Ranking college football's biggest underachievers

Daniel Dunn/USA TODAY Sports

Retaining the No. 1 spot in college football is normally a great thing.

Not in these rankings. And not for Texas A&M.

No team ever wants to be No. 1 in college football's underachiever tiers, the annual preseason exercise examining the programs that do the least with the most. Keeping the top spot is especially painful, but it has happened with the Aggies.

Georgia was the inspiration for the initial rankings. Coach Kirby Smart's team proceeded to win it all in 2021 and repeated last year, cementing itself as college football's preeminent program.

Texas A&M's placement atop last year's rankings came with the caveat: Look at Georgia! Just be like Georgia! The Aggies had signed the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, headlined by four defensive line recruits rated in ESPN's top 7 nationally, several standout perimeter players and Conner Weigman, ESPN's No. 27 overall prospect. Coach Jimbo Fisher had enough to challenge in the SEC West and build on an 8-4 season.

Instead, the Aggies regressed and went 5-7, logging their first losing record since 2008 and Fisher's first full losing season as a head coach (he left 5-6 Florida State for Texas A&M in 2017 and the Seminoles went on to finish 7-6). There's no choice but to leave Texas A&M right at the top.

The list includes other repeat selections, as certain programs, despite clear advantages, continue to spin their wheels or backslide. The objective is to identify programs that aren't capitalizing on long-term edges such as history, location, fan/booster base and financial resources, and new ones such as NIL clout and media rights revenue.

Much like the first two versions, I've divided teams into six different tiers. Unlike Georgia and Texas A&M, not every team that appears is a realistic national championship contender. Some shouldn't expect to be in the conference title mix very often. But all should be expecting and achieving more.

To maintain consistency, teams are evaluated primarily on the past 20 seasons (2003 to 2022) with extra emphasis on the last 5 to 7. Teams that have made the College Football Playoff are exempt -- TCU wouldn't appear anyway, but the Horned Frogs are officially clear -- as are national champions from the past 15 seasons (2008 to 2022).