Can Nebraska Win A National Championship In The College Football Playoff Era?

Tom Pennington

Derek takes a look at the profile of every team that finished ranked in the top four in each year's final BCS rankings to determine Nebraska's chances of winning a national championship in the College Football Era starting in 2014.

It's that time of year where you get asked, "What do you want for Christmas?" by all your loved ones.

As you get older it gets more and more difficult to answer this question. As an almost 30-year old guy I can pretty much purchase whatever I would possibly want (see: afford) and material items become less and less important.

The more I thought about it the answer became clear. For me, there's only one thing that I want for this and all future Christmases I'll experience - another Nebraska Cornhuskers football national championship before I die.

I don't need another 60-3 mid-90s run, I just want us to be in a realistic position to have a puncher's chance at a title. What do we need to do to get to that point? To me it's simple. Get the best players and get that group of players to function as a well-oiled machine against other well-oiled machines.

With the new College Football Playoff set to debut in 2014, the "well-oiled machines" I speak of are the two other opponents you would face in the new four-team bracket format.  My assumption is that any team that would make college football's version of the Final Four would have to assemble four consecutive highly ranked recruiting classes.

What does Nebraska need to do to punch their ticket into the CFP and give themselves a chance to win their first title since Herbie Husker dyed his hair black?*

Let's take a look at the profile of all the teams that finished in the top four in each of the final regular season BCS rankings to help us paint a clearer picture.

*This is an unofficial stat, but I'm pretty sure it's right.

Final BCS Rankings (before bowl games) & Average Recruiting Class Rankings*

Sources: bcscentral.info & rivals.com

*Rivals team recruiting rankings only go back to 2002

1998

1.     Tennessee (12-0)

2.     Florida State (11-1)

3.     Kansas State (11-1)

4.     Ohio State (10-1)

Note: The ACC and Big Ten did not have conference championship games until 2005 and 2011 respectively.

1999

1.     Florida State (11-0)

2.     Virginia Tech (11-0)

3.     Nebraska (11-1)

4.     Alabama (10-2)

2000

1.     Oklahoma (12-0)

2.     Florida State (11-1)

3.     Miami (10-1)

4.     Washington (10-1)

Note: The Pac-12, then the Pac-10, did not have a conference championship game until 2011.

2001

1.     Miami (11-0)

2.     Nebraska (11-1)

3.     Colorado (10-2)

4.     Oregon (10-1)

Note: Considering the BCS placed Nebraska in the championship game after their beatdown at the hands of the Buffs, how can Husker fans NOT like the BCS?

2002

1.     Miami (12-0)

2.     Ohio State (13-0)

3.     Georgia (12-1)

4.     USC (10-2)

2003

1.     Oklahoma (12-1)

2.     LSU (12-1)

3.     USC (11-1)

4.     Michigan (10-2)

2004

1.     USC (12-0)

2.     Oklahoma (12-0)

3.     Auburn (12-0)

4.     Texas (10-1)

2005 pre-bowl rankings/2002-2005 recruiting class average

1.     USC (12-0)/4.5

2.     Texas (12-0)/13.5

3.     Penn State (10-1)/42

4.     Ohio State (9-2)/18.5

2006 pre-bowl rankings/2003-2006 recruiting class average

1.     Ohio State (12-0)/20.25

2.     Florida (12-1)/7.25

3.     Michigan (11-1)/11

4.     LSU (10-2)/8

2007 pre-bowl rankings/2004-2007 recruiting class average

1.     Ohio State (11-1)/13.75

2.     LSU (11-2)/8.75

3.     Virginia Tech (11-2)/32.75

4.     Oklahoma (11-2)/9.25

2008 pre-bowl rankings/2005-2008 recruiting class average

1.     Oklahoma (12-1)/8

2.     Florida (12-1)/5.25

3.     Texas (11-1)/11

4.     Alabama (12-1)/10

2009 pre-bowl rankings/2006-2009 recruiting class average

1.     Alabama (13-0)/5.75

2.     Texas (13-0)/7.25

3.     Cincinnati (12-0)/81.5

4.     TCU (12-0)/76.25


Note: You do have to wonder if a playoff committee would have placed a 12-1 Florida team and a 13-0 Boise State team in the top four if the committee was in place this season.

2010 pre-bowl rankings/2007-2010 recruiting class average

1.     Auburn (13-0)/12.5

2.     Oregon (12-0)/18.75

3.     TCU (12-0)/67.5

4.     Stanford (11-1)/36.75

2011 pre-bowl rankings/2008-2011 recruiting class average

1.     LSU (13-0)/6.25

2.     Alabama (11-1)/2

3.     Oklahoma State (11-1)/30.25

4.     Stanford (11-1)/29.5

2012 pre-bowl rankings/2009-2012

1.     Notre Dame (12-0)/16.25

2.     Alabama (12-1)/2

3.     Florida (11-1)/7

4.     Oregon (11-1)/17.5

2013 pre-bowl rankings/2010-2013

1.     Florida State (13-0)/7

2.     Auburn (12-1)/7.25

3.     Alabama (11-1)/2

4.     Michigan State (12-1)/35.5

Average wins for top four teams: 11.36 - since you can't have .36 of a win, let's just say 11.

Average losses for top four teams: .78 - since you can't lose .78 of a game, let's just say 1.

Average recruiting class ranking for top four teams (2002 class-present): 19.24 - the average skewed lower than expected due to the inclusion of TCU and Cincinnati's recruiting classes.

In summary, you need to be reeling in around 11 wins, compiling top 20 recruiting classes and losing one or two games max to put yourself in position to be in the top four at the end of the regular season.

How do Nebraska's chances look for 2014?  Bo Pelini has never won more than 10 games in a season (including bowl games) and has never lost less than four games. Recruiting wise, Nebraska has a four-year class average of 22.25 from 2011-2014*. The 2014 recruiting class will have to finish as the 23rd ranked overall class for Nebraska to reach the top 20 recruiting class threshold detailed above. From a talent standpoint, at least on paper, the Huskers have a shot. It's the execution part that's the big question mark for 2014 and moving forward.

*2014 class ranking will not be complete until February 5, 2014.

What you can also take away from all this research is that every national champion moving forward will probably have to defeat at least two teams that will finish the season with at least 11 wins.  Based on recent history, it's going to take an extraordinary coaching job and group of players to pull this off for the Big Red. Bo Pelini is 0-1 against 13 win teams, 0-4 against 12 win teams, and 2-4 against 11 win teams.

In other words, the Huskers will have to win at least as many games against 11+ win teams in one season as they have under Bo Pelini's ENTIRE tenure.

Based on the first three Big Ten Championship games, the Big Ten champion will have to beat at least three 10+ win* teams. Even if we were generous and said if the Big Ten was down and the eventual conference champion would have to beat a nine win team to make it into the new College Football Playoff, the path doesn't seem that much easier for the Huskers.

The Huskers are 5-17 (.228%) against teams that finish with 9+ wins and the average score of those games is 23.5-32.8 since 2008.

*Assuming a 7-5 seam doesn't sneak its way into the championship game due to another team's sanctions.

Looking solely at division rival Michigan State's recruiting classes compared to ours, we're within striking distance of putting together a run. However, although Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio doesn't have the consecutive 9-win streak Pelini has, he has pulled off three 11+ win seasons in his career. Instead of focusing on an arbitrary "bottom" for the program, we'll need to focus on the ceiling whoever is coaching the team presents us with if we're going to be competing for national championships ever again.

Would you trade years of above average-to-good seasons for occasionally great seasons? Once the College Football Playoff Era begins, there may not be a choice if we want to stay nationally relevant.

Although it wouldn't quite be a Christmas miracle, we're going to have to defy recent history to win number six anytime soon.

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