This is my first piece of a few on college football in the 1990s. Other stories will be about the top 10 teams of the 90s, top 10 individual performances, top 20 games and possibly my top 10 favorite players.
Besides this edition, all others are my own personal opinion.
I have ranked the top 10 programs of the 1990s based on their total AP poll finish. I gave the No. 1 rank 25 points, all the way down to No. 25 with one point.
I did this over straight records because that has been done before and records can be misleading.
For instance, the No. 2 team in the country can go 11-1 with their lone loss to the No. 1 team. The No. 10 team can also go 11-1, with one or two top 25 wins and a loss to a bad team. Those two teams should bot be equals. Although there is a bit of a poll bias, looking at these rankings, it seems very accurate.
No. 10 Texas A&M (114 points)
The Aggies had a very balanced decade with most of their teams finishing in the top 15. However, they didn’t have that great season or seasons to bring them up the list.
A&M was known for its recking crew defense back in those days, and the perfect symbol was linebacker Dat Nguyen. The highlight of the decade was the 36-33 win over Kansas State in the 98 Big 12 Championship game that kept KSU from the national title game.
The problem with the big win was that it was surrounded by losses to Texas and Ohio State, costing the Aggies a higher finish.
9. tie: Ohio State (117)
It was a slow start for John Cooper and Ohio State in the decade. You can probably blame Kirk Herbstreit for that. The trio of Bobby Hoing, Eddie George and Terry Gleen jump-started the team in the mid-90s, but could not win a championship.
Losses to Michigan in 95 and 96 kept the Buckeyes from a title, while a loss to Michigan State in 98 gave the team a No. 2 finish.
OSU was known for what might have been under Cooper, and this ranking is a perfect example of that. It also didn’t help that the 1999 Buckeyes ended the season unranked.
9. tie: Alabama (117)
It was all about Roll Tide from 1992-94 behind quarterback Jay Barker. However, it took a couple years for the Tide to get to that stage and the late 90s didn’t help Bama’s cause.
Thanks to a strong year on 99, Bama was able to sneak into the top 10 and earn the honor of worst program to win a championship in the 90s. It is kind of ironic that a missed extra point in overtime against Michigan kept the Tide from finishing above OSU.
Like A&M, Bama was known for its suffocating defense throughout the 90s. The problem was finding a quarterback after Barker. Freddie Kitchens lasted most of three years, but was not the answer.
It was a shame for Tide fans as they had a great RB in Shaun Alexander and several other solid ones in the 90s. You can’t forget about David Palmer in the early 90’s as the game’s first slash.
7. Miami (137)
This probably surprises many people, but the Hurricanes were nothing great after 1992. It looked like they were going to be the team of the decade once again in the 90s after Craig Erickson and Gino Teretta started them off so well.
The athletes jsut weren’t there in the mid 90s as the off the field trouble hurt the program. They were just starting to build back up the charts when the decade ended. Wow, that sounds a lot like this decade.
While they had all those speedy receivers in the decade, I will remember the trio of linebackers at the beginning of the decade the most.
Darrin Smith, Jesse Armstead and Michael Barrow made up the best group of linebackers in the history of college football, at least in my opinion.
6. Penn State (146)
The most memorable thing of the decade for Nittany Lions fans is how they didn’t earn at least a share of the title in 1994. The tandem of Kerry Collins, Ki Jana Carter and Bobby Engram made one of the best offenses of the decade. It would be the only time in recent memory the offense overshadowed the defense.
The end of the decade will be remembered by the teams that fell apart. They were undefeated late in the year when they were blown away at home by Michigan in 97. They were undefeated late in 99 before losing three straight games, including two at home.
Speaking of good linebackers, LaVar Arrington, Courtney Brown and Brandon Short made up a pretty good tandem in the late 90s.
Who can forget about Curtis Enis, who turned out to be as big of a bust as the PSU running backs before him. While PSU ended up with just one big year, it was a consistent top 20 team the whole decade.
5. Michigan (154)
The championship of 97 erased a decade of frustration for the Wolverines. It was actually predicted as one of the worst teams of the decade. The first half of the decade was filled with underachieving teams as none could sniff a title.
Elvis Grbac and Todd Collins had talent around them, but it was a bunch of missed opportunities. Obviously, the hail mary loss to Colorado stands out as the play that crushed the program the most.
In fact, the talent of the early 90s was probably better than any other team. Tyrone Wheatly, Tim Biakabatuka, Derrick Alexander, Desmond Howard, Mercury Hayes, Jay Riemersma and Amani Toomer make the Michigan hard to beat talent-wise.
There was even more talent on the 99 team than the 97 with Tom Brady, Drew Henson, David Terrell, Anthony Thomas and Marquise Walker.
Despite all that talent, it was the incredible group of offensive lines that were the best part of the Michigan teams.
That Michigan team of 97 probably was the fifth best team of the decade for them, but the defense and Charles Woodson led the way to the title.
4. Tennessee (163)
With the exception of 1994, this was a pretty stable program in the 1990s behind Phil Fullmer. The receivers (Alvin Harper, Carl Pickens, Joey Kent, Marcus Nash and Peerless Price) and running backs (Charlie Garner, James Stewart, Jay Graham, Travis Henry, Travis Stephens and Jamal Lewis) were some of the best that any team in the decade could boast about. Then there was a guy named Peyton Manning.
All of the good offensive talent overshadowed a very good defense for most of the decade, but the defense would get some revenge by winning the team a championship in 98 behind Al Wilson. Leonard Little and Terry Fair are two of my favorite defensive players of all-time.
The Vols were very close to finishing No. 3, but bowl losses to Nebraska in 97 and 99 kept them behind the Huskers. Losing to Florida seven times in the decade didn’t help either.
While the 98 team won the title, UT will be remembered most this decade for Manning, although Tee Martin will always be No. 1 in my eyes.
3. Nebraska (172)
Two outright championships and a split title and you are only No. 3? Wow!
It was a slow start to the decade for the Huskers, and 1998 was a struggle as well with four losses.
However, there was no more dominant stretch in the 90s than Nebraska from 1993-97. Tommy Fraiser, the greatest player of the decade in my opinion, guided Nebraska to two and a half undefeated seasons. He was hurt in the middle of 94 and the late Brook Berringer took over and the Huskers kept winning. That shows how good this team was.
The defense was dominant in the 90s and the offense could score at will most of the time.
Every year it seemed like there was a new running back to add to the mix, although a couple would get into some trouble. By the end of the decade, the only things stopping the Huskers were fumbles and the lack of a passing game. Oh yea, and a guy named Tom Osborne.
2. Florida (194)
Sure, the Gators only won one title and it was with a loss, but the team was consistently in the top 10 throughout the decade.
Steve Spurrier had it going and could throw in whatever quarterback he wanted to.
Of course he could when he had the wide receivers that he did (Aubrey Hill, Willie Jackson, Jack Jackson, Chris Doering, Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony, Jacquez Green, Travis McGriff, Darell Jackson and Travis Taylor).
That is far and away the best group of WRs in the decade. It even made Danny Wuerffel a Heisman Trophy player.
A big trouble in the decade for Florida was Florida State. Even when the Gators beat the Noles in 96, they still lost to them in the regular season.
The defense was solid throughout the decade as well, behind Bob Stoops, although the offense got all the publicity.
Any other decade they would have probably been No. 1, but there was an amazing program just North of Gainesville in the 90s.
1. Florida State (231)
This was the obvious No. 1 from the beginning, considering FSU finished in the top five EVERY YEAR in the 1990’s! While there was a lack of big-time pro players on the offensive side of the ball, the offense was deadly throughout the decade. Amp Lee, Dunn and Travis Minor were a perfect fit for the offense.
It is still hard to believe a team with Thad Busby at the helm could finish in the top five, but that is how good everyone else was. The defense was unbelievable for most of the decade with the likes of stud Derrick Brooks and company.
They even had two big-time game breakers in Peter Warrick and Terrell Buckley.
If only FSU had a kicker, it could have won four titles in the decade instead of two. It is still hard to imagine a program having a decade like this ever again.