as, how long the perception will last.
There are advantages to being an Elite Program and disadvantages to not being one. No matter what team you’re a fan of, knowing what it takes to create the perception of Eliteness is important.
When I first started, the primary motivation was to show other Clemson fans how winning against weaker competition was no stepping-stone to Eliteness. Programs aspiring to be Elite have to schedule Elite Teams and Programs in order to change elite perception. During the Tommy Bowden era of the mid-2000s, many Clemson fans were blinded by the enjoyment of, not Clemson winning, but watching their rivals underachieve. This satisfaction masked the fact that Clemson was also underachieving (see the term “Clemsoning” circa 2008).
I was told that, “I only care about Clemson, not the other teams.” However, the truth is that they just wanted to feel superior when they’re hanging out with rival fans. They could care less about the Clemson program reaching its full potential. If you have these types in your favorite team’s media, they need to be confronted and corrected often on the message boards. This is a detrimental mindset that will be used to justify complacency and mediocrity. Fortunately for Clemson, enough people made enough noise. Clemson fired Tommy Bowden, started scheduling Elite Programs, and made a sizeable monetary commitment to the program. The rest (8 conference titles, 6 straight playoff appearances. and 2 Nattys) is history.
All fans must learn that only elite wins will make a team elite. Only winning on the highest level for years will make a program “Elite.”
With 130 FBS teams and only 4 (soon 12) playoff spots, a program has to seek out “Elite competition” and here’s why. College Football is a perception sport right up until you get to the highest level. There is no 130-team round-robin tournament where everybody plays each other. There are 12 games and only 11 FBS matchups per team. Each team plays just 8.5% of the available competition (it’s 37.5% in the NFL for example). Most of those games are confined to 10-16 team 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 the 2.3% of out-of-conference games any given season.
Of course, CFB fans of a certain age will sometimes push back by invoking a time when this was not the case. From 1936-1997, College Football tried what I refer to as the “Regional Courtesy” system of crowning a national champion. Since there were only one or two games on TV each week, 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. You only saw the final scores of their games.
So, out of regional courtesy, writers would largely just rank teams they never saw according to their record, thus giving them the benefit of the doubt. 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 the regional courtesy 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, no playoff committee member is watching 790 games a year. It would take watching 60 full games per week for the playoff committee to make a science out of it. So instead, they watch stripped down versions of the most important games. For that reason, our perception revolves around the teams that have already proven they can win on the highest level. That’s Eliteness.