College football’s best programs since 2010: Alabama, Clemson lead top 20 rankings

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Alabama and Clemson have dominated the last decade of college football, but there is still one year remaining in the 2010s for other programs to catch up.

Sporting News ranked the top 20 college football programs since 2010 with a statistical formula that spans the BCS and College Football Playoff eras.

MORE: Sporting News’ post-spring top 25 for 2019

Here are the categories we used to determine those programs:

National championships: 10 points each
National title game appearances: 5 points each
College Football Playoff appearances: 5 points each
New Year’s Day Six/BCS bowl appearances: 3 points each
Heisman Trophy winners: 2 points each

That’s not all: Overall winning percentage, All-Americans and NFL Draft picks first-round picks were awarded with a poll style 15-1 score. Ties were broken by the team with the higher ranking heading into this season:.

With that in mind, here are the 20 best college football programs since 2010:

  • Score: 12.5

    Why they’re here: The Trojans still made the cut despite the fact their third head coach this decade is on the hot seat. Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and Clay Helton have tried to manage expectations at a program that still produces enough NFL talent to win big. USC did make the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl in 2016 and ’17, respectively, but has six seasons with four losses or more.

  • Points: 12.5

    Why they’re here: Michigan was 38-26 in the five seasons this decade before Jim Harbaugh arrived, and is 38-14 since. That’s progress, provided they do not finish 0-12 this season. Harbaugh has put the program back on a Lloyd Carr-like level. The Wolverines, however, still must beat Ohio State and win their first Big Ten championship since 2004. That could create real momentum for the next decade.

  • Score: 14

    Why they’re here: The Broncos have been the model Group of 5 program, and that includes seven seasons with 10 or more wins this decade. Boise State has more competition from other Group of 5 busters now, but Bryan Harsin has kept the program in the New Year’s Day conversation every season.

  • Score: 14

    Why they’re here: Chris Petersen has led the Huskies to a College Football Playoff berth and two New Year’s Day Six bowls since his arrival in 2014. Washington has emerged as the team to beat in the Pac-12, but they lost all three games on that big stage to Alabama, Ohio State and Penn State. That’s the next step Washington needs to take, not just for its program, but for the entire Pac-12.

  • Score: 14.5

    Why they’re here: The Cowboys remain a consistent winner under longtime coach Mike Gundy, and six seasons with double-digit wins this decade provide the proof. Oklahoma State is 2-7 against rival Oklahoma in that stretch, however, and Texas is coming up fast under Tom Herman. There are challenges moving into the 2020s.

  • Score: 15

    Why they’re here: The Aggies ‘ ranking is skewed a little by the fact they have produced the third-most All-Americans this decade, with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel the program’s most recognizable player. Texas A&M has increased the program profile with the move to the SEC, however, and Jimbo Fisher should keep that going. This program has the talent. Now, the results must follow.

  • Score: 17

    Why they’re here: Mark Dantonio built a stable Big Ten contender that won three conference championships this decade. That reached its peak with a College Football Playoff appearance in 2015. The Spartans are just 20-18 the last three seasons, however, and whether they admit it or not their in-state rival Michigan has leveled the playing field in that rivalry. It’s a big year for the Spartans in the Big Ten East.

  • Score: 19

    Why they’re here: The decade featured the end of the Urban Meyer era and seven up-and-down seasons with Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain. Dan Mullen enjoyed a 10-win season to start his tenure in Gainesville, and the Gators will expect to move up this list fast. Can they close the gap with Georgia and take aim at Alabama next?

  • Score: 26.5

    Why they’re here: Georgia’s winning percentage dipped a little at the end of the Mark Richt era, but Kirby Smart has made the transition and inched the Bulldogs closer to ending a national championship drought that extends back to 1980. Expect the Bulldogs to be in the top 10 in All-Americans and NFL Draft picks in the 2020s, but that slight drop-off keeps them out of this top 10 – for now.

  • Points: 26.5

    Why they’re here: Notre Dame has an appearance in both a BCS championship and a Playoff semifinal under Brian Kelly, part of two undefeated regular seasons. The rest of the decade has been hit or miss for the Irish. Kelly does an excellent job of developing NFL talent, especially on the offensive line, but this program’s national championship drought is now more than 30 seasons.

  • Points: 32.5

    Why they’re here: The Badgers rank in the top 10 in winning percentage and have produced more All-Americans than any other Big Ten program this decade as part of their never-ending Running Back U assembly line. Paul Chryst has continued that no-nonsense approach in the Big Ten West, and Wisconsin will be in the hunt this season with Heisman Trophy contender Jonathan Taylor.

  • Points: 34

    Why they’re here: The Tigers won the national championship with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton in 2010, and they are the worst-ranked national title team on this list. The fact they are ranked here speaks to the up-and-down nature of the program. Auburn has won two SEC West championships since 2010, but they have also lost five or more games in six seasons. That is why there is pressure on Gus Malzahn heading into the next decade.

  • Points: 35.5

    Why they’re here: Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich took the Ducks to the BCS and Playoff national championship games in 2010 and 2014, respectively, but Oregon is just 29-22 the last four seasons under three different coaches. Mario Cristobal appears to have the program back on solid footing with quarterback Justin Herbert heading into this season, but the Ducks have to prove it all over again.

  • Points: 40.5

    Why they’re here: David Shaw picked up where Jim Harbaugh left off after a 12-1 season in 2010, and the Cardinal have won at least nine games in all but one season since. Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love picked up where Toby Gerhart ended the previous decade. The Cardinal are a steady Pac-12 contender with the sixth-best winning percentage since 2010, but a Playoff breakthrough continues to elude the program. That will get tougher in the Pac-12.

  • Points: 44.5

    Why they’re here: There is a gap after the top five, and the Tigers are here because their program has produced the second-most NFL picks and ranks. LSU also ranks in the top five in All-Americans produced. Of course, it has the seventh-best winning percentage in that stretch. Ed Orgeron re-centered the program last year with a 10-win season, but Alabama remains the roadblock to something more.

  • Points: 68.5

    Why they’re here: The Sooners just missed out of the top four, but they are the best program without a national championship this decade. Oklahoma has made three CFP appearances, and Lincoln Riley made the transition from Bob Stoops with back-to-back Heisman winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Those quarterbacks went on to be No. 1 picks. What does the future hold for Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts?

  • Score: 69

    Why they’re here: When the College Football Playoff era started, FSU would have been No. 2 on this list. The Seminoles have produced 12 All-Americans this decade, and Jimbo Fisher had a powerhouse that was good enough to put together the decade’s longest win streak at 29 games with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. It’s on Willie Taggart to bring that back – or this program could slip out of the top five.

  • Points: 78.5

    Why they’re here: There is a gap between Alabama, Clemson and everybody else, but the Buckeyes remain the most consistent program behind the Tide and Tigers. Urban Meyer elevated the program with a national championship run in 2014, and they have the second-best winning percentage and fourth-most NFL Draft picks. Ryan Day now has the keys of a national championship contender.

  • Points: 105.5

    Why they’re here: The Tigers have trailed Ohio State and Florida State on this list until now. Dabo Swinney has brought the big-game mentality to Clemson, leading the Tigers to national championship runs in 2016 and ’18. The Tigers will be in position for more with quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Case in point: The Tigers have beat all the other top-five schools on this list this decade.

  • Points: 166

    Why they’re here: Nick Saban won his first national championship at Alabama with in 2009, and the Crimson Tide tacked on four more this decade. They’ve reached the College Football Playoff all five times and have played for the national championship in six of nine seasons this decade. If not for the Kick Six, it would have been seven. Alabama also leads in winning percentage, draft picks and All-Americans. It is the complete program.





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