When Nick Saban took over as head coach at the University of Alabama in 2007, for many fans the question was not if he would able to lead the Crimson Tide back to the top of the college football world, but when.
As far as we’re concerned, the answer is now.
In our sixth annual program rankings, which uses an extensive formula featuring everything from national championships and recruiting to postseason and individual accomplishments, Alabama finally moved up into the No. 1 spot after being dangerously close to falling out of the top 10 five years ago.
As a reminder, five categories were based on the previous year with the other half all-time (but slightly weighted to emphasize the modern era), while at the same time be as opinion-free as possible.
From the past year:
The final 2010-11 Associated Press poll.
Recruiting rankings by 247Sports.
Attendance figures from the NCAA.
The number of former players on NFL rosters opening weekend.
The annual Academic Progress Report scores, which measure academic progress.
As for the All-Time categories:
National championships (since 1936).
The All-Time Associated Press Poll (originally devised by former SEC assistant director of media relations Charles Woodroof).
College Football Hall of Fame inductees (players only).
Schools ranking in the top 25 in each category received points similar to the weekly top 25 polls, going from 25-24-23, down to 3-2-1, and the final rankings were based on total points.
This year, the tally wasn’t close. Not only did Alabama score the highest point total yet, but also won by the widest margin yet.
Final Rankings (2010-11)
School, Total Points (Last Year)
1] Alabama 204 (3)
2] Ohio State 182 (1)
3] Southern California 153.5 (4)
4] Texas 152 (2)
5] Oklahoma 144 (9)
6] Tennessee 135.5 (7)
7] Notre Dame 133 (6)
8] Michigan 132 (8)
9] Georgia 129.5 (14)
10] LSU 126 (12)
11] Nebraska 123.5 (11)
12] Penn State 119.5 (5)
13] Florida State 109 (13)
(tie) Auburn 109 (16)
15] Florida 94.5 (10)
16] Miami 78.5 (15)
17] Clemson 55 (19)
18] TCU 52 (23)
19] Stanford 48 (NR)
(tie) Arkansas 48 (NR)
21] Army 42 (20t)
22] Oregon 40.5 (NR)
(tie) Boise State 40.5 (18)
24] Michigan State 38.5 (NR)
(tie) Minnesota 38.5 (22)
Also accumulating points: Navy 36.5, California 35, Texas A&M 34.5, Ole Miss 34, Georgia Tech 33.5, South Carolina 33.5, Wisconsin 30, Iowa 28, Pittsburgh 23.5, Washington 23, Oklahoma State 22.5, Yale 21.5, Duke 21, Mississippi State 19, Princeton 19, Virginia Tech 19, Chicago 17, Harvard 17, Middle Tennessee 17, Northwestern 17, UCLA 17, Utah State 17, Maryland 16, Nevada 15, Northern Illinois 15, Brigham Young 14.5, Missouri 14.5, Boston College 14, Illinois 14, Pennsylvania 13, Texas Tech 12.5, Toledo 12.5, Wake Forest 12.5, New Mexico 11, North Carolina 8, Central Florida 7, Virginia 6, Cornell 5, Rutgers 4.5, Colorado 3.5, Syracuse3.5, West Virginia 2.5, Purdue 2, Tulsa 2, Kentucky 1, North Carolina State 1, Vanderbilt 1
Alabama was the only program to score points in all 10 categories, and was in the top five in seven of them. Its worst showing, and this speaks volumes that Alabama may be poised for a long stay at the top, was in players in the NFL, a category that the Crimson Tide placed tied for 14th and is quickly rising.
A nice bonus, which helped provide the large victory margin, was the stellar single-year APR score, tied for the fourth best in the nation. But even without it Alabama still would have won, and as if to help reinforce its recent academic success 11 Crimson Tide football players were named to the SEC’s First-Year Academic Honor Roll this week, while Mississippi State had the second most with five.
That’s a far cry from the early rankings.
Here’s the Crimson Tide’s year-by-year points total.
Considering that Alabama is a strong preseason favorite to at least challenge for another national championship, appears to have another stellar recruiting class in the works, and could be poised for another record-setting showing in the next NFL Draft, the Crimson Tide could conceivably top its score next year.
The No. 1 teams and total points
2005-06 Southern California 176.5
2006-07 Southern California 176
2007-08 Ohio State 182.5
2008-09 Ohio State 194.5
2009-10 Ohio State 186
2010-11 Alabama 204
19. (tie) Stanford: The Cardinal has never won a modern-era national championship, but has a tradition that is much richer than most fans realize. The real question now is how well will the program fare without Jim Harbaugh and after quarterback Andrew Luck moves on?
19. (tie) Arkansas: The Razorbacks went 10-3 last season with a four-point loss to Alabama, a shootout loss at Auburn and the Sugar Bowl defeat that Ohio State has since vacated. Don’t look for the Razorbacks to fall back out of our top 25 next year.
22. Oregon: Last season the Ducks were No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for the first time in program history and held on to it for seven weeks en route to the BCS National Championship Game. However, since then they’ve come under the microscope of the NCAA. While many predict Oregon to be the team to beat in the revamped Pac-10, others wonder if Chip Kelly will survive the season.
24. Michigan State: Despite the thumping to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl, the Spartans were co-champions of the Big Ten and this year’s squad might even be better. However, they’ll be hard-pressed to match last year’s 7-1 record in conference play especially with Nebraska in the same division.
Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson’s teams have finished better than expected, but if last year’s 6-7 record wasn’t enough of a setback this past week the NCAA put Georgia Tech on four years of probation, fined the school $100,000 and stripped its 2009 ACC title for using an ineligible player. The good news for Yellow Jacket fans (who were probably stunned by the ruling) was that Tech didn’t lose any scholarships and can still play in postseason games.
Ole Miss: Houston Nutt has a reputation for getting the most out of his players and surprising opponents when his team is supposed to be down, but last year the Rebels finished last in the SEC West at 1-7. While many want to dismiss Ole Miss again this fall, the schedule is favorable for some upsets.
Iowa: While the Hawkeyes went 4-4 in conference play last year when many expected them to contend for the Big Ten title, all five losses were by seven points or fewer. The bad news for 2011 is a tougher schedule and just nine returning starters.
Pittsburgh: Last year the young Panthers didn’t quite come together as some hoped and Coach Dave Wannstedt was let go, only to see things come together for an impressive 27-10 bowl victory over Kentucky. Todd Graham steps into a great situation because most of the defensive pieces are already in place and the offense has some talent. Look for Pitt to challenge for the Big East title and might return to our top 25 next year.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies always seems to be right on the bubble of making our top 25, and even though they went 11-3 last season and finished No. 16 in the final Associated Press poll Frank Beamer’s team barely scored any points in the other nine categories. That demonstrates how tough it is to score points and makes us wonder how the coach does it.
We always like to provide the totals for the all-time categories, even though any significant movement can years to develop. For the first time, though, here’s the Top 25.
Team, total points
1. Alabama 108.5
2. Ohio State 100
3. Oklahoma 100
4. Southern California 99.5
5. Notre Dame 96
6. Michigan 91
7. Nebraska 86
8. Tennessee 84.5
9. Texas 83
10. Penn State 81.5
11. Florida State 58.5
12. Georgia 46.5
(tie) LSU 46.5
14. Miami 44.5
15. Florida 41.5
16. Army 40
17. Minnesota 38.5
18. Auburn 33.5
19. Georgia Tech 27
20. Arkansas 25
21. Pittsburgh 23.5
22. Ole Miss 22.5
23. Yale 21.5
24. Washington 20
25. Princeton 19
Also accumulating points: Michigan State 17.5, Navy 17.5, Chicago 17, Harvard 17, UCLA 17, Brigham Young 14.5, Texas A&M 14.5, Pennsylvania 13, Stanford 13, Illinois 12, Clemson 11, Texas Tech 9.5, California 7, Cornell 5, Virginia Tech 5, Colorado 3.5, Maryland 3.5, Syracuse 3.5, TCU 3.5, Iowa 3, West Virginia 2.5, Vanderbilt 1, Wisconsin 1
Biggest one-year movers
A one-year gain or loss can simply be the reflection of an up or down season the previous year, suddenly scoring big in a particular category or a perhaps number of things coming together at the right time.
The programs gaining the most points last season were:
South Carolina +24.5
Mississippi State +19
Utah State +17
Of course the tricky part is holding on to those points the subsequent year(s). Meanwhile, the program that lost the most points last year was actually Florida (-37.5), during Urban Meyer’s final season leading the Gators.
Also, to provide an idea of how much many of the traditional top-end programs are struggling (Southern California, Ohio State, Notre Dame, etc), Tennessee lost five points overall and moved up a position, while Oklahoma gained just 6.5 points and rose four spots in the final rankings.
Here are the five teams that have added the most points compared to the second year of the rankings, 2006-07. Note: Teams that had either a very good or very bad season then obviously heavily influenced the following numbers (for example, TCU barely registered that season):
Michigan State +19.5
(tied) Boise State +19.5
(tied) Iowa +19.5
Incidentally, Mississippi State was just out of the top five at plus-19.
In comparison, here are the ranked teams that lost the most points:
(tied) Michigan -43.5
Notre Dame -27.5
Southern California -23.5
Incidentally, Tennessee was just out of the top five at minus-21.
A conference breakdown will appear this weekend on BamaOnline.
_ Christopher Walsh is also the author of numerous college football books, including "Who's No. 1? 100-Plus Years Of Controversial Champions in College Football."