Football

From the data: The best college football programs since 2000

By Nick Selbe

Graphiq

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and his team celebrate the team's national championship.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and his team celebrate the team's national championship. Getty Images via Graphiq

Back in 2000, the college football landscape was significantly different than what it is today. The BCS was in its third year of existence, Florida State had just defeated Virginia Tech for the national championship and a Wisconsin running back named Ron Dayne was the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

What a difference 15 years make.

Today, the College Football Playoff has (thankfully) supplanted the BCS. Many previously unheralded programs have unseated traditional powerhouses as national contenders, while some long-established programs remain on top.

In recent years, the final rankings have seen newcomers like Boise State and Oregon regularly appear at the top of the polls, a drastic change from historical results. To find out which programs have had the most sustained success in the past 15 years, PointAfter looked at the final AP Top 25 Poll rankings of each season from 2000 to 2014 to find the aggregate ranking of every team.

The team that ended the season ranked No. 1 in a given year's final poll was awarded 25 points. The No. 2 team got 24 points, all the way down to the No. 25 team. Teams received no points for seasons in which they finished unranked.

From 2000 to 2014, 83 different teams made at least one appearance in the final AP Top 25 Poll, and 10 different teams finished the year ranked No. 1. But in determining the best program since 2000, there can only be one.

#25. Michigan State Spartans

Total points: 73

Conference titles: 2

National titles: 0

The 21st century did not get off to a good start for the Spartans. From 2000 to 2007, Michigan State posted a 45-51 record and never finished a season in the top 25. In 2008, current head coach Mark Dantonio's second season, the team went 9-4 and finished No. 24. Since then, Sparty has four top-15 finishes and two Big Ten championships.

#24. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Total points: 74

Conference titles: N/A

National titles: 0

Notre Dame has been ranked in the final AP poll six times since 2000, most recently in 2013. The Irish have played for four different coaches in that timespan (not including interim coaches) — Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly. Kelly led Notre Dame to an undefeated regular season in 2012, which ended with a 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.

#23. Clemson Tigers

Total points: 74

Conference titles: 1

National titles: 0

The Tigers win the tiebreaker over Notre Dame by virtue of appearing on more final polls (nine vs. ND's six). Clemson's best finish in the AP poll since 2000 came in 2013, when it ended the year ranked No. 8. Current head coach Dabo Swinney took over as interim head coach in 2008, and after being given the permanent job in 2009, the team finished in the top 25 in five of the next six seasons.

#22. Iowa Hawkeyes

Total points: 79

Conference titles: 2

National titles: 0

Current head coach Kirk Ferentz arrived at Iowa in 1999, making him the longest-tenured active coach in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have five AP Top 25 finishes since 2000, including three consecutive top-10 finishes from 2002 to 2004.

#21. South Carolina Gamecocks

Total points: 81

Conference titles: 0

National titles: 0

After finishing the 2001 season ranked No. 13, the Gamecocks did not appear in the final AP Top 25 until 2010. That year marked the beginning of the best period of success for the program under former head coach Steve Spurrier. South Carolina finished ranked in the top 25 each season fro 2010 to 2013, including three consecutive top-10 finishes.

#20. Kansas State Wildcats

Total points: 81

Conference titles: 2

National titles: 0

From 1936 (the first year of the AP Top 25 poll) to 1992, Kansas State finished the season ranked exactly ... zero times. Current head coach Bill Snyder took over control of the program in 1989, and in 1993 the Wildcats ended the year ranked No. 20. Kansas State has finished the season ranked 12 more times since then. Six of those top 25 finishes came since 2000, with the most recent one in 2014.

*Note: Kansas State wins the tiebreaker over South Carolina due to its advantage in conference championships (both programs have six top-25 finishes since 2000).

#19. Louisville Cardinals

Total points: 82

Conference titles: 6

National titles: 0

Since 2000, Louisville has played as a member of Conference USA, the Big East, the American Athletic Conference and now the ACC. The Cardinals twice finished the season ranked No. 6 — in 2004 and 2006.

#18. Stanford Cardinal

Total points: 85

Conference titles: 2

National titles: 0

From 2000 to 2009, Stanford had just one top 25 finish — a No. 16 ranking in 2001 — and spent most of that decade mired in obscurity. Former head coach Jim Harbaugh completely transformed the program into the hard-hitting power it is today. The Cardinal won back-to-back Pac-12 titles in 2012 and 2013, a run highlighted by a win in the 2013 Rose Bowl over Wisconsin.

#17. Wisconsin Badgers

Total points: 106

Conference titles: 3

National titles: 0

The glory days of the past 15 years for Wisconsin came during a three-year peak from 2010 to 2012 that saw three straight Big Ten championships. The glow of that success was dampened a bit by the Badgers losing in all three Rose Bowl appearances, but for the most part, the program has been a fixture in the AP Top 25 Poll. Wisconsin ended the year ranked in nine of 11 seasons from 2004 to 2014.

#16. Michigan Wolverines

Total points: 112

Conference titles: 3

National titles: 0

Michigan was among the most successful programs in the country during the first part of the 21st century. Under former head coach Lloyd Carr, the Wolverines won three Big Ten titles from 2000 to 2004, though they never won a Rose Bowl. From 2008 to 2014, Michigan finished ranked in the top 25 just twice. The program has enjoyed a rejuvenation under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, though, and could be back on track to regular top 25 finishes.

#15. Miami Hurricanes

Total points: 125

Conference titles: 4

National titles: 1

The first team to appear on the list with a post-2000 national championship, the Canes were the college football dynasty of the early 2000s. Miami had four consecutive top-five finishes from 2000 to 2003, with a cumulative record of 46-4 during that time.

Since then, the Hurricanes have just three top 25 finishes, the latest coming in 2009. After firing head coach Al Golden midway through the 2015 season, it's clear The U is still in the midst of rebuilding.

#14. TCU Horned Frogs

Total points: 126

Conference titles: 7

National titles: 0

Gary Patterson became the head coach during the 2000 season after Dennis Franchione left to coach at Alabama. The Horned Frogs finished that season ranked No. 21, and since then have ended the year in the top 25 nine times.

TCU worked their way up the proverbial conference pecking order during this timeframe. The program moved from the Western Athletic Conference to Conference USA in 2001, then to the Mountain West in 2005. In 2012, TCU moved to the Big 12, winning the conference title in 2014.

#13. Virginia Tech Hokies

Total points: 130

Conference titles: 4

National titles: 0

By the time the 2000 season rolled around, current head coach Frank Beamer had already established Virginia Tech as a national power. That season marked the beginning of the true glory days.

From 2000 to 2011, the Hokies finished the season ranked in all but one year (2003), including five top-10 finishes. The team averaged just over 10 wins per season during that time and played in five BCS bowl games. VT has fallen on hard times as of late and hasn't finished the season ranked since 2011, but the run of success they experienced is impressive nonetheless.

#12. Auburn Tigers

Total points: 137

Conference titles: 3

National titles: 1

Perhaps no team personified the ineffectiveness of the BCS than the 2004 Auburn team, which ended the year 13-0, yet was left out of the national title game. Despite the snub, that season marked the program's first SEC championship since 1989.

Auburn redeemed itself in 2010 when it went 14-0 en route to a national championship. The Tigers returned to the BCS National Championship Game during the 2013 season but lost to Florida State. Auburn has finished the season ranked in the top 25 nine times since 2000.

#11. Florida State Seminoles

Total points: 145

Conference titles: 7

National titles: 1

The 2000 season came in the midst of Florida State's greatest period of success. From 1987 to 1999, the Seminoles finished in the top five every season (!!!), with eight conference titles and two national championships. The program began a gradual decline at the turn of the millennium, but still maintained a consistent level of success.

The Seminoles finished in the top 25 in 12 out of 15 seasons since 2000, highlighted by a national championship in 2013. Current head coach Jimbo Fisher, who took over in 2010, led the team to a combined 58-11 record from 2010 to 2014.

#10. Boise State Broncos

Total points: 146

Conference titles: 11

National titles: 0

Originally a junior college, Boise State's football program moved up to four-year status in 1968. The Broncos did not finish a season ranked in the top 25 until 2002.

Since then, Boise State has finished in the top 20 in 10 out of 13 seasons, including four top-10 finishes. The Broncos won three Fiesta Bowls during that time, most notably in 2007, when they pulled off a miraculous comeback to beat Oklahoma 43-42.

#9. Florida Gators

Total points: 158

Conference titles: 3

National titles: 2

The Gators peaked in the late-2000s under head coach Urban Meyer, winning national championships in 2006 and 2008. Quarterback Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy in 2007, and Florida finished No. 3 in 2009.

From 2010 to 2014, the Gators finished in the top 25 just once. Despite the team's recent struggles, current head coach Jim McElwain seems to have the program headed in the right direction.

#8. Georgia Bulldogs

Total points: 172

Conference titles: 2

National titles: 0

Georgia finished the season ranked in the top 25 each year from 1997 to 2008, with two SEC championships. Current head coach Mark Richt took over in 2001 and posted a 136-48 record from 2001 to 2014.

Though the Bulldogs have been consistent since 2000 — they've never gone more than two consecutive seasons without finishing in the top 20 — their rabid fanbase is still waiting for the program's first national championship since 1980.

#7. Alabama Crimson Tide

Total points: 185

Conference titles: 4

National titles: 3

The 21st century got off to a rocky start for Bama. From 2000 to 2004, the Tide finished ranked just once (2002) and posted only two winning seasons. Current head coach Nick Saban's arrival in 2007 quickly turned things around.

Alabama has become the premier dynasty of modern college football. The team finished the season ranked in the top 10 each year from 2008 to 2014, with four SEC titles and three national championships. As they say in Tuscaloosa, Roll Damn Tide.

#6. Texas Longhorns

Total points: 197

Conference titles: 2

National titles: 1

Under former head coach Mack Brown, the Longhorns set the standard for what a college football program should be. Texas finished ranked in the top 15 each year from 2000 to 2009, a decade highlighted by a win in the 2006 Rose Bowl in what's widely considered one of the greatest college football games of all time.

Texas finished unranked in four out of five seasons from 2010 to 2014, and current head coach Charlie Strong is still trying to turn the program around after the tremendous amount of success the Longhorns had under Brown's lead.

#5. Oregon Ducks

Total points: 200

Conference titles: 6

National titles: 0

No college football program embodies new-age success more than the Oregon Ducks. Backed heavily by Nike co-founder and Oregon alumnus Phil Knight, the Ducks have parlayed an innovative offense and a dizzying array of new-look uniforms into a sustainable formula for winning.

From 1936 to 1999, Oregon was ranked in the final AP Poll just four times. From 2000 to 2014, the Ducks ended the season ranked 11 times, including five consecutive top-10 finishes from 2010 to 2014. Oregon has lost in its two appearances in the national championship game during that time, but remain one of the most consistent programs of the modern era.

#4. LSU Tigers

Total points: 200

Conference titles: 4

National titles: 2

Since 2000, the Tigers have been led by two legendary coaches — Nick Saban and current head coach Les Miles. Saban led LSU to two SEC titles and one national championship during his five-year tenure, and Miles has matched those numbers since taking over in 2005.

Though they finished ranked No. 2 in the final AP Poll, the Tigers have a legitimate claim to the 2003 national championship thanks to the BCS ranking system. That season, the computers infamously left USC out of the national championship game, despite the Trojans being ranked No. 1 in both the AP Poll and Coaches Poll. That bit of controversy notwithstanding, the Tigers remain one of the most consistent programs in college football, with 12 top-25 finishes in the past 15 seasons.

#3. USC Trojans

Total points: 201

Conference titles: 7

National titles: 2

The Trojans enjoyed a period of unrivaled success during the mid-2000s under former head coach Pete Carroll. They finished ranked in the top five each year from 2002 to 2008, highlighted by back-to-back national titles in 2003 and 2004.

The program suffered a major blow shortly after Carroll's departure, with severe sanctions being handed down by the NCAA. Despite the loss of 30 scholarships and a two-year bowl ban, USC finished ranked in the top 20 in three out of four seasons from 2011 to 2014.

#2. Oklahoma Sooners

Total points: 231

Conference titles: 8

National titles: 1

The Sooners were the epitome of consistency during the decade of the 2000s. Their national championship in 2000 began a streak of nine consecutive seasons with top-25 finishes, including seven in the top 10.

Oklahoma finished 13 of the past 15 seasons ranked in the top 25, a remarkable run for any program. The school has had two Heisman Trophy winners during that time — Jason White in 2003 and Sam Bradford in 2008 — and has posted an overall record of 161-39.

#1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Total points: 241

Conference titles: 7

National titles: 2

Fresh off of a 2014 national title, the Buckeyes' recent triumph was just the latest in what's been a 15-year stretch full of prosperity.

Ohio State's current run began in 2002, when the team went 14-0 and won their first national title since 1970. That season marked the beginning of a nine-year streak of being featured in the final AP Poll.

The 2011 season was the only year since 2002 the team finished outside of the final rankings. That season was mired in turmoil after the sudden resignation of head coach Jim Tressel, who was the subject of an NCAA investigation. Urban Meyer took over in 2012, and the Buckeyes posted a combined 38-3 record from 2012 to 2014, capped by their national championship game victory over Oregon in the first-ever College Football Playoff.

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