A data-based analysis of College Football "Blue Bloods"
and Oklahoma State’s changing place in that story
“We have a logo too”
Updated January 2022
A data-based analysis of College Football "Blue Bloods"
and Oklahoma State’s changing place in that story
“We have a logo too”
Updated January 2022
In August of 2018 a “Blue Blood” comment got me curious about what technically makes a Blue Blood. We all inherently know the Blue Blood programs. They are historically good. Being “great” for a just a few years doesn’t cut it. But I wanted more details. What’s the data behind the reputation? How does it change over time? How does Oklahoma State fit into the Blue Blood story and how are we trending? This triggered an investigation to pull some data into a spreadsheet and see what it tells me. I did my initial analysis prior to the 2018 season and then updated it regularly -now completed through the 2021 season.
In 2018, I started with a quick Google search and found an August 2016 ESPN article titled, “Which schools should be considered college football royalty?". I took their Top 60 – a list that included “Power 5” (P5) and “non-P5” programs – as a starting point (a cutoff which included OSU as tied for #32). Then I independently created my own data-based criteria and began building the spreadsheet and making some observations. I wanted to see if my ideas as to what constituted a “Blue Blood” would create a list similar to the one made by the sportswriters at ESPN. Naturally, I also wanted to view the data through orange-colored lenses too. This article contains my methodology, results and observations. To get to a concluding punchline… I think Oklahoma State is in the process of elevating the level the program in a manner that is extremely rare in collegiate football. We are the only program substantially rising in the college football ranks with a long-standing history in a P5-equivalent conference and a direct rivalry with one of the nation’s elite programs. Quite the accomplishment-in-the-making for Coach Gundy, T. Boone Pickens, the administration(s), and all the players & staff associated with Oklahoma State football in recent years. Incredible job building Oklahoma State’s brand (“logo”) in a sport that is so significantly influenced by history.
In the years since 2018, I have added other programs to the database beyond the initial 60 from ESPN’s list. I now include 75 programs – all current P5 programs (including recently-announced Big 12 members BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF) and several other non-P5 programs of interest that were not on ESPN’s list including Louisiana (formerly Louisiana-Lafayette), Memphis, and SMU. In light of active conference realignment activities, I have added upcoming conference affiliations (i.e., Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC, BYU and UCF, Houston, and Cincinnati to the Big 12) to the database and captured some observations about the makeup of the new conferences.
To create my ranked list, I needed to establish criteria and associated point values. I based my criteria on readily available data and subjectively assigned points based on what I thought was important.
Summary of Results and Observations
As expected, my ranking closely mirrored ESPN’s list. In fact the Top 20 of both lists were the same schools except for two – my list included BYU and Washington and did not include Michigan State and UCLA. (Surprisingly, this has not changed from my initial assessment in 2018 through my latest assessment in 2022.) In my analysis, BYU benefitted from many small conference championships over the years and Washington benefitted from 3 (old) national championships. Independents did indeed suffer in my rankings without points from conference championships. And less traditional schools tended to place a bit higher in my rankings as there was not a premium placed on P5 wins. The images are eye-charts, but they show the Top 10 from my rankings (plus Oklahoma State) with the values driving ranking points as well as points obtained by category and era. Also shown are images with the rankings of all 75 programs and how my ranking compares to ESPN’s list.
Top 10 (plus Oklahoma State) – Raw Data and Total Points
Analyzing the Trend Across the Four Eras
It was really interesting to study the trends of the programs over the course of the four eras. I grouped the programs into 5 “buckets” in each era – the elite Top 10 (dark green), the Next 15/”Top 25” (light green), the Middle 15 (yellow), the Lower 15 (orange), and the Bottom 20 (red). In my 2022 analysis, I made the bottom group larger since I added more programs that were not considered Blue Bloods in my previous assessments. By grouping and sorting with these colors, I subjectively created seven “categories” for the 75 college football programs. These labels are: True Blue Bloods, New Blue Bloods, Fading Powers, Rising Powers, Respectable Non-elites, Mediocrity, and “Smithsonian”.
True Blue Bloods : Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, USC, Michigan, Texas, Georgia. These are the only programs that are “green” in each of the eras. Of this group, Michigan barely makes the cut, with only 63 points in the 2000’s (barely in the Top 25). Nebraska, on the other hand, was hanging on in this group just a few years ago, but recent results have not been kind to fans in Lincoln and the Cornhuskers have fallen out. Notre Dame is an obvious omission from this category based solely on brand value. But the Fighting Irish fall short per my calculations since they don’t have any conference championships as an Independent and they have a poor record in bowl games. Each of the programs in this category have been in the College Football Playoff and all except Michigan have won at least one championship in the 2000’s. It is interesting that the top 4 from this category in the 2000’s (Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, and USC) were the same top four in the 50’s-70’s – but they were all outside the top ten in the 80’s-90’s. Another interesting observation is that once Oklahoma and Texas complete their move to the SEC, neither the Big 12 nor the ACC will have a member of this exclusive club.
New Blue Bloods : Florida State, Clemson, LSU, Florida, Miami, Auburn, Oregon. These programs were not “green” across the board like the True Bluebloods, but other than LSU and Oregon they have been green since at least the 80’s-90’s era. All of the programs have been in a BCS Championship Game and/or the College Football Playoff, and all except Oregon have won a championship in the 2000’s. Three of these programs (Clemson, LSU, and Auburn) were strong as far back as the 50’s-70’s. All except Auburn have ranked in the Top 10 (dark green) in at least one of the eras, while Auburn has been Top 25 (light green) for the three most recent eras. Miami is a borderline member of this club, with a substantial drop in the 2000’s compared to the 80-90’s. Performance in the coming few years will solidify the Hurricanes here or drop them into the Fading Powers category. Interestingly, these New Blue Bloods are all from the south or west regions of the country. Finally, the “New Big 12” remains without a representative in either of the True Blue Blood or New Blue Blood categories.
Fading Powers : Nebraska, Notre Dame, Tennessee, BYU, Penn State, Washington, Michigan State, Ole Miss, and Arizona State. Other than BYU, these programs are all in the middle/lower tiers (yellow/orange) for the 2000’s but were in the Top 10 (dark green) in one or more of the earlier eras. Each of these programs claims at least one National Championship, but none have one in the 2000’s. As mentioned in the True Blue Blood description, Notre Dame is an anomaly in this category, and likely lands here primarily due to the lack of conference championships as an Independent. The Big 12 and ACC are largely unrepresented in this category as well, with BYU making the only appearance as an incoming Big 12 member. Since BYU has historically been a non-P5 program, this means that the “New Big 12” does not have a single program with P5 history in the True Blue Blood, New Blue Blood, or Fading Powers categories.
Rising Powers : Wisconsin, TCU, West Virginia, Utah, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Boise State, Louisville, Cincinnati, UCF. An interesting list of programs with Top 25 success (but not Top 10 success) in the 2000’s, but nothing much of note in prior eras. Most of the teams in this category (excluding Wisconsin and Oklahoma State) have long histories outside “P5-equivalent” conferences. None of these programs have won a National Championship since before the 1950’s (other than UCF’s claimed 2017 National Championship when they were not selected for the College Football Playoff despite finishing the season undefeated). 7 of the 10 programs in this category come from the “New Big 12” or ACC conferences.
Respectable Non-Elites : Texas A&M, UCLA, Iowa, Arkansas, Colorado, Syracuse, NC State, Houston, North Carolina, and Maryland. All of these programs have an era or two in the “Top 25” light green but nothing of substance in the 2000’s. None of these programs have repeat appearances in the Bottom 20 either. “Respectable” is an adjective earned historically, not recently. Each of the P5 conferences has at least one representative in this category.
Smithsonian (a Blue Blood of a bygone era) : Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Minnesota, Cal, Illinois, Purdue, Army, and SMU. All of these programs have claimed at least one National Championship, but there is a lot of dust on those trophies with not much success since the 50’s. Sure, there are great seasons here and there, such as Minnesota in 2019. ESPN clearly included these programs in their original Blue Blood list due to their accomplishments a long time ago. Once again, the Big 12 is not represented in this list.
Mediocrity : 21 of these 23 programs never scored well enough in any of the four eras to hit the “green” (Missouri and Vanderbilt both did but only in the pre-1950 era). Each has probably had decent stretches of ~5 years, but not enough across a 20-30 year period. There are only 3 claimed National Championships for the programs on this list – Kentucky (1950), Navy (1926), and Rutgers (1869). Baylor and Texas Tech are the only programs in this list who never landed in the Bottom 20 (red). But since they never hit the Top 25 for any era, they didn’t qualify for the “Respectable Non-elite” category either. In this list you will find several Blue Blood basketball programs – Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Indiana.
Gradually Erasing History
After studying the data from this perspective (with rankings from all eras comprehended), I then decided to look at the data while incrementally disregarding older eras. First, I dropped all data from pre-1950 (essentially taking the weighting from 20% to 0%). Then I did the same for the 50’s-70’s (taking weighting from 50% to 0%) and ultimately the 80’s-90’s as well (taking weighting from 80% to 0%). This left us with the ranking for just the 2000’s. What I wanted to see in this case is who moved up and down as we gradually erased history. The next image shows the rankings when incrementally removing eras from the calculation. I then show the delta – how many positions the programs moved up or down in the rankings. I added some color coding to highlight the programs that moved up or down the most. The far right column shows the difference in ranking when considering all eras vs. just the 2000’s. This revealed three interesting groupings of programs – the “Exclusives”, the “Falling Rocks”, and the “Shooting Stars”.
The “Exclusives” : Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, USC, Florida State, Clemson, LSU. No matter how much history you want to include or exclude, these three programs remain in the top ten. Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio State hold their respective positions in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place no matter how you slice the data.
There is another set of “Exclusives” – I will call them the “Notorious Exclusives” : Duke, Vanderbilt, Kansas, and Indiana. These four programs have served as college football punching bags within their conferences no matter how you look at the data. Congratulations to Iowa State and Rutgers for their success in the 2000’s to work their way off this list!
The “Falling Rocks” : Colorado, Tennessee, UCLA, Syracuse, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Illinois, Georgia Tech, Arizona State, Michigan, Washington, North Carolina, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M. This is a fascinating list of programs that have fallen by more than 10 spots from their original ranking when considering data from all eras. Colorado, Tennessee, UCLA, Nebraska… what are you doing?! Notre Dame and Texas A&M seem to be making moves to get off of this list. Note that from this list, only Michigan ranks in the Top 25 for the 2000’s (coming in at #24).
The “Shooting Stars” : UCF, Louisville, Cincinnati, Boise State, Louisiana, Boston College, South Carolina, Kansas State, Wake Forest, Oregon State, Virginia Tech, Northwestern, Memphis, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Oregon, TCU, Texas Tech, Mississippi State, Rutgers, Iowa State, and Utah. Of course, this list of programs that have risen by 10 or more spots is the one I am most interested in. Some of these programs have risen from very low in the overall rankings but remain quite low in the 2000’s rankings and really aren’t that interesting. So if I further restrict the Shooting Stars category to the programs that have reached the “Top 25” of the 2000’s, that leaves only UCF, Louisville, Cincinnati, Boise State, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Oregon, TCU, and Utah. Of these programs, only Oregon and Oklahoma State are long-standing members of P5-equivalent conferences. Virginia Tech was an Independent until they joined the Big East in 1991 and the ACC in 2004. TCU was in the Southwest Conference until they moved to the WAC in 1996, Conference USA in 2001, the Mountain West in 2005, finally the Big 12 in 2012. Louisville was an Independent until they joined Conference USA in 1996, the Big East in 2005, and the American (AAC) in 2013. Utah was in the WAC until they joined the Mountain West in 1999 and then the Pac 12 in 2011. UCF and Cincinnati will be joining the Big 12 soon, and Boise State is still waiting for their opportunity to join a P5 conference. Rising substantially in my Blue Blood Analysis rankings is a major accomplishment. Oklahoma State is the only program to do this that has a direct rivalry with one of the “Exclusives”. That may be the most impressive observation from the entire analysis.
Gradually Erasing RECENT History – Leaving Us with 2010-2021
To get a view of what is happening in the very recent history and to perhaps gain some further insight into where college football teams are heading, I decided to look at only data since 2010. I didn’t pick this cutoff just to include a few of OSU’s “prime years”. All of my other cutoffs have been at decade marks, so it seemed to make sense. Instead of looking at all 75 programs, I only took the top 35 from the 2000’s. After removing data from 2000-2009, this is the ranking, along with a comparison to the ranking for all of the 2000’s. I have color coded the programs moving up and down. Note that there is more volatility in small data sets. For instance, Heisman trophies carry as much weight in the formula as a 10-win season. Oklahoma State makes steady progress, rising 4 spots to 19th in this mini-era. All of the teams ahead of Oklahoma State except for two have BCS/CFP appearances and/or Heisman winners. Other observations from this list – TCU and West Virginia dropped in the rankings as their level of success fell upon entry into the Big 12. I would expect to see a similar drop in the future from UCF, Cincinnati and BYU, but who knows what will happen in the “New Big 12”. Baylor jumped big time in these rankings due to RGIII’s trophy and 3 Big 12 titles. Texas, Florida, Miami, and USC continue their free-falls, while Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M make significant advances. UCF’s jump is somewhat artificial due to their 2017 claimed National Championship.
That’s all for this year!