Ranking the Best College Football Programs Since 2000

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2017

Ranking the Best College Football Programs Since 2000

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The landscape of college football has changed significantly over the course of the past 17 years. 

    From conference realignment to the shift from the Bowl Championship Series bowls to the College Football Playoff, where champions are actually decided on the field, this isn't your father's gridiron. 

    In that time, powerhouses have been forged.

    Some historically dominant programs that were down at the turn of the century have surged back to the top thanks to great head coaching hires. (Looking at you, Alabama.) Others such as USC and Florida are trying to regain some of the success that landed them on this list in the first place.

    Programs like Ohio State and Oklahoma, meanwhile, have maintained a stellar climate of consistency.

    So, which programs are the best since 2000? There are many ways to come to a final conclusion, but national championships must be the greatest denominator. Volume of wins against the best competition, opportunities and performances on big stages and consistency are factors, too.

    After that, individual successes and star power matter somewhat.

    With those factors in mind, here are the top college football programs since 2000.

10. Clemson Tigers

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    By the numbers

    The Tigers have a winning percentage of 69.8 (155-67) since 2000. They won a national championship last year, and they also appeared in two BCS games, going 1-1. They've made it to the past two championship games, winning last year and narrowly losing to Alabama in 2016, 45-40.

    Though Deshaun Watson didn't win a Heisman Trophy, he should have. Also, the program's trajectory has changed after hiring Dabo Swinney and allowing him to recruit and establish his program.

    Shining moment

    Last year's 35-31 resounding victory over the Crimson Tide, where Watson torched what was historically one of the sport's best defenses ever. It was the culmination of Swinney's tenure at Clemson, and it was a sweet moment with him beating his alma mater.

    Watson was remarkable during that game, and it was the perfect ending to an incredible career. It capped one of the best collegiate careers of any signal-caller in recent memory.

    Why they're here

    Choosing Clemson over Texas was a difficult decision, but since college football is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately environment, it works.

    Yes, the Longhorns (who finished 11th) have a better winning percentage than Clemson since 2000, but they have just one more win over that span. Meanwhile, the Tigers are good right now. That matters. 

    With new coach Tom Herman in Austin, Texas is trying to get back to where the Tigers are—on top of the sport. Swinney already has established himself with Clemson. An argument could be made either way, but UT would gladly trade current spots with the Tigers.

9. Boise State Broncos

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    No program has a better winning percentage since 2000 than Boise State. That's remarkable when you consider that few knew about the school until Chris Petersen came onto the scene.

    Since then, the mid-major became a powerhouse. Even though Petersen moved on to Washington, the Broncos keep winning. Their 186-35 record and 84.2 winning percentage are tops in the nation. They were also 2-0 in BCS bowl games and continue to play on big stages.

    Shining moment

    It has to be the do-or-die, Statue of Liberty play against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl that led to the walk-off upset of the Sooners on the biggest stage Boise has experienced.

    After the Sooners scoring 25 unanswered points to take their first lead with a minute remaining, Drisan James lateraled to Jerard Rabb, whose 35-yard touchdown scamper tied things up with seven seconds remaining.

    In overtime, Boise quarterback Jared Zabransky faked a screen, hid the ball behind his back and let running back Ian Johnson take the ball from behind his back and stroll untouched into the end zone. Johnson then proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend.

    Why they're here

    Many may think the Broncos should be higher due to that amazing winning percentage and the consistency of their dominance. When they've had the opportunities to perform on the big stage, they also haven't disappointed.

    But they get penalized for playing in a non-Power Five conference and not consistently playing against top competition. If they were in the Pac-12 or Big 12, what would their record be over that time? It's a fair question, which is why there's a bit of an asterisk on this list.

8. Oregon Ducks

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    Had Chip Kelly stayed at Oregon, the Ducks may have a national championship or two.
    Had Chip Kelly stayed at Oregon, the Ducks may have a national championship or two.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    Oregon is 160-58 for a winning percentage of 73.4 percent over that time, and the Ducks also have played for two national championships (after the 2010 and 2014 seasons). Though they lost both of those games, to Auburn and Ohio State, respectively, they were feared for much of the past several years.

    Former head coach Chip Kelly helped revolutionize the game with his hurry-up, no-huddle style, and quarterback Marcus Mariota was the perfect maestro for it all.

    Shining moment

    Though all of the joy would come crashing to a halt in a lopsided 42-20 loss to the Buckeyes in Mariota's college finale, the Ducks were on top of the world after the first round of the first annual College Football Playoff.

    Mariota led the Ducks to a 59-20 thrashing of Jameis Winston and Florida State. He'd just won the Heisman Trophy, and that was the highest of highs before the Mark Helfrich era began its spiral.

    Why they're here

    All of those wins are big, but the Ducks didn't just beat teams in their heyday; they embarrassed them. They ran into some physical buzzsaws that ultimately ended their biggest runs, but that doesn't take anything away from the sustained success they've enjoyed.

    Kelly redefined how teams look at offense with speed, speed and more speed. Though they don't have a national championship and are one of just two teams on this list without one, they've enjoyed a special run nevertheless.

7. Florida State Seminoles

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    Jameis Winston's Florida State career yielded a national championship and a Heisman Trophy.
    Jameis Winston's Florida State career yielded a national championship and a Heisman Trophy.Doug Benc/Associated Press

    By the numbers

    Florida State has a 163-61 record and a 72.8 winning percentage since 2000. The Seminoles also have a national championship and narrowly missed another one, having won in 1999, the year before it would qualify to be on this list.

    The Seminoles continue to produce star after star and load the NFL with stud players, but quarterback Jameis Winston gave them the ultimate individual prize with a Heisman Trophy. FSU also played in eight BCS bowl games (the third-most among all programs), finishing with a 3-5 record.

    Shining moment

    The Seminoles rewarded head coach Jimbo Fisher with a national championship after the 2013 season with a 34-31 come-from-behind victory over upstart Auburn and first-year head coach Gus Malzahn. A Winston-to-Kelvin Benjamin 13-yard scoring strike with 13 seconds remaining gave the Seminoles a dramatic win.

    Despite losing 11 players to the NFL draft, the Seminoles finished 14-0 and beat opponents by an average of 39.5 points per game.

    Why they're here

    Though many expected Florida State to dip when legendary coach Bobby Bowden retired, Fisher continued the success by winning consistently. Though that hasn't translated into multiple national championships, the Seminoles are up there competing for them every year.

    That's all you can ask for as a program. FSU's winning percentage during the past 16 years is 10th-best nationwide, and Fisher has the 'Noles set up well for the next few years, too.

6. USC Trojans

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    All of the Trojans' wins in the early 2000s led to a 164-56 record and a 74.5 winning percentage since the turn of the century, which ranked fifth nationwide. They won a national championship during those seasons, and they lead all of college football during that span with three Heisman Trophy winners.

    Yes, Reggie Bush's Heisman was later vacated, but he won it on the field regardless. The Trojans also made it to seven BCS bowl games, going 6-1. They've yet to make a College Football Playoff appearance, though.

    Shining moment

    Following the 2004 season, it looked like Pete Carroll was readying the Trojans for a dynasty, especially considering the Trojans dominated fellow unbeaten Oklahoma, 55-19 in the Orange Bowl.

    With Bush, Lendale White, Matt Leinart and countless other future NFL players, USC was the cream of college football. The Trojans continued their run until Vince Young and Texas knocked them off in the following national championship game, stunning USC and seizing the spotlight.

    But there were few teams in history as good as those 2004-05 Trojans teams.

    Why they're here

    With Carroll at the helm in the early 2000s, the Trojans were annihilating opponents. They were producing NFL prospects and top-rated quarterbacks left and right. They signed the nation's best recruiting classes, and it looked like they'd enjoy an extended run.

    Carroll left a cloud of NCAA scrutiny in his wake, however, and the Trojans muddled around with Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian afterward. The program lost a bit of that shine over the past few years, but quarterback Sam Darnold appears ready to restore the Trojans to their previous lofty heights.

5. Florida Gators

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    Tim Tebow was one of the greatest competitors to ever play college football, and he led Florida through some glory years.
    Tim Tebow was one of the greatest competitors to ever play college football, and he led Florida through some glory years.Phil Coale/Associated Press

    By the numbers

    The Florida Gators are 156-64 since 2000, giving them a winning percentage of 70.9. Just think about what that number would have been if not for the epic-failure hire of Will Muschamp. Though Jim McElwain hasn't won enough to satisfy the Swamp people, Florida has returned to consecutive SEC title games.

    The Gators still are a far cry from their two national championships and Tim Tebow's Heisman Trophy under head coach Urban Meyer, who has returned Ohio State to the pinnacle of college football after a brief hiatus.

    Shining moment

    Following the 2008 season, the Gators won their second national championship in three years when they beat Oklahoma 24-14. Two years before, they destroyed Ohio State, 41-14, to take the title.

    But the signature moment was in '08, when the Gators capped a huge run that began with an emotional Tebow delivering a postgame speech following a stunning loss to Ole Miss. The win gave Meyer his second BCS national title in his first four years at UF. It also gave Tebow a championship after his '07 Heisman.

    Why they're here

    It's definitely because of the Meyer years. After a subpar run by Ron Zook following Steve Spurrier's legendary career at his alma mater, Meyer took over at Florida after leading Utah to a BCS bowl win.

    It didn't take him long to start his run of dominance, which, like Nick Saban, began by blowing everybody out of the water on the recruiting trail. Those Tebow-led teams that also featured stars like Percy Harvin, and the Chris Leak years before, were incredible.

    Yes, the Gators have sputtered in recent years, but they enjoyed a dominant run in the mid-2000s.

4. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Sam Bradford won a Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, though he never led the Sooners to a national championship.
    Sam Bradford won a Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, though he never led the Sooners to a national championship.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    The Sooners won the national championship after the 2000 season with a 13-2 victory over Florida State, which began Bob Stoops' incredible run as head coach of Oklahoma. Though he never won another title, the consistency he experienced over his career was remarkable.

    OU is 183-43 with an incredible 81.0 winning percentage since 2000, which is stunning considering the Sooners are in a conference as strong as the Big 12. They also appeared in nine BCS bowl games, which ranks second nationwide behind Ohio State. They went 4-5 in those games.

    Shining moment

    Though Oklahoma enjoyed a great offensive season in 2000 under Stoops and offensive coordinator Mike Mangino, defense that won the day—and the title—against the Seminoles.

    It wasn't pretty, but the Sooners ground out a 13-2 win in the title game. Heisman Trophy runner-up Josh Heupel helped guide the Sooners to an undefeated record, and they won despite being double-digit underdogs to the 'Noles.

    "Our players recognize that the history of Oklahoma is winning championships," Stoops told reporters after the game. "We already had six, now we have seven. We have a great history in the Orange Bowl."

    Why they're here

    Say what you want to about "Big Game" Bob Stoops, but the recently retired head coach consistently won at a high level in a Power Five conference. The Sooners won a lot, and they won important games.

    Every year, it seems, OU is playing at the very end of the season. Not only that, but the Sooners have players competing at the highest level and battling for the nation's top awards. Jason White and Sam Bradford won Heismans, and guys like Heupel, Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook almost did.

    When it comes to program-building, Oklahoma is a blueprint.

3. LSU Tigers

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    Former LSU coach Les Miles had plenty of good times in Baton Rouge.
    Former LSU coach Les Miles had plenty of good times in Baton Rouge.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    The Tigers are one of the reasons why the SEC has been known as the nation's premier conference over the past two decades. They went 168-52 since 2000, giving them a winning percentage of 76.4, the fourth-best nationwide over that span.

    Not only that, but the Tigers also have a pair of national championships during that time. Pretty stout stuff.

    Shining moment

    Despite losing elite recruiter and dynamic young coach Saban to the NFL's Miami Dolphins, LSU made a stellar hire, taking Les Miles away from Oklahoma State.

    Just four years after Saban won the national championship following the 2003 season, Miles added his own after the '07 campaign, upending Ohio State 38-24 to give the Tigers a shocking national championship despite two losses.

    Stars like Matt Flynn, Jacob Hester and Early Doucet shone in the championship after Miles shrugged off overtures from alma mater Michigan and stayed at LSU.

    Why they're here

    From Saban to Miles, the Tigers had some incredible seasons. They were known for throwing waves and waves of defensive superstars onto the field and, later, into the NFL. Though they never produced any offensive juggernauts, LSU did enough to win.

    The fertile recruiting grounds of the bayou have been good to the Tigers, and their biggest seasons were normally sparkling. The Tigers would have another title if not for Saban's Crimson Tide, who got a rematch with the Tigers after a regular-season loss and beat them 21-0 following the 2011 season.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith was just one of Ohio State's many stars.
    Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith was just one of Ohio State's many stars.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    From Jim Tressel to Urban Meyer, Ohio State has enjoyed a prolonged run atop college football. Though Alabama's highs have been higher, the Buckeyes have enjoyed more sustained success than the Tide since 2000.

    During that time, OSU is 181-39 for a winning percentage of 82.3 percent, which is second nationwide only to Boise State. Considering the Buckeyes did that in a much better conference and won a pair of national championships, one could argue they belong at the top of this list.

    Shining moment

    There have been many peaks during his tenure, but Meyer's success since heading to Columbus has been incredible. Though he was criticized early on for playing in a "down" conference and scheduling weak out-of-conference opponents, he scoffed at the notion.

    He then went out and proved it on the big stage in 2014 when many pundits didn't believe the Buckeyes belonged in the College Football Playoff. They went out and beat Alabama in the semifinal, 42-35, and then obliterated Oregon, 42-20, to win the national title.

    OSU was on the map long before that, but that season proved the Buckeyes could compete with the Tide.

    Why they're here

    Long a Big Ten powerhouse, Ohio State helped awaken the conference from an extended slumber when it hired Meyer out of early retirement. He brought top-shelf recruiting, elite players and a new level of speed to the league, and a championship followed.

    Prior to Meyer's run of success, Tressel enjoyed his own sustained strong years, too. He is a Hall of Fame coach who was among the nation's best, and OSU's ability to identify and hire brilliant coaches who can land top-notch recruits has led to the healthiest program in college football.

    It has been a remarkable run.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    By the numbers

    With a 165-59 record since 2000, Alabama is seventh in the sport in winning percentage (73.7) over that span. But success is measured by championships, and college football's all-time kings have been at the top again now for a long time.

    The Crimson Tide have four national titles over the past eight years, all of which have come under Nick Saban. The head coach has been historically awesome, amassing an overall record of 119–19 at Alabama for an 86.2 winning percentage. He also has four SEC championships.

    No other team wins recruiting championships like the Tide, either.

    Shining moment

    Though 2009 was magical for the Crimson Tide, which went undefeated and won their first national title since 1992, the pinnacle was the 2011-12 seasons when Saban led his team to back-to-back titles.

    Yes, the Tide lost a game during both years and got a fortuitous rematch with LSU after losing to the Tigers 9-6 in 2011, but they made the most of the second game with a 21-0 win. The next year, they lost to Texas A&M but won the rest and annihilated Notre Dame in the national championship game.

    Those two years re-established Alabama as college football's dominant program.

    Why they're here

    As good as all these teams are, and as much as Ohio State and Oklahoma have been better for more seasons during this stretch, nobody has won the way Alabama has won under Saban.

    This will be remembered as a golden era of college football and one of the most dominant runs—if not the most dominant run—by a head coach and program ever. Saban was the perfect hire at the perfect time for a once-dominant program, and his recruiting and the name "Alabama" led to a remarkable surge.

    It doesn't look like it's ending anytime soon, either.

    Recruit rankings and information courtesy of Scout unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered from CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.