Jim McElwain, who served under Coach Nick Saban at Alabama before being named head coach at Colorado State following the Crimson Tide’s 2011 national championship, was selected by Florida after the Gators dismissed Will Muschamp.
In an interview with USA Today, McElwain said he thought a poll asking for the top five college football programs in the nation had “a pretty good chance” of including Florida.
First of all, no one can blame McElwain for elevating the reputation of the job he had just accepted. But he raised the question of top programs. Former Alabama Coach Paul Bryant recognized the potential for Florida to be a giant in the SEC “if they ever get a coach who can figure it out.” Bryant, who believed in recruiting the best players, based his opinion on the population of Florida that included many, many outstanding athletes.
And so, potentially, Florida might be considered a great program. It is the state university is a high population state in an area of the country where football is king.
Potential, we are sometimes reminded, is “what you haven’t done.” Florida, though, has done it from time-to-time, over the past 25 years, in fact, by Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. There are problems with the Gators being among the real greats of college football, though. For one thing, Florida is not the only serious football program in the state. Miami and Florida State have also had their moments. Moreover, Florida high school football is not a secret. Many other schools have recruiting success in the Sunshine State.
Can you say “Amari Cooper”?
Most who judge a “program” consider the past to great extent, perhaps too much. Historically, though, the same college football teams have appeared among the nation’s best decade after decade, and teams in this category take advantage of that tradition.
College Football Data Warehouse (cfbdatawarehouse.com) is a tremendous source for meaningful information. Its rankings of all-time college football programs is based on four criteria: winning percentage, strength of schedule, national championships, and participation in the traditional Big Four bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, and a combination of Cotton and Fiesta).
Although any of the top seven or eight in these calculations might be considered the best college football program of all-time, for the moment that program is Alabama.
To the initial, question, then as Florida as one of the nation’s top five programs, one would have to disagree.
The Gators are, though, the fifth best program in the SEC based on the College Football Data Warehouse calculations and both historical and recent conference success. Not including newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri in calculations, Florida ranks fifth in all-time conference standings and tied for fifth in SEC championships.
As the nation’s best college football program, Alabama, of course, is easily the best in the SEC. Bama has the most wins (850 total, 390 SEC), best winning percentage (71.6 per cent overall, 69.4 per cent SEC), and most championships (15 national championships, 24 SEC) by a large margin over its SEC brethren.
And Alabama hasn’t exactly backed into titles. In its 24 conference championship seasons, the Tide has a record of 158-6-6 against other SEC teams. In its 15 national championship seasons, Bama has a record of 164-8-2.
Alabama, of course, is particularly prominent in bowls with more appearances (62) and more victories (35) than any other program. Alabama also has more undefeated, untied seasons (17) than any team in college football history.
And Jim McElwain is somewhat familiar with that.