Who has the best program in college football? More specifically: Who has the best college football team this decade?
Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State — the three schools that have won College Football Playoff championships the last four years — have a stake in that discussion. But keep in mind the first four years of the decade were part of the BCS era. Do those three schools still lead the way when taking that into consideration?
Sporting News ranked the top 16 college football programs this decade based on our statistical formula. Here are the eight categories we used to determine those programs:
National championships: 10 points each
National title game appearances: 5 points each
College Football Playoff appearances: 5 points each
New Year’s Day Six/BCS bowl appearances: 3 points each
Heisman Trophy winners: 2 points each
That’s not all: Overall winning percentage, conference winning percentage, NFL Draft picks and NFL first-round picks were awarded with a poll style 16-1 score.
The top 16 schools in overall winning percentage, NFL Draft picks (starting with 2011 NFL Draft), NFL first-round picks and consensus All-Americans were awarded with a poll style 16-1 score. The school with the best score received 16 points; the school with the 16th-best score received one point.
With that in mind, here are the 16 best college football programs since 2010:
Total score: 19.5
Why they’re here: Chris Petersen has the Huskies back in the national picture. Washington made the College Football Playoff in 2016 and reached the Fiesta Bowl in 2017. The Huskies are 13-1 at home the last two seasons and a front runner in preseason projections. That’s the power of Petersen’s program-building skills.
15. Michigan State
Total score: 22
Why they’re here: Mark Dantonio has built a remarkable winner in East Lansing. The Spartans are consistent and almost always exceed expectations. That trend continued last year after bouncing back from a 3-9 2016 season. Michigan State has two BCS bowl appearances and a College Football Playoff appearance this decade. They have a habit of proving everybody in the Big Ten wrong.
14. Notre Dame
Total score: 27
Why they’re here: Notre Dame is a tough job, but Brian Kelly manages expectations there fairly well. The Irish made a BCS championship game appearance in 2012 and have won 10 games in two of the last three seasons. The Irish also rank sixth in NFL first-round picks since the 2010 season.
13. Boise State
Total score: 27.5
Why they’re here: Boise State is 85-21 this decade, the highest winning percentage among Group of 5 schools. They remain the dominant power in the Mountain West Conference despite the transition from Chris Petersen to Bryan Harsin. The Broncos will defend that conference championship in 2018.
MORE: SN’s post-spring top 25
Total score: 31
Why they’re here: We’re sticking to the formula here. Sure, Dan Mullen is the program’s fourth coach this decade, and the results on the field haven’t been up to the expectations Urban Meyer set in the 2000s. Florida did win two SEC East championships in 2015-16 and ranks third in NFL draft picks and first-round picks this decade. That’s where the number comes from.
Total score: 31.5
Why they’re here: Kirby Smart has Georgia inching closer to a national championship that has eluded the program since 1980, and the Bulldogs were close against Alabama last season. Given Smart’s prowess on the recruiting trail, there’s a chance he could build something more out of the consistent winner Mark Richt had before him. But that national title still hangs over the program.
Total score: 34
Why they’re here: Paul Chryst has the Badgers in position to make yet another Big Ten West run — where Wisconsin will be heavily favored in 2018. Wisconsin won a school record-13 games in 2017 and has won back-to-back New Year’s Day Six Bowls. That goes well with three BCS bowl appearances earlier in the decade.
Total score: 34
Why they’re here: Auburn remains the lowest-ranked program on this list with a national championship this decade, which Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton delivered in 2010. The Tigers are the most up-and-down program on this list, however, and that trend continued with an SEC championship game appearance in 2017. Gus Malzahn faces those same expectations in 2018.
Total score: 40
Why they’re here: The decade started with Chip Kelly leading the Ducks to a BCS championship game, part of a run where the program won its bowl game four consecutive seasons leading up to the loss in the 2013 College Football Playoff championship game. Kelly, Mark Helfrich and Willie Taggart have come and gone since. It’s on Mario Cristobal to restore that elite status.
Total score: 41.5
Why they’re here: Jim Harbaugh’s final season at Stanford in 2010 preceded the David Shaw era, which is known for its consistency. The Cardinal have won double-digit games six times and have never won fewer than eight games in a single season in that stretch. They are the highest-ranked school on this list that doesn’t have a BCS championship game or College Football Playoff appearance.
Total score: 43
Why they’re here: From 2010-13, LSU was 44-9 and made an appearance in the 2012 BCS championship game. The last four seasons, the Tigers are 35-16 and the transition from Les Miles to Ed Orgeron has been anything but easy. It requires a big jump from here to get to the top five schools.
Total score: 62.5
Why they’re here: The Sooners have two Playoff appearances and have been a regular in the championship hunt since Bob Stoops took over in the BCS era. If the first year of the Lincoln Riley era taught us anything, then it’s that’s not going to change. Oklahoma remains the class of the Big 12 in the College Football Playoff. The next step is getting another chance at a national championship. The next four schools have won every national championship since Auburn in 2010.
4. Florida State
Total score: 77.5
Why they’re here: Don’t let last season diminish your view of the Jimbo Fisher era in Tallahassee. The Seminoles were 83-23 in that stretch and won 10 or more games in six of the last eight seasons. That included the undefeated 2013 national championship and playoff run the following season. Willie Taggart has a national championship standard to live up to in his first season.
Total score: 95
Why they’re here: The Tigers could take over the next spot with one more big year. Clemson has won three consecutive ACC championships, made two national championship games and delivered the national title in 2016. Dabo Swinney has shown no signs of slowing down in the ACC, putting the Tigers among the best of the best now. That’s no fluke.
2. Ohio State
Total score: 101
Why they’re here: If not for the transition year between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes would be a little closer to No. 1. Meyer, however, has compiled a 73-8 record, where the Buckeyes have lost just three regular-season Big Ten games in six seasons. The national championship in 2014 set the standard, and Ohio State has been close since. The problem is, right now, the Buckeyes are closer to Clemson than our No. 1 school — even with that memorable Sugar Bowl victory in 2014.
Total score: 172
Why they’re here: Look at the gap between Alabama and everybody else: It’s growing with each season of the College Football Playoff era. The Tide have made four straight Playoff appearances and have won two national titles during that stretch. That couples well with the pair of BCS national championships this decade. Nick Saban continues to churn out winners. Alabama has lost one regular-season game or fewer each of the last seven seasons. The next step is shooting for a perfect 15-0.