College Football Top 25, Ranked by Academics

3 minute read

The 2016 football season was something of a disappointment for Stanford: a 9-3 record wasn’t enough for a shot at the national championship, leaving the Cardinal to settle for the Hyundai Sun Bowl against North Carolina.

But Stanford fans can take some solace in winning a different title: the best performing team in the classroom. According to an annual academic ranking of the top 25 football teams from the Washington think tank New America, Stanford is at the head of the class. The University of Alabama, the top team on the field and the favorite to win the national championship, came in seventh.

The full results, published first at TIME, are below. Click the left tab for the academic rankings, the right one for the football order:


As it has done for the last two years, New America compiled the rankings by beginning with each school’s football graduation success rate (GSR). The GSR is a NCAA measure that, unlike the federal graduation rate, doesn’t penalize schools for having players who transfer or leave for the pros–as long as those players depart in good academic standing. The higher the school’s graduation success rate, the higher they start out in New America’s rankings.

Schools lose points for graduating football players at different rates than their overall male student body. To compare players to students, New America relied on federal rates, since there’s no GSR for the general population. (The service academies do not provide a federal rate, which means Navy, No. 25 in football, is excluded from the ranking.) The bigger the discrepancy, the harsher the penalty. Even if a school graduated football players at a higher rate than the overall male student population—and five schools in the top 25, Stanford, Clemson, Louisville, Temple, and Western Michigan, did—the difference was counted as a penalty. New America does not want to reward schools with low overall graduation rates. Schools were awarded an added bonus for having high overall rates.

Stanford topped the rankings thanks to its 99% GSR for football players. But once again, few did better overall than Clemson. The Tigers, no. 2 in football, are also runner-up in the classroom. Clemson faces Ohio State (21 in academics, 3 in football) in one Dec. 31 playoff semifinal; Alabama (7, 1) plays Washington (16, 4) in the other. Clemson graduated football players at nearly the same rate (79% vs. 78%) as the rest of the school’s male student body.

Alabama may survive the college football playoff, and win its 5th national title come Jan. 9th. But Clemson deserves credit for its consistently strong showing on both fronts.

The Stanford faithful, meanwhile, should find another reason to cheer––no matter what happens in the Sun Bowl.

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