Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Best Football Program (1997-2006) is...

Originally posted at the now-defunct CollegeFootballChannel.com on May 15, 2007

The 'U' has been the best football program over the past 10 years.

There has been much hoopla made about ESPN asking fans across the country to name the best college basketball program of the past decade. Not surprisingly, ESPN’s SportsNation – you fans – choose Duke. The experts – at least most of them – agreed. Andy Katz disagreed, crowning Michigan State as the decade’s best program. It is one of those arguments that will be contested to the end with statistics and championships to back up nearly everyone’s argument.

That became the brainchild for the following article. Why not take a look at the last 10 years of college football and determine which program has been the best?

Let me let you in on a little secret – this is not easy. What statistics do you look at? There are national championships; Bowl Championship Series game appearances and record in those games; overall winning percentage; Conference championships; Records against rivals. And those are just a few of the categories that you could look at. What about schedule strength? But, we’ve crunched the numbers and now we’ll let you in on the big secret. You’ll be the first to know the best college football program of the past decade.

Remember, this is from 1997 to 2006. That is important to remember, especially for Florida Gator fans. Florida won the national championship in 1996 and that means absolutely nothing in this argument. That is one of the reasons Florida – yes, I said Florida – doesn’t crack the top 10 programs in the past decade.

Yes, some teams will be left out and you might not agree. Teams like Florida (94-32) had no dominant period and mixed in solid two-loss seasons with 8-5 campaigns too frequently. Wisconsin, which is undefeated in BCS game appearances (2-0), had three-straight years with at least six losses. LSU (86-38) went a combined 7-15 in 1998 and 1999. Georgia has been consistent (96-30 record), but is 4-6 against Auburn and 3-7 against Florida, its two chief rivals. Boise State (96-31) has five conference titles and has dominated its rival, Idaho, by winning 9 of the last 10 games. However, the Broncos’ 58-7 record over the past five years doesn’t erase the fact they play in a weak mid-major conference. Teams like Iowa, Auburn and Colorado have had pretty great seasons. But, after a few in a row, they have sunken back to mediocrity. Notre Dame’s recent two-year surge can’t erase eight years of good-bad-good-bad-good-bad, etc… In fact, the Fighting Irish have just a .615 winning percentage (75-47) in this span and have just five seasons with at least nine victories.

Now for the countdown…

10. Virginia Tech – Believe it or not, Virginia Tech is the only team on this list that has not won a national championship. But when you look at all the other statistics, it is easy to see why the Hokies have been one of the decade’s best. The Hokies have a 95-31 record (.754 winning percentage) and two conference championships (’99 – Big East; ’04 – ACC). Yes, Virginia Tech is 0-3 in BCS games, including a loss in the title game to Florida State in 1999, but they’ve made more BCS appearances than Texas. And that rivalry with Miami – Virginia Tech has a 6-4 advantage since ’97. In the past 10 years, Virginia Tech’s worst year was a 7-5 campaign in 1997.

9. Tennessee – The 1998 national championship seems so far away now. But, other than one disappointing year in 2005, Tennessee has been near the top of college football rankings for the past 10 years. The Vols have a 96-32 record (.750) and are 1-2 in three BCS game appearances. Tennessee also has won a pair of SEC Championships and has owned its rivalry with Alabama by going 8-2.

8. Nebraska – It wasn’t too long ago that the Cornhuskers were so dominant that it was natural to see they put up 60 or 70 points in a conference game. The 1997 co-champions have a 94-34 record (.734) and are 2-1 in three BCS game appearances. From 1997 to 2001, Nebraska was an impressive 55-9. However, the past five years have brought an average record of 8-5, which isn’t close to being dominant. Nebraska also is only 3-4 against top rival Oklahoma in that span. But, the five years of dominance in the first half of the decade is enough to keep Nebraska on this list.

7. Michigan – If there is one word to describe the Wolverines, it would be consistent. Outside of the 1997 national championship and last year’s “Game of the Century” against Ohio State, Michigan hasn’t made a huge run at a national title. However, in the last decade, Michigan has a 96-28 record (.774) and has won five Big Ten Championships. The one knock against Michigan is its inability to come up in big games. A 4-6 record against Ohio State isn’t that impressive and neither are some of the slip-up losses. However, a 7-5 record in 2005 is Michigan’s worst in this stretch and that is a definite outlier compared to eight seasons with at least nine victories.

6. Texas – If the Longhorns only could have beaten Oklahoma a few more times, they definitely would be higher on this list. But, Texas is just 4-6 against Oklahoma in the past 10 years and have won just one Big 12 Championship. That year, of course, was 2005 and the Longhorns also won the national championship that season. In both BCS game appearances Texas has notched last-minute victories. A 97-29 record (.769) is highlighted by a five-year stretch between 2001 and 2005 when Texas went 56-8.

5. Florida State – A lot like Michigan, Florida State is one of the nation’s most consistent programs. Many people would say Florida State’s success has been inflated by playing in the weak ACC. Regardless, the Seminoles have made seven BCS game appearances in 10 years, recording a 2-5 record. That does include the 1999 national championship victory over Virginia Tech. From 1997-2000, Florida State went 45-5. The 96-31 record (.756) also is very impressive. Against their main rivals, the Seminoles haven’t dominated but they haven’t been dominated. Florida State is 5-6 against Miami and 5-5 against Florida in the past 10 years.

4. Ohio State – The Buckeyes are a tough team to rank. Ohio State does have the highest winning percentage (.776) with a 97-28 record and it does have the 2002 national championship and four Big Ten Championships. The Buckeyes also don’t have a losing season, their worst year being a 6-6 campaign in 1999. Couple that with a 6-4 record against hated rival Michigan and six BCS game appearances – posting a 4-2 record – and it looks like the Buckeyes have done all they can. Here’s the problem: Everyone knows Ohio State shouldn’t have won the national championship in 2002 because of a blow penalty call in the end zone. So, with that taken into consideration, it puts a big knock on their superior status. A 55-9 record over the past five years is solid, but Ohio State fans will have to be happy with their spot at No. 4.

3. Oklahoma – The Sooners are another tough team to judge. Oklahoma has played in three title games – tied with USC for the most in this 10-year span – and has the 2000 national championship to its credit.  Oklahoma also has made five BCS game appearances, recording a 2-3 record. The Sooners have won four Big 12 Championships and have won the rivalry battles with Texas (6-4) and Nebraska (4-3). The 95-33 record (.742) also is very impressive, as is the 60-9 stretch between 2000 and 2004. The only thing weighing down Oklahoma is 1997-99, which produced just one winning season.

2. USC – No team has had a better five-year stretch than the Trojans have put together in the past five years. A 59-6 record (nearly an average season of 12-1) is downright ridiculous. Couple that with two national championships, five Pac-10 Championships, five BCS game appearances with a 4-1 record and a 7-3 record against both UCLA and Notre Dame – USC’s biggest rivals – and the Trojans have owned the past five years. However, before this dominance came five so-so seasons. That is the main reason USC’s overall record is 90-35 (.720) during this 10-year stretch. Still, if we take this poll again in five years, don’t expect USC to move anywhere but up on this list.


1. Miami – The record books say Miami has won one national championship during this 10-year span. The world knows a botched call in the end zone cost Miami another one (officially). That means, in the past 10 years, Miami should have a pair of national championships and would be a perfect 4-0 in BCS game appearances. Instead, officially it is just one national title and a 3-1 record in BCS games. Still, a 94-29 record (.764), four Big East Championships and a 46-4 record from 2000-03 (should be 47-3) is sick. Miami also owns a 6-5 advantage of rival Florida State during this span. Take out the 1997 and 2006 seasons and Miami has notched at least nine victories each year. For those looking to spell domination, just add another “m” so you can spell M-I-A-M-I.