The 14 Greatest College Football Dynasties of All Time
In today's sports world, fans and media alike are always looking for the next dynasty. When we see a team that is winning a lot of games, then automatically the dynasty talk appears. Multiple championships are what secures a team into dynasty status—keyword being championships.
Dynasties in sports mean that a team is one the most dominant of its sport's history and dominated on a regular and consistent basis for a good stretch of time. Sure there have been many "runs," but there have only been so many "dynasties." Same goes for college football, as my research led me to realize there haven't been as many true dynasties as many fans think.
On this list there are some dynasties that we all know, and the consensus is they belong on this list, while there are some others that have been left off and even some that may surprise you.
Here are the 14 greatest college football dynasties of all time.
14. Syracuse: 1958-1960
From 1958-1960, the Orangemen (as they were known at the time) went 26-4, including a national championship in 1959. This is the squad that is featured in the 2008 film, The Express.
The team was led by head coach Ben Schwartzwalder, who turned the program around when he took over in 1949. The 'Cuse had gone just 11-29 before Schwartzwalder arrived. In '54 came Jim Brown, a dominant fullback/tailback that immediately sparked the program's offensive production.
The 1958 season was the key to the run, as '58 saw the the arrival of one Ernie Davis.
Davis developed into one of the greatest college running backs of all time, and this season prepped the Orangemen for their run in 1959. During the '58 season, by now dominant on both sides of the ball, Syracuse's only two defeats came on a one-point defeat to Holy Cross, then a 21-6 loss to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
In the offseason, the players all knew that the next season could be special and had seen what it takes to win a championship. They beat their first three '59 season opponents by a combined score of 95-27. Then came revenge on Holy Cross, which resulted in a 42-6 thumping.
The Orangemen rolled into the 1960 Cotton Bowl on a 10-game win streak and played Texas, basically a home game for the Longhorns.
The game was dominated by Ernie Davis on both sides of the ball, including a pick-six and an 87-yard touchdown catch, prompting the final to be 23-14 and capping off the Orangemen's '58-'60 dynasty.
13. Nebraska: 1970-1971
Nebraska's '70-'71 squads are established as a dynasty due to their back-to-back national titles and 24-0-1 record during this stretch, including 23 wins in a row.
The team was obviously led by Heisman-winning receiver/do-it-all player Johnny "Jet" Rodgers, who was the driving force behind the national title seasons.
The 1971 season marked the "Game of the Century" between the Cornhuskers and Nebraska, resulting in a 35-21 win for Big Red. Rodgers dazzled all contest long and ran a punt back 72 yards for a score that seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game.
Bob Devaney was the head coach, and had an offensive assistant on his staff named Tom Osborne. The Cornhuskers' '70-'71 teams continued their famous stretch of 40 consecutive winning seasons of Nebraska football. Devaney finished his career as the Nebraska head man in '72, going 101-20-2.
12. Alabama: 1977-1979
Bear Bryant proved to the national media once again that he was one of the most dominant college coaches of all-time. Near the end of his tenure at Alabama, Bryant led the Tide to a 34-2 record during this stretch.
What made this a legitimate dynasty were the back-to-back national titles in '78 and '79.
The 1978 squad went 10-1, beating Nebraska and Missouri in the regular season. Their only defeat came to powerhouse USC.
The Sugar Bowl called for Alabama to play No.1-ranked Penn State, where Bryant and the Tide beat the Nittany Lions 14-7 and the AP named Alabama the national champions.
The next year, the Crimson Tide elevated their play and went 11-0 in the regular season.
The big-time victories of this season were wins over Tennessee and Auburn. A 24-9 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl capped off another national championship season. This time, both the coaches' and AP polls named Alabama national champions.
11. Miami: 2000-2003
Boy, were the Miami Hurricanes good at the start of the decade. The program was littered once again with NFL talent and The U was back.
Miami endured a quick rise from being an afterthought in the early '80s and turned it around. The '90s saw a bit of a dip, but towards the end of the decade the Canes were rolling into the 2000s.
Miami went 46-4 in this stretch, with four Big East titles. They appeared in three BCS bowls and capped it off with dominating win over Nebraska in 2001.
This could have stretched out a year to 2002, yet a highly controversial pass interference call in the National Championship game vaulted Ohio State to victory to snap the Canes' 34-game win streak.
Players of this era included the likes of Ken Dorsey, Ed Reed, Willis McGahee, Bryant McKinnie, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, Phillip Buchanon and Jon Beason.
10. Oklahoma: 1971-1975
Chuck Fairbanks is considered the grandfather of the 30 front, 3-4 defense that many NFL teams run at the moment, and he started it at Oklahoma, using the defense to dominate and stymie opposing offenses.
Interestingly enough, Fairbanks has a coaching history with the New England Patriots, one of the first teams to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under Bill Belichick.
Fairbanks gave the reins to Barry Switzer, who led the Sooners to national titles in 1974 and 1975. The offense used by the Sooners was a crazy formation at the time, known as the "Wishbone." It was a potent rushing attack and Oklahoma had some dominant big uglies up front to open up holes.
It was nothing to read about how the Sooner offense racked up over half a thousand yards on a Saturday and destroyed an opponent in all facets of the game.
Notable players include the Selmon brothers, Stevie Davis and Joe Washington.
9. Oklahoma: 1948-1952
When you go 31-2 in three years and win a national title to seal the deal, you reach dynasty status, and the '48-'52 Oklahoma Sooners team did just that.
Each season ended with the Sooners playing in the prestigious Sugar Bowl. The stretch actually started with a loss to then football foe Santa Clara.
Then, the Sooners just went on a simple 31-game winning streak.
The '49 team went undefeated, but the interesting nugget in this stretch was the 1950 squad, who were supposed to be a year away and too young to seriously contend with the big boys. Yet, the 1950 Sooner team finished their season as national champions.
Key figures in this era include head coach Bud Wilkinson and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Billy Vessels.
8. Army: 1944-1946
Army may not be a powerhouse these days, but back in the day the Cadets could ball with the best of 'em.
In this stretch they went undefeated. No, they did not lose a single game and won two national titles to give them credence as a firm dynasty in college football.
Well, Notre Dame did hold them to a scoreless tie at the old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx in '46, but other than that, each opponent got owned by Army, which won games by an average score of 42-6. The Cadets went 27-0-1 overall during this run that saw an offense hang 50 points on defenses like it was nothing.
The Cadets were led by Mr. Inside, Doc Blanchard, and Mr. Outside, Glenn Davis. The two-headed monster shredded defenses game after game and gave opponents fits. Blanchard was basically a bully with the ball and Davis was a darter that had prime-time speed and quickness.
7. Florida State: 1992-2000
In the '90s it was Florida State and then everyone else—for the most part. I even remember getting a recruiting letter at the start of the 2000s from FSU and walked around like I was hot stuff because of it—but that's a different story.
It started on the recruiting trail, and no one dominated recruiting in the '90s like Bobby Bowden did.
Once the Seminoles talked a player into hosting them for a home visit, Bowden closed like Mariano Rivera. December, January and NSD were when the 'Noles plucked away top talent year after year.
On the field, FSU lost just two ACC games as it moved into the conference from being a measly, after-thought of an independent. They beat Notre Dame in 1993 for the national title and gave Bobby Bowden a perfect season in 1999. Overall, the stretch saw them go 99-11-1 and churn out a number of elite stars of college football.
Think Peter Warrick, Chris Weinke, Warrick Dunn, Travis Minor, Walter Jones and Andre Wadsworth, among a plethora of other elite talent.
6. Alabama: 1961-1966
Here is where Bear Bryant really let the college football know that Alabama was not playing around.
Bryant left for Alabama from Texas A&M, and when asked why he did it, he replied, "Mama called, and when Mama calls, you come running."
Bryant made his mark with this team by going 60-5-1 and winning four SEC titles. Oh, right—I almost forgot about the three national titles and two perfect undefeated seasons.
They won five out of six New Year's Day bowl games, displaying their program to the national public on the biggest stages in college football.
During this stretch, it was nothing to wish people a Happy New Year and then watch the Crimson Tide dominate on New Year's Day. And they weren't dominating nobodies—big-time NYD wins include victories over Oklahoma, Nebraska and Arkansas.
This era was home to Ray Perkins, Billy Neighbors, Lee Roy Jordan and one Joe Namath.
5. Nebraska: 1993-1997
Nebraska was in the shadow of Florida State during this era, but observers do recognize this period as a dynasty as well—and rightfully so.
Many Big Red supporters say this was the final dance in the Cornhuskers' prime period, since after this, the program dipped a bit.
In this five-year period, the Cornhuskers competed for four national titles, winning three and losing out to Florida State on a fourth during an 18-16 loss in the Orange Bowl in 1994. The Cornhuskers came back in 1995 to throttle Florida 62-24 in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl.
Nebraska drilled opponents, with Tom Osborne leading the program to an amazing 60 wins over this stretch. Osborne did it the old-fashioned way—running the football and the infamous Blackshirts defense.
The Cornhuskers were not a sexy or flashy stop on the recruiting trail, instead recruiting size, strength and toughness to their program—especially in the offensive and defensive trenches.
Grant Wistrom, Ahman Green, Lawrence Phillips, Aaron Taylor and Jason Peter are notable players from this period.
4. USC: 2002-2009
The Trojans fired Paul Hackett and were then turned down by a number of big-name coaches that AD Mike Garrett wanted to hire. An outcast former NFL coach named Pete Carroll inquired about the job and got an interview. Garrett hired Carroll and there was immediate backlash from fans.
Today, Pete Carroll may be the most beloved coach in school history and perhaps the best.
USC dominated college football in the 2000s and it was all led by Carroll. He hired Norm Chow to run the offense, and signed elite talent like Reggie Bush, Mike Williams, LenDale White, Winston Justice, Matt Leinart, Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith and Sam Baker.
Carroll mostly ran his own defense and had the Trojans among the best in the nation year after year. There was a stretch of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles, back-to-back national championships—barely missing out on a third straight in an epic game vs. Texas—and the countless number of NFL draft picks and No.1 recruiting classes.
You can easily make an argument for USC to be as high as No.1 on this list.
3. Notre Dame: 1946-1949
Notre Dame may have the most traditional appeal and allure of any program in college football, and this era is one of the key cogs that fuel that notion.
The Irish of this era became stars in the sports world as the nation settled back into its routine from the harshness of the second World War.
The Irish went 36-0 in this stretch, tying just two games, vs. Army in '46 and USC in '48. Notre Dame never found itself behind on the scoreboard during this period, either.
The team was led by head coach Frank Leahy, now a Hall of Famer and legend, who delivered three national titles during this period and continued to build Notre Dame's rock star status in the national spotlight.
In this era, college football was way bigger and more liked than professional football was—and perhaps even more respected.
If you became a star at Notre Dame, then you became a national celebrity such as Bob Kelly, Johnny Lujack and Frank Dancewicz.
2. Miami: 1986-1992
As much as the Canes dominated in the late '90s and early 2000s, they did even more in the '80s and early '90s. Two Heisman QBs in Gino Torretta and Vinny Testaverde, three national titles and two other chances to win titles make this Miami period a dynasty.
The U went 76-6 in this period and were the bad boys of college football. They defined the term "swagger" and dared any opponent to play with them. They were pretty much the team of the decade and became rock stars not only in college football, but also in American culture.
They even feuded with their school president, Notre Dame and the media.
Legend has it that Miami football players were the toast of the town during this period, even getting bigger perks than Dolphins players in the 305.
Jimmy Johnson was the head coach and left for the Dallas Cowboys, yet Dennis Erickson came in and won a national title himself, which just shows you how dominant Miami was on the field.
1. Oklahoma: 1953-1958
This is the standard by which college football dynasties are measured.
They rolled off 47 straight wins, which started in the 1953 season and did not end until the '57 campaign. They compiled a 60-3-1 overall record over six years, won back-to-back national titles, and had a legendary head coach in Bud Wilkinson.
Most of the time the Sooners won, they were up by three or four touchdowns, on average. Blowouts were their style, as they chose to jump on top of their opponents to set the tone early and let them know they were not going to win. Nobody could beat Oklahoma in this period—and pretty much nobody did.
Tommy McDonald, a stud running back, was surrounding by an offensive front that was founded on toughness. Oklahoma dominated in the trenches and let McDonald run wild, shredding defenses and eating up the clock.
The defense stymied opponents and even pitched 27—count 'em, 27—shutouts in this stretch.
Case closed. Top. Dynasty. Period.