Football National Elite - What teams stack up?

dzig's picture
June 26, 2013 at 3:54p

I've had several discussions with people on the boards I belong to about college football.  One of the topics that almost always come up is the SEC and how they are "great" from top to bottom.  I always call "bullshit" when that's mentioned.  But it brought up and interesting point and even Nick Saban made mention of it.  What teams should be mentioned as the Elite teams?  What is it that qualifies the teams as Elite?  Conference? History? Competition? Tradition? All of the former?

I've said in previous posts that there are roughly 15 teams that I would consider as among the national elite.  These teams effectively are Division 1A.  There are a few other teams that I felt comfortable placing in Honorable Mention - Division 1B and then the rest.  I based my list off of recent and historical success, public perception, and the ability of a program to recover from "down" periods relatively quickly.  I won't post them in any order other than Ohio State at the top for obvious biased reasons.  Here's my list by conference:


B1G Ohio State, Skunk Weasels
SEC Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia
Big 12 Texas, Oklahoma
PAC 12 Oregon, USC, Stanford
ACC  Florida State, Miami, Clemson
Independent Notre Dame
  Honorable Mention
B1G Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin
SEC Auburn, South Carolina, Texas A&M
BIG 12 Oklahoma State, West Virginia, TCU, Kansas State
ACC Virginia Tech, North Carolina
Others Boise State, Louisville

I truly believe that the teams in the Elite chart will year in and year out meet in the new playoff system for the National Championship.  The Honorable Mention schools have a better shot than the rest to get in if they have an undefeated year.  For anyone else to be considered they would also have to have an undefeated year along with a down year for their conference "Elites" to get any consideration.  It simply the have's vs. the have nots.

I suppose "anything could happen" however the reality of it is that we have roughly 15 teams that are all but guaranteed to face each other. 

Your thoughts/lists?  Have I left anyone off that truly deserves to be mentioned with the others?  Am I the one that is full of shit? (rhetorical)



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Buckeye Rocket Sci's picture

I must say I like them, for the most part at least. It's hard to say given how so many teams can bounce up and down from mediocre to great in just a single year, but I think you've captured good use of history as well. I might argue that it is hard to leave Nebraska off, despite falling just short as of late, but besides that they seem fit for the new NCAA division that so many people have found fun to talk about. 

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence" - Calvin Coolidge

Dayton Buckeye's picture

Like the lists.  I think I would swap VT and Clemson. I think Clemson will become elite, but I think historically VT has had the better program.

Seth4Bucks's picture

I think if you draw the line at Clemson, then there's some teams you left off. I'd throw PSU, Nebraska, VT, and A&M up in the elite category before Clemsom.

tennbuckeye19's picture

I'm not willing to put any ACC teams in the "elite" category right now. 

bigbadbuck's picture

Shouldn't Notre Lame be in the ACC now, rather than an independent?

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, its a war room

Haybucks's picture

ND will play 5 members from the ACC, but remain independent in football.

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later. -  Mark Twain


Eddie-Eddie's picture

Fully Agree.  The ACC does not have any elite teams as of yet. 

ATXbucknut's picture

I like your ideas, although if I'm looking at CFB since its inception I personally would only include programs that have a legacy of sustained success over time.  Thus, no FSU or Miami who did nothing prior to the 1980s.
Truly Elite
Notre Dame 
Ohio State 
Nearly Elite
Florida State
Penn State

AndyVance's picture

In fairness to the Seminoles and the Hurricanes, they did have a pretty good run for a couple of decades... Perhaps not prior to the '80s and not since the first decade of the BCS era, but between them they had some pretty stellar seasons in there.
(But I get your point, and wouldn't argue against it much at all.)

DbuckiMcG's picture

I would say LSU belongs in the ELITE category and that Tennessee has no place in either category. Poor coaching choices since the firing of Fulmer and a mediocre decade does not equal potential playoffs from my POV

ATXbucknut's picture

An argument could definitely be made to include LSU in the "truly elite" category. In fact, you are exactly right on that one.  
I think Tennessee still belongs in the "almost elite" category, though.  They've fallen on hard times recently, but they had some powerhouse teams in the 1930s through the 1960s (and again in the 1990s), especially when General Neyland was coaching there.
Prior to a 2 or 3 years ago, Tennessee had the longest streak of no back-to-back losing seasons in college football.  We now hold that streak! 

DbuckiMcG's picture

If looking at total history I totally agree... But if you are playing Tennessee tomorrow are you worried at all? Even if the game is at Neyland? They are a rung lower on the scary scale these days than South Carolina and even Clemson

SGTREDLEG's picture

6-7 two years ago


DbuckiMcG's picture

If your looking over more recent history I would remove Miami, and Michigan from the list. Miami is in a downward spiral, Michigan has yet to prove that they have recovered from the Rich Rod era (2011 was a fluke and possibly the worst BCS bowl I have ever seen). 

MN Buckeye's picture

And I think Texas drops out of being elite unless they get their act together this year.

DbuckiMcG's picture

Addendum... I want to see who the new coach will be before I cast future prospective's on UT. I think Mack will be gone and Texas has so much potential in terms of in state talent. I know people are saying Texas A&M is on the rise, but what if UT says Sumlin, "Pick a number" all the sudden the prospectus could change for both U's

pjtobin's picture

I couldn't agree more. In my lifetime these teams all stand out. Could you do a list of teams per decades. Like the 50's, 60's, and so on. I know teams have joined, or changed conferences over time. So maybe just list teams? I'm learning as much as I can about our buckeyes. Yet I am clueless to others prior to 90/91? Thank you. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

Haybucks's picture

This is interesting.  Geography be damned I could see two 8-team conferences similar to the ones stated above (Elite and No Cigar) where the bottom 2 of the Elite exchange conferences with the top 2 from the No Cigar league the next season. Maybe a 3rd tier conference could play into the No Cigar as well.  They play home and home series like the CCHA.  The winner of the Elite Conference is the national champion.

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later. -  Mark Twain


dzig's picture

Wouldn't that be something to see?  I love the idea of geography not being used in consideration of a "Super Conference".  It will be like an NFL minor league, but better.  Think about the financial ramifications of what would happen to the NCAA and possibly even college sports as a whole if this were to happen.  That's precisely why I don't believe we EVER will see it.

"all men are created equal, it's just that some are MORE equal than others"

Todd-Not Boeckmann's picture

Changes I would make to the original list based on long term history:
Penn State is an elite program that is under tremendous pressure to save that status.  Its doubtful that they can, but the legacy of Paterno (on the field,  not with his head in the sand)  built a monster out in the middle of nowhere.  I don't know if they will be able to sustain it through the dark times, but for now...certainly a more elite program than anyone in the ACC other than Clemson.  BTW, CLemson won a recent NC.  VT?  Other than being the flavor of the week for awhile with the know-nothings in the media, has really never accomplished much.  They are a B Team.

Tennessee is clearly a B squad program, based on history and potential.  Yes, poor moves with regards to coaches has hurt the program, but they are a sleeping giant.  Anyone that routinely fills a stadium of 106,000 people is at least near elite.  
THe same can be said for Nebraska.  I'm not sure Bo Pelini is the guy to restore the Huskers to National Prominence.  But they are a sleeping giant as well.
I would move Oregon to the B list.  As a body of work, Stanford and Washington are waaaay better.  Oregon has had a short run of success.  Go back 20 years, and they look like Indiana.
Auburn should be on the A list.  The Iron Bowl shows that they have been a force for a long time in the south.
Here's my final A LIst:

  1. Ohio State
  2. wolverweasels
  3. Notre Dame (but wobbly)
  4. Penn State (doomed to fall)
  5. Nebraska (teetering on the edge)
  6. Bama
  7. LSU
  8. AUburn
  9. Florida (maybe the product of two coaches...slipping to B?)
  10. Georgia
  11. Miami (Fla)
  12. Florida State
  13. Oklahoma
  14. Texas
  15. USC

These are the historic giants of football.  The ones you think about first before you even think of players.

On the wall guarding the North Coast from all Weasel invasions.

dzig's picture

Well said.  I was wavering with Penn St and Nebraska.  Both have the chops to be considered.  The reason I dropped them to a B list.  Nebraska had a very good run under Tom Osborne.  I recall thinking "why the hell would someone go to Nebraska to play football?"  But year in and year out he kept that team as competitive as any in the nation during his tenure.  My concerns have been post-Osborne.  The inconsistent coaching and the team's inability to regain their former glory along with my opinion of their future is what kept them off the A list.  But not by much.

Penn State on the other hand is just beginning to feel the pinch of the NCAA penalties.  I fear that even as good of a job O'Brien has done, the penalties MIGHT be too much to overcome.  Otherwise they have the history, tradition and record to be among the best.  Again I just don't feel that they will be able to compete for titles in the B1G in the near future, let alone any national considerations.  That's a damned shame in my humble opinion, but so are the circumstances that got them there.

Tennessee is another I considered.  I will admit that my bias against Vol fans may have played a part in me leaving them off the list, but I hope that isn't the case.  I really tried to put my feelings aside.  That being said, I agree it's hard to discount what COULD possibly happen in the future.  Their hire of Coach Jones I feel will turn out to be an absolute coup!  Lots of programs will ask themselves how they missed on that one.  IF and it's a big IF, he can make the Vol program competitive again within the SEC then they would probably deserve a bump up.  But it would take some consistency over several years to justify in my mind.  And it would hurt, hurt hurt, to admit to Vol fans that their school, not conference, is relevant again in football.

VT is more hype than substance.  For the last decade they've been highly rated preseason studs only to fall back to earth, sometimes at the hands of d-2 teams.  I thought I was be generous even giving them the Honorable Mention.  Lots of talent but lack of execution keeps them off the list.

Thank you all for your thoughts and opinions.  I've been having fun reading all of the responses and look forward to reading more!  +1 to you all for participation.

"all men are created equal, it's just that some are MORE equal than others"

mh277907's picture

If the question was: who were the elite teams of the last decade, I think it would be:
OSU, Bama, LSU, Florida, Texas, Oregon and USC. And, truly, I think that is it (maybe Oklahoma as well). Now moving forward to the next decade, if current trends continue, then you can probably include those same teams (USC recruits too well to be bad for long, Texas will eventually make a coaching change and will be back) and add:
TTUN, ND (both still have a lot of work to do but are recruiting elite players) and Stanford. Georgia, everyone in the ACC, and the rest of the SEC, have way too much to prove to me before I think that they will be fighting for a playoff spot each year.


Nkohl13's picture

I'd say,
Ohio State
Notre Dame
Traditional but not elite right now:
Penn State
Florida State
Has beens:
Boston College
Edit: Sorry guys I don't know why it came out double spaced.

303 Buckeye's picture

Great list.  But honestly Colorado has almost fallen off the has-beens list to the annals of CFB list in just over a decade.  Living 30 minutes from Folsom Field for the past 8 or 9 years I can say I have seen attendance/support/pride go from upper levels of D1 to something more comparable to UNLV or Utah State. TBH I doubt they would beat either of those teams right now.  In Columbus Saturdays are all about the Shoe and watching the game, while in Boulder that was true 10 years ago but now Saturdays are about "day drinking" and "tripping balls" for the students.  It's pathetic.

DbuckiMcG's picture

I like this way of breaking it down but I think you need to add another category for Up and Coming Teams.
Teams like Clemson, TCU, Texas A&M who have yet to truly take a seat at the table with the Elites but who have the potential with a few years of continued success to be considered viable championship contenders year in and year out.

dzig's picture

I agree that there will always be teams that make a push.  But I think in terms of being considered and ELITE team there must be some history or something extremely special about the program.  If you take those into consideration and the Up and Comer has a very bright future and the ability to maintain it then I could see mentioning them.  But if a program’s pinnacle is based on a 4 year period of success, I'd probably not be inclined to view them with equal weight as the others.  Everyone can have a couple years of strong recruiting, but being proficient year in and year out is an exception not the norm.
Boise St is an interesting irregularity.  But would they have had the same degree of success with a schedule in any of the major conferences?  I feel that they've overachieved for the past 8 years.  If they do it for another 8 then I would obviously be wrong.

"all men are created equal, it's just that some are MORE equal than others"

WyoBuckeye's picture

No Boise State?  Maybe not elite, but they definitely should be in the argument.

SGTREDLEG's picture

i agree that Boise is a very good team.  Why isnt Wisconsin listed anywhere?  Hate em.  But they've been a top tier team recently.


pjtobin's picture

I was going to ask why you would or could think this. But wisky has been to the last three rose bowls. And always gives us fits. With that said, I would like to say, good point. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

HighBallAce's picture

How can you consider Texas A&M? Lets look at their overall body of work for a second. Last year they did real well but other than that, when was the last time they played in a BCS bowl game of any value? I could be wrong but I believe it was 98 when Ohio State throttled them! For the most part, A&M couldn't hardly ever beat UT!