As the season looms nearer, all kinds of school rankings are going to come out. One of the most fun comes from Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel, who models his after a four-tier Feudal society. He first gave us his hierarchical take on college football in 2007 and now half a decade later, he has revisited the rankings.
According to him, USC falls into the Kings category and is the only Pac-12 team to do so, but more on that in a minute.
Here’s what Mandel says about how his system works:
As I wrote in ’07, a national power carries “… a certain cachet or aura. It’s the way a program is perceived by the public. Let me put it to you this way. Suppose we went to, say, Montana. And suppose we found 100 ‘average’ college football fans (not necessarily message-board crazies, but not twice-a-year viewers, either) and put them in a room. If I held up a Michigan helmet, my guess is all 100 would know exactly what it was. … But if I held up a Georgia ‘G’ helmet, how many of them do you think would be able to identify it off the top of their heads?”
He included all AQ teams as well as major independents. Teams that are in bold have moved up a rank since ’07, while strikethroughs indicate those who have fallen.
So without further ado, here are the tiers:
Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State,
Tennessee, Texas and USC.
Colorado, Georgia, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas A&M, UCLA, Virginia Tech, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Arizona State, Arkansas, Boise State, Boston College, BYU, Cal, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas State, Maryland, Michigan State, Missouri, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Stanford, Syracuse, South Carolina, TCU, Texas Tech, Utah, Virginia, Washington and
Arizona, Baylor, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Duke, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa State, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Northwestern, Rutgers, Temple, USF, Wake Forest, Washington State and Vanderbilt.
As you can see, not a whole lot of movement amongst the classes, but let’s look at where the Pac-12 teams lay.
USC is slated as a king, which makes sense: From 2007-2012, USC
won three bowl games, two of which were Rose Bowls. The sanctions set USC back in 2009-2011, but not enough to ever produce a losing season. Also, USC is one of the winningest, most recognizable programs in college football.
Mandel has Oregon and UCLA both ranked as Barons, which is interesting. From 2009-2011, Oregon played in two Rose Bowls and a national title. Granted, they only won the 2011 Rose Bowl, but they also only lost four regular season games in that three-year span. UCLA’s successes pale in comparison to that. In the same three years that Oregon was dominating the Pac-12, UCLA lost 21 games and didn’t play in any notable bowls.
Then again, when history is considered obviously UCLA is the more recognizable team. They are still one of the bigger, more profitable teams in the Pac-12 and they likely will always be. But if recent history matters too, then Oregon has the bigger aura around them. For fans of either school, having these squads at the same level makes for an interesting debate.
Washington got dropped to Knights while Utah moved up to this rank, and that makes sense. Washington was hot throughout the ’90s and up until 2001; they won a national title and two Rose Bowls in that time span. The Huskies have also gone to the Rose Bowl 14 times, second only to USC. However, the 2000s have not been good to them. Most notably, getting completely defeated in 2008 when they posted 12 straight L’s. They have improved since then but have yet to return to their 1990s glory.
Utah on the other hand has seen much success in the 2000s, like going undefeated in 2004, doing it again in 2008 with a signature win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, winning seven consecutive bowl games, and joining the Pac-12. This is a program that is poised to do work in the coming years, and we might even see them move up a rank by the next time this list comes out.
Arizona State, Cal, Oregon State and Stanford all maintained their Knights ranking. Of these teams, Stanford could be the next to move up. Colorado got dropped to this level for obvious reasons. The Buffs won a national title in the ’90s, but have taken a steep nose dive since then. Much like Washington, no one predicted that they would fall off as hard as they did.
Arizona is still outside the castle looking in with its Peasant status, and Washington State has joined them. The Cougars had much success in the early 2000s, posting three consecutive ten-win seasons. From 2001-2003, they finished with a top ranking and won two of three bowl games, including a Rose Bowl. After that…it’s been all bad. Washington State could see a resurgence with Mike Leach as their new head coach, as could Arizona under the guidance of Rich Rodriguez.
So if the Pac-12 were a castle, USC would be sitting pretty on the royal thrown, with the likes of Oregon and UCLA trying to de-throne them. ASU, Cal, Oregon State and Stanford are all trying to elevate their ranks to be up their with the big boys, while Arizona and Washington State just want to get through the portcullis and into the royal yards.
Will any of these teams have a season worthy of moving up a rank? Only 52 days until we can begin to find out.