Which college football programs overperform on TV? Which ones underperform?

Florida State and Northern Illinois are among the programs that have overperformed on TV since 2014.

As we await the next big move in major conference realignment, it’s time to revisit the TV viewership numbers from past seasons.

In the past, I’ve looked at the average number of viewers each college football program brings in — click here for 2015–19, and here for 2021 — but now I wanted to dig into which programs overperform and underperform on TV.

One of the most important factors in TV viewership, nearly as important than the matchup, is the TV window the game is being aired.

Games on channels like CBS, ABC and FOX almost always draw more viewers than games on channels like ESPN, ESPN2 and FS1. Saturday games almost always draw more viewers than games on other days of the week. Games played in the afternoon and evening almost always draw more viewers than games played after 10 p.m.

TV networks know this, and try to maximize the best windows by filling them with the best matchups. The programs most often picked for those windows reap the benefits in their viewership numbers.

In these rankings, I calculated the average viewership for every channel and viewing window, then compared each program’s viewership to those averages, in order to find which programs tend to overperform or underperform. The full methodology can be found underneath the rankings.

Which programs consistently overperform? Which programs consistently underperform?

Every program that played at least 10 regular-season games in a popular window is listed here. The percentage indicates the program’s average percentage above or below the window average for all games played since 2014 (excluding 2020).

Programs with positive numbers are programs that overperformed compared to the window average for the windows they played in. Programs with negative numbers are programs that underperformed compared to the window average for the windows they played in.

  1. Ohio State: +66.18 %
  2. Michigan: +49.00 %
  3. Alabama: +47.37 %
  4. Nebraska: +37.26 %
  5. Penn State: +31.61 %
  6. LSU: +27.62 %
  7. Texas: +27.02 %
  8. Auburn: +24.16 %
  9. Michigan State: +22.34 %
  10. Florida State: +20.09 %
  11. Iowa: +18.23 %
  12. Oklahoma: +15.46 %
  13. West Virginia: +11.11 %
  14. Arkansas: +10.75 %
  15. Florida: +10.53 %
  16. Tennessee: +9.42 %
  17. Northern Illinois: +9.25 %
  18. Indiana: +9.04 %
  19. Minnesota: +8.99 %
  20. Washington: +8.69 %
  21. Colorado: +7.26 %
  22. Notre Dame: +7.00 %
  23. Wisconsin: +6.64 %
  24. Oregon: +6.42 %
  25. Boise State: +5.97 %
  26. Clemson: +5.95 %
  27. Mississippi State: +5.70 %
  28. Virginia: +5.01 %
  29. Louisville: +4.61 %
  30. Southern Cal: +3.94 %
  31. Virginia Tech: +3.48 %
  32. Washington State: +3.34 %
  33. Georgia: +2.98 %
  34. Illinois: +1.82 %
  35. Texas A&M: +1.75 %
  36. Pittsburgh: +0.76 %
  37. Appalachian State: +0.16 %
  38. Duke: -0.19 %
  39. South Carolina: -0.96 %
  40. Oklahoma State: -1.28 %
  41. Arizona State: -1.56 %
  42. NC State: -2.82 %
  43. Georgia Tech: -3.04 %
  44. Maryland: -3.23 %
  45. Kentucky: -3.57 %
  46. Arkansas State: -4.98 %
  47. BYU: -6.37 %
  48. Miami: -6.46 %
  49. Rutgers: -6.52 %
  50. Syracuse: -6.56 %
  51. Mississippi: -7.26 %
  52. Arizona: -7.26 %
  53. Stanford: -7.28 %
  54. Baylor: -7.74 %
  55. Toledo: -8.13 %
  56. Purdue: -8.23 %
  57. Utah: -8.72 %
  58. California: -8.94 %
  59. UCLA: -9.01 %
  60. Iowa State: -9.92 %
  61. Kansas State: -10.15 %
  62. Texas Tech: -10.87 %
  63. Ohio: -11.56 %
  64. East Carolina: -11.84 %
  65. Georgia Southern: -11.86 %
  66. Oregon State: -11.95 %
  67. Fresno State: -12.78 %
  68. Missouri: -12.88 %
  69. Boston College: -14.29 %
  70. South Alabama: -14.80 %
  71. Louisiana: -14.82 %
  72. Northwestern: -15.84 %
  73. TCU: -18.50 %
  74. Connecticut: -19.22 %
  75. Western Michigan: -19.65 %
  76. Buffalo: -21.15 %
  77. Wyoming: -21.29 %
  78. Colorado State: -22.80 %
  79. Utah State: -25.98 %
  80. Wake Forest: -25.99 %
  81. UNLV: -26.31 %
  82. New Mexico: -27.75 %
  83. Hawaii: -28.10 %
  84. Nevada: -29.77 %
  85. Vanderbilt: -30.86 %
  86. Navy: -31.29 %
  87. Cincinnati: -31.85 %
  88. Air Force: -32.40 %
  89. Houston: -33.59 %
  90. Kansas: -34.63 %
  91. Tulsa: -35.99 %
  92. UCF: -37.44 %
  93. South Florida: -37.77 %
  94. Temple: -40.30 %
  95. San Diego State: -43.47 %
  96. SMU: -44.72 %
  97. Tulane: -45.42 %
  98. Memphis: -45.43 %

More on the methodology

I started with a data set of 2,339 televised games with available viewership data since the start of the 2014 season (excluding 2020), and identified 34 different viewing windows with at least 18 games played in them.

Here are the windows, with the number of games played in each one: ESPN Saturday noon (96), ABC Saturday night (88), CBS Saturday afternoon (86), ESPN Saturday night (82), ESPN2 Saturday night (81), ABC Saturday noon (77), ESPN Saturday afternoon (75), ESPN2 Saturday noon (74), ESPN Thursday night (72), FS1 Saturday noon (72), ESPNU Saturday night (72), ABC Saturday afternoon (67), ESPN Saturday late night (67), FS1 Saturday afternoon (65), ESPNU Saturday noon (63), ESPNU Saturday afternoon (63), ESPN2 Saturday late night (62), ESPN2 Saturday afternoon (56), FOX Saturday night (53), FOX Saturday afternoon (53), FS1 Saturday late night (46), FOX Saturday noon (44), ESPN Friday night (43), NBC Saturday afternoon (32), FS1 Saturday night (28), ESPN2 Friday night (27), ESPN2 Wednesday night (25), ESPNEWS Saturday noon (24), ESPNU Thursday night (23), FS1 Friday night (21), ESPN2 Tuesday night (21), ESPNU Saturday late night (20), ESPNEWS Saturday afternoon (19), ESPN Friday late night (18).

After throwing out games that didn’t fit into one of those windows, I was left with 1,828 games to work with.

I calculated the average for each of those 34 windows, then calculated the percentage above or below the average that the viewership for each of those 1,828 games.

Finally, I calculated the average percentage for each program, which is what you see in the rankings above. I only included programs that played at least 10 games in those 34 windows.

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