Ranking the Most Prominent and Successful College Football Programs

Last Updated on July 15, 2023

The college football scene has exploded over the past 150 years and established itself as one of the nation’s top sports. With a fierce competitive landscape, only a few programs have excelled consistently over the decades and built their own dynasties.

To determine the all-time greatest college football programs, multiple elements are essential to consider. These include not only the total wins and winning percentage at Bovada’s college football odds, but the quality of opponents faced. While championships represent the pinnacle of success, titles may reward teams for only one or a couple of years, providing little differentiation among programs, and sometimes do not have consensus.

Success doesn’t always mean winning it all. Ranking squads based solely on nation titles does not always ensure a comprehensive gauge of a team’s dominance. To create a more well-rounded assessment, there are several additional factors to evaluate as well, such as the following:

  • Conference championships
  • Bowl games
  • Bowl records
  • All-Americans
  • Heisman Trophy winners
  • NFL Draft picks
  • Total AP Top appearances

Looking at these standards and criteria, here are the most prominent and successful programs in the NCAA’s history.

Michigan

Michigan stands as an icon in college football and currently holds the record for the most wins of any program with 989 wins. The Wolverines have had 141 individual selections to All-American teams and have had three Heisman Trophy winners, including the first defensive selection in Charles Woodson. Most recently, Michigan has earned spots in the College Football Playoff in the past two seasons.

Texas

Drawing upon 50 years of successes, two iconic coaches have crafted the Texas football legacy: Darrell K Royal and Mack Brown. During his 20-year tenure, Royal helmed the Longhorns to three national titles and a 77% win ratio (167-47-5). Brown’s 15-year tenure concluded with an even-more impressive .767 win percentage (158-48). That outstanding leadership has helped Texas football stand tall in the college football landscape.

Texas has become a premier destination for top players, too, boasting not only two Heisman Trophy winners in Earl Campbell from 1977 and Ricky Williams in 1998, but also an abundance of successful alumni inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Ohio State

Ohio State has enjoyed an abundance of success since their inception in 1890. Impressively, they boast one of the highest win percentages in college football to date, at an astonishing .733.

Boasting four national championships under legendary head coaches Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer – including the inaugural College Football Playoff championship – Ohio State University continues to excel in collegiate football. Additionally, the school holds the record for most weeks spent in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings and has seven Heisman Trophy-winning athletes, along with a wealth of NFL draftees.

Oklahoma

The University of Oklahoma has carved out a prominent place for itself in college football history. Boasting four coaches each with over 100 wins, the Sooners achieved something unprecedented in the 1950s with 47 straight victories. Even since 1945, OU tops the charts in total wins and win percentage.

Oklahoma’s rich football tradition and its famous rivalries with Texas and Nebraska have been instrumental in shaping the college football title picture. The Sooners possess a slew of impressive accolades, including the highest count of Heisman Trophy winners with seven, fifty conference championships, and twenty-three College Football Hall of Fame inductees. Their next test – proving their place as one of the nation’s top programs in the competitive SEC.

USC

Howard Jones and John McKay are widely credited as the driving forces behind USC’s extraordinary success in football. Under Jones, the team won four national championships in the 1920s and 1930s, while under McKay’s guidance, their dominance returned in the 1960s. Pete Carroll made an immense contribution to the Trojans football legacy in the 21st century, claiming a further two national titles and finishing his nine seasons with a record of 97-19, for a win percentage of .836.

As one of the nation’s premier collegiate football programs, USC’s record in bowl games stands out from the rest. With over 50 appearances, the Trojans have an impressive .625 winning percentage. And, with an impressive 25 wins at the Rose Bowl, USC has dominated on the grandest of stages.

Alabama

Nick Saban has done the unthinkable, cementing his legacy as one of college football’s greatest coaches thanks to his remarkable seven championships. He has also tallied up an impressive list of accomplishments, including a constant stream of first-round NFL Draft picks, All-Americans and College Football Playoff berths and victories. Saban’s coaching expertise and the talent he has recruited and developed speak volumes about why he stands head-and-shoulders, even rivaling the great Bear Bryant.

Conclusion

Since we are just three years into the 2020s, there’s still time for programs to stake their claim as this decade’s dynasty – though Georgia’s back-to-back titles the past two seasons position the Bulldogs as next in line. With sustained success, the Bulldogs can join the ranks of Bama, USC, Oklahoma and others as some of the most prominent and successful college programs in history.

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