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Tier rankings of Power 5 schools

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports


I wrote yesterday about the need for Texas to find new partners in a new conference – or, new members in a revamped Big 12. Need, as in why stay in a conference with schools that are in smaller states, that have smaller budgets, and that rely on Texas and Oklahoma to retain their Power 5 status?

Today, I look the 65 schools that constitute Power 5. I’ll do this by placing schools in tiers, from strongest to weakest: State or public schools first, followed by the private/church schools.

The best thing a conference can have – speaking from a football point of view, but it can include other sports – is what I call PRIMARY STATE universities. This is the top, the elite of the elite athletic programs, especially football, in larger states. Or schools that have large student enrollment and ample booster backing and the kind of facilities that can/should produce regular Top 10 to 15 finishes.

There are around a dozen of these PRIMARY STATE schools: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and, I suppose, Washington and Oregon. This is Tier 1. California is its own little (well, too big) world. No easy fit from the Golden State in this tier.

Tier 2 is major public universities, many in mid-size states, some in larger states that are not the PRIMARY STATE university. (Texas A&M readers are not going to like this designation.) This group consists of Tennessee, Texas A&M, Missouri, Auburn, Colorado, UCLA, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State, Florida State, Miami, Clemson, North Carolina and Louisville. Clemson is Tier 1 – but it hasn’t been in the past and it might regress once the current head coach leaves; South Carolina is not a large state and not every coach will recruit like Dabo Swinney does. Wisconsin has been Tier 1 for close to 15 years, but it wasn’t for a long time and it’s easy to see where it could fall down a rung, or two, as has happened to Nebraska, Tennessee, Arkansas.

Tennessee belongs in Tier 1 – it has the size and backing but has made a series of dreadful coaching and administrative decisions and is decidedly a rung below the big four (six, with Texas A&M and Auburn) in the SEC.

Tier 3 is a smaller/less-financed version of Tier 2. Mostly smaller states: One or both of the Arizona schools fit here, one or both of the Mississippi schools, Utah, Arkansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia. You could argue Virginia Tech belongs higher; it’s the largest public school in its state, but it’s almost in West Virginia geographically, and has displayed – in recent seasons – a significant slip from the excellence of the previous two decades.

Tier 4 is Tier 3 on a smaller level . . . Oregon State, Washington State, Cal-Berkeley, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Maryland, Purdue, Rutgers, Illinois. It’s important to look at where a school CURRENTLY IS, and what it’s likely to be over the next decade. Not what’s happened in the past. K-State was Tier 2 until recently, probably ceilings at Tier 3 unless the 50-year-old version of Bill Snyder resurfaces.

Private/Church – Notre Dame and USC are on the Tier 1 level . . . Stanford might be – it clearly is when the school’s entire sports program is considered – but I’m putting the Cardinal in Tier 2 . . . Baylor, TCU, Boston College, Virginia, Northwestern, Syracuse are Tier 3, though the Orange are trying hard for Tier 4 . . . Georgia Tech, Duke, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt are Tier 4. You could put the first two of these higher; Duke belongs in Tier 3 as long as Mike Krzyzewski is running the basketball program. Some of these have had stretches where they were Tier 3.

Brigham Young is classed as a Group of 5 member; they’re a football independent I would rank below Stanford and pretty close to Northwestern or UVa. BYU is close to Tier 3 status except that its football schedule is weak enough (largely Group of 5 teams) that it’s not considered Power-5.

The placement is arbitrary. The right coach could take a Nebraska or Louisville close to Tier 1. The wrong coach could take an Oregon or a Texas to Tier 3. (Don’t say it; I was already thinking it . . .)

TOMORROW: The current conference breakdown

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