Published on October 18, 2017 by Drew Laing  
Photo credit: Marvin Gentry
Photo credit: Marvin Gentry

Passion. The word alone defines the unique magic of college football. From the game day traditions to the seething hatred for bitter rivals, unwavering passion runs deep in the veins of college football fans everywhere. 

At the heart of that passion is the emotional connection — or relevance — between fans and their favorite school. Fans are drawn to the most relevant teams – the ones that connect with them on a deep emotional level (both positively and negatively). 

So which school stands alone as the “most relevant” college football team? 

According to Samford University’s Center for Sports Analytics, three teams can make that claim — Alabama, Michigan and Clemson. 

The rankings, developed in partnership with Affinio, were compiled based on data from approximately 6.9 million sports fans. Through a deep dive into the social media habits of U.S. sports fans, Samford University’s Center for Sports Analytics and Affinio conducted a detailed study and analyzed how millions of fans are connected to teams, tapping into billions of interest variables and network connections. 

Here are the complete relevance rankings for all Power 5 conference teams, along with a few additions including Notre Dame, Houston, Boise State, Brigham Young (BYU) and military schools Navy and Army. 

College Relevance Rankings 

Unsurprisingly, the Southeastern Conference takes the conference crown in the College Football Relevance Rankings with eight teams in the top 15. Michigan and Ohio State are the lone Big 10 representatives in the top 15, while the Atlantic Coast Conference boasts two teams as well — Clemson (#3) and Florida State (#8). The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are ranked fourth. 

The remaining Power 5 conferences — Pac-12 and Big 12 — only have one team each in the top 15 with Oregon at No. 10 and Oklahoma at No. 12, respectively. 

Despite experiencing some recent down years overall as a conference on the field, the SEC still dominates in relevance to college football fans, compared to the other conferences. The Big 10 edges out the ACC for runner up by a tenth of a point, followed by the Big 12 and PAC-12, who are tied for fourth place. 

It appears the SEC tagline “It just means more” is quite reflective of the fan’s emotions. 

Conference Rankings 

It’s the usual suspects at the top of the list, but which universities are the cellar dwellers? Rounding out the bottom five is Kansas, Northwestern, Wake Forest, Army and BYU. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise throughout the entire list is the No. 16 ranking for the Texas Longhorns. Long considered one of the premier college football programs in the country, the Longhorns have struggled to maintain success on the field following their 2005 National Championship. Texas fans are likely none too happy to see schools like South Carolina and especially hated rival Texas A&M ranked higher on the list. 

Each college football team’s relevance score (listed below its logo) is a custom measurement of the team’s significance to U.S. sports fans based on its affinity score, audience size and the number of members who already have this interest. 

In addition to fans’ emotions towards a specific team, relevance can also be a powerful predictor of sponsorship success between businesses and teams as the ultra-successful sponsorship relationships are built through a company and a highly relevant sports team. 

These rankings are not set in stone, however. While the larger, more passionate fan bases will be more stable compared to those schools with smaller fan bases, all schools are subject to fluctuating relevance scores based on a number of factors (on-field performance, rival news and coaching staff news). 

The Center for Sports Analytics regularly updates the College Football Relevance Rankings, so be sure to check back to see how your team’s relevance changes over time. 

Related story: NFL Relevance Rankings  

Drew Laing is a Samford University journalism and mass communication alumnus and writes for the Division of Marketing and Communication.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 3rd nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.