With recent conference expansion talk, and revisited claims of “who’s the best,” I decided to start comparing apples to apples and determine the best college football program of the decade (2000-2009).
Finding the best, especially during a decade with considerable parity, is a difficult and naturally subjective task. Basically, you need determine what measurements you want to use and how you want to use them and that is exactly what I did.
Keep in mind we’re comparing the accomplishments of players currently retiring from the NFL along with bright-eyed 18-year-old rookies. A decade spans players, coaches, Athletic Directors and even conferences as a whole.
In a way, it should be simple to pick a Program of the Decade in the 2000s with the advent of the BCS, a system designed specifically to pick the two “best” teams and have those teams settle it on field.
Although in the end, the BCS may have caused more confusion than ever before because the old system (or lack of) was knowingly and inherently flawed. With the promises of getting it right, the BCS seemed to just infuriate almost everyone and demonstrated the caste system that is college football.
Either way, it is clear that the decade belonged to six elite programs along with a handful of others that were either remarkably above-average but never great, as well as a few who were able to reach the top at some point.
Geographically, the decade took a strong turn to the Sun Belt states, albeit with a few exceptions. Eight teams from five conferences won BCS championships demonstrating parity, at least among the elite.
To determine the Top 10 Programs of the Decade, I developed a six-part formula measuring the following criteria: Rankings, Winning Percentage, BCS Success, Quality of Losses, Quality of Wins and BCS National Championships.
All categories have two common and simple themes: winning is rewarded and losing is punished (at least implicitly).
To measure, the top team in each category received 100 points and subsequent teams received the number of points equal to the percentage earned of the winner. For example, if Team A was the best in a given category with a score of 20, and Team B was second with 19, Team A would receive 100 pts and Team B would receive 95 pts.
Teams also received 100 points per BCS National Championship. As stated above, this is an inherently subjective exercise. For example, I found ways to justify four different champions with the same data sets and categories just by changing a few things, but eventually I settled on a formula I could live with. A more detailed description can be found at the end.
On to the countdown...
Fittingly, one of the first games of the new decade matches the Hokies against the team they barely edged for tenth spot on the list — the Boise State Broncos. While the Bronco's seeming overnight success created waves throughout the decade, the Hokie's exposure to stronger competition allowed the boys from Blacksburg to seize their spot in the countdown.
While their most successful season of a decade that began in the Big East and ended in the ACC came in 2000, Tech remained remarkably consistent, ranking 19th or higher in nine of the ten years but failing to reach "elite" status through their inability to win against top teams, both in and out of conference play. They only posted two wins against top-10 teams when they defeated Miami in 2003 and WVU in 2005.
The ACC seems up for grabs again this year, and it's hard to predict the Hokies going away any time soon. However, the tone for 2010 and the decade to come will certainly be set early when they kick things off at FedEx Field.
If you paid any attention to the SEC in the last two years, you saw all you needed to see with Alabama for the decade. Outside of 2008 and 2009, 'Bama has no business on this countdown and the 2000s were a decade to forget. In every measurable category except National Championships, the Tide placed last or second to last, often by a large margin compared to the other 11 teams measured.
The pre-Saban years were uncharacteristically underwhelming considering the Tide's proud history. They boasted only two moderately successful campaigns in 2002 (under postseason probation) and 2005 (wins later vacated).
The record books (including the vacated 2005 wins) show that the Tide went seven consecutive seasons without a victory over a top 25 team. Nonetheless, for all that went wrong the first eight years, winning has healed all wounds and the future undoubtedly looks bright in Tuscaloosa.
Georgia quietly amassed a very impressive and mostly consistent decade. Like Virginia Tech however, they ultimately failed to capture their place with the elite teams.
The Bulldogs played some excellent football and produced some exceptional players throughout the decade, winning the SEC twice, but their accomplishments were overshadowed by the success of their rivals in blue to the south. In all measured categories (except championships), Georgia placed between Fifth and Eighth, with their highest score coming in Loss Quality.
The Dawgs finally grabbed the spotlight and were dubbed by many as the nation's "hottest team," going into the 2007 bowl season after they throttled Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. When their president stole some of league rival LSU's thunder by speaking against the ills of the BCS, he proposed a playoff system the day after the Tiger's Championship win and the Dawgs started 2008 ranked No. 1.
Again, they failed to live up to the hype and saw the Gator's hoist another crystal ball. Like many teams, Georgia was a few big wins away from greatness — wins that would have boosted their scores in all categories.
Still, the Dawgs certainly had an excellent decade of continued success. 2009 saw the worst year of the decade for Georgia, but expect them to right the ship and compete with Florida for the SEC East title in 2010.
The 2000s saw the best and worst of the 'Canes. They started off the decade with a 34 game winning streak, and had a legitimate shot to begin with three national titles (finished close third in BCS behind FSU in 2000, won NC in 2001, lost in OT of Championship Game in 2002) and were loaded with NFL talent. Even with the emergence of USC, Miami was the clear statistical leader the first half of the decade.
The second half, especially 2006-2008, was a different story completely. In the end, Miami's best category was Quality Wins (fifth place) and worst was 10th in overall winning percentage. As the years went on, the losses mounted and their rankings in all categories plummeted.
The Hurricane's regained respectability in 2009 and with no clear leader in the ACC, Miami has a chance to win a title for the fourth consecutive decade.
Now we get to the big boys. The Buckeyes are another historically successful program that witnessed a revival or sorts in the 2000s by winning the 2002 national championship over what many considered to be a vastly superior Miami team. They played for two more championships as well, losing both times to SEC schools.
The Buckeyes dominated the Big 10 (in particular rival Michigan) over the course of the decade. Ohio State tied USC for the most BCS bowl appearances in the decade, and proved that their massive alumni base and fan support will travel well.
Through the measured categories, Ohio State ranked has high as second in BCS Success, and as low as sixth in the Quality Win Total. This was in part to what many amounted to a "weaker" Big 10 and an inability to defeat elite teams after 2002.
To their credit, the Buckeyes scheduled tough home-and-home series with USC and Texas, but in those four games only nipped Texas during their worst year of the decade. Over the last few years it has become trendy to dog the Big 10 and Buckeyes for losing those championship games, but they overwhelmingly won the games they should have won, and their continued and consistent success is undeniable.
Their win over Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl may have shaken some of the haters, and it would stand to reason they will have even more opportunities to earn respect in the coming years.
Okay, where do we begin? After being dubbed the Team of the Decade by many media sources (ESPN.com, NBC Sports, etc.) both before and after the 2009 season, it is undeniable the Trojans were a phenomenal program throughout the decade with their 34 game winning streak, three Heismans and Hollywood personalities. USC effectively filled the void of the Raiders and Rams, becoming THE football team for the nation's second largest market.
Even with all that success, a closer look at the numbers demonstrates poor seasons in 2000, 2001, and a disappointing 2009 run. The Achilles' heel that snipped the Trojans so many times through their run doomed them again here — losing to relatively bad teams.
USC finished second in the Quality Win Total, but suffered greatly in the loss category, barely beating Miami and Alabama in Losses to unranked teams — very unbecoming for a Team of the Decade. Despite perceptions of unbridled greatness, USC only finished first in one category — BCS Success.
Also, there is the issue of 2003. I chose not to credit USC with a National Championship with their AP title because the Trojans lived in BCS world. USC failed to qualify for the game under the system everyone agreed to by playing the weakest schedule of the three one-loss teams.
The line has to be drawn as 2003 was not 1997, a year that contractually prevented Michigan and Nebraska from playing. Also, these figures exclude recent sanctions which forced USC to vacate parts of the 2004 and all of the 2005 seasons.
For what it's worth, under my calculations USC would finish sixth if the wins were vacated, seventh if wins and 2004 championship were vacated, and first (by the slimmest of margins) if credited with all wins and two national championships. Despite the sanctions, the Trojans seem to have retained top talent and should continue to fight on in the new Pac-10.
Recent expansion talk demonstrated Texas' strength off the field, but on the field they truly had a spectacular decade. Easily the most consistent team of the period, Texas never ranked below 13th in any year. The Longhorns finished first in three of the six categories: Winning Pct, Ranking Total, and Loss Quality.
The Longhorns didn't lose often, and when they did it was most likely to a top team. Unfortunately for them, these losses, in particular to rival Oklahoma, often prevented the Horns from playing the Big 12 Championship Game and then a BCS Bowl.
That inability negatively impacted Texas' BCS Success score, Quality Win Total, and the most important category of all — National Championships. Compared to their arch rival, the Longhorn's image seems to be more positive because of success in out-of-conference games, and even in defeat (2010 BCS Championship) put up a valiant effort after Colt McCoy was knocked out early.
Looking forward, Texas has seemingly hand picked their new league and is sure to receive plenty of money and continued success. If they can get by the Sooners, the eyes of Texas should have a clear line of sight to the BCS Championship game.
Despite winning their only championship of the decade in 2000, the Sooners have remained near the top for virtually the entire decade. Like Ohio State, Oklahoma has been ridiculed as of late for their failures to win the big game, and their five game losing streak in the BCS.
Compounding matters, is that in each of the three years OU lost in the title games, worthy teams (USC 2003, Auburn 2004, Texas 2008) were denied their chance, leading to even greater criticism. However, Crimson and Cream loyalists have to subscribe to the notion that it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.
In the measurable categories (and remarkably similar to their decade), Oklahoma never placed first, but never finished less than fourth. Despite playing in the same division, the Sooners faced stiffer in-conference competition than Texas and added a few strong non-conference opponents like Oregon, Cincinnati, TCU and Miami.
Like Texas, the Sooners' path to BCS redemption runs through Arlington, Texas. If they knock off the Longhorns and win the games they should, the Sooners are in for another strong decade.
The Bayou Bengals roared back to relevance with Nick Saban's arrival in Baton Rouge and became the first team to win two BCS Championships and also captured three SEC titles. While the Tigers had five excellent seasons (2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007) the rest of the decade was solid by most standards, but mediocre when compared to the elites.
In the five measured categories, LSU came in between third and sixth, but at the end of the day it's the hardware that counts, not statistics.
Frankly, if you win two National Championships, the title is yours to lose, and the Tigers almost did to the likes of OU, UT and USC in other categories. Still, LSU had enough success to keep a paw up on the others. Like most teams on this list, LSU was a few games away from absolute greatness that could have propelled them to the top.
They also severely damaged their rankings in the last two seasons, but not enough to give up second place. Unlike Miami, even their "bad" years were moderately successful. The Tigers last two seasons were undeniably disappointing for LSU faithful, and 2010 is a big year with out-of-conference match-ups with North Carolina and West Virginia, in addition to the SEC gauntlet. This year may not make or break the Tiger’s decade, but it will certainly set the tone.
Here we are at No. 1. The Gators' roller coaster decade featured three coaches, two National Championships, one Heisman and a place at the top of this list. While not as consistent as Texas, Oklahoma or USC, Florida hit huge peaks and not-so-deep valleys during the lean years under Ron Zook. The Gators entered and departed the decade as a premier program playing in the nation's toughest conference.
Unquestionably the Gators’ titles vaulted them to the top spot, but they remained near the top of all measurable categories.
While their worst showing was sixth place in Winning Pct., the Gators claimed the most points in Quality Win Total and also had the least number of slip-ups against unranked teams. Florida finished third in Quality Loss Total and BCS Success, and fifth in Ranking Total.
Despite Urban Meyer's “time off,” Florida should remain at or near the top of the SEC, guaranteeing a battle-tested team entering bowl season. Entering the 2010s, the Gators will seek to capture at least their fourth championship overall, and the distinction of bringing the hardware home to Gainesville in three consecutive decades.
It has been said that statistics can be used to support or undercut almost any argument. This poll was no different. My goal was to create a sustainable scoring system that quantified important criteria to appropriately measure a program's success over a long period of time.
The following slides provide greater detail in the scoring system used to determine the order.
This is simply the overall winning percentage over the last ten years. Considering the disparity in competition, teams were compared to Texas and not Boise St. even though the Broncos had a higher percent total.
While this is not perfect measurement, college football's bottom line is winning. The more you win, the better off you are — simple as that.
This was determined by averaging a team's rank in both the Coach's and AP Polls for a given year and assigning the inverse number relative to the ranking. These numbers were then totaled for each team for all ten years.
If a team ended the season unranked, no points were earned. For example, in 2009 Alabama finished No. 1 and thus received 25 pts, Texas No. 2 with 24 pts, ect.
Rankings are integral in college football and have historically quantified success. A team's continued success is important to measure when determining the best over 10 years.
Teams are rated by the following point system: one point = BCS game loss; two points = BCS Championship game loss; three points = BCS game win; four points = BCS Championship Game win.
BCS Success attempts to quantify success in the BCS bowl games — the time when all eyes are upon you. Success and failure in BCS games has jump started and hampered teams going into the next season.
While the BCS is not perfect, getting to a BCS bowl is what every team strives to achieve. Getting to be BCS means one or all things — you won your conference, you are very good, or you have a lot of money and fans. Fair or not, these issues factor into college football.
Quality Win Total is the net total of inverse "Ranking Points" of a team’s defeated opponents. Every victory over a ranked team (at the end of the season) is measured and totaled.
For example, Ole Miss would have earned 25 points for beating No. 1 Florida in 2008. Alabama earned 24 points for beating No. 2 Texas in 2009, etc.
Quality of victory and quality of competition are important factors and get beyond simple win/loss figures. This indirectly considers a team's strength of schedule by providing opportunities to beat quality teams and actual accomplishments. Basically, the assumption is that the program of the decade should beat unranked teams. Whether it’s unranked Florida State or unranked Florida International, wins over unranked teams are not scored.
This measurement is the combination of two scores — "quality" losses (ranked teams) and "non-quality" losses. Quality Losses are 40 percent of the score and based on the same scoring system for Quality Wins — a given program’s ranked opponents are measured by their inverse ranking (25-1).
However, losses to ranked teams are also measured in addition to wins over ranked teams. As such, 25 points would be earned for beating the No. 1 team, and 25 points would be earned in the loss category for losing to the No. 25 team. From there, the win/loss ratio of each program is measured to produce a final score.
The remaining 60 percent is the total score (based on Congrove computer rankings) of the rank of each program’s losses to unranked teams at the end of the year. If a team lost to the No. 100 ranked team, then 100 points are assigned to that team. The program with the lowest number wins. The Quality Loss and Quality Win score are then added together.
This is the most subjective and complicated formula. Given college football is often a game judged on who beat you, rather than who you beat, this is an important issue. By dividing this in two, it also brings in strength of schedule component.
A ratio (quality losses) was used instead a straight numbers to account for the quality of opponents. For example, Boise State lost fewer games than Florida, but it would be disingenuous to base Boise's loss record as the baseline considering the quality of competition.
This seeks to compare apples to apples, so to speak and digs deeper into the numbers. Most importantly, I did not want a team punished more for losing to a ranked team rather than an unranked team.
The "Unranked" section simply follows the notion that Programs of the Decade should not lose to unranked teams, but losing to 2009 unranked Oklahoma is not the same as losing to 2007 Stanford, and the quality of a loss should be taken into account.
This is an important factor demonstrated by USC's 2007 loss to that very bad Stanford team that kept them out of the BCS Championship game. Programs of the decade, in my opinion, should also be judged by their peaks and valleys because they are in the course of a season.
100 points are awarded for every BCS Championship won. This excludes recent events concerning NCAA action against USC and includes their 2004-2005 BCS Championship.
Even though the system is not perfect, it's the ultimate goal — earning the hardware is what it's all about. Winning one championship is therefore equal to being the best over a decade in whatever arbitrary statistic.