The annual Power Five conference athletic department rankings are here. To recap the scoring: This is a five-year average of the national Learfield Cup rankings for all 64 teams in the Power Five conferences (Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, Southeastern), plus Notre Dame. So the applicable data comes from the 2014-15 academic year through 2018-19.
Best sport: women’s volleyball. Trajectory: down. For the first time in the brief history of this annual project, we have a new Worst Power Five Athletic Department, and it’s Pitt. The Panthers plummeted to 137th nationally in 2018-19, snugly between Vermont and Towson, lowest among P5 programs by 43 spots. The Panthers scored zero points in spring sports. This was Pitt’s third straight year of decline, from 92 to 111 to 137. Best sport: football. Trajectory: steady. The Cougars are out of the Power Five cellar and likely are one year away from a significant move up the rankings after their inconceivable 170th-place finish in 2014-15 comes off the books. Wazzu was in the top 90 for the second year in a row, highlighted by strong fall performances in football, women’s volleyball and women’s soccer. Best sport: wrestling. Trajectory: up. Look out for the Scarlet Knights! Well, relatively speaking. Rutgers vaulted up 25 spots from 2017-18, the second-biggest year-over-year increase among the Power Five. Wrestling, field hockey and women’s rowing may not excite the fan base, but Rutgers is finding a few niches of success. Best sport: men’s golf. Trajectory: up. The Yellow Jackets were the single biggest mover from 2018 to ’19, shooting up 55 spots from last year’s dismal No. 121 ranking. This was Tech’s best year since 2010-11, with a significant boost from spring sports men’s golf, baseball and women’s tennis. Best sport: women’s track & field. Trajectory: down. The Wildcats’ ranking dropped for the third straight year, this one significantly — down from 72nd to 94th. That’s the school’s lowest ranking in the five-year period. Scoring a big fat zero in fall sports — which hadn’t happened since 2010 — didn’t help. Best sport: women’s lacrosse. Trajectory: steady. The Eagles nudged themselves upward eight spots year-over-year, but 2018 was quite bad — moderate improvement over that doesn’t say a whole lot. Advancing to the final of the women’s lacrosse tournament was the saving grace. Best sport: women’s gymnastics. Trajectory: steady. After consecutive years of improvement, the Beavers backslid slightly in 2019. Baseball, often a big scorer for Oregon State, didn’t have a big season. Much of the slack was picked up by women’s gymnastics and women’s basketball. Best sport: women’s tennis. Trajectory: steady. With the customary zero from football and fewer points than usual from men’s basketball, the Jayhawks had to make up for it in other ways — women’s tennis, men’s indoor track, women’s soccer. We’ll see whether Les Miles can breathe life into football, and whether men’s hoops can evade the NCAA slammer. Best sport: skiing (national champion). Trajectory: down. The Utes dropped 18 spots year-over-year to 79th, their worst finish since 2008. In truth, the 70s was pretty much Utah’s neighborhood until the previous four years. But now that progress as a Pac-12 member seems to have stalled. Best sports: women’s golf, men’s tennis. Trajectory: up. The Demon Deacons are the only school that has increased its ranking every year in the five-year window, rising from 90th in 2015 to 36th in 2019. Wake was especially strong in sports with sticks — field hockey, golf and tennis — with some quality soccer thrown in as well. Best sport: rifle. Trajectory: steady. Aside from a brief levitation to 45th in 2017, the Mountaineers have spent the five-year window entrenched in the 60s. Being a rifle powerhouse may not be the stuff of athletic marketing dreams, but that’s WVU’s one reliable niche. Some soccer success helped out this season. Best sport: men’s cross country. Trajectory: steady. The Cyclones, Kansas and West Virginia generally occupy the same lower-echelons neighborhood of the Big 12 in terms of all-around athletic prowess. Give Iowa State the ribbon for best of the bunch this year, finishing 53rd — its third straight season in the 50s. There are signs of a wrestling rebound, which would help going forward. Best sport: football (national champion). Trajectory: down. They might as well hang a sign in the athletic department that says: “Football School. Everything Else is Background Noise.” The Tigers won another national championship in the chinstrap sport but plummeted 21 spots from 2018 to ’19, down to 73rd. That might be the school’s worst finish in the 26-year history of the Learfield Cup (results from earlier than 2004 are not readily available). Best sport: baseball (national champion). Trajectory: up. The Commodores have had appreciable improvements the past two years — from 64th in 2017 to 55th last year and 45th this year. In addition to winning the College World Series this week, Vandy scored big points in bowling, men’s golf and women’s tennis. Best sport: women’s track & field. Trajectory: steady. The Hurricanes remain a major climatological underachiever, far behind in-state Power Five peers Florida and Florida State and trailing most of their ACC colleagues. Fall sports were a 2018-19 dud, which is largely a football problem. Best sport: wrestling. Trajectory: up. The Hawkeyes burst into the 2018-19 top 40, improving 16 spots year-over-year. Big seasons in women’s basketball, men’s gymnastics and (of course) wrestling powered a strong winter sports season. After narrowly finishing ahead of rival Iowa State each of the previous four years, Iowa opened up a large gap this year. Best sport: women’s softball, baseball. Trajectory: down. After making the Top 40 the previous two years, the Rebels had a precipitous fall of 18 places in 2018-19. Ole Miss was pretty good in a lot of areas, really good in almost none. Its work on the diamonds, making super regionals in both softball and baseball, kept the year from getting really ugly. Best sport: men’s basketball. Trajectory: down. The Boilermakers slipped 16 spots year-over-year, with their lowest finish since 2015. A year after scoring big points in women’s track, indoor and outdoor, Purdue failed to score in both. The men’s basketball run to within a buzzer beater of the Final Four was the highlight. Best sports: men’s soccer, men’s basketball. Steady. The Spartans had a top-30 finish in 2014 fall off the books this year and replaced it with a fourth straight middling year, showing slight progress over the previous three but nothing substantial. Men’s soccer made its first Final Four in 51 years, a nice boost. Best sport: rifle (national champion). Trajectory: up. This is a rifle school, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The Horned Frogs won the national title in the sport this year, their third in rifle, matching the sum total of the rest of TCU athletics (one in women’s golf in the 1980s, two in football in the 1930s). Overall, TCU jumped up 16 spots in 2018-19 after consecutive disappointing years. Best sports: men’s soccer, women’s lacrosse (national champions). Trajectory: up. This was the Terrapins’ best year since 2015, thanks in large part to winning a national title in something other than lacrosse for the first time since 2011. The Terps were also the national runner-up in field hockey. In other words, their best sports all are still natural fits with the league they left, the ACC. Best sports: baseball, women’s basketball. Trajectory: steady. Tough losses kept the Bulldogs from a pair of Final Fours, on the diamond and the hardwood, but the year still ended with a fourth straight Top 50 finish. Fall sports didn’t make a huge impact, but that’s not unusual for Mississippi State. Best sports: men’s swimming, men’s soccer. Trajectory: up. The Hoosiers made the biggest move forward of any Big Ten program not named Rutgers, vaulting up 17 spots year-over-year. Top-five finishes in both men’s swimming and soccer led the way, plus a top-10 women’s swimming finish. Imagine where Indiana could end up if it ever gets men’s basketball back on track. Best sport: men’s track & field (national champion). Trajectory: up. After hitting a low ebb in 2017, the Red Raiders have risen 31 spots the last two years. This past year might have had more highlights than any for Tech: The track team won the first men’s national title in school history, and the men’s basketball team nearly beat them to it before falling in overtime to Virginia. Throw in a Final Four appearance at the College World Series, and it’s guns way up in Lubbock. Best sport: women’s lacrosse. Trajectory: down. The Wildcats slid 11 spots year-over-year, despite winning the Big Ten West outright in football for the first time. Reaching the women’s lacrosse Final Four was the highlight; men’s and women’s basketball remain chronic lightweights. It may be several more years before the massive facility investment in Evanston pays off in a broad-based manner. Best sport: women’s lacrosse. Trajectory: down. The Orange were 54th in 2018-19, their first time out of the Top 50 since 2014 and lowest finish since 2011. Men’s lacrosse has missed the NCAA quarterfinals in consecutive seasons, which hadn’t happened in 40 years. Women missed the Final Four for the third straight season after making it five in a row from 2012-16. But football contributed more than usual. Best sport: women’s cross country (national champion). Trajectory: down. The Buffaloes dropped 13 places year-over-year, despite winning the school’s first national title since 2015. Colorado is good at the altitude sports — skiing and distance running — with an up-and-coming women’s lacrosse program. Beyond that, not much happening. Best sport: women’s volleyball. Trajectory: steady. The Illini have their niche strengths, from volleyball to golf to tennis to gymnastics. What they don’t have, and haven’t had at any point in the last five years, is any input from football and men’s basketball. That’s a problem. Best sport: wrestling. Trajectory: down. The Tigers endured an 18-spot drop from 2018 to ’19, tumbling out of the Top 50 for the first time since 2013. Mizzou did almost all its work in the winter sports, with minor contributions in the fall and spring. Next year doesn’t look any better, with the football, softball and baseball programs facing postseason bans (pending appeal). Best sport: women’s volleyball. Trajectory: down. The Cornhuskers recorded their worst overall season in Learfield Cup history, finishing 48th. This was the third straight year Nebraska has declined after finishing 27th in 2016. A 4-8 football season obviously was a problem, but there were several others. Spring sports provided little, and volleyball was the only fall sport to score at all. Best sport: women’s golf. Trajectory: steady. Arguably the biggest loser over time in the Learfield Cup standings, sliding from the Top 10 from 1994-2022 to the Top 30 from 2003-14 to outside the Top 40 the past three years. Budget constraints are real, as were the football and basketball struggles of 2018-19. Will a postseason basketball ban further cloud the future? Best sports: men’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer. Trajectory: down. The Hokies registered their worst season of the five-year period, dropping 21 spots from 2018 to ’19. The good news: Virginia Tech has made strides on the pitch, becoming a consistent NCAA tournament presence on the men’s side and having a breakthrough season on the women’s side. Men’s basketball had one of its best seasons ever, but lost coach Buzz Williams afterward. Football needs to make a comeback. Best sport: women’s basketball (national champion). Trajectory: steady. Baylor is occupying something of a middle realm within the Big 12, trailing Texas and the Oklahoma schools but leading the rest of the pack. The Bears had a very good year in women’s sports: winning it all in hoops, making a deep run in women’s soccer, having success in volleyball. Men’s sports made several contributions but had no huge seasons. Best sport: women’s soccer. Trajectory: up. After dipping to a five-year low in 2017, the Volunteers have had consecutive seasons of double-digit advancement. Women’s soccer, women’s swimming, men’s basketball, softball and men’s tennis all had big seasons. If the linchpin programs — football and women’s basketball — ever revive, Tennessee will be hitting on nearly all cylinders. Best sport: women’s basketball. Trajectory: Up. Like Tennessee, the Sun Devils hit a low in 2017 and have rebounded appreciably since, jumping up 12 spots in each of the past two years. This past year they cracked the Top 20 for the first time since 2013. Eleven sports scored 50 or more points, and there was a first-ever contribution from the successful start-up men’s hockey program. Best sports: men’s basketball, women’s golf. Trajectory: down. The Tigers posted their lowest finish of the five-year period, one year after posting their highest finish in the same period. A strong spring and the Final Four breakthrough season for men’s basketball — which came within a foul call of playing for the national title — helped offset a lackluster autumn. Women’s volleyball was the only fall sport to score points. Best sport: baseball. Trajectory: down. But only slightly. The Cardinals fell out of the Top 30 for the first time in this five-year period, in part due to a miserable football season. They are established national contenders in baseball, women’s basketball and both men’s and women’s swimming. And there is an expectation of a return to prominence in men’s basketball — unless the NCAA drops another hammer on that program. Best sport: women’s tennis. Trajectory: steady. The Gamecocks had a quality year in a lot of women’s sports — volleyball, soccer, basketball, swimming, track, tennis, softball. Since the Final Four run of 2017, men’s basketball hasn’t been heard from. Baseball set a program record for losses (28) and footballl is stuck in neutral in the SEC East. Best sport: football. Trajectory: down. After shooting up the ranks in 2018, the Crimson Tide had a market correction back down 17 spots in ’19. Football, the obvious bellcow, was the only fall program to score. There were multiple successes in the winter and spring sports, most notably: softball, both women’s and men’s track & field, women’s gymnastics and men’s swimming. Best sport: men’s swimming. Trajectory: down. The Wolfpack were a slight victim of their 2018 success, sliding back 11 spots from a Top 15 year. N.C. State did well in a number of fall and winter sports, but once again had their greatest success in the pool. The women finished seventh in the NCAA championships and the men were fourth. It was the fourth straight fourth-place finish for the men’s program. Best sports: men’s golf, wrestling. Trajectory: steady. The Cowboys have put T. Boone Pickens’ money to pretty good use, building a solid collection of spring sports programs — most notably men’s golf, baseball, softball and both tennis teams. Only 11 schools scored more points in the spring than Oklahoma State. Other than wrestling, the winter programs were rather lackluster in 2018-19. Best sport: women’s rowing (national champion). Trajectory: steady. The Huskies reversed two years of sliding down the rankings, maintaining a spot in the Top 30. Washington has become a rowing powerhouse, winning two of the last three national titles, while also succeeding in a number of other women’s sports: softball, tennis, cross country and volleyball. Men’s basketball is having a return to relevance as well. Best sport: women’s hockey. Trajectory: steady. The Gophers, unsurprisingly, are a winter sports power, racking up the fifth-most points in the country in that category. That’s despite a recent downturn in the bedrock sport of men’s hockey, which has missed the last two NCAA tournaments. Minnesota made up for it with strong seasons in women’s hockey (national runner-up), both men’s and women’s gymnastics, and wrestling. Best sport: women’s gymnastics (national champion). Trajectory: down. The Sooners are sliding — not dramatically, but steadily. This is the third straight season of declining returns, dipping out of the Top 30 in 2018-19 — something that last happened in 2005-06. Oklahoma won it all in women’s gymnastics but was upset for the title in both men’s gymnastics and softball. Football was the school’s only fall sport to score points. Best sport: women’s hockey (national champion). Trajectory: steady. Even with football suffering a disappointing season, the Badgers had a great fall, performing well in volleyball, women’s soccer and both men’s and women’s cross country. They also won their first women’s hockey title since 2011 and had their best finish in men’s indoor track (fourth) since 2013. Wisconsin will miss graduated distance runner Morgan McDonald, a 2018-19 NCAA champion in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. Best sports: women’s indoor and outdoor track & field (national champions). Trajectory: steady. The Razorbacks have been between 16th and 23rd every year in the five-year period, admirable consistency built on a track & field foundation (moreso the women at the moment). The Hogs also scored well in baseball and women’s golf. The glam sports, football and men’s basketball, are not pulling their weight. Best sport: women’s golf (national champion). Trajectory: up. The Blue Devils rose for the second straight year, cracking the Top 10 in 2018-19 for the first time since 2013-14. In addition to the women’s golf title, Duke was a top-four finisher in men’s lacrosse and women’s tennis, making for a productive spring. Basketball was a bummer — the men were upset short of the Final Four and the women had their worst season in 26 years, missing the NCAA tourney. Best sport: women’s gymnastics. Trajectory: up. The Tigers had their best year in a decade, bouncing back well after a disappointing 2017-18. They were national runner-up in women’s gymnastics and scored well in track & field, but the revelation is the school’s status as a rising beach volleyball power. LSU advanced further in that sport than any other school that doesn’t actually sit within 15 miles of a beach. Men’s basketball also had a strong-ass season, scoring more points than it had since 2006. Best sports: men’s soccer, rifle, men’s basketball. Trajectory: steady. Kentucky has become a consistent Top 20 overall program. The Wildcats are always good in rifle and men’s hoops, but the men’s soccer run to the NCAA quarterfinals was the best showing in school history. Football also had its best season in more than four decades, a rare boost from that sport. Best sport: women’s basketball. Trajectory: steady. The football team had its best season since 2012, and while that’s always the headliner at Notre Dame, a lot of other things went right as well. Women’s hoops nearly pulled off a repeat national title, while making its seventh Final Four of the decade. The Fighting Irish were strong, as usual, in fencing and lacrosse, and also had good seasons in men’s soccer and both men’s and women’s cross country. Best sports: women’s cross country, women’s indoor track & field, women’s basketball. Trajectory: down. The Ducks were outside the Top 25 for 2018-19, the first time that’s happened since 2011. Oregon always runs well (track and cross country), but this year it added a women’s basketball Final Four for the first time. The women’s volleyball team also was the lowest-seeded team (15th) to make a regional final, their deepest run since 2012. Best sport: men’s swimming (national champion). Trajectory: steady. If it’s water-related, the Golden Bears are good at it. They won their first title in men’s swimming since 2014, were runner-up in women’s swimming, made the Final Four in women’s water polo and placed sixth in rowing. But the fall sports were a near-total bust, with only football contributing any points. That was a huge regression from previous years. Best sport: women’s tennis. Trajectory: down. After jumping into the Top 10 in 2017-18, the Bulldogs took a step back in 2018-19. Baseball hosted a regional but failed to advance, swimming didn’t pack its usual punch on either the men’s or women’s side, and fall sports were largely a non-factor outside of football. Beyond football, the best seasons came from women’s tennis, gymnastics and men’s track, both indoors and outdoors. Best sports: women’s track & field, men’s golf. Trajectory: steady. The Southeastern Conference’s best overall department outside of Florida? Over the past five years it’s the Aggies, who have finished in the Top 15 four straight times. Of course, when you’re raking in more than $200 million a year in revenue, you should be good at a lot of things. The only thing lacking are actual national championships — the Aggies have won just one, in men’s indoor track, in the last five years. Best sport: women’s soccer (national champion). Trajectory: up. The Seminoles have risen in the rankings each of the last three years, finishing highest of all Atlantic Coast Conference schools in 2018-19. FSU started strong, winning its second women’s soccer title in the fall, and finished with a flourish from baseball and softball. The debacle of a football season didn’t drag down the rest of the department. Best sports: men’s basketball, men’s lacrosse (national champions). Trajectory: up. A two-year slide in the rankings was emphatically reversed, with the Cavaliers bouncing up 13 spots year-over-year. The school’s first men’s basketball title certainly helped, as did the first title in men’s lacrosse in eight years. Virginia also was strong in women’s lacrosse, men’s tennis, field hockey, soccer (both men’s and women’s teams) and swimming (both teams). Best sport: wrestling (national champion). Trajectory: down. The Nittany Lions were in the Top Ten four times in five seasons between 2013-17, but now have finished outside the Top Ten in consecutive years. Still, Penn State is strong almost across the board, with the glaring exceptions of baseball, softball and both men’s and women’s basketball. The school had a men’s lacrosse breakthrough in 2019, advancing to its first Final Four. Best sport: field hockey (national champion). Trajectory: steady. The Tar Heels have finished in the Top Ten four times in the last five years, powered by a number of traditionally strong programs. They were a field hockey juggernaut this year, not only going 26-0 but rarely being challenged — only three games were decided by one goal. The Heels also had big seasons in women’s soccer, women’s lacrosse and both men’s and women’s tennis. Football has underperformed. Best sport: baseball. Trajectory: up. This was a great year for the Wolverines — they finished second in 2018-19, tying their best season in Learfield Cup history (the other second-place finish was 2002-03). The baseball team’s surprising run to within one win of the national title was the highlight, but there were many other standout sports: women’s cross country; field hockey; men’s and women’s gymnastics; women’s swimming; wrestling; rowing; and women’s water polo. The only thing Michigan failed to do was to win a national title — the school hasn’t won one since 2014. Best sport: men’s tennis (national champion). Trajectory: steady. Only two schools (Stanford and UCLA) had a better spring than the Longhorns, who had seven Top Ten finishes and won the title in men’s tennis. (That came after the coach, Michael Center, was fired in March for his role in the college admissions scandal.) Texas’ four-year run of national titles in men’s swimming came to an end, but the Horns still finished second and were fifth on the women’s side. Best sport: wrestling. Trajectory: down. The Buckeyes set the bar quite high with consecutive second-place finishes to juggernaut Stanford in 2015-16 and ’16-17; since then they have slipped to seventh last year and 12th this year. Only Stanford scored more points in winter sports than Ohio State, which got a national runner-up finish in wrestling and five other Top 10 teams in the winter. alone On the downside: men’s volleyball, which won national titles in 2016 and ’17, had a losing record in ’19. After six straight years with at least one national championship from 2012-17, the Buckeyes have now gone consecutive years with none. Best sport: softball, beach volleyball (national champions). Trajectory: down. It’s never a bad year when you win two team national titles, but the Bruins did slide slightly from No. 2 in 2018 to No. 6 in ’19. Spring sports provided the bulk of UCLA’s points, but the baseball team did not make the College World Series after entering the postseason ranked No. 1 nationally. Women’s sports carried the Bruins, with both national championships and big seasons from soccer, gymnastics, tennis and water polo. Best sport: men’s water polo (national champion). Trajectory: steady. That water polo title, the Trojans’ first on the men’s side since 2013, extended the school’s streak to 12 straight years with at least one natty. USC excelled in the spring in the kind of sports where you’d expect it to excel: beach volleyball, women’s water polo, men’s volleyball, women’s track & field, women’s golf. Despite the broad-based prowess, most USC fans would trade most of it for a return to football prominence. Best sport: men’s indoor track & field (national champion). Trajectory: steady. For 11 straight years, the Gators have ranked in the top five, and they’ve never in Learfield Cup history been outside the Top 10. Repeat titles by the men in indoor track have kept alive the Gators’ streak of at least one national championship every year this decade. (Florida has won either the indoor or outdoor men’s track titles four straight years.) The Gators did not have their customary success in baseball (missing the College World Series for the first time since 2014) or women’s gymnastics (missing the NCAA finals for the first time since 2011). Best sports: women’s volleyball, women’s swimming, men’s gymnastics, men’s golf, women’s tennis, women’s water polo (all national champions). Trajectory: steady. Even by Stanford’s ridiculous standards, this was an incredible year. No other school won more than two national titles, while the Cardinal won six — which ties the most in a single academic year in Stanford history. The football program has reeled off 10 straight winning seasons for the first time since 1969-78, but that doesn’t even put it among the top performers on campus. If you’re an athlete and you’re not walking around The Farm wearing national championship gear, you’re underachieving.