Winning Percentage and (Mythical) National Championships

by Mike
(Pensacola, Florida)

In the article "Best College Football Program of All Time," you have neglected the single most important stat of all: All-Time Winning Percentage; Bama does not rank as high as Michigan, ND, Texas, and others in this crucial category (though Bama is certainly high).


Most all-time polls overrate National Championships. After all, National Championships are only mythical, and teams are always claiming National Championships that aren't valid. Bama claims 1941(a truly bizarre claim) and 1973(the year ND beat them in the Sugar Bowl match between #1 and #2). Texas claims 1970, a year ND beat them in the Cotton Bowl to give the real championship to Nebraska. And this doesn't even count the highly debatable National Championship claims of many years when the polls very arguably crowned the wrong team.

Was ND (or Michigan State, for that matter) really better than Alabama in 1966, the year Bama had the only perfect record in college football (as well as possibly the best team ever at the Capstone)? Did Bama really deserve the title in 1964 when Texas beat them in the Orange Bowl and Arkansas was the only team left who had a perfect record? In fact, Arkansas was the only team who had beaten Texas, and was thus presented with the Macarthur Bowl as the #1 team in college football after the dust from the New Year's Day bowls had settled. Surely the Hogs deserved it more than the Tide.

Was Miami really better than Auburn in 1983? Miami beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, but Auburn had a better record, was ranked higher than the 'Canes prior to the bowls, and had at least as good a case as Miami.

We could go on endlessly with such very legitimate debates, year after year, throughout football history, yet rankers of these All-Time Greatest polls persist in overemphasizing National Championships. Until the NCAA agrees to a playoff, and thus a REAL, rather than a mythical champion, so-called National Championships are a poor criteria for inclusion. We need more objective criteria.

ESPN's criteria are worse than useless: first, they have abolished all years prior to 1936 (why 1936?). That means they have scrapped almost 40% of college football history, not to mention some of the greatest names in history: Red Grange, Knute Rockne, Bronko Nagurski, Sammy Baugh, The Gipper, Hurry Up Yost, etc., etc. They have also used useless "Beauty Contest" criteria like Heisman winners and All-Americans. They obviously designed their criteria to fit the results they wanted.

Are we really going to say that a team should be rated higher because they had more All Americans or more Heisman winners than others? Heismans and All Americans have nothing to do with winning ball games. Winning is a totally different concept. Bear Bryant's Alabama teams won without big-name stars (excepting Namath), but does that make them any less great? Certainly not! Quite the contrary, it shows that they were BETTER all-around teams, guys dedicated more to the concept of TEAM rather than individual awards. Besides, Heisman contests and All Americans are products of the big schools' PR departments. To use those as criteria is to bring politics into the discussion rather than the objective purity of team play between the white lines. So please throw those out.

When you get down to it, only two crucial criteria should be used to determine the greatest programs of all time: Total wins and historical winning percentage. These are clearly the most important and the most objective. By these most crucial and most objective criteria, Bama is not even in the top 3, let alone the top 5.

The top three in total wins are: 1) Michigan, 2)Texas, and 3)ND; the top three in winning percentage are: 1)Michigan, 2)ND, and 3)Texas. Assigning points for each - that is, 10 points for first place, nine for second, etc., you come out with the following: Michigan gets two ten-pointers for being first in both categories, thus 20 total points. Texas gets nine points for being second in wins and eight points for third in winning percentage, for 17 total points; ND gets eight points for total wins and nine points for winning percentage, thus 17 total points. Thus Michigan is the #1 all-time program and Texas and ND tie for second. To figure the rest, just refer to these historical categories as found on this website. This is the best and most objective way I can think of to crown an all-time champion, and these two categories are the most fundamental.

In no particular order, Ohio State, Nebraska, Alabama, Oklahoma, and USC will comprise the best of the rest, because these eight total schools are the true giants of college football, the creme de la creme of them all, and there really isn't much to separate these eight when you get right down to it.

Penn State and Tennessee, though, aren't far behind. Florida is coming fast, but they are, at this point, still a bit new, a Johnny-come-lately, as it were.

The Michigan Wolverines, though, (no, they are not my team) should be the all-time #1 college football program.

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Jan 29, 2010
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Good Case for Michigan
by: Mo

Thanks Mike, fabulous comments. You make a strong case for Michigan as Greatest CFB Program of all time.

I'm not sure there is any perfect selection criteria. All time wins and win percentage are good criteria; maybe the best as you argue. However, the counter-argument to that is that sure, Michigan started playing football before almost anyone else and had the strongest program for many years while the sport was just developing. College football then was really more of a club sport.

So, the question is whether those games, those wins, should be valued as highly as wins in more recent decades when college football was much bigger, much more competitive, etc.

Also, I think a huge factor for Alabama is that their football program really lifted up the people in an entire region of the country. When Alabama football rose up in the 20's -- the South was generally poor sort of a backwater of America. The Alabama football team, especially their National Championships in those years, really were important to the South. I don't think Michigan's football program (or any other football program) had that kind of societal impact.

Check out Alabama Football History.

But, again, great comments. We'll list your page as the top submission for January at SEC Sports Fan Forum.

And, you're eligible for a free t-shirt if you want one. Just let us know, using our contact form.

Jan 30, 2010
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Alabama and Texas Will Pass Mich and ND
by: Mike

Thank you, Mo, for your very nice comments on my article. I take a back seat to no one in my admiration for Alabama football. And when you say that in no state is the college football team as important to an entire state as the Tide is to the state of Alabama, you'll get no argument from me. The state of Alabama is the capital of college football, God bless 'em.

None of that predictable and boring NFL money-ball for the fans of Alabama and Auburn, thank goodness. The NFL isn't even the second most popular sport in Alabama; that honor belongs to baseball. I've seen it first-hand; I spent 27 years in Mobile, a great and beautiful city (I think the most beautiful city in America), and I saw the unrivaled devotion there to Alabama football (as well as to Auburn).

Bear Bryant was king of college football in my formative years, and I still say he was the greatest coach of all time. But I wasn't a Tide fan because the first seven years of my life were spent in another state, a state almost as crazy about football as Alabama, and my loyalty to their flagship university had already solidified by the time I came to Mobile as just a third-grader. Furthermore, both my team and Alabama were fellow sufferers at the hands of the Northern press, who relentlessly crucified both schools for not integrating their football teams.

Because both schools were fantastically successful in the 1960s, I always felt there was a strong dose of envy coming from the northern press and from northern and western schools toward both teams.

The failure of the wire service polls to vote Alabama #1 in 1966 was one of the first big triumphs of political correctness over honesty.

Anyway, both schools are at the top again, and in ten years will, I believe, overtake Michigan and ND historically for the all-time top spots. Trouble is, your team just won round one.

Jan 30, 2011
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GO IRISH
by: go irish

how can u base it on that its dumb that espn doesnt use before 36, its 36 because thats when the ap poll started but that not when college football started, and most of michigans wins were really really early like seasons that they only played teams such as notre dame who they had taught and they stopped playing the irish after the very first time they lost they used to schedule to win, while notre dame scheduled to get more notice, they played all over the country and won every where they played, you have to count championships because that what you play for is championships, people dont settle for winning games they want championships, notre dame has 22 seasons that they finished #1 in at least one poll, and they claim 11 titles, the ncaa gives them 13, and if you look in and dicect it they really should have more than that, notre dame has had 13 undefeated seasons and only 8 of them are counted as title years by the ncaa, and only 7 are counted by the university which means at least 5 undefeated sesons arent counted and i know you will then say well what about 66 bama was undefeated yet the irish tied the #2 team in the country while they were the #1 team, but notre dames schedule consisted of 3 away games against top 10 teams and 1 home game against a top 10 team, while bama played 1 top 25 team, and also by that time notre dame had earned tons of respect from the polls by having tremendous success whith these terribly hard schedules, and if you disect bama theyd be down to roughly 8 championships, and michigan is credited in most cases with around 7 to eleven and texas with 4 including one where they lost the bowl game, and no matter what you think if you have the best players then that makes your program even better especially if you have the best player in the country that year(heisman) notre dame has more than anyone with 7 heisman winners, osu has 7 trophies but 6 winners, the irish have the most all americans

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