The Top 100 College Football Teams of the Last 100 Years: Part II
by Bill Connelly
You can find Part I here.
For fans of teams on this list, now is a good time to share a friendly reminder: As with the Oscars, ESPYs and AVN Awards, the real honor is just being nominated in the first place. There have been more than 11,000 teams participating in the last 100 years of big-time college football. We always tend to favor the teams either from our school or our era, but making the Top 100 of this list is a significant accomplishment -- even if your team only ranks in the 70s or 80s. This is the 99th percentile we are talking about here.
To get a true feel for what it means to be part of this list, consider some of the teams that didn't make it: 1929 Notre Dame, 1994 Nebraska, 1998 Tennessee, 1997 Nebraska, 1994 Penn State, 1985 Oklahoma, 1978 Alabama, 1923 Michigan, 2008 Florida, and 1935 SMU all finished between Nos. 101 and 200. With just a tweak in the formula here and there, virtually any team that has finished in the Top 100 could have ended up in the Top 10.
With that disclaimer out of the way, here are teams 80 through 61.
80. 1973 Alabama
Best Wins: def. LSU (9-3) 21-7, def. Tennessee (8-4) 42-21
Blemishes: def. by Notre Dame (11-0) 24-23
Point Differential: +364 (477-113)
How good was the Alabama offense in 1973? Good enough to still hold 14 single-game and single-season Alabama records more than 35 years later. Star running back Wilbur Jackson, who officially broke the color barrier for the Crimson Tide a few years earlier, rushed for a ridiculous 7.9 yards per carry as Alabama rode the Wishbone (still a fairly new formation) to infinite success.
They came up one point short of an AP national title, but this was one of Alabama's most dominant teams. They began the season ranked sixth in the country but quickly ascended with a series of dominant wins. They obliterated California 66-0 in Week 1, then spotted Kentucky a 14-0 lead before pulling away to win by two touchdowns. They shut out Vanderbilt (as good teams should), then pulled a magic act, scoring twice in the last 2:22 to beat Georgia, 28-14. From there, they rolled to the Sugar Bowl, winning just once by fewer than 21 points and shutting out Auburn, 35-0, to end the season. In one of the better Sugar Bowls ever, they were taken down, 24-23, by No. 3 Notre Dame, giving the Irish a surprising national title. It was a disappointing end to a dominant roll by the Tide.
79. 1939 Tennessee
Best Wins: def. Alabama (5-3-1) 21-0, def. Kentucky (6-2-1) 19-0
Blemishes: def. by USC (8-0-2) 14-0
Point Differential: +198 (212-14)
It is an understatement to say that 1939 Tennessee was a defense-oriented team. All they did was pitch a shutout for the entire calendar year of 1939 and pitch 15 consecutive shutouts, starting in mid-1938. Ignoring postseason games (since they were, in those days, exhibitions as much as anything else), the shutout streak actually reached 17 games before LSU scored a whopping six points on the Volunteers in 1940.
General Robert Neyland (who, by the way, was an actual Brigadier General ... that wasn't just a clever nickname), was clearly known for his defensive prowess, but the 1939 Volunteers could score too. Led by All-American wingback George Cafego, the Vols scored more than 20 points five times and outscored opponents 212-0 in the regular season. Inexplicably, they fell from No. 1 to No. 2 in the polls (behind Texas A&M) after beating Vanderbilt, and they stayed there despite wins over solid Kentucky and Auburn squads to close the regular season. They were defeated 14-0 by USC in the Rose Bowl. Despite giving up an unacceptable 45 points, they won a second national title in 1940 after being deprived of one by AP voters this time around.
78. 2009 Alabama
Best Wins: def. Texas (13-1) 37-21, def. Florida (13-1) 32-13
Point Differential: +285 (449-164)
There is a reason why only two SEC teams went undefeated in the decade of the 2000s -- it was really difficult. Even to have a chance at such an accomplishment, one needs a little bit of luck. For Alabama, it came via two blocked kicks from the paws of massive tackle Terrence Cody in a 12-10 win over Tennessee. Beyond that game and a scare against Auburn, Alabama was simply better than everybody they faced in 2009. They beat a defense-oriented Virginia Tech team by scoring 34 points, and they whipped Arkansas and their explosive offense by holding the Hogs to seven. They outlasted LSU, they mauled Florida in the SEC Championship game, and with assistance from an injury to Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, they handled the Longhorns by 16 to win the national title.
It is somewhat ironic that a team known primarily for its dominant defense also became the first Alabama team to produce a Heisman Trophy winner. Mark Ingram, with assistance from freshman Trent Richardson, helped produce a healthy offense that scored more than 30 points nine times. Meanwhile, a defense that produced six NFL Draft picks held opposing offenses to 15 points or fewer 10 times. Nick Saban's third Alabama team was both well-rounded and disgustingly athletic.
77. 1973 Notre Dame
Best Wins: def. USC (9-2-1) 23-14, def. Alabama (11-1) 24-23
Point Differential: +293 (382-89)
If it is possible for a Notre Dame team to fly under the radar, the 1973 Fighting Irish did just that. The second of a staggering four 1973 teams to make the Top 100 (all of whom, strangely, fall within today's portion of the list), Notre Dame began the season ranked eighth in the country and never advanced further than fifth until the final regular season poll, thanks to the utter dominance of Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Oklahoma. When they got their chance to shine, however, Dan Devine's Irish took advantage, taking out Alabama by one point in the Sugar Bowl and leap-frogging Oklahoma to finish first in the AP Poll.
While Notre Dame is often complimented for its challenging schedules, the 1973 slate was not one of its toughest. They took out three Big Ten squads -- Northwestern, Purdue, and Michigan State -- to start the season, then walloped Rice and Army by a combined 90-3 to move to 5-0. In their first big-time contest of the season, the Irish held USC's all-world running back Anthony Davis to just 55 yards rushing in a 23-14 win over the No. 6 Trojans. From there, they coasted to an undefeated record and a matchup with Alabama. The Irish never gave up more than 15 points until the Sugar Bowl. A team with little star power, the Irish got the job done all season long.
76. 1965 Michigan State
Conference: Big Ten
Best Wins: def. UCLA (8-2-1) 13-3, def. Notre Dame (7-2-1) 12-3
Blemishes: def. by UCLA (8-2-1) 14-12
Point Differential: +187 (263-76)
The mid-1960s were one giant "What if?" experience for Michigan State. In 1966, they famously tied Notre Dame and finished just 9-0-1, missing out on the national title shot they might have had if they had won. In 1965, a title was even more within their grasp. After rolling through everybody in their path by an average score of 25-6, the Spartans were ranked No. 1 in the country after the regular season. But they lost a rematch against quarterback Gary Beban and No. 5 UCLA, and the Bruins clipped them 14-12.
The end of the season does not dampen just how dominant the Spartans were. A defense led by Charles "Bubba" Smith and George Webster was impenetrable. They gave up double-digit points only three times in the regular season, and one time was in a cakewalk over Indiana. They began the season with an easy win over UCLA, throttled both Michigan and Ohio State, knocked off No. 6 Purdue on the road, and finished the season with a 12-3 pasting of No. 4 Notre Dame. The Spartans held the Irish, who had the second-ranked rushing offense in the country, to negative yardage. In their Rose Bowl loss to UCLA, the Spartans continuously threatened, but turnovers and a surprise onside kick gave the Bruins the game and kept State from the title.
75. 1933 Pittsburgh
Best Wins: def. Nebraska (8-1) 6-0, def. Duquesne (10-1) 7-0
Blemishes: def. by Minnesota (4-0-4) 7-3
Point Differential: +134 (147-13)
In the list of underrated and somewhat forgotten coaches from the first half of the twentieth century, Pittsburgh's Jock Sutherland should be near the top, along with Minnesota's Bernie Bierman and Alabama's Frank Thomas. Sutherland played under Pop Warner himself at Pitt in the 1910s, then replaced Warner as head man in 1924. In 15 years, he went 111-20-12 before resigning in 1938. Pitt claimed five national titles from Sutherland's tenure -- 1929, 1931, 1934, 1936, 1937 -- but strangely, one of his very best teams doesn't make that list because of a couple of fumbles.
Pittsburgh's defense was always a strength with Sutherland at the helm, but the 1933 defense was likely his best. They gave up just 13 points all season, pitching seven shutouts along the way. They overpowered Washington & Jefferson and West Virginia to start the 1933 campaign, then pummeled a good Navy team by a 34-6 margin. An Oct. 21 trip to Minnesota, however, doomed them. Against Bernie Bierman's team, the Panthers twice fumbled inside their own 5-yard line, and Minnesota actually managed to score once. Pittsburgh fell 7-3. The rest of the season was a cakewalk. They beat Notre Dame 14-0 and handed both Duquesne (7-0) and Nebraska (6-0) their only losses of the season.
74. 1982 Penn State
Best Wins: def. Nebraska (12-1) 27-24, def. Georgia (11-1) 27-23
Blemishes: def. by Alabama (8-4) 42-21
Point Differential: +199 (395-196)
After a ridiculous number of near-misses -- they had finished top five in the AP poll six times in Joe Paterno's tenure, three times falling short despite undefeated records -- the Nittany Lions broke through and won a national title in 1982. Todd Blackledge piloted a prolific offense (33 points per game) that overcame occasional defensive breakdowns, and the defense came through when it mattered, holding Georgia's Herschel Walker in check in the national title game.
In the past, pollsters had occasionally been able to ignore Penn State's gaudy records because the squad's strength of schedule did not pass muster. That was not the case in 1982. After outlasting Maryland (39-31) in an early shootout, Penn State hosted No. 2 Nebraska at the end of September. Thanks to a couple of favorable calls on their final drive, the Nittany Lions scored with nine seconds left to take a 28-24 victory. Two weeks later, they were pummeled at the hands of No. 4 Alabama (42-21). Then, the defense finally rounded into shape. They shut out No. 13 West Virginia in Morgantown, held Doug Flutie and Boston College to 17 points in a huge win (52-17), outlasted No. 13 Notre Dame (24-14), and held Dan Marino and No. 5 Pittsburgh without a touchdown pass in a 19-10 win. With other top teams all losing (or, in the case of No. 4 SMU, tying Arkansas), the table was set for a winner-take-all showdown versus No. 1 Georgia. Penn State running back Curt Warner outrushed Herschel Walker in the Sugar Bowl, and Paterno won his first national title.
73. 1973 Ohio State
Conference: Big Ten
Best Wins: def. USC (9-2-1) 42-21, def. Minnesota (7-4) 56-7
Blemishes: tied Michigan (10-0-1) 10-10
Point Differential: +349 (413-64)
In 1973, the Big Ten saw more soap opera storylines than almost any conference in any season in memory. And virtually all of them involved Ohio State and Michigan. At the midpoint of the "Ten-Year War" between Ohio State's Woody Hayes and Michigan's Bo Schembechler, the two teams ran roughshod through the regular season. Michigan, who began the season ranked fifth, outscored opponents by a 320-58 margin in 10 dominant wins (closest game: a 14-0 win over Navy). Ohio State, ranked second, did the same by a 361-33 margin. When the teams took the field in Ann Arbor on Nov. 24, they were ranked first (OSU) and fourth (UM) in the country, and the Ohio State players tried to tear down the M Club Banner through which Michigan always ran before the game. That set the table for the most epic of OSU-UM battles. Ohio State took a 10-0 lead in the first half on the legs of Archie Griffin, but Michigan came back, first kicking a field goal in the third quarter, then scoring on a 10-yard fourth-down run by quarterback Dennis Franklin. Michigan had two separate chances to win, but they missed two field goals in the last minute, first wide left and then wide right. It was one of the more dramatic ties in the sport's history.
With Michigan and Ohio State deadlocked atop the conference, Big Ten athletic directors met via phone to determine who would go to the Rose Bowl. With a solid performance against the higher-ranked Buckeyes, and with Ohio State having attended the year before, Michigan expected to get the nod. They did not. Whether because of Franklin's injury or the "petty jealousies" Schembechler named as the cause, Ohio State would once again attend the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, Michigan, the No. 114 team on this list, went home, as the Big Ten sent only one team to a bowl in those days. The Buckeyes whipped USC in the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten's first win in Pasadena in five tries, but Notre Dame still took the national title.
All the drama overshadowed the fact that this was likely Hayes' best overall team. Despite Hayes' conservativism, the Buckeyes averaged almost 38 points per game while allowing fewer than six.
72. 1950 Tennessee
Best Wins: def. Kentucky (11-1) 7-0, def. Texas (9-2) 20-14
Blemishes: def. by Mississippi State (4-5) 7-0
Point Differential: +264 (335-71)
General Robert Neyland makes his second appearance on the countdown with a team that finished just fourth in the final AP Poll. The 1950 Volunteers were one of the final teams in what was his third tenure as Tennessee head coach. He served as coach from 1926-34 before serving the military along the Panama Canal for a season. Then, he coached from 1936-40. He was called to military service again during World War II, then went back to the Vols for seven final years, 1946-52. His 1950 team suffered a surprising 7-0 loss to Mississippi State in the second game of the season before pummeling every team remaining in its path.
Mississippi State had gone 0-8-1 in 1949, and the loss dropped the Vols, ranked fourth in the preseason, all the way out of the AP Poll. They would never catch up to undefeated Oklahoma and Army, but their dominance over a rugged schedule got them back up near the top. They responded to the Mississippi State loss by beating No. 14 Duke 28-7, crept by a nine-win Alabama squad (14-9) and an eight-win Washington & Lee team (27-20), and knocked out Bear Bryant's best Kentucky team. The 7-0 win over the No. 4 Wildcats got Tennessee back into the top five, then they knocked off No. 3 Texas, 20-14, in the Longhorns' backyard, the Cotton Bowl. They gave up double-digit points just three times in 12 games and went 6-against teams with winning records. Kentucky defeated No. 1 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, meaning if polls were taken after bowls in those days, Tennessee quite possibly would have come away with the crown.
71. 1931 Notre Dame
Best Wins: def. Pittsburgh (8-1) 25-12, def. Penn (6-3) 49-0
Blemishes: tied Northwestern (7-1-1) 0-0, def. by USC (10-1) 16-14, def. by Army (8-2-1) 12-0
Point Differential: +175 (215-40)
One of the stranger teams to show up on this list, Notre Dame gets the No. 71 slot despite two losses and a tie. How is this possible? There are two main reasons: (1) they played a ridiculous schedule; four opponents went a combined 31-4-1 in games not against Notre Dame, and (2) In their six wins, they outscored their opponents 201-12.
The most notable aspect of Notre Dame's 1931 season is that it was played without Knute Rockne, who had died in a plane crash the previous March. He was replaced for three seasons by Hunk Anderson. The emotionally spent Irish held on as long as possible. In their first seven games, only a scoreless tie versus loaded Northwestern marred a perfect start. Despite the tragic offseason, the Irish were cruising as well as ever. However, a 16-14 loss to an outstanding USC team (we will talk about them soon enough) was followed by a limp 12-0 defeat at the hands of Army. It was a sad end to an emotional season, but led by a killer defense, this was still a very good Notre Dame team.
70. 1950 Army
Best Wins: def. Michigan (6-3-1) 27-6, def. Penn State (5-3-1) 41-7
Blemishes: def. by Navy (3-6) 14-2
Point Differential: +227 (267-40)
Our second 1950 team of the day, Army also had to deal with tragedy. The cadets absolutely rolled through the first eight games of their schedule. Red Blaik's squad outscored opponents 265-26 along the way, with help from a young assistant named Vince Lombardi. They played five opponents with winning records (Colgate, Penn State, Michigan, Penn, Stanford) and defeated them by an average score of 26-5.
The final AP Poll of the season was released on November 27, before the annual Army-Navy game. Army had risen to No. 1 in mid-October, but they were passed, first by SMU, then Ohio State, and finally Oklahoma. They finished No. 2. As frustrating as this may have been, their emotions were tried much more heavily by late-November news that 1949 team captain Johnny Trent had been killed in action in Korea. This came after 1944 captain Tom Lombardo had died in action in September. The Cadets, wracked with emotion, understandably laid an egg in the Army-Navy game, losing 14-2, their first loss to the Midshipmen since 1943.
69. 1926 Michigan
Conference: Big Ten
Best Wins: def. Ohio State (7-1) 17-16, def. Illinois (6-2) 13-0
Blemishes: def. by Navy (9-0-1) 10-0
Point Differential: +153 (191-38)
Fielding Yost is another coach who has been somewhat forgotten over time, at least compared to other coaches of the time like Pop Warner and Amos Alonzo Stagg. (Note to self: if you want to be remembered for decades, have either a football league or an award named after you.) In 25 seasons at Michigan, Yost went 165-29-10. He began his stay at Michigan by going 55-1-1 from 1901-05, and he ended it by going 33-3-2 in his final five seasons (1921-23, 25-26). His 1926 club, led by one of college football's most prolific early passing combinations (Bennie Friedman to Bennie Oosterban), wasn't quite as good as his 1925, but they were just as successful in the win column.
Heading into a late-October meeting with Navy in Baltimore, Michigan had one of the more staggering streaks of complete football college football had ever seen. Since a 39-14 loss to Red Grange and Illinois in 1924, Michigan had gone 15-2, with a videogame-esque scoring margin of 436-24. That is an average score of 26-1. (That is also a testament to Grange in 1924 -- he alone scored more points against the Wolverines than their next 17 opponents combined.) When Michigan lost to the Midshipmen, 10-0, it didn't exactly damage those scoring margins much. The careers of Yost, Friedman, and Oosterban all ended with tight, exciting wins over Ohio State (17-16, the Buckeyes' only loss) and Minnesota (7-6).
68. 1973 Oklahoma
Conference: Big 8
Best Wins: def. Nebraska (9-2-1) 27-0, def. Texas (8-3) 52-13
Blemishes: tied USC (9-2-1) 7-7
Point Differential: +267 (400-133)
The best team from a loaded 1973 season not only did not win the national title, but they were ineligible for the postseason thanks to NCAA sanctions. Barry Switzer came to and departed from Norman with Oklahoma on probation, but that didn't stop him from winning ... a lot. And it started immediately. Switzer went 32-1-1 in his first three seasons at the helm, and in 1973, the Sooners took on a tough slate of teams (six of eleven opponents were ranked, which gives them the overall edge among the five 1973 teams finishing in the Top 114 of this list) and wiped the floor with almost all of them.
This team had star power. Switzer's wishbone attack was led by two sophomores -- quarterback Steve Davis and running back Joe Washington -- while the Selmon brothers (Lee Roy, Dewey, and Lucious) of Eufala, Oklahoma, anchored a punishing defense. Despite the tough slate, Oklahoma outscored opponents by an average score of 36-12. They tied No. 1 USC in California early in the season, obliterated No. 13 Texas (52-13) in Dallas, easily handled tests from No. 16 Colorado (34-7), No. 10 Missouri (31-3), No. 18 Kansas (48-20) and No. 10 Nebraska (27-0). Their absence in the postseason allowed No. 3 Notre Dame to jump ahead of them in the final AP Poll, but the Sooners get the nod from Est. S&P+.
67. 1937 Pittsburgh
Best Wins: def. Nebraska (6-1-2) 13-7, def. West Virginia (8-1-1) 20-0
Blemishes: tied Fordham (7-0-1) 0-0
Point Differential: +169 (203-34)
Now for one of Jock Sutherland's title teams. Playing a schedule mixed with regional opponents (Ohio Wesleyan, West Virginia, Duquesne, Fordham, Carnegie Tech, Penn State) and big-time programs (Notre Dame, Nebraska, Duke), Pitt ran roughshod over everyone in their path, with a schedule strength just good enough to get them the nod over 9-0-1 California for the national title (cue the "East coast bias!" chant). The Panthers and their "dream backfield" of Marshall Goldberg (third in the Heisman voting in 1937), John Chickerneo, Dick Cassiano, and Harold Stebbins were rugged on offense and untouchable on defense, and only a scoreless tie with Fordham (who finished third in the final AP vote that season) marred a perfect slate.
Almost as interesting as Pittsburgh's performance was what was happening to the university behind the scenes. Pittsburgh chancellor John Gabbert Bowman was bound and determined to improve academic perceptions of his university at all costs. He initiated the construction of Pitt's famous Cathedral of Learning and worked to deemphasize the role athletics played at the school. He dissolved the school's Alumni Athletic Council and placed the athletic department under faculty control. He instituted the strictest recruiting standards in the country. This had a rather predictable effect -- Sutherland resigned after the 1938 season (he ended up coaching two pro teams, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Steelers), the university's academic reputation grew, and the football program fell apart, winning no more than six games (rarely more than four) from 1940 to 1955.
66. 1955 Georgia Tech
Best Wins: def. Duke (7-2-1) 27-0, def. Pittsburgh (7-4) 7-0
Blemishes: def. by Auburn (8-2-1) 14-12, tied Tennessee (6-3-1) 7-7
Point Differential: +143 (189-46)
Another interesting choice, 1955's Rambling Wreck was by all means a very good football team, but they did not seriously threaten for the national title. They are the first of three Bobby Dodd teams on this list. Beginning in the mid-1950s, the SEC began one of its most impressive stretches of play; an SEC team would finish atop the year's Est. S&P+ rankings every year from 1955 to 1962. Most impressive is the variety. Georgia Tech, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, and Alabama all took turns atop the list, with Tennessee coming close.
An odd lack of connectivity isolated the SEC in 1955. Only LSU, Alabama, and Georgia Tech played non-conference teams that finished the season ranked in the AP Poll -- a poor LSU team played No. 3 Maryland (L, 13-0) and No. 17 Texas A&M (L, 28-0), the worst Alabama team of a generation played No. 6 TCU (L, 21-0) and Georgia Tech played No. 11 Pittsburgh in the Sugar Bowl (W, 7-0). What this meant was nobody could get a very good read on the SEC, and despite a solid record with a respectable loss to No. 8 Auburn, Tech ended up ranking just No. 7 in the final AP Poll. But they are 1955's best team according to the Est. S&P+ rankings.
65. 1986 Miami
Best Wins: def. Oklahoma (11-1) 28-16, def. Florida State (7-4-1) 41-23
Blemishes: def. by Penn State (12-0) 14-10
Point Differential: +280 (430-150)
One of the better, "Oh, what could have been" teams on the list, the 1986 Hurricanes, made up primarily of players they signed while riding the 1983 national championship wave (making ESPN's first "What If ..." an interesting one). Still angry from the beatdown they received in the Sugar Bowl the year before (the 35-7 loss to Tennessee prevented them from staking a claim for the national title), Miami dispatched of a tough early schedule. They dispatched of South Carolina and Florida on the road, then swarmed an outstanding Oklahoma team, 28-16, in a late-September "No. 1 versus No. 2" showdown. The rest of the schedule offered few obstacles, and Miami looked destined to take down Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl and win their second national title in four seasons.
Of course, it didn't play out that way. A Shane Conlan interception set up D.J. Dozier's go-ahead touchdown, and the immortal Pete Giftopolous recorded the Nittany Lions' fifth interception of the night to ice the epic 14-10 upset. The best Miami team to date (and one of the cockiest teams in history) had faltered at the worst possible time. But that, of course, does not completely dampen how good this team was the rest of the season.
64. 1921 Chicago
Conference: Big Ten
Best Wins: def. Colorado (4-1-1) 35-0, def. Wisconsin (5-1-1) 3-0
Blemishes: def. by Ohio State (5-2) 7-0
Point Differential: +98 (111-13)
The Chicago Maroons make their first and only appearance on the countdown with this squad, one of Amos Alonzo Stagg's many great teams. While Stagg's best overall decade had to be the 1900s (Chicago went 56-7-5 from 1902-09, though unfortunately for him, this countdown begins in 1910), his career saw a minor resurgence in the early 1920s. His teams lost just four games from 1921-24, but 1921 was by far his best overall team since 1910; the offense finished first in Est. S&P+, the defense second. The Maroons handed Colorado and Wisconsin their only losses of the season, and they took out solid Illinois and Princeton squads. Their only loss was to an Ohio State squad that was quite good themselves.
At this point, Stagg is known as much for his longevity as for his success. He won 224 games at Chicago, winning mythical national titles in 1905 and 1913 and taking home seven titles in the best conference in the country. He was forced to retire from Chicago following the 1932 season (Chicago had only one winning season in his last eight years), but he couldn't stop coaching. He coached at Pacific for another 13 seasons, winning another 60 games and five conference titles. Even then he couldn't stop coaching. He assisted his son at Susquehanna College for another six seasons and continued to volunteer for years after that. He finally passed away in 1965 at the age of 102, and his contributions and innovations are endless.
63. 1975 Alabama
Best Wins: def. Penn State (9-3) 13-6, def. Tennessee (7-5) 30-7
Blemishes: def. by Missouri (6-5) 20-7
Point Differential: +302 (374-72)
Our sixth Alabama team enters the countdown at No. 63. After back-to-back six-win seasons in 1969 and 1970, Bear Bryant's career at Alabama got its second wind in a major way, and it correlated rather directly with two events: (1) the Alabama football team finally breaking the color barrier, and (2) Bryant adopting the Wishbone. The spread of its day, the Wishbone allowed teams to incorporate both speed and deception. The results were devastating. Alabama lost just six games from 1971-75 and, after a "down" season in 1976 (an unacceptable 9-3), lost just two games from 1977-79. They were incredibly dominant.
Unfortunately for the 1975 squad, they could not overcome a shocking loss in the season opener -- the Wishbone could not get going in an upset loss to Missouri in Birmingham. The loss jarred the Tide awake, and they won their next six games by a combined score of 255-20. They slowed up a bit in November, beating Mississippi State and LSU by just 11 and 13, respectively. But they finished strong, shutting out Auburn (28-0) in the Iron Bowl. A series of late-season upsets caused some crazy developments in the AP Poll. No. 1 Oklahoma was shocked by Kansas on Nov. 8 and fell to No. 7, but when they blew out No. 2 Nebraska over Thanksgiving weekend, they leaped Alabama in the polls again. This was huge, as No. 2 Texas A&M was upset by Arkansas, then No. 1 Ohio State was upset by UCLA in the Rose Bowl, giving the Sooners the national title despite a strong Alabama performance in the Sugar Bowl (they beat No. 7 Penn State, 13-6).
62. 1987 Florida State
Best Wins: def. Auburn (9-1-2) 34-6, def. Nebraska (10-2) 31-28
Blemishes: def. by Miami (12-0) 26-25
Point Differential: +318 (481-163)
Just one point separated Bobby Bowden from his first national title in 1987. No. 4 Florida State took a 19-3 second-half lead over No. 3 Miami in early-October (a missed PAT prevented it from being 20-3). Two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions later, it was improbably tied at 19-19. With just a little more than two minutes remaining, Miami's Michael Irvin scored on a 73-yard bomb to give Miami a 26-19 lead (if the 'Noles hadn't missed the PAT, the score would have likely been 24-20), but Danny McManus found Ronald Lewis for what could have been the tying touchdown. Instead, Florida State went for two and failed, giving Miami a 26-25 lead. The missed extra point eventually doomed the Seminoles, just like missed field goals would in the early 1990s.
Miami coasted to a national title after that, leaving Florida State to play for second place. They did just that, handing Auburn their only loss of the season with a 34-6 blowout, then taking out No. 5 Nebraska by a 31-28 margin in the Fiesta Bowl. The "What If ..." potential of the 26-25 loss overshadowed what the Seminoles accomplished in 1987, but this team was outstanding regardless.
61. 1934 Alabama
Best Wins: def. Tennessee (8-2) 13-6, def. Stanford (9-1-1) 29-13
Point Differential: +271 (316-45)
Now it is time for the seventh Alabama team on the list. In Frank Thomas' fourth team as Tide coach, Alabama barely had to break a sweat in rolling to an undefeated season. The SEC was not yet the SEC at this point, but the Tide still had to take on plenty of salty teams. They knocked off General Neyland's Tennessee Volunteers by a 13-6 margin (as we have learned, scoring double digits on Tennessee was rare), then they easily handled good Georgia and Vanderbilt squads to finish the season undefeated and win a share of the national title with Minnesota. They then proved their worth in an outstanding 29-13 Rose Bowl win over 9-0-1 Stanford.
As with many of Thomas' Alabama teams, the Tide were extraordinarily well-rounded. Their defense was untouchable, giving up double-digit points just twice and allowing just five points per game versus winning teams. Meanwhile, the offense featured a passing combination that was not quite Friedman-to-Oosterban, but it was close. Dixie Howell won All-American honors at quarterback, while Don Hutson, one of the game's first modern route-runners, did the same at end -- needless to say, scoring over 30 points per game in the mid-1930s was not exactly common.
77 comments, Last at 13 Jul 2010, 1:10am
#1 by cfn_ms // Jul 06, 2010 - 7:13pm
Given that this team was rated substantially higher by many other sources (ex: Billingsley had them #1 all-time, though that's well overstated IMO), can you talk a bit about why their resume didn't stack up that well in your model?
#26 by Pat (filler) (not verified) // Jul 07, 2010 - 11:29am
Billingsley's insane. I feel I have to state that each time he's mentioned - he's the one statistical ranking for the BCS that's not based on any solid math at all (although I'm not sure about Anderson-Hester, but from what I've read I think they are). Instead, his rankings are really just reflective of the kind of football he 'likes.'
The two things that really stand out are
1) The boost for holding opponents under 10 points, while simultaneously not including margin of victory at all. Apparently, winning 56-11 is somehow not as good as winning 10-9. No, I am not joking or exaggerating.
2) Boosting teams based on where their opponent was ranked *when they played them*, because of some silly reasoning about "big games are difficult" - so Penn State in 2002 beating Nebraska (ranked #8 at the time, dropping off the rankings two weeks later and finishing 7-7) is somehow impressive.
But since Billingsley's is a BCS ranking, it excludes margin-of-victory, so you'd expected to be wildly different.
#52 by cfn_ms // Jul 08, 2010 - 1:41am
I think Billingsley does a good job at what he's trying to do, but that his goal is NOT to find the best team, but rather to attempt to replicate the type of thought process that many human voters follow.
As he describes his system:
"But my system is not about mathematical algorithms. It’s about rules created to compliment a common sense human response to a football game."
I personally think the whole thing is pretty questionable, but on the other hand, I appreciate the fact that (more than any of the other five) he's willing to write about what he does and why, and that he's published enough about his process ( http://www.cfrc.com/Ratings_2009/Season_17.htm gives full calculation detail for 2009) that a reasonably motivated person could replicate his work, probably without an enormous amount of trouble. Considering that many of the other models are either black boxes are effective black boxes (enough of the algorithm and results are posted that you could theoretically replicate or at least approximate them, but the explanations are so convoluted, disorganized or otherwise unintelligible that no one would actually bother to try), there's definite value to that aspect of his system.
Incidentally, I never noticed anything about a boost for holding opponents under 10 points, though I did see his bit about rating HFA based on stadium size and 5-year attendence numbers, which strikes me as enormously arbitrary.
#53 by Travis // Jul 08, 2010 - 8:13am
Just based on looking Billingsley's 2009 ratings before/after Week 1 victories over I-AA teams:
Allowing 0 points: +0.25
Allowing 3 points: +0.2
Allowing 6/7 points: +0.175
Allowing more than 7 points: +0.15
In 2007 and 2008, there were bigger bonuses:
Allowing 0 points: +0.65
Allowing 3 points: +0.4
Allowing 6/7 points: +0.3
Allowing more than 7 points: +0.15
#56 by Eddo // Jul 08, 2010 - 10:31am
[H]is goal is NOT to find the best team, but rather to attempt to replicate the type of thought process that many human voters follow.
Wow, that's an... odd... choice. Why would the BCS include his ratings then? Two-thirds is already based on human voting! The computer rankings are there to provide a different perspective!
#59 by cfn_ms // Jul 08, 2010 - 11:00am
The BCS does a LOT of stupid stuff, see:
for just a few examples
#60 by Eddo // Jul 08, 2010 - 11:17am
Sigh... I know, cfn. Thanks for the links, too, I plan on reading through them when I get some free time.
#61 by Tom Gower // Jul 08, 2010 - 12:23pm
Billingsley had the built-in advantage of doing college football rankings for a very long time, so it would have looked "weird" if you didn't use about the oldest continuous ranking, even if his ideas about how to rank teams range are, shall we say, idiosyncratic. For more fun, check out his old explanation page, where he goes into how his rules are good because they come from a fan's perspective and are based on the U.S. Constitution. I wish I was making that up.
#63 by cfn_ms // Jul 08, 2010 - 1:05pm
That's awesome. Such gems as:
The Billingsley Report, where power meets logic!
I wrote the program myself and it's not written using fancy math equations
Believe it or not, the system is designed after our own United States Constitution. But don't hold that against it!
Some would say starting all teams equal, or all at 0, is the only FAIR thing to do. I say it's the most UNFAIR thing you can do, and besides it's just plain illogical.
Another change you will notice from the previous formula is that a teams RATING IS NOT CARRIED OVER only the rank. A new rating is assigned. The new rating was created from the "average rating of the last 50 years at middle ground" ( #58 ), and then one point up for each rank above and one point down for each rank below. In other words #58 gets 207 points, #57 gets 208, and #59 gets 206. Using this method #1 gets 265 points and #117 gets 148 points. A projected point spread can still be achieved by taking the ratings of both teams, subtracting, and dividing by 3.
#2 by kleph // Jul 06, 2010 - 7:52pm
perhaps you might want to call the local federal prosecutor and see if there any available slots in the DOJ's witness protection program.
#3 by UAyeroc25 (not verified) // Jul 06, 2010 - 8:18pm
-Only four teams have won 14 games. Ever.
-They beat the #2, #3, #10, #17, and #20 ranked teams. That doesn't include wins over Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Arkansas.
-They played 10 teams that went to bowl games. Including the winners of the Sugar and Cotton bowls. And obviously beat them all.
-They had SIX first team All-Americans. The most ever from one team.
-They had a Heisman Trophy winning running back. (Mark Ingram)
-They beat the last 4 BCS national champions this year.
There's a lot more.
#4 by chemical burn // Jul 06, 2010 - 8:36pm
Genuinely curious - how many teams have had the opportunity to win 14 games? As I mentioned in the last article's thread, I don't really follow collge - it seems like most teams only get the chance to play 12 or 13 games, tops. Anyway, just curious...
#5 by CuseFanInSoCal // Jul 06, 2010 - 8:50pm
It's not insanely difficult now, with a normal 12 game season + conference championship + bowl (and after this year the number of conferences with a championship goes up by 1 with the Big Ten and Pac 12 adding games and the Texas 10 losing theirs). Given bowl tie-ins and large number of bowls these days, any champion of a conference with a title game will play 14 games, and most of the title game losers, too.
But back when you had 10 game regular seasons most of the time (or later 11), and there were far fewer bowls, it was a bit tricky. There used to be more ways to get an exception for an extra game than just playing at Hawaii, though.
#6 by Bill Connelly // Jul 06, 2010 - 8:59pm
Including teams that played super-wacky schedules in the 1910s (in 1914, Carlisle played 16 games!!), 92 teams have played 14 games or more. If we're just looking at the "conference title game" era, it's 85. Alabama being one of four teams to have accomplished that is impressive ... but not exactly any more impressive than making the Top 100 of this list.
#50 by billsfan // Jul 07, 2010 - 11:44pm
I'm glad you mentioned that seemingly-random team, because I can't wait to see where(if) Jim Thorpe and his coach Pop Warner land on this list.
Also want to see if the Munger/Bednarik Quakers, with three college hall-of-famers, make the cut. Although based on the low ranking of the '47 "national champion," I'm not optimistic.
As for 14-0, there's always 1895 Penn, who opened their season with 10 shutouts in 30 days. Then in '04, they allowed 4 points all season. But those are outside of the specified time period.
(I also like the Eagles)
#7 by cfn_ms // Jul 06, 2010 - 9:11pm
I would guess that the rankings are based on averages rather than accumulation of points, wins etc. In that case, being 14 of 14 wouldn't give more credit than 12 of 12, 10 of 10, etc. I could be wrong though, and it's conceivable that a small manual adjustment was made to reward teams who played more games.
#8 by Bill Connelly // Jul 06, 2010 - 9:18pm
There was no adjustment for playing more games.
#66 by sjt (not verified) // Jul 08, 2010 - 4:09pm
They barely beat Auburn, and were a blocked field goal from losing to a wildly mediocre Tennessee team. They somehow allowed Texas to make a game of it after losing the engine of their offense due to a freak injury. They played only one tough game on the road (Auburn), the rest of their games were home or neutral fields. Toby Gerhart should have won the Heisman. One of their 6 All Americans was a kicker. WTF does it matter that they beat the last 4 BCS winners? Most of the players from those teams are now long gone, either in the NFL or selling insurance.
Though I was happy to see them beat Florida in the SECCG.
#9 by Bill Connelly // Jul 06, 2010 - 9:20pm
1. You guys are nuts. I mean that in a partially good way, but don't take that to mean you are only partially nuts. You are full-blown insane.
2. Of all 11K teams I dealt with for this list, Alabama now has 7 of the 40 teams unveiled. They will have more. Trust me, you are well-represented in the upper portion of this list as well.
3. The numbers don't care about All-Americans or Heisman winners.
4. The numbers don't care that Alabama beat "the last 4 BCS national champions." Come to think of it, neither do I. Two years ago, Alabama lost to UL-Monroe. Things change, and just because you beat the 2007 champion, with an almost entirely different roster, or the 2005 champion, with a 100% different roster, means nothing at all to this list. It's a neat tidbit, but it means nothing to this list.
5. 2009 Alabama was an outstanding football team. That's why they made the Top 100. You should be very happy about this. 2008 Florida did not make the Top 100, nor did 2007 LSU.
6. Again, 2009 Alabama was outstanding. They were Top 5 in both offense and defense and had a solid point differential considering their schedule. So did most of the remaining teams on this list.
7. Once again, 2009 Alabama was outstanding. Congrats on being #1 on Billingsley's list. That's quite an accomplishment. But he used a completely different method, therefore he got completely different results. I used points and scoring margins, he did not. And we all have extremely different ways of adjusting for strength of schedule. Even Fremeau and I have different methods, and we write for the same site! The top 200-300 teams are packed closely enough together that with an added factor here, or different weight there, the results are completely different. After endless tweaking, this was the the result that made the most sense to me.
8. To quote the intro of this very column..."We always tend to favor the teams either from our school or our era, but making the Top 100 of this list is a significant accomplishment -- even if your team only ranks in the 70s or 80s. This is the 99th percentile we are talking about here .... With just a tweak in the formula here and there, virtually any team that has finished in the Top 100 could have ended up in the Top 10."
Congrats for having so many teams in the 99th percentile. You've done well for yourself, and the rest of the countdown is going to be friendly to you as well. If I applied more weight to losses or tweaked the strength of schedule adjustments, 2009 'Bama could have been right up at the top. Instead, you'll have to settle for only having what will be (SPOILER ALERT) more than ten of the Top 100 teams of the last century, again among the over 11,000 in the pool. I don't know how I'll sleep tonight thinking about this injustice.
9. Again, insane. Partially in a good way, but completely insane. Don't ever change.
#10 by cfn_ms // Jul 06, 2010 - 9:35pm
as a clarification, I'm not a Bama fan and don't especially care about them one way or the other. just thought it was an interesting thing to discuss. As stated earlier, I'd be quite curious to see a comparison vs some of the other teams from the decade (other than 2001 Miami and 2004 USC, who are I'd guess both top 5) who jumped over them.
#11 by Bill Connelly // Jul 06, 2010 - 9:57pm
Oh I definitely wasn't referring to you. :-) Once the entire list is unveiled, we'll break them out by decade and see what we can figure out...
#12 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 06, 2010 - 10:46pm
CFN showed us last year that he writes the Pac 10 material for College Football News. His posts here very calmly asked for clarifications about the methodology. You're playing the "insanity" card with him and two other posts that could be considered "wtf" to this point?
Agree with you that counting victories over past National champions shouldn't mean much. But, if you're talking about where the 2009 Alabama team ranks, the fact that nine other Alabama teams made your rankings is just as irrelevant. If one thought process is "insane," so is the other one. Your "numbers don't care" about Heisman winners and All-Americans. 2009 Bama "doesn't care" about how many other 'Bama teams were ranked.
Can you guys just change the headline to MOST DOMINANT instead of TOP TEAMS so the rankings make some freaking sense? You said yourself last week that the worst team from this year (New Mexico State) would wipe the table with the best teams from many decades ago. If you honestly believe that, then this rating methodology is nonsensical unless you're talking about dominance within their own context rather than "top 100 teams of the last 100 years." If it was titled "Most Dominant," then fans of 2009 Alabama would have to admit that their team was great, but not technically dominant in terms of victory margins when compared to other champions.
"The top 200-300 teams are packed closely enough together that with an added factor here, or different weight there, the results are completely different."
"With just a tweak in the formula here and there, virtually any team that has finished in the Top 100 could have ended up in the Top 10."
That makes the whole thing sound fairly useless. Just trivia in a blender. With a methodology that isn't yet proven to be better than any other blender. Have some fun with it, but don't call people insane. If there's a timeline in quality over the decades (which I think most of us believe is true), then 2009 Alabama would obviously grade out well in a "best team ever" evaluation, particularly one that accounts for the choices coaches make about when they call off the dogs in a blowout. They went 14-0 against a killer schedule, at what's likely to be considered a peak era in college football athleticism, performance, and depth.
Two non-journalists (an assumption) pointing this out, and one journalist asking about it aren't "insane." They can't ask about 2009 because so many other Alabama teams have been or are about to be listed?
Edit...took me a while to post that because I left the computer for several minutes. Glad to see you don't think cfn is insane. Will you consider apologizing to the other guys?
#14 by Thomas_beardown // Jul 06, 2010 - 11:03pm
That makes the whole thing sound fairly useless
You don't say
#15 by Eddo // Jul 06, 2010 - 11:13pm
"Can you guys just change the headline to MOST DOMINANT instead of TOP TEAMS so the rankings make some freaking sense?"
Jeff, you honestly seem like a smart guy - why are you so hung up on the title? I don't mean to come off as a jerk, but you were harping on the same point in the comments for part one.
And changing the title isn't going to stop fans of particular schools from blindly complaining that their personal choice isn't ranked highly enough.
#18 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 06, 2010 - 11:25pm
Disagree eddo...I think it would go a long way toward discouraging that. If the headline tells you what's being ranked, that sets the tone immediately. If the headline doesn't even really reflect the author's belief (as he said last week that the worst Division I teams right now would "wipe the floor" with the champions of long past decades), then EVERY week new people will pipe in with the same theme, and it becomes a jumbled mess.
It's hard to make the case that 2009 Alabama was one of the 50 most dominant teams in college history. It's extremely easy to make the case that they're one of the 50 "top" teams in college history given the evolution of the game, their strength of schedule, and the fact that they ran the table in the deepest conference of the modern era (debatable point, but it has the edge in the debate in my view), and won the national championship. In terms of "arrow of time" stuff, they're not going to rank behind anyone from the 1950's or earlier in terms of "top" teams. They will in terms of "most dominant."
Headlines shouldn't create confusion. This one does.
Edit to include: Don't think any complaint yet has been blind. It's extremely difficult to make the case that Vince Young's Horns from last week and 2009 Alabama rank this low in "top" teams of the last 100 years unless you're specifically ranking on dominance rather than what "top" usually means to people.
#27 by Eddo // Jul 07, 2010 - 11:42am
Jeff, when it comes down to it, you're arguing semantics now. It would be as if I was upset that he referred to the Maroons as "Chicago" instead of "The University of Chicago", because that's the more accurate name.
Yes, the headline's a bit misleading. Headlines across the world are misleading, we just have to deal with it. That's why there's an actual article, and a rough explanation of his methods.
And, like Bill has said, there'd be no point making a list of what you call "top" teams, as it would only include teams from the last 5-10 years. When the average fan sees a "top teams of all time", they expect every era to be represented, so I don't see the problem with calling it that here.
#28 by Still Alive (not verified) // Jul 07, 2010 - 11:47am
You realize that even on top notch news sites the headlines are not written by the writers, but by specialized people whose job is to maximize the pageviews.
If the Washington Post and New York Times don't care about having accurate titles to their articles, why on earth would a mom & pop operation like this?
Hell controversy and pissed off people are even a good thing because they drive page views. You might think writing stupid inflammatory things hurts traffic over the long run, but as long as you keep it to the right level it actually helps it.
#19 by Muldrake (not verified) // Jul 06, 2010 - 11:30pm
Yeah, I second the insane thing. And I don't know anybody outside the state of Alabama that would really argue that college football last year demonstrated the peak of athleticism, performance, and depth. For most of us last year was kind of dreary to watch, as demonstrated by the relative lack of skill position players at the top of the draft charts. Bama was a very good team last year, but I tend to agree that the vast history of college football has produced more dominant teams as well as more talented ones. And that Bama fans are crazy.
#20 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 07, 2010 - 12:21am
Well, I'm outside of Alabama, and I'm arguing it. That would be a point about college football in general rather than just Alabama. The sport evolves towards improved skill sets (predator and prey acting and re-acting). We can debate the speed that it's happening (maybe 1995 is relatively close to 2010, but both are way ahead of 1950). Game films, times in the 40, bench press totals and reps, all that stuff suggests it's happening.
I think it's more clear with Alabama if you're looking at the full roster rather than just focusing on skill position players. 32-12 on a weekly basis may be dreary to watch (average score). Depends on how you rate the SEC as a whole, and the challenge of stringing together consecutive games in a killer conference.
There's a case to be made (heard one of the analysts on ESPN doing this the other day), that the SEC is on a different plane right now than everyone else. The composite of National Championship results and overall bowl results is consistent with that notion. You pop a 32-12 average score over 14-0 in a killer conference that included non-conference wins over Virginia Tech and Texas...at the most recent data point in the flow of time...well, it's not insane to make a case that 2009 deserves a higher ranking than this if the topic is "top" teams of the last 100 years.
Alabama fans may be insane about other things (lol), but issues with where 2009 ranks seem reasonable.
#29 by Still Alive (not verified) // Jul 07, 2010 - 11:50am
I think people who don't like a 32-12 game are not actually football fans and are just there for either tribal reasons or for close competition/excitement.
32-12 is the essence of a football score. I get really sick of seeing every game where there are not 40+ pts scored by one and possibly both teams called boring by supposed football fans.
#54 by Mr Shush // Jul 08, 2010 - 9:00am
Is it really that unreasonable to want close competition and excitement? There are very few sports in which I enjoy watching a blowout, unless it's my team doing the blowing. Watching Federer dismantle opponents early in his career when he was still magical as opposed to just really, really amazingly good used to do it. So did watching Warne or Murali bamboozle the hell out of batsmen on a turning pitch. For me, that's about it. Sport is more fun when you spend most of the match not knowing who's going to win.
#57 by Eddo // Jul 08, 2010 - 10:32am
I don't think he's complaining that 32-12 isn't enough offense; he's complaining that 32-12 isn't a particularly close game.
#58 by Thomas_beardown // Jul 08, 2010 - 10:41am
That's what I thought too.
I would say 24-17 is the essence of a football score.
#21 by cfn_ms // Jul 07, 2010 - 2:10am
I'm guessing his response was directed at kleph's post, though it's also possible he's gotten PM feedback outside of the thread.
Incidentally, I'm an independent writer at CFN. I'm not actually the guy who does their Pac-10 stuff, just someone who separately writes mainly about the Pac-10 (also do Compu-Picks, weekly picks for a few national games, random other stuff, etc.). I wouldn't consider myself a journalist (definitely not my day job), but rather something a bit more serious than a mere hobbyist (though it's a LOT of fun most of the time).
I do tend to agree with the point that if so many of the teams are in such a tight cluster, and that tweaking the variables a bit could substantially change the list, it throws serious doubt as to the overall validity of the project, especially since (if I understand right) the models are still works in progress to some degree (I recall hearing that they haven't reached the point where they can make reliable game picks, though maybe I'm remembering wrong).
It's probably "better" to do a piece that's more tightly focused on more recent history (whether the last 5, last 10, last 25 years or so), especially since there are substantial issues when comparing eras (most obviously the number of teams, especially the number of bad ones, since presumably every year is normalized to an average of 0 or some other constant). But something like this can still be fun to look at.
I think that more detail and explanations would have to be produced to really take the specific list seriously (especially after the "tweaking variables would give much different results" comment), but that's OK. It's a fun list, a good time-waster, and at the same time an ambitious (probably overly ambitious) attempt to actually try to seriously compare teams from eras that were extremely different in terms of playing style, typical game scores, disparity between best and worst teams, size of 1-A (or the equivalent in its time), etc.
#13 by UAyeroc25 (not verified) // Jul 06, 2010 - 10:50pm
List of 100 best teams does not incorporate AA's, Heisman winners, Butkis winners, etc? Too much of an individual thing?
#16 by Eddo // Jul 06, 2010 - 11:14pm
No. Too subjective. This entire ranking is empirical, in that Bill came up with a formula to rank teams, then just plugged in numbers, such as winning percentage, margin of victory, and strength of schedule.
#17 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 06, 2010 - 11:15pm
"They went 14-0 against a killer schedule, at what's likely to be considered a peak era in college football athleticism, performance, and depth."
I should say for the time being, lol. Probably won't be so much in 2020 or 2030.
UAyer, those things are "incorporated" in the sense that the players involved compiled the numbers that are being measured. There aren't bonus points for winning individual honors based on the descriptions BC has given...
#22 by Q (not verified) // Jul 07, 2010 - 3:14am
I can't wait to see where 94 Penn St and 01 Miami rank. Those might be the 2 best college teams I have ever seen. It was a borderline crime when the voters gave the Title to Nebraska in 94 over Penn St
#24 by Anonymousff (not verified) // Jul 07, 2010 - 8:40am
1994 Penn State didnt even make this list, look at the top of the article.
#44 by Squirrel (not verified) // Jul 07, 2010 - 4:54pm
I thought the same thing in 1994, but then again, I am a fan of Penn State, so I'm expected to think that. Any chance of seeing of all the teams scored which in 1994 had the better score?
Come to think of it, I think it would be pretty interesting to see all the times when the national champion was inferior to another team of the same year according to this list.
#23 by Bill Connelly // Jul 07, 2010 - 6:43am
1. Wasn't referring to cfn_ms in my first "response" ... between other websites and twitter, the responses from 'Bama fans have been high-volume so far, so I was aiming for a single, comprehensive response to them. (I threw the Billingsley thing in there just so I could address it at the same time.)
2. "Can you guys just change the headline to MOST DOMINANT instead of TOP TEAMS so the rankings make some freaking sense?" It's just a title. We've explained what it means. "Top" can mean a million different things, including how we've intended it.
3. When trying to equally gauge every team from the last 100 years, there's just no way you can start taking things like poll voting, AA's, Heisman/award winners, etc. It would be unfair to the teams that came around before any of those things existed. Ironically, I say that, and yet only five or so teams from 1910-1930 make the list. But that has nothing to do with adjustments for individual achievement -- it's just that it's impossible to gauge who was great instead of very good when half the country's teams were playing ridiculously over-manned teams half the time.
4. "They went 14-0 against a killer schedule, at what's likely to be considered a peak era in college football athleticism, performance, and depth." The most recent college football season always features what is likely to be considered a "peak era in college football athleticism, performance, and depth." If I took that into account somehow, the entire list would be made of teams from the last ten years. That ruins the entire point.
5. "That makes the whole thing sound fairly useless. Just trivia in a blender." Well ... yes. That's why I'm writing these almost as a "history lesson" series of posts. I can defend my methodology, and I'm really happy with the results, but in the end, we're still comparing teams with leather helmets, whose still-living participants are well into their 90s or older, to Marcell Dareus and Jeff Demps and Bruce Carter. There's clearly not a perfect way to do this. I've laid clear how this list came about -- schedule-adjusted performance, based on the era in which they played -- and everybody is free to disagree, but I'm doing this series for both the debate and the ability to tell the stories of these teams, and I'm completely okay if you disagree with the results. I've never been a "The numbers say this, and if you disagree, you're wrong," kind of person. You're free to think whatever you like. This is my contribution to the debate.
6. "Glad to see you don't think cfn is insane. Will you consider apologizing to the other guys?" To whom? I'm pretty sure my "You're insane, don't ever change" closing statement showed I was having fun with this. I'm not taking offense to anything, and I don't think I have any apologies to make.
#68 by cfn_ms // Jul 08, 2010 - 11:29pm
in terms of title, a slightly better one might have been "The S&P+ Top 100 College Football Teams of the the Last 100 Years"... but IMO it's really not a big deal. ANY attempt to compare modern teams to early 20th century teams is inherently arbitrary, so unless people want ALL such attempts, wherever they may be, to be "fixed", there's no particular reason to worry overmuch about the title here.
#25 by Aaron Schatz // Jul 07, 2010 - 11:23am
The other goal of a list like this is to help those who have short memories and insist the best teams of all-time all played in their own lifetimes. When you guys see how few teams from the last two decades are in the top 20, you are all going to freak out hardcore.
#31 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 07, 2010 - 1:02pm
Appreciate the chance to disagree...
No reason for anyone to freak out hardcore to a chart of "schedule adjusted" victory margin rankings. Hope you'll consider a more precise clarity in your headlines/intro's in the future. Looking forward to the rest of the series...
#36 by Tampa Bay Mike (not verified) // Jul 07, 2010 - 3:23pm
Do you have a suggestion for how the headline could be more clear and still short and to the point? What was unclear about the intro? How would you make it better?
#39 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 07, 2010 - 4:01pm
TBM, mentioned this as an option in the comments last week:
"A CENTURY OF DOMINANCE (Part I)
From "Red Grange" to "Big Red" and beyond, Billy Connelly uses an Estimated S&P+ formula to rank the 100 most dominant college football teams of the last century. The month long countdown begins today..."
Another option is to put the formula title in the headline so people understand it's a math thing. An example from a different sport...something like "The Best MLB Run Differentials of the Past 100 Years" wouldn't have people pointing out the number of All-Stars or MVP candidates on some baseball power from the 80's that may have seemed slighted. It wouldn't be seen as a slight because the headline made clear they were ranking run differentials. If a baseball version of BC came up with schedule adjustments to run differentials to create "adjusted run differentials," then a preferred title in the example would be "The Top 100 Adjusted Run Differentials blah blah blah."
Obviously this isn't an earth-shattering concern...wasn't even going to talk about it this week until BC called people insane after a couple of posters asked reasonable questions or made reasonable points...which all could have been avoided with more clarity. I too enjoy reading the historical blurbs and taking the trip down memory lane.
#42 by Shalimar (not verified) // Jul 07, 2010 - 4:42pm
Some people undoubtedly will. I personally think all the extra scholarships in the 60s and 70s give those decades a big advantage as far as producing powerhouse teams. Imagine how much stronger recent Alabama, Florida, Texas and USC teams would have been if Saban, Meyer, Brown and Carroll had an extra 40-50 scholarships to work with.
#43 by Tom Gower // Jul 07, 2010 - 4:53pm
In terms of dominance, though, not as many teams from the last 20 or so years is exactly what we SHOULD expect. Scholarship limitations don't let the (e.g.) Alabamas of the world stockpile all the best players like they used to be able to, and other schools are increasingly on TV regularly, plus NFL teams don't draft out of Street & Smith's. Ergo, increased parity.
Way to go, Maroons!
#45 by Bill Connelly // Jul 07, 2010 - 5:17pm
Honestly, I was starting to reach this exact conclusion. Only seven teams from the 1990s made the list, and only 18 from the 1990s-2000s combined. That coincides very nicely with the institution of the 85-scholarship limit, I believe.
#46 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 07, 2010 - 5:47pm
Devil's Advocate...in an era of parity, well after the institution of scholarship limits...a team goes 14-0, with double digit victories over two teams who went 13-0 against everyone but them (in the same era of parity), with a 449-164 scoring edge for the year...well, you can see why some methodologies would favor that. Tougher to hit .400 in baseball now than in the 1940's...if somebody did that now it would be huge.
It's also understandable why others would suggest that the "stockpiled" teams had to be the best, by definition, because they were able to stockpile. Tough gap to truly bridge with any methodology I think. Really enjoying reading about the teams from way back when...
#76 by ADV (not verified) // Jul 12, 2010 - 2:50pm
But is 18 from the last 20 years really all that few, we expect on average just 1 team per year. This seems completely unexceptional.
#30 by ammek // Jul 07, 2010 - 12:40pm
Am I the only person reading these articles as a bit of offseason fun, an excuse to dig up titbits from college football's long and fascinating past, when people had names like Hunk and Red and Fiedling Yost, and a good win was a win over Duquesne, while not caring a great deal about the precise rankings?
#32 by Eddo // Jul 07, 2010 - 1:09pm
Count me in your group, ammek. These are really interesting articles, regardless of the ordinal ranking.
#34 by Michael K. (not verified) // Jul 07, 2010 - 2:11pm
I'm in the exact same boat. As an Irish fan, I know a lot about ND history, a little about USC, Navy, and Michigan history (damn you Yost, you coward!) but relatively little about most other teams. I'm 21, so I didn't experience the majority of these teams in reality. These little historical tidbits are fascinating.
#38 by Shattenjager // Jul 07, 2010 - 4:01pm
I hate to admit it, but I've enjoyed reading them for similar reasons. I don't care the slightest bit about the rankings at all--as far as I'm concerned some 2-12 team from 1947 can be ranked in the top 5 (I passionately hate college football)--but I've enjoyed reading the stories nonetheless.
#47 by chemical burn // Jul 07, 2010 - 8:03pm
Same here - enjoy the articles (especially since I don't follow college ball.) plus, it's the off-season and it sure beats the hell out reading another article about whether or not Brett Favre is coming back or if the Eagles back-up QB left a party after 7 minutes later than he said he did...
#62 by Shattenjager // Jul 08, 2010 - 12:45pm
Good point about it being the offseason.
I've been able to avoid any stories about the local QB (I live in St. Paul), but I'm tired of Vick as well. And LeBron James. I'm sort of hoping he decides to retire instead of signing anywhere just so he goes away.
#49 by billsfan // Jul 07, 2010 - 11:10pm
1947 had too many unbeaten teams--Notre Dame, Michigan, and Penn State all went unbeaten and un-tied, and three other teams went unbeaten. That year's "national champion" already hit #84 on this list.
(I also like the Eagles)
#67 by Subrata Sircar // Jul 08, 2010 - 6:53pm
Your ideas intrigue me. Might you have a newsletter to which I could subscribe? :)
Seriously, I like this. I'm a Michigan fan, so I've at least heard about some of these teams (even if only in the context of "Alabama was good, but Michigan was better!"; I have lived through the latter days of the Ten Years War), but I'm learning a lot and liking the ride.
#75 by H bylake (not verified) // Jul 10, 2010 - 3:06pm
Yep, keep this up! I think a list like this is only interesting - and valid - if it tries to pick a good range of teams from across the whole century.
That really provides good context for how many other great teams there were. Whether or not the specific ranking of any given team is precise, this is a useful corrective for much media coverage which assumes the 'greatest ever' came from the past decade, or perhaps two decades...
Love to see early Michigan teams given their due, as well as teams that no longer have big-time football programs. Probably a lot more people gonna stick up for a team they saw play a few years ago than a team that no one living saw play... so glad these articles are thinking broadly.
#33 by mathesond // Jul 07, 2010 - 1:42pm
I'd like to hear from Sideshow Mel!
#35 by Displaced Cane // Jul 07, 2010 - 2:41pm
This thread is hilarious. It could only get better if raiderjoe chimed in....
#41 by CuseFanInSoCal // Jul 07, 2010 - 4:34pm
We seem to have attracted bamajoe, though...
#37 by Treima (not verified) // Jul 07, 2010 - 3:29pm
Wow, only one team from my lifetime in this batch of 20.
#40 by CuseFanInSoCal // Jul 07, 2010 - 4:22pm
Get off my lawn :)
(Seriously, with a 1987 team on this list, that makes you no more than 21)
#48 by InsaneWHO? (not verified) // Jul 07, 2010 - 8:05pm
We ain't insane, we's just crazy about anybody overlookin' Bama. Slightin' 'em or anything. Not givin' 'em the credit they deserve. Stealin' their rightly earned National Championships more than once. Stuff like that. Where ya'll live anyway?
#51 by random9s (not verified) // Jul 08, 2010 - 12:03am
How good is college football to talk about??? It’s really, really good.
I don't follow premier league soccer too close, but that’s the only possible competition for rational people completely losing their minds when discussing games/teams that are so important to their sense of self identity. Great work so far Bill.
Stuff like that. Where ya'll live anyway?
#55 by Mr Shush // Jul 08, 2010 - 9:22am
You'd better believe it's not just Premiership soccer. Try simultaneously hanging out with fans of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Or AC Milan and Internazionale. Or Galatasaray and Fenerbahce. And that's without even getting into the crippling levels of tribalistic idiocy that people who don't even normally follow soccer can work themselves into when a World Cup comes around.
I'm above all that, of course. Chelsea really are the best team in the world, so there's no need for me to be homerish . . .
#65 by dbostedo // Jul 08, 2010 - 3:40pm
Obviously. They spend the most money of any team in the world (in any sport), therefore they must be the best; Champions League be damned!!
#71 by Mr Shush // Jul 09, 2010 - 7:03am
You're living in the past, dude - Man City are definitely the world's leading spenders these days, having so far this summer outspent Chelsea by around 2000%.
And knock-out competitions are always a bit random - I doubt the best team in Europe wins the Champions League more than about 1 year in 4. AC should have won more (and Real fewer) than they did in the late 90s/early-mid noughties, and Chelsea should probably have won at least two in the Abramovich era. Also, Inter had Mourinho. That's tantamount to cheating. Speaking as someone who saw just about every game he coached (more than half of them in person) for three and a bit years, I feel confident in saying that no part of the hype is unjustified. I am very, very afraid of Real Madrid now.
#69 by HostileGospel // Jul 08, 2010 - 11:53pm
Galatasaray and Fenerbahce? Come on, you made that shit up to see if anyone was paying attention.
They must of thought I was the old Osama Bin Laden they made me strip down somethn crucial at the airport sheeeeesh... not djacc I'm str8
-Djacc, via Twitter
#70 by Mr Shush // Jul 09, 2010 - 6:53am
'Fraid not - if anything, the Istanbul derby probably gets my vote for "world's most intense sporting rivalry".
#64 by Dan Snow // Jul 08, 2010 - 2:10pm
...does have an ice arena named after him. Michigan fans might be able explain that this makes sense in some way. It's a state tradition, as Michigan State's hockey team plays in Munn Ice Area, named for Biggie Munn. Biggie went 35-2 from 1950-53, from which the school claims a pair of mythical national championships and shared the Big 10 title in its first year in the conference in 1953.
#74 by zlionsfan // Jul 10, 2010 - 12:08pm
I would guess it was because a) when you look at what his teams did, it made sense that something needed to be named after him and b) nobody gets their name on the stadium. (The latter point makes more sense now ... how many names would you have to put on the stadium? I don't think it's a coincidence that around these parts, you see Michigan Stadium, Ohio Stadium, Notre Dame Stadium ... works much better that way.)
Also, Yost Arena was originally a fieldhouse, more of an all-purpose facility than it is today, so it's really more of a coincidence that both UM and MSU have arenas named after football coaches. (Munn was MSU's AD prior to the construction of the arena and had retired when it was named after him.)
Side note: Bill, the receiver you mention on Yost's squad is spelled Oosterbaan.
#72 by MegaBamaFan (not verified) // Jul 09, 2010 - 4:33pm
Good lists. I enjoy reading everything. I am an Alabama fan. You won't get any flack from me about where you have which Alabama team like some of the radicals. They are nuts (but in a good way though). Greedy B-tards:-)))
#73 by Red, White and Blue (not verified) // Jul 09, 2010 - 9:46pm
Where to the 1994 Minnesota State Screaming Eagles rank?
#77 by Jay Lowrey (not verified) // Jul 13, 2010 - 1:10am
I am finding this list very interesting and a lot of fun.
I am eagerly awaiting the Husker teams. There are a still a lot of great teams coming up from many schools not just my favorite.
I was intrigued by the ranking of 1982 Penn State. Bill, you state "a couple of favorable calls". GULP they were more than that: they were wrong. And as I recall Penn State's loss the next week vs 'Bama was the result of two blocked punts! The 82 Huskers only "lost" to Penn State and I don't believe they will make the list. Odd how one play or two makes such a difference isn't it? Small things always have a huge effect!
Finally, I play a great college sim football game that has many of the old teams on your list.
I line up 16 college teams and play sometimes just simming computer AI vs AI.
Many times the winner is 1945 Alabama!
Thanks for this work.