The question, of course, is inspired by this rather incoherent paragraph in Stewart Mandel’s most recent attempt at answering his mail:
I think part of the problem is that many old-school Georgia types still view arch-rival Florida as their measuring stick. Yes, it’s true, the Dawgs used to beat up on the Gators regularly in the ’70s and ’80s, but that changed in a big way after Spurrier took over Florida. (The Gators have won 15 of the past 17 meetings). Times have changed, and both because of Spurrier’s legacy there and because it’s the flagship school in the most talent-rich state in the country, Florida is now one of the elite programs nationally; Georgia is still more of a regional power. [Emphasis added.] Which is not to say the Dawgs shouldn’t beat the Gators from time to time or make an occasional run at the national title, but to hold Richt or any other coach to a national-title-or-bust standard is just plain ludicrous.
If you break this down, Mandel identifies two key features that go into the making of a national power – a recent legacy of a high degree of success and being the primary school in a state that generates a large number of D-1 recruits – and notes a third item that isn’t important in identifying a national power, making an occasional run at a national title.
Let’s break this down a little bit. Courtesy of Paul Westerdawg, here’s a recent list of the top states in the country in terms of producing talent, based on the number of NFL players they generate:
Best states for producing NFL talent:
1. California – 199
2. Florida – 179
3. Texas – 176
4. Georgia – 90
5. Ohio – 78
6. Louisiana – 76
7. Pennsylvania – 58
8. Michigan – 50
9. Virginia – 49
10. South Carolina – 48
Mississippi follows at 46, then you’ve got Illinois, New Jersey and North Carolina at 45.
So how many of those states have a flagship school? I think you can argue that you can go down the list to #9 before you have a state without one (remember, we’re talking about this from a football standpoint only). I’d say that Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi don’t because of competition and that Illinois and New Jersey don’t because of history.
That still leaves us with nine talent-rich, flagship school states. How many of those have Spurrier-like legacies they’re running on? Spurrier’s record at Florida was an amazing 122-27-1, which translates into a winning percentage of .817. More importantly, his teams there won six SEC championships, finished in the top ten of the final polls nine times and played in two MNC games, winning one.
Coming forward from 1990, when Spurrier began his Florida career, here are the schools I would argue have a similar track record:
- Florida State
- Miami (and yes, the irony of Mandel’s “flagship school” standard isn’t lost on me here with either of the first two schools)
- Southern California
- Ohio State
Penn State’s not there because Paterno hasn’t been in the national championship picture since the early nineties and had a pretty bad stretch from 2000-2004. And Georgia’s not there because Mandel says so.
When you cull down that list based on Mandel’s standards, you’re left with Florida, Southern Cal, Texas, Ohio State, LSU and Michigan. That’s it.
That seems a bit restrictive to me. I can’t imagine a serious list of national powers of the last 15-20 years that doesn’t include FSU, Miami and Oklahoma, for example.
Michael Elkon, in response to Mandel, posits a different list of standards for who’s a national power. He has no problem seeing Georgia as one:
Personally, I think a national power is a team that:
1. Wins its conference fairly regularly (depending on the conference; I’m more willing to cut SEC teams slack here than other teams);
2. Finish in the top ten more often than not; and/or
2. Plays in major bowl games on a regular basis (although I might need an exception for Notre Dame if they consistently make BCS games and then get trampled).
Georgia meets all three of those criteria, as would USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State, Auburn, and possibly Virginia Tech. Louisville and West Virginia are on the cusp; they need to show that they can replace lost players and maintain their levels of excellence. Florida will be on the list within a year or two. Ideally, there should be about ten national powers, as that’s a good number for an elite designation.
I meant to have LSU on the list, as well. Auburn is probably a marginal inclusion, since they have played in one major bowl since the 80s (as opposed to LSU winning three Sugar Bowls this decade). I expect Notre Dame to be on the list in about two years when they can finally trot out a complete team as a result of Weis’s recruiting. Tennessee, Miami, and FSU have both been in decline for several years, so I need to see a couple years of improvement before they are on the list.
Judging from which schools are not on his list (i.e., none of the big three Florida schools) , I would say that Elkon devalues Mandel’s “legacy” criterion significantly. His is much more of a “in the now” approach. Although I don’t think his analysis is without flaws – in my mind, Meyer has restored Florida’s status after the Zooker’s regime – I prefer his flexibility over Mandel’s more rigid approach.
With regard to the latter, Oklahoma and Tennessee sit eighth and ninth on the all time D-1 wins list. Yet evidently Mandel would never consider either as a national power because both are located in states that don’t produce enough high school talent. That seems fairly ridiculous to me. But, then again, so does Mandel’s equating Notre Dame and Southern Cal as current national powers. (I suspect that if you asked Mandel to provide a list of schools that are national powers, he’d list teams that don’t match his stated criteria.)
By the way, Georgia sits eleventh on that all time list. I’d argue it qualifies.