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The Story Of Kings and Barons

By Jay Coulter

There’s been a story floating around the internet this week that has been grabbing a lot of attention and controversy. Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel tackles the issue of hierarchy in college football. He makes an attempt at placing all 66 BCS schools into four tiers based on history, tradition, won/loss and something he calls aura or cachet.

Now before dissecting his rankings, let’s say up front that Mandel is a fine college football writer. In fact, he’s one of the best.  I have to say that he’s pretty close with his rankings.  However, as always, I do take issue with a few of his "prestige level" rankings – but not Auburn’s position.

Mandel calls his four tiers: Kings, Barrons, Knights and Peasants.  Let’s look at each group and his comments...

Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Tennessee*, Texas and USC.

Tennessee is the lone school in the group that caused any hesitation. The Vols would have been a no-brainer 10 years ago, but they have fallen off the map a bit lately. In the end, I figured those 100 fans in Montana still know "Rocky Top," the checkered end zones and that Peyton Manning went there.

Auburn, Clemson, Colorado, Georgia, LSU*, Texas A&M, UCLA, Virginia Tech, Washington and Wisconsin.

While LSU is clearly a premier program right now, its big-picture tradition does not match those of the 13 kings. However, if the Tigers were to add another national title here in the next couple of years, they may well graduate to that group.

Arizona State, Arkansas, Boston College, Cal, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas State, Maryland, Michigan State, Missouri, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Oregon State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Stanford, Syracuse*, South Carolina, Texas Tech, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington State.

In normal times, Syracuse would qualify as one of the barons, but they're just so darn bad and so irrelevant right now.

Arizona, Baylor, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Duke, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa State, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Northwestern, Rutgers*, South Florida*, Wake Forest and Vanderbilt.

Rutgers is another program that could be on its way up a tier, and South Florida is here by default because it's essentially a start-up. There is one school intentionally missing from the list, and that's because I have no idea where to put it: Louisville. History-wise, the Cardinals are peasants, but the program has completely reinvented itself over the past decade and now gets mentioned with the kings and barons. For now, we'll just say: TBD.

Let’s look at the Kings first. I’m conflicted on placing Alabama as a King.  And that’s not because I absolutely hate everything about them. If you’re making this list 10 years ago, then I say they belong there. That would make them only a few years removed from the ’92 championship year and Bear Bryant would be only a distant memory and not a faint one like he is now.

Unfortunately, time moves on.  They are now with their seventh coach (correct me if I’m wrong; it’s hard to keep up) since Bryant’s death, came within an eyelash of getting the death penalty, and have become a middle-tier SEC team.  Out of desperation, they paid a coach $32 million to save them.  When you think about "Who’s Now" you don’t think about Alabama.

I also have a problem with putting Florida State in that top tier. There’s no question they were one of the top two or three teams of the 1990’s. But what about prior to that decade? And how about since?  One decade doesn’t make a team a King.  The same can be said of Miami and Florida.  There’s no way I put Tennessee in that group either.  Other than those few, I agree with Mandel.  

Let’s take a look at the Barons.  I have zero problems putting Auburn in that group. Like it or not, Auburn has got to make more BCS appearances to get on the top list. They also must capture SEC championships on a more frequent basis. I know, that’s easier said than done.

I also believe Georgia fits nicely.  LSU is also where they belong and are not close to moving up to the Kings anytime soon.  I’m not sold on Clemson, UCLA or Wisconsin as a Baron.

Taking a look at the Knights and Peasants, I really don’t have any arguments.  They look about right. I can’t help but wonder whether or not we’d be in the bottom two groups had it not been for Pat Dye. We could have easily ended up like Ole Miss.

It’s interesting to get insight from others on who they see as college football royalty.  Kudos to Mandel for taking a shot at it on the national stage. Now, I want to hear what you think.