The five tiers of college football programs

Movie quote of the day:

“Well, dreams, they feel real while we’re in them, right? It’s only after we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.”

– Dom Cobb, “Inception” (2010)

It’s the dead period of sports and I’m bored out of my mind because there hasn’t been much to talk about in the sports world. The inspiration for this post came from a recent segment from Colin Cowherd’s radio show – where he decided to rank college football programs by tiers during his radio show – and the Associated Press decided to rank the FBS college football programs as well. I decided to make my own list since college football is just two weeks away. My list consists of the top-40 college football programs in the country spread across five tiers (eight programs per tier). Tier 1 being the best of the best and so on. Each program’s ranking was determined by its history and current success.

Tier 5:

Boise State

40. Boise State Broncos

Conference: Mountain West
First season: 1968
All-time record: 417-158-2
Claimed national titles: 0
Conference titles: 18
BCS bowl wins: 2
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 1
Bowl record: 11-5

Yes, Boise State is currently a top-40 program. The Broncos will be playing in just their forty-eighth year of football this season as a four-year institution – making them the youngest program on this list, having only been playing in Division 1-A/FBS since 1996. The Broncos have won at least nine games in 13 of the last 14 seasons, along with two BCS bowl wins and a New Year’s Six bowl win during that stretch. I won’t be surprised if Boise State joins a Power Five conference in the next 10 years.

Arizona

39. Arizona Wildcats

Conference: Pac-12
First season: 1899
All-time record: 602-443-33
Claimed national titles: 0
Conference titles: 6
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 9-10-1

Arizona doesn’t have a rich history of football, but it made a name for itself from 1980-2000. During that stretch, the Wildcats had a record of 143-92-7, winning a Pac-10 championship and the Fiesta Bowl in 1993. The program hit tough times from 2000-2012, posting an overall record of 55-77. However, Rich Rodriguez has begun to bring some rebirth into the program. He has a record of 33-20 in four years, and the Wildcats competed in a Pac-12 championship and Fiesta Bowl in 2014.

Cal

38. Cal Golden Bears

Conference: Pac-12
First season: 1886
All-time record: 653-521-51
Claimed national titles: 5
Conference titles: 14
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 11-10-1

Prior to 1956, Cal had a very good football program. The Golden Bears had an overall record of 259-133-21, won 11 conference titles and five national championships during the first 70 years its program. However, since 1957 it’s been the complete opposite as Cal has a record of 294-362-10 (82 of those wins coming during the Jeff Tedford era from 2002-2012). Even though those first 70 years of Cal’s program seems like an eternity ago, you can’t ignore it and that’s why I have the Golden Bears on the list.

North Carolina

37. North Carolina Tar Heels

Conference: ACC
First season: 1888
All-time record: 679-505-54
Claimed national titles: 0
Conference titles: 9
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 14-17

Despite its reputation as a pure basketball school, North Carolina doesn’t have the worst history of football. I think it’s safe to say that North Carolina football would be nothing without the Bill Dooley, Dick Crum, and Mack Brown eras. Those three coaches accounted for 31 years of UNC football and tallied a record of 210-140-6. Dooley and Crum each brought four conference titles to Chapel Hill, but Brown led the Tar Heels to three seasons with 10 wins. The Tar Heels struggled after Brown, but Larry Fedora looks to have the UNC program back on track. Dooley, Crum, and Brown made UNC football a respectable program. Without them, UNC football would have a winning percentage of 53 percent (among the likes of programs like Texas State and Nevada).

Missouri

36. Missouri Tigers

Conference: SEC
First season: 1890
All-time record: 668-541-53
Claimed national titles: 0
Conference titles: 15
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 15-16

Missouri football isn’t the richest program by any means. Outside of the Dan Devine and Gary Pinkel tenures, Missouri football is a program barely above .500. The Tigers haven’t won a conference championship since 1969. I have Missouri on this list because of its recent success with Pinkel. Before he started coaching Missouri in 2001, the Tigers only had one season with 10 wins or more. Under Pinkel, Missouri has had five seasons with 10 wins or more and competed for four conference championships.

Oklahoma State

35. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Conference: Big 12
First season: 1901
All-time record: 562-533-47
Claimed national titles: 0
Conference titles: 10
BCS bowl wins: 1
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 16-9

Oklahoma State football’s accolades aren’t impressive. The Cowboys didn’t have much of a program before head coach Pat Jones arrived on campus and was able to bring in running backs Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas. Oklahoma State had losing seasons in 12 of the next 13 years after Sanders’ departure. However, Les Miles and Mike Gundy have helped turn Oklahoma State football around into the respectable program it is today. Under Gundy, Oklahoma State has won 10 or more games four times, a BCS bowl game and made an appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl, and won its first conference championship since 1976.

Utah

34. Utah Utes

Conference: Pac-12
First season: 1892
All-time record: 652-449-31
Claimed national titles: 0
Conference titles: 24
BCS bowl wins: 2
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 15-4

The main reason I have Utah this high on my list is because of its recent success in the last 20-plus years. The Utes have won nine games or more 10 times since 1994 and have won two BCS bowls. Even before the coaching tenures of Ron McBride, Urban Meyer, and Kyle Whittingham, Utah had a strong football program from 1925-1949 under head coach Ike Armstrong. During those 24 years, Armstrong had a record of 141-55-15 and won 13 conference championships.

Colorado

33. Colorado Buffaloes

Conference: Pac-12
First season: 1890
All-time record: 681-481-36
Claimed national titles: 1
Conference titles: 26
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 12-16

In the 1980s and 90s, Colorado had one of the better college football programs in the country under head coach Bill McCartney. He guided the Buffaloes to three 10-win seasons in his 12 years, and won a national title in 1990. If he hadn’t retired early, who knows where the Colorado program would be today. Usually, a program with almost 700 wins and a national title in its history would be in a higher tier. However, the Buffaloes have an overall record of 117-141 since McCartney retired, and haven’t been to a bowl game since 2007.

Tier 4:

UCLA

32. UCLA Bruins

Conference: Pac-12
First season: 1919
All-time record: 576-399-37
Claimed national titles: 1
Conference titles: 17
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 17-17-1

UCLA hasn’t played football for very long and has its share of history. Most of the Bruins’ success came under Terry Donahue’s term as head coach from 1976-1995. Donahue had a record of 151-74-8, he guided UCLA to five Pac-10 conference titles, and won three Rose Bowls. After he left the program, the Bruins struggled to find success. However, current head coach Jim Mora has begun to revitalize the UCLA program, winning nine games or more in three of his four seasons.

Pitt

31. Pitt Panthers

Conference: ACC
First season: 1890
All-time record: 704-515-42
Claimed national titles: 9
Conference titles: 2
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 13-19

No, I don’t have Pitt this low because I’m a huge WVU fan and I loath them (even though I do). I have the Panthers at No. 31 because since 1980 Pitt’s overall record as program is 227-195-6. Prior to 1980, Pitt football had a record of 477-320-36, and won nine national championships. However, eight of those national championships came before World World II. I’ve always believed – at this point in history – that any national championship before 1980 is an afterthought. Even though Pitt football has been irrelevant and mediocre for the last 35 years, I can’t ignore its history.

Ole Miss

30. Ole Miss Rebels

Conference: SEC
First season: 1893
All-time record: 655-504-35
Claimed national titles: 3
Conference titles: 6
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 1
Bowl record: 24-13

When Johnny Vaught was the head coach at Ole Miss, it was one of the top programs in the country. Vaught had a record of 190-61-12 and led the Rebels to three national championships. However, the program has fallen on hard times since Vaught left. Since 1971, the program has a record of 232-228-4 and only three seasons with 10-wins. However, it looks like Hugh Freeze has Ole Miss headed in the right direction. The Rebels have won at least nine games in the last two years – with a 10-3 season last year and a Sugar Bowl victory.

BYU

29. BYU Cougars

Conference: N/A
First season: 1922
All-time record: 548-396-26
Claimed national titles: 1
Conference titles: 23
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 13-20-1

This might surprise a bunch of people, but keep in mind that BYU hasn’t played football for as long as some other college football programs and took three years off during World War II. LaVell Edwards is easily the face of BYU’s football program. He had a record of 257-101-3 as head coach of the Cougars, and won a national championship in 1984. Since 1972, the Cougars have had 16 seasons with 10 wins or more and have won 22 conference titles. BYU probably could have won more conference championships if the program didn’t decide to leave the Mountain West and go independent in 2011.

Arkansas

28. Arkansas Razorbacks

Conference: SEC
First season: 1894
All-time record: 700-475-40
Claimed national titles: 1
Conference titles: 13
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 15-23-3

Arkansas’ football program didn’t become respectable until Frank Boyles became head coach in 1958. Arguably, that began the Razorbacks’ “golden age” and continued into the coaching tenures of Lou Holtz and Ken Hatfield. Under those three coaches, Arkansas had a record of 259-96-8, with nine seasons with 10 wins or more, 10 conference titles, and a national championship. The Razorbacks had some good years with Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino, but the program hasn’t been able to replicate the Boyles/Holtz/Hatfield years. Hang in there, Razorback Nation, I think Bret Bielema is the guy.

TCU

27. TCU Horned Frogs

Conference: Big 12
First season: 1896
All-time record: 626-531-15
Claimed national titles: 2
Conference titles: 18
BCS bowl wins: 1
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 1
Bowl record: 15-15-1

There’s no way I can picture TCU football without Gary Patterson. He’s the face of the program and has put the Horned Frogs on the map. He has a record of 143-47 as head coach of TCU. With him, TCU has had 10 seasons with 10 wins or more with six conference championships, and has won a BCS bowl and New Year’s Eve bowl. For as good as TCU has been in recent years, I can’t overlook the fact that the program was nothing before Patterson.

Washington

26. Washington Huskies

Conference: Pac-12
First season: 1889
All-time record: 703-440-50
Claimed national titles: 2
Conference titles: 15
BCS bowl wins: 1
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 18-17-1

Washington has played football for a long time but made a name for itself from 1957-2002. During those 45 years, the Huskies had a record of 329-180-6, and won two national championships, seven conference championships, and a BCS bowl. The program struggled for awhile after that, but has returned to winning ways thanks to former head coach Steve Sarkisian and current head coach Chris Petersen.

AP MIAMI GEORGIA TECH FOOTBALL S FBC GA

25. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Conference: ACC
First season: 1892
All-time record: 700-471-43
Claimed national titles: 4
Conference titles: 15
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 1
Bowl record: 24-19

While the Bobby Dodd years were great at Georgia Tech, the program has (for the most part) struggled since Dodd left the program in 1966. Under Dodd, the Yellow Jackets had four seasons 10 wins or more with two conference championships, and a national championship. Even though Georgia Tech won a national championship in 1990, the program has an overall record of 305-260-8 – and 62 of those wins have come from current head coach Paul Johnson. While the program has been slightly above mediocre since Dodd, Johnson has brought some good years to Georgia Tech, including a conference championship and a BCS bowl appearance in 2009, and a New Year’s Six bowl win in 2014.

Tier 3:

Texas A&M

24. Texas A&M

Conference: SEC
First season: 1894
All-time record: 717-466-48
Claimed national titles: 3
Conference titles: 18
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 17-20

Texas A&M had a rich history of football before 1965, where the program won three national championships before World War II. Then, the Aggies entered a bit of a hiatus until Emory Bellard became head coach in 1972. Texas A&M had some great years between 1972-2002. During that stretch, the Aggies’ football program had an overall record of 244-121-3, won nine games or more 13 times, and won eight conference championships. Since R.C. Slocum’s departure, Texas A&M football hasn’t been the same. The Aggies have only had one season with 10 wins or more and four losing seasons in the last 13 years.

23. Virginia Tech Hokies

Conference: ACC
First season: 1892
All-time record: 712-451-46
Claimed national titles: 0
Conference titles: 10
BCS bowl wins: 1
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 12-17

Virginia Tech has the second-most wins of any college football program that has never won a national championship. Frank Beamer has built the Hokies’ program from nothing. Since 1987, Virginia Tech’s program has an overall record of 238-121-2 and have had 15 seasons of 10 wins or more, along with seven conference championships and appearing in six BCS bowl games.

Wisconsin

22. Wisconsin Badgers

Conference: Big Ten
First season: 1889
All-time record: 674-486-53
Claimed national titles: 0
Conference titles: 14
BCS bowl wins: 2
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 13-14

Wisconsin has been one of the nation’s most underrated programs since 1990, when Barry Alvarez became head coach. The Badgers don’t have much of a history before him. Since 1990, the Badgers have an overall record of 205-106-4, winning 10 games or more 10 times. Also, the program has won six conference championships and has won two BCS bowls – in five appearances. Wisconsin has been able to maintain success despite the departures of coaches like Alvarez, Bret Bielema, and Gary Andersen.

21. West Virginia Mountaineers

Conference: Big 12
First season: 1891
All-time record: 731-482-45
Claimed national titles: 0
Conference titles: 15
BCS bowl wins: 3
New Year’s Six wins: 0
Bowl record: 15-19

No, I don’t have WVU this high on the list because I’m biased. West Virginia is the winningest college football program that has never won a national championship. WVU wasn’t known for football before Don Nehlen became head coach in 1980. He gave WVU football an identity – literally since he essentially created the Flying WV logo (which is one of the nation’s most iconic logos). Under Nehlen, the program had chances to win two national championships – WVU fans are still grieving over what could’ve happened in that 1989 Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame if Major Harris didn’t break his arm. Since the Nehlen era, the Mountaineers have a record of 273-159-4 with seven conference championships. Also, WVU has won three BCS bowls – the same number as programs such as Texas, Florida State, Miami (Fla.), and Alabama.

Michigan State

20. Michigan State Spartans

Conference: Big Ten
First season: 1896
All-time record: 681-441-44
Claimed national titles: 6
Conference titles: 11
BCS bowl wins: 1
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 1
Bowl record: 11-15

It’s hard to be successful when you’re in the same state as one of the nation’s top programs – the Michigan Wolverines. However, the Spartans have done a decent job. The program was once respected in the 1950s and 60s, when it won three national championships. After that, the program really struggled before Mark Dantonio became head coach. He has revived Spartans football and brought the program to a new height. Under him, the Spartans have a record of 87-33, winning 10 games or more five times in his nine years in East Lansing. On top of that, Michigan State has won three conference championships, a BCS bowl and a New Year’s Six bowl, and made an appearance in last year’s College Football Playoff.

Stanford

19. Stanford Cardinal

Conference: Pac-12
First season: 1891
All-time record: 625-447-49
Claimed national titles: 2
Conference titles: 15
BCS bowl wins: 2
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 1
Bowl record: 13-13-1

Stanford has decent history of footballbut had been mediocre in the 35 years before Jim Harbaugh became head coach. Prior to Harbaugh, the Cardinal had a record of 186-172-8. Harbaugh’s record wasn’t eye opening in Palo Alto, but he finished his time at Stanford with a 12-1 season and BCS bowl win in the Orange Bowl. That laid the foundation for the Stanford program that fans know today. David Shaw has led Stanford to a record of 54-14 since Harbaugh’s departure. The Cardinal have won 10 games or more in four of the last five years, with three conference titles, and wins in BCS and New Year’s Six bowls.

Oregon

18. Oregon Ducks

Conference: Pac-12
First season: 1894
All-time record: 637-479-46
Claimed national titles: 0
Conference titles: 12
BCS bowl wins: 3
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 1
Bowl record: 14-17

Oregon has been playing football for long time but never emerged as a program until Mike Belotti showed up on campus in 1995. Bellotti put the Ducks on the map. In his 13 years in Eugene, Oregon football had a record of 116-54, and won two conference championships and a BCS bowl. Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich have taken the program to another level after Bellotti’s departure. Since 2009, the Ducks have won nine games or more every year, won four conference championships, wins in two BCS bowls and a New Year’s Six bowl, and appeared in two national championships. If the Ducks keep up their performance on the field, they’ll easily find themselves in a higher tier in the near future.

Penn State

17. Penn State Nittany Lions

Conference: Big Ten
First season: 1887
All-time record: 856-382-42
Claimed national titles: 4
Conference titles: 4
BCS bowl wins: 1
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 28-16-2

I know, right? How could I have Penn State so low on this list? The Nittany Lions have a rich history of football that was built in 1966 when Joe Paterno became head coach, but the program hasn’t been as good as it once was. Penn State hasn’t won a national championship since 1986, or be a national championship contender since 1994. That seems like a lot to ask for, but a program like Penn State should be competing for titles every year. The bottom line is that the Nittany Lions haven’t won a major bowl game since the 2006 Orange Bowl, and have been a program with a record of 29-21 in the last four years.

Tier 2:

Nebraska

16. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Conference: Big Ten
First season: 1890
All-time record: 880-368-40
Claimed national titles: 5
Conference titles: 46
BCS bowl wins: 1
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 26-26

I’ll explain why I have the Cornhuskers as just a Tier 2 program. I’m aware that since 1962 Nebraska has a record of 514-145-5, and has only had a losing record three times. It doesn’t look like it on paper, but the program isn’t what it used to be. Given what kind of program Nebraska once was, the program hasn’t won a national championship since 1997, and hasn’t won a conference championship or a major bowl game since 2002. The Cornhuskers are still one of the best programs in the country, but once lesser programs have surpassed them in the last 15 years.

Miami

15. Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes

Conference: ACC
First season: 1926
All-time record: 604-347-19
Claimed national titles: 5
Conference titles: 9
BCS bowl wins: 3
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 18-18

Miami is one of the younger programs on this list, its first season was in 1926. The Hurricanes didn’t have much success until Howard Schnellenberger became head coach in 1979. From then to 2003, Miami was arguably the top program in the country, with a record of 242-57 and five national championships. Even with all of its success during that 24-year span, Miami is another program – like with Penn State and Nebraska – that hasn’t been the same in the last decade. The Hurricanes haven’t won 10 games or more – or a conference championship – since 2003.

Tennessee

14. Tennessee Volunteers

Conference: SEC
First season: 1891
All-time record: 815-367-54
Claimed national titles: 6
Conference titles: 16
BCS bowl wins: 1
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 27-24

Robert Neyland put the Tennessee program on the map, starting in 1926. In 21 seasons, he led the Volunteers to a record of 173-31-12 with eight conference championships and four national championships. Not only that, he’s the namesake of Tennessee’s famous stadium – Neyland Stadium. Tennessee maintained success in the next 56 years after Neyland left the program with a record of 455-199-19 with eight more conference championships and two more national championships. However, the program has been mediocre since Phil Fulmer retired in 2008. Last season was the first year the Volunteers won nine games since 2009.

Clemson

13. Clemson Tigers

Conference: ACC
First season: 1896
All-time record: 703-455-45
Claimed national titles: 1
Conference titles: 21
BCS bowl wins: 1
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 1
Bowl record: 20-19

Clemson’s football program got its first real taste of success when Danny Ford became head coach in 1978. Under him, the Tigers had a record of 96-29-4 in 12 seasons with five conference championships and a national championship. He helped lay the foundation and Clemson football has had success under coaches like Ken Hatfield and Tommy Bowden, but recently Dabo Swinney has established Clemson as one of the hottest programs in the country. The Tigers have won 10 games or more every season since 2011, and made an appearance in the College Football Playoff last year coming up just short of bringing home the school’s second national championship.

Auburn

12. Auburn Tigers

Conference: SEC
First season: 1892
All-time record: 742-421-47
Claimed national titles: 2
Conference titles: 12
BCS bowl wins: 2
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 23-15-2

Ever since Ralph “Shug” Jordan became Auburn’s head coach in 1951, the Tigers have had a steady track record of success. In the last 64 years, Auburn football has a record of 498-239-6 with eight conference championships and two national championships. Even though Auburn has had some good years, the program is Cam Newton and one of the luckiest seasons I’ve ever seen (2013) away from being a mediocre program in recent years – hard to imagine, I know. If you take the 2010 and 2013 seasons out of the equation, Auburn’s record is just 39-37 in six of the last eight years.

Georgia

11. Georgia Bulldogs

Conference: SEC
First season: 1892
All-time record: 786-413-54
Claimed national titles: 2
Conference titles: 14
BCS bowl wins: 2
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 28-19-3

Georgia’s football program is this high on the list mainly because of the Vince Dooley years. Dooley coached in Athens for 24 seasons and molded the program into what it is today. He had a record of 201-77-10. He won six conference championships and one national championship. The program had its struggles after Dooley’s departure until Mark Richt came along in 2001. Under Richt, the Bulldogs had a record of 145-51, with 10 seasons with 10 wins or more, and won two conference championships and two BCS bowls.

LSU

10. LSU Tigers

Conference: SEC
First season: 1893
All-time record: 770-404-47
Claimed national titles: 3
Conference titles: 14
BCS bowl wins: 4
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 24-22-1

LSU began to have success during the Charles McClendon era. Under McClendon, the Tigers had a record of 137-59-7 in his 17 seasons. However, LSU football didn’t become the prestigious program it is today until Nick Saban became head coach in 2000, he had a record of 48-16 in just five seasons and won two conference championships, two BCS bowls, and a national championship. Les Miles has continued Saban’s success. He has a record of 112-32 in Baton Rouge, winning 10 games or more in seven of his 11 seasons, with two conference championships, two BCS bowl wins, and a national championship.

9. Florida Gators

Conference: SEC
First season: 1906
All-time record: 701-404-40
Claimed national titles: 3
Conference titles: 8
BCS bowl wins: 5
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 21-21

Prior to 1990, the Florida football program was only known for creating Gatorade (no joke). When Steve Spurrier became head coach he brought a culture of winning to Gainesville. Florida has established itself as one of the nation’s top programs only in the last 25 years. Since 1990, the Gators have a record of 239-78-1 with eight conference championships and three national championships. Not to mention the fact that Florida has won five BCS bowls during the same stretch.

Tier 1:

Texas

8. Texas Longhorns

Conference: Big 12
First season: 1893
All-time record: 886-349-33
Claimed national titles: 4
Conference titles: 32
BCS bowl wins: 3
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 27-24-2

Darrell Royal turned Texas into one of the top programs in the country. He had a record of 167-47-5 in his 21 years in Austin with 11 conference championships and three national championships. The Longhorns scattered a few good years after Royal left the program, but never managed to get the same type of success until Mack Brown came along in 1998. Under Brown, Texas had a record of 158-48 with nine-straight seasons with 10 wins or more, two conference championships, three BCS bowl wins, and a national championship. The reason why Texas barely gets into the top tier is because the program has been laughable in recent years. The Longhorns have a record of just 41-35 since appearing in the 2010 national championship against Alabam.

USC

7. USC Trojans

Conference: Pac-12
First season: 1888
All-time record: 813-333-54
Claimed national titles: 11
Conference titles: 38
BCS bowl wins: 6
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 33-17

Southern Cal first became a national powerhouse when John McKay became head coach in 1960. He had a record of 127-40-8 with eight conference championships and four national championships in his 15 seasons in Los Angeles. After McKay left the program, USC had some struggles in the next 25 years. During that time, the Trojans did win a national championship and nine conference championships, but had only four seasons with 10 wins or more. That all changed when Pete Carroll became head coach in 2001. He spent nine seasons at USC and had a record of 98-19 (winning 10 games or more for seven-straight seasons) with six BCS bowl wins, seven conference championships, and a national championship (no, I’m not counting the Associated Press’s mistake in 2003).

Notre Dame

6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Conference: N/A
First season: 1887
All-time record: 892-313-42
Claimed national titles: 11
Conference titles: N/A
BCS bowl wins: 0
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 17-28

Notre Dame is a very old football program with a lot of history, but most of its success came in its earlier years. From 1924-1980, the Fighting Irish arguably had the best program in the country. Notre Dame had its share of great coaches during that time with Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, and Dan Devine all bringing national championships to South Bend. However, only one of the program’s 11 national championships came after 1980. Since 1988, the program has only had eight seasons with 10 wins or more and four losing seasons. The Fighting Irish have also appeared in four BCS bowls and a New Year’s Six bowl, but have been embarrassed in all of them, being outscored in those five games, 202-85. The program hasn’t been as successful as its early days, but Brian Kelly has done a great job of reviving it.

Michigan

5. Michigan Wolverines

Conference: Big Ten
First season: 1879
All-time record: 925-331-36
Claimed national titles: 11
Conference titles: 42
BCS bowl wins: 2
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 21-23

Just like Notre Dame, Michigan has a very old program with most of its success in its early years. Also, just like Notre Dame, the Wolverines have only won one national championship in the last 30 years. Bo Schembechler is arguably the face of Michigan football. He had a record of 194-48-5 with 13 conference championships in his 20 seasons in Ann Arbor. Lloyd Carr became head coach five years after Schembechler’s departure and brought the Michigan program back to glory, winning its first national title in almost 50 years. Since Carr, the program has struggled, but now Jim Harbaugh is the man in charge and the attitude around the program is already starting to change.

4. Florida State Seminoles

Conference: ACC
First season: 1947
All-time record: 522-241-17
Claimed national titles: 3
Conference titles: 18
BCS bowl wins: 3
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 26-16-2

Florida State has the second-youngest football program on this list. Next year will be just the program’s 70th birthday. In retrospect, it’s impressive to see what the Seminoles have done in such a short period of time – thanks to Bobby Bowden. He had a record of 304-97-4, winning 10 games or more in 18 seasons (14 in a row), with 12 conference championships and two national championships in his 33 years in Tallahassee. The transition to Jimbo Fisher hasn’t slowed the program down either. Under Fisher, the Seminoles have a record of 68-14 with three conference championships, two BCS bowl wins, and a national championship. Along with an appearance in the College Football Playoff two years ago.

Oklahoma

3. Oklahoma Sooners

Conference: Big 12
First season: 1895
All-time record: 861-318-53
Claimed national titles: 7
Conference titles: 45
BCS bowl wins: 4
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 0
Bowl record: 28-20-1

Oklahoma has had three head coaches that have defined its prestigious program: Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer, and Bob Stoops. Under those three head coaches, the Sooners have a record of 481-104-8 with 35 conference championships and seven national championships. Even though Stoops has only won one national championship that came 16 years ago, he’s had a ton of recent success. Under Stoops, the Sooners have won 10 games or more 13 times (more than Switzer and Wilkinson). They’ve also appeared in nine BCS bowl games (winning four), and appeared in three more national championships and the College Football Playoff last year.

Ohio State

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

Conference: Big Ten
First season: 1890
All-time record: 875-320-53
Claimed national titles: 8
Conference titles: 37
BCS bowl wins: 6
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 3
Bowl record: 22-24

Even though Ohio State did win a national championship in 1942, it never had a ton of success until Woody Hayes became head coach in 1951. In his 27 years in Columbus, he had a record of 205-61-10 with 13 conference championships and five national championships. The Buckeyes had minor success in the 22 years after Hayes left until Jim Tressel became head coach. Tressel had as many seasons with 10 wins or more in his 10 years as head coach than the 22 years before him. He also won five BCS bowl games, six conference championships, and a national championship. Urban Meyer has continued a tradition of winning at Ohio State. In the last four years, Meyer’s record in Columbus is 50-4 with a BCS bowl appearance, three New Year’s Six bowl wins, a conference championship, and a national championship.

Alabama

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Conference: SEC
First season: 1892
All-time record: 864-326-43
Claimed national titles: 16
Conference titles: 29
BCS bowl wins: 3
New Year’s Six bowl wins: 2
Bowl record: 36-24-3

Not very surprising, I know, but how could I not give Alabama the No. 1 slot? Prior to Nick Saban, you could make an argument that some of these other Tier 1 programs were better than Alabama. However, even though Alabama has a very rich history of football and was already one of the best programs in the country, Saban is the reason the Crimson Tide have catapulted into this position. In his nine years in Tuscaloosa, he has a record of 105-18. The Crimson Tide have had eight-straight seasons with 10 wins or more, appeared in five BCS bowls – winning three, three New Year’s Six bowls – winning two, four conference championships, and four national championships. Not to mention the Crimson Tide have made an appearance in the College Football Playoff the last two years, and have a good chance to do it again this season.

Thanks for reading

Shane Price
Follow me on Twitter – @priceisright53

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