The underachiever tiers of college football

Chip Kelly, Hairy Dawg & Jimbo Fisher ESPN

Georgia is the inspiration for the underachiever tiers.

The past 40 years in college football have featured some surprising droughts, including extended lulls without conference championships for former powers Tennessee (1998), Nebraska (1999), Miami (2003) and Michigan (2004), and well-positioned programs such as Texas A&M (1998) and UCLA (1998). But I keep coming back to Georgia, a job many coaches consider the nation's best and certainly in the top five. The program hasn't won a national title since 1980, the year before I was born.

How does a program with Georgia's natural advantages go four decades without winning it all?

There are certain programs in college football that just can't seem to break through, at least not recently, despite some inherent traits (location, history, resources) that set them up for success. These are the teams that constantly prompt questions like, "Why can't they win their league?" or "What happened to them?"

Not every underachiever should be expected to win a national title or even to contend regularly for league titles or major bowl games. But there are groups of teams that should be achieving more than they are.

I've identified six tiers of underachievers, focusing on results from 1981 to 2020, but placing greater emphasis on the past 15-20 years.

Other than Georgia, teams that have made the College Football Playoff do not appear. I've also excluded any national title winners in the past 15 seasons.

Tier I: The Dawghouse


Full disclosure: I'm typing this while wearing a Georgia hat. I bought it during a 2018 trip to cover a game against Tennessee, my first fall visit to Sanford Stadium. It was amazing. Everyone should see a game between the hedges. Georgia has it all -- the stadium, the fan base, the finances, the town, the access to talent, the SEC. And yet a national championship continues to elude the Bulldogs.