The annual U.S. News & World Report college rankings are highly popular, incredibly controversial, and -- in the case of Florida trash-talk rivalries -- arriving just in the nick of time.
Only days after the University of Miami and the University of Florida squared off on the football field, Tuesday's announcement of the U.S. News rankings gives Canes and Gators something new to argue about.
And just like UM's 21-16 football triumph Saturday, the folks from Coral Gables are on the winning side of a U.S. News squeaker. Among all "national universities," the magazine rates UM as tied for 47th.
The University of Florida is right behind in a tie for 49th.
In a statement, UM executive vice president and Provost Thomas LeBlanc said the school "will continue to focus on attracting top students, providing them with a world-class educational experience and doing everything possible to ensure that they graduate with a University of Miami degree."
There were some positives this year for UF: the state's flagship public university rose five spots, while UM dropped three spots. Additionally, this year's U.S. News breakdown graded school graduation rates as overperforming or underperforming -- based upon an analysis of student demographics. That analysis was also kind to UF.
In the U.S. News analysis, UF was graded as slightly overperforming (plus 3) in graduation rates.
UM, on the other hand, was graded as slightly underperforming (minus 5).
Leaders at UF said they expect the school's ranking will continue to rise in future years. In a written statement, UF Provost Joseph Glover said the university had shown resiliency during the recession.
"University faculty, staff, students and supporters helped pull UF through five difficult years of a down national economy and state budget cuts," Glover said. "UF's national ranking is in large part due to their efforts and reflects our continued quest to increase our standing among the nation's top public universities."
Other Florida schools that appeared on U.S. News' national rankings included Florida State University at No. 91 and the University of Central Florida, which tied with the University of South Florida for No. 170.
Several Florida schools -- such as Barry University, Florida International University and Nova Southeastern University -- were placed in the unnumbered "second tier" of national universities.
Princeton , Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Stanford make up the Top 5 on this year's list.
For any Gators still stinging from UM being ranked higher, it may help to remember a host of higher education experts believe the magazine's rankings are scientifically bogus. That long list of skeptics includes some college presidents and many college admissions counselors.
Over the years, the U.S. News rankings have been criticized for a variety of reasons: The rankings tend to favor private, wealthier institutions; a huge chunk of the ranking is based simply on an institution's reputation, a fuzzy (and quite subjective) measuring stick, and colleges are often gaming the system to get a leg up on the competition.
A few high-profile schools have been caught cheating on the U.S. News rankings.
Tulane's business school inflated the test scores of its applicants and Emory University played similar games with its SAT scores -- instead of giving U.S. News the scores of students who enrolled, it provided SAT averages for all the students it admitted, which boosted the numbers.
On the website of Yale University, former dean of admissions Jeffrey Brenzel warns families not to place too much stock in college rankings, even though Yale consistently shows up at the top of the list. Brenzel said prospective students should consider a broad range of schools, and find one that matches their personal interests and priorities.
"There are many excellent reasons to apply to Yale, but Yale's position in the rankings is not one of them," Brenzel wrote. "Make no mistake: The publication of college rankings is a business enterprise that capitalizes on anxiety about college admissions."