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The Top 20 College Football Programs of the Modern Era (Part II)

Posted by Neil Paine on August 30, 2010

Note: This post was originally published at the new College Football at Sports-Reference site, so when you're done reading, go over and check it out!

Today, it's time to finish our list of the top 20 college football programs of the modern era. As a quick refresher, I defined the "modern era" as 1946-present, because 1946 was the first true postwar season and the year before (1945) was the final time a service academy would win a National Championship. Also, the rankings are determined by the Simple Rating System (SRS), which measures team points per game differential relative to the NCAA average, adjusted for strength of schedule. Here's a recap of the rankings so far:

20. Georgia Tech (+7.70)
19. Michigan State (+8.69)
18. Arkansas (+8.95)
17. Auburn (+9.59)
16. Miami (+10.00)
15. UCLA (+10.04)
14. Georgia (+10.42)
13. LSU (+10.52
12. Florida State (+10.97)
11. Tennessee (+11.89)

With that in mind, let's move on to the Top 10, which (just as alert reader JW Lewis predicted) features "three teams from the current Big 10, two from the SEC, three from the current Big 12 (with one of those being from the old SWC and two from the old Big 8), one from the Pac-10, and one independent":

The Top 20 College Football Programs of the Modern Era: Schools #1-10


10. Penn State Nittany Lions (+11.91)
Record: 525-184-9 (.737)
Top Coach: Joe Paterno (1966-2009)
Best AP Finish: #1 (1982, 1986)

Best Season: 1994 (+25.33 - 1st). PSU (12-0) has best team in NCAA and runs roughshod over Big 10, but voters hold weaker Rose Bowl opp. Oregon (9-4) against them and give title to 13-0 Nebraska (#3 in SRS), who beat 10-1 Miami in Orange.
Median Season: 1959 (+11.31 - 19th, 9-2)


9. Nebraska Cornhuskers (+11.92)
Record: 517-214-10 (.704)
Top Coach: Tom Osborne (1973-1997)
Best AP Finish: #1 (1970, 1971, 1994, 1995)

Best Season: 1971 (+29.46 - 1st). One of the most dominant teams of the modern era, #1 Huskers (13-0) beat final AP #2 (Oklahoma), #3 (Colorado), and #4 (Alabama) in same season en route to perfection & National Title.
Median Season: 1985 (+14.00 - 14th, 9-3)


8. Florida Gators (+11.92)
Record: 472-240-19 (.659)
Top Coach: Steve Spurrier (1990-2001)
Best AP Finish: #1 (1996, 2006, 2008)

Best Season: 2008 (+26.89 - 1st). 13-1 Gators' lone blemish a 1-point September loss vs. Ole Miss; UF goes on to win 10 straight, vanquishing nation's best by topping then-#1 Alabama and then-#2 Oklahoma in consecutive games to end season.
Median Season: 1982 (+11.55 - 22nd, 8-4)


7. Alabama Crimson Tide (+13.26)
Record: 525-206-20 (.712)
Top Coach: Bear Bryant (1958-1982)
Best AP Finish: #1 (1961, 1964, 1965, 1978, 1979, 1992, 2009)

Best Season: 1971 (+26.23 - 3rd). Legitimately great Tide team goes 11-1, but has the misfortune of running into all-time dominant Nebraska (13-0) who whips 'Bama 38-6 in Orange.
Median Season: 1994 (+13.18 - 12th, 12-1).


6. Texas Longhorns (+13.27)
Record: 526-198-11 (.723)
Top Coach: Darrell Royal (1957-1976)
Best AP Finish: #1 (1963, 1969, 2005)

Best Season: 1947 (+27.77 - 1st). Longhorns go 10-1 and run up big margins of victory, including dominating wins over Oklahoma & Alabama, but are undone by 14-13 loss at SMU (9-0-2), leaving them 5th in the AP poll at season's end.
Median Season: 1966 (+13.55 - 16th, 7-4).


5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (+13.82)
Record: 483-213-14 (0.690)
Top Coach: Lou Holtz (1986-1996)
Best AP Finish: #1 (1946, 1947, 1949, 1966, 1973, 1977, 1988)

Best Season: 1946 (+33.69 - 1st). Irish (9-0-1) have very best team of modern era according to SRS, allowing a microscopic 2.7 PPG. After famous 0-0 tie with Army, Irish win final 3 games and secure #1 after Black Knights (9-0-1) barely beat unranked Navy in finale.
Median Season: 1958 (+14.52 - 12th, 6-4).


4. Southern California Trojans (+13.95)
Record: 501-207-23 (.701)
Top Coach: John McKay (1960-1975)
Best AP Finish: #1 (1962, 1967, 1972, 2003, 2004)

Best Season: 1972 (+29.16 - 1st). McKay's Trojans (12-0) reign over all comers, dominating Pac-8 and capping undefeated campaign by walloping Ohio St. (9-1) in Rose. Fun fact: USC doesn't trail for even a second in final 7 games of season.
Median Season: 1963 (+13.65 - 12th, 7-3).


3. Michigan Wolverines (+14.43)
Record: 498-194-15 (.715)
Top Coach: Bo Schembechler (1969-1989)
Best AP Finish: #1 (1948, 1997)

Best Season: 1947 (+27.69 - 2nd). Wolverines (10-0) boast outstanding offense, running up 39.4 PPG on beleaguered Western foes. However, despite unbeaten record, Rose Bowl W, & superior SRS, Michigan finishes behind Notre Dame (9-0) in final AP poll.
Median Season: 1995 (+15.46 - 10th, 9-4).


2. Oklahoma Sooners (+14.65)
Record: 555-170-13 (.761)
Top Coach: Barry Switzer (1973-1988)
Best AP Finish: #1 (1950, 1955, 1956, 1974, 1975, 1985, 2000)

Best Season: 1973 (+31.05 - 1st). Oklahoma (10-0-1) is on NCAA probation for academic violation, but that doesn't stop them from routing opposition en route to nation's best SRS since ND in 1949. Sooners tie USC 7-7 in 2nd game, then win 9 straight (6 over teams ranked at the time).
Median Season: 1967 (+15.48 - 5th, 10-1).


1. Ohio State Buckeyes (+14.66)
Record: 516-167-20 (.748)
Top Coach: Woody Hayes (1951-1978)
Best AP Finish: #1 (1954, 1968, 2002)

Best Season: 1973 (+27.74 - 2nd). After 9 straight wins to start season, Bucks (10-0-1) tie Michigan in annual rivalry game and get Rose nod via Big 10 ADs' vote. There they crush USC 42-21, but can't ultimately get a piece of N.C. (which is controversially split between 11-0 ND and 11-1 Bama).
Median Season: 1994 (+14.90 - 9th, 9-4).


This entry was posted on Monday, August 30th, 2010 at 2:07 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.