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January 11, 2021

THE USUAL SUSPECTS…AGAIN

in Commentary

Over the last 125 years, 10 NCAA college football programs have consistently ranked near or at the top as the nation’s best teams

As the nation watched the 2020 edition of the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship game, the players, the storyline and the scenario at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida may have seemed all too familiar.

In a college football season that proved to be anything but business as usual, two likely suspects advanced to the National Championship Game in very different ways – the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide reclaimed its mantle among the elite after a one-year absence while many questioned whether the Ohio State Buckeyes deserved to be there, advancing to the title game for the first time since winning it in 2014.

Monday night, Alabama manhandled Ohio State, 52-24, to give Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban a record seventh national championship. Alabama (13-0) completed the ninth perfect season in program history — the second on Saban’s watch as he surpassed the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant for most national championships.

Since the College Football Playoff (CFP) system replaced the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) in 2014, Alabama and Ohio State have established their respective programs as two of the top four in the nation. During the first seven CFP seasons, the Crimson Tide missed the cut for the final four only once (2019), while the Buckeyes have advanced four times, ranking in the top seven all seven times. Not to be overlooked, Clemson has advanced to the final four six times, Oklahoma four, and Notre Dame twice.

With that said, no other team has matched the success of the Crimson Tide. Alabama has now won six national championships since 2009, playing in five of the seven CFP title games since 2014, followed by Clemson with four trips, winning twice (2016, 2018). Since NCAA college football stopped naming mythical national champions with the creation of the BCS in 1998, only seven programs – Florida State (1999, 2013), Ohio State (2002, 2014), Southern California (co-2003, 2004), Florida (2006, 2008), Clemson (2016, 2018), LSU (co-2003, 2007, 2019), Alabama (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2020) – have won multiple times.

But that only represents what’s been happening lately. What school ranks as the greatest college football program of all-time? Of course, that would depend on what measuring stick gets used – rankings, all-time wins, or overall winning percentage.

As mentioned before, rankings did nothing but name a mythical national champion for decades. When it comes to all-time wins, eight schools rank among the 900-win club, led by Michigan with 964 victories, followed by Ohio State (931), Alabama (929), Texas (923), Notre Dame (918), Oklahoma (917), Nebraska (905) and Penn State (902). While only considering schools that have played NCAA Div. I football since 1900, overall winning percentage might be the best way to rank them.

Here are the top 10 college football programs of all-time, according to THE SPORTS BUZZ:

HONORABLE MENTIONS

YALE (est. 1872) – Winning Percentage: .697 (907 wins, 379 losses, 55 ties)

Since Yale has been playing in the NCAA Division I-AA since 1982, the Bulldogs do not qualify for this ranking. But as one of the oldest football programs in the country, Yale’s legacy of 27 national titles cannot be overlooked. Yale football has one of the most impressive resumes in the game, with two of the first three Heisman Trophy winners, 100 All-Americans, 28 Hall of Fame inductees, and 18 national championships recognized by the NCAA — the most all time.

LSU (est. 1893) – Winning percentage: .656 (812 wins, 415 losses, 47 ties)

LSU has recorded three perfect seasons in its century-plus history on the gridiron: in 1908; 1958; and in the Joe Burrow-led 2019 national championship campaign.

CLEMSON (est. 1896) – Winning percentage: .618 (758 wins, 460 losses, 45 ties)

With the help of quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and DeShaun Watson, head coach Dabo Swinney has posted a .807 winning percentage since taking over the Clemson program midway through the 2008 campaign.

TEXAS A&M (est. 1894) – Winning percentage: .602 (749 wins, 486 losses, 48 ties)

After a magical 11-2 season in 2012, quarterback Johnny Manziel brought Heisman Trophy glory to Texas A&M.

TOP 10 PROGRAMS OF ALL-TIME

10. TENNESSEE (est. 1891)Winning percentage: .671 (849 wins, 402 losses, 53 ties)

Tennessee has only enjoyed seven winning seasons since 2005. But the program’s history remains strong as Peyton Manning helped lead the school to 32 wins from 1995-97.

9. NEBRASKA (est. 1890) – Winning percentage: .688 (905 wins, 400 losses, 41 ties)

Under head coach Tom Osborne from 1973-97, Nebraska won 255 games, losing only 49 times. Nebraska has trying to recapture the success it had during that period ever since when the Huskers won five national championships and produced a pair of Heisman Trophy winners.

8. PENN STATE (est. 1887)Winning percentage: .688 (902 wins, 398 losses, 41 ties)

Penn State has improved from back-to-back seven-win seasons in 2014 and 2015 to consecutive 11-win seasons in 2016 and 2017, when the Nittany Lions finished inside the top 10 of the AP poll. After winning nine games in 2018, the Nittany Lions finished 11-2 with a Cotton Bowl victory in 2019. In 2015, the NCAA restored 112 Penn State wins that were stripped in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal. The move made Joe Paterno the college game’s winningest coach again — and returned Penn State to the ranks of the winningest schools. 

7. USC (est. 1888) Winning percentage: .699 (852 wins, 352 losses, 54 ties)

On the field for USC from 2001-09, head coach Pete Carroll posted an .836 winning percentage. However, USC was forced to vacate 14 of Carroll’s wins due to NCAA rules violations, still ranking him as USC’s best with an NCAA-adjusted winning percentage of .822.

6. TEXAS (est. 1893)Winning percentage: .704 (923 wins, 378 losses, 33 ties)

Vince Young looms large in Texas lore as the quarterback led his Mack Brown-coached teams to a 34-4 run from 2003-2005 – an .895 winning percentage. Despite a subsequent downturn, the Longhorns averaged 11 wins per season from 2000-09 and peaked in the top five of the AP poll every season. With three straight winning season and bowl game victories, Texas may be on the road back to prominence.

5. OKLAHOMA (est. 1895)Winning percentage: .726 (917 wins, 329 losses, 53 ties)

The Sooners have made four College Football Playoffs, reaffirming their status – not just as a historically great program – as one of the best this century. With Oklahoma averaging 11 wins per season since 2000, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Rickey Dixon, Billy Sims and Brian Bosworth are among the talents to emerge from a school that has won 10 games or more in a season 40 times.

4. MICHIGAN (est. 1879)Winning percentage: .727 (964 wins, 350 losses, 36 ties)

The 11-time national champion Wolverines are still searching for their first Big Ten title since 2004. The No. 1 college team in total wins through the 2020 season, Michigan comes up a few decimal points shy of the winning-percentage title. Bo Schembechler, whose charges included future head coach Jim Harbaugh, did what he could for the school’s cause, racking up 194 wins from 1969-89.

3. NOTRE DAME (est. 1887) Winning percentage: .728 (918 wins, 329 losses, 42 ties)

The Irish have won eight national championships since the Associated Press began certifying the national champion in 1936. If not for the 21 wins and one loss removed from the NCAA record books for rules violations, Notre Dame’s winning percentage would stand at .732 – the all-time best. As it is, the school has produces a golden run for decades with notable head coaches Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz posting undefeated seasons.

2. ALABAMA (est. 1892)Winning percentage: .72947 (929 wins, 331 losses, 43 ties)

Alabama won five national championships in nine years as Nick Saban has made the Crimson Tide the kings of college football. Alabama made the first five College Football Playoff fields before missing out in 2019. With the help of greats like Joe Namath, Paul “Bear” Bryant led Alabama to 232 wins, losing only 46 from 1958-82. Bryant’s .824 winning percentage ranks second only to Saban, who owns a .869 winning percentage, in Crimson Tide history.

1. OHIO STATE (est. 1890)Winning percentage: .73036 (931 wins, 327 losses, 53 ties)

The winners of the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014, the Buckeyes have consistently been national title contenders year in and year out since the mid-1990s. Since 1995, Ohio State has finished in the top six of the AP poll 15 times with two national championships and two runner-up finishes. With greats like Justin Fields, Eddie George and Joey Bosa on the ball for the Buckeyes, Ohio State holds off the competition for the all-time winning-percentage title…just barely.

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