Top Football Programs of All-time

The Teams<br> The rankings are quite obvious and plain as you can see before you. But each team has a reason for being ranked where they are and reasons for not being higher or lower. This section of the text will describe why it is that each team is where they are and why they are not ranked higher.

Introduction | Top 30 Programs | Top 69 Programs

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1. Nebraska
Nebraska is ranked number one in our list of all time college football history. The reason being that the Cornhuskers simply perform better than any other team consistently in each category. Nebraska ranks in the top four of our major categories. Their slight lead over Alabama could evaporate if the formulas were changed any, but then again that could be said about a lot of teams in the poll. However, there is most certainly a strong case made by the Huskers to be number one. The mid 1990s helped Nebraska more than any other time in their history. In that stretch, Nebraska won multiple national titles, multiple conference titles and lost very few games. From 1993 to 1997, Nebraska never fell out of the top 6 in the both of the polls, and won 2.5 national titles. 1993 to 1997 is one of the reasons that Nebraska is number one in this survey. 
2. Alabama
Why they are so high:
The number two team on the list is Alabama. The Tide is the number one team from the Southeastern Conference and might have been the number one team all time had it not been for the 1980s. Bama would have been ranked tremendously high had they kept their winning was up in the 1980s like they had in the 1970s. Bear Bryant lead Bama to several great seasons. But from 1961 to 1966, Bama finished in the top 25 every season and ranked in the top 5 five out of six of those years. Alabama also won 2.5 national titles in that span. Alabama ranks as the third highest team in national titles behind only Oklahoma and Notre Dame. 

Why they are not ranked higher:
The Tide would be ranked number one if they had 3 more conference championships or if they had 8 more total wins. So as you can see, seasons like 2000 are simply killers in this survey for teams like Bama. 
3. Oklahoma
Why they are so high:
The Big 12 is represented quite well at the top of the poll. Oklahoma has a rich and proud tradition that was given a boost when they captured the 2000 National Championship. Between 1952 and 1958 Oklahoma ranked in the top 5 of the AP Poll every season. Also in that time, the Sooners won 2 national titles. National Titles keep the Sooners high on this list for a very long time.

Why they are not higher:
Oklahoma, like Alabama has no real deficiencies, but like Bama, they too had a time that their teams slumped. For Oklahoma the 1990s were horrid. >From 1994 to 1999, the Sooners were not ranked at all and therefore lost precious points. Also Oklahoma had several seasons that were under 7 wins in the 1990s. 
4. Michigan
Why they are so high:
Very plainly Michigan has won more games and is second only to Notre Dame in winning percentage. The Wolverines consistently place in the top 25 and always seem to win at least 7 games a season. They have dominated their arch rival Ohio State recently and won a share of the 1997 National Title. Michigan has not been out of the final AP top 25 since 1984. And when they returned in 1985, they were second in the country. 

Why they are not higher:
It is very simple for Michigan, they only have 1.5 national titles. In order to place higher they need more national titles. Michigan has been consistent in winning and gaining conference titles, however, they have not won national titles on a consistent basis. 
5. Ohio State
Why they are so high:
Ohio State has a rich and powerful tradition. The Buckeyes have won a ton of games (724) and have won more national titles than most. Also their amount of Big Ten titles is second only to Michigan. Ohio State also has an impressive winning percentage, having won over 70% of their games. A stretch from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s boosted Ohio State's ranking in the final tabulation. 

Why they are not higher:
Quite frankly because of Michigan. That is not to say that Michigan is better than Ohio State, instead we argue that without Michigan in Ohio State's way, the Buckeyes would no doubt be at least in the top three of this survey. 
6. Texas
Why they are so high:
The Texas Longhorns have the credentials of all of the other top teams; they have over 700 wins, a better than 70% winning percentage, more than 20 conference titles (26), and a couple of national titles to claim. The Longhorns had a powerful run from 1959 to 1964, ending out of the top 5 only once, in 1960 when they were not even ranked. Texas was powerful once again in the Nixon years, from 1968 to 1975 (I know that was over the time Nixon was in office, but it would have been Nixon's term). In that time, Texas pounded out eight consecutive top 25 appearances, with half of them being in the top six in the rankings. 

Why they are not higher:
The last 17 years. Texas has for the most part flopped in this time when compared to the way that they performed decades before that. In the last 17 seasons (1984-2000) Texas has only been ranked 7 times, with most of those positions coming at the lower part of the rankings. The Longhorns had a shot to be higher with a win over Georgia in the 1984 Cotton Bowl, but the loss cost Texas a national title, and apparently sent the Horns into a state of midlevel performance. What time is it in Texas? 10 to 9.
7. Southern California 
Why they are so high:
Southern Cal is one of the greatest programs in the history of college football, they would have you believe that they are the greatest, but that is not the case. They are however, according to us, higher than hated Notre Dame, and that will get the Trojans on the left coast excited. USC has racked up several conference titles, as well as national titles. They have a proud tradition of Heisman winners (which does not matter in this study). And they have dominated the West Coast for years. Their strength and perhaps highest time of power came from 1967 to 1982. In that time the Trojans missed the top 25 only one time (1971). The period allowed SC to rack up several top five national rankings and a couple of national titles. 

Why they are not higher:
The 1990s. SC was simply killed by their lack of winning in the 1990s. So. Cal placed in the top 25 only 3 times in the 1990s (1990, 1993, 1994). Another thing that is not quite secured for the Trojans is the Rose Bowl. There was a time where the Trojans could count on going into UCLA's backyard and win the most prestigious bowl to their conference. But now, it is a war for USC just to get to the Rose Bowl. Take into consideration that these teams have been to the Rose since USC last went: Arizona State, Washington State, UCLA, Stanford, and Washington. USC has won the Rose 20 times, but they have won it only 3 times in the last 20 seasons. 
8. Notre Dame
Why they are so high:
Because the Irish have led college football in two categories; winning percentage, and national titles. Notre Dame is ranked in the top five of every category, except conference titles. From 1941 to 1949 was one of the most powerful displays of football strength. In that time, Notre Dame was not ranked out of the top 10 in the country. As if that was not enough, the Irish missed being ranked in the top 25 only once (1975) from 1964 to 1978. Lou Holtz led Notre Dame back to winning in the late 1980s. From 1987 to 1993, Notre Dame missed the top 25 only once (1990). 

Why they are not higher:
There is no doubt that Notre Dame is ranked suspiciously low, however, the formulas remain the same for each team in the study. We are not out to get Notre Dame, but the truth is that Notre Dame has no, none, zero conference titles and that is because they have no conference to speak of. While it is somewhat unfair to place all of the blame for their fall out of the top 5 on that, it does have merit. None-the-less, Notre Dame did have some tough times. From 1979 to 1986 Notre Dame finished in the top 25 only once, in 1980. Also, the late 1990s where not very kind to the Irish. Without any conference titles, the Irish are in last place, tied with teams like Vanderbilt and Rutgers, and that was enough to destroy any thoughts of the Irish being in the top 5. 
9. Tennessee 
Why they are so high:
A proud tradition and boasts the largest stadium in the South, Tennessee has had their fair share of great times. Perhaps the greatest of those came in 1998 when the Vols won the national title. The Vols claim two national titles, several SEC crowns, and a winning percentage right below 70%. All of these things propel the Vols into the top 10. Tennessee's most successful time began in 1989 and really has not stopped, with the possible exception of the 2000 season. In the last decade or so, UT has produced like no other time in Tennessee's football history. From 1989 to 1999, Tennessee was ranked in the top 25 of the AP poll every season. 

Why they are not higher:
Florida and Alabama. Both of these teams have cost Tennessee more titles than any other teams. Its not that the Vols have not have great teams and players, but it is just that in the time that Tennessee has been great, so have Bama and UF. For instance, the South's most over used statistic is that Tennessee has been dominated by Florida in the 1990s. Not only that, but when Tennessee did have great teams, Bama was their to pound them down in the early 1990s. UT has had great success in the late 1990s against Bama, but still can not get past Florida. Consider this, in Tennessee's greatest decade of football, their top two rivals, Bama and Florida, both won national titles too. 
10. Penn State 
Why they are so high:
Joe Paterno. Paterno has been a coach at Penn State for half a century. Not only is that almost ridiculous, but it is also just a ridiculous the amount of success that Paterno has brought to Happy Valley. He entered Penn State as head coach in 1968, and Penn State has failed to make the top 25 only 7 times since he has been there. Penn State had a great run in the early to mid 1980s. From 1981 to 1986, Penn State was ranked in the AP's top four in the country four times, winning two national titles in that time too. 

Why they are not higher:
Before JoePa, Penn State had only been ranked 9 times from 1936 to 1967. Also, Penn State's lack of conference titles is noticeable. Penn State has few negatives, but what negatives that they do have came before Paterno was coach there. 
11. Georgia 
Why they are so high:
Consistency. No, Georgia has not always set the world on fire in the rankings, or in the national title department, but there is a very real difference between Georgia and the teams below them. Georgia trails only Bama and Tennessee in the SEC in overall football winning. Georgia ranks 16th in our all time poll rankings, 11th in all time wins, 14th in all time winning percentage, and of course the elusive undisputed national title helps to separate Georgia from teams like Washington, Auburn, and Georgia Tech. The early 1980s and Herschel Walker are one of the main reasons that Georgia fans can celebrate beating out almost all of their rivals. Vince Dooley's winning ways for 25 seasons helped too. 

Why they are not higher:
Auburn and the Ray Goff Era. Georgia simply does not have enough conference titles to break into the top 10 and that is do at least in part to several wins that Auburn secured over the Dawgs late in the season. Although I do not enjoy blasting Ray Goff, the truth is that in his time as Georgia coach, Goff only led the Dawgs to two top 25 national rankings. Had Goff been able to keep the program on the right track, the Dawgs would probably be in the top 10. 
12. LSU 
Why they are so high:
LSU is a lot like Georgia; they have been consistent winners. But the easy answer to the question is the 1960s. Well actually, starting in 1958 LSU went on a tear. Many Tiger fans would say that it was Billy Cannon's tear through Ole Miss on Halloween night in 1959 that started the powerful LSU run through the 1960s. From '58 to '69 the Bayou Bangles won a national title and several SEC titles. They ended up ranked in the top 25 eight times. 

Why they are not higher:
From 1988 to 1999 the Tigers ranked only two teams in the top 25. This poor performance led to their current ranking. LSU made no significant impact on the college football world in that time, save the 1997 upset of Florida, as well as both the 1996 and 1997 seasons. LSU underachieved much of the 1990s. Also from 1947 to 1957, the Tigers were ranked only once (1949). 
13. Washington 
Why they are so high:
The last 20 years. From 1979 forward, Washington made an impact on the Pac 10 and also the national scene. The Huskies ended Miami's long winning streak in the Orange Bowl in the early 1990s and won a national title in 1991 with the Canes. 2000 was also a very good season for Washington, they won the Pac 10, the Rose Bowl, and finished in the top 3 nationally. 

Why they are not higher:
Before 1976. What a brutal stretch of nothingness for the Huskies. Their performance before 1976 pales in comparison to the way that they have performed from 1977 on. Washington also needs one more national title in order to push themselves into the top 11. And it appears they might just be able to do that. 
14. Texas A&M 
Why they are so high:
RC Slocum. Nine Bowl games, a 91% home winning percentage (they have lost 6 games ever at home while he has been coach), and have been ranked in the top 25 every season except 2 (2000 and 1996). A&M has produced great teams before Slocum, but much of the credit must go to him. Before Slocum, A&M had successful runs from 1939 to 1941 and from 1955 to 1957. 

Why they are not higher:
1958 to 1973; A&M was not ranked once in that time period. If a team is to move higher in this list, it must win more national titles to make up for past poor performances. That is the case for A&M. There is no real way for the Aggies to do better without a national title added. Also the development of the Big 12 Conference poses quite a threat to A&M's success. Already the Big 12 has developed Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas into national powers. Time for winning championships in the Big 12 is limited, A&M had better take advantage when the time comes.
15. Auburn 
Why they are so high:
Auburn does well in several categories, like most in their range, but also like the rest in their range, they don't excel at any one category. Auburn did quite well when Pat Dye was the head coach in Auburn. While he was there, the Tigers ranked in the top 25 eight times. Terry Bowden also led the Tigers to an impressive winning streak that was eventually ended by a tie with Georgia and then a loss to Bama. 1953 to 1958 was also a great time for Auburn football. In that era, the Tigers won a national title and were ranked in the top 25 five of six seasons. 

Why they are not higher:
Bama and Georgia. Whenever Auburn would have an opportunity to knock on the door of a conference title, the Dawgs were there to slam the door in the Auburn's face. 1994 was a good example as was 1982, 1996, and 1981. Bama is no less cruel to the Tigers. The Tide and Tigers are, in my opinion, the greatest rivalry in the South. These two simply hate one another, and they both take joy in destroying the other team's hope. Auburn ruled the Tide in the early 1980s, but Bama got their revenge in the 1990s. Time and again, Bama whipped the Tigers to have their way with the SEC West. 1992, 1994, 1996, and 1999 saw the Tide beat the Tigers in order to move on the SEC Championship game. Also, Auburn was not ranked in the AP's top 25 poll until 1952, a long stretch without crucial poll points. 
16. Miami (FL) 
Why they are so high:
National Titles. No matter who the coach, the Canes are as high as they are because, and without a doubt, they have won a lot of national titles in a short amount of time. Make no mistake about it, Miami football before the 1980s stunk. But from 1980 forward, the Canes have been ranked in all but three polls. Not only that, but in that short 20 year period, the Canes have racked up all of their national titles. Take away the last 20 seasons, and there is no Miami football to speak of. 

Why they are not higher:
Before 1980: it sucked. They did nothing really, nothing of significance at least. Only 5 times before 1980 was Miami ranked in the top 25. That compares them to teams like Texas Tech and Washington State, not exactly football giants. 
17. Florida State 
Why they are so high:
Bobby Bowden. Give credit where credit is due: Bowden has made a once all-girl's school into a football giant. We have all heard it before: the Noles have ranked in the top 5 every season since 1987. That is an unbelievable run, and thanks to that run, the Noles are in the top 20. FSU has captured two national titles in the last 8 seasons and have played for the last three. They have never lost the ACC conference title. 

Why they are not higher:
Miami and all-time wins. With regards to all time wins, FSU just does not have enough of them. The Noles have only been playing football for a half a century and therefore have a limited number of wins to their credit. Likewise, their ranking is horrid before the Bobby Bowden era. But while Bowden has been at FSU, Miami has been the most trouble for the Noles. Wide right, wide left, wide middle, it does not really matter, it always came down to the Canes beating the Noles by a kick. The same held true in 2000 as the Noles lost on a last second miss. Had FSU beaten Miami at least half of those times, they would have more national titles to their credit, but they didn't and the don't. 
18. Minnesota 
Why they are so high:
1936 to 1942: in that time the Golden Gophers were one of the most powerful teams in the country. Minnesota won three of their four national titles in that period and were ranked in the top 20 of the AP poll all but one of those seasons. From 1960 to 1962 Minnesota won another national title and wound up in the top ten for three straight seasons. 

Why they are not higher:
From the Johnson administration to the second Clinton administration, the Golden Gophers did not appear in the AP's top 25. Simply put that cost Minnesota any chance of being higher in the rankings. 
19. Florida 
Why they are so high:
Steve Spurrier. Without the "Evil Genius" the Florida Gators would be nothing. From the time that Spurrier came back to Gainesville from Duke, Florida started winning in a big way. It was 1991 when Florida won its first EVER SEC title. The lowest that Florida has ever been ranked while Spurrier has been at Florida is 16th. Florida claims several SEC titles and one national title in his time in Gainesville. Florida also experienced success in the mid 1980s, but nothing like the 1990s. 

Why they are not higher:
Georgia. The roles have been reversed in the 1990s. Normally it has been Georgia beating the Gators silly, but in the 90s the Gators have more than had their fair share of wins against the Dawgs. Several times, Georgia has cost Florida a chance at the SEC title. When Steve Spurrier won the Heisman trophy in the late 1960s he could not lead Florida to a win over the Dawgs. Florida also could not find a way to beat the Dawgs in 1980, 1985, and 1997. All three losses cost Florida a potential conference title and even a shot at the national title in 1985 and 1997. Florida State has provided Florida a quality opponent for the last decade, and Spurrier has struggled mightily with FSU, but it has been Georgia that has cost the Gators most over the years. 
20. Clemson 
Why they are so high:
There are several reason why Clemson is ranked in the top 20. First and foremost, the Atlantic Coast Conference has allowed Clemson to play a power puff schedule for most of it's football life. Clemson has won 15 conference titles, which is somewhat impressive, but the Tigers have not won a conference title since FSU entered the ACC in the early 1990s. Still the Tigers can look at one period of time as great, the early 1980s to the early 1990s. Clemson's monumental win over the 1980 national champion Georgia Bulldogs propelled them to a national title of their own in 1981. And while the Georgia-Clemson rivalry was hot in the 1980s, it simmered later in the decade on the national scene because both teams slipped. Clemson powered their way through the ACC in the 1980s and while the Tigers have not been as impressive as of late, the 1980s helped Clemson secure the number 20 spot in our study. 

Why they are not higher:
1960 to 1976: Frank Howard is Clemson's legendary coach. But the truth is that for some time, Clemson did not place in the top 25 of the AP's poll. In fact, Howard led the Tigers to the top 25 only 6 times in his 30 seasons in Death Valley. Howard is probably most loved for his winning over in state rival South Carolina, no not that either. Howard's Tigers had a losing record to the Cocks (13-15-2) as well as to Georgia (one of Clemson's other hated rivals) winning only once in 12 tries against the Dawgs. But from 1960 to 1976, the Tigers were no where to be found in the AP rankings and that cost them a spot over the Florida Gators. 
21. Syracuse 
Why they are so high:
The 1990s and 1958 to 1961. The last 15 years of football in Syracuse, specifically the 1990s, have been great times for the Orangemen. Syracuse was ranked 6 times in the 1990s. Not only that, the team from New York joined the Big East's football conference and won 4 conference titles. From '58 to '61, Syracuse won its only national title and placed in the top 25 for four consecutive years. 

Why they are not higher:
1962 to 1986. In this time frame Syracuse was not ranked at all. Specifically, in the 1970s, Syracuse had only 4 winning seasons. The lack of positive play in that time certainly cost Syracuse a spot in the top 20. 
22. Michigan State 
Why they are so high:
National Titles. The 1950s were a great time for Michigan State. They won their share of national titles in the 1950s. Without the national titles Michigan State would most certainly be lower than they are right now. But looking at the poll data, it is even more apparent with Michigan State than with any other team that they are helped by their national titles. 

Why they are not higher:
Before the 1950s and after the 1960s Michigan State has really struggled in getting ranked in the polls. The Spartans were ranked only twice in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s in the AP top 25 poll. That performance is just not good enough to move them any higher. 
23. Army 
Why they are so high:
Because of a great tradition before the mid point of this century, Army has propelled themselves relatively high when looking at our survey. >From 1943 to 1950, Army was the most powerful football team in the country. The Cadets won two national titles and made a national impact each of those seasons. The 1950s were solid for Army as well. In the '50s, Army was ranked in the AP top 25 six times. 

Why they are not higher:
Notre Dame. If the Irish were not around, Army would probably have 4 national titles and very well could be more of a power now then they are. Another problem for Army is that they have been ranked in the AP top 25 poll only one time (1996) since 1959. 
24. Georgia Tech
Why they are so high:
From 1942 to 1955. Tech was able to reach the top 25 nine times in those years. The Jackets were a part of the Southeastern Conference and were, generally speaking, a football power. However, the Jackets did not win a national title during this time period. But in 1990, Georgia tech shared a national title with Colorado. Joe Hamilton's play in the late 1990s led the Jackets back to the top 25 for three consecutive seasons. That had not happened since 1951 to 1953. 

Why they are not higher:
Very simply put (and as nicely as possible), Georgia Tech Football was a joke as soon as they left the SEC. From 1962 to 1997, Tech cracked the AP top 25 only five times. And when it appeared Tech had broken through in 1990, the managed to fall from the rankings from the rankings for seven years and lost to their arch-rival Georgia seven times in a row. 
25. Colorado
Why they are so high:
The 1990s were the greatest time for Colorado football. From 1989 to 1995, Colorado spent every season in the top 25, including a national title that they shared with Georgia Tech in 1990. From 1969 to 1972 Colorado ranked in the top 25 three out of four seasons and placed 3rd in 1971. 

Why they are not higher:
The move to the Big 12, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Moving into the Big 12 has been troublesome for the Buffaloes. Sine their move to the Big 12, they have only been ranked once (1998). Unfortunately for Colorado, they have also competed against two of the greatest programs of all time in Oklahoma and Nebraska for years. Without those two teams on the schedule, it is possible that Colorado could have been higher on this list. 
26. Arkansas
Why they are so high:
From the early 1960s to the early 1970s, Arkansas was a powerful force. Coming from the now defunct Southwest Conference, the Hogs battled with Texas, Houston, and Texas A&M on a yearly basis. In their hay-day, the Hogs were in the top 25 seven out of ten seasons. From 1977 to 1989 the Hogs consistently ranked in the top 25. However, in 1991 Arkansas, along with South Carolina, moved into the Southeastern Conference and from that point on the Hogs have struggled. From 1992 forward the Hogs have placed in the top 25 only twice. 

Why they are not higher:
Their move to the SEC: although this was not the worst time in Arkansas history, the '30s and '40s were not very successful, the Hogs have not quite made their mark on the SEC. The Southeastern Conference is much more competitive than the now extinct SWC, and it will only get more difficult for the Hogs. Also, Arkansas is the highest ranked team that does not have a national title. With one the Hogs would be higher.
27. UCLA
Why they are so high:
The Bruins have a share of a national title, and that in it self is reason enough to be in the top 30 of our study. Few teams below UCLA have a national title, but all above them do, except Arkansas. UCLA does have the 11th most points in all time polls, but one problem that the Bruins have is that their winning percentage all time is 25th. This means that they are going to be ranked low due to the weight given to that category. However, the Bruins did extremely well in the 1980s and in the early to mid 1950s. Those two sections of Bruin history helped to propel them to one of the all time top 30 teams. 

Why they are not higher:
UCLA could be one of the victims of the weight given to each category. UCLA does very well at conference titles and poll points, that it only 30% of the total points given. On the other hand, if other categories were given a higher weight, the Bruins would certainly be higher. Facing USC is another factor in the Bruin's place in the poll. If UCLA did not have to play the Trojans each season, they would have several more Pac-10 titles. Also, UCLA simply does not have enough wins (484) to compare with most of the top 20. 
28. Stanford
Why they are so high:
Stanford has a fair amount of wins, 612 in fact, which places them in the top 15 of that category. Also Stanford has a solid winning percentage at 60.5%. These two things are enough to keep the Cardinal in the top 30. 

Why they are not higher:
Stanford's performance in the media polls has been horrid. Stanford ranks behind 40 other teams that we compiled data for. Because that shows a consistent lack of solid winning, it is no doubt why Stanford is only number 28 in our survey. 
29. Pitt
Why they are so high:
The Panthers have two national titles, that is the same amount as all of the 39 teams ranked below them. Pittsburgh had a very successful run from 1975 to 1983. In that time the Panthers won one national title and finished second another year. Only once, in 1978, did Pitt not rank in the AP's top 25 final ranking. The first three years of the AP poll were also great years for Pitt. Those first three years Pitt won one national title and finished 3rd and 8th the other two years. 

Why they are not higher:
Pitt's poll rankings are not that great and their winning percentage is relatively low too. Both of these factors combined with the fact that Pitt has not been involved in a conference for much of its football life leads to a lower ranking than most teams with two national titles (Tennessee, FSU, Penn State, and Army are all ranked much higher than Pitt). 
30. Arizona State
Why they are so high:
The early 1970s was instrumental in moving Arizona State into the top 30 of our study. In the early '70s, ASU finished in the top 13 in the country five out of six seasons. ASU's winning percentage is pretty high for them to be so low on the list. 

Why they are not higher:
ASU is not effective in national titles, wins, and poll points. It is not possible for a team to be ranked in the top 25 having as many deficiencies as the Sun Devils. Perhaps if the Devils had one national title to claim, they would be higher than they are right now. 

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