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5-year rankings: Bama’s only getting better, but Ohio State and Clemson are charging

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All 129 teams, ranked both by how they’ve performed over the last five years and by how that compares to their previous five years.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday of this week, I will be posting this year's initial S&P+ projections for the 2017 college football season. The rankings are primarily a mix of three factors: returning production, two-year recruiting, and recent history.

This is easy enough to explain. To figure out who's going to be good next year, we basically ask three questions: Who's been good? Who's returning their good players? And how good is the talent that teams are bringing in?

There will always be misses using this approach, simply because college football is only so predictable. S&P+ certainly nailed an Alabama-Clemson finale last year (not that that was an out-on-a-limb projection) and helped build Washington hype, but it also thought Ole Miss would be a lot better than the Rebels were (even before injuries).

We overreact to small pieces of information — bowl bumps and whatnot — but S&P+ is in a way designed to underreact.

As a lead-up to Friday's projections, let's look at each individual factor and what it has to tell us. On Tuesday, we'll look at returning production, and on Thursday, following National Signing Day, we'll look at shifts in recruiting.

Here's a look at each team's updated five-year history.

This isn't specifically what goes into the projections — there is extra weight given to more recent seasons, particularly last year — but it sets the table. I'm also including some trend information. You can also look at last year's five-year history figure to see whose prospects are rising and falling.

A terrifying thought: Alabama's prospects appear to be ... rising.

Five-year S&P+

Team Avg. S&P+ (2012-16) 5-year Rk Avg. S&P+ (2011-15) Change Change Rk
Team Avg. S&P+ (2012-16) 5-year Rk Avg. S&P+ (2011-15) Change Change Rk
Alabama 27.5 1 26.2 1.3 38
Ohio State 20.7 2 17 3.7 8
Florida State 18.8 3 16.6 2.2 19
Clemson 18.6 4 14.3 4.3 4
LSU 17.3 5 18.1 -0.8 83
Oklahoma 16.9 6 17.3 -0.5 76
Stanford 16.4 7 17.5 -1.1 89
USC 15.1 8 14 1.1 43
Notre Dame 14.3 9 15.5 -1.2 91
Michigan 14.3 10 12.7 1.6 32
Texas A&M 14.1 11 15.3 -1.2 90
Ole Miss 14 12 11.7 2.4 18
Wisconsin 14 13 13.7 0.3 58
Auburn 13.9 14 11.3 2.6 17
Florida 13.8 15 12.2 1.5 33
Baylor 13.5 16 14.6 -1.1 88
Oregon 13.2 17 17.7 -4.5 128
Georgia 12.5 18 15.6 -3.1 124
Michigan State 12.2 19 14 -1.9 109
Louisville 11.6 20 8 3.6 9
Mississippi State 11.4 21 11.2 0.2 62
Washington 11.3 22 7.7 3.6 10
UCLA 11.1 23 11.2 0 68
TCU 10.1 24 11.3 -1.3 93
Oklahoma State 9.9 25 12.8 -2.9 122
Penn State 9.7 26 8.9 0.8 48
Boise State 9.6 27 11.9 -2.3 115
Miami-FL 9.6 28 7.8 1.9 27
BYU 9.4 29 8.4 1 45
Tennessee 9.3 30 8.8 0.5 54
Kansas State 9.1 31 8.7 0.3 57
Arkansas 9 32 10.4 -1.4 97
Georgia Tech 8.6 33 7.5 1.2 41
Virginia Tech 8.4 34 7.8 0.6 53
Pittsburgh 7.8 35 5.9 1.9 25
Nebraska 7.5 36 8.7 -1.2 92
Texas 7.5 37 8.2 -0.8 81
Arizona State 7.2 38 9.3 -2.1 111
Utah 7 39 5.9 1.1 42
Missouri 7 40 9.2 -2.2 113
North Carolina 6.9 41 5.8 1.1 44
South Carolina 6.7 42 9.4 -2.7 120
Utah State 6.1 43 5.8 0.2 63
Iowa 5.5 44 4.3 1.2 39
West Virginia 5.3 45 4.9 0.3 59
Toledo 4.7 46 6.5 -1.8 106
Western Kentucky 4.5 47 -0.2 4.7 2
Arizona 4 48 5.5 -1.5 100
Minnesota 4 49 2.1 1.9 23
NC State 3.8 50 0.9 2.9 13
Texas Tech 3.6 51 2.8 0.8 47
Northwestern 3.2 52 1.6 1.6 30
Appalachian State 2.9 53 1 1.9 24
Indiana 2.6 54 -1.1 3.8 5
Oregon State 2.5 55 2.3 0.3 61
San Diego State 2.5 56 1 1.6 31
Houston 2.3 57 2.9 -0.5 78
Memphis 2.2 58 -4.4 6.6 1
Navy 2.1 59 0.7 1.4 36
California 2 60 2.4 -0.4 73
Cincinnati 1.7 61 3.4 -1.8 108
Georgia Southern 1.3 62 4.8 -3.5 126
Syracuse 1.3 63 1.2 0.1 65
Duke 1.1 64 1.1 0.1 64
Boston College 0.3 65 1.1 -0.8 84
Washington State 0 66 -3.1 3.1 11
Northern Illinois -0.4 67 0.9 -1.3 96
Arkansas State -0.4 68 0 -0.4 74
Central Florida -0.6 69 0.1 -0.8 82
Louisiana Tech -0.8 70 -0.3 -0.5 79
Iowa State -0.9 71 -0.9 0 66
Virginia -0.9 72 -0.1 -0.9 85
Marshall -1.2 73 1.4 -2.6 118
Colorado State -1.5 74 -6 4.6 3
Bowling Green -1.5 75 0.8 -2.3 116
Temple -1.5 76 -2.2 0.7 51
South Florida -1.6 77 -1.4 -0.3 69
East Carolina -1.7 78 -0.4 -1.3 95
Kentucky -1.7 79 -3 1.3 37
Vanderbilt -2.1 80 0.3 -2.4 117
Maryland -2.4 81 -2 -0.4 75
Western Michigan -2.9 82 -4.1 1.2 40
Illinois -3 83 -1.2 -1.8 107
Air Force -3.4 84 -5 1.5 35
Fresno State -3.7 85 -2.4 -1.3 94
Purdue -3.8 86 -2.4 -1.4 98
Tulsa -3.8 87 -2.2 -1.7 104
San Jose State -4 88 -3.1 -0.9 86
Colorado -4.3 89 -8.1 3.8 6
Wake Forest -4.4 90 -4.8 0.4 56
Ball State -4.9 91 -4.1 -0.9 87
Middle Tennessee -5.2 92 -7.9 2.7 15
UL-Lafayette -5.8 93 -5.8 0 67
Rutgers -6.3 94 -3.3 -3 123
Ohio -6.6 95 -6.1 -0.5 77
Troy -6.7 96 -9.7 3 12
Nevada -6.8 97 -2.9 -3.9 127
Southern Miss -7.7 98 -5.7 -2 110
SMU -8.3 99 -6 -2.3 114
South Alabama -8.4 100 -9 0.6 52
Florida Atlantic -8.5 101 -10.4 1.9 26
Rice -8.8 102 -7.2 -1.6 103
Kent State -8.9 103 -7.3 -1.6 101
Central Michigan -8.9 104 -9.8 0.8 46
Akron -9 105 -11.2 2.2 20
Wyoming -9.3 106 -11.1 1.8 28
North Texas -9.5 107 -8.8 -0.7 80
Connecticut -9.5 108 -6.7 -2.8 121
UTSA -9.8 109 -10.1 0.3 60
Old Dominion -10 111 -12.9 2.9 14
New Mexico -10 112 -13.8 3.7 7
Tulane -10.2 113 -12.8 2.6 16
Kansas -10.2 114 -9.9 -0.3 70
UNLV -10.7 115 -11.1 0.4 55
Hawaii -11.2 116 -11.9 0.7 50
Buffalo -11.3 117 -9.7 -1.6 102
UL-Monroe -12.3 118 -10.1 -2.2 112
Idaho -13 119 -15 2 22
Florida International -13.8 120 -12.1 -1.7 105
Miami-OH -14 121 -12.6 -1.5 99
Texas State -14.3 122 -10.9 -3.4 125
UTEP -14.5 123 -11.8 -2.6 119
Georgia State -14.5 124 -16 1.5 34
Eastern Michigan -15.7 125 -17.4 1.7 29
Army -16 126 -15.7 -0.3 71
Massachusetts -16.5 127 -17.3 0.8 49
Charlotte -19.5 128 -21.6 2.1 21
New Mexico State -19.8 129 -19.5 -0.4 72

Teams like Memphis and WKU, who have gone from dreadful to among the Group of 5's steadier programs, lead the way in terms of five-year shifts, and another awful-to-decent program (New Mexico) shows up high there, as well.

But here are your top 10 improving power conference teams:

  1. Clemson (+4.3 points)
  2. Indiana (+3.8)
  3. Colorado (+3.8)
  4. Ohio State (+3.7)
  5. Louisville (+3.6)
  6. Washington (+3.6)
  7. Washington State (+3.1)
  8. NC State (+2.9)
  9. Auburn (+2.6)
  10. Ole Miss (+2.4)

On the flip side, here are the 10 power programs whose 2016s compared least favorably with their 2011s, making their five-year averages suffer the most:

  1. Oregon (-4.5)
  2. Georgia (-3.1)
  3. Rutgers (-3.0)
  4. Oklahoma State (-2.9)
  5. South Carolina (-2.7)
  6. Vanderbilt (-2.4)
  7. Missouri (-2.2)
  8. Arizona State (-2.1)
  9. Michigan State (-1.9)
  10. Illinois (-1.8)

College football’s top tier is pretty well-defined.

Alabama is still the sport’s surest thing, and Ohio State, Florida State, and Clemson are vying to catch up overall, even though Clemson fans are surely not worried about their team’s status right now. LSU, Oklahoma, and Stanford are not dramatically far behind.

(Note: I have posted new S&P+ rankings for 2014 and 2015 at Football Outsiders. These include the special teams ratings that I introduced this past offseason. I will get to the 2005-13 seasons as soon as I can. This means that the 2011-15 averages here are slightly different than the ones I shared when prepping for last year’s projections unveil.)