Note: In response to ESPN's semi-recent article - "Ladder 119" http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=2947988
I was taking a look at this interesting piece, which attempted to rank all 119 college football teams based on factors such as winning percentage, tradition, attendance, facilities, etc. I noticed that ESPN used a completely subjective ranking system, so I decided to attach some numbers to their criteria. I also chose to evaluate only the teams I thought would have a legitimate chance to finish in the Top 10 (this happened to be 21 teams).
Note: I did not tweak the numbers to come up with a specific result. I did these rankings the fairest way I could think of, and these are the results.
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Results: Michigan is #1? Are you kidding me? The numbers don't lie. Since I'm sure you are all very curious as to how i came up with this, let's take a look at my methods.
Understanding the Rankings:
Winning Percentage: In my opinion, possibly the most important metric in determining the best team is how much they win. I took the winning percentage over the last decade times a factor of 10.
Conference and National Titles: Obviously important for separating good teams from great teams. I took number of conference titles times 1/4, national championships times 1. Conference titles garner a significantly lesser weight due to the fact that some conferences obviously have a tougher road to a title.
Attendance, Tradition, Facilities, National Exposure, Conference Toughness Ranks: With the exception of attendance, all of these are subjective. However, I also assigned a relatively lower weight to these numbers. I averaged these five categories; gave 4 points if the average was 1-5, 3 points if the average was 5-10, 2 points for 10-15, 1 point for 15-21. Note: Topping this list were schools like Notre Dame, USC, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, Florida, so I must have been doing something right...
Non-Bowl Seasons and Dirty Program Rank: These were the two categories that I subtracted points for. First of all, if you are to be considered one of the great teams of the decade, I believe you must be consistently good during that decade. ESPN chose USC as the team of the decade despite the fact that they did not play in a bowl game for 3 seasons during that span. To me, that is unacceptable. I took off a point for each non-bowl season. The dirty program rank is probably my most controversial metric. I toyed with this a bunch, and ultimately decided to keep it, because I feel that negative publicity stemming from arrests, shady recruiting habits, and so on detracts from a school's "greatness." Of the top five programs, I subtracted 0.5 from their total.
So there you have it...my mathematical formula for determining greatness in college football.
What does it mean?
Consistency is important - We tend to fall in love with teams like USC (now) or Miami/FSU (start of the decade), but we also tend to forget that those teams have had some really bad spells. Teams like Michigan and Texas have consistently fielded great teams year after year.
The powerhouses are here to stay - Take a look at the top 10. Would they look any different if you had done this exercise ten years ago? What about ten years in the future? The big name teams who fill the stadiums, rank high in tradition, and receive the most exposure are the ones winning the most games and titles.
Michigan easily had the best decade - Check out the margin of victory of Michigan (#1) over Texas (#2). You can try tweaking the rankings, but you're still going to get the same results. How do they fall under the radar on most of these lists? One possible answer: recent success. College football is a "what have you done for me lately" sport. Michigan's last National Title, although within the last decade, is ancient history to most fans. Although they have been in the mix as recently as last year, they have largely been out of National Title contention for most of the past few years. However, Michigan's ability to consistently field top 10-15 teams season after season makes them Best of College Football's "Team of the Decade."