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What is an "Elite" College Football Team?

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In case you missed it, there's a lively debate going on in the comments section to Kyle's post on Coach Richt getting slighted by Ron Deinhart. Part of the debate is about discipline. I'm not going to touch that one because a) a certain poster hasn't refuted my Charles Grant example and b)apparently thinks Odell Thurman is the only player who's ever gotten in trouble under Mark Richt and that Marvin Lewis must be a man of character (I guess because he's always there to throw someone's bail). But another more intriguing portion deals with whether or not the University of Georgia Bulldogs are an "elite" team. 34Hawk says no, pointing out that:

"They have never contended for a national championship during Richt's tenure. And one third place finish in 6 years, is not enough to qualify any team in any sport as elite in my opinion."

34Hawk's test for elite status is therefore a two step process: a team must have a) played for a National Championship in the past six years and b) finished 3rd or better in the country more than once in the past six years.

I thought I'd put this theory to the test. If my calculations are correct, eight teams have played in the BCS National Championship in the past six years: Florida (2006), LSU (2003), Miami (2001, 2002), Nebraska (2001), Southern Cal (2004, 2005), Oklahoma (2003, 2004), Texas (2005)and Ohio State (2002, 2006).

Of these, Florida also finished in the AP final top 3 twice (2006 and 2001), as did Ohio State (2002, 2006), Miami (2001, 2002) and LSU (2003, 2006). Only USC finished in the top 3 three times (2003, 2004 and 2005).

That means that five teams would qualify as "elite" under the 34Hawk Rule. However, this criteria is incomplete in my opinion. After all, during the 4 years when they weren't in the final top 3, Florida wasn't even in the top 15 once. That's not elite. It's actually quite pathetic given the athletes and resources at their disposal.

Miami hasn't finished in the top 10 since 2003. They didn't even make the top 25 last year and suffered a season of onfield failure and occasional embarrassment. If they're elite, then I'd rather not be.

That leaves three teams: LSU, Ohio State and Southern Cal. I think we can all agree that Southern Cal, easily the most consistent winner among the three over the past six years, is an elite program. Ohio State has played in the national championship game twice, winning once. They also finished 4th in the AP poll twice. LSU has a more spotty record (relatively speaking) finishing 6th, 7th, 16th and out of the top 25 in the four years they missed the top 3. LSU might also argue that they deserve some credit for winning the BCS Championship Game in a year when the AP ignored them in favor of the well-coifed "Cheaty" Petey Carroll (who may ultimately lose two of his three top 3 finishes to forfeits).

In other words, this method is ineffective because it doesn't reward consistency. It ignores it.

I think a better approach is to add the final AP rankings over the past six years (with a generic "30" used for those years where a team is unranked), then assign a bonus factor of, say, -1, for each BCS Championship. This would yield the following scores:

1)USC: 6.0

2)Texas: 6.0

3)Oklahoma: 8.3

4)LSU: 9.7

5)Ohio State: 10.8

6)Miami: 11.0

7)Georgia: 12.0

8)Michigan: 12.2

9)Florida: 15.7

10)Auburn: 16.5

11)Virginia Tech: 17.0

12)Boise State: 18.0

13)Louisville: 18.0

14)Tennessee: 19.5

15)Wisconsin: 21.5

16)TIE:West Virginia: 21.7

Florida State: 21.7

18)Notre Dame: 22.2

While Coach Tuberville may disagree with my method on soceolojical grounds, I intend to pin my ears back and forge ahead. No pun intended, Tommy.

Now, one might argue that some sort of weight should be assigned to recent success as opposed to more distant accomplishments. This would certainly hurt some of these teams and help others. But I think the above numbers are a good starting point. From these, I would argue that the top 10 teams are "elite". This definition would embrace a) every team to win an AP or BCS championship during the period, as well as b) every team that Kyle hates that has finished undefeated and gotten hosed despite it. This would also include two schools are neither of these things: Michigan and Georgia. Statistically, this would be less than 10% of the 117 D-1A teams, which I think is a good percentage so far as subjective cutoffs go.

Anybody got any better ideas?