By Ben Miller and Lindsey Luebchow
College football’s Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is in hot water again this year with five undefeated teams and still no playoff system to determine the national champion. It’s unsatisfying to fans—and apparently to members of Congress and the White House too—when a complicated series of computer rankings, coaches’ polls, and other metrics magically reward two squads. But there’s a much more unsettling story swept under the rug during these debates: the poor academic performance and embarrassing graduation rates of most of the country’s top 25 football schools.
It is with those concerns in mind that Higher Ed Watch has analyzed, for the third year in a row, the federal graduation statistics and Academic Progress Rates of the top gridiron teams. The blog’s goal is to find those teams that have players delivering both on the field and in the classroom—and those that leave too many of their players without a degree and with few career prospects.
So who would be contending for the crystal trophy in Pasadena, Calif., if the match-up was determined by academic performance? They may not be playing for the title, but Penn State and Stanford are the class of the BCS, according to Higher Ed Watch’s rankings of the top 25 college football teams.
With two-time champion Boston College dropping out of the rankings this year, Penn State’s Nittany Lions moved up from sharing the number two spot in last year’s ranking to take over the top spot. The Stanford Cardinal, which is making its Academic BCS debut thanks to an 8-4 season, takes the second spot as the only other squad to receive more than 100 points under Higher Ed Watch's calculation. These two teams are followed by Cincinnati (number four last year) and Boise State (eighth).
Meanwhile, this year’s top football contenders wouldn’t even come close to competing. In fact, the University of Texas, which is scheduled to face the University of Alabama in the title game, again comes in dead last in the rankings. The Longhorns have occupied the bottom rung now for the past two years, and only an appearance by the University of Hawaii in 2007 has kept them from the three-peat. Other poor performers are the University of Arizona, the University of Oregon, and Oregon State University.
As for the current defending champion University of Florida Gators, they will not be competing for the BCS title this year, but they can take some solace from the fact that their score increased 10 points in the rankings, moving them from 21st to 20th in the poll.