Predicting the Top 25 College Football Programs of the Next 10 Years

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2016

Predicting the Top 25 College Football Programs of the Next 10 Years

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    College football is outstanding entertainment for myriad reasons, one of which is the sport's unpredictability. Rosters are completely overhauled every five years, so we can only reasonably predict a few seasons in advance.

    Still, much can change over a short amount of time. Sustaining excellence is tremendously difficult. But that's what makes decade-long predictions fun.

    Projecting anything more than five years away is a complete, unashamed guess. Unless your favorite team has already filled its 2022 recruiting class, we have no idea what the rosters will look like.

    However, certain head coaches might be around. Thanks to recruiting success, a new hire or recent consistency, the following teams appear best suited to regularly chase conference titles and national championships for the next 10 years.

25. Appalachian State Mountaineers

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    When a program jumps from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the transition is supposed to include a multi-year struggle.

    After starting 1-5 in 2014, one-time FCS powerhouse Appalachian State was following that route. Until it decided to not.

    The Mountaineers ripped off six straight wins to close the season before amassing an 11-2 record in 2015, only falling to Clemson and Sun Belt conference champion Arkansas State. Scott Satterfield's team then won the Camellia Bowl, the first postseason FBS victory in school history.

    The Mountaineers will be a perennial Sun Belt contender, at least until the next round of conference realignment steals the program.

24. Houston Cougars

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    For the foreseeable future, Tom Herman will be a top prize for big-name programs with a coaching vacancy. But Houston will do absolutely everything to keep him around, as evidenced by the school doubling his salary after just one year.

    "We're going to make it really hard for him to choose to go to another institution," athletics director Hunter Yurachek said, per Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle.

    If the program is able to squeeze three more years out of Herman, talent won't be an issue. He signed 5-star recruit Ed Oliver in 2016, and top talent in Kyle Allen and Tren'Davian Dickson is transferring to play for the Cougars.

    Herman's future is bright, and Houston is along for the ride—even after the offensive genius inevitably leaves.

23. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Consistency isn't a problem in Madison. Wisconsin has notched at least seven wins in 14 straight seasons and qualified for a bowl 21 of the last 23 years.

    In that time, the Badgers have collected six Big Ten championships. Only Ohio State (10) has more throughout that span.

    However, can Wisconsin finally bring home a national title? That's the ultimate test for the program, which has never won a championship, other than an unclaimed 1942 crown.

    The Badgers aren't leaving national relevance soon, but they likely won't reach the pinnacle, either.

22. Tennessee Volunteers

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    One-time national powers don't stay down for long. Tennessee should be the next to rise.

    Head coach Butch Jones consistently won at Central Michigan and Cincinnati before heading to Knoxville. He recorded consecutive top-10 recruiting classes in 2014 and 2015, followed by the No. 14 group in 2016.

    The Vols will be considered a favorite to secure the SEC East Division this season. Appearing in their first conference championship game since 2007 would only buoy Jones and Co.'s efforts on the trail for at least a couple seasons.

21. Miami Hurricanes

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    Miami struck coaching-carousel gold, replacing Al Golden with longtime Georgia leader Mark Richt. It'll take a season or two for Richt to rebuild his alma mater, though.

    Then, the Hurricanes will start winning.

    After 12 years in the ACC, the program still hasn't secured a conference title. Miami would've appeared in the 2012 championship game, but self-imposed sanctions kept "The U" out.

    While Richt never won a national title at Georgia, he guided the school to five SEC East crowns over 15 years. Perhaps the Coastal Division of the ACC will offer a slightly easier road to the College Football Playoff.

20. Boise State Broncos

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    Boise State eased into the FBS, mustering 12 wins over a three-year span (1996-98) while shuffling through four head coaches.

    Since then, the Broncos have registered at least nine victories in 15 of the last 17 seasons. During the two years the program didn't reach nine, Boise State still had eight triumphs.

    That level of dominance is unparalleled. Sure, the Broncos aren't in a major conference, but few other schools—power conference or nothave assembled a run like this.

    Should the College Football Playoff expand to eight teams and offer an automatic bid to a Group of Five program, Boise State might be a fixture in the championship tournament.

19. LSU Tigers

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    LSU is especially difficult to project because Les Miles could be fired midway through 2016—or he could be en route to a national championship.

    At the very worst, we know he'll leave the Tigers in excellent shape.

    The program has notched four straight top-10 recruiting finishes and is currently ninth in the 247Sports composite rankings. Even the 2018 class rates third-best nationally.

    LSU essentially has a wall around Louisiana. Whatever in-state prospect the Tigers want, they usually get. With or without Miles, that shouldn't change. LSU may drop off, but the fall won't be massive.

18. Texas Longhorns

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    Assuming Texas doesn't unnecessarily run Charlie Strong out of Austin, the Longhorns are trending up.

    The upcoming campaign will basically be the final season that Mack Brown's recruits hold significant roles. Strong pieced together the No. 16 class after arriving in 2014, then signed the ninth- and 11th-best classes in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

    Strong will continue stockpiling, developing and quickly using young talent. Texas should begin rising the Big 12 standings next season and stick at the top for a while.

17. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Texas A&M hasn't matched recent expectations, but a fertile recruiting ground and solid roster will keep the program relevant.

    Plus, the hiring of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone could be a big boost. The Aggies' receiving corps is already loaded, and a big season will only attract more talent.

    Defense hasn't been a strength in College Station lately. Considering how much Texas A&M can—and has started toimprove in that regard, the future is still appealing.

    The question, though, is how long Kevin Sumlin will be in charge.

16. Ole Miss Rebels

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    Shea Patterson
    Shea PattersonCredit: 247Sports

    Ole Miss could be on the verge of something great. The downside is that the Rebels are stuck in the SEC West, the most competitive division in college football.

    Quarterback Chad Kelly will pass the baton to 5-star recruit Shea Patterson. Head coach Hugh Freeze has consistently added top recruiting classes, boasting an 11.5 average class ranking since 2013. For context, Ole Miss had never cracked the top 15 before Freeze came to town.

    As long as that success continues, the Rebels will regularly contend for a conference title. But they absolutely must take advantage of those opportunities, something the 2014 and 2015 teams failed to accomplish after defeating Alabama.

15. Stanford Cardinal

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    Jim Harbaugh helped Stanford rise to prominence, and David Shaw has done an excellent job keeping the program there.

    During four of Shaw's five seasons, the Cardinal have tallied 11-plus wins. They've also claimed three Pac-12 titles and a pair of Rose Bowl victories, too.

    The concern—however mild it may be—is that Stanford has never been this good for this long. Can the Cardinal establish a new trend?

    Either way, Stanford has a superb short-term outlook thanks to the work of Harbaugh and Shaw.

14. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Following the 2014 season, it wasn't wrong to wonder if Bob Stoops could avoid a November loss that would eliminate Oklahoma from national championship contention.

    But Lincoln Riley and Baker Mayfield answered that question, leading the Sooners to the College Football Playoff.

    The Sooners likely aren't leaving the national scene anytime soon. Oklahoma has posted 16 straight eight-win seasons, and Stoops recently agreed to an extension through 2021.

    Unless the program somehow keeps Riley in Norman, though, how the Sooners respond to the offensive coordinator's eventual departure will strongly influence their future.

13. Michigan State Spartans

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    For the last half-decade, Mark Dantonio has earned praise for being one of the coaches who "does the most with less." From 2007-2013, his recruiting classes averaged a 34.4 ranking.

    So, what happens when the Michigan State coach has more talent?

    Dantonio's inked three straight top-25 classes, which is a first in school history. The Spartans won the Big Ten Championship Game last season before bowing out in the Playoff.

    Michigan State's primary disadvantage is playing in the same division as Michigan and Ohio State, but the powerhouses will simply exchange punches for the next decade.

12. TCU Horned Frogs

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    TCU cannot claim an eight-win streak like Boise State, but Gary Patterson's run in Fort Worth is equally impressive.

    From 2000-2011, as members of Conference USA and the Mountain West, the Horned Frogs recorded nine double-digit win campaigns. They won six bowls in a seven-year period, including the 2011 Rose Bowl that capped a 13-0 season.

    After joining the Big 12 in 2012, TCU mustered 11 victories in their first two seasons combined. In 2014 and 2015, though, the Horned Frogs had at least 11 wins annually—and they'll be a regular factor in the conference.

    Patterson's 4-2-5 defense is perfect for the pass-happy Big 12, and TCU's offense is consistently dangerous. While 2016 might be a little rough due to the loss of Trevone Boykin, the Horned Frogs are here to stay. 

11. Florida Gators

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    Florida barely managed to avoid upset bids from of East Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic last year, yet still smashed Ole Miss and Georgia during Jim McElwain's first year.

    Without question, this fan base is looking forward to the future. The Gators still won the SEC East in 2015 despite a below-average quarterback and limited group of receivers.

    McElwain, an offensive-minded coach, has already put a stamp on the program's future. He signed a trio of 4-star receivers and a 4-star quarterback in the 2016 cycle.

    As long as the defense remains stout in the competitive SEC, McElwain will be contending for national titles soon.

10. USC Trojans

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    Clay Helton wasn't a glamorous hire, but that doesn't mean he won't be effective for Southern Cal.

    The former offensive coordinator was an assistant at USC for six seasons before taking the reins. Helton assumed control of a program that has finished with a top-15 class for 15 consecutive years—and only finished worse than No. 10 once.

    Despite his inexperience as a head coach, expectations will never be lowered. However, step one is a conference crown, and the Trojans will always be a factor in the Pac-12 South Division.

    USC will demand a championship. If Helton cannot accomplish that within five years, we'll watch somebody else try.

9. Auburn Tigers

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    Auburn is like a box of chocolates. Considering the roller coaster the Tigers have taken their fans on recently, you have no idea what you're going to get.

    Raw talent has never been the problem. Dating back to Gene Chizik's tenure, Auburn has inked seven straight top-11 hauls.

    But the common theme of success is, quite simply, a good quarterback. Cam Newton and Nick Marshall had a terrific grasp of the offense, while Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace, Clint Moseley, Sean White and Jeremy Johnson fell short.

    With John Franklin III on campus and Woody Barrett en route, Gus Malzahn seems to have a five-year plan behind center to complement annual recruiting success at other positions.

8. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Georgia grew frustrated with Mark Richt's inability to help the football team take the final championship step. Kirby Smart brings a winning pedigree, albeit as a career assistant.

    A coordinator at Alabama for eight years, Smart oversaw seven top-five defenses and four that won a national title.

    Now, he'll be in charge of managing the whole roster. 5-star recruit Jacob Eason leads the offense. Jake Fromm, a highly touted 2017 recruit, may be the next quarterback in line.

    Richt left Smart with championship-caliber talent, and the program should never not be stacked. But the Bulldogs need championship-caliber coaching, too.

7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    It seems crazy that 2015 marked just the fourth time since 1994 that Notre Dame notched at least 10 victories. But with Brian Kelly at the helm, the Irish are now a consistent threat.

    Granted, Notre Dame must overcome a tough schedule (with no conference title to boost its resume) each year to be a contender.

    USC is an annual matchup, while Stanford is on the slate until 2024. Other marquee showdowns include Georgia, Louisville, Ohio State and Texas A&M, in addition to contractual obligations with the ACC.

    Rumors have connected Kelly to NFL vacancies, so it's worth wondering if he'll ever chase those opportunities. Until then, Notre Dame will remain squarely in the national picture.

6. Oregon Ducks

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    Oregon is a unique program, partly due to Nike founder Phil Knight funneling the latest and greatest uniform combinations to his alma mater. A new head coach doesn't bring sweeping changes at Oregon.

    After the 1994 season, Rich Brooks bolted for the NFL and handed the keys to offensive coordinator Mike Bellotti. He coached 14 years before giving way to offensive coordinator Chip Kelly. He spent four seasons leading the Ducks, then went to the NFL while offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich took over.

    But one particular problem could snap the trend. Oregon has needed a couple of FCS transfers—Vernon Adams Jr. and Dakota Prukop—to fill Marcus Mariota's void at quarterback. In other words, Helfrich hasn't developed a suitable replacement within the program, despite having four years to do so.

    Nevertheless, the Ducks have amassed nine straight nine-win seasons and will continue thriving, if that issue is addressed.

5. Clemson Tigers

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    The 2016 campaign will show if Clemson's defense can again reload. In 2017, the Tigers will need to replace key offensive pieces.

    If they pass both tests, Dabo Swinney will have successfully built the program for a long-term run. Six consecutive top-20 recruiting classes support that notion that he will.

    Last year, Clemson collected a pair of notable school records, posting its fifth straight double-digit win season and 14 victories total.

    Swinney will need to match (or surpass) Jimbo Fisher and Florida State, a task that is certainly easier said than done.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Urban Meyer lasted 24 games before losing a regular-season contest at Ohio State. He's also notched a 50-4 record through four seasons, which is pretty much absurd.

    In 2014, the Buckeyes claimed the national title. They piled up 12 victories during each of the other three seasons that Meyer has been in charge. Additionally, Meyer and Co. have secured five consecutive top-10 recruiting classes.

    The next person to predict the fall of Ohio State's budding mini-dynasty will be the first.

    So long as Meyer is comfortable in this situation—and predicting a repeat of how his Florida tenure ended would be distasteful—the Buckeyes will be a national contender every year.

3. Florida State Seminoles

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    Is anyone concerned about Florida State's future?

    Jimbo Fisher has signed top-seven recruiting classes during six of seven possible cycles. The outlier came in 2013, when the 'Noles only finished with the No. 11 haul.

    Highlighted by a national championship three years ago, FSU has reached four straight BCS or New Year's Six bowl games. In that span, Fisher has compiled a 49-6 record with three ACC titles.

    The College Football Playoff trophy will probably make a permanent stop in Tallahassee by 2025.

2. Michigan Wolverines

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    Entering the 2015 season, immediate expectations weren't high for Michigan. Jim Harbaugh had to turn around a tattered program that had stumbled out of the Brady Hoke era.

    But the Wolverines stormed to a 10-3 record. Meanwhile, Harbaugh was the topic of conversation for prospective NFL openings.

    However, John U. Baconwho broke the Harbaugh-to-Michigan newsdebunked a rumor connecting the head coach to the Indianapolis Colts.

    "Harbaugh is not going to Indy, or the NFL, any time soon. Probably ever," Bacon said.

    After such a sterling debut, it's hard to imagine the Harbaugh-led program won't win a national title within the next decade.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Barring an unexpected jump back to the NFL, Nick Saban can continue dominating in Tuscaloosa until he hangs up his whistle.

    His contract runs through 2022. That doesn't necessarily mean Saban will stick around until then, but it's highly unlikely Alabama will attempt to oust him before the deal expires.

    Although he's 64, Saban insists that he hasn't considered retiring, according to ESPN's Chris Low.

    Instead of asking if the Crimson Tide will raise another championship trophy, the better question might be how many Saban will lift.


    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.