An OP Original A data-based analysis of "Bluebloods" and Oklahoma State's changing place in that story

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Nov 8, 2013

Alum in AZ
August 2018​
Several weeks ago a “Blue Blood” comment got me curious about what technically makes a Blue Blood. We all inherently know the Blue Blood programs… but what’s the data behind the reputation? How does this change over time? How does Oklahoma State fit into the Blue Blood story and how are we trending? This triggered an investigation to pull some data into a spreadsheet and see what it tells me. I started with a quick Google search and found a 2016 ESPN article titled, “Which schools should be considered college football royalty?". I took their Top 60 as a starting point (a cutoff which included OSU as tied for #32). Then I independently created my own data-based criteria and began building the spreadsheet and making some observations. I wanted to see if my ideas as to what constituted a “Blue Blood” would create a list similar to the one made by the sportswriters at ESPN. Naturally, I also wanted to view the data through orange-colored lenses too. I thought it would be an interesting topic as we eagerly wait for the season to start. This article contains my methodology, results and observations. To get to a concluding punchline… I think Oklahoma State is in the process of elevating the level the program in a manner that is extremely rare in collegiate football! We are the only program substantially rising in the college football ranks with a long-standing history in a P5-equivalent conference and a direct rivalry with one of the nation’s elite programs. Quite the accomplishment-in-the-making for Coach Gundy, Coach Holder, and Mr. Pickens.
To create my ranked list, I needed to establish criteria and associated point values. I based my criteria on readily-available data and subjectively assigned points based on what I thought was important.
My Criteria:
  • Championships – This is what really matters, right? Each Natty is worth 10 points. Since there is no clear NCAA champion in CFP, I took the championships “claimed” by each school on the ever-reliable source… Wikipedia. Yes, OSU claims 1945… but we don’t claim the 2011 championship selected by “Colley Matrix”. Alabama claims everything.
  • Wins – There’s a reason we track Win/Loss records. Seems secondary in importance only to Championships. Each win worth 0.1 point. No points for ties. Source: To keep it simple, I did not make adjustments applied after the fact by the NCAA (e.g., USC gets 11 wins for 2005, not 0).
  • Heisman Trophies – Each Heisman is worth 10 points. The ultimate individual award – but one that requires program excellence and brings a lot of visibility to the program. Source: Each program’s Wikipedia page.
  • Bowl Games – Part of the pageantry and tradition of College Football. 1 point for an appearance in a Bowl… 2 more for winning the game. Source: Source:
  • College Football Playoff/BCS Championship Game Appearances – Each appearance is worth 5 points (win or lose). This metric has some recency bias as the BCS Championship Game has only been in effect since the end of the 1998 season. But still seemed appropriate to recognize significance of reaching the “Final Four” (or Finals) equivalent. Source: Source:
  • Conference Championships – Each Conference Championship is worth 3 points. I debated whether to include this, since it works against Independents like Note Dame, Penn State (for much of their history), and Army. But I ultimately decided that claiming a championship – and the publicity that goes with it – is relevant to the discussion. Source: Usually each program’s Wikipedia page.
  • And finally…

  • History – History is clearly important, but recent history is more important. I addressed this by creating four eras and discounting the value of points depending on how much dust is on the trophy. Here are the eras: 1) “Pre-1950” (think leather helmets) – 20% weighting, 2) “50’s/60’s/70’s” (think single-bar facemasks) – 50% weighting, 3) “80’s-90’s” (think massive shoulder pads) – 80% weighting, and 4) “2000+” (think HD TV highlights) – 100% weighting. This means that OSU’s claimed 1945 National Championship is only worth 2 points (10 x 20%).
Other criteria I considered but eliminated to keep things simple or because I didn’t know where to get data (or didn’t want to spend the time getting the data!) included 1st Round Draft Picks, Recruiting Rankings, Consensus All Americans, “New Year’s Six” Bowls (or similar premium for an upper tier bowl), etc. Ultimately I figured these would just reinforce the data I was already collecting.

Summary of Results and Observations

As expected, my ranking closely mirrored ESPN’s list. In fact the Top 20 of both lists were the same schools except for two – my list included BYU and Washington and did not include Michigan State and UCLA. In my analysis, BYU benefitted from many small conference championships over the years and Washington benefitted from 3 (old) national championships. Independents did indeed suffer in my rankings without points from conference championships. And less traditional schools tended to place a bit higher in my rankings as there was not a premium placed on “Power 5” wins. The images are eye-charts, but they show the Top 10 from my rankings (plus Oklahoma State) with the values driving ranking points as well as points obtained by category and era. Also shown are images of the full “Top 60” and how my ranking compares to ESPN’s list.
Top 10 (plus Oklahoma State) – Raw Data and Total Points
top 10 plus raw.jpg

Top 10 (plus Oklahoma State) – Points by Category and by Era
top 10 plus points.jpg

ESPN’s “Top 60” Ordered by My Point Totals
top 60 part 1.jpg
top 60 part 2.jpg

Analyzing the Trend Across the Four Eras
It was really interesting to study the trends of the programs over the course of the four eras. I grouped the programs into 5 “buckets” in each era – the elite Top 10 (dark green), the next 13 (light green), the middle 14 (yellow), a lower 13 (orange), and the Bottom 10 (red). By grouping and sorting with these colors, I subjectively created seven “categories” for the 60 college football programs. These labels are: True Blue Bloods, New Blue Bloods, Fading Powers, Rising Powers, Respectable Non-Elite, Mediocre, and “Smithsonian”. In the images below you will see some program names in red font. Those are the programs that have won National Championships since 2000.

True Blue Bloods: Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, USC, Nebraska, Texas, Georgia. These are the only programs that are “green” in each of the eras. All but Georgia and Nebraska have won a championship in the 2000’s. Nebraska is barely hanging on, but with a Heisman in the 2000’s, they still fall into this category.
true blue.jpg

New Blue Bloods: Florida State, Florida, Miami, Clemson, LSU, Auburn. These programs were not “green” across the board like the True Bluebloods, but they are all green since the 80’s-90’s era and all have won a championship in the 2000’s. (LSU is a slight outlier in that they were “yellow” in the 80’s-90’s but are Top 10 in the 2000’s).

new blue.jpg

Fading Powers: Michigan, Tennessee, Notre Dame, BYU, Penn State, Washington, Michigan State, UCLA, Arizona State, Colorado. These programs have all dropped from peaks in either the 80’s90’s or the 50’s-70’s. BYU and Michigan State both score in the green for the 2000’s, but they are clearly below their Top 10 peaks in earlier eras.

fading power.jpg

Rising Powers: Oregon, Wisconsin, TCU, West Virginia, Utah, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Boise State, Louisville. An interesting list of programs with “green” success in the 2000’s, but nothing of note in prior eras. Oregon is Top 10 for the 2000's and is closest to being able to break into the "New Blue Bloods" category.

rising power.jpg

Respectable Non-Elites: Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Iowa, Arkansas, Pittsburgh, Stanford, NC State, Texas Tech. I was surprised to see Stanford land here, but they only have 10 bowl appearances and 5 bowl wins in the 2000's. Ole Miss, Pittsburgh, and Georgia Tech could perhaps fit into the Fading Powers category.

respectable non elites.jpg

Smithsonian (a Blue Blood of a bygone era): Syracuse, Minnesota, Missouri, Cal, Illinois, Purdue, Army. Lots of dust on these trophies and lots of “red” since the 80’s.


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Nov 8, 2013
Mediocrity: These programs never scored well enough in any of my four eras to hit the “green”. Each has probably had decent stretches, but not enough across a 20-30 year period.


Gradually Erasing History
After studying the data from this perspective (with rankings from all eras comprehended, I then decided to look at the data while incrementally disregarding older eras. First, I dropped all data from pre-1950 (essentially taking the weighting from 20% to 0%). Then I did the same for the 50’s-70’s (taking weighting from 50% to 0%) and ultimately the 80’s-90’s as well (taking weighting from 80% to 0%). This left us with the ranking for just the 2000’s. What I wanted to see in this case is who moved up and down as we gradually erased history. Below is the image showing the ranking of just the Top 40 (of all 60 programs) when incrementally removing eras from the calculation. I then show the delta – how many positions the programs moved up or down in the rankings. The far right column shows the difference in ranking when considering all eras vs. just the 2000’s. This revealed three interesting groupings of programs – the “Exclusives”, the “Falling Rocks”, and the “Shooting Stars”.

erasing history.jpg

The “Exclusives”: Alabama, OU, Ohio State, USC, Florida State. These 5 programs remain the same regardless of how you slice the data (order changes, but appearance in Top 5 remains). Note that I hate the team from Norman as much as anyone on this message board, but that’s what we’re dealing with.

The “Falling Rocks”: Tennessee (-27), Colorado (-24), Notre Dame (-21), Ole Miss (-21), Michigan (-20), UCLA (-20), Washington (-18), Nebraska (-15), Arkansas (-15), Arizona State (-14), Syracuse (-14). A fascinating list. Most of these are big-name programs that always remain in the limelight. Big-name coaches regularly take these jobs with claims of restoring glory. Can they do it? Harbaugh is trying at Michigan. Kelly and Frost are taking their shots at UCLA and Nebraska. And word on the street is that Tennessee tried to hire a really good coach recently too.

falling rocks.jpg

The “Shooting Stars”: Boise State (+29), Louisville (+26), Boston College (+19), Kansas State (+19), South Carolina (+16), Virginia Tech (+15), Oregon State (+15), Oregon (+13), Oklahoma State (+13), TCU (+12), Utah (+12), Texas Tech (+12), Mississippi State (+12). Of course, this is the list I am most interested in. Some of these programs have risen from very low in the overall rankings but remain quite low in the 2000’s rankings and really aren’t that interesting. For example – Oregon State jumped 15 spots from #56 to #41. Similar stories exist for Boston College, Kansas State, South Carolina, Texas Tech, and Mississippi State.
That leaves Boise State, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Oregon, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Utah as programs in the “Top 25” of the 2000’s that have jumped substantially in the rankings. Of these programs, only Oregon and Oklahoma State are long-standing members of P5-equivalent conferences. Interestingly, all but Boise State have now established themselves in P5 conferences. Oklahoma State is the only program to do this that has a direct rivalry with one of the exclusive “Top 5”. That may be the most impressive observation from the entire analysis.

shooting stars.jpg

Other Observations

Iowa State and Kansas score very poorly in my analysis as you’d expect. Kansas only scored 50.5 points and Iowa State came in lowest of all Big8/XII programs at 45.7 points.

It is really hard to break through to become a “New Blue Blood”. I thought Oregon would be there. But they were just short. Only Florida State, Miami, and Georgia have emerged from the Orange or Red colors to become a New Blue Blood.

The frequent comparisons of us against Oregon, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin are quite fair per my data. Almost Stanford as well.

Trend Lines

I also took the annual win total from a select group of teams to see what 10-year moving average lines looked like for a few interesting teams from the various categories. Interesting to see what a few True Blue Blood (OU, Nebraska), New Blue Blood (Florida State, Clemson, Miami), Fading Power (Michigan, Tennessee), and Rising Power (Oklahoma State) programs look like.

trend lines.jpg
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