Parsing ESPN’s list of the top 100 players

Everyone loves lists, especially sports lists. And ESPN put out a juicy one last week: a list of the top 100 players in college football for 2014.

Combing through the list on ESPN’s site is tedious, because they divided it up into ten pages of ten players each (sort of; more on that later), and each page is loaded with ads and a video that autoplays. Our browser’s Flash crashed more than once when trying to peruse the list.

So we threw ESPN’s list into an Excel spreadsheet, because (1) it’s easier and quicker to look at that way; and (2) once you do that, you can sort the list. And the fun is in the sorting.

Plus, once we have it in an Excel spreadsheet, we can toss it lickety-split into a table for our site, because our site runs on WordPress, and WordPress plugins can be pretty powerful things. So, without further ado, here’s the list, and once you slog through it, we’ll slice it and dice it a couple ways for you.

Click on the column headings, and you can sort the table yourself.

[table id=5 /]

(You just scanned the list for players from your favorite team, didn’t you?)

First, a note about the list: it actually includes 102 players, due to ties. ESPN enlisted 32 writers and editors to create the list, and as you can see, whatever system they used created a large number of ties. The link above to the article that introduces the list on ESPN’s site basically said they just kinda arbitrarily tossed players into a pot, without it being all that scientific. That’s fine with us. We don’t care. We just like lists, because once the list is out there, you can analyze it and argue about it deep into the night.

If you’re like us, you immediately started wondering which teams and conferences had the most players on the list, and which positions appeared the most. So we analyzed the list for you to find that out. The only analysis we didn’t do was an analysis by class — senior, junior, etc. — because no one’s really going to argue about that.

Here are the results of our parsing.

Conference breakdown

Spoiler alert: the SEC had the most players on the list. Yeah, we know … shocker. Here’s the breakdown by conference:

  • SEC: 29 players
  • ACC: 20
  • PAC 12: 20
  • B1G: 17
  • Big 12: 14
  • Other: 2

If you sort that list by players per team, it doesn’t change much. The PAC 12 jumps the ACC, and the Big 12 jumps the B1G:

  • SEC: 2.1 players per team
  • PAC 12: 1.7
  • ACC: 1.4
  • Big 12: 1.4
  • B1G: 1.2
  • Other: 1.0

Just two teams from non-Power 5 conferences landed on the list: Notre Dame and Utah State each put one player on the list. That shows a clear bias to Power 5 teams, especially when you consider that of the first 102 players selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, 27 came from non-Power 5 teams. ESPN gave short shrift to the talent that lurks outside the teams that will play in the College Football Playoff.

Team breakdown

Which teams put the most players on the list? Here’s a list of all the teams who put four or more players on the list:

  • Florida State: 11 players
  • Alabama: 8 players
  • Michigan State, Stanford: 6 players
  • Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Texas, USC: 4 players

It’s not surprising that Florida State and Alabama are 1-2. Those two teams accounted for 19 of the 108 players on Athlon Sports’ four preseason All-America teams, for example, so why not 19 of the 102 players on ESPN’s list?

To point out the obvious: FSU put 11 of the ACC’s 20 players on the list. Miami put two on the list, and seven other ACC teams provided one player each. Meanwhile, ‘Bama put eight of the SEC’s 29 players on the list, while seven other SEC teams put two or more players on the list. The talent is more evenly distributed in the SEC, per ESPN.

Michigan State and Stanford landing six players on the list? You might not think that at first glance, but those two teams finished a combined 24-4 last season, were #4 and #5 in the BCS last year, and played a tight Rose Bowl game, won 24-20 by Sparty, so both teams are at the top of their game.

Also worth noting: Ole Miss with four players on the list is a testament to Hugh Freeze’s recruiting prowess, and a team that returns 15 starters and is starting to peak.

Here’s the full breakdown of number of players per team:

11 — FSU — ACC
8 — Alabama — SEC
6 — Michigan State — B10
6 — Stanford — PAC12
4 — Ohio State — B1G
4 — Ole Miss — SEC
4 — Oregon — PAC12
4 — Texas — Big12
4 — USC — PAC12
3 — Auburn — SEC
3 — Baylor — Big12
3 — Georgia — SEC
2 — Arizona State — PAC12
2 — Florida — SEC
2 — Iowa — B1G
2 — LSU — SEC
2 — Miami — ACC
2 — Michigan — B1G
2 — Miss State — SEC
2 — Nebraska — Big12
2 — Oklahoma — Big12
2 — South Carolina — SEC
2 — UCLA — PAC12
1 — Arkansas — SEC
1 — Clemson — ACC
1 — Duke — ACC
1 — Kansas State — Big12
1 — Louisville — ACC
1 — Maryland — B1G
1 — Missouri — SEC
1 — Notre Dame — IND
1 — Oregon State — PAC12
1 — Penn State — B1G
1 — Pittsburgh — ACC
1 — TCU — Big12
1 — Tennessee — SEC
1 — Texas A&M — Big12
1 — UNC — ACC
1 — Utah State — Other
1 — Virginia — ACC
1 — Virginia Tech — ACC
1 — Washington — PAC12
1 — Wisconsin — B1G

Lastly, a peek at players per position. Please note that the positions are per ESPN’s designation on the list. For some reason, ESPN chose to break defensive linemen into defensive ends (DE) and … defensive linemen (DL). They listed three offensive tackles (OT), one center (C) … and seven other offensive linemen (OL), as if guards don’t exist. So it’s their terminology, not ours.

  • QB: 15 players
  • WR: 14
  • LB: 13
  • RB: 12
  • DL: 10
  • DE: 8
  • CB: 7
  • OL: 7
  • S: 5
  • OT: 3
  • DB: 2
  • ST: 2
  • TE: 2
  • C: 1
  • PK: 1

That’s an interesting emphasis on the passing game (QB and WR) offensively, with running backs (RB) only coming in fourth. (Wonder how many RBs would have been on the list ten or twenty years ago?) And they clearly view linebackers as the stars of the defense.

Interesting stuff, all the way around … and we hope they keep doing the list every year.

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