There are many great programs in college football that are rich in a deep-rooted winning tradition. Because it would be nearly impossible to list all of the greatest programs of all time, this list is an attempt to decide at least which teams are the best in the history of each respective conference.
The hardest part about doing this list is that many conferences have multiple teams that have a legitimate claim to being the best. For the purposes of this article I am not including the Big 12, because of its relative youth as a conference. Instead I am going to divide the Big 12 between the former Big 8 and the Southwest Conference.
I am also excluding Notre Dame because it has never been in a conference. It is also necessary that I not include conferences like the WAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West or Conference USA because of their relative youth and because for the most part accomplishments achieved by those schools pale in comparison to teams in the major conferences.
The University of Miami
Even though the "U" is no longer in the Big East, and during most of the '80s was an independent, the 'Canes are still the best football program to have ever represented the Big East. This is a clear-cut victory for the Miami, even if I only based this decision solely on its 2001 campaign, which many consider to be one of the greatest teams in the history of college football.
Another reason why the University of Miami is the best in the history of the Big East is because of how great of an NFL pipeline school it is. During its time in the Big East, Miami produced players like Ray Lewis, Andre Johnson, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Warren Sapp, Ed Reed and Jeremy Shockey. I am most likely leaving off some names, but this just speaks volumes about how much they dominated the Big East.
Runner-Up: West Virginia
Florida State University
Florida State, just like Miami in the Big East, is hands down the greatest program in ACC history. The success of the Seminoles in the ACC can be credited to one coach, the great Bobby Bowden. During his tenure the Seminoles played in five National Championship games and won two.
If somebody could argue that there is another team more deserving of this title, then please inform me because for the longest time Florida State was the only relevant program in the ACC. In addition, for a program that only became a coed school (FSU was an all-female school before the '50s) to be able to become the 25th most winning program in the history of college football speaks to a great program that literally came out of nowhere.
In addition, between the years between 1992-2000 the Seminoles either won the ACC outright or were co-champs of the ACC. That streak is absolutely incredible and adds further weight to the program's sheer dominance. For the longest time, FSU was the only school with a strong football program in the ACC.
The University of Texas
The Longhorns are another no contest choice. During the Longhorns' time in the Southwest Conference (1916-1995), they won 28 SWC titles and as a result the most Cotton Bowl appearances (which for those who don't remember or realize was traditionally one of the biggest bowl games).
The greatest era for Texas football in the SWC was the 1960's under the guidance of another coaching legend, Darrell K. Royal. DKR was previously a member of the University of Oklahoma coaching staff under Bud Wilkinson. Royal brought that winning attitude to the University of Texas and as a result a renaissance emerged for UT.
The culmination of the '60s was when the Longhorns played the Razorbacks in the 1969 de facto National Championship game. The title was presented by none other than President Richard Nixon, who was attending the game. One of the greatest traditions the University of Texas Longhorns enjoyed was constantly winning the Southwest.
Runner-Up: The University of Arkansas
The University of Oklahoma
This is the first controversial choice, but what made me decide to choose the University of Oklahoma over Nebraska was the 33 Big Eight conference titles, the 47-game winning streak, six National Championships, three Heisman Trophy winners and the best winning percentage of any school post-World War II.
I could keep going on and listing each milestone the program has achieved, but I think those accomplishments speak for themselves: OU is an elite program. One of the most remarkable accomplishments is that OU has five coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame. That also includes two of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport, Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer.
The only era of the Big Eight Oklahoma did not dominate was the 1990's, but as we all know they definitely rebounded in the 2000's.
Runner-Up: The University of Nebraska
The University of Southern California
This should come at no surprise, the Trojans are by far the greatest team in the history of the Pac-12. The Trojans have 11 outright and shared National Championships, 38 conference titles (I am including their history in the PCC, because the Pac-12 claim a shared history) and six Heisman Trophy Winners.
The Trojans have enjoyed two periods of especially incredible success, the John McKay era and the Pete Carroll era. During both coaches tenures they both produced three Heisman Trophy winners. In addition USC is one of the greatest schools at producing star NFL players.
These players include the likes of O.J Simpson, Junior Seau, Marcus Allen, Lynn Swann, Bruce Matthews and Ronnie Lott. There are obviously more names, but that would be merely pouring salt into the wounds of other schools who wish they had the winning tradition that USC enjoys.
Runner-Up: The University of California at Berkley
The University of Michigan
This is probably the most controversial choice on the list by far. The Big Ten can be boiled down to just two teams, Ohio State and Michigan, one of the most heated rivalries in the nation. If this list was solely based on things like Heisman Trophy winners, then Ohio State by far would have been on top, but this list is about programs as a whole and trophy winners are merely a factor.
Looking at these two teams in totality, Michigan has won more Big Ten titles than Ohio State and more national titles than Ohio State. In today's fascination about winning only matters, then Michigan has to take the title, but trust me, it was a tough choice.
Besides, Tom Brady went to Michigan, and Ohio State has yet to produce a NFL-caliber quarterback. Well, there was Art Schlichter.
Runner-Up: Ohio State
The University of Alabama
This would appear if it was a tough choice, but in reality it really wasn't. Keep in mind, the SEC's dominance has only really been in the past decade, and mainly since Urban Meyer won his first title at Florida did the ball of dominance truly begin.
Nevertheless Alabama has won 22 SEC championships and 14 National Championships. LSU only has won three National Championships and 14 SEC titles. Alabama had a majority its success under the tutelage of former Texas A&M coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.
It is amazing that Alabama was able to accomplish as much as they have in their storied history considering that there is only one Heisman Trophy winner to sport crimson and white. Alabama has also produced seven NFL Hall of Famers. These legends include Don Hudson, Bart Starr, Joe Namath, John Hannah, Dwight Stephenson, Ozzie Newsome and Derrick Thomas.
Nick Saban has the program back on the same trajectory that "Bear" Bryant did and headed towards even greater levels of greatness. All that can be said now is "Roll Tide."
Runner-Up: The University of Tennessee