The Top 100 College Football Teams of the Last 100 Years: Part IV

The Top 100 College Football Teams of the Last 100 Years: Part IV
The Top 100 College Football Teams of the Last 100 Years: Part IV
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Bill Connelly

When it comes to listing off the teams atop my own personal "best ever" rankings, I am, like everybody else, biased. I grew up in Big 8 country and could tell you all you want to know about the greatness of the some obscure Nebraska or Oklahoma teams. But I am a blank slate when it comes to what happened in other conferences before I was born. Even though I have worshiped this sport since I was two years old, there are giant gaps in my knowledge of history, and justifiably so -- there are too many teams' histories to follow. Most of us have an extremely regional viewpoint on college football.

If I had created a Top 100 list based on my own opinions, I'd have had all the usual suspects at the top -- 1971 and 1995 Nebraska, 2005 Texas, a couple late-1980s Miami teams, and all the historical teams I've been told were great. It would have closely resembled everybody else's lists, it would have been based only partially in actual, first-hand knowledge, and it would have been rather pointless to read because it wouldn't have told you anything most didn't already know.

In basketball, new-age scouts talk about making evaluations with eyes, ears, and numbers. If we are treating every team from the last 100 years with the same criteria, we are stuck with just numbers. The Estimated S&P+ figures used in one of the Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 essays gave me a nice tool for comparing teams across eras. It is not without its flaws, of course, but creating the perfect tool was never the point. I wanted to take an unbiased look at every team of the last 100 years, using a specific set of criteria, and react to the results. I don't agree with every single one of the rankings here (especially No. 36), and I'm sure no reader does either. But in terms of taking suggestions regarding which teams might be overrated or underrated, or which eras produced the greatest stretch of teams, this has been a supremely enjoyable series to write.

As we roll through Part Four, featuring teams 21-40, I am now issuing a challenge: Tell me your own all-time top 10. This countdown is based on just one method for determining history's best college football teams. Since it is Wisdom of the Crowds week once again for FO on Twitter, let's find out what the wisdom of crowds tells us in the college realm. Which teams would an informal poll of FO readers choose as the best teams in college football history?

While I await the answer, here are 20 more great teams.

40. 1971 Alabama

Record: 11-1
Conference: SEC
Best Wins: def. Ole Miss (10-2) 40-6, def. Tennessee (10-2) 32-15
Blemishes: def. by Nebraska (13-0) 38-6
Point Differential: +246 (368-122)

The eighth Alabama team to reach the countdown, the 1971 squad represented something of a turning of the Tide. (Sorry about that.) After going just 12-10-1 in the last previous two seasons, Bear Bryant's program was at a bit of a precipice. At this stage in his career, he was not considered the greatest coach of all-time -- with John Vaught doing his thing at Ole Miss, he might not have even been the greatest coach of the previous decade in his own conference. But change was in store. First, he adopted the Wishbone offense. A recent creation at the University of Texas, the Wishbone was new enough that defenses had not yet caught on -- think of the spread offense in about 2005 -- and with Alabama's talent and athleticism, it was deadly.

The other change that hit Alabama that year was bigger: The first two African-American players recruited to Alabama hit the field. However slowly, change was finally making its way to the South. Junior college transfer John Mitchell became the first black player to play in an Alabama uniform, starting all 24 games of his career at defensive tackle. Between a talent upgrade and their unexpected, new offense, Alabama thrived. They got revenge on No. 5 USC for the previous year's thrashing, took out Ole Miss and Tennessee in October, and coasted toward a huge Iron Bowl against No. 5 Auburn. They held the Tigers and star quarterback Pat Sullivan in check, winning 31-7.

Of course, there is a particular 1971 team that most of us know about: Nebraska. Johnny Rogers and the Huskers rolled over Alabama in a "No. 1 versus No. 2" showdown in the Orange Bowl, preventing Bear's new-look Tide from winning another national title. Still, when your only loss is against one of the greatest teams of all time, and you defeat everybody else on your schedule by an average score of 33-8, you find yourself in a pretty good spot on this list.

39. 1980 Florida State

Record: 10-2
Conference: Independent
Best Wins: def. Pittsburgh (11-1) 36-22, def. Nebraska (10-2) 18-14
Blemishes: def. by Oklahoma (10-2) 18-17, def. by Miami (9-3) 10-9
Point Differential: +266 (369-103)

One of the more peculiar teams on this countdown, Bobby Bowden's first great team at Florida State managed to fly under history's radar for the most part, thanks to its lack of historical gravitas (in 1980, the FSU program had accomplished very little) and two heart-breaking, one-point losses. If you view greatness in terms of pure wins and losses, then you will disagree virulently with this team's inclusion in the top 40. But if you look at what the team actually accomplished, the Seminoles have a reasonable case.

Ranked 13th to start the season, Florida State won at LSU, then pounded two hapless opponents (East Carolina and Louisville) by a 115-7 margin. Ranked No. 9, the team tripped against Miami in their fourth game. Florida State cornerback Bobby Butler partially blocked a Miami field goal late in the third quarter, but it went in anyway, giving Miami a 10-9 win. The 'Noles immediately bounced back, pulling a huge upset against No. 3 Nebraska in Lincoln the next week, then taking out No. 4 Pittsburgh in Tallahassee. They beat their next four opponents (three that ended with a winning record) by a combined 141-19. Then, after an odd three-week break, quarterback Rick Stockstill rallied the Seminoles to a 17-13 win against Florida in the season finale. At this point, Florida State had outscored opponents a crazy 96-0 in the fourth quarter. Now ranked second in the country, the Seminoles headed south to the Orange Bowl to take on No. 4 Oklahoma for the second straight season. They led 17-10 heading into the final minutes, but Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts threw for a touchdown and the game-winning two-point conversion. If you must lose two games, doing so by a combined two points, against ranked teams away from home, is a respectable way to go about it.

38. 1991 Miami

Record: 12-0
Conference: Independent
Best Wins: def. Florida State (11-2) 17-16, def. Penn State (11-2) 26-20
Blemishes: none
Point Differential: +286 (386-100)

While the 1995 Nebraska team is generally recognized as the best team of the 1990s (and potentially the best team ever), the Est. S&P+ formula disagrees. It sees two teams from the beginning of the decade achieving at a higher level. The first team on the list is a rather familiar one. It is the third Miami team from between 1986 and 1991 to make our list, with two more to come. The 1991 Hurricanes were not quite as flashy as their predecessors -- their 386 points scored was their lowest total since the 1983 national title team -- but the defense was ridiculous. It featured three All-Americans and the absurd linebacker corps of Jessie Armstead, Michael Barrow, and Darrin Smith. Facing four teams that won at least nine games, the Hurricanes allowed just 100 points all season, allowing three points or fewer five times and giving up more than 10 points just four times.

As was the case in 1988, Miami began the season ranked behind Florida State despite having beaten the Seminoles the year before. Both teams rolled through the early portions of their schedules, feasted on cupcakes into November and then took on each other for the inevitable No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup in Coral Gables. Florida State took a 16-7 lead in the fourth quarter, but a Carlos Huerta field goal and a one-yard touchdown run by Coleman Bell gave the Hurricanes a 17-16 lead. As had been the case two years earlier, Florida State once again missed a make-able field goal wide right, and by inches, Miami was now the No. 1 team in the country.

Most people enjoy taking potshots at the BCS, but as has been said before in this space, they mostly hate it because it can't figure out how to put more than two teams on the same field. For the job it is asked to do -- pick the two teams most deserving of fighting for the national title -- it has done an admirable job most of the time. And it would have come in very handy in 1991. Instead of getting another No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown between two fantastic teams, Miami and Washington, Miami went off to the Orange Bowl to stomp No. 10 Nebraska, 22-0, while the best Washington team in history rolled over No. 3 Michigan, 34-14. These two teams were far and away the best of 1991 (Florida State lost to Florida, knocking them down the totem pole), but they never faced off against each other.

37. 1930 Notre Dame

Record: 10-0
Conference: Independent
Best Wins: def. Northwestern (7-1) 14-0, def. Army (9-1-1) 7-6
Blemishes: none
Point Differential: +191 (265-74)

There is strength of schedule, and there is strength of schedule. Knute Rockne's final Notre Dame team took on all comers, playing nine teams that finished with a winning record, giving up double-digit points just three times and scoring at least 20 points (the equivalent of scoring 40 today) eight times. With quarterback Frank Carideo, halfback Marchy Schwartz and fullback Joseph Savoldi in the backfield, the Irish were simply untouchable.

How good was Notre Dame? In games against teams not named Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Northwestern, Army and USC went a combined 30-2-2, outscoring opponents by an average of 29.3 to 3.2. Northwestern beat seven opponents by a margin of 182-22. Only one of them stayed within single digits of Notre Dame. The Irish took out Pittsburgh (35-19) on the road, knocked off Northwestern (14-0), and obliterated USC (27-0). Only Army stayed close, losing 7-6 in Chicago after Marchy Schwartz raced 54 yards in front of 110,000 fans at a rainy Soldier Field.

Really, the primary question regarding this team is: How in the world are they not ranked higher?

36. 2000 Florida State

Record: 11-2
Conference: ACC
Best Wins: def. Florida (10-3) 30-7, def. Clemson (9-3) 54-7
Blemishes: def. by Oklahoma (13-0) 13-2, def. by Miami (11-1) 27-24
Point Differential: +375 (511-136)

In an odd twist, two Florida State teams with losses to Miami and Oklahoma, playing 20 years apart, each make it onto our list.

It is rather obvious that, when it comes to numbers, this team is bulletproof. How else can one explain the fact that the Seminoles were (a) selected over one-loss Miami for inclusion in the national title game despite a head-to-head loss, and (b) ranked ahead of 1995 Nebraska? What gives?

The recipe for Florida State's dominance of computer rankings is simple. Despite the two losses, they faced a ridiculously tough schedule and dominated it. Heading into the national title game, they were averaging 42.4 points per game and allowing 10.3. They took on seven teams that won at least eight games that season (including Miami and Oklahoma), and the average score was Florida State 32.1, Opponents 12.7. They beat very good Clemson and Florida teams by a combined 84-14. Chris Weinke threw for more than 4,100 yards, Snoop Minnis led the country with 1,340 receiving yards, and defensive end Jamal Reynolds won the Outland Trophy. They had eight players picked in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft. They dominated all season ... except when it counted the most. Statistically, this goes down as Bobby Bowden's best team, even though it is remembered mostly for providing ammunition for BCS (and now Est. S&P+) haters. It is likely the reason haters will continue to think computer formulas are a load of hooey. I prefer to think of them as the exception that proves the Est. S&P+ rule.

35. 2004 Auburn

Record: 13-0
Conference: SEC
Best Wins: def. Georgia (10-2) 24-6, def. Tennessee (10-3) 34-10 and 38-28
Blemishes: none
Point Differential: +270 (417-147)

In 2000, Florida State benefited from one of the more controversial BCS selections. In 2004, Auburn was the victim of another. Tommy Tuberville's Tigers rolled through an SEC that was a bit down, and while strength of schedule was one of the major factors that cost Auburn a spot in the national title game, these rankings smile upon them (in part because Auburn has the luxury of not having been destroyed by USC as Oklahoma was).

Coaches' seats are perpetually warm in the SEC. Les Miles won a national title in 2007, and people now talk about him like it is almost a foregone conclusion that he is gone after this season. Nobody knows how this game works better than Tommy Tuberville, who was catching serious heat at the end of 2003. He had coached five years at Auburn after ditching SEC West rival Ole Miss, and though Auburn had made the SEC Championship game in his second year, Auburn had yet to win more than nine games and was quickly losing ground to LSU, which had been reborn under Nick Saban.

All Tuberville did to stave off the critics in 2004 lead one of only two SEC teams all decade to an undefeated record. That season, Auburn was timely in every way. Their performance was certainly timely for Tuberville himself, but the offense made timely plays with its powerful running game and deep passing. The defense allowed some points, but they never did so with the game on the line. Auburn sent an early message by beating No. 4 LSU (the defending national champions) at home, 10-9, and they were rarely seriously challenged after that. They drilled No. 8 Tennessee (34-10) in Knoxville, easily handled No. 5 Georgia (24-6) at home, then held off Tennessee again to win the SEC title. They avoided a letdown game in the Sugar Bowl by beating No. 9 Virginia Tech (16-13) after being passed over for a chance at the national title.

34. 1960 Ole Miss

Record: 10-0-1
Conference: SEC
Best Wins: def. Arkansas (8-3) 10-7, def. Tennessee (6-2-2) 24-3
Blemishes: tied LSU (5-4-1) 6-6
Point Differential: +210 (280-70)

In the late-1950s and early-1960s, Ole Miss went on a run not unlike what Miami produced in the late-1980s. Four straight John Vaught teams make this list -- 1959-62. The third one to be unveiled so far is the 1960 squad that claims a share of the national championship even though Minnesota took the AP title. Ranked second behind Syracuse in the preseason, and No. 1 just one week into the season, the Rebels could have run away with a consensus title if not for one minor blemish.

The Rebels were untouchable early in the season. Quarterback Jake Gibbs destroyed Houston with his arm (three touchdown passes) and Kentucky with his legs (two touchdown runs), and though they had to hold off a strong charge from a good Memphis State team, the Rebels headed to Little Rock an easy 5-0. They needed a controversial field goal as time expired to beat No. 14 Arkansas (Frank Broyles swore the kick had sailed wide) and ceded their No. 1 ranking to Iowa (rankings were much more volatile at that time than they are today). Then they tied unranked LSU in Oxford, dropping them to sixth. That was apparently the kick in the pants that the Rebels needed.

After that, they demolished No. 14 Tennessee in Knoxville, manhandled Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, and defeated Rice in the Sugar Bowl to finish 10-0-1. The 1960 season was a crazy one, as the No. 1 ranking changed hands three times in November. With great football coming from every region in the country, this would have been the perfect season for a playoff, or at least a BCS system to help things out. These rankings suggest that Ole Miss was the best in a year full of great teams, and the strength of schedule they derived from maneuvering through the SEC and handling Arkansas out of conference gives them a nice spot on this list.

33. 1932 USC

Record: 10-0
Conference: Pacific Coast
Best Wins: def. Pittsburgh (8-1-2) 35-0, def. Notre Dame (7-2) 13-0
Blemishes: none
Point Differential: +188 (201-13)

To say the 1931 loss to St. Mary's was a wake-up call is the understatement to end all understatements. After USC's loss to the Gaels, the 1931 Trojans (which we discussed last week) won the final 10 games on their schedule by an average score of 36 to 4. Fewer than nine months later, the Trojans were still wide awake. They took on Utah and Washington State to start the season and handed each their lone losses of 1932 ... by a combined score of 55-0. They took it easy on Oregon State, Loyola Marymount and Stanford (they were already showing a Pete Carroll-esque tendency of not getting up for the lesser opponents), saving their best efforts for a murderous final two months of the schedule. A 5-2-1 California team went down, 27-7, then 5-1-1 Oregon fell harder, 33-0. A stellar Washington team welcomed the Trojans to Seattle and put up a fight, but they lost by a 9-6 margin. Then the Trojans kicked it into fifth gear. They shut out 7-1 Notre Dame; the Irish had given up just 18 points all season, and USC scored nearly that many themselves in a 13-0 win. Finally, Pittsburgh came to town for the Rose Bowl. The Panthers had given Notre Dame their only other loss of the season and brought an 8-0-2 record (with ties to great Ohio State and Nebraska squads) to Pasadena. Yawn. The Trojans knocked them around, 35-0.

USC's greatest strength had to be its mammoth line. Future College Football Hall of Famer Ernie Smith anchored one side, along with fellow All-American tackle Raymond Brown. All-American guard Aaron Rosenberg joined in the fun, too. Every Division I team the Trojans played in 1932 finished with a winning record (combined record: 57-13-10 against teams other than USC), but thanks to their brutally effective play in the trenches, they gave up just 13 points in 10 games. Football was deeper in the Midwest in the 1930s, and the South was just beginning to fall in love with the sport, but USC had already established itself as one of the country's big-time programs.

32. 1948 Michigan

Record: 9-0
Conference: Big Ten
Best Wins: def. Northwestern (8-2) 28-0, def. Minnesota (7-2) 27-14
Blemishes: none
Point Differential: +208 (252-44)

As Beano Cook would tell you, no time in college football's history had a deeper array of talent than the years following World War II. Not only were the typical 19-22 year olds catching onto the sport in larger and larger numbers, but the 23-26 year olds returning from the war had some eligibility remaining as well. As we will see, teams from Army and Notre Dame dominated the post-war years, but behind All-American quarterback Pete Elliott, vicious guard Dominic Tomasi, war veteran and receiver Dick Rifenburg, and new coach (and former star Michigan end) Bennie Oosterbaan, the Wolverines of 1948 proved plenty dominant themselves. They had to replace quite a few talented individuals (Bob Chappuis, Pete's older brother Bump Elliott, and outgoing coach Fritz Crisler to name three) from the great 1947 team, but despite a rugged schedule, the Wolverines were barely challenged.

Perhaps the toughest win of Michigan's entire season came in the opener in East Lansing, against soon-to-be conference mate, Michigan State. The Spartans, likely bitter from Michigan's supposed efforts to prevent them from joining the Big Ten, had fallen to the Wolverines by a combined 150-7 the last three seasons, but Michigan had to hold on to win a tight 13-7 battle this time around. It was the closest anybody got all season. No. 15 Purdue fell, 40-0, then No. 3 Northwestern got mauled, 28-0. Michigan held off Illinois by a 28-20 margin (the Illini scored almost as much in one game as everybody else did combined), and after dispatching Navy and Indiana by a combined 89-0, the Wolverines held off No. 18 Ohio State in Columbus, 13-3, to complete their second consecutive national championship season.

31. 1988 Notre Dame

Record: 12-0
Conference: Independent
Best Wins: def. Miami (11-1) 31-30, def. West Virginia (11-1) 34-21
Blemishes: none
Point Differential: +237 (393-156)

Few teams had better feel for the moment than Lou Holtz's 1988 squad. With land mines everywhere they looked, the Fighting Irish knocked off Michigan in the clutch, took out Miami in one of the more renowned games of the last 25 years, and coasted through every other challenge they faced. They lacked true star power -- quarterback Tony Rice and receiver Rocket Ismail were both at least one year away from playing their best football, and their two All-Americans, defensive lineman Frank Stams and linebacker Michael Stonebreaker, were workhorses more than flashy stars -- and still dominated.

Before taking the Notre Dame job, Lou Holtz was the Bobby Petrino of his day. He coached William & Mary for three seasons, then jumped to North Carolina State. He led the Wolfpack to four bowls in four years, then jumped to the NFL, where he resigned from coaching the New York Jets before the end of his first season. He returned to the college ranks at Arkansas, finding plenty of initial success (30-5-1 in his first three years) before fading and eventually getting fired by Frank Broyles. He moved on to Minnesota, where he coached two seasons and jumped to his dream job, Notre Dame.

After spending a couple of years cleaning up the mess left by the failed Gerry Faust experiment, Holtz had the Irish ready to rock and roll in 1988. Ranked 13th to start the season, Notre Dame got by No. 9 Michigan in their first game after walk-on kicker Reggie Ho kicked four field goals, including the game-winner with under two minutes left. They handled a solid Michigan State team in East Lansing and coasted toward a showdown with No. 1 Miami in mid-October. The famed "Catholics versus Convicts" game ended in Notre Dame's favor when Notre Dame defensive back Pat Terrell broke up a two-point conversion to give the Irish a 31-30 win. This vaulted them to No. 2 in the rankings behind Troy Aikman and UCLA, and when the Bruins were upset by Washington State, the No. 1 Irish drilled No. 2 USC and headed to the Fiesta Bowl one game from the national title. Tony Rice dominated great West Virginia quarterback Major Harris, and Notre Dame's 34-21 win over the Mountaineers gave them Holtz's only title.

30. 1961 LSU

Record: 10-1
Conference: SEC
Best Wins: def. Ole Miss (9-2) 10-7, def. Colorado (9-2) 25-7
Blemishes: def. by Rice (7-4) 16-3
Point Differential: +202 (259-57)

Three years removed from a national title, LSU bounced back in a major way in 1961. They had gone just 5-4-1 in their first season since star Billy Cannon's departure, and when they lost at No. 11 Rice to begin the season, it looked like the Tigers' best days were behind them. Au contraire. Riding halfbacks Jerry Stovall (1962's Heisman runner-up) and Wendell Harris, LSU caught fire. The Tigers won their last 10 games of the season by a combined 256-41 margin. They shut out No. 3 Georgia Tech (10-0), then knocked off No. 2 Ole Miss (10-7). While overshadowed by a disgustingly good Alabama team, the Tigers dominated. They eventually met No. 7 Colorado in the Orange Bowl and blocked two punts on the way to an easy 25-7 win.

We have discussed many underrated coaches throughout this countdown, from Harvard's Percy Haughton, to Ole Miss's John Vaught, to Alabama's Frank Thomas, to Pittsburgh's Jock Sutherland. To that list we must add LSU's Paul Dietzel. In the five seasons before he took the LSU job, the Tigers had gone just 24-24-6 in an increasingly difficult SEC. After three floundering years (1955-57) in which LSU went just 11-17-2, Dietzel began to utilize the assets at his disposal (we will get to that soon enough) and, despite competing in what might have been the SEC's greatest era, the Tigers ripped off seasons of 11-0 in 1958, 9-2 in 1959 and 10-1 in 1961. Dietzel has been forgotten a bit because he did not succeed for long. He took the Army job (still very prestigious) in 1962, won only 21 games in four seasons, fought through nine mediocre seasons at South Carolina, before bouncing around as an athletic director. His career did not have longevity, but for a four-year span as the '50s turned into the '60s, Dietzel's Bayou Bengals were as strong as almost any program in the country. His teams will make two more appearances in just this piece alone.

29. 1938 Tennessee

Record: 11-0
Conference: SEC
Best Wins: def. Oklahoma (10-1) 17-0, def. Clemson (7-1-1) 20-7, def. Alabama (7-1-1) 13-0
Blemishes: none
Point Differential: +277 (293-16)

One year before they gave up zero points in the entire regular season, the 1938 Tennessee Volunteers had the audacity to allow three teams to score on them. Somehow this egregious slip-up did not prevent them from finding their way into the top 30 of this list. General Neyland's late-1930s teams were just vicious, none more so than a 1938 squad that shutout eight opponents, handed three different teams their only losses of the season, and rampaged through the SEC slate with a combined score of Tennessee 167, SEC Opponents 9. Tailback George Cafego gave the Vols all the offense they needed, and a defense led by guard Bob Suffridge and end Bowden Wyatt was suffocating.

In the three seasons leading into 1938, the Vols were solid but not great, posting a 16-10-3 record. They had begun the season unranked, but they made their first statement of the season by handing Clemson their only loss, 20-7. Two weeks later in Birmingham, they earned their first ranking of the year by handing Alabama their only loss, 13-0. LSU, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Mississippi State all fell by increasing margins, with the Vols' win over the Bulldogs finalizing an undefeated season and earning an Orange Bowl bid against the great Sooners of Oklahoma. No contest. Tennessee won easily, 17-0, earning a share of the national title from various sources (Davey O'Brien and TCU won the AP title, though they do not appear on this list).

28. 1959 LSU

Record: 9-2
Conference: SEC
Best Wins: def. Ole Miss (10-1) 7-3, def. TCU (8-3) 10-0
Blemishes: def. by Ole Miss (10-1) 21-0, def. by Tennessee (5-4-1) 14-13
Point Differential: +114 (164-50)

Our second of four LSU teams on the list is also officially the highest-ranked two-loss team of all-time. How can a two-loss team rank as one of the 30 best of all-time? By beating one of the teams ranked ahead of them, for starters. Plus, one of their losses came to a team ranked ahead of them, to boot. This was a wonderful team that was just not only one point away from the national title, but one foot.

Things were set up perfectly for back-to-back national titles in the Bayou. Billy Cannon was set to make a Heisman run, and with Paul Dietzel's perfect substitution patterns, no team was better equipped to win games in hot, muggy conditions than LSU. They began the season ranked No. 1 in the country and did nothing to dissuade voters in September and October. They took out three SWC foes -- Rice, No. 9 TCU, and Baylor -- by a combined 58-3 to start the season, then easily handled Miami. They faced down their first two road trips of the season with relative ease, beating Kentucky and Florida by identical 9-0 margins. This set up what has to be considered a legitimate candidate for the greatest game of all-time.

On Halloween night in Baton Rouge, No. 1 LSU welcomed No. 3 Ole Miss to town with, for all intents and purposes, a national title on the line. On a sloppy track with what seemed to be 110 percent humidity, Cannon fumbled early, setting Ole Miss up with great field position. They settled for a field goal and took a 3-0 lead. With the way Ole Miss's defense typically played, three points might be enough. They were still nursing the 3-0 lead with about 10 minutes remaining, when Cannon unleashed one of the greatest punt returns you will ever see (1:08 of the video linked above). With under a minute left, Ole Miss moved the ball to the LSU two-yard line, but on fourth-and-goal with the game on the line, Rebels quarterback Doug Elmore was stuffed at the one, and LSU took the victory. (A quick soapbox stance: LSU and Ole Miss should be playing on Halloween weekend every season, and they should have been doing so for the last 50 years. Make this happen, please.)

If ever there were a time when a letdown game was not only possible but probable, it had to be when LSU had to travel to Knoxville to take on No. 13 Tennessee a week after winning what some sportswriters were already calling the greatest college football game ever played. Sure enough, LSU's 19-game unbeaten streak fell when Tennessee's Jim Cartright took an interception 54 yards for a touchdown and, down 14-7, LSU scored and went for two points and the win. Cannon was stuffed just short, and Tennessee held onto a 14-13 upset. The Tigers would handle Mississippi State and Tulane, but they missed out on a repeat national title. Their second loss would come in a Sugar Bowl rematch with Ole Miss.

27. 1940 Michigan

Record: 7-1
Conference: Big Ten
Best Wins: def. Northwestern (6-2) 20-13, def. Penn (6-1-1) 14-0
Blemishes: def. by Minnesota (8-0) 7-6
Point Differential: +162 (196-34)

The Big Ten was still the class of college football in 1940. Though the Michigan Wolverines did not win a national title -- they did not even win their conference for that matter -- their performance through a brutal Big Ten slate gets them recognition on a list so dominated by strength of schedule. Led by Heisman winner Tom Harmon and quarterback Forest Evashevski, Michigan passed every test but one, coming up a point short at Minnesota.

Michigan began the 1940 season in Berkeley, where they unloaded on poor California, 41-0. All you need to know about this game comes from one play: Tom Harmon toying with the entire Cal defense on an 86-yard touchdown run. The Wolverines faced a brutal final month of the season. They took out No. 8 Penn, 14-0, before heading to Minnesota. The eventual national champion Gophers got a heroic performance from back Bruce Smith, who rushed for 116 yards and Minnesota's only touchdown. Minnesota made its PAT and Michigan did not, and the Wolverines fell, 7-6. With no time to rest, the Wolverines returned home and took out No. 10 Northwestern, 20-13, then blew past Ohio State in Columbus, 40-0.

A team like this reaches the top 30 because of both strength of schedule and size of schedule. The Wolverines played only eight games, four against big-time programs and only one against a cupcake. In a typical 11- or 12-game schedule, a couple more weaklings would have been involved, and it would have been tougher for this team to reach this high, especially with more opportunities for a loss. Regardless, Tom Harmon was amazing, and the team deserves celebrating.

26. 1991 Washington

Record: 12-0
Conference: Pac-10
Best Wins: def. Michigan (10-2) 34-14, def. Nebraska (9-2-1) 36-21
Blemishes: none
Point Differential: +380 (495-115)

After winning at least 10 games five times in an eight-year span and finishing second in the nation in 1984, Don James hit a dry spell over the last half of the 1980s. From 1985-89, the Huskies never had a losing record, but never won more than eight games, going just 36-21-2. They had entered what I like to call Glen Mason Territory, where you are consistently respectable but never elite (a paralyzing place to be as a fan or administrator -- there isn't a bright future, but there isn't a justifiable reason for making a change). But then something unexpected happened: Washington became elite again. With a batch of phenomenal recruits -- most notably defensive tackle Steve Emtman, receiver Mario Bailey, defensive back Dana Hall, and quarterbacks Billy Joe Hobert and Mark Brunell -- the Huskies surged to 10-2 and a Rose Bowl bid in 1990. Then, in 1991, they put together one of the greatest seasons of all-time.

Ranked fourth to start the season, Washington played in the shadow of Miami and Florida State all fall. But their results were staggering. They took out a good Stanford team (42-7) on the road, then they manhandled No. 9 Nebraska (36-21) in Lincoln. They beat Kansas State, Arizona and Toledo by a combined 158-3. Still ranked just third thanks to Miami's and Florida State's dominance, the Huskies faced down their toughest challenge on Oct. 19, surviving against No. 8 California, 24-17, in Berkeley. Beno Bryant took a handoff 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

From there, it was smooth sailing. Washington handled disappointing USC in L.A., then scored a combined 114 points against Oregon State and Washington State to lock up a Rose Bowl bid. The final coaches' poll of the regular season improbably had Miami and Washington tied with an identical 1,443 points. And of course, instead of the perfect national championship matchup, Miami went to pummel Nebraska in the Orange Bowl while Washington took on No. 3 Michigan. Hobert and Brunell combined to go 25-for-42 passing for 281 yards and three touchdowns as the Huskies completed their perfect season with a 34-14 romp. They won a share of the national title with Miami, but with the BCS still almost a decade away, they did not get a chance to face off with the Hurricanes.

25. 1988 Miami

Record: 11-1
Conference: Independent
Best Wins: def. Florida State (11-0) 31-0, def. Nebraska (11-2) 23-3
Blemishes: def. by Notre Dame (12-0) 31-30
Point Differential: +302 (418-116)

The second-best team of the Jimmy Johnson/Dennis Erickson era at Miami, these Hurricanes missed out on the national title by a single point, like many other teams on this portion of the list. Without that loss, they would have ended up in the top ten. They took on a brutal schedule (six opponents would win nine games or more), and if they played the famed Catholics vs. Convicts game ten times in South Bend, they probably would have won at least five or six. But they lost the one that counted.

No single team from The U. had more swagger, talent, and focused anger than this one, and they proved it in the opening week of the season. Despite 32 consecutive regular season victories, they began the season ranked eighth behind, among other teams, No. 1 Florida State. With the "Disrespect!" card to readily played, the Hurricanes never gave Florida State a chance in an opening-week massacre. They held star running back Sammie Smith to six yards rushing and intercepted FSU five times on the way to an easy, 31-0 statement win that vaulted them straight back to No. 1. They had to turn around and go to Ann Arbor to face No. 9 Michigan two weeks later and found themselves down 30-14 with five minutes remaining. Two touchdowns and a Carlos Huerta field goal later, however, they were celebrating a dramatic 31-30 win. After pummeling Wisconsin and Missouri, it was time to head to South Bend for what was easily the game of the year. The Hurricanes found themselves down 31-21 and driving for a score when Cleveland Gary committed a controversial fumble at the Notre Dame goal line (4:20 of this video -- it didn't appear he had actually caught the ball before losing possession). They rallied, however, and scored what would have been the tying touchdown with under a minute left. They went for two points and the win, but Steve Walsh's pass was broken up, and the Hurricanes fell, 31-30.

From there, it was back to dominating. No. 11 LSU fell by 41 points in Baton Rouge, then after dispatching of No. 8 Arkansas at home, they outgained No. 6 Nebraska, 354-135, in an easy 23-3 win. Small consolation, of course. Notre Dame got the banner and the rings, thanks to one lousy point.

24. 1966 Alabama

Record: 11-0
Conference: SEC
Best Wins: def. Nebraska (9-2) 34-7, def. Ole Miss (8-3) 17-7
Blemishes: none
Point Differential: +257 (301-44)

It's hard to blame Alabama fans for being greedy. Any fans would likely be the same. Despite two straight national titles, and despite a blemish in Notre Dame's record (a tie against Michigan State), undefeated Alabama finished third in the final AP Poll of 1966, and their fans are likely still rather annoyed by it. This team is the subject of a Keith Dunnavant book, The Missing Ring: How Bear Bryant and the 1966 Alabama Crimson Tide Were Denied College Football's Most Elusive Prize. As national sentiment turned against the South in the midst of the civil rights movement, there is a decent chance that Alabama's football team paid the price for it. The Tide team on the field had nothing to do with the politics off of it -- all Ken Stabler, Ray Perkins, Cecil Dowdy and company did was dominate.

While the SEC as a whole was falling behind a bit, due in part to their own slow movement toward desegregation, Alabama was still top dog. After an easy 34-0 win over Louisiana Tech, the Tide fell to No. 3 in the AP Poll, behind a dominant Michigan State team and UCLA. They knocked off a good Ole Miss team, 17-7, in Jackson, and fell to No. 4. They weathered a furious fight from Tennessee in Knoxville, winning 11-10, and then they picked up the pace. Only one of their next six opponents would stay within three touchdowns, and on Nov. 19, it looked as if they might move back into the top spot. No. 1 Notre Dame tied No. 2 Michigan State and caught major flack for not trying harder to win. Instead of making up ground, the Tide fell from 93 points behind Notre Dame in the polls to 109. Alabama blew out Auburn to finish the regular season, then obliterated No. 6 Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl, but No. 3 was where they were destined to finish.

(Lest this seem too sympathetic to the Tide, I should point out that we haven't seen 1966 Notre Dame's name on this list yet. And we will.)

23. 1958 LSU

Record: 11-0
Conference: SEC
Best Wins: def. Ole Miss (9-2) 14-0, def. Clemson (8-3) 7-0
Blemishes: none
Point Differential: +229 (282-53)

As mentioned above, Paul Dietzel discovered two definite advantages heading into the 1958 campaign: Billy Cannon and depth. Cannon possessed what seemed to be an almost supernatural combination of speed and power, but the latter advantage was just as important. With rules that prevented constant substitution (a player could only come out and return to a game once per quarter), Dietzel put together three distinct units -- the first stringers (the White Team), the second-string offense (the Go Team), and the wild second-string defense (the the Chinese Bandits -- a name that, needless to say, probably would not fly today). Playing all of their games in the muggy South (their road games were in Houston, Mobile, Miami, Jackson and New Orleans), the depth advantages Dietzel's substitutions forced were significant. Opponents wilted in the second half, and a 5-5 the season before was suddenly unstoppable.

It took only one week for LSU to get ranked. They pummeled Rice in Houston and found themselves ranked 15th when they headed to Mobile to face Alabama. The Chinese Bandits wrecked shop, and LSU returned home with a 13-3 win. The Tigers soon became No. 1 in the country and welcomed No. 6 Ole Miss to Baton Rouge over Halloween weekend (make this happen!). LSU stuffed the Rebels on a goal-line stand (just as in 1959) in the second quarter, then iced away the 14-0 win in the fourth quarter. LSU survived a deluge in Jackson, winning 7-6 when Mississippi State missed an early PAT, and demolished Tulane, 62-0, to clinch their first national title. They put away No. 7 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl for good measure. The Bayou Bengals had come out of nowhere with Cannon and the Chinese Bandits (worst band name ever) and ended up atop the college football world.

22. 2003 LSU

Record: 13-1
Conference: SEC
Best Wins: def. Oklahoma (12-2) 21-14, def. Georgia (11-3) 17-10 and 34-13
Blemishes: def. by Florida (8-5) 19-7
Point Differential: +321 (475-154)

Crazy, obsessed fans? Check. Oodles of great athletes in their backyard? Check. Great conference to showcase their wares? Check. LSU has long had all the makings of a top-tier, national program. But for a couple of decades, they were nothing but inconsistent. After the great success of the late-1950s and early-1960s, and after another round of strong play in the early-1970s, LSU wafted in and out of national consciousness. From 1980 to 1999, the Bayou Bengals went just 125-99-6. Enter Nick Saban, the Kent State product who had just led Michigan State to a 10-2 season. Saban took over for Gerry DiNardo, and within four seasons, LSU was national champion for the first time since 1958.

Things came together swiftly for Saban. The Tigers did win 26 games in his first three seasons in Baton Rouge, but they were still ranked just 15th when 2003 began. They feasted on early cupcakes, winning their first three games by a combined 143-27 margin, and got their first opportunity to make a statement when No. 7 Georgia came to town. With under 90 seconds remaining, Matt Mauck found Skylar Green for a 34-yard touchdown, and the Tigers won 17-10.

They would suffer a setback, however. Ranked sixth, they fell at home to an underachieving Florida squad, a game in which penalties and turnovers doomed the Tigers. But with their national title hopes likely quashed, they caught fire. South Carolina, Auburn, Louisiana Tech and Alabama fell by a combined 140-27 margin. No. 15 Ole Miss went down in Oxford. With national powers falling left and right, LSU found themselves ranked third in the country, and after taking out No. 5 Georgia for the second time (34-13 in the SEC Championship), they got a ticket to play Oklahoma for the BCS Championship (this was controversial, as LSU, USC and Oklahoma all had one loss, but OU's came last; the computers kept OU over USC). With Sooners quarterback Jason White limited by both injury and the Tigers' swarming defense, OU could not keep up in the second half. LSU won 21-14 and claimed their first national title in 45 years.

21. 1974 Oklahoma

Record: 11-0
Conference: Big 8
Best Wins: def. Nebraska (9-3) 28-14, def. Texas (8-4) 16-13
Blemishes: the stink of probation
Point Differential: +381 (473-92)

Because of probation and/or his success in the mid-1980s, it is easy to forget how successful Barry Switzer was in his first seasons as Oklahoma head coach. Taking over for Chuck Fairbanks in 1973, Switzer faced down NCAA sanctions without batting an eye. No postseason? No problem -- the Sooners went 32-1-1 in Switzer's first three seasons, winning shares of the national title in 1974 and (with the postseason ban lifted) 1975.

A forgotten champion of sorts, the 1974 Oklahoma Sooners were voted first in the AP Poll despite probation that prevented them from participating in the postseason or receiving votes in the other major poll, the UPI. Regardless of what confused polls had to say, this team was really, really good. Led by star running back Joe Washington (who finished third in the Heisman voting), they were challenged only once, running roughshod over a Big 8 conference in transition. Ranked No. 1 in the preseason, Oklahoma quickly lost the top spot after they dilly-dallied in defeating Baylor -- they led only 7-5 in the fourth quarter before exploding for a 28-11 win. They embarrassed Utah State and Wake Forest by a combined 135-3 margin, then hunkered down for their biggest test of the season. Against No. 17 Texas in Dallas, the game was tied at 13-13 in the fourth quarter when all-world defensive tackle Lee Roy Selmon met Texas back Earl Campbell at the goal line and forced a fumble. Kicker Tony DiRienzo kicked the game-winning field goal soon after. From there, Oklahoma was untouchable. Back at No. 1 after an Ohio State loss, they knocked off a solid Missouri team (37-0) then headed to Lincoln to face No. 6 Nebraska. With no postseason, this was their bowl game. They trailed 14-7 in the third quarter before unleashing hell -- three touchdowns and three interceptions led to an easy 28-14 win for the Sooners.

Heading into the postseason, there was a chance that the No. 1 Sooners would be punished by being out of sight and out of mind. But when No. 2 Alabama lost to No. 9 Notre Dame in Ara Parseghian's final game as coach, and No. 3 Ohio State lost to No. 5 USC in the Rose Bowl, the Sooners stayed atop the AP Poll.


78 comments, Last at 27 Oct 2012, 7:50pm

#1 by Dan in Philly (not verified) // Jul 20, 2010 - 3:29pm

Great stuff, look forward to the rest! And yes, even though 1966 was before my birth, I still hate Notre Dame for winning the NC that year! :)

Roll Tide!

Points: 0

#6 by fek9wnr (not verified) // Jul 20, 2010 - 4:12pm

There were other legitimate reasons why the 1966 Alabama team stayed ranked #3. Notre Dame and Michigan State were both absurdly stacked that year - they combined to have 16 players selected in the 1967 NFL Draft, 7 in the first round, and 39 players from the two teams were drafted in all. After those teams tied each other, the logic was that neither team deserved to drop in the polls for tying such an impressive team.

Fun trivia: Michigan State's second-closest game of 1966 was an 11-8 win over then-unranked Ohio State. After the game, Ohio State moved into the AP poll, which still marks the only time that a team has moved into the poll after a loss.

Points: 0

#28 by Dan in Philly (not verified) // Jul 21, 2010 - 8:18am

I don't know, coming off of back to back NC and then going unbeaten and untied is fairly impressive to me :)

Seriously, it's a fun conversation, but it does rankle.

Points: 0

#70 by Displaced Cane // Jul 25, 2010 - 7:27pm

"Fun trivia: Michigan State's second-closest game of 1966 was an 11-8 win over then-unranked Ohio State. After the game, Ohio State moved into the AP poll, which still marks the only time that a team has moved into the poll after a loss."

Not the only time it happened. In 1986, unranked Notre Dame opened its season with a 24-23 loss to 3rd-ranked Michigan. The following week, the Irish were ranked #20.

Canes fans don't forget this kind of stuff....

Points: 0

#73 by Bill Connelly // Jul 25, 2010 - 8:46pm

Pretty sure Missouri did it after the kicked ball loss to Nebraska in 1997 too. Might not have been the AP Poll, however.

Points: 0

#76 by Anony (not verified) // Jul 28, 2010 - 6:59pm

This game was the subject of a blown call that was highlighted in Sports Illustrated the following week. Officials called an obviously in-bounds catch by Notre Dame for a touchdown out of bounds. The score would have given ND the win. Bo Schembechler made a statement to the effect that "if refs in that stadium [ND's] make a call against ND, you know it's correct," for which he was lambasted at the time.

Points: 0

#2 by Kibbles // Jul 20, 2010 - 3:50pm

It's weird seeing 2003 LSU on the list. I've never recalled that team as particularly dominant, and the writeup seems the definition of "damning with faint praise", describing how they beat three ranked teams and then backed into the title game as all of the national powers fell one by one and USC got hosed. If I were ranking the top 5 SEC teams of the past decade, I'm not entirely certain 2003 LSU would make the list.

Points: 0

#77 by sillylsuhomer (not verified) // Jun 29, 2011 - 5:30pm

no one in louisiana who saw every game of the 03 champs thinks they were over rated..the entire defense went pro,every wide receiver plays on sundays ,even most of the assistance coaches are head coaches now,two in the sec.that team can beat any team on this list.

Points: 0

#3 by JIPanick // Jul 20, 2010 - 3:50pm

Lousy CFB historian here, but my personal #1 is the undefeated, untied, and UNSCORED UPON 1919 Texas A&M Aggies. The only team since 1910 to do so with a ten or more game season, IIRC. Further rankings would require more research.

Points: 0

#4 by Dean // Jul 20, 2010 - 4:00pm

I loved reading about the 1980 FSU team. Supposed to be great. Blew it against Miami (back when they were still nobodies). Blew another big game. Finished their usual paper tiger. Typical FSU. Some things never change.

Points: 0

#5 by Vincent Verhei // Jul 20, 2010 - 4:03pm

38. 1991 Miami
26. 1991 Washington

System works!

Other notable players from that UW team include Lincoln Kennedy, Ed Cunningham, and Siupeli Malamala, three offensive linemen who started for a combined 13 seasons in the NFL (9 of them by Kennedy); future first-round running back Napolean Kaufman; a passel of NFL tight ends, including Aaron Pierce and Mark Bruener; and a young D'Marco Farr, who would later win a Super Bowl as a starting defensive end for the Rams.

Points: 0

#48 by horn // Jul 21, 2010 - 3:52pm

You guys were losing 21-16 to a weak Huskers team in the 4th Q. Imagine if you had to play #1 FSU in Doak, you'd have been down 31-6.

Miami had 4 1st Team All-Americans, and a Heisman winner, to Huskies' 3/0.

Both teams had 2 first-round picks that year, both teams had 2 QBs drafted.

Miami's LB corps of Barrow, Armstead, and Smith would all be drafted the following year and go on to play a combined 37 years at LB in the NFL.

Lamar Thomas, Horace Copeland and Kevin Williams all played WR in the NFL. TE Etheridge was drafted, CB McNeil was a 2nd round pick as was RB Bennett.

Points: 0

#78 by Jsin (not verified) // Oct 27, 2012 - 7:50pm

This Miami team was a friggin riot to watch play. Those LB's were legit and you forgot Rusty Maderis! He could play - I dont care about his NFL stock. But im gonna chime in for UW. I had this next paragraph last but im bumping it up.

This is college, not an award show or the NFL. If it was than Miami 2000 beats UW 2000 by 60 that year to. So i'll put it this way. Bo Schembechler called us the best team he had ever seen on national TV that day at the Rose Bowl. We had Don James - godfather to Nick Saban. He built that Husky Team and revolutionized the attack style 7-8 man front defenses with Jim Lambrights help. Miami 1991 Had a gross, unkempt, ex WSU cougar, renta coach that fell into Jimmy Johnsons pool of talent.

And dont compare your 22 point homegame victory over nebraska to our 15 point win in Lincoln as evidence of Miami supperiority. You won by that margin in freindly, warm territory with everything on the line for you and nothing for Nebraska. We went into Lincoln in October, in the cold dark night, when they had national title hopes and a clean bill of health. We had a brand new starting QB. And when things got tough that first road test, Washington popped 28 straight points on em and won it going away. Thats how Titles are won.

All-American lists are a bit goofy and they vary. If you stacked up those honors for that UW team for starters and key players if they recieved it that year or the following year (since they musta been damn good in 1991 to get AA in 1992, a natl title helps that recognition the following year - As a Huricane you are more aware of that than I) than that 1991 team had Bailey (90-91), Cunningham, Kennedy (91-92), Bruenner (92+), Jones, Hoffman (92), Hall, Emtman (90-91), Farr (92) all recieve honors Beno Bryant was AA punt ret. in 1990 before staring at RB. Brunell in 1993 after starting 1990 and backing up in 1991.

12 players drafted in the top 6 rounds, blah, blah. Outland winner - Kennedy, Balitnikof - Bailey (not desmond howard), Emtman - 4th in heisman and 1st in every other award. Our backup QB that started in 1990 wasnt just drafted in the NFL - He just retired from the NFL. Every defensive starter recieved 1st team all pac-10 or 2nd team all pac10. And we had two backs and a 3rd stringer named Kaufman (1994 - AA) rush for over 2,000 yds. Bailey over 1,000 rec and 17 td's + a 800 yd #2 in McKay and 2 TE that were 500 yd 10 TD. The Backup - Bruenner was all-decade NCAA and a 1st rd pick - He was a senior in 1994 (sorry). Defnsively, we had the best defensive player of the 90's (#1 pick, ouch my knee) his sidekick played 10 NFL seasons. Our DB's held the Heisman winner to 1 catch and -neg return yards.

Miami had no-no-no running game. They had a great core of recievers and LB's. Any QB woulda sufficed.

Points: 0

#8 by Jetspete // Jul 20, 2010 - 4:59pm

having 2003 LSU this high is a mockery. The greatest teams of all time would not lose a game at home in what is supposed to be the toughest place to play in the sport. They had one quality road win and faced several cupcakes (number 29 SOS pre bowl game). Further their bowl game vs OU was a defacto home game.

and to follow up, the 2003 season was a strange year. Most teams had lost a game before the BCS standings arrived in October. Oklahoma was the consensus national champion before playing their conference title game, at which point they were manhandled by Kansas State and everyone looked at each other asking, what do we do now?

This was also the year USC was perceived to be the national champ, losing one game on the road in 3OT (they topped LSU in the AP Poll).

Points: 0

#7 by cfn_ms // Jul 20, 2010 - 4:52pm

1) How is 2000 FSU "the exception that proves the rule"? You can make an argument that they really deserved to be that high, but I don't see how it proves anything.

You did a fine job explaining why the model liked FSU (very tough schedule, general domination), but the end basically boiled down to "my model disagrees w/ popular opinion, thus proving it's right". Maybe I misread it, but otherwise, I have to disagree w/ what that statement implies.

2) The 2003 LSU writeup described their season, but didn't talk about why the model liked them so much. Given that it's a controversial pick, would you care to elaborate?

Points: 0

#10 by Bill Connelly // Jul 20, 2010 - 5:12pm

1) Just meant as a (failed) joke.

2) 2003 LSU earned major, major ratings points with their defense. It ranked first overall by a very healthy margin. Here are some of the offenses they faced (and their offensive rank according to Est. S&P+):

* #1 Oklahoma scored just 14 points (albeit with help from Jason White's brittle bones)
* #3 Arkansas scored a decent-but-below-their-averages 24 points.
* #7 Georgia got wrecked, scoring just 10 and 13 points.
* #9 Alabama scored 3 points.

That's five games against Top 10 offenses, and an average of 12.8 points allowed per game. Against teams not named LSU, those teams averaged 34.2 points per game. In an "output versus expected" model, that's tremendous.

Hmm ... maybe I should have put that in their write-up? :-)

Points: 0

#17 by Jetspete // Jul 20, 2010 - 6:27pm

Where are you getting these Alabama stats from? That 2003 team was hardly an offensive juggernaut. 23 points were scored vs Tennessee in overtime and two of their tds vs a good georgia defense were garbage time defensive returns. They put up 16 vs an NIU team that averaged 21 allowed per game.

They averaged 11.5 points allowed in 8 SEC games. considering the era, that is a great accomplishment. But again, this model overvalues defense. The team had a championship offense, but it paled in comparison to the co-national champion USC Trojans at the beginning of the Leinart era. Although there is a sense of irony that LSU and USC had two common opponents, and in those games LSU outscored USC, yet USC shut both out!

Statistically, LSU that year was impressive, but with jarring, glaring blemish that should keep them from the top 50, losing to a weaker rival at home. USC at least lost to a rival on the road in 3ot

Points: 0

#19 by Eddo // Jul 20, 2010 - 7:51pm

Has Bill said that 2003 USC isn't still to come on the countdown? Because, if they are, your main point (USC was better than LSU) is moot.

Points: 0

#21 by cfn_ms // Jul 20, 2010 - 8:07pm

He's definitely said that 2004 USC is still to come, but I don't think he said anything about 2003 USC. Could be wrong though.

Points: 0

#9 by horn // Jul 20, 2010 - 5:10pm

Geez, the 1991 Miami game took place @FSU, NOT in Coral Gables:

And it wasn't 2 years after another famous Wide right, it was a year prior to Wide Right II, which was in Coral Gables. That's a lot of errors for a famous game!

And that team would have slaughtered Wash on a neutral field. And Wash certainly didn't have any wins nearly as good as at #1 FSU and at top-5 PSU. I guess two road wins over the teams finishing the year at #3 and #4 aren't that important...

Also check out both team's games v. Nebraska for more details. Losing 21-16 in Q4 to a 2nd tier Huskers team that Miami completely demolished and shutout is not impressive.

1. Miami (Fla.)
2. Washington
3. Penn State
4. Florida State
5. Alabama

Points: 0

#11 by Eddo // Jul 20, 2010 - 5:17pm

I wouldn't get too worked up over 1991 Washington being ranked a mere twelve places ahead of 1991 Miami. Remember, there are thousands upon thousands of college football team seasons - the fact that they're ranked so closely is essentially saying they're equal.

Points: 0

#30 by Dean // Jul 21, 2010 - 11:20am

Except that if they'd actually played each other, Miami would have slaughtered Washington. It wouldn't have even been a contest. It would have been an old-fashioned, behind the woodshed, ass-whoopin'.

Points: 0

#31 by Eddo // Jul 21, 2010 - 11:58am

I didn't follow college football at the time, so I can't speak to this personally, but that's your subjective opinion. Bill's model certainly suggests otherwise.

Points: 0

#32 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 21, 2010 - 12:26pm

Horn suggested comparing the two games, and Dean suggested it would be a slaughter. Huskerpedia's stat rundowns can provide some insight on that, though it's just a one-game sample size from the Washington or Miami perspectives obviously.

Note that Washington played at Lincoln, but Miami was playing a bowl game at home.

*Washington won by 15 on the road, which equates to 18 on a neutral field if you allot three points for home field advantage (and some would say it's more than that in Lincoln). Miami won by 22 at home, which equates to 19 on a neutral field.

*Washington won total yardage 618-308, while Miami won total yardage 439-171. It's tempting to way Washington's game must have been much more wide-open stylistically. But...

*The QB numbers were similar for the teams at issue:
Hobert: 23-40-2-283
Torretta: 19-41-2-257

Washington had a much bigger game on the ground than Miami did (335 yards on 47 carries compared to 182 yards on 44 carries).

*If you use a per-play basis to make things a bit more standardized:
Washington wins 7.1 to 4.7
Miami wins 5.2 to 3.0

Better defense from Miami, more explosiveness in terms of an offensive composite from Washington.

Consistent with the notion that Miami's defense was better, QB McCants of Nebraska was 12-28-2-173 vs. Washington, and 6-18-2-80 vs. Miami.

It was tough to differentiate these two teams back in 1991. It's not going to be easier almost 20 years later. What's the case for a Miami slaughter using actual reality from 1991?

Points: 0

#69 by WCB (not verified) // Jul 24, 2010 - 8:30pm

In my opinion 1991 Washington would have handled 1991 Miami, if for no other reason than Don James >>>>> Dennis Erickson. But that's all it is: an opinion. To say that one team would have "slaughtered" the other when the data suggests otherwise is just baseless.

PS 1994

Points: 0

#23 by Jeff M. (not verified) // Jul 20, 2010 - 11:14pm

Hard to say what a team would do "on a neutral field" when every major bowl game it has played in its history happened in its home stadium. I bet the Huskies would have looked even more dominant against Michigan if the Rose Bowl were played in Husky Stadium.

Anyway, Miami ended up vacating their claim to the 1991 championship on Sept. 24, 1994, right?

Points: 0

#39 by horn // Jul 21, 2010 - 2:49pm

No, not in the least. Way to personify 'grasping at straws,' though.

Points: 0

#71 by Displaced Cane // Jul 25, 2010 - 7:51pm

"...every major bowl game it has played in its history happened in its home stadium."


Miami has won the national championship by winning the Sugar (1989) and Rose (2001) Bowls. It has played for the national championship in the Fiesta (1986 & 2002) and Sugar (1985 & 1992), and has played in other "major bowl games" in the Cotton (1990) and Sugar (2000).

Get your facts straight.

Points: 0

#72 by Displaced Cane // Jul 25, 2010 - 7:58pm

Still amazing to think that the U won each of its 5 national championships when playing FSU at Doak Campbell (83, 87, 89, 91, 01).

Points: 0

#12 by horn // Jul 20, 2010 - 5:22pm

'then they manhandled No. 9 Nebraska (36-21) in Lincoln. '

This is the problem with blindly using stats over any common-sense or informed approach to the game.

Name me one game you've actually watched where the team getting 'manhandled' is down 21-16 in the 4th Q.

Wash essentially luckboxed into a win, plain and simple.

That 2-loss 2000 FSU team wasn't that good either, certainly not as good as the 2000 Miami team that beat them head-to-head and had their only loss on the road to Top 5 Washington, of all teams.

Hey, I love stats or I wouldn't read this site, but some of these answers are like ESPN stat-heds where they say some 6th man is better than Kevin Durant.

Points: 0

#14 by Bill Connelly // Jul 20, 2010 - 5:36pm

Here is a full list of Tom Osborne's home losses over the last decade of his career at Nebraska:

* 1991 vs Washington
* 1990 vs Colorado

The end. A one-point win would have qualified as manhandling, much less a 15-point comeback win.

As for 2000 Florida State ... come on. They lost to Miami by three points, on a last-second missed field goal, on the road. Saying they were "certainly not as good" as them is silly. Just because Miami didn't lose to OU and FSU did means nothing -- Miami didn't get the opportunity to lose, just like 2004 Auburn didn't get the opportunity to lose to USC.

Points: 0

#64 by horn // Jul 22, 2010 - 2:50pm

Miami absolutely had the opportunity to lose to FSU. They beat them. The End.

Points: 0

#66 by cfn_ms // Jul 22, 2010 - 4:06pm

They beat them by 3 points at home. Big whoop. If you factor in home-field advantage (which almost any decent model would), that's close to equalling a neutral-site tie (depending on how strong the model says HFA is). Even if you give "bonus points" for simply winning, it's STILL not a very convincing win.

And wasn't Miami down 21-3 at the half in Seattle? How should a model factor that one in? Credit for making the final score close or demerit for getting waxed early?

Perhaps the only game that should count for Miami or FSU was the one head to head win and then we should all ignore the rest of the resume?

I don't have much of an opinion on 2000 Miami vs FSU (haven't though much about it myself), but I think that your objection here is pretty silly. If you've got a better one, it would be interesting to read, but simply saying "they won H2H, therefore they were better" is weak.

Points: 0

#15 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 20, 2010 - 5:59pm

In the Nebraska/Washington was actually 21-9 Nebraska with a little over 16 minutes to go, but...

Final Total Yardage:
Washington 618
Nebraska 308

Both teams had 3 turnovers

Took the Huskies awhile to turn their yards into points. Was a flood when it happened. Outgaining Nebraska 618-308 and outrushing them 335-135 would seem to qualify as a manhandling, just one where the dominant team took longer than normal to express their dominance on the scoreboard.

Nebraska would ultimately finish 15-16th in the main polls.

Points: 0

#13 by horn // Jul 20, 2010 - 5:29pm

The issue isn't whether or not Cleveland Gary had the ball, the main concern that was apparent to all neutral observers is that his knee is down & ball on the goal line for about a full second before he's touched. And then the refs don't make any signal for about 5 seconds after the 'recovery.' [Foreshadowing of 2002] In fact, the ND players aren't even trying to pick up the ball until one of them decides WTH, and dives on it well after the play.

Either it's first down [no contact required in college, remember!] at the 1" line, or a TD, or incomplete. Watch the game on slo-mo and see for yourself.

Points: 0

#16 by Tom Gower // Jul 20, 2010 - 6:10pm

2000 FSU played the Orange Bowl without Snoop Minnis, who'd reportedly failed all his classes that fall. Without him, and with OC Mark Richt taking the Georgia job I believe, the offense looked bad and couldn't threaten OU's defense. That put a real damper on the game from an enjoyability perspective, at least from my view. FTR, I thought (and still believe) FSU over Miami was the right choice, since FSU lost to the better team in a closer game (an extraordinarily close call, mind you) and played against a better overall schedule. Using the pro-Miami logic, I don't understand how it shouldn't have been Washington to face the Sooners.

Bill mentions it in the 1959 LSU recap, but I'd just like to emphasize the 1960 Sugar Bowl was a rematch of a conference game. As I prefer to call it, bowl selection silliness is not just a modern phenomenon. Also, I'll give Alabama a share of the 1966 national title if they agree to give back both the 1964 and 1965 national titles.

Points: 0

#18 by Jetspete // Jul 20, 2010 - 6:35pm

2000 was the BCS nightmare year, at one point near the end of the year,

number 2 fsu lost to number 3 miami
number 3 miami lost to number 4 washinton
number 4 washington lost to number 5 oregon
number 5 oregon lost to number 6 oregon state
Oregon states only loss was to washington.

All losses were on the road.

I think the problem everyone has is that, despite how good they were FSU decimated opponents yet only had one signature win, over Florida at home. Miami had 2 signature wins, FSU and Va tech, albeit both at home. And fans did not appreciate the whole beating up on the little guy mentality that FSU had.

Points: 0

#20 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 20, 2010 - 8:02pm

Not sure if I agree with bowl selection silliness in this case.

The Sugar Bowl is in New Orleans. LSU was the defending national champs and undefeated in the '59 regular season. Ole Miss had one regular season loss...a 7-3 decision to LSU in Baton Rouge (meaning a virtual tie once you account for home field advantage). This would be a dream rematch for the region, and would impact the national title race. Imagine the intensity in the crowd...

Edit: a little research shed more light on the choice. Cotton Bowl was #1 Syracuse vs. #4 Texas. Tough to see the bowl choice of the SEC inviting Syracuse and Ernie Davis to Louisiana given the era. Not that Texas was a beacon of open-mindedness at the time...

SEC didn't integrate until the last 60's (a player for Kentucky was the first in '67)

Points: 0

#24 by Tom Gower // Jul 20, 2010 - 11:48pm

LSU lost in '59 to Tennessee, so LSU and Ole Miss each had 1 conference loss. The SEC champ was actually Georgia, unbeaten in the conference, but there wasn't the formal tying arrangement in place where the SEC champ went to the Sugar Bowl there was later, so the Dawgs ended up in the Orange Bowl. The wiki article also points out that the Sugar Bowl invited LSU and Ole Miss before Syracuse ended its season, likely out of fear it'd end up with a worse matchup if Syracuse had lost to UCLA. One of the great benefits of the current bowl structure is it installs a market order that avoids that kind of unraveling and helps create the optimum* bowl matchups.

FTR, the Sugar Bowl was integrated in the 1/1/1956 game with Pitt.

*-For some definition of "optimum."

Points: 0

#25 by Travis // Jul 21, 2010 - 12:38am

Syracuse committed to the Cotton Bowl after beating Colgate on November 15, turning down an earlier invitation to the Orange Bowl. At the time, no other team had committed to a bowl, including the Sugar.

FWIW, this contemporary article from November 2 stated that "[n]either Syracuse nor Penn State can be considered [for the Sugar Bowl] since each has Negroes on the roster." Similarly, LSU was prohibited by Louisiana law from competing against integrated teams (and Grambling, I assume).

Points: 0

#26 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 21, 2010 - 1:04am

Sorry for the errors in my post. Thanks for the clarifications Tom...and, GREAT stuff Travis with those contemporary newspaper links...

Points: 0

#27 by Bill Connelly // Jul 21, 2010 - 6:01am

Nice ... I had heard rumors that the Sugar Bowl was off limits for those reasons, but I hadn't seen an actual newspaper clipping outright saying it. Obviously it's hard to have a BCS structure in a segregated culture, eh?

Points: 0

#46 by horn // Jul 21, 2010 - 3:32pm

There's nothing to suggest FSU was better than Washington that year, much less Miami. Running it up on your son while he lets you, so that you can move up in the computer [and stat] polls is meaningless to rational people.
And I can certainly see the POV that says Wash should have been the OU opponent that year. But given that Miami and Wash had superior claims to the #2 slot, choosing FSU is foolish.
By your logic, if Miami had run the score up the way Coker did the following year on top 20 opponents [refusing to make Butch's mistake] then they'd be #2 and possibly even #1. Miami also beat #2 ranked VaTech that year.

I realize the computers don't know that his son let FSU run up the score, and Bobby did so with gusto, but we do, and this site is supposedly to combine common-sense and statistics to make better information and conclusions that what any 17-yr old kid could do with spreadsheets or SAS.

FO's built a big spreadsheet model,and I always enjoy these discussions because whether Miami or ND or USC had 'the best team evah' is fun.

Without proper human input, however, its just as unhelpful and biased as anyone else's -- you might as well use Yahoo's or ESPNs or etc. If the ranking merely amounts to 'what good teams scoree the most,' well, you can identify the teams that crushed top 15 teams like 2001 Miami vs the old ND teams that ran it up 50-3 on the weak independents, but not much more than that.

Agree that bowl selection hysteria is not a modern phenomenon either. The BCS system has been very underrated, overall. Virtually every year we've known who the best team is at year-end: Tenn, OU, Miami, OhioS, Texas, Florida, Bama, USC, etc.

Points: 0

#22 by Elroy (not verified) // Jul 20, 2010 - 8:42pm

is 2004 usc going to be the only PC USC team on this list?

Points: 0

#33 by mm (not verified) // Jul 21, 2010 - 12:45pm

I just want to say these are fun to read.

I pay attention to the SEC (while rooting for my alma mater in another conference). Every year when Ole Miss and LSU play they talk about that Billy Cannon Halloween run, and I always wonder why the game isn't still played that week..

Points: 0

#34 by M // Jul 21, 2010 - 1:09pm

Any takers on guessing the top 20 teams (not the order, but at least who's still left?

Here's a few that I think could be left (PLEASE - correct me if I've listed any teams that definitely can't be on the list).

Minnesota 1934
Army 1944/1945
Notre Dame from mid-40's - I can't remember which year(s)
Oklahoma from mid-50's - I can't remember which year(s)
Notre Dame 1966
Ohio State 1968 (?)
Nebraska 1971
Oklahoma 1986
Miami 1987
Miami 2001
USC 2003-04

Without going through the lists again, I don't think that 1919 Texas A&M will be on here - I think only 1 team from the 1910s is on here, and they've already been listed.

Points: 0

#35 by cfn_ms // Jul 21, 2010 - 1:19pm

I'd be surprised to see 2003 USC this high on the list, though I suppose it's possible. I don't think we saw 2005 Texas yet, so presumably they'd be up there. Other than that, I think your list makes sense, though I'm not good at thinking up much before the 2000's, and anything before the 1990's.

PS 2001 Miami and 2004 USC are no-brainers, so we'll definitely be seeing them both.

Points: 0

#36 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 21, 2010 - 1:29pm

2005 Texas ranked 92nd

Points: 0

#38 by cfn_ms // Jul 21, 2010 - 1:42pm

Whoops, my bad. Can't say that I really disagree with having them that low, given a fairly weak schedule, but enough people / models love them that having them super-high wouldn't have stunned me.

Points: 0

#44 by CuseFanInSoCal // Jul 21, 2010 - 3:30pm

I have trouble getting that one myself, mostly because they were one botched play from losing the BCS title game, against a team that I think most neutral observers really believe would beat them nine times out of ten.

Points: 0

#49 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 21, 2010 - 3:59pm

USC was a 7-point favorite, which isn't -900 on the moneyline.

Most neutral observers may have forgotten how evenly matched the teams were: Texas led 16-10 at halftime. USC led 24-23 after three quarters. USC did have a chance to wrap up the victory by converting a first down. They just missed. Texas drove the field for the win.

Final Yardage:
USC 574, Texas 556

Rushing Yardage:
Texas 289, USC 209

Young was 30 of 40 passing, Leinart was 29 of 40 passing. Given the depth of talent on both teams in terms of future NFLers, I think both would grade out well in terms of all-time measurements. I won't make the case Texas was better just because they won a nailbiter. Play it out 10 times, I don't think USC wins nine of them. I do think USC probably wins more than they lose over a long series of games. Would agree with that.

Points: 0

#52 by Eddo // Jul 21, 2010 - 4:21pm

Good post, Jeff. I agree that USC and Texas were pretty damn even. I'd even go so far as to disagree (slightly) with your last two sentences. Maybe USC wins 51 or 52 out of 100, but I think it's just as likely Texas wins 51 or 52.

I wouldn't have a problem with either one of those two teams not being on this top 100 list. The reason that title game is so memorable is that you had two top-200 teams (likely), both clearly deserving (there wasn't a third undefeated team), play an extremely close game. I think the general public may have overrated both Texas and USC historically because of those factors.

Points: 0

#37 by Muldrake (not verified) // Jul 21, 2010 - 1:30pm

I think that this list, while interesting, has some serious problems with strength of schedule. The best example of this is 1995 Nebraska being ranked lower than 2004 Auburn presumably based upon the relative strength of schedule since Nebraska outscored opponents by 200 more points than Auburn. For the season, Nebraska played 4 teams that finished with at least 10 wins and in the top 10 of the polls, and only one of those was at home. Auburn played 3 teams with 10 wins, only 2 of which finished in the top 10, and only one game against a top 10 team was away from home. Auburn won by a combined 21 points against top ten teams, whereas none of Nebraska's games against top 10 opponents were within 21 points even with garbage time scores.

As far as I can tell the reason why Auburn is ranked higher than Nebraska is because Nebraska had 3 top 10 teams besides itself in its conference, which meant the other half of the league had pretty bad records, whereas Auburn played in what even their entry describes as a weak SEC that year so the win/loss was more balanced out and they didn't play as many games against teams with losing records. Even though they were denied a shot at the title in 2004 precisely because their schedule was viewed as weak even in that year, they get the nod because of percieved schedule strength over a 1995 Nebraska team that completely destroyed 4 top ten teams. That strikes me as nonsensical, and leads me to think that the computer model is flawed.

I realize that it's impossible to really have a strength of schedule formula when the data doesn't exist for the majority of the history of college football, but at the same time, I don't think that anyone can say that ranking the teams statistically is any more valid than just using people's opinions when the results clearly don't make sense. It's a garbage in/garbage out problem that I don't think is the fault of the designers but results simply from a lack of data.

Points: 0

#42 by horn // Jul 21, 2010 - 3:23pm

The computer model is obviously flawed - it's simply numeric, not even the creator would call it perfect I'm sure. You've pointed out a bias/debate that exists in any of these models: Is a schedule with 4 tough games, 2 average ones, and 6 easy ones harder/easier than one with, say 2 tough ones, 8 average ones, and 2 easy ones.

If you just mechanically add up the ranking of the scheduled opponents you're going to get some seriously wrong answers. If you merely go by W/L record, similarly, you can have an 8-win Temple team that is 'tougher' than a 7-4 Michigan team, for example, et al, when the reality is completely the opposite.

My concern is more with overtly wrong input errors, showing 1991 Miami beating FSU by mistake in Coral Gables [he meant the Orange Bowl, obvs] versus reality at Doak Campbell Stadium, which hopefully will be corrected at least text-wise.

Also, Coleman Bell was the TE and did not run in the winning TD.

Points: 0

#41 by M // Jul 21, 2010 - 3:22pm

I go back to an earlier comment - it would be a fun exercise to see where human judgment would place certain teams after the list has been fully revealed (informal FO poll, perhaps?).

Even Bill thinks the model understates the greatness of the 1995 Cornhuskers - but really, we're talking about at most 20 controversial data points out of THOUSANDS -most models cannot fully calibrate to the extremes that well, because if you calibrate to the extremes then you screw up the model for thousands of middle-ground data points. A smaller-scale example would be DVOA's "love" of the Eagles since 2006 vs. actual records; would you rather the other 31 teams be wrong just so the Eagles "look" right?

Bill - would the results look different if you calibrated the model based on different eras? I'm wondering if the model rewards defense too much for teams in the 1990s and 2000s. That may be why FSU looks so good in 1993 & 2000 - because they rarely allowed garbage scores to weak opponents, whereas Nebraska in 1995 would take their foot off of the gas once they were up by 40.

Another idea is how much (if any) dampening of high-margin routs occurrs after a certain threshold is reached. While eye-popping scores in the 50 & 60s are amazing, at what point do you say this team is just running up the score? The only way I see doing that using only historical data is to have a diminishing return principle once the margin exceeds a certain level. Personally, I'd start dampening once the margin exceeds the average points/game rate of the season/era. In this way a 21-7 win in 1933 would probably be equivalent to a 42-14 win in 1990s or 2000s.

However, this is just quibbling on my part; I'm just happy to see this list done at all. Bill - is there any chance you'd be willing to release the results as a downloadable spreadsheet, perhaps extending much, much further down the list than #100? You should protect your model IMO (intellectual property!), but please at least release the model output to us FO readers so we can see the numbers for ourselves?

Points: 0

#43 by horn // Jul 21, 2010 - 3:27pm

Perhaps, but I thought the entire point of these articles was to calibrate the extreme[s].

If the output was no good, they simply could have listed the teams for us in order, saying -- 'Hey, we can't really differentiate btw #18 and #80 at all whatsoever but here's the list!'

Obviously, the stats can help us make some very good judgements as to why teams from the 1990s don't rank as highly as others, even if that doesn't jibe with our memories.

Points: 0

#51 by Bill Connelly // Jul 21, 2010 - 4:13pm

From the intro to Part II:

"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."

Points: 0

#65 by horn // Jul 22, 2010 - 3:05pm

Thanks for the reminder, Bill, duly noted.

Could you fix the home v road error on the 1991 Miami v FSU game?


Points: 0

#47 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 21, 2010 - 3:46pm

Quick little reminder that it's not clear that '95 Nebraska allowed an inordinate share of garbage time points. Scoring by quarter as mentioned last week in the comments:

First: 164-44
Second: 204-38
Third: 150-39
Fourth: 120-53

Nebraska allowed 82 points in first halves, and 92 in second halves.

Points: 0

#74 by Muldrake (not verified) // Jul 27, 2010 - 9:24am

Of course, 21 of those first half points, or more than a quarter, were scored by ASU in a game where the Huskers scored 28 before ASU scored, 35 in the first quarter, and 63 in the first half, averaging 1:43 seconds per scoring drive. I still maintain that you could consider all ASU's points garbage time points since a)they clearly had no chance of winning, and b)there was heavy substitution going on because the starters had no time to rest since the Huskers were scoring so fast.

Points: 0

#75 by Jeff Fogle // Jul 27, 2010 - 1:29pm

Wouldn't argue that ASU had a chance of winning once it was clear they couldn't stop the Nebraska offense. Don't think we know when defensive substitutions started. The traditional term "garbage time" typically doesn't refer to the first and second quarters. Wouldn't disagree that it may be applicable with the elite of the sport.

But...if a team blows out an opponent with a QB the caliber of Jake Plummer, we're not going to count what Jake Plummer did against them because Jake Plummer's defense couldn't tackle? ALL points (your words) are considered garbage time and not factored into the ranking?

Plummer and ASU would beat Nebraska 19-0 the next season, in a stunner described in this SI Vault article:

Nebraska had seven defensive starters back from '95, at a time they were generally reloading rather than rebuilding anyway. ASU would have been shut out in Lincoln with Plummer if not for garbage time? How many points should be counted against Nebraska if we make a garbage time adjustment? Arizona State gained about 400 yards in a game that had NO garbage time in '96, with a lot of the same players on the field. And, it's not like Nebraska wasn't crushing people in '96. They were heavy favorites every time out (-24.5 at Arizona). They would ultimately win their bowl 41-21 over Virginia Tech (after losing to Texas 37-27 as 20-point favorites in the Big 12 championship game, when I had a heart attack as Mackovic went for it on 4th down deep in his own territory...Texas would gain 500 yards against a defense not too dissimilar from the '95 Huskers in a game with no garbage time:

'96 spreads and results at:

And, in terms of ranking ALL teams in this many superpowers will be able to make the case that the vast majority of points they allowed were technically "garbage" time points because their opponent "clearly had no chance of winning"?

We can't just make a mental adjustment for 1995 Nebraska but not for everyone else. And, it's harder to properly make that kind of adjustment than it might seem...

Points: 0

#40 by horn // Jul 21, 2010 - 3:20pm

2001 Miami
2004 USC
1995 Nebraska
1988 ND
1987 Miami

1999 FSU
2009 Bama
2000 OU
1996 Florida
2003 LSU

Today's players are so much better than past generations, it's hard to take claims of teams from 30+ years ago seriously.

Points: 0

#45 by Elroy (not verified) // Jul 21, 2010 - 3:30pm

There's 11 teams from the 2000s. We know that these are on the list:
2000 OU, UM, FSU
2001 UM
2002 OSU
2003 LSU
2004 USC,AU
2005 UT
2009 UA

So the last one is either 2002 UM, 2003 USC, 2005 USC, 2006 UF, or 2008 USC.

Points: 0

#50 by Bill Connelly // Jul 21, 2010 - 4:08pm

In reply to by Elroy (not verified)

2004 Oklahoma was also in there at #87...

Points: 0

#53 by cfn_ms // Jul 21, 2010 - 4:38pm

Given that we haven't hit 2001 Miami left, the three 2000 teams are part of the 90's decade then. Which means that we've got FOUR more teams to go 2004 USC hasn't been listed yet). I'd be completely floored if three weren't:

2001 Miami
2004 USC
2008 Florida

in some order

Really not sure about the 4th. No one jumps out at me at all.

Points: 0

#54 by Bill Connelly // Jul 21, 2010 - 4:42pm

We're off somewhere...there are three 2000s teams left.

92. 2005 Texas
87. 2004 Oklahoma
78. 2009 Alabama
54. 2000 Miami
43. 2002 Ohio State
36. 2000 Florida State
35. 2004 Auburn
22. 2003 LSU

(I was counting 2000 in the 2000s decade...)

Points: 0

#55 by cfn_ms // Jul 21, 2010 - 4:48pm

"(I was counting 2000 in the 2000s decade...)"

Except for 2000 Miami? If it's three left, then it's got to be the three I mentioned. No one this decade not already posted makes any sense whatsoever over those three, IMO.

Points: 0

#56 by Eddo // Jul 21, 2010 - 4:54pm

Unless 2003 USC is in there, which is possible. Or possibly 2002 Miami?

I agree that 2004 USC and 2001 Miami are obvious choices.

Points: 0

#57 by cfn_ms // Jul 21, 2010 - 5:17pm

I think you're forgetting just how insanely dominant 2008 Florida was, against a VERY tough schedule. If they'd had a close win instead of close loss against Ole Miss, that's probably the team of the decade (though if that had happened, maybe we wouldn't have seen "you will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season", and maybe they'd have just lost later on instead).

Points: 0

#58 by Eddo // Jul 21, 2010 - 5:43pm

Wow, you're right. For some reason, I had 2008 Florida pegged as a team that didn't really destroy all comers (similar to 2007 LSU, I suppose), yet, looking at the scores of their games, it sure looks like they did.

It would not surprise me if the 2008 Gators were in the top 20, now. Thanks for reminding me.

Points: 0

#59 by Elroy (not verified) // Jul 21, 2010 - 8:32pm

the 2008 gators aren't in it. these are the only teams from the 2000s:

2000 UM,FSU,OU
2001 UM
2002 OSU
2003 LSU
2004 USC,AU,OU
2005 UT
2009 UA

The 2008 Gators would've lost very badly to the 2008 Trojans.

Points: 0

#60 by Kibbles // Jul 22, 2010 - 12:07am

In reply to by Elroy (not verified)

Not according to FEI, which rated Florida as the #1 offense, #1 defense, and #2 team in the nation at the field position battle. I'm surprised that the Gators didn't rank in the top 100 in this exercise, because statistical models seem to love them. For instance, FEI didn't just rate them the best defense of 2008... they're the best defense of 2007-2009 (the "FEI years"). And they're the second best offense of that span, too, behind only... the 2007 Florida Gators. FEI said the 2008 Trojans were closer to Ole Miss than they were to the Gators.

Beyond just FEI, though... look at the results on the field that season. The Florida Gators went a mind-blowing 13-1 against the Vegas spread that year. They were curb-stomping opponents so thoroughly that Vegas kept getting wilder and wilder spreads... and Florida kept on covering. They were 10 point favorites on a neutral field against the #1 team in the nation in the SECCG that year. They became the first team in history to beat 6 straight SEC opponents by 4+ TDs. After the Ole Miss game, that team was SCARY. Scariest team I've ever seen.

Points: 0

#61 by Eddo // Jul 22, 2010 - 12:44am

Has Bill confirmed that the 2008 Gators aren't in the top 100?

Points: 0

#68 by cfn_ms // Jul 24, 2010 - 6:22pm

hell, that team was pretty scary even before the Ole Miss loss, lighting up Miami at home and Tennessee on the road.

But afterwards... that was an all-timer of a run they had, and it lasted the whole rest of the season really. The only reason the margins tightened against Bama and Oklahoma was because of how good those two teams were. But even 10 and 11 point wins against those two teams were extremely impressive.

If there's just three teams left, then I still say it's the three I listed. I could definitely see 2000 Oklahoma as a top 100 team, but top 20 is a HUGE reach unless there's something really important I'm missing. They played three poor to crappy OOC games (which the model generally punishes severely), they had a number of close calls (10 pts @ KSU, 4 pts @ A&M, 5 pts @ OK St, 3 pts vs KSU in CCG). Unless Bill has actually said they're on the list, still to come, I'm going to assume they're not on the list.

Points: 0

#62 by Elroy (not verified) // Jul 22, 2010 - 2:43am

UF was ahead in FEI but USC was ahead in the other measure. UF had the better offense and was more concerned with running up the score. However they lost at home to a team that wasn't any better than the team USC lost to on the road. If you thought Piere Jerry and Ole Miss was good at shutting down Tebow you wouldn't be able to grasp how well that particular SC team was suited to stop Tebow. The mere thought of UF's 2008 defense being better than USC's is so ridiculous that it makes me want to laugh out loud and chortle.

Points: 0

#63 by Elroy (not verified) // Jul 22, 2010 - 2:45am

2008 UF is #114.

Points: 0

#67 by cfn_ms // Jul 24, 2010 - 6:15pm

In reply to by Elroy (not verified)

I'm pretty skeptical of that number. Where did you get it from, and are you sure you don't mean 2006 or 2009 Florida?

Points: 0

Save 10%
& Support Bill
Support Football Outsiders' independent media and Bill Connelly. Use promo code WRITERS to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip Bill.