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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / The Grueling Truth's Top 10 Sports Lists / Top 10 College Football Programs of All-Time: Which program is at the Top of the Mountain Top?

Top 10 College Football Programs of All-Time: Which program is at the Top of the Mountain Top?

Whos is the GOAT Program of all time?
Publish Date: 04/23/2024
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

This is a hard list to come up with, as the top five could be interchangeable. Many programs like Miami have a shorter period of dominance, while others like Alabama always seem to be good. Most of the Greatest College Football Coaches of all time are on this list.


The criteria are all about wins and National Championships, but to be at the top of the list, you need sustained excellence, and that’s what the top half of this top ten has. Then you have programs like Penn State. If they could win something under James Franklin, they could climb this list, but the odds of that are not looking good. Having Iconic Head Coaches seems to be a way to climb high up this list.


10) Miami(Fla)

The “U” since 1980 has probably been a top 5 program. Their history before 1970 is pretty solid, and outside 1970-78, the Canes have always been a solid program. However, the program really took off under the guidance of Coach Howard Schnellenberger, who led the Canes to the 1984 Orange Bowl title with a 31-30 upset over the number one ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers.

The rest, as they say, is history, and what a history it has been! From Jimmy Johnson to Larry Coker, the Canes were as dominant a program as there has ever been. The 2001 team is considered by some the greatest team in college football history. So why aren’t the Canes higher? It comes down to the programs ahead of them that have been dominant longer than the Canes. Won 5 national titles in a 20-year span. But it doesn’t change the fact the recent history drops them almost out of the Top Ten.



9) Penn State

The Nittany Lions are mostly known for the Joe Paterno era, but they were more than that. Rip Engle was also a highly successful head coach before Paterno—the Nittany Lions’ history is littered with legendary running backs and Linebackers. Penn State has only won two National Championships in 1982 and 1986 but had multiple undefeated seasons that saw voters ignore their feats, especially in the 1960s.

Video: 1986 Penn State Nittany Lions National Championship Double Feature

1986 Penn State Nittany Lions National Championship Double Feature

8) Michigan

The Wolverines have 3 NC’s (’47, ’48, ’97), and they also have had 3 Heisman winners. Michigan sports the most memorable helmets and jerseys and plays in front of one of the largest crowds on game day. The maize and blue have the most wins of all the NCAA teams at 877 and have played since 1879. They have also played in more games than anyone else. The negative for this pigskin powerhouse is that they only have two major bowl wins since 1992 (one being an NC).

But, that has changed over the previous three years culminating in a National Championship this past season. It will probably be taken away because of a cheating scandal, but for now we will count it.

Video: History of Michigan Football

History of Michigan Football

7) Texas

Texas has 4 consensus National Championships (’63, ’69, ’70, ’05), they also have two Heisman winners in Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. They have been playing football since 1893. In Reality, though, the accomplishments of a program like Miami would have surpassed Texas if the Canes had not fallen apart over the last decade., even though they haven’t been around near as long.

Texas is a legendary program, but things have never been the same since the legendary Coach Royal left.

Video: Longhorn Football: An Illustrated History

Longhorn Football: An Illustrated History

6) Nebraska

Nebraska had nine-plus win seasons for 30 years straight from 1968-2001. Tradition, the Blackshirts are dripping with it as they have been voted on as the best team of all time by several sources in the 1995 National Championship team. Although, the sport five NC’s (’70, ’71, ’94, ’95, ’97). They also have had three Heisman winners.

Nebraska had a record 35 consecutive bowl appearances from 1969 to 2003. The problem lies in that since Tom Osborne left, they have not been the same.

The program has been struggling in recent years and needs to turn a corner soon before they start dropping.

Video: The History of Nebraska Football

The History of Nebraska Football

5) USC

The men of Troy are tied for first with seven Heisman winners; they also have seven NC’s (’62, ’67, ’72, ’74, ’78, ’03, ’04). Known as tailback U because of backs like Simpson, Allen, Bell, Bush, Davis, etc… The only reason USC isn’t at the top of this mountain is mostly due to the 1989-2001 stretch where they didn’t have a single 10 win season and were about a .500 team. and of course, the stretch since Pete Carroll left and the Trojans were put on probation.

John Mckay and John Robinson turned this into a juggernaut, and Pete Carroll continued the tradition. The Trojans are known as Running Back U, and have had some of the greatest running backs in college football history.

Video: History of USC Football

History of USC Football

4) Notre Dame

The Irish have 13 NC’s , and seven Heisman winners. Not to mention Touchdown Jesus, the movie Rudy(Even Though most of it was made up for the film). The fight song everybody knows, and their own t.v contract.

The tradition is long and hard to top from Rockne to Leahy, Ara to Holtz. However, since Dan Devine was let go in the early 80’s things have not always been great for the Irish. Remember Faust, Weiss, Willingham, Davie, etc…

Marcus Freeman is doing a great job there, but let’s face it, the chances of him returning Notre Dame to its pre-1980 glory do not look good. Lou Holtz had success in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Since then, the Irish have struggled to get back to the top.

Video: Echoes Of Glory - The History Of Notre Dame Football (Full DVD from 2006)

Echoes Of Glory – The History Of Notre Dame Football (Full DVD from 2006)

3) Ohio State

The Buckeyes have six NCs and seven Heisman winners as Archie Griffin won it twice. 101,000+ fans pack into the Horseshoe to see the scarlet and gray take the field. They started playback in 1890. The Buckeyes have only two losing seasons since 1960. That alone puts them in the top 10.

You know you have a great program when you have head coaches over your history like Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel, and Urban Meyer. The history of great players at Ohio. St is unquestioned. The Rivalry with Michigan is at the top of any rivalry list.

Video: Ohio State Football Throughout History, 1950-2016

Ohio State Football Throughout History, 1950-2016

2) Oklahoma Sooners

The program began in 1895 and is one of the most successful programs since World War II, with the most wins (606) and the highest winning percentage (.762) since 1945. The program has 7 national championships, 45 conference championships, 154 All-Americans (76 consensuses), and five Heisman Trophy winners. In addition, the school has had 23 members (five coaches and 18 players) inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. It holds the record for the longest winning streak in Division I history with 47 straight victories, a record that stands today. Oklahoma is also the only program with four coaches with 100+ wins, including current head coach Bob Stoops. In addition, they became the sixth NCAA FBS team to win 850 games when they defeated the Kansas Jayhawks on November 22, 2014.

From Bud Wilkinson to Barry Switzer and later Coach Stoops, the Sooners have been in national title contention for the better part of 70 years. Throw in. They are a part of not just one but two of college football’s most bitter rivalries. Their battles against Nebraska and Texas, both on this list, are legendary. Oklahoma also checks in with one of the greatest college football quarterbacks of all time!

Video: History of Oklahoma Football, Part I

History of Oklahoma Football, Part I

1) Alabama

As of the completion of the 2015 season, Alabama has 864 official victories in NCAA Division I (an additional 21 victories were vacated, and 8 victories and 1 tie were forfeited), has won 29 conference championships (4 Southern Conference and 25 SEC championships) and has made an NCAA-record 62 postseason bowl appearances. Other NCAA records include 23 winning streaks of 10 games or more and 19 seasons with a 10–0 start.

The program has had 34 10-win seasons (plus one vacated) and has 35 bowl victories, both NCAA records. In addition, Alabama has completed 10 undefeated seasons, 9 of which were perfect. The Crimson Tide leads the SEC West Division with eleven division titles and ten appearances in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama holds a winning record against every current and former SEC school. The Associated Press (AP) ranks Alabama 4th in all-time final AP Poll appearances, with 53 through 2015.

Bear Bryant’s 1961-66 and 1977-79 teams were college football dynasties, and you know what Nick Saban is doing right now, so I don’t think the top of this list will be changing anytime soon.

Video: HD Alabama Top 50 Moments

HD Alabama Top 50 Moments “Decade of Dominance”

Honorable Mentions

LSU Tigers

LSU ranks 15th all-time with a winning percentage of.653, boasting 39 All-American selections and 16 conference championships to go along with four national titles won in this century – three coming during this century alone!

Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia was not known for winning national championships regularly until recent seasons when it won consecutive ones — that’s not enough sustained excellence to get the Bulldogs into the Top Ten.

Clemson Tigers

Clemson Tigers under Dabo Swinney have experienced incredible success over the past Ten seasons, winning two national championships and reaching six College Football Playoffs en route to finishing 11-3 this past season.

Florida Gators

Florida has won three national championships since 1996, producing three Heisman winners along the way. Since the departure of Urban Meyer the program has not been able to regain traction.

Florid State Seminoles

The Seminoles from the late 70s until now would be a top ten program, but before the 1970s, they just didn’t stack up to make the Top Ten. They look headed back in the right direction, though, and it would not take much to push them into the top ten.

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