College Football: Top 25 Programs Of The Last Decade
College football writer Bill Bender ranked the nation’s Top 25 football programs over the last decade (2010-19), and Notre Dame checked in at No. 12 in his analysis.
Bender, a writer for Sporting News, came up with a data based formula, and if you haven’t read his breakdown of the Top 25 of the last decade, do so. You can find the article HERE.
It’s based on national championships, title games appearances, College Football Playoff appearances, New Year’s Six/BCS bowl appearances and Heisman Trophy winners. Here is his analysis of Notre Dame during the Brian Kelly era:
“Brian Kelly led the Irish to a BCS championship appearance and a College Football Playoff appearance as part of undefeated regular seasons, but the reality checks Alabama and Clemson provided show what it takes to reach those national championship heights. The Irish are 33-6 the past three seasons and have produced the 11th-most NFL Draft picks.”
I enjoyed reading through Bender’s work, which is always true, but there were also a lot of changes I wanted to make to his rankings, so I decided to do a Top 25 of my own, with my own criteria. My personal criteria is more subjective. It compares on-field success (I don’t care about Heisman’s) and then I add my own personal analysis of those teams.
My criteria takes into account overall success, consistency, high-level finishes and of course, championships and CFP/BCS appearances. It does NOT take into account recent trends, and there is no projection for what teams will be moving forward. It is simply about what teams have done over the last decade.
W-L - Win-loss record
Win% - Win percentage
10+ - Seasons with at least 10 wins
Top 10 - AP Top 10 finishes
CFP/BCS - College Football Playoff or BCS title game appearances
Titles - National championships
This is a no-brainer. Alabama was dominant in the first half of the decade and in the second half of the decade, winning two titles during each period. No program has the overall decade-long track record that Nick Saban’s squad has achieved.
The data between Clemson and Ohio State is very close, but the Tigers having one more title and owning a 3-0 record over the Buckeyes in the last decade puts them over the top. Clemson has been as good, if not better, than Alabama the last five years, but the first five years wasn’t close.
3. Ohio State
Ohio State doesn’t have the rings that Alabama and Clemson possess, and they are 1-3 against those two programs in the last decade. The Buckeyes, however, are the clear number three program and there’s distance between them and the rest of this list due to their consistency and 2014 national championship.
The Sooners were a legit title contender in 2017, and I truly believe if they would have defeated Georgia in overtime they would have beaten Alabama. That, however, was the only legit title contender Oklahoma had the last decade. Despite not having a title, their consistency over the last decade gets them fourth.
A 15-0 record and a national championship vaulted the Tigers up this list. LSU did not have a single Top 10 finish from 2012-2017, but a Top 10 finish in 2018 was followed by a dominant national title season in 2019. Despite the inconsistency of the last decade, the last two seasons have the Tigers in this spot.
Oregon fell off the cliff a bit from 2016-18, but the No. 5 finish in 2019 was a step back in the right direction, but that’s not why Oregon ranks this high. The Ducks twice played for a title from 2010-14, a stretch during which they went 60-8 and finished in the Top 5 four out of five seasons. That’s dominant football. Oregon’s 59-20 beatdown of Florida State’s second best team of the decade helps puts them a spot ahead.
7. Florida State
Like Oregon, Florida State’s recent success is pretty rough. Unlike the Ducks, the Seminoles aren’t on the uptick, at least not yet. But the Seminoles 2013 squad was one of the two or three best teams of the last decade, they made another CFP appearance in 2014 and they had at least 10 wins in six of the first seven seasons of this decade.
Georgia’s 2017 and 2012 squads were really good, but the Bulldogs have had few “great” seasons outside of that. What we have seen, however, is a relatively consistent squad that is trending in the right direction. Georgia has seven 10+ win seasons and five Top 10 finishes, which is pretty darn good.
This is where there is another gap. While the Badgers have been consistently good, which puts them in the Top 10, they never had a team where you looked at them and said, “Wow, that team had a chance to compete for a title.” But their consistency must be recognized and appreciated.
Two years ago I would have ranked the Cardinal ahead of Wisconsin and Georgia, but the last three seasons have really caused a drop by the Cardinal. Stanford still has more wins, a better winning percentage, more 10+ win seasons and more Top 10 finishes than Notre Dame. Stanford also owns a 6-4 record over the Irish in the last decade.
11. Notre Dame
Notre Dame over Auburn is likely going to raise some eyebrows, but the reality is the Irish have not been nearly as up-and-down as the Tigers. Notre Dame’s recent run of success (33-6 over the last three years) is better than any three-year stretch by the Tigers, but Notre Dame was largely mediocre from 2010-14, which keeps them behind the Badgers and Cardinal.
Auburn is the lowest ranked team with a national title on their resume, and the Tigers also played for the title in 2013. The issue, however, is that Auburn has lost at least four games in every other season and has lost at least five games in six of the ten seasons of this decade. Take away the Cam Newton season and the Tigers are quite average.
13. Michigan State
Michigan State’s last four seasons have really dragged the Spartans down the list. After 2015 the Tigers would have been a borderline Top 5 program. MSU won at least 11 games in five of the first six seasons during this decade and made a CFP appearance in 2015. Going 27-24 the last four seasons drops them down.
I would not have guessed that TCU would have ranked this high when I started doing research for this article, but the numbers were impressive. TCU has five 10+ win seasons and four Top 10 finishes, and the 2014 squad deserved to be a CFP team. Their inconsistency (3 losing seasons) keeps the Horned Frogs from being a couple spots higher.
15. Penn State
Like Notre Dame, the Nittany Lions rank where they are mainly due to their last four seasons. Penn State has won at least 11 games in three of the last four seasons, which vaulted them way up this list. All three of their Top 10 finishes were in the last four seasons, and that includes an impressive Fiesta Bowl victory over Washington and Cotton Bowl victory over Memphis.
Dan Mullen’s 22-5 record and back-to-back Top 10 finishes over the last two seasons has boosted the Gators up this list and helped overcome a bunch of mediocre seasons. One of their Top 10 seasons (2012) ended with the Gators getting smacked by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, and another 10-win season ended with a 41-7 beatdown by Michigan.
17. Oklahoma State
While Notre Dame, Penn State and Florida are ranked where they are based on recent history, the Cowboys are ranked where they are based on what they did the first half of the decade. Oklahoma State went 30-9 from 2015-17, but the Cowboys weren’t as good as their record. The 11-2 and 12-1 teams from 2010-11 were outstanding.
The Trojans are another squad that rank higher post-research than I would have guessed they would have ranked pre-research. USC has a pair of Top 10 finishes, four 10+ win seasons and the 2016 Trojan squad that got crushed by Alabama to start the season was playing elite football by the end of the season.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh has not taken the Wolverines over the hump like many expected he would, but the fact is he’s built a steady program. Michigan has won at least eight games in each of his five seasons and have three seasons with 10+ win seasons during his tenure. An 11-2 Sugar Bowl squad in 2011 also helped their numbers.
Washington had two really good teams under Chris Petersen, which helped raise their ranking, but there have been a lot of mediocre to below average squads during the last decade. A CFP playoff appearance and three straight 10+ win seasons from 2016-18 helped the Huskies overall statistics.
21. Boise State
A case could be made the Broncos deserve to be higher, but the teams over the last decade weren’t nearly as good as the team’s Petersen put on the field in the prior decade. But Bryan Harsin has led Boise State to a quality 43-11 record in the last four years, and while UCF has been good recently, no Group of 6 school has been as consistent as the Broncos in this decade.
22. Texas A&M
The Johnny Manziel years and a consistent stretch of solid football has the Aggies in the Top 25. Texas A&M has won at least eight games in all but two seasons of the last decade and have yet to have a losing record. The 2012 win over Alabama can’t be ignored, neither can a 7-3 bowl record that includes a beatdown of Oklahoma.
23. Virginia Tech
The Hokies began the decade in a good place, and the 2016 season was strong as well. Beyond that the Hokies have been solid but unspectacular. Virginia Tech has not finished the regular season with a losing record and have three seasons with 10+ wins during this stretch.
Iowa could make a case to be higher on this list due to consistently good football and a pair of 10+ win seasons. The Hawkeyes went 12-2 in 2015 and played for the Big Ten title, but that season ended with a absolute butt whipping at the hands fo Stanford.
Utah barely makes this list, and a 10-3 record prior to joining the Pac 12 helped them out a bit. Utah’s 11-3 season in 2019 was not as good as the record shows, and we saw that in the Pac 12 title game and the blowout bowl loss to Texas. What works in their favor, however, is winning at least nine games in five of the last six seasons.
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