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The Fleming System: “National Championships” and Week 9 Rankings

As its name implies, The College Football Data Warehouse, maintained by David DeLassus, keeps a myriad of information about college football.  Some years back, I found that among “national championships”, the list of “selectors” included my own Fleming System.  I certainly don’t offer a trophy to the team that ends up on top of my ratings at the end of the season—I’m just a schmoe with a computer.  And as a college football fan, I don’t even always believe that the team on top deserves the accolades of “national champion”.  But such are the underpinnings of the most interesting of discussions over a few beverages at the local establishment where such discussions take place.

It all begs the question: What is a “national champion” in a sport where no official champion is recognized?  Major college football is an odd egg in this regard.  The Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA’s Division I is the only NCAA-sanctioned sport that does not crown a champion (at least of the sports of which I am aware.)  As such, the distinction of being named a “national champion” has always come down to opinion.  Even in the years of the BCS, it has often been the case that a very deserving team was given no chance of winning due to exclusion from the BCS Championship game.  Other years, people questioned the worthiness of a participant in the game.

What computer rating systems bring to the table in these debates is a means of weighing who won their games versus how much did a team prove in winning their games.  In particular, how much does strength of schedule count?  When it comes to the Boise State and Northern Illinois-types of the college football world, it seems to be the most important criterion.  But when it comes to the teams in the more prominent conferences, the scheduling of out-of-conference patsies is generally overlooked.  It is all fodder for discussion.  And as college football fans, we crave such discussions all the time.

With all of that said, rankings matter.  A lot.  So, I went back to 1900* and listed the top rated teams.  The list of top-place finishers is given below, ranked by which schools have finished at the top most often.

SchoolNumberYears
Southern Cal121928, 1931, 1932, 1962, 1967, 1969, 1972, 1978, 1979, 2002, 2004, 2006
Notre Dame111909, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1938, 1946, 1949, 1966, 1977, 1988, 1989
Michigan61913, 1922, 1933, 1948, 1964, 1985
Alabama51961, 1992, 2009, 2011, 2012
Harvard51901, 1908, 1910, 1912, 1915
Minnesota51911, 1934, 1935, 1940, 1941
Florida State41987, 1993, 1997, 1999
Illinois41914, 1919, 1923, 1951
Louisiana State41936, 1958, 2003, 2007
Ohio State41917, 1944, 1954, 1968
Pittsburgh41937, 1976, 1980, 1981
Florida31984, 1996, 2008
Georgia Tech31952, 1956, 1990
Michigan State31953, 1955, 1965
Nebraska31970, 1971, 1995
Oklahoma31973, 1974, 1975
Penn State31982, 1986, 1994
Texas31947, 1963, 2005
Yale31900, 1902, 1907
Auburn21957, 1983
California21920, 1921
Miami (Florida)22000, 2001
Princeton21903, 1906
Tennessee21950, 1998
Texas A&M21927, 1939
Army11945
Chicago11905
Chicago Naval Reserve11918
Dartmouth11925
Georgia Pre-Flight11942
Iowa11960
March Field11943
Mississippi11959
Oregon11916
Pennsylvania11904
Stanford12010
Washington11991
Washington & Jefferson11926

It should be noted that I have listed Harvard as the top team in 1901, despite the fact that they actually finished at No. 2.  The No. 1 team, Homestead Athletic Club, was actually a professional team that played a number of games against top college programs.  This was common back near the turn of the previous century since the game was pretty new and finding opponents was not a trivial task.  None the less, I made the arbitrary and capricious (well, maybe not) choice to exclude Homestead from consideration.  But it should be noted that games involving these professional athletic clubs are included in the ratings in many of the datasets from early years.  Another thing to note is that my ratings do not exclude games that have been “vacated” due to NCAA sanctions or similar after-the-fact alterations to the record.  But it is fun to see the war-time programs at various military bases getting their due.  And I especially like that (now NCAA Division III) Washington and Jefferson fare so well in the 1926 results. Go Presidents!

*Data for my ratings comes from Peter Wolfe’s page for the years 2005 and beyond.  Data for the ratings prior to 2005 comes from the excellent database provided by James Howell

The Fleming System: Week 9 Rankings

RankSchoolWinsLossesConferenceRatingSchedule
1Florida St60ACC162.066137.066
2Missouri70SEC156.577134.292
3Alabama70SEC156.112130.612
4Oregon70PAC12152.78129.423
5Stanford61PAC12151.797136.225
6Clemson61ACC151.057136.271
7Ohio State70B1G149.963127.677
8Baylor60Big12149.91126.577
9LSU62SEC147.962135.587
10Virginia Tech61ACC147.692132.549
11Arizona St52PAC12147.62137.62
12Auburn61SEC147.603133.389
13Texas Tech70Big12146.689124.617
14Georgia43SEC146.628143.913
15Miami FL60ACC146.063124.397
16Texas A&M52SEC145.926136.569
17Oklahoma61Big12145.838129.624
18Central Florida51AAC145.496129.746
19Louisville61AAC145.186126.114
20South Carolina52SEC144.622134.479
21Florida43SEC143.983138.912
22Northern Illinois70MAC143.826122.968
23UCLA51PAC12143.493128.993
24Michigan St61B1G143.4125.9
25Oregon St61PAC12143.215127.643
26Michigan61B1G142.961128.032
27Notre Dame52Ind-FBS142.874135.445
28Mississippi43SEC142.872140.658
29Brigham Young52Ind-FBS141.568131.568
30Washington43PAC12141.501136.787
31Wisconsin52B1G141.362127.719
32Fresno St60MWC141.285122.202
33Oklahoma St51Big12141.229124.979
34Arizona42PAC12140.353131.27
35Utah43PAC12138.844135.987
36Pittsburgh42ACC138.833132.5
37Southern Cal43PAC12138.421135.136
38Tennessee43SEC138.252135.252
39Boston College33ACC137.807138.557
40Texas42Big12137.25131.083
41Penn State42B1G137.195129.612
42Georgia Tech43ACC136.915132.129
43Houston51AAC136.687122.437
44Washington St44PAC12136.661135.223
45Ball St71MAC136.244120.057
46Vanderbilt43SEC136.012131.87
47Iowa43B1G135.841130.912
48Duke52ACC135.739125.025
49Nebraska51B1G135.421121.671
50Maryland52ACC135.302126.731
51Boise St52MWC134.92124.849
52East Carolina52CUSA134.897124.754
53TCU34Big12134.202136.702
54Minnesota52B1G134.063125.848
55Ohio U.52MAC133.694123.551
56Bowling Green52MAC133.672122.101
57Rutgers42AAC133.518125.518
58Toledo43MAC133.433131.147
59Northwestern43B1G133.395130.324
60Tulane52CUSA133.352124.495
61Buffalo52MAC133.173122.673
62North Texas43CUSA132.912127.483
63Colorado33PAC12132.709132.959
64Mississippi St33SEC132.273132.773
65Rice52CUSA132.154123.654
66Marshall42CUSA131.84122.506
67Louisiana-Lafayette42SunBelt131.809123.976
68Indiana34B1G131.684134.684
69West Virginia34Big12131.012135.655
70Wake Forest43ACC130.698126.556
71Kansas St24Big12130.667135.667
72Arkansas35SEC129.186135.561
73Syracuse34ACC128.237130.38
74Utah St44MWC127.896125.146
75San José St33MWC127.577127.077
76Western Kentucky43SunBelt127.556123.771
77South Alabama33SunBelt127.306126.139
78Illinois33B1G127.171127.838
79Navy33Ind-FBS126.622125.788
80UNLV43MWC126.599124.313
81San Diego St33MWC126.568127.818
82Cincinnati52AAC125.419113.562
83SMU24AAC125.389133.889
84North Carolina15ACC124.865138.532
85Nevada34MWC124.838127.767
86Arkansas St33SunBelt123.646124.98
87Troy43SunBelt123.022120.522
88Kansas24Big12122.908130.825
89Texas St-San Marcos43SunBelt122.69119.904
90Iowa St15Big12122.635135.385
91Virginia25ACC122.38132.309
92North Carolina St33ACC122.301124.551
93Florida Atlantic25CUSA121.804129.019
94Louisiana-Monroe34SunBelt121.454127.311
95Colorado St34MWC121.289123.574
96Central Michigan35MAC121.117127.617
97Middle Tennessee St34CUSA121.001125.644
98Kentucky15SEC120.912136.078
99California16PAC12120.137137.637
100Akron26MAC119.433130.996
101Memphis15AAC119.077131.327
102South Florida24AAC118.854129.187
103Kent St26MAC118.81130.122
104Wyoming43MWC118.589114.517
105Alabama-Birmingham24CUSA118.322125.322
106Army35Ind-FBS117.88123.943
107Tulsa24CUSA117.668125.751
108Texas-San Antonio25CUSA117.667127.167
109Temple16AAC114.995130.28
110Purdue16B1G114.88133.523
111Florida Int'l15CUSA112.966130.882
112Hawai`i06MWC112.739133.656
113Idaho16Ind-FBS111.987130.273
114Eastern Michigan16MAC110.485127.414
115Massachusetts16MAC110.18129.252
116Connecticut06AAC109.858131.192
117Louisiana Tech25CUSA109.475118.904
118New Mexico25MWC108.989118.774
119Western Michigan08MAC107.64131.078
120Air Force16MWC107.263122.478
121Southern Miss06CUSA106.43128.346
122Georgia St07SunBelt106.411128.553
123New Mexico St07Ind-FBS102.919125.919
124Miami OH07MAC99.01122.296
125UTEP15CUSA98.918113.001
Patrick Fleming is a college chemistry professor at the Claremont Colleges in Southern California. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Ohio State and has done research at Tulane and Arizona State. He has been running The Fleming System since 1994. View his full catalog of rankings, including some for other collegiate sports, by clicking here.