The Most Overachieving and Underachieving College Football Programs of the Last 7 Years

Tyler Raborn —  Friday, January 18, 2013 — 17 Comments

Many fans believe that recruiting is the key to success in college football.

Is that the case? Is college football strictly dictated by recruiting? Are teams’ accomplishments directly related to their recruiting classes?

Umm… kinda, sorta, and maybe.

After 10-20 hours of research and building an excel file that would make Nate Silver proud, those are the answers I came up with— total indecision.

But what my research did determine was data showing the most overachieving and underachieving teams of the past 7 years.

The terms “overachieving” and “underachieving” are in regards to the relationship between the amount of talent on a given team and their actual performance with that talent.

So what defines a team’s “talent”?

I used the most objective formula that I could come up with to determine talent. And while I know this method has several exceptions and is extremely broad, it is the most effective method that I could come up with, without doing individual team analyses. So, keep in mind, this is all done to give a broad picture of a general idea— not a detailed team-by-team analysis.

First, I collected all of the recruiting data available from two of the most respected sources in the college football recruiting industry: Scout, Inc. and Rivals. Both Scout and Rivals’ data goes back to 2002, so I collected all of the team rankings in recruiting from 2002 to 2012 from each site and inserted them into an excel file. Then, I averaged the rankings together to come up with an objective “composite score” to represent each team for each year.

For example, in 2003 Scout ranked Florida State’s recruiting class 12th in the nation, while Rivals ranked them 21st in the nation. Thus, their composite score was a ranking of 16.5.

Next, I devised a formula to account for all of the recruiting classes on an individual team. After examining several depth charts, I determined the following weights for each class:

Freshman- 12.5%
Sophomore (or Redshirt Freshman)- 22.5%
Junior (or Redshirt Sophomore)- 25%
Senior (or Redshirt Junior)- 27.5%
5th Year Senior- 12.5%

So,the formula to determine, what I will call, the “talent quotient” on a particular team is:

( .125 x Composite Score of Freshman Class ) + ( .225 x Composite Score of Sophomore Class ) + ( .25 x Composite Score of Junior Class ) + ( .275 x Composite Score of Senior Class ) + ( .125 x Composite Score of 5th Year Senior Class ) = Talent Quotient

For instance, to determine the talent quotient of the 2006 Florida State team, we simply need to plug in the composite scores of each recruiting class into the formula. Here’s Florida State’s 2002 – 2006 recruiting class ranks:


Scout, Inc.


Composite Score

2002 6 4 5
2003 12 21 16.5
2004 4 3 3.5
2005 3 2 2.5
2006 12 3 7.5

So, inputting the 5 composite scores into the formula would give us the following:

( .125 x 7.5 ) + ( .225 x 2.5 ) + ( .25 x 3.5 ) + ( .275 x 16.5 ) + ( .125 x 5 ) = 7.5375

Thus, the 2006 Florida State team had a talent quotient of 7.5375, which was the 5th lowest score in the nation. Hence, according to the formula, the 2006 Florida State Seminoles had the 5th most talented team in all of college football.

Once I had determined the talent quotient for every team in the FBS for the 2006 season, I ranked each team by their talent quotient, with the lowest score ranked number 1, the second lowest ranked number 2, and so on. Then, I repeated the process for 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons.

The logic behind this process is simple: the teams with more talent should beat the teams with less. So, the higher ranked “talent quotient,” the more talent a team can field in a game. In other words, the number 1 ranked team in talent, all other things being equal (they’re not), should beat the number 2 ranked team in talent.

After ranking every FBS college football team from 2006 until 2012, I compared these ranks to how the teams finished in the final college football polls. In an effort to make this process more objective, I averaged the final AP polls with the final USA Today polls to determine a general end of the year ranking for each team. The purpose of this method is to compare how a team performed relative to the talent on the team.

So after inventing a “talent quotient,” ranking teams by that invented number, comparing those ranks to the ranks of plausibly inaccurate year end poll rankings, I came up with the most overachieving and underachieving college football programs over the last 7 years…


The Most Overachieving Programs

Four teams stood far above the rest in regards to their ability to play at a level far above what the talent on their team would indicate they were capable of. Fans and analysts offer up a multitude of reasons for these teams’ success, such as: coaching, strength of schedule, and a plethora of other factors, both negative and positive, in an attempt to explain these teams’ habits of winning seemingly far beyond their talent level. Yet, no matter what your biased opinion may be, you have to admit, what these 4 teams have done with the talent on their rosters is nothing short of impressive.


4. BYU


Talent Quotient Ranking

Final Poll Ranking

2006 59th 15th*
2007 59th 14th*
2008 59th 25th*
2009 56th 12th
2010 54th NR
2011 53rd 25th*
2012 51st NR


3. Cincinnati


Talent Quotient Ranking

Final Poll Ranking

2006 91st NR
2007 88th 18th
2008 80th 17th
2009 74th 8th
2010 67th NR
2011 59th 25th
2012 57th 24th


2. TCU


Talent Quotient Ranking

Final Poll Ranking

2006 62nd 21st*
2007 62nd NR
2008 68th 7th
2009 71st 6th
2010 74th 2nd
2011 65th 13th
2012 53rd NR

Boise State

1. Boise State


Talent Quotient Ranking

Final Poll Ranking

2006 75th 5th
2007 67th NR
2008 67th 12th
2009 68th 4th
2010 70th 8th
2011 73rd 7th
2012 71st 16th

And onto the more entertaining part of this column…

The Most Underachieving Programs

A.K.A. the laughing stock of college football. These teams recruit some of the most talented players in the country year in and year out, but over the past 7 years, they’ve had an extraordinarily hard time making that talent translate to success on the field. An important factor to take into consideration is that I have adjusted the formula that I used to determine these rankings to add more weight to higher ranked teams. The logic behind this adjustment is simple. Without the adjustment, a team that finishes the season ranked 67th and has a talent quotient ranking of 49th is a bigger letdown (or “underachiever”) than a team that has the number 1 ranked talent quotient and loses 3 games to finish the season ranked 17th. And, in my opinion, the team that has the most talent in the country, but manages to lose 3 games and wind up out of the top 15, is a bigger underachiever than a team with mediocre talent performing a little less than mediocre. Thus, this adjustment gives much more weight to teams with higher ranked talent quotients. So, without further ado, here’s your top 7 most underachieving college football programs over the last 7 years…

Notre Dame

7. Notre Dame


Talent Quotient Ranking

Final Poll Ranking

2006 15th NR
2007 19th NR
2008 14th NR
2009 9th NR
2010 9th NR
2011 10th NR
2012 12th 3rd


6. Tennessee


Talent Quotient Ranking

Final Poll Ranking

2006 9th 24th
2007 10th 12th
2008 11th NR
2009 14th NR
2010 14th NR
2011 14th NR
2012 13th NR


5. Georgia


Talent Quotient Ranking

Final Poll Ranking

2006 3rd 25th
2007 3rd 3rd*
2008 3rd 12th*
2009 3rd NR
2010 6th NR
2011 6th 20th*
2012 7th 5th


4. Michigan


Talent Quotient Ranking

Final Poll Ranking

2006 8th 9th*
2007 4th 19th*
2008 4th NR
2009 6th NR
2010 8th NR
2011 12th 11th*
2012 11th 25th


3. Florida State


Talent Quotient Ranking

Final Poll Ranking

2006 5th NR
2007 7th NR
2008 7th 22nd
2009 12th NR
2010 13th 17th*
2011 9th 23rd
2012 5th 9th


2. USC


Talent Quotient Ranking

Final Poll Ranking

2006 1st 4th
2007 1st 3rd*
2008 1st 3rd*
2009 1st 21st
2010 1st NR
2011 2nd 16th
2012 3rd NR


1. Miami (FL)


Talent Quotient Ranking

Final Poll Ranking

2006 4th NR
2007 8th NR
2008 9th NR
2009 11th 19th
2010 12th NR
2011 13th NR
2012 15th NR

*Rounded numbers

One last interesting fact to consider is that no team in the past 7 years has won a National Championship without a talent quotient ranking below 10th. So, while it is very possible for teams to crack the Top 25 without Top 25 talent, it is much more difficult to make it to, and win, the National Championship without elite talent.

So, in conclusion… as if you didn’t already whine about your college football team enough, I hope that I’ve provided you with further information to sulk about— the 7 years of your life that you’ve been continuously letdown as a fan.


By: Tyler Raborn

Tyler Raborn


New Orleans Resident, Tulane Law Student, and Mississippi State Alum

17 responses to The Most Overachieving and Underachieving College Football Programs of the Last 7 Years


    Any way to get all your rankings for every team and not just the tops and bottoms.


    Any idea where Nevada finished?


    10-20 hours of research and you couldn’t discover that USC was ranked 6th in the final AP Poll in 2011?? While the Coaches Poll did not rank them because they were precluded from playing in a bowl, it is disingenuous to claim they were not ranked in 2011 when they were. And would be even more disingenuous to average their AP ranking with a polling system that refused to rank them.


      My apologies- it was a hiccup in the excel sheet. 6th (AP) averaged with 120th (USA) put USC out of the top 25… by a lot. Understandably, that’s not indicative of their rank, so I adjusted it as if they were just outside of the top 25 in the USA Today poll (26th). Not going to a bowl game would be seen as underachieving no matter the reasoning- cheating and punishments are part of the game and factor into rankings. And had they gone to one and lost their rank would have dropped. So, I think 16th is fair. That being said, they still came in as the number 2 most underachieving team even with the adjustment.


    I like the analysis and I think it’s quite interesting that two of the top three “underacheiving” teams are from the ACC. As a UVa alum, I feel like I’ve watched year after year of talent going to die in the ACC…somehow the kids that get recruited by those programs never seem to pan out. Wonder it it’s the programs?

    It’d also be an interesting extension of the analysis to look into the “underachievers” when they were highly successful (e.g. FSU in the 90s) and whether their talent pool changed at all or if maybe it was the program/coach that matters more.

    Also, on a related topic, as fellow college football fan, you might be interested in my latest “case study” on my site The Drive where I analyze the college sports ranking system and how we often only promote the “athlete” in our student-athletes.


    I wouldn’t say the talent goes to die in the ACC. Florida State continues to produce NFL talent on draft day. Its a combination of problems that comes from athletes getting more attention than they deserve when they are on their way to college. When the freshmen start classes, get special treatment and attention from students (especially the ladies), and from the press, they start to believe they can’t be beat. They think whoever they play will wilt before them like a rose in the sun. They are perfect warriors.
    And then Michigan finds itself losing to Appalachian State or Utah at home. How could this be?


    Love the research and math. I don’t see any real surprises. Also great debate fodder. Thanks.


    I would put University of Texas in the Most Underachieving Programs. I have not been impressed with Mack Brown’s group the last few years. I was surprised he wasn’t asked to retire after this last season. As Dan, I would like to see an extension of the list… especially the Overachieving.. And does their placement depend on who’s coaching… like Univ of Houston, Ohio State, Texas A & M…..


    It really says something about the coaching. Great coaches can win with less and bad coaches can’t win with more. It also may make the point that an “all star” team isn’t necessarily going to gel together and become a good team. Something to be said for chemistry on teams.

    If this were applied to the NFL, the Cowboys would be a poster child for underachieving :>)


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Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. The Most Overachieving and Underachieving College Football Programs of the Last 7 Years | Y'all Sports - January 21, 2013

    […]  read more: […]

  2. The Most Overachieving and Underachieving College Football Programs of the Last 7 Years | Sports Righting « shaynroby - February 1, 2013

    […] Tyler Raburn states what most of the fans of Vol nation know: Tennessee’s football team has underachieved for years. (With the exception of 1998 of course!!)… […]


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