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Defining What it Takes to Be a CFP Era National Champion

Much of the debate surrounding college football over the last month has been about playoff expansion and whether or not it is necessary. There are good arguments on both sides, but the bottom line will always be the bottom line meaning that change will not happen unless it proves to be more lucrative than the current format. With that said not many will argue against the fact that the current format has produced a true champion in each of the five years that the playoff has been in existence.

Now that we have five years of data, and five championship teams we can begin to define better the most important factors that go into being a championship team in the playoff era. The five champions are 2014 Ohio State, 2015, Alabama, 2016 Clemson, 2017 Alabama, and lastly 2018, Clemson. That’s 2 SEC, 2 ACC, and 1 Big Ten teams that have won a title.

So what are the obvious factors that go into winning the title? The obvious is total team talent. Each of the champions was bolstered with depth at key positions. For example, Ohio State was on their third-string QB by the time they reached the playoff in 2014. Alabama has solidified their entire roster with five stars, and most importantly they are deep on the offensive and defensive line. Clemson has followed the same approach as Alabama, but Clemson won its title in 2016 on the shoulders of a generational talent (Deshaun Watson).

So we can define the main ingredient as total team talent and follow this with the coaching factor. All 5 of the champions have had great coaches who hire top flight assistants. They also replace top-flight assistants as they are poached away annually. The five winners also open their checkbook and pay their assistants to gain or retain their services. Hiring great assistant coaches is just as valuable as Being a scheme oriented, motivator. For example; in Dabo Swinney’s first four seasons his winning percentage was 58% with two top 25 finishes no higher than 22nd. In his last seven seasons, Swinney has an 88% winning percentage, 5 top five finishes, four playoff appearances, and two National Titles. Swinney himself was a position coach (WR’s) and held the title of Recruiting Coordinator when he took over as Clemson’s Interim Head Coach in 2008 when then Head Coach Terry Bowden resigned. Dabo’s strength is as a motivator, and a recruiter and when he began to hire top-flight coordinators Clemson began its ascension.

So we have two obvious factors covered, Total Team Talent and Coaching. My goal is to define the statistical elements of the last five champions to identify the most pertinent statistical factors using our situational analysis tool. The first part will be a team by team Comparison followed by the five teams situational averages.

The goal of this analysis will help us define what it takes to compete for a championship in the College Football Playoff era.

  • Coaching

  • Total Team Talent

  • Experience (Returning Starters)

  • Situational Analysis Averages

Four Championship Factors Summarized


Last 5 College Football National Championship winning Coaches.

We have three coaches who have won a College Football Playoff Era National Title in the last five years. In the above graphic we have the averages for win percentage, Simple Rating System, SOS based on Simple rating System, AP preseason, AP high, and AP final rankings.

What stands out in the averages is that all three coaches are above or near 80% win percentage at their current schools. Urban Meyer who finished his Ohio State tenure at 90% and Nick Saban siting at 87% while at Bama.

(247 Sports) Total Team Talent

Last 5 College Football National Championship Total Talent Rankings.

Recruiting is the foundation of every team and ultimately determines whether a team succeeds or fails. When it comes to winning a national title in the playoff era its arguably the most important ingredient.

The above average star ranking for the last four years of total team talent (would not allow me to compile all five teams). Shows the three teams that have won the title and their total talent rank. The average rank is 4.75 and the average star ranking is 3.59 with Alabama sitting atop all of the the total talent rankings with a 3.96 average star ranking that includes 18 5 stars on the roster. Alabama has two times the amount of five stars that Clemson has and more than four times that of Ohio State.

Next Up will be Situational Analysis and Total Returning Starters

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