With the 2017 college football season behind us, it’s time to once again find out who the most successful college football programs of the last 8 seasons are. This year’s top 10 is made up of the same 10 teams from last year, including three of this season’s college football playoff teams: Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma.
Before we begin, we answer the usual question: Why 8 seasons and not ‘x’ seasons? We thought 8 years, which are two full four-year draft cycles, represent a significant stretch which is reliable enough to highlight the best and most consistent programs in college football, not allowing one stellar year in a sea of mediocrity to affect the rankings too much, and the same is true for short-term problems or one year of bad recurring/mass exodus. Another thing: We don’t vacate wins from out list.
10. Oregon Ducks (80-25), 75.5%
Compared to last year’s rankings, the Ducks fall four spots and by 3 wins, as the last three seasons (20-18) stand as a sharp contrast to the previous 5, which include 3 Chip Kelly seasons, and an overall record of 60-7, with 3 conference titles, two wins at the Rose Bowl and making the College Football Playoff championship game in 2014, losing to Ohio State. In 2018, they’ll start a season with Mario Cristobal as their head coach, their 3rd in 3 years.
9. LSU Tigers (78-25), 75.7%
The Tigers were at the same place, with the exact same number of wins. This magic of math happened because Ed Orgeron went 9-4 with LSU in his first full-season as their head coach, which was the 2009 season record for LSU. LSU’s 8-season period under the magnifying glass has 44 wins through the first four, including 11 wins in 2010 and 13 in 2011, when LSU won the SEC but lost to Alabama in the national title game (very close to what happened to Georgia this year), followed by a slow decline under Les Miles, until he was replaced by Orgeron midway through the 2016 season.
8. Wisconsin Badgers (84-25), 77.1%
Wisconsin might be the epitome of “almost there” programs, with an average of 10.5 wins over the last 8 seasons, including 13 in 2017, which led them to a painful loss in the Big Ten championship game followed by a win in the Orange Bowl, their second consecutive major bowl game victory following the Cotton Bowl last season. Wisconsin, currently with Paul Chryst at head coach (34 wins in 3 years), have 3 conference titles in the 8-year span, all of them ending with a loss in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin were 10th last season, with 81 wins.
6-7. Florida State Seminoles (85-23), 78.7%
The 2010-2017 era for FSU can be called the Jimbo Fisher era, except for the final two games after Fisher left and signed with Texas A&M. Overall, it was the return to the good old days of Bobby Bowden (part of his time at least), with six seasons of 10 wins or more, 3 consecutive ACC titles and the last BCS national championship in 2013. In 2014, with Jameis Winston in his second and final season as quarterback, the Seminoles made the College Football Playoff following a perfect regular season, but lost to Oregon. Some say that without Winston, everything Fisher achieved wasn’t that impressive. Their record in the previous ranking was also 85-23, as 2017’s 7-6 season replaced Bowden’s final season, also 7-6.
6-7. Stanford Cardinal (85-23), 78.7%
David Shaw’s 7th season with his team was tied for most losses under his tenure, as the Cardinal lost in the Pac-12 title game and the shootout against TCU in the Alamo Bowl. Overall, the 2010-2017 period for Stanford has been terrific, starting with Jim Harbaugh’s final season (12-1, winning Orange Bowl) and then on to Shaw, which includes 3 Rose Bowl victories along with 3 Pac-12 titles. Since 2010, Stanford have had four 8-1 seasons in conference play.
4-5. Oklahoma Sooners (85-21), 80.2%
In their first season under Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma won the Big 12 (third consecutive conference title) and made the College Football Playoff, losing in a double overtime game to Georgia. This was their second CFP appearance, the previous one a loss to Clemson two years ago. Overall, the Sooners have 5 Big 12 titles in this 8-year stretch (four of them with Bob Stoops) and 7 seasons of 10 wins or more. However, Oklahoma haven’t finished with less than 2 losses since the 2004 season, which ended in a BCS title game and a crushing defeat against USC. Oklahoma were 8th with 81 wins in last year’s rankings.
4-5. Boise State Broncos (85-21), 80.2%
Boise State fall a place and lose 3 wins. Not because 2017 was bad; they finished 11-3, won the MWC for the first time since 2014 and beat Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. However, their 2009 season, an undefeated, 14-0 season, was left behind. The Broncos are in good shape under Bryan Harsin, winning 42 games in the last 4 seasons. Overall, the Broncos have 1 WAC and 3 MWC titles, plenty of Las Vegas Bowl success and a Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona as their crowning achievement in this 8-year stretch.
3. Clemson Tigers (89-21), 80.9%
Clemson climb from 7th to 3rd, with a 3-win bump in their win total in 2017 compared to 2009. Clemson has turned into one of the countries elite programs under Dabo Swinney, who took charge in 2008. Yes, in 2010 Clemson went just 6-7, their only losing season since 1998, but since 2011 things have been pretty good: Four ACC titles, three appearances in the College Football Playoff, two appearances in the Championship game and one historic title in 2016, the program’s second overall with the previous one coming in 1981.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (91-16), 85%
Ohio State won one more game in 2017 than in 2009, winning the conference title for the first time since 2009 and following it up with a win over USC in the Cotton Bowl, somewhat soothing the disappointment from being left out of the playoffs. Most of the last 8 years have been the Urban Meyer years, which include a perfect 12-0 season in 2012 (sanctions meant no postseason) and the unlikely national championship in 2014, with wins over Alabama and Oregon. Except for the 2011 transitional season under Luke Fickell, Ohio State don’t have a season with more than two losses since in the stretch we’re measuring here, which does include their 12 removed wins from 2010.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (99-12), 89.2%
Same place as in last year’s rankings, falling by one win. Alabama did win the national title in 2009 as they did in 2017, but they went undefeated in ’09, Nick Saban’s first of five championships with the team. In 2017, they lost to Auburn and didn’t even play for the SEC title, but that didn’t stop them from winning the College Football Playoff for the second time, participating in the final four for a fourth time, the only team to make all four CFP selections. Since 2010, Alabama have six seasons with just one loss and two with a couple of losses, with four conference title wins and four national championship wins.
- Auburn are the only team to win a national title (2010) in the 2010-2017 stretch and not make the top 10. They’re 70-36 during the 8-year stretch, 22nd overall.
- Michigan State and Washington have also played in the College Football Playoff but didn’t make the top 10. The Spartans are 12th overall with a 78-28 record, the Huskies (67-39) are 31st.
And just as importantly, the 10 worst teams since 2010:
Tulane, 30-68, 30.6%
Eastern Michigan, 28-69, 28.9%
Idaho, 28-69, 28.9%
UNLV, 27-73, 27%
Georgia State, 17-51, 25%
New Mexico State, 24-74, 24.5%
Charlotte, 7-29, 19.4%
UMass, 14-60, 18.9%
Coastal Carolina, 3-13, 18.8%
Kansas, 15-81, 15.6%