5 College Football Programs That Produce the Most Super Bowl Players

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2014

Before he was the Super Bowl XXXV MVP, Ray Lewis was a two-time All-American at Miami (Fla.),
Before he was the Super Bowl XXXV MVP, Ray Lewis was a two-time All-American at Miami (Fla.),Associated Press

Did you know that the SEC has the most players in this season’s Super Bowl?

Yes, college football’s most dominant conference has 31 players dotted among Seattle and Denver’s rosters.  This gives it an eight-player advantage over the second-place finisher Pac-12, according to Jon Solomon of AL.com.

It’s yet another notch in the SEC’s big, bad belt.

Since the Super Bowl has been going on for almost 50 years—way longer than the SEC’s current reign—could it be that teams from other conferences are the real all-time leaders?

To answer this, we scoured Pro-Football Reference’s Super Bowl rosters for all 48 games in history.

The Top Five Teams

If you include this year’s tilt between Denver and Seattle, 96 teams have ascended to the Super Bowl since it debuted in 1966.

That’s 96 rosters, with college football teams getting credit for each and every time a former player went on to play in the NFL title game.

Here are the results.

Top Five College Football Teams in Super Bowl Appearances
SchoolNumber of Appearances
1Miami (Fla.)117
3Penn State103
6Notre Dame99
Pro-Football Reference

As shocking as it may seem, not only does the SEC not own the top spot, it doesn’t even have a member in the top five. 

The highest-ranked SEC team all-time? Well, that’s Tennessee, which comes in at No. 8 with 93 Super Bowl appearances.

What gave Miami (Fla.) a huge advantage in the count was the number of times it had more than three guys on a single team’s Super Bowl roster.   This happened on six occasions, with the highlight coming in 1993 when the Dallas Cowboys had six Hurricanes on the sidelines. 

Also worth noting is Notre Dame, which has had a player represent it at every single Super Bowl but two.  The exceptions came in Super Bowl XII (1977, Dallas-Denver) and Super Bowl XXXIII (1998, Denver-Atlanta).

In case you’re wondering—and you probably are—here’s the balance of the Top 10: No. 7 Nebraska (95), No. 8 Tennessee (93), No. 9 Colorado (88) and No. 10 Georgia (82).

The Top Five Conferences

Here’s a look at how the power-five conferences rank in all-time Super Bowl roster appearances.  Keep in mind that this is based on conference membership in 2013.

All-Time Super Bowl Appearances By Conference
ConferenceNumber of AppearancesAvg Per Team
1Big Ten75663
5Big 1239039
Pro-Football Reference

The numbers make a clear case for the Big Ten and Pac-12 as the leaders in sending players to the Super Bowl.

The Big Ten’s lead is built on Penn State’s 103 appearances, Michigan’s 99, Nebraska’s 95 and Ohio State’s 80.  The addition of the Cornhuskers—who defected from the Big 12 in 2011—launched the Big Ten to the top of the charts.

The Pac-12 has two programs above the 100-mark (USC and UCLA), while Colorado gives it a big boost with its 88 appearances.  Next in line is Cal, which contributes a healthy 74.

UCLA sent five players to Super Bowl XXXVIII, including RB DeShaun Foster who rushed for 43 yards and scored one touchdown.
UCLA sent five players to Super Bowl XXXVIII, including RB DeShaun Foster who rushed for 43 yards and scored one touchdown.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

The SEC comes in third, led by Tennessee (93), Georgia (82), LSU (77), Alabama (75) and Florida (71).  It certainly didn’t hurt when it picked up Texas A&M (65) and Missouri (30) from the Big 12.

Next is the ACC, bolstered by nation-leading Miami (Fla.) followed by Florida State (77), North Carolina (66), Clemson (64) and Boston College (59).

Lagging way beyond the rest of the pack is the Big 12, which doesn’t have a program above the 70-mark.  The top dog is Oklahoma with 69, then Texas at 66 and No. 3 Kansas with 43. 

The Big 12’s low average in appearances per team (39) proves that the deficiency isn’t due to the conference’s shrinking membership.

In this case, it’s all about the lasting effects of losing big-time programs to conference realignment.

The Top of the FCS

Moving down to what was once known as Division I-AA, here are the top Super Bowl appearances in the FCS Ranks.

Top 5 Super Bowl Appearances by FCS Teams
TeamNumber of Appearances
1Tennessee St30
2Grambling St28
3Florida A&M26
5Jackson St23
Pro-Football Reference

The FCS leader—Tennessee State—has sent more players to the Super Bowl than Northwestern (27), Rutgers (25), SMU (25), Wake Forest (25), Cincinnati (22), Oregon State (19) and Kansas State (19).

That’s impressive.

Honorable Mention

As far as teams that aren’t at the top of the charts but are worth noting, take a look at this.

Honorable Mention
TeamDivision/ConferenceNumber of Appearances
San Diego StFBS/Mountain West52
West Texas A&MDivision II/Lone Star15
PacificDivision III/Northwest11
South FloridaFBS/American Athletic8
Pro-Football Reference

With 52 appearances, San Diego State is the top-ranked team that doesn’t belong to a power-five conference.  The Aztecs’ total tops Auburn (49), Iowa (49), Louisville (49), Arizona (43) and Oklahoma State (41).

West Texas A&M (formerly West Texas State) is the top ranking Division II team with 15 appearances all-time.  That’s better than New Mexico’s 14, UTEP’s 14, Navy’s 12 and Air Force’s 10.

With 11, Pacific (located in Forest Grove, Ore.) is the Division III leader.  The Boxers have more Super Bowl appearances than Boise State (10), Troy (10), Central Michigan (10), Youngstown State (9), Miami, Ohio (8) and New Mexico State (8).

Before Marshall Faulk helped the St. Louis Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV, he played at San Diego State.
Before Marshall Faulk helped the St. Louis Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV, he played at San Diego State.Mike Powell/Getty Images

Last but not least, South Florida’s eight appearances might not seem like a big deal, until you remember that the Bulls have only been lacing it up as a football team since 1997.

They missed the first 30 years of the Super Bowl.

As Jon Solomon from AL.com said, the diversity among Super Bowl rosters is “another friendly reminder about how good football players can come from anywhere.”