Top 25 College Football Programs of the Last 25 Years

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Which college football programs have been the best over the last quarter century? Every fanbase has a slight hint of delusion when it comes to thinking about where they rank, so I thought I would apply a more objective method to it. I looked at titles, Top 4 finishes, Top 10 finishes, Top 25 finishes, and overall record to come up with these rankings. I’m sure you’ll disagree, and that the numbers are biased against your school.

#1 ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

National Titles: 5 (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017)
Top 10 Finishes: 13
Top 25 Finishes: 17
Record since 1993: 238-85-1 (.736)

The down years are deep into the rearview mirror. Alabama has reached heights that few programs do over the last decade, winning five national titles and perpetually being in the title mix every season. A handful of other programs have had more consistency over the last 25 years, but none has become the gold standard that Alabama has become under Nick Saban.

 

#2 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

National Titles: 2 (2002, 2014)
Top 10 Finishes: 16
Top 25 Finishes: 21
Record since 1993: 261-59-1 (.815)

Ohio State has finished in the Top 2 under three different coaches over the last 25 years, and no program has been so consistently a power across that time period. The Buckeyes have exactly one losing season, 6-7 in 2011 under interim coach Luke Fickell in the aftermath of Jim Tressel’s tenure, in the last 50 years.

 

#3 FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

 

National Titles: 3 (1993, 1999, 2013)
Top 10 Finishes: 12
Top 25 Finishes: 21
Record since 1993: 247-75-1 (.766)

Florida State is transitioning to Willie Taggart with Jimbo Fisher bolting to Texas A&M, and coming off a rare down year. They may not consistently be at the heights they were in the 1990’s, when they were perennial national championship contenders, but the program is still among the best, and is tied for most Top 25 finishes in the last 25 years with Ohio State.

 

#4 FLORIDA GATORS

National Titles: 3 (1996, 2006, 2008)
Top 10 Finishes: 12
Top 25 Finishes: 18
Record since 1993: 234-85-1 (.733)

The last seven years under Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain have been a struggle, but Florida was at the pinnacle with both Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer as coach, and sit in prime recruiting territory, and could turn things around quickly.

 

#5 OKLAHOMA SOONERS

National Titles: 1 (2000)
Top 10 Finishes: 12
Top 25 Finishes: 17
Record since 1993: 234-86-1 (.731)

It’s fascinating that Bob Stoops won a national title with his first great team, and much of the last 17 years have seen consistently top teams come up short of another title. The transition to Lincoln Riley has gone well so far.

#6 USC TROJANS

National Titles: 2 (2003 (AP), 2004)
Top 10 Finishes: 9
Top 25 Finishes: 15
Record since 1993: 226-91-2 (.712)

The USC Trojans were the best program from 2002 to 2009 under Pete Carroll, but have seen plenty of disappointment before and after that. Clay Helton has won double digit games in consecutive seasons, the first time that has happened since Carroll was coach.

 

#7 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS

National Titles: 3 (1994, 1995, 1997 (Coaches))
Top 10 Finishes: 8
Top 25 Finishes: 15
Record since 1993:  231-91 (.717)

The halcyon days are in the past, but not so far in the past they don’t show up here. Nebraska had eight seasons between 1993 and 2001 when they lost two or fewer games; it hasn’t happened since. Scott Frost will try to turn things around starting in 2018.

 

#8 LSU TIGERS

National Titles: 2 (2003, 2007)
Top 10 Finishes: 7
Top 25 Finishes: 17
Record since 1993: 219-93-1 (.701)

LSU has won 8 games or more every season since 2000, yet have continually underachieved over much of the last decade. They haven’t finished a season ranked higher than 13th since 2011.

 

#9 AUBURN TIGERS

National Titles: 1 (2010)
Top 10 Finishes: 7
Top 25 Finishes: 16
Record since 1993: 212-101-1 (.677)

Auburn hasn’t had the consistency of LSU, but has achieved similar or greater heights. It’s also a program that seems to churn through coaches, as four different head coaches have finished in the Top 4 in at least one season over the last 25 years.

 

#10 TEXAS LONGHORNS

National Titles: 1 (2005)
Top 10 Finishes: 7
Top 25 Finishes: 16
Record since 1993: 216-98-2 (.687)

Texas was among the best programs of the 2000’s, but the last five years have been a disaster. The last time Texas had four years in a row with never getting to 8 wins was from 1986-1989. Tom Herman enters his second season in Austin and expectations will still be high.

#11 MIAMI HURRICANES

National Titles: 1 (2001)
Top 10 Finishes: 5
Top 25 Finishes: 15
Record since 1993: 213-97 (.687)

For a lengthy stretch from 1983 to 2005, Miami was college football royalty. They then went through a decade where the program only finished the season ranked once. The return of Mark Richt to Miami has things back on the rise.

 

#12 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

National Titles: 1 (1997 (AP))
Top 10 Finishes: 6
Top 25 Finishes: 18
Record since 1993: 212-101 (.677)

Michigan football still has high expectations and the fans are awaiting Jim Harbaugh reaching the heights to match the hype. Those expectations come from having a program that finished the season ranked in all but three years from 1968 to 2007.

 

#13 CLEMSON TIGERS

National Titles: 1 (2016)
Top 10 Finishes: 4
Top 25 Finishes: 13
Record since 1993: 212-106 (.667)

Clemson is in the midst of their peak right now, appearing in the CFB playoff the last three years. If it continues, they will keep climbing this list. “Clemson-ing” used to be a pejorative term, but it’s taken on a whole new meaning.

 

#14 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

National Titles: 1 (1998)
Top 10 Finishes: 6
Top 25 Finishes: 14
Record since 1993: 204-108-1 (.653)

After a great run under Philip Fulmer, Tennessee has had more losing seasons than winning seasons over the last decade, but the expectations are still high in Knoxville. Earlier this spring, we saw the dysfunction that resulted in AD John Currie losing his job after failed coaching searches and the Greg Schiano debacle.

 

#15 OREGON DUCKS

National Titles: 0
Top 10 Finishes: 8
Top 25 Finishes: 15
Record since 1993: 220-94 (.701)

Oregon is neck-and-neck for the best program not to win a title in the last 25 years, with Georgia. The Ducks have become a college football power thanks to having Phil Knight as an alum and Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly as coaches. They get the nod over Georgia based on having five seasons finishing in the Top 4 in the country.

#16 GEORGIA BULLDOGS

National Titles: 0
Top 10 Finishes: 9
Top 25 Finishes: 16
Record since 1993: 224-93-1 (.706)

Georgia came sooooo close to ending the reputation as a top program that could not win the big game. 2017 was the best finish for Georgia since the 1980 national title (they also finished ranked #2 in 2007 after the bowl game, but did not play in a title game).

#17 WISCONSIN BADGERS

National Titles: 0
Top 10 Finishes: 8
Top 25 Finishes: 16
Record since 1993: 228-91-4 (.712)

Wisconsin has never finished higher than 4th (1999) over this span, but has been consistently one of the best programs. The Badgers have only two losing seasons since 1993, and have been ranked at season’s end in 15 of the last 20 years.

#18 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES

National Titles: 0
Top 10 Finishes: 7
Top 25 Finishes: 18
Record since 1993: 233-89 (.724)

Frank Beamer built one of the nation’s most underrated programs in Blacksburg. They lost in the 1999 title game with Michael Vick, the only time that they have finished in the Top 6, but were consistently ranked until the end of Beamer’s tenure. Justin Fuente has come in and gone 19-8 in his first two seasons.

#19 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS

National Titles: 0
Top 10 Finishes: 7
Top 25 Finishes: 14
Record since 1993: 214-98 (.686)

Penn State could have (should have?) won the national title in 1994, before we had a playoff that would have decided it on the field. The program has had only one other top 6 finish since then (2005). But after a tumultuous decade on and off the field with the Jerry Sandusky scandal, followed by Bill O’Brien leaving quickly for the NFL, James Franklin has the program on the rise again with consecutive top 10 seasons.

 

#20 TCU HORNED FROGS

National Titles: 0
Top 10 Finishes: 6
Top 25 Finishes: 12
Record since 1993: 207-101 (.672)

Surprised to see the Horned Frogs here? You shouldn’t be. Gary Patterson has built one of the best programs in the country, and TCU has been ranked in the Top 10 in six of the last 10 years.

#21 KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

National Titles: 0
Top 10 Finishes: 6
Top 25 Finishes: 13
Record since 1993: 209-104-1 (.667)

Bill Snyder’s time at Kansas State is nothing short of remarkable, as one of the worst college football programs prior to 1993 has been one of the best since. The closest Snyder came to a title was in 1998, when they were upset in the Big 12 title game by Texas A&M.

 

#22 BOISE STATE BRONCOS

National Titles: 0
Top 10 Finishes: 4
Top 25 Finishes: 11
Record since 1993: 219-63 (.777)

Boise State wasn’t even a Division I program in 1993, first moving up in 1996 and going 2-10. 1997 was the last losing season, and the Broncos have won 10+ games in 15 of the last 20 years. The program has gone undefeated twice, winning the Fiesta Bowl both times.

 

#23 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH

National Titles: 0
Top 10 Finishes: 3
Top 25 Finishes: 12
Record since 1993: 194-114-1 (.629)

Yes, Notre Dame makes the list (though without 1993 they might not). Since then, they’ve finished in the Top 8 exactly once, in 2012 when they were humiliated in the title game by Alabama. Still, Notre Dame is here because they’ve finished the season ranked nearly half of the last 25 years, something that most programs cannot claim.

 

#24 MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

National Titles: 0
Top 10 Finishes: 4
Top 25 Finishes: 8
Record since 1993: 184-126-1 (.593)

The Spartans are here on the strength of Mark Dantonio’s tenure, as they were ranked only once prior to 2007 (Nick Saban’s last year in East Lansing). Sparty finished in the Top 6 all three years from 2013 to 2015, and bounced back with a good season a year ago.

 

#25 UTAH UTES

National Titles: 0
Top 10 Finishes: 3
Top 25 Finishes: 8
Record since 1993: 203-103 (.663)

You may be surprised to see Utah crack the list. This is a program that has climbed from the WAC to the Mountain West and now the Pac-12. They may not generate the buzz but they’ve provided the substance. Utah has been ranked only twice in the preseason in the last 25 years, but ended there 8 times. There have been two undefeated, top 5, seasons: in 2004 in Urban Meyer’s last year, and in 2008 when they beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

 

Next 10: West Virginia, Stanford, Texas A&M, Washington, Iowa, Colorado,   Missouri, Oklahoma State, Louisville, UCLA