Sunday, January 26, 2020

Published January 26, 2020 by with 0 comment

Who Were the Best Football Programs of the 2010's?

Recent dominant teams like Alabama and Clemson come to mind. Who were best overall from 2010-2019 though?


The first metric that came to mind is S&P+ rating. If you aren't familiar...

The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from the play-by-play and drive data of all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). The components for S&P+ reflect opponent-adjusted components of four of what Bill Connelly has deemed the Five Factors of college football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, and finishing drives. (A fifth factor, turnovers, is informed marginally by sack rates, the only quality-based statistic that has a consistent relationship with turnover margins.)

The easiest way to visualize this that came to mind is to see each team's end-of-season S&P+ score distribution over the decade. The top-10 sorted by median score are:

If you aren't familiar with this plot type, it's a 'boxen' plot. It's just like a box plot except that it gives you more bins. If you aren't familiar with a box plot...half of the scores were in the largest (middle) box and the line towards the center is the median score.

Nothing really jumps out as off there. The biggest surprise to me personally was how high Florida State is, but I'd forgotten that they had a lot of great teams until a couple of years ago. They had 4 AP top-10 seasons between 2010 and 2019 and a national championship. Georgia is also interesting since they had no national championships, but that seems to be bad luck in that they play an elimination game with Alabama or LSU nearly every year. They had 5 AP top-10 seasons between 2010 and 2019.

For reference, Alabama finished in the top-10 in every season in this period (including 7 top-5 finishes).

Extending that, here's the top-40:

The only thing that jumps out here is that Tennessee made the top-40. I would prefer that they didn't for personal taunting purposes.

If you want to see it broken down by (current) conference makeup, here's that:

I added color-coding here to make it easier to read, but it's just 'green for median score over 20', 'lighter green for median score from 10-20', and so on with green to red meaning good to bad.


A really simple way to determine best teams over this period is to count their championships. In the 2010's, the following teams won national championships:

Alabama - 4
Clemson - 2
LSU - 1
Ohio State - 1
Florida State - 1
Auburn - 1

Similarly, by title game appearances it's:

Alabama - 6
Clemson - 4
LSU - 2
Oregon - 2
Auburn - 2
Georgia - 1
Ohio State - 1
Florida State - 1
Notre Dame - 1

I dislike this because I feel like 10 top-5 seasons is more indicative of a long-term good team than 1 championship and 9 losing seasons. This also gives a boost to teams in easier conferences who make it into playoffs without facing legitimate elimination games (e.g., Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Georgia generally only let at most one in, as do Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State).

Interestingly, the SEC made up more than half of all teams in the championship since there was only one season with no SEC representation (Ohio State vs Oregon) but two seasons with two SEC teams.


There's a lot more you could do here. Ranking history. Records vs P5 opponents. # of quality road wins. I might try more later but the S&P+ ones felt right so I'm stopping with those.



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