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Top 10 Most Important College Football Programs

By Editorial Staff

Contributed by Robert P. Simon, Info Guru

With the start of another college football season it’s time to take a look back at some of the college football programs that have truly changed the landscape of the game.

Rather than simply ranking the ‘greatest’ or ‘most successful’ programs (although success is certainly a factor), this list strives to identify the universities that have made significant contributions to the sport as a whole.

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10. University of North Carolina

Not an obvious inclusion given its fairly average lifetime winning percentage, the Tar Heels football makes the list for one big reason: The forward pass. Though still technically illegal when it was completed, North Carolina’s punter tossed what was later recognized as the first forward pass to George Stephens, who dashed 70 yards to score a game-winning touchdown. And with that, this now-middling college football program laid the groundwork for modern football.

9. Oklahoma

The winningest program of the modern era, Oklahoma earns its spot on this list not only for its success (seven National Championships, 29 AP Top 5’s), but also for its ability to captivate fans. They’ve reeled off the longest winning streak of any major program (47 games), enjoy heated rivalries with both Texas and Nebraska, and played what many consider the biggest and best game of all time, in 1971’s “Game of the Century” against Nebraska.

8. University of Texas

The Longhorns have the second most all-time wins of any college football program, and have fielded great teams for almost 130 years. For each of the last 71 years the team has produced at least one NFL draft pick. This program earns bonus points for being the elite college team in the true hotbed of high school football.

7. Yale University

Though Ivy League universities no longer have the resources or the ambition to compete on the big stage, there was a time when Yale and Princeton were the two premiere college football programs. Princeton owns the most National Championships of any college football program with 28, but Yale is right behind with 26 and makes this list because of captain/coach Walter Camp. Considered the father of American football, Camp pioneered a number of now common-place rules, including the down system, the snap, the safety, and the modern offensive set.

6. Alabama

One of the winningest programs of all time, Alabama can lay claim to perhaps the most influential coach of the modern era, Bear Bryant. The Tide are also commonly credited with ending segregation of big-time southern football, after starting John Mitchell, an Africa-American transfer in 1970. Though perhaps not entirely of their own choosing, this decision opened the door for the nationally desegregated college football landscape we now enjoy.

5. Ohio State University

Six National Championships, seven Heisman trophy winners, a rabid fan base, and probably the most intense rivalry in all of college sports (with Michigan). Decade to decade, no team in the modern era has been more consistently successful than the Buckeyes.

4. Michigan

With the most all-time wins and highest all-time winning percentage of any program, more conference championships, and an edge in the head-to-head rivalry, Michigan edges out Ohio State for this spot.

3. Nebraska

Neck-and-neck with Oklahoma as the most successful program over the last 50 years, Nebraska can claim the longest Bowl game appearance streak and what many consider the greatest single team of all time (1995’s National Championship winner). It’s also possible that Nebraska has the most dedicated fan base– Big Red has sold out every game they’ve played since 1962, rain or shine, win or lose.

2. University of Southern California

With 11 National Championships and seven Heisman Trophy winners, it may be true that no other team on this list has reached the same heights as the Trojans. Though recent NCAA trouble has removed some of the luster, no program has achieved the consistent dominance that the Trojans enjoyed from 2001-2010, particularly given how truly competitive modern-day coaching and recruiting has become. USC has produced the most 1st or 2nd round NFL draft picks, including many all-time greats.

1. Notre Dame

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Rudy. Touchdown Jesus. Play like a champion today. Win one for the Gipper. The NBC contract. Equally loved and hated, Notre Dame is as close as there is to America’s college football team. The Irish are ubiquitous, and even despite their recent fall from grace no team is as historically successful or instantly identifiable as the blue and gold. Likewise, no other team in all of sports can claim quite the same level of fan loyalty and program lore as does Notre Dame.


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