Winningest Teams: A 5-10-50 View

There are about as many ways to determine the "best" programs over time in college football as there are teams vying for that imaginary slot. With 2008's dust having settled on the gridiron now, it's time to assess which teams are arguably top among college football's landscape over a period of seasons.

Since many of us are people of recency—i.e., what have you done for me lately—it's a good idea to start with the latest history. You can take the last five years and then ten years to determine which programs are smoking the others by winning percentage. But with the memories of the past often helping fuel current passions, we can use a much longer-term perspective as well. Why not the last half century (1959-2008)? For Texas Longhorn fans, it drudges up nasty memories of the 1984-'97 gutter period, but it also includes most of the Darrell Royal regime.

When compared with the longer term, the two shorter periods of five and ten years seem similar, so we can weigh the three 50-25-25 in percent, with the half century counting 50 percent. (Weighing all three equally resulted in similar standings).

Do you think a Boise State—who has the highest percentage of any program—belongs in these discussions? Certainly if you're focusing solely on the recent era, but not if you're looking through the long term lens. The Broncos have only faced 276 I-A opponents over the 50-year period, entering the big leagues late. All other teams have played at least twice as many (Nebraska leads with 600). For this discussion, we'll stick to schools with at least 500 half-century tests under their belts.

So, using all three—five, ten, and 50-year periods—give the following results:

1. Texas—79.4% (74% over 50 years, 82% over 10, 87.5% over five)
2. USC—78.3% (72%, 78, 91)
3. Ohio State—77.3% (76, 77, 81)
4. Oklahoma—77.1% (73, 82, 81)
5. Georgia—73.2 (69, 77, 78)
6. Florida—72.6 (69, 74, 78)
7. LSU—70.7 (66, 73, 78)
8. Penn State—70.3 (74, 62, 71)
9. Nebraska—70.2 (78, 68, 58)
10. Michigan—69.4 (73, 69, 63)

Most of the top rated by winning percentage are there because of a tremendous resurgence in recent years, notably traditional powers including Texas, USC, and Ohio State, all of which had relentlessly won for decades but then fell off for a time before being revived. All three, as well, have, this decade, captured their first national championships in many years.

In contrast, a few programs, most notably Nebraska (highest half-century win percentage) and Michigan, have further spiraled in the most recent years, causing football fans to wonder if they're going to return to past glories. It's no coincidence both just hired new coaches in 2008. It's unlikely that anyone anticipated either being in this position following their split national title in 1997.

Of further interest, Alabama is #13 in the weighted percentage standings, Florida State (due of course to the unprecedented Bobby Bowden run) is #14, Miami at #16, Notre Dame #21, Arkansas #27, TCU #29 (on strength of last decade mainly), and Texas Tech #32 (see TCU). Texas A&M barely makes the top 40, thanks almost solely to the back-to-back coaching eras of Jackie Sherrill and R.C. Slocum.

Maybe it's fair to note if we'd used, say, 25 seasons instead of 50 for the longer-term period, UT would likely not be in the top spot since that would have included the years 1984-2008. 1984 signaled the season when the once-promising Fred Akers era started cratering and drove Texas into a 14-year tailspin. But, isolating just the last five- and ten-year sections puts the Longhorns at #2, only behind Boise State.

In terms of consistency through the three time frames, Texas' excellence is unsurpassed, being equaled only by its Fiesta Bowl victim, Ohio State. Each program is ranked in the top five nationally for all periods. USC and Oklahoma are very close in consistency, making the top ten each time frame and the top five in two of them (five and ten years). Georgia, from legendary Vince Dooley through Mark Richt, also makes the top ten in each grouping.

Regardless, in most periods, Texas sits at or near the top, thanks to the bookend regimes of Darrell Royal and Mack Brown. How fitting that these two remain very close and share in dreams and expectations for this once and again proud program.

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