Every year, thousands of fans flock to college football stadiums to support their home teams. These people are students, alumni, local supporters, the occasional bandwagon fan … the list goes on. And the players on the field could care less if the fans cheering for them are 20-year veteran season ticket holders or two families on vacation that scalped tickets. The environment at these collegiate venues is enjoyable (though maybe not for the visiting teams and their fans) yet raucous, instilling a fervor into the game.
Whereas some universities are known as basketball schools, some places out there have a reputation for being football powerhouses. And that doesn’t just mean they were highly ranked this past year or the past few years — to be considered a powerhouse, you need to have a tradition of excellence and a fan base second to none.
For these teams to remain powerhouses, there needs to be facilities that maintain quality. As a whole, football dynasties aren’t built overnight: They’re slowly constructed over decades of solid coaching and recruitment combined with faithful and loyal fans. So without further ado, here are eight of the best football schools in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The Crimson Tide have dominated college football for the past three or four years. But this wasn’t a newfound domination. The team has an all-time record of 838-323-43 and has claimed an impressive 15 national championships, three since the Bowl Championship Series system started in 2007. Whether it was Paul “Bear” Bryant in the ’60s and ’70s leading Alabama to six titles or current coach Nick Saban, who took over in 2007 and won a title in 2009 and back-to-back championships in ’11 and ’12, the talent has always found its way to Tuscaloosa.
And with talent comes hordes of fans. Bryant-Denny Stadium, the home of the Crimson Tide, packs quite a punch in the Southeastern Conference — rarely is it not a full house. Seating just north of 100,000 fans, it’s nothing to scoff at, and you’ll hear plenty of “Roll Tides” on football Saturdays.
2. University of Sothern California
USC has been one of the most storied football programs for more than 100 years. The Trojans have laid claim to 11 national championships and have had more players taken in the first round of the National Football League draft (77) than any other school. Before the sanctions came down against the Trojans in 2010 for the Reggie Bush scandal, USC was in the title hunt every year under then-coach Pete Carroll, even to the extent that they were named the program of the decade by ESPN.
And that’s not to mention that Southern California has almost perfect weather year-round and a very solid fan base. Though the Trojans have been out of national contention these past few seasons, rest assured that they’ll be back, and probably sooner rather than later.
3. Ohio State
A year ago, the Buckeyes finished the season undefeated but were unable to go to a bowl game as a result of a post-season ban that followed the Terrell Pryor tattoo incident. Despite the one-year penalty, the Buckeyes started this past season just as they left off, winning their first 12 games of 2013 for a total win streak of 24 consecutive games before falling to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game.
Ohio State is the epitome of Big Ten football and always contends come bowl season. While they’ve come up just short recently in terms of winning a national championship, the Buckeyes’ 2002 title was the last time a Big Ten team won one, and Urban Meyer has done an excellent job in Columbus since taking over coaching duties in 2011.
The Sooners’ domination hasn’t just been recent — it’s gone on for more than 60 years. With 842 total wins and a .720 win percentage that’s top five of any football program, Oklahoma has consistently ranked among the elite. Those numbers also fail to include the Sooners’ seven national championships and 39 conference championships. Albeit Oklahoma’s last championship was in 2000, under Bob Stoops in just his second season, Stoops has not once failed to lead the Sooners to a bowl game. In the past five years, Oklahoma has finished just one season without 10 or more wins. Unswerving success is difficult to come by, but Oklahoma has it almost every year.
5. Notre Dame
Despite the Fighting Irish football team not technically being in the Atlantic Coast Conference at this point, its days of being completely independent are over. That doesn’t change the prominence of the program over the past few seasons, though, most notably when Notre Dame made it all the way to the National Championship game in 2013.
If the storied and excellent tradition of Notre Dame isn’t enough, South Bend is an excellent place (again, just not for visiting teams). Brian Kelly has done a tremendous job getting the program back on track since his arrival in 2010, and the thousands of fans who flock to Notre Dame Stadium in the fall usually don’t leave disappointed — except, maybe, when Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson leads a late-game rally for a victory. Needless to say, Notre Dame Stadium has an epic history, even one that includes the likes of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger.
“Hook ‘em Horns” might be one of the better-known sayings in all of college football. The Longhorns earned Forbes’s title as most valuable NCAA football team this past season, and it’s not a result of luck. Whether you’re from Austin or hundreds of miles away (albeit not College Station), the state is loyal to its beloved team. Texas ranks only second behind the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA for overall win percentage, something that has been trending for a long time.
Then-coach Mack Brown led the Longhorns to a national championship in 2005 among many other BCS appearances, but resigned following a few disappointing campaigns this past year. Texas football is a tradition built around excellence and winning, and the fans at Texas Memorial Stadium make it an environment that breeds that mentality.
7. Florida State
Winning the national championship this past season and being the likely favorite to win next year certainly didn’t hurt the Seminoles’ chances of making this list. But those aren’t the only reasons. During the 1980s and ’90s, Florida State had an unstoppable dynasty under coach Bobby Bowden and a continual flow of elite players who went on to play in the NFL. Toward the end of his 33-year tenure, though, the Seminoles were subpar and for this reason, Bowden and Florida State had a mutual parting in 2010.
Enter head coach Jimbo Fisher. Having been the former offensive coordinator under Bowden, Fisher stepped in and led a quick turnaround. Fisher’s biggest change was in personnel — he hit the recruiting trail hard and fast, and that resulted in Florida State having top-10 classes every year since his arrival.
Fisher did more than just recruit the best. He developed them from good athletes into elite football players, and that’s why the Seminoles are as good as they are today. In terms of location, Tallahassee isn’t too bad a place to take in a game, either. The warm Florida climate attracts all kind of fans each and every game. Despite some dry spells, FSU has been successful for a long time, and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon.
Last but not least are the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan Stadium — better known as the Big House — is the biggest of its kind, and more than 100,000 fans come out to watch the Wolverines play every home game. Despite two difficult seasons in 2012 and 2013 (though still winning seasons), coach Brady Hoke has almost fixed the damage done by Rich Rodriguez during his tenure in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines have everything you want out from a college football team: a loyal, widespread fan base (sometimes to the diehard fans’ chagrin, as they despise “Walmart Wolverines”), top-notch facilities, a storied history, and an elite academic institution. The only thing Michigan lacks is the national success that the Alabamas and the USCs of the NCAA have regularly had over the past decade. But if there’s one thing the Wolverines have proven, it’s that it’ll take much more than few seven-win seasons to knock them out for good.