Ranking the 15 Greatest College Football Programs of All Time

The Heisman Trophy is displayed.

The best college football programs of all time have multiple Heisman Trophy winners. | Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

College football is full of history and tradition. There are stadiums that are practically national landmarks, there are legendary tailgate parties all across the country, and, of course, there are some of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.

Over the last 25 years, college football has turned into a billion dollar business. One aspect that remains steady, though, is the college football programs that have separated themselves from the rest of the pack over the course of time.

We put together a ranking of the 15 greatest college football programs of all time based on a wide variety of factors that include (but are not limited to) total wins, national championships, conference titles, and Heisman Trophy winners. We chose not to include the Ivy League schools that dominated in the late 1800s and early 1900s because they are no longer members of college football’s highest level. With that being said, here are the 12 greatest programs in college football history (in descending order).

15. Penn State

The Penn State Nittany Lions had an outstanding season in 2016.

Penn State is one of the winningest programs in college football history. | Harry How/Getty Images

Total wins: 845
National championships: 2
Conference titles: 5
Heisman Trophy winners: 1

While the disturbing scandal that rocked college football undoubtedly tarnished Penn State’s legacy in the eyes of most people, there is also no denying that the Nittany Lions are one of the best programs in college football history. They have a whopping 845 total wins, two national titles (1982 and 1986), five Big Ten titles, and they’ve had one Heisman Trophy winner (John Cappelletti).

After going through a down stretch in the years immediately following the aforementioned scandal, Penn State reclaimed their place among the best college football programs in the country with an outstanding season in 2016.

14. Auburn

Cam Newton speaks to the media during a press conference.

Cam Newton carried Auburn to a national title. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Total wins: 723
National championships: 2
Conference titles: 8
Heisman Trophy winners: 3

They haven’t enjoyed the same amount of success as their bitter in-state rivals, the Alabama Crimson Tide. However, there is simply no questioning the fact that Auburn is one of the greatest programs in college football history. The Tigers have won 723 totals games (13th most of all time); they have captured eight SEC titles (12 total conference titles including their time in the SIAA and Southern Conferences); they have won two national titles (1957 and 2010); and they have three Heisman Trophy winners (Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson, and Cam Newton).

Expectations continue to be sky-high for the Tigers. Their current head coach, Gus Malzahn, could start feeling the heat this fall if he doesn’t put his team in position to contend for the 2017 SEC title.

13. Florida

A Gators football player holds up his gloves, which have alligators on them.

The Florida Gators have one of the greatest college football programs of all time. | Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Total wins: 674
National championships: 3
Conference titles: 9
Heisman Trophy winners: 3

Over the last 25 years, the Florida Gators have been one of the most dominant college football programs in the country. During that stretch of time, they have posted 14 double-digit win seasons, won eight SEC titles and three national titles, and had two Heisman Trophy winners (quarterbacks Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow).

The University of Florida football program has always been strong, but they truly became a national power in the mid-’90s when Steve Spurrier took over as the team’s head coach. They also later enjoyed an immense run of success under Urban Meyer. Despite a rough four-year run from 201114 under former head coach Will Muschamp, the future again looks bright in Gainesville, Florida with new head coach Jim McElwain leading the way.

12. LSU

The LSU Tigers celebrate a victory in 2015.

LSU is consistently one of the best teams in college football. | Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Total wins: 748
National championships: 3
Conference titles: 14
Heisman Trophy winners: 1

LSU is home to one of the most dominant programs in college football history. The Tigers have won 748 games, 14 conference titles, three national titles, and have had one Heisman Trophy winner (Billy Cannon). Their program consistently churns out elite NFL talent, and the Tigers’ fanbase is easily one of the most diehard fan groups in the country. The 2017 season will mark the official start to the Ed Oregon-era in Baton Rouge. Longtime head coach Les Miles was sent packing during the 2016 season after just over 11 years on the job.

11. Georgia

The Georgia Bulldogs mascots stands on the field during a game in 2016.

The Georgia Bulldogs are almost always a contender in the SEC. | Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Total wins: 769
National championships: 2*
Conference titles: 14
Heisman Trophy winners: 2

It seems like the Georgia Bulldogs always find a way to win at least eight or nine games every season — even during their down years. While it’s been over a decade since they won their last SEC title, and even longer since they’ve made a serious run at a national title, this program is one of the greatest in college football history. The Bulldogs have 769 total wins (10th most all time), 14 conference titles (12 in the SEC), two national titles, and two Heisman Trophy winners (Frank Sinkwich and Herschel Walker).

10. Florida State

The Florida State Seminoles hold up their fingers indicating that they're No. 1.

The Florida State Seminoles football program is one of the best of all time. | Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Total wins: 507*
National championships: 3
Conference titles: 15
Heisman Trophy winners: 3

The fact that the Florida State football program has had just two head coaches since 1974 should tell you everything you need to know about how successful the Seminoles have been throughout the years.

Former FSU head coach Bobby Bowden, who coached the Noles from 19762009, can be credited for the program’s rise to national prominence. Current head coach Jimbo Fisher has carried on the tradition of excellence in Tallahassee. On top of churning out countless All-Americans, Florida State has also become a haven for future NFL draft picks.

9. Miami (FL)

The Miami Hurricanes prepare to play.

The Miami Hurricanes went from laughingstock to one of the greatest programs in college football history. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Total wins: 564
National championships: 5
Conference titles: 9
Heisman Trophy winners: 2

In the early ’80s, the Miami Hurricanes went from being one of the biggest laughingstocks in all of college football to one of the best programs in the history of the sport. In the process of becoming “The U,” Miami went on two dynasty-esque runs. The first was from 1983–1994 under head coaches Howard Schnellenberger, and the second came during the 2000–05 seasons with Butch Jones and Larry Coker at the helm. On top of it all, there may not be a better school in the country when it comes to producing NFL talent.

8. Texas

The Longhorns fly their flags.

The Texas Longhorns are one of the most storied programs in college football history. | George Frey/Getty Images

Total wins: 840
National championships: 4
Conference titles: 30
Heisman Trophy winners: 2

No matter the level, football is king in Texas. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that the Texas Longhorns are among the greatest college football programs of all time. Their dominance has been somewhat forgotten as of late given their recent struggles, but when it comes down to it, 835 wins, 53 bowl game appearances, 30 conference titles, and four national titles is nothing to scoff at.

7. Nebraska

A Nebraska helmet rests on the field.

The tradition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football program is nearly unmatched. | Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Total wins: 854
National championships: 5
Conference titles: 43
Heisman Trophy winners: 3

Ever since Bob Devaney took over as their head coach in 1962, the University of Nebraska football team has been a force to be reckoned with. Devaney’s eventual replacement, Tom Osborne, was one of the greatest football coaches (at any level) in the history of the sport and the ’99 College Football Hall of Fame inductee led the Huskers program to new heights.

From 1973–97, Nebraska had 15 10-win seasons, won three national titles, and had two Heisman Trophy winners. Perhaps the greatest indication of how great this program truly is, is the fact that anything less than a 10-win season typically results in their head coaches landing in the hot seat.

6. Oklahoma

The Sooners rush the football toward the end zone.

Guys like Adrian Peterson have helped make Oklahoma one of the greatest college football programs of all time. | Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Total wins: 819
National championships: 7
Conference titles: 44
Heisman Trophy winners: 5

The Oklahoma Sooners are one of a handful of college football programs that have withstood the test of time. They are the only program in major college football history to have four coaches each win 100 or more games during their time in Norman, Oklahoma.

Over the last decade they have won 10 or more games in a season eight times (they have also accomplished the feat 25 times in the last 50 years); they have had five Heisman Trophy winners; and they have won 808 total games, 44 conference titles, and seven national titles. With a loaded squad that includes a serious Heisman contender in quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Sooners will likely contend for their program’s eighth national championship in 2016.

5. Ohio State

Urban Meyer looks up at the scoreboard.

Urban Meyer has rebuilt Ohio State into a perennial national title contender. | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Total wins: 778
National championships: 8
Conference titles: 36
Heisman Trophy winners: 7

Ohio State University is home to one of the greatest college football programs of all time. The Buckeyes have won eight national titles, 36 conference titles (34 came in the Big Ten), and 767 total games. Their seven Heisman Trophy winners ties them for the most by a single program in college football history. Few other schools can boast attendance figures that rival Ohio State’s. And Ohio Stadium (nicknamed “The Horseshoe”) is one of the most recognizable sporting venues in the country.

With head coach Urban Meyer at the helm, the Buckeyes are in the midst of yet another dominant run and should be among the top contenders to win the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in 2016.

4. Michigan

Michigan fans fill their stadium.

The Michigan Wolverines’ football program is one of the best in college football history. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Total wins: 909
National championships: 11
Conference titles: 42
Heisman Trophy winners: 3

The University of Michigan is home to one of the proudest and tradition-rich college football programs in the country. The Wolverines have won more games than any other team in the Football Bowl Subdivision; they almost always lead the nation in home game attendance figures; they have won a whopping 11 national titles and 42 conference titles; and they have 39 former coaches and players who have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Michigan is currently in the midst of a program revival under new head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has built the Wolverines into legitimate national title contenders in just his second year on the job.

3. USC

The USC Trojans get pumped up before a game.

Very few college football programs compare to the USC Trojans. | Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Total wins: 739
National championships: 11
Conference titles: 37
Heisman Trophy winners: 7*

The USC Trojans have been a college football powerhouse since the early ’20s. They have had three different head coaches win 100 or more games, and a fourth coach, Pete Carroll, won 97 games. During the Trojans’ run to 729 wins, 11 national titles, and 37 conference titles, they became known as “Tailback U” and served as the main football attraction in the major media market of Los Angeles from 1995–2016 while the city lacked an NFL team.

USC is currently fighting to get back into national title contention. With the type of talent they bring in on a yearly basis, it shouldn’t be long before we see the Trojans competing in the College Football Playoff.

*Includes the Heisman Trophy won by Reggie Bush, which has since been vacated.

2. Notre Dame

A general view of the Fighting Irish's stadium.

Notre Dame has a tradition and history that makes the Fighting Irish one of the greatest college football teams of all time. | Chris Chambers/Getty Images

Total wins: 819
National championships: 11
Conference titles: n/a
Heisman Trophy winners: 7

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have never been affiliated with a specific conference, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming one of the most storied college football programs of all time. Everything from their helmets, to their stadium, to their never-ending list of All-Americans and College Football Hall of Famers, to “Touchdown Jesus” looking over their home field (see above photo) makes Notre Dame iconic. The Fighting Irish have won 815 total games, 11 national championships, and have had seven Heisman Trophy winners.

1. Alabama

Alabama fans cheer before a game.

The Alabama Crimson Tide have the best college football program of all time. | Doug Benc/Getty Images

Total wins: 892
National championships: 16*
Conference titles: 26
Heisman Trophy winners: 3

In our eyes, the University of Alabama is home to the greatest program in college football history. The Tide have had massively successful runs (including their ongoing dynasty) under arguably the two greatest coaches in college football history in Bear Bryant (1958–82) and Nick Saban (2007 to the present). They have won a record 16 national titles (some people will argue that it’s only 14, though), 25 conference titles, 878 total games, and have three Heisman Trophy winners.

Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.