Measuring classroom, on-field effort

ESPN Grade is a new way to think about college football polls -- uniting on-field outcome with educational results.

A top 25 football program's ESPN Grade is calculated by combining its ranking in The Associated Press and USA Today coaches' polls, then adding its position in a top 25 sorted by football graduation rates.

So if a university is fifth in one poll, sixth in the other and 10th in graduation rates, its ESPN Grade would be 5 + 6 + 10 = 21.

Only teams receiving a vote in either the AP or coaches' poll are ranked in ESPN Grade -- it's an academics-adjusted ranking of the power teams, not of all teams in college football.

Statistics come from the Graduation Success Rate as calculated by the NCAA. (Look up any college's GSR.) Statistics employed are from October 2013, the most recent available.

Both the NCAA and the federal Department of Education calculate graduation rates by allowing six academic years, because many students don't complete college in the traditional four years. That means the most recent stats gauge freshmen who entered college as early as 2006. 

This is the most generous metric of athletic graduation, granting credit for transfers both in or out. NFL early entrants have little impact on graduation rates -- the most recent year for which statistics have been released had 53 early entrants, about half of 1 percent of upperclassman scholarship players.

ESPN Grade will refresh in midseason, when the NCAA is expected to release the next set of graduation statistics, from June 2014.

At the end of the season, ESPN Grade will produce a final ranking. Factoring in graduation rates could produce a different No. 1 than will be named by the new College Football Playoff.

Game day, commencement day: Both matter. ESPN Grade takes the next step, integrating win-loss performance with diploma performance.


ESPN Grade: 16

AP Poll Rank: 2 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 2 | Graduation Rank: 12

Crimson Tide show it's realistic to post good degree-completion rates even with some players leaving early for NFL.


ESPN Grade: 17

AP Poll Rank: 7 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 7 | Graduation Rank: 3

UCLA's commencement-day caliber makes the dismal graduation performance of crosstown rival USC look even worse.

Ohio State

ESPN Grade: 18

AP Poll Rank: 5 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 6 | Graduation Rank: 7

String of victories under new regime revs up the boosters, but Buckeyes' rising graduation rate means more in the long run.


ESPN Grade: 20

AP Poll Rank: 3 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 4 | Graduation Rank: 13

Ducks should offer athletes several different wild color combinations for commencement robes.


ESPN Grade: 23

AP Poll Rank: 11 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 11 | Graduation Rank: 1

In 2013, Cardinal had college football's top combination of on-field and classroom results.

Florida State

ESPN Grade: 24

AP Poll Rank: 1 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 1 | Graduation Rank: 22

Seminoles alumni and boosters should be embarrassed by diploma numbers of the final BCS trophy recipient.


ESPN Grade: 26

AP Poll Rank: 6 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 5 | Graduation Rank: 15

Has bounced back nicely from a 2006 scandal in which football players got A's for "classes" that required no work.


ESPN Grade: 27

AP Poll Rank: 12 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 12 | Graduation Rank: 3

A decade ago, Bulldogs' football diploma rate was under 50 percent. Steady improvement since.

Michigan State

ESPN Grade: 31

AP Poll Rank: 8 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 8 | Graduation Rank: 15

Spartans doing well in football but need to step up graduation rate.


ESPN Grade: 33

AP Poll Rank: 4 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 3 | Graduation Rank: 26

No ifs, ands or buts: Sooners' football classroom performance is embarrassing.


ESPN Grade: 34

AP Poll Rank: 13 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 13 | Graduation Rank: 8

Cox Communications Academic Center for Student-Athletes among nicest tutoring facilities in college sports.

Notre Dame

ESPN Grade: 35

AP Poll Rank: 17 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 17 | Graduation Rank: 1

In 2012, Irish were first to rank No. 1 in football on the field and No. 1 in FBS school graduation rate at same time.


ESPN Grade: 37

AP Poll Rank: 10 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 10 | Graduation Rank: 17

Unimpressive graduation number from a school where there's controversy over spending a lot more for coaches than for academic leaders.


ESPN Grade: 37

AP Poll Rank: 16 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 16 | Graduation Rank: 5

Here, at LSU, and at Missouri, Tigers sports name associated with strong diploma outcomes. There must be a scientific reason.

South Carolina

ESPN Grade: 37

AP Poll Rank: 9 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 9 | Graduation Rank: 19

At South Carolina, 72 percent of students as a whole graduate. That football players get an extra year and do worse is not impressive.


ESPN Grade: 40

AP Poll Rank: 13 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 14 | Graduation Rank: 13

Good long-term balance between reaching major bowl games and graduating players.

Texas A&M

ESPN Grade: 49

AP Poll Rank: 21 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 20 | Graduation Rank: 8

Yell leaders, 12th Man seem to encourage graduation -- other colleges might take notice.


ESPN Grade: 50

AP Poll Rank: 22 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 22 | Graduation Rank: 6

Cornhuskers' program consistently respectable on commencement day.

Arizona State

ESPN Grade: 54

AP Poll Rank: 19 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 18 | Graduation Rank: 17

Good news: Sun Devils football's highest graduation rate in years. Bad news: The number is 67 percent.


ESPN Grade: 55

AP Poll Rank: 15 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 15 | Graduation Rank: 25

Dismal, awful, miserable. USC alums: You going to take this lying down?


ESPN Grade: 58

AP Poll Rank: 24 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 26 | Graduation Rank: 8

Mizzou sports graduation rates have risen steadily under athletic director Mike Alden. Go Tigers!


ESPN Grade: 58

AP Poll Rank: 25 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 25 | Graduation Rank: 8

Graduation means far more than APR, but kudos to Seattle Times for reporting on football and education at Washington universities.

Ole Miss

ESPN Grade: 61

AP Poll Rank: 18 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 19 | Graduation Rank: 24

Book "The Blind Side" describes prep coach Hugh Freeze looking the other way on academics. Now Freeze is the Ole Miss coach and doesn't seem to have changed.

Kansas State

ESPN Grade: 62

AP Poll Rank: 20 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 21 | Graduation Rank: 21

Coach Bill Snyder's teams have nose-dived academically in recent years.

North Carolina

ESPN Grade: 65

AP Poll Rank: 23 | Coaches' Poll Rank: 23 | Graduation Rank: 19

Chapel Hill tarnished by academic scandals in football and men's basketball -- football graduation isn't much, either.