Click here to skip to main content.
THE WEB Search
left edge right edge
College Football Preview


Top 10 Most Powerful Programs compares the most powerful programs of 20 years ago with the expected landscape in 2004, when Miami and Virginia Tech join the ACC. Click to see a similar comparison of the 10 most powerful conferences. And let us know what program you think is the new top dog.
Note: Criteria for ranking programs included recent conference and national titles, consistent placement in the polls, recruiting prowess, TV exposure, marketability and public awareness.

1984 Rank 2004
Less than two years removed from the legendary Bear Bryant's era, the Crimson Tide were college's most dominant team, winning three national and nine conference titles in 13 years, although rough times loomed ahead.
1 Miami
In a remarkable recovery from their mid-1990s probation, the Hurricanes rose to win their fifth national title in 2001, rolled off a 34-game winning streak and became the centerpiece of the ACC's landmark expansion plan this summer.
Penn State
Eighteen years into his head-coaching tenure, Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions may never have been more dominant, capturing national championships in '82 and '86 and winning 10 or more games nine times in 12 years.
2 Notre Dame
College football's most recognizable program saw a return to glory under Lou Holtz, which included landing its own TV deal with NBC, and after a few down years appears to be headed in the right direction under Tyrone Willingham.
A Saturday afternoon television fixture throughout the '70s and '80s, the Huskers had yet to win their first national title under Tom Osborne -- his three would come in the '90s -- but they would come close seemingly every year.
3 Oklahoma
After more than a decade in the pits, one of the sport's sleeping giants awoke under Bob Stoops, making an unexpected run to the 2000 national championship and again becoming a perennial top five fixture.
Thanks to Herschel Walker, the Bulldogs were coming off the most glorious four years in school history -- three SEC championships and a national title. Unfortunately, their next ring would be another 20 years coming.
4 Ohio State
The Buckeyes have long had one of the strongest national followings and were frequent national title contenders in the 1990s, but it was their stunning Fiesta Bowl win over Miami last season that elevated the program back to elite status.
Though Barry Switzer was going through a few down years at the time, the Sooners' dominance earlier in his tenure -- as well as numerous memorable Nebraska games -- kept "Boomer, Sooner" in the national consciousness.
5 Florida State
Bobby Bowden's program is perceived to be falling, but the Seminoles are only three years removed from their second national title and an incredible run that saw them finish among the top four teams in the country 14 straight seasons.
Nothing said Michigan like the Wolverines' distinctive maize and blue helmets -- unless it was a trip to Pasadena. Bo Schembechler's team made Rose Bowl appearances in five of the seven previous seasons.
6 Florida
The jury is still out on Ron Zook, but the aura of the Steve Spurrier era -- six SEC championships, 10 top 10 finishes and a heated series with nemesis Florida State -- and the Gators' never-ending Florida talent base still looms large.
Ohio State
As you can probably guess, just about any year Michigan wasn't representing the Big Ten in Pasadena, the Buckeyes were. While not quite as dominant as under Woody Hayes, OSU was a top 15 team nearly every season.
7 Michigan
The Wolverines remain a model of consistency. One of only two teams ranked in the final Top 25 poll every year since 1989, they've shared or won outright seven Big Ten championships during that span, as well as the 1997 national title.
Notre Dame
Even in their bad seasons, the Fighting Irish get mega national exposure -- and these were bad seasons. National champs just seven years earlier, ND under Gerry Faust would go five straight years without winning eight games in a season.
8 Texas
Since taking over the nation's No. 4 all-time winningest program in 1998, Mack Brown has turned Texas back into a national presence. Finishing in the top 10 each of the past two seasons, the Longhorns have become the game's preeminent recruiting program.
Most of the Tigers' proud tradition revolves around the Danny Ford era, which included the 1981 national championship (and Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska) and numerous other top 10 seasons.
9 Nebraska
Winner of at least nine games a season from 1969 to 2001 and three national titles in the '90s under Tom Osborne, the Huskers looked much more powerful before the panic of '02, their worst season in 41 years.
They would soon become the college football team of the 1980s, but at the time Howard Schnellenberger's Hurricanes were relative newcomers to the national scene, emerging from nowhere to win their first national title in '83.
10 USC
The Pac-10's most history-laden program woke up in a big way in 2002, finishing fourth in the country. It's only one year, but Pete Carroll's recruiting prowess has the Trojans poised to remain in the mix for years to come.

React: Which is the most powerful program of the new era?

Your name:
Your e-mail address:
Your hometown:
Make your case:

divider line
SI Media Kits | About Us | Subscribe | Customer Service
Copyright © 2005 CNN/Sports Illustrated.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines.
search THE WEB Search