Here's what Power 5 college football programs have accomplished in the lifetime of 2022 recruits
Colorado, Nebraska and Tennessee fans should not read this
The schools at the top of the 2021 college football recruiting class rankings are nearly identical to the schools that have the highest winning percentages during the lifetimes of current high school recruits. Alabama’s 2021 recruiting class checks in at No. 1 in the 247Sports Composite rankings, just ahead of Ohio State, LSU, Georgia, Clemson and Oregon. Since the start of the 2003 college football season, which is roughly when some of the oldest current high school juniors and class of 2022 recruits were born, Ohio State has the highest winning percentage of any Power 5 program, winning just shy of 85 percent of its games. Alabama is second, LSU is fourth, Clemson is fifth, Georgia is seventh and Oregon is ninth.
Sure, some of these programs rank among the winningest of all-time, so they’ve almost always been really good, regardless of which period of time you highlight. Ohio State’s .752 all-time winning percentage trails only Boise State’s .778 winning percentage among current FBS programs and the Broncos joined the highest level of the sport in 1996 and have since moved from the Big West to the WAC to the Mountain West. Alabama (.747) ranks third all-time among current FBS programs.
But other notable programs’ all-time winning percentages are arguably just a shadow; right now, they’re simply a reminder of what’s behind them. Michigan (.727) ranks fourth among current FBS programs in all-time winning percentage, yet it ranks 22nd among current Power 5 programs in terms of its winning percentage since the start of the 2003 season, sandwiched between Iowa and Louisville. Nebraska ranks ninth in the former and 29th in the latter. Tennessee is 12th and 38th, respectively.
In an effort to quantify how recruits in the 2022 recruiting class might view Power 5 programs based on what schools have achieved during their lifetime, I calculated the winning percentage of every Power 5 program, plus Notre Dame, from the 2003 season through the 2020 season. I also tracked bowl seasons, BCS/New Year’s Six bowl seasons, conference championships and national championships.
Vacated wins, bowl appearances and championships are included in this newsletter because no matter what the record books say, those games happened. If a high school recruit has a positive memory about a win or a season that was later vacated, then that memory could still theoretically impact the player’s fondness toward that school during his recruitment.
As I’ve written before – specifically, in the case of some Texas Tech fans who made the case for the school to hire Art Briles this offseason because they want to see the Red Raiders win a Big 12 championship before they die – many college football programs currently are what they used to be, and what they are now is likely what they’ll be in the future. That’s often true whether a program is elite, awful or painfully mediocre.
But during the lifetimes of current high school juniors, some college football programs have moved to a better or worse house in their neighborhood, and some have even moved to an entirely different neighborhood. Over the last 18 seasons, Power 5 football programs’ individual winning percentages have been anywhere from 18 percentage points worse to 17 percentage points better compared to their all-time winning percentage.
A handful of programs haven’t really changed at all, in the aggregate. Cal’s all-time winning percentage is .526. Its winning percentage from 2003 through 2020 was .527.
Below is a list of the winning percentages of the current Power 5 college football programs from the start of the 2003 season through the 2020 season:
1. Ohio State: 84.91%
2. Alabama: 80.66%
3. Oklahoma: 80.33%
4. LSU: 77.68%
5. Clemson: 75.93%
6. USC: 75.00%
7. Georgia: 74.68%
8. Wisconsin: 72.96%
9. Oregon: 71.93%
10. TCU: 71.37%
11. Florida: 69.70%
12. Utah: 69.51%
13. Texas: 68.56%
T14. Auburn/Florida State: 67.24%
16. Virginia Tech: 67.09%
17. Oklahoma State: 66.81%
18. Penn State: 66.22%
19. West Virginia: 65.49%
20. Notre Dame: 65.20%
21. Iowa: 64.60%
22. Michigan: 63.51%
23. Louisville: 62.39%
24. Miami (FL): 61.67%
25. Michigan State: 61.06%
26. Missouri: 60.96%
27. Stanford: 60.18%
28. Texas A&M: 59.73%
29. Nebraska: 59.29%
30. Kansas State: 56.89%
31. Texas Tech: 56.25%
32. South Carolina: 56.00%
33. Northwestern: 55.80%
34. Arizona State: 55.71%
35. Boston College: 55.70%
36. Pitt: 55.51%
37. Georgia Tech: 55.02%
38. Tennessee: 54.46%
39. California: 52.75%
40. NC State: 52.44%
41. Minnesota: 50.90%
42. UCLA: 50.67%
43. Washington: 50.45%
44. Baylor: 50.23%
T45. Arkansas/Mississippi State/North Carolina: 49.55%
48. Ole Miss: 48.86%
T49. Rutgers/Wake Forest: 47.27%
51. Oregon State: 46.33%
52. Virginia: 46.15%
53. Kentucky: 45.50%
54. Arizona: 45.37%
55. Maryland: 45.12%
56. Washington State: 44.39%
57. Purdue: 41.94%
58. Iowa State: 41.44%
59. Syracuse: 38.99%
60. Colorado: 38.71%
61. Indiana: 37.74%
62. Duke: 37.27%
63. Vanderbilt: 36.87%
64. Illinois: 33.95%
65. Kansas: 32.09%
Times are changing
You might be surprised to learn that Ohio State’s winning percentage over the last 18 seasons was almost 10 percentage points higher than the program’s all-time winning percentage. Alabama’s winning percentage since 2003 is roughly six percentage points higher than its all-time percentage.
Both programs have won roughly three out of every four games they’ve played since they started playing the sport, yet two of college football’s most powerful machines have somehow become even more dominant during the lifetimes of current high school juniors.
Here are the Power 5 programs that had the biggest positive improvement from their all-time winning percentage compared to that of the last 18 seasons:
School: change (all-time winning percentage | 2003-2020 winning percentage)
1. TCU: +17.2 percentage points (.542 | .714)
2. Oregon: +15.7 percentage points (.562 | .719)
3. Oklahoma State: +14.5 percentage points (.523 | .668)
4. Wisconsin: +14.4 percentage points (.586 | .730)
5. Clemson: +14.2 percentage points (.617 | .759)
Here are the Power 5 programs that experienced the biggest drop-off, when comparing their all-time winning percentage to their winning percentage over the last 18 seasons:
School: change (all-time winning percentage | 2003-2020 winning percentage)
1. Colorado: -18.5 percentage points (.572 | .387)
2. Syracuse: -18.0 percentage points (.570 | .390)
3. Illinois: -16.0 percentage points (.500 | .340)
4. Kansas: -13.6 percentage points (.457 | .321)
5. Tennessee: -13.0 percentage points (.675 | .545)
Below is a scatter plot of every Power 5 program, graphed with its winning percentage from 2003 to 2020 on the X-axis and its all-time winning percentage on the Y-axis.
Schools positioned further to the right had a higher winning percentage from 2003 through 2020 than the schools to their left. Schools positioned higher on the scatter plot have a higher all-time winning percentage than those below them.
You can try to sort some of these programs based on the combination of their relative current and historical success (or the lack thereof) using the scatter plot.
National championships and BCS/New Year’s Six bowl appearances
Only nine FBS programs have won a national championship since many of the oldest recruits in the class of 2022 were born:
1. Alabama: 6
2. LSU: 3
T3. Clemson/Florida/USC: 2
T6. Auburn/Florida State/Ohio State/Texas: 1
Those nine schools are located in seven different states. In the last 18 seasons, only seven states – although not the same seven as those that have had a school win a national championship since the 2003 season – have had their in-state schools combine for at least 10 BCS/New Year’s Six bowl appearances: Florida (19), Ohio (18), Alabama (16), Oklahoma (15), California and Texas (13), and Michigan (10).
From the 1998 season through the 2005 season, there were four BCS bowls – the Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl – then the BCS National Championship was added in the 2006 season. The New Year’s Six bowls also feature the Cotton Bowl and Peach Bowl. Participation in the College Football Playoff National Championship game was not counted as an additional bowl berth as to not double-count a school’s bowl games during a single playoff appearance.
During the lifetimes of prospects in the 2023 recruiting class, if a new school doesn’t join that list of recent national champions and if USC doesn’t win a national championship in the next two years, the number will drop to eight schools that have won a national championship since current high school sophomores were born. The number could potentially then drop to seven schools that have won a national championship since recruits in the class of 2024 recruits were born if Texas doesn’t win a national title in the next three years and if another school doesn’t join the list.
If the next six national championships are won by some combination of Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, LSU and Ohio State, then recruits in the class of 2028 – a fancy way of saying current fifth-graders – will enter college having grown up in a college football world in which only those six programs will have won a national championship during their lifetimes.
In the first 18 years of the sport – 1869 through 1886 – only four schools won the national championship. In that time, Yale won nine championships and Princeton won eight, Harvard won the 1875 title and Rutgers shared the first-ever title with Princeton because the two schools split the pair of regular season games they played against one another. Rutgers players won the first meeting against Princeton 6-4, lost the second game 8-0 and then took home a national title. Good for them.
The sneaky truth about the sport is that it has often been dominated by a handful of programs, to varying degrees, and one of the reasons college football can have the illusion of parity and upward mobility is because for many the first 130 years or so of the sport, sportswriters were often responsible for naming the national champion and there wasn’t always a consensus national champion. There have been decades’ worth of seasons in which multiple schools have an official claim to the national championship.
The three schools that have the most BCS/New Year’s Six bowl appearances since the 2003 season (once again, not counting the College Football Playoff National Championship game) are responsible for nearly 21 percent of all BCS/New Year’s Six bowl game appearances in the last 18 seasons. Ohio State, Oklahoma and Alabama have combined for 39 appearances out of the 188 total berths in those bowl games.
Here’s the complete list of BCS/New Year’s Six bowl appearances, from the 2003 season through the 2020 season:
1. Ohio State: 15
2. Oklahoma: 13
3. Alabama: 11
T4. Clemson, USC: 8
T6. Florida, Florida State, Oregon: 7
T9. Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Wisconsin: 6
T14. Auburn, Penn State, Stanford, Texas, Virginia Tech: 5
T19. Baylor, Boise State, Cincinnati, Michigan State, TCU, UCF, Washington, West Virginia: 3
T27. Georgia Tech, Iowa, Kansas State, Louisville, Miami (FL), Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Utah: 2
T35. Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Houston, Illinois, Iowa State, Kansas, Memphis, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Northern Illinois, Pitt, Texas A&M, UConn, Virginia, Wake Forest, Western Michigan: 1
That leaves 23 Power 5 programs, or more than a third of the Power 5, that haven’t made a BCS/New Year’s Six bowl game during the lifetimes of class of 2022 recruits: Arizona State, Boston College, California, Colorado, Duke, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, NC State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Oregon State, Purdue, Rutgers, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas Tech, UCLA, Vanderbilt and Washington State. (Keep in mind that there are bowl games that are currently part of the New Year’s Six that weren’t a part of the BCS).
That group includes the 1998 national champion (Tennessee), the 1994, 1995 and 1997 national champion (Nebraska), and 1990 national champion Colorado.
Meanwhile, Boise State, Cincinnati and UCF have each made three BCS/New Year’s Six bowl appearances in that span.
Below is a breakdown of every Power 5 conference, based on how many bowl seasons each school has had in the last 18 seasons (X-axis) compared to how many seasons each school has made a BCS/New Year’s Six bowl in that span (Y-axis).
Click on the scatter plot to open an interactive version in a new window.
A conference-by-conference breakdown
Oklahoma and Ohio State have been the two surest bets to win their respective conference’s championship in the last 18 seasons. The Sooners have won 12 Big 12 conference titles since the start of the 2003 season, while Ohio State has 10 in the Big Ten during that span.
A reminder that prior to conference championship games, there were seasons where multiple teams shared conference title honors based on their regular season conference records.
Below is a breakdown of what percent of the time schools in each Power 5 conference have won their conference championship in the last 18 seasons, adjusted for how many seasons each school has spent in its current conference during that span in order to not penalize schools that changed conferences during the most recent round of conference realignment.
Once again, vacated conference championships are included, because you can’t vacate memories.
1. Clemson: 38.9%
2. Florida State: 27.8%
3. Virginia Tech: 23.5%
T4. Georgia Tech, Wake Forest: 5.6%
The winner of the ACC championship has been as streaky as that in almost any conference. Florida State won at least a share of nine consecutive conference championships from 1992 through 2000, as part of a run of 11 in 12 years. Virginia Tech won four in seven years from 2004 through 2010, with no other school in the conference winning more than one in that span. Florida State won three in a row from 2012 through 2014 and now Clemson has won the last six conference titles.
1. Oklahoma: 66.7%
T2. Baylor, Kansas State, TCU, Texas: 11.1%
6. Oklahoma State: 5.6%
During the lifetimes of class of 2022 recruits, Oklahoma has won at least a share of the Big 12 championship in two out of every three seasons, on average. Since joining the conference in the 2012 season, TCU has the same conference championship percentage that Texas has since 2003. *Ducks*
Oklahoma has won the last six Big 12 championships.
1. Ohio State: 55.6%
T2. Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin: 16.7%
5. Michigan: 11.1%
6. Iowa: 5.6%
The list above should be all it takes for the Big Ten to scrap its divisions. Four of the five schools that have won more than one conference championship since 2003 are currently in the same division. “The balance of the two divisions is cyclical,” they’ll say, which is true. Sometimes the Big Ten East is really good and sometimes it’s really, really good.
1. USC: 38.9%
2. Oregon: 33.3%
3. Stanford: 16.7%
4. Washington: 11.1%
T5. Arizona State, California: 5.6%
This list tells us a few things. First, since the Pac-10 expanded to become the Pac-12 prior to the 2011 season, USC has won just one conference championship in the last nine seasons. Yet it stills leads the conference in championships since 2003.
To completely oversimplify the fading of the Pac-12, is the difference between the ACC and Pac-12 that Clemson has sort of become what USC used to be?
1. Alabama: 38.9%
2. LSU: 22.2%
3. Auburn: 16.7%
T4. Florida, Georgia: 11.1%
Is the bottom half of the SEC stealing valor from the top half? Alabama, LSU and Auburn have won 14 of the last 18 SEC championships, while Florida and Georgia have two apiece.
In 10 of the last 18 seasons, the SEC champion has won the national championship and that doesn’t include Alabama’s national championships during the 2011 and 2017 seasons, when it didn’t win the SEC but still won the national title – both times against the SEC champion.
The next class of recruits who will sign their National Letters of Intent can count on two hands the number of schools that have won a national championship during their lifetime, and they’d still have a finger to spare. Forget the AP Top 25 poll, there are only 26 programs that have made more than two BCS/New Year’s Six bowl games since the 2003 season, and only 23 of them are in the Power 5. And forget about winning national championships, which has been limited to the top seven percent of the sport over the last 18 seasons, but there are only five or six programs in each conference that have proven capable of winning a conference championship since 2003.
The pageantry of college football is based around history and tradition but for many programs, the high school players they’re recruiting weren’t alive to witness it.
Recap of the last newsletter
(Click the image below to read)
“There’s a likely scenario where the public will know which student-athletes are earning the most off-field income and which schools’ student-athletes are earning the most opportunities. Once that’s out there in the open, good luck to the schools that are at the bottom of that list competing in recruiting.”
Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.