Ranking the 8 Greatest Dynasties in College Football History

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2022

Ranking the 8 Greatest Dynasties in College Football History

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    Nick Saban has engineered the greatest dynasty in college football history, and Alabama enters the 2021 season's national championship game with a chance to bolster the ridiculous run.

    There is no argument for putting Alabama anywhere other than No. 1 on the all-time list. Behind the Crimson Tide, though, the order of greatest dynasties is immensely subjective.

    First, define a dynasty. In the last decade alone, four programs—Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma—have a reasonable claim. However, the best dynasties have multiple national titles in their time of supremacy.

    Additionally, the list of champions is debatable. Various polls have assigned a champion and created a messy collection of claimed and unclaimed national titles. For consistency, we're using the NCAA's official list of national champions.

    For this ranking, we're focused on teams with three-plus national championships over an eight-year period. The order is subjective but considers a dynasty's number of titles, span and winning percentage.

Honorable Mentions

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    Fit the Criteria

    • Texas: 1961-72
    • Minnesota: 1934-41
    • Cal: 1920-24
    • Notre Dame: 1919-30
    • Michigan 1901-1905


    Outside the Criteria

    • Clemson: 2015-20
    • Ohio State: 2002-10
    • USC: 2002-08
    • Miami: 2000-03
    • Florida State: 1987-2000
    • Oklahoma: 1971-80
    • Nebraska: 1970-71
    • Ohio State: 1968-75
    • Notre Dame: 1964-74
    • Army: 1944-50

8. USC: 1972-79

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    John McKay started the dynasty, and John Robinson finished it.

    After a 29-2-2 stretch from 1967 to 1969 with one national title, the Trojans mustered back-to-back 6-4-1 seasons. But then, USC ripped off a 12-0 year in 1972 and a 10-1-1 record in 1974 to earn the last of four national championships under McKay.

    Robinson took over in 1976, guiding the Trojans to a 42-6-1 record and three Rose Bowl victories in his first four years there. They shared a national title with Alabama in 1978.

    Overall, the eight-year stretch featured an 81-13-3 record and three national championships.

7. Alabama: 1971-79

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    Bear Bryant authored two dynasties in 25 seasons at Alabama, and the latter practically coincided with USC's run in the 1970s.

    Following a 6-5-1 start to the decade, the Crimson Tide notched eight SEC titles in the next nine seasons. The span featured a 97-11 record, two shared national titles—one each with Notre Dame (1973) and USC (1978)—and an outright championship in 1979.

    The final title-winning team doubled as both the best of Bryant's legendary tenure and, at the time, arguably the greatest in the history of the sport. Alabama rolled to a 12-0 record, shutting out five opponents and surrendering just 67 points all season.

6. Alabama: 1961-66

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    When he left Texas A&M for Tuscaloosa in 1958, Bryant inherited a struggling program. His predecessor, Jennings Whitworth, had trudged to a 4-24-2 record in three seasons.

    Bryant promptly reversed the Tide's fortunes.

    After a 20-7-5 three-season span, Alabama registered a 60-5-1 mark in the next six years. Bryant oversaw championship-winning teams in 1961, 1964 and 1965. For good measure, an 11-0 Alabama team finished behind Notre Dame and Michigan State—who tied late in the year—during the 1966 campaign.

5. Nebraska: 1993-97

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    If the 1995 Cornhuskers aren't the greatest team in history, they're not far from it. That 12-0 squad headlined a sensational five-year peak for the program.

    Nebraska posted an absurd 60-3 record from 1993 to 1997, winning all 37 conference matchups and five Big 8/Big 12 titles along the way. In 1995, the Huskers averaged a preposterous 38.7-point margin of victory andin the Fiesta Bowl, the de facto championship game that yearblasted No. 2 Florida 62-24.

    Along with a national title in 1994, Nebraska sent legendary coach Tom Osborne out with a shared championship in 1997 (Michigan). He retired with a 255-49-3 record, so his entire tenure was basically a dynasty.

4. Notre Dame: 1946-49

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    Upon the conclusion of World War II, Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy returned from military service himself. He proceeded to stockpile talent in a manner the sport had never seen, teaming 18-year-olds with those nearing their mid-20s.

    The result? Dominance.

    Notre Dame compiled a 36-0-2 record from 1946 to 1949, winning three national championships and finishing No. 2 in 1948. The program also celebrated two Heisman Trophy winners with quarterback Johnny Lujack (1947) and two-way player Leon Hart (1949).

    Leahy and the Fighting Irish also won a national title in 1943 prior to his service in the Navy during the war.

3. Miami: 1983-1991

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    Few dynasties are more iconic than Miami's ascent in the 1980s.

    Beyond the culture and recruiting philosophy of the 'Canes, though, the most remarkable part is how the program changed hands yet continued to produce title-winning teams. Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson each led championship squads in this stretch.

    Schnellenberger laid the foundation, stacking the roster with local products and vaulting Miamiwhich had a 41-67 record in the decade prior to his arrivalto a national title in 1983.

    Johnson arrived in 1984, notched a 52-9 mark and won a championship in 1987. Erickson replaced him in 1989, landing a pair of national titles and posting a 33-3 record in his first three years. Vinny Testaverde (1986) and Gino Torretta (1992) both hoisted a Heisman during his tenure.

    Overall, the 'Canes amassed a 96-13 record from 1983 to 1991 and even had a shot at a national title in 1992 but lost to Alabama.

2. Oklahoma: 1948-58

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    Oklahoma won four conference titles earlier in the decade, but the 1948 campaign marked the start of something incredible.

    Second-year head coach Bud Wilkinsonwho didn't lose a conference game until his 13th seasonled the Sooners to a 10-1 record in 1948. They ripped off an 11-0 mark in 1949 and then finished 10-1 with the program's first-ever national championship in 1950.

    Oklahoma remained a top contender for several years but returned to prominence in 1955, winning the first of two straight titles. Ultimately, the Sooners went 51-2 from 1954 to 1958.

    The 11-season span included an outrageous 107-8-2 record, 11 league championships and three national titles.

1. Alabama: 2009-Present

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    While the length of this dynasty isn't exactly unprecedented, no program has won national titles like Saban-led Alabama.

    He left the NFL's Miami Dolphins for the Alabama job in 2007 and began his tenure with a 7-6 record. Two years later, the Crimson Tide won a national title.

    And again in 2011. Then in 2012. Alabama has continued stuffing the trophy case, winning championships in 2015, 2017 and 2020with another chance in 2021. Alabama has six national titles in 12 seasons; since World War II, the next-closest six-championship stretch is Notre Dame's 28 seasons from 1946 to 1973.

    Along with those national championships, the Tide have earned eight SEC crowns. Running backs Mark Ingram II (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015), wide receiver DeVonta Smith (2020) and quarterback Bryce Young (2021) each won a Heisman Trophy too.

    Someday, the dynasty will end. Probably. Maybe?