The past twenty years have seen the rise and fall of many prestigious programs. The AP Poll has been in use since 1936, and even with the addition of the BCS, it still holds a place in the college football landscape. Based on the final AP Poll of each season, here are the 10 best college football programs of the past twenty years. Rankings are based on AP top-10 finishes, Heisman Trophies, and AP national championships since 1990.
1. Florida Gators
The coaching and recruiting of Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier are the main reason the Gators are the best program in college football since 1990. The program has recorded 13 AP top-10 finishes, and three national titles during the period. Add in the fact they play in the SEC and these numbers are even more impressive. Quarterbacks Tim Tebow (2007) and Danny Wuerffel (1996) have claimed two Heisman Trophies for the Gators.
2. Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles were on pace to lead this list until 2001 when they didn't finish the season in the AP top 10 for the first time in 11 seasons. Coach Bobby Bowden provided the stability needed to consistently win big every season with eleven AP top-10 finishes over the past twenty seasons. The program claimed two AP national titles along with Heisman Trophies for Chris Weinke (2000) and Charlie Ward (1993).
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeye program returned to AP top 10 in 1995, finishing the season ranked sixth in the nation. Ohio State has finished the season ranked in the AP top 10 a total of 10 times since 1990, including a BCS Championship over the Miami Hurricanes in 2002. Former Buckeyes Eddie George (1995) and Troy Smith (2006) claimed Heisman Trophies for the program.
4. Miami Hurricanes
The Miami program has survived four different head coaches, to still record eight AP top-10 finishes since 1990. Gino Torretta claimed the Heisman Trophy in 1992, and the Hurricanes have claimed to two AP national titles. Throw in a portfolio of future NFL stars and this program takes the edge over Nebraska.
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Former coach Tom Osborne and the Cornhuskers rolled through the 1990's with a historic wishbone offense that dominated on the ground. The program from Lincoln won back-to-back National Championships in 1994 and 1995 and finished in the top 10 a total of eight times. Quarterback Eric Crouch was awarded the 2001 Heisman Trophy. Coach Bo Pelini is semi-successfully attempting to return the program to national dominance.
6. Michigan Wolverines
Currently rebuilding a program, the Wolverines have finished the season ranked in the AP top 10 a total of eight times since 1990. A year prior to the first BCS Championship Game, the Wolverines were crowned as the top-ranked team in the nation in 1997. In 1990, the Heisman Trophy was given to Desmond Howard and in 1997 Charles Woodson became the first defensive player to win the award.
7. Southern Cal Trojans
The USC program could be considered mediocre over the past twenty years until they finished the 2002 season ranked in the AP top 10. The Trojans then proceeded to finish in the top 10 for seven straight seasons. The AP Poll also crowned the program national champions in both 2003 and 2004. Quarterbacks Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and running back Reggie Bush (now questionable), were awarded Heisman Trophies for the Trojans in 2002, 2004, and 2005. New coach Lane Kiffin faces an uphill battle in helping the program rebound from their upcoming NCAA probation.
8. Oklahoma Sooners
Much like USC, the Sooners were very average until coach Bob Stoops stepped in to lead the program. In 2000, the program won the BCS National Championship game and has since finished the season ranked in the AP top 10 a total of seven times. Former quarterback Jason White and Sam Bradford have been awarded the Heisman Trophy.
9. Alabama Crimson Tide
The Tuscaloosa program was strong early in the 90's, mediocre for a decade, and has returned to dominance the past few years. Under Gene Stallings, the Crimson Tide finished the 1992 season ranked as the nation's best football team. Nick Saban returned the program to national dominance in 2009, with BCS Championship victory over Texas. Running back Mark Ingram was awarded the 2009 Heisman Trophy.
10. Tennessee Volunteers (tie)
Much like Michigan, the state of the Volunteer program is currently mediocre. Under former coach Phillip Fulmer, The Vols were consistent with seven AP top-10 finishes over the past twenty years. Led by quarterback Tee Martin, the team won the first ever BCS National Championship game in 1998.
10. Texas Longhorns (tie)
The Longhorns were absent from the AP top 10 from 1990 until 2001. Mack Brown has since led the program to seven seasons ending the year ranked in the nation's top 10. Running back Ricky Williams was awarded the 1998 Heisman Trophy. Brown and Texas won the 2005 BCS Championship in a thrilling game over USC.
Overall Rankings of AP Top 10 Programs Since 1990.
Number of times finished in top ten of AP Poll since 1990 with AP National Titles in parenthesis.
1. Florida 13(3)
2. Florida State 11(2)
3. Ohio State 10(1)
4. Miami (Florida) 8(2), 4. Nebraska 8(2) , 4. Michigan 8(1)
7. USC 7(2) , 7. Oklahoma 7(1) , 7. Alabama 7(2) , 7. Tennessee 7(1) , 7. Texas 7(1) , 7. Georgia 7, 7. Penn State 7, 7. Virginia Tech 7
15. Kansas State 6
16. Colorado 5(1) , 16. Iowa 5
18. LSU 4(1) , 18. Notre Dame 4, 18. Washington State 4, 18. Wisconsin 4, 18. Auburn 4, 18. West Virginia 4
24. Utah 3, 24. Texas A&M 3, 24. Oregon 3, 24. Washington 3
28. Georgia Tech 2, 28. California 2, 28. Arizona 2, 28. TCU 2, 28. Boise State 2, 28. Kansas 2, 28. North Carolina 2, 28. UCLA 2, 28. Louisville 2
37. Clemson 1, 37. Michigan State 1, 37. Miami (Ohio) 1, 37. Cincinnati 1, 37. Stanford 1, 37. Houston 1, 37. BYU 1, 37. Marshall 1, 37. Oregon State 1, 37. Northwestern 1, 37. East Carolina 1, 37. Syracuse 1, 37. Tulane 1, 37. Missouri 1, 37. Arizona State 1