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Overall Team Talent Rankings of the last 13 national championship runners up

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We know how talented you need to be to win the national championship, but how good do you have to be to play for one?

One of our favorite pictures in this year's magazine
One of our favorite pictures in this year's magazine
Bryan Lynn, LC Action Photos

As we've repeated many times, there's plenty of room for Something Special between where the Vols have been the past several years and winning a national championship. Playing in a New Year's Six bowl game, participating but losing in the College Football Playoff, losing in the national championship game -- these are all bad ways to end a season that begins with national championship aspirations, but for teams on their way up the mountain, they're also evidence of Something Special happening in the regular season.

So what does it take to be one of those elite teams still in contention for it all at the end of the season? We've looked at the correlation between four-year rolling recruiting rankings (we're now calling this "Overall Team Talent Rankings" or just "Team Talent Rankings") and national championships in the Rocky Top Tennessee magazine and found that of the last 13 champs, 12 of them were in the top eight of the Team Talent Rankings and eight of them were in the top four.

But what about the non-championship contenders? Where did they rank in Team Talent, and what does that mean for the Tennessee Volunteers this year? Good question.

Year Winner Winner's TT Rank Loser Loser's TT Rank Score CFP3 CFP3 TT Rank CFP4 CFP4 TT Rank
2003 LSU #6 Oklahoma #8 21-14
2004 USC #8 Oklahoma #6 55-19
2005 Texas #8 USC #1 41-38
2006 Florida #2 Ohio State


2007 LSU #4 Ohio State #41 38-24
2008 Florida #2 Oklahoma #4 24-14
2009 Alabama #7 Texas #3 37-21
2010 Auburn #13 Oregon #18 22-19
2011 Alabama #1 LSU #5 21-0
2012 Alabama #1 Notre Dame #12 42-14
2013 Florida State #4 Auburn #6 34-31
2014 Ohio State #2 Oregon #17 42-20 Alabama #1 Florida State #3
2015 Alabama #1 Clemson #13 45-40 Oklahoma #16 Michigan State #27

The losers' ranks range from #1 all the way down to #41, but apart from Ohio State's rankings of #37 and #41 in 2006-07 and Michigan State's #27 last year for the College Football Playoff Semifinal (and note that they didn't make the final), all of the rest were in the top 20.

What happened in the outlier years of 2006 and 2007? Well, you may recall that 2007 was the most chaotic college football season in recent memory. It started with Appy State taking out Michigan and then just got weirder from there. There were multiple weeks with multiple catastrophes and casualties, and not even Ohio State or LSU escaped all of them; they merely escaped one more than everyone else, including the Vietnamese Boathouse. They both stumbled later, but then composed themselves and walked safely across the broken glass to the finish line while everyone else was faceplanting on it. We were this close to a final between Missouri and West Virginia, but they were both taken out by meteors as they were standing in line to punch their ticket, allowing both LSU and Ohio State to play in the national championship game, the Tigers with two losses heading into the game. And they pretty much had their way with Ohio State to conclude the season. If you want to relive all of the madness, may I suggest the 2007 Animated Blogpoll.

Discounting the outliers, of the teams playing for but failing to win it all, 23% were in the top four in the Team Talent Rankings and 54% were in the top eight. A full 85% of them were in the top 18.

Where's Tennessee heading into 2016? The Vols are at #14. This happy thought brought to you by Rocky Top Tennessee 2016, which you can buy here.