Success at the elite level of college football requires sustained performance over time. The contenders for national championships rarely emerge from out of nowhere, and elite performance on the field helps drive recruiting success off the field so that the power programs generally remain at the top of their game, year after year.
Teams from the SEC have raised the crystal football at the conclusion of the BCS Championship Game in each of the past seven seasons. Alabama has dominated the conference and the national title chase in recent years, and while LSU and Florida have been less consistent since claiming championships of their own, all three programs are well-situated for future success. According to our Program FEI ratings, a measure of five-year drive efficiency, Alabama, LSU and Florida each rank among the top five college programs heading into this fall.
There is one glaring exception to this rule of sustained success in recent years, however, and that is the Auburn Tigers.
Auburn followed up its undefeated and national championship season in 2010 with a very shaky 8-5 season in 2011 and a disastrous 3-9 season in 2012. The PFEI ranking for the Tigers dropped from No. 21 to No. 53 in one year, the second-largest change in PFEI of any team in the past 10 seasons and the largest by any team previously ranked among the top 40. (Washington State dropped from No. 49 to No. 95 in PFEI from 2007 to 2008).
Precipitous drops in the Program FEI rankings typically don't bode well for a swift recovery. Oregon State dropped 20 spots in PFEI from 2010 to 2011 and recovered nicely in 2012 with a 9-4 campaign. Ole Miss dropped 16 spots in PFEI from 2010 to 2011 and bounced back with a decent 7-6 season in 2012 that has them trending in the right direction for next year and beyond.
But Auburn's fall was nearly twice as significant as either Oregon State or Ole Miss, and there are many more examples of teams that are still struggling to recover. On average, teams that dropped at least 10 positions in PFEI from one year to the next continued their slide the following season.