Just so we're clear, the test for a national power according to Stewart Mandel is not those conventional yardsticks like wins, titles, and trophies, but instead, it's that ever-so-precise "what would an average person in Montana know?" test. That makes perfect sense. Let's make sure that there is no objective way to measure which programs are truly national powers by making the test an irrefutable, subjective (and thus worthless) mental exercise as to the perceptions of a rancher. Mandel will no doubt giggle to himself when he gets the avalanche of e-mails from fans of programs who disagree with his rankings and can dismiss them all by pointing out that he has created completely subjective criteria and thus, there is nothing to argue.
What really galls me about the Penn State/Georgia comparison is that there is a self-fulfilling prophecy aspect to it. The national media (of which Mandel is a significant member by virtue of being the lead college football writer for SI.com) decides that certain programs are worthy of hype, so it overexposes them. Penn State can't come close to Georgia or LSU in terms of football accomplishments over the past 5-10 years, but Mandel and others decide that they are more famous and are thus a national power instead of a regional one. And how do they justify this national power status? By pointing to the coverage that they themselves decide to bestow and its resulting effects on our imaginary rancher who occasionally glances at SI.com's college football page.