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Twilight Football Programs: Prestige is a Big Factor

First factor in building a long term championship program is money. The second is program prestige which almost seems like a tautology. This school is great because the school is great, sort of reasoning. Well there’s more than just that, so let’s look at the current prestige landscape.

Jumping at Lane is a Prestige Touch
John Schneider - SB Nation

In the previous articles we introduced the concept of the existence of college football programs that languish in a twilight of championship prospects and the direct correlation between money and championships.

Prestige is like the sent on a flower to bees and birds. The “prestige” teams do change from era to era, though. Army and Navy before 1960 (and in particular during the Earl Blaik era at Army) were huge programs with loads of prestige, but the NFL wasn’t a part of that equation. Army and Navy football were loaded with generals and admirals; war heroes and national leaders. So playing for those teams entailed a different sort of prestige that eventually faded as the reason for college football really began to morph.

The interesting thing is that as the prestige finger (meaning the “digit of kismet”) points at you. There is a curious combination of Institutional brand and coaching persistence. Michigan and Beau Schembechler were never really replaced. Urban Meyer did sort of pick up after Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators. Ohio State’s great days of the 60’s and 70’s are tied up with Woody Hayes. Notre Dame had many great coaching eras; Rockne, Parseghian, and Holtz will always sit in the minds of the fans. There was one college head coach that seemed to change the NCAA game and in particular the recruiting process, though. Paul “Bear” Bryant’s stamp on recruiting, managing, and building a program from year to year lead to an Alabama team that dominated college football and attracted NFL greats for year upon year (1958-1982) Twenty-four years is several football lifetimes in college, and just his long term presence made Bryant a prestige factor all on his own. Nick Saban restored the winning, but the prestige of Alabama survived even though it took until 2010 for him to get the winning part turned around. The Bowdens, and of course even our own Frank Beamer provided year upon year of coaching and developmental prestige to programs.

Some programs live beyond the coaching, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska, Miami, Florida State, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Texas, Texas A&M (which was also coached by Bryant) and Oklahoma all pop up in that category. The program prestige just attracts talented players regardless of the coaching expertise and success. Some teams just seem to get credit for being one of “those teams”. Miami and Florida State come to mind when the sports punditry starts throwing around their pre-season “who’s gonna win” guesses. Both teams have been disappointing of late, though under Jimbo Fisher FSU did hit the big time for a few seasons. Their appearance in the wish lists is proof of the “aura of prestige” that surrounds programs. Even Virginia Tech suffered from that label for a while after the Beamer Era ended in January 2011. There is just something special for the Cornhuskers even as they struggle. Big star recruits and coaches still show up to try to make legends of themselves.

It’s the “It Factor”

The Big List of Prestige Programs is divided into three sections. “The Legends” are the schools that just are and will attract big attention regardless of their records. “The Champions” these are schools that are prestigious because their programs have won one or more championships in the last generation. The “Places to Be” is more nebulous and revolves around brand loyalty or desirability than recent or maximum program success.

The Legends (The lists are in no particular order – also The Legends that overlap with the Champions are labeled with a ‘*’) - Note the Rose Bowl Pac12, B1G connection here:

Notre Dame*



Michigan State




Pennsylvania State University (Penn State)

Ohio State University*

University of Southern California (USC)

University of California, Los Angles (UCLA) (Trending down to Places to Be)

The Champions (anything with an asterisk was a program that is also a “place to be”)

Another limitation of Champions is that this list will almost always be influenced by currency bias. Since 2010 the championships have gone to; Auburn, Alabama (4), Florida State, Ohio State, Clemson (2), and LSU. Florida won twice in the 2000-2009 period and Alabama hit once in that period as Nick Saban’s big turnaround caught.


Florida State*

Ohio State University*

Louisiana State University (LSU)


Clemson (new entry)

The Place to Be (Programs marked with two asterisks are US Government Military Schools of limited NFL potential and twilight or worse records.) Miami (2) used to be in the Champions category but its last big national championship wins were in the 2000 and 2001. Florida (2) hit in 2006 and 2008.



Oregon (Regional appeal with past regional greatness)

Texas (More current Greatness, big Alumni Base, lots of dough)

Texas A&M (Past Greatness, big Alumni Base, lots of dough)

University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)

Arkansas (If for no other reason that it’s an SEC program that gets pro exposure.)

University of North Carolina (Because it’s been the king of Tobacco Road for so long.)

Brigham Young University (the Latter Day Saints affiliation makes it a magnet even if they do admit non-Latter Day Saints members)

Virginia Tech (Because of Beamer – and will drop off if things don’t improve)

University of California Berkley (Cal)

United States Military Academy (Army)**

United States Naval Academy (Navy)**

United States Air Force Academy (Air Force)**

This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are a few programs that drop into and out of the “Places to be” and Champions lists. If you have suggestions, please note them in the comments, but remember this has to do with program prestige over time and history. It’s not always an exercise in currency bias. Some of these programs have a certain cache that helps to attract the critical element in attendance. What schools hit your “It Factor” button?

There is a multiplier that needs to be examined before we get to the other side of the equal sign. It’s probably the biggest factor that draws championship attention; the NFL Draft. We just covered Money and Prestige we’ll cover the NFL Draft next. So what is this all leading to? I purposely left the other side of the equal sign to give you a chance to look at the two critical base factors in isolation. With the NFL as a multiplier, the prime driver is illuminated.

This is All About (M+P)*N=T

Now it’s time to broaden the discussion and let next cat out of the bag. It is the reason that Money (M), Prestige (P), and NFL Draft (N) prospects lead to championships. It is the other side of the equal sign in any football program; namely TALENT.


Well considering everything does Virginia Tech have the "It Factor" enough to help turn the corner?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    The Blacksburg - Lane Stadium Game Day pageantry and the beautiful mountains and fall colors will always be an "It factor"
    (16 votes)
  • 32%
    The program was an unknown before Beamer, and is sliding back into a more of a hasbeen status. The "It Factor" is fading like the leaves of December.
    (33 votes)
  • 7%
    Beautiful campus, fun Game Day settings, and even solid success just don’t make up for the reality that the school is not totally invested. The "It Factor is Unwanted"
    (8 votes)
  • 43%
    Tech is still exploring how to maintain and grow the "It Factor". We were almost there, and now it’s slipping away.
    (44 votes)
101 votes total Vote Now

It is undeniable, and the biggest draw for talent is the potential that any particular player will be selected in the NFL Draft. In the next article we’ll go into some detail about that major factor. Then, we’ll talk talent, and not just player talent… players come and go, it’s the coaching that makes the huge difference. That article will be interesting but you’ll just have to wait until we get done factoring the equation before solving it.

Next up... The proverbial elephant in the sitting room... the NFL Draft