Who does the least with the most? Our annual college football underachiever tiers

  • College football reporter.
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
  • Graduate of Northwestern University.

Texas A&M fans, I’m ready for you.

I recognize it’s never fun for fans to see their team headlining college football’s underachiever tiers. Texas A&M has one of the largest and most prideful fan bases in the sport, so much so that it is synonymous with a number, 12. And although the home of the 12th Man was an easy pick to lead off the tiers, the truth about a team’s lack of performance can sting.

Bring on the backlash.

But before you do, hear me out. Last year, Georgia topped the underachiever tiers. Georgia was, in fact, the inspiration for the list. The Bulldogs had not won a national championship in my lifetime despite incredible advantages with resources and location. Behind a historically elite defense, Georgia went on to capture its first title since 1980. Perhaps Texas A&M, which has an even longer drought without a national championship, soon can surge all the way to the top. The most recent recruiting cycle suggests it’s possible.

Our goal is to identify programs that can’t break through despite plenty of pathways to success. For the most part, the teams aren’t hamstrung by location, fan and donor support, facilities, administrative commitment or team history. But for various reasons, the results don’t add up.

Not every team listed below should realistically contend for national championships. Some aren’t set up to compete for league titles or major bowl games very often. But there are sets of teams throughout the sport that should be reaching higher levels.

To maintain consistency from the first edition, I’ve identified six tiers of underachievers, focusing on results from the past 40 seasons (1982 to 2021) but placing greater emphasis on the most recent 15 to 20 years. Teams that have made the College Football Playoff are exempt, so Michigan is off the hook after its breakthrough last fall. I’ve also excluded any team that has won the national title in the past 15 seasons (2006 to 2021).

Several teams that appeared in last year’s rundown are listed, although information has been updated. Teams cannot appear in multiple tiers.

Let’s get started.

Tier I: Angst in Aggieland

Texas A&M

A year ago, Texas A&M shared the second tier with UCLA and Texas, but in terms of long-term underachievement, the Aggies were closer to Georgia. The 2021 season didn’t help the team’s reputation. Coming off a No. 4 finish in 2020, Texas A&M entered the fall ranked No. 6 but ended up 8-4, an all-too familiar result. Other than an upset of No. 1 Alabama — Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher became the first ex-Nick Saban assistant to beat Saban — Texas A&M had a largely forgettable season.

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