Best and worst BCS football teams academically

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(MoneyWatch) Football bowl season has begun and while there will be winners and losers on thefield, there are also academic winners and losers.

Among the top 25 Bowl Championship Series teams, Northwestern University rose to the top academically. At least that's according to the Academic BCS rankings released this month by the education policy team at the New America Foundation.

Northern Illinois University, a school that most wouldn't associate with academic excellence, grabbed second place. The institution that came in dead last, according to the foundation's rankings, is Florida State University.

To arrive at its academic rankings, the foundation calculated the difference between an entire football team's graduation rate and that of the male students at the university. They also looked for any graduation gap between black and white students on the team versus the same gap among the overall school's male population.

Academic BCS rankings

1. Northwestern University
2. Northern Illinois University
3 Boise State University
4. Stanford University
5. Notre Dame University
6. San Jose State University
7. University of Alabama
8. University of Nebraska
9. Utah State University
10. University of Georgia
11. Louisiana State University
12. Oregon State University
13. Clemson University
14. Texas A&M University
15. University of Florida
16. University of Oregon
17. Kansas State University
18. University of Oklahoma
19. University of South Carolina
20. Kent State University
21. University of Michigan
22. University of Texas
23. UCLA
24. University of Louisville
25. Florida State University

Why Northwestern University is No. 1

Northwestern beat the pack because its football players enjoyed a 90 percent graduation rate, which was the highest of any team on the list. In addition, there was no graduation disparity between white and black players. In fact, black football players graduated at a slightly higher rate than African-American men overall at the school.

The real upset team was Northern Illinois, which has a considerably lower graduation rate among its football teams than academic powerhouses like Notre Dame, Stanford and the University of Michigan.  NIU's overall grad rate is just 51 percent, but 66 percent of its football players graduate. While the overall grad rate for black men at NIU is a dismal 30 percent, the grad rate for black football players is 63 percent.

Coming in second place seems like a backhanded compliment to me. NIU's grad rates are so lousy that it makes the football grad rates look good.

Florida State, the worst team of the bunch, graduated 100 percent of its white players, but only 33 percent of its black players.

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