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2014 Elite Teams (and beyond)

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of research trying to make sense out of the greatest sport in the world, college football. The Weighted Recruiting Composite I posted recently is one piece of the puzzle. When you start to combine all the pieces of the puzzle, things become clearer. What makes a particular team truly Elite is the category of research we'll be looking at here.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Last July, I wrote about my definition of an Elite Team in order to present a definition of what an Elite Team actually is. You can revisit how I came up with this definition, why I use it, and the discussion we had here.

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of research trying to make sense out of the greatest sport in the world, college football. The Weighted Recruiting Composite I posted recently is one piece of the puzzle. When you start to combine all the pieces of the puzzle, things become clearer. What makes a particular team truly Elite is another one of those categories of research.

Why do some teams seem to get advantages others don’t? Why do I feel like team X is going to get screwed out of the title picture somehow?

I share what I believe to be a part of that answer with you in the hopes that it will make you think about these things in order to form your own opinion about how we are performing as a program in relation to the rest of the nation. This particular post will deal with what happened over the course of the 2014 season.

To refresh your memory, my definition of an Elite Team is: a top 5 team in the Final AP Poll and any team in the top 15 that has defeated another elite team (ie. you’ve seen them prove their eliteness on the field).

I use two factors as the basis for this definition, “Collective Opinion” and “The Circle of Proof.” These two factors work together to quantify the accepted truth that nestles itself in the gut of fans, playoff committee members, AP voters, media, recruits, and athletic departments.

Various forms of Collective Opinion have been the basis for all meaningful rankings and perception since the Associated Press expanded on football historian, Parke Davis’ idea of crowning a National Champion in 1936. You may have seen the moniker MNC or “Mythical National Champion” used to describe the team anointed as the National Champion by Collective Opinion.

It is difficult to flush out exactly who the best teams are based on routine matchups within a conference. Therefore, on any given year, a combination of won/loss records, non-conference matchups, and (even though it is denied by some) previous years’ non-conference matchups, are used to assess where the most deserving championship contenders can be found.

We’ll get into Elite Programs again in a later post but I'll ask, what team pops into your head when you hear the term, “Elite Program” in college football?

Alabama, right? You know they are elite level. Notice I didn’t say “think.” I said “know.” That means that something has to happen to change your mind of that fact. The burden of proof lies more with other teams to change that collective opinion than it does Alabama to have to re-prove they are elite. If you understand that, you understand the basis of how Collective Opinion works at the highest level.

Alabama started the season at #3 and ended up finishing it ranked #4 in the Final AP Poll. Alabama did not defeat an Elite Team last year. However, Collective Opinion says that they were an Elite Team because in the end, their two losses did not meet the burden of proof necessary to remove them from their perch.

Collective Opinion also says that Ohio St, Oregon, TCU, Alabama, Florida St (tie for 5th) and Michigan St (tie for 5th) all fielded Elite Level Teams last year.

“The Circle of Proof” is the other side of the equation and also lives in our gut. I use the term “gut” to explain that place where we can internalize truths that our conscious mind cannot always quantify or confirm to be true.

The Circle of Proof acknowledges "Collective Opinion" but isn’t always sold on it either. Collective Opinion puts more emphasis on not being wrong than they do on getting it right. The Circle of Proof will let Collective Opinion know where it might be wrong.

Last season, Collective Opinion was confused about the strength of Big 12 front runners, Baylor and TCU. Collective Opinion does not really trust teams that don’t have a track record on the highest level. At some point, Collective Opinion will almost always find a way to give the benefit of the doubt to what has already been proven in past years (because it is afraid of being wrong). Only when all doubt has been removed from proven programs, will Collective Opinion elevate an unproven program.

When it came to deciding the playoff teams last year, perhaps it was coincidence that the playoff teams, Ohio St., Florida St., Alabama, and Oregon, are Elite Programs and Baylor and TCU are not? However, my research says it is not coincidence at all and this happens on a yearly basis.

After the season ends, The Circle of Proof checks Collective Opinon’s work for discrepancies in the form of teams that have a right to the elite level based on what they have accomplished on the field. In 2014, the circle of proof acknowledges just one other team as “Elite.”

Baylor lost their bowl game to Michigan State and finished the season outside of the top 5 but defeated the TCU team that destroyed Ole Miss 42-3. With all the results in, Collective Opinion acknowledges that doubt has been removed with TCU and elevates TCU to #3. Baylor lost their bowl game and Collective Opinion will penalize them for that.  However, the Circle of Proof says, “why is Baylor #7 when Alabama and Florida State are #4 and #5 with no elite wins?”

The “Circle of Proof” points out that Ohio St. defeated Oregon who defeated Michigan St. who defeated Baylor who defeated TCU who defeated Ole Miss who defeated Alabama. Alabama and Florida State didn’t prove what the other teams did. So as you acknowledged above, you "know" Alabama and Florida St. are elite, you just didn’t see them prove that at the highest level last year.

Therefore, the Circle of Proof has it more like this: 1.Ohio State, 2. Oregon, 3.Michigan State, 4. Baylor 5. TCU, 6. Alabama, 7. Florida State.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them in the message board.

The Elite Teams for 2014 are Ohio St, Oregon, TCU, Alabama, Florida St, Michigan St., and Baylor.

Now let’s move to the other tiers below Elite Level. I’m calling the tiers below Elite in order from strongest to weakest:

Big Boy Football, Fringe Top 25 Teams, Mediocre Teams, Weak Teams, and Bottom Feeders

Big Boy Football Teams are the 2nd tier below elite and consist of the remaining teams in the Final AP poll Top 15 and any Top 25 Team that has defeated a Top 15 Team. I’m still using both Collective Opinion and the Circle of Proof here. Those teams for 2014 are:

Georgia Tech, Georgia, UCLA, Miss St., Arizona St., Wisconsin, Missouri, Clemson, Duke (defeated Georgia Tech), Utah (defeated UCLA), and Ole Miss (defeated Alabama, Miss St.) .

With Fringe Top 25 Teams (3rd Tier), I’m borrowing a phrase that Razzmctazz used here to basically describe the entire Tommy Bowden era at Clemson. That phrase is spot on. This phrase describes the remaining teams in the Top 25 and any team with a winning record that has defeated a Final AP Top 25 Team. Those Teams for 2014 are:

Boise St., Kansas St., Arizona, Auburn, Marshall, Louisville, Memphis, Florida (defeated Georgia), South Carolina (defeated Georgia), USC (defeated Arizona), Stanford (defeated UCLA), LSU (defeated Wisconsin), Virginia Tech (defeated Ohio St., Duke), Air Force (defeated Boise St.), Texas A&M (defeated Auburn), Western Kentucky (defeated Marshall), and Houston (defeated Memphis).

Mediocre Teams (4th Tier) are any team left with a winning record or any team with a .500 record that has beaten an FBS team with a winning record. Those teams for 2014 are:

App St., Arkansas, Arkansas St., Boston College, Bowling Green, BYU, Central Florida, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Colorado St., East Carolina, Fresno State, Ga. Southern, Iowa, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, Maryland, Minnesota, Navy, NC State, Nebraska, Nevada, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Old Dominion, Penn St., Rice, Rutgers, San Diego St., Stanford, Temple, Tennessee, Texas St., Toledo, UAB, Utah St., UTEP, Washington, West Virginia, Western Michigan.

Weak Teams (5th Tier) are any team left with a .500 record or any team with a losing record that has defeated an FBS team with a winning record. Those Teams for 2014 are:

Ball St., Fla Atl, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa St., Kansas, Kentucky, Miami, Michigan, Mid Tennessee, Northwestern, Ohio, Oregon St., Pittsburgh, Purdue, S. Alabama, Southern Miss, Syracuse, Texas, Texas Tech, Tulane, UConn, UNC, UTSA, Virginia, Wake Forest, Washington St., Wyoming

Bottom Feeders (6th and Bottom Tier) are teams that have a losing record and did not beat an FBS team with a winning record. Those teams for 2014 are:

Akron, Army, Buffalo, California, Colorado, E. Michigan, FIU, Georgia St., Hawaii, Idaho, Kent St., La-Monroe, Miami OH, N. Mexico St., New Mexico, North Texas, San Jose St., SMU, Troy, Tulsa, UMass, UNLV, USF, Vanderbilt.

So, Clemson’s schedule last year by Tier looked like this:

Elite: Florida State (L)

Big Boy Teams: Georgia Tech (L), Georgia (L)

Fringe Top 25 Teams: Louisville (W), South Carolina (W)

Mediocre Teams: Boston College (W), N.C. St (W), Oklahoma (W)

Weak Teams: Syracuse (W), UNC (W), Wake Forest (W)

Bottom Feeder: Georgia St. (W)

Take what you want from that. Some will see this as 0-3 vs. Big Boy competition. Some will see this as consistently beating the teams we’re supposed to beat. Some will see this as “well, we should’ve beaten FSU and GT, so we were really Elite Level if________ happened. “ All of those conclusions would be correct. Your perception of the program likely determines which truth has more value to you.

I’d like to point out that even if we had beaten Georgia Tech, it is my belief they would have still landed in the Big Boy Tier based on their wins against Georgia (and likely Oklahoma in the bowl game).

Next post will focus on Elite Programs and examine the cumulative success of programs from year to year. At some point, I’ll also dedicate another post to what tier Clemson has finished in since 1981 and try to determine where Dabo’s version of the program fits in when compared with other versions from Clemson’s past.

Also, if you need clarification of if I didn't explain this as well as I could, I'm always open to suggestion and appreciate you pointing that out even if I play Devil's Advocate with you for a bit on your suggestion. :)