This week we're taking a step back to lay down some things that all college football fans are better served knowing. Yesterday we took a look at the big picture of today's college football climate and the most important factors contributing to maintaining long term success. Today we're going to look at the landscape from a different angle; where programs rank in the current climate of the game.
A few things need to be said here because I'm sure there are going to be a lot of hurt feelings, a lot of "but, but, but we won back to back titles" and a lot of "we're the best team in our league so why are we not tier 1?" type of talk.
So before we start let's set the record straight, the most important element of this tier system is the idea that we're ranking all FBS teams against one another. The big dawgs on the blocks with the oodles of cash money are going up against the non-BCS teams and the schools that are hampered by the academics at their institutions.
Another fact that must be mentioned is these conditions or terms do not operate in a vacuum. If a tier 2, 3 or 4 team is on track to achieve a conference championship push in the same year that a tier 1 school is tracking for a national title more often than not the lower tier school is going to miss out.
There are also conference stipulations.
Several leagues don't have a true tier 1 organization in their midst, that means the 2's, 3's or even 4's that are atop the league have a shot to win more conference titles than the 2's, 3's and 4's in league's with multiple elite programs.
Slotted teams should:
Tier 1: Legitmately contend for conference title every 2-4 years and BCS title every 3-5 years.
Tier 2: Legitimately contend for conference title every 3-5 years and BCS title every 4-6 years.
Tier 3: Legitimately contend for conference title every 5-7 years.
Tier 4: Have a conference title shot once a decade or so.
That's the baseline folks and after we outline where all the teams fall into this list we'll talk about several special cases as well as explain a couple of the rankings. If you've got questions or issues of course the comments are open and we've always got the twitter machine to talk in real time.
Tier 1: Alabama, Florida, LSU, Ohio State, Texas
Tier 2:Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Southern California, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin
Tier 3: Arizona, Arizona State, Air Force, Boise State (3+), Boston College, BYU, California, UCF, Colorado, Connecticut, East Carolina, Georgia Tech, Houston, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Miami (Fl), Michigan State, Mississippi State, Missouri, Navy, North Carolina, NC State, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Southern Mississippi, Syracuse, TCU (3+), Texas Tech, Tulsa, UCLA, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia
Tier 4: Army, Baylor, Cincinnati, Duke, Indiana, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Minnesota, Northwestern (4+), Purdue, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Washington State, MWC & C-USA minus aforementioned teams, MAC, WAC & Sun Belt in their entirety.
So, for the cases that will likely raise the most red flags with fans:
LSU, yes, they're in the first tier. The school is committed, has the money to play with the other four big boys and a little known fact, Louisiana produces gobs of talented high school players. Add that to an unlikely "benefit" of Katrina, families from Louisiana moving west into Texas and you've got a footprint for the Bayou Bengals recruiting that goes from Mississippi through Houston.
In Tier 2, I got a little help from a good friend of the website because I was struggling with the Big Ten and ACC schools but ultimately I ended up with what you see here. These are your other power players. Schools that have enough money and/or prime location and passion for the game to elbow their way into the upper echelon on the regular. That isn't to say that they always do, as we've seen with several of the listed teams poor coaching and administrations have squandered a lot in the way of investments.
The most basic way to describe Tier 3 are your B/C students. They should be in a bowl game every single year but need something special to happen for them to rise above the 10 win plateau. That said 7-9 wins should be a yearly expectation. There is stratification at this level though and good coaching can elevate teams temporarily.
Tier 4? Lightning. In. A. Bottle. That's what it takes for these teams to reach beyond the "if we go to a bowl we'll be happy" stages of existence. For Baylor and Stanford that lightning is their quarterback. For Wake Forest in 2006 that lightning was their roster and the ACC being at its God awfullest in history.
Regarding schools like Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida State and Southern Cal who are all on the same tier: The Hogs are going to have the roughest go of it when it comes to reaching their conference and BCS titles. Unlike OU (Texas), Florida State (none) and Southern Cal (none) the Razorbacks have to contend with LSU and Bama (tier 1) in their division plus a possible date with Florida should they make it to the SEC Championship game.
In short they have to go through 40% of the Tier 1 schools on a yearly basis just to get to a possible date with another 20% of the first tier. Hell last season the Hogs played 60% of the Tier 1 schools and still ended up with 10 wins going 1-2 against LSU, Bama and Ohio State. If you move the Hogs to the ACC or Big East you could expect to see a rise in their consistency in picking up conference titles and contending on a larger stage.
In that same vein you have the conferences with no 2's running the show. In the Big East you'll have a Tier 3 school winning the conference every year, in the MAC, WAC and Sun Belt you'll have a team in the bottom of the rankings pulling titles. The fact that I do identify a couple schools as (+) in these tiers is to denote that they're somewhere between the two tiers. Calling Boise State or TCU a probably 8-9 win team in a schedule filled with more than just the bottom tier WAC or MAC schedule they currently play is not an insult.
For Northwestern they draw a (+) because they're not quite a full fledged four but they don't have the wares to be much more than a pest in the grand scheme of the Big Ten.
In all of this the scariest realization I came to grips with was that; barring some sort of extremely special season where the Tier 1 schools all implode at once and the Tier 2 schools recruit poorly or hire bad coaches, the Tier 3 and 4 schools don't have a real shot at winning a title. This isn't a chance to blame the BCS folks. The fact is regardless of system they just don't have the faculties to do more than push for 9 or 10 wins.
I'd argue that a playoff lessens their chances given they'd have to show up week after week to play against Tier 1 and 2 schools and we see how that has worked out for the Tier 3 schools trying to do battle in the non-Big East BCS conferences on a yearly basis.
Do your worst folks, your feedback as always, will be appreciated.
BYU in as a Tier 3 and Penn State in as a Tier 2. Both were missed during editing. Sue me, I was exhausted.