Sunday, July 30, 2006

All-Time Greatest College Football Teams

Many fans of other football teams like to claim that their team is the greatest football team of all time. For example, Alabama fans claim they are the best, 'cause they have more national championships than anyone (simply not true outside the state of Alabama). Michigan fans like to point at their total wins and winning percentage as proof that they are the all-time best (although they fail to mention the lack of championships or that the Irish are right on their tails in winning %). Southern Cal fans like to talk about their recent success and the fact that nobody has more Heisman winners than them (although the Irish have the same number - 7).

Any rational view of the evidence through history has Notre Dame head and shoulders above the rest as the most storied college football program in history. But don't take my word for it - look at the numbers:

SchoolWinning %Recognized ChampionshipsHeisman WinnersAll-time Wins
Notre Dame74.31%127811
Southern Cal70.02%107732
Ohio State71.05%56775
Penn State68.78%21772
Louisiana State63.57%21670

Responses to common arguments from Notre Dame haters:

Notre Dame was only good for a little while way back when; they haven't been good in ages.
Notre Dame has won at least one championship in each decade from 1920s - 1980s (with a near miss in 1993 to miss out on winning a championship in the 90s)
1920s: 1924, 1929
1930s: 1930
1940s: 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949
1950s: 1953
1960s: 1966
1970s: 1973, 1977
1980s: 1988
No other team can even come close to making a similar claim.
USC and Alabama did not win any championships in the 40s, 50s, or 80s.
Michigan didn't win in the 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s.
Oklahoma didn't win in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 60s or 90s.

But [Miami, Florida State, Washington, Florida, Boise State, Yale, Princeton, Maryland, etc.] aren't even on your list, despite their [championships, winning percentage, Heisman winners, etc.]
I limited the above list to teams that have played at least 1,000 games, have an all-time winning % of at least 60%, have won at least 2 Recognized National Championships (at least one of which occured after 1950), and are still playing college football on the Div. I-A level.
This is an all-time best list, not a "best since they started playing" or "best of the decade" or "best while they were still playing" or "best of their era" list. You're not that cool. Deal with it.

Notre Dame doesn't deserve credit for being good because they didn't play in bowl games for many years.
Bowl games used to be exhibitions and didn't "count" for anything. This is why Alabama claims a 1973 championship despite losing to the Irish in the Sugar Bowl. Notre Dame refused to play in bowl games because they conflicted with final exams. Notre Dame has participated in bowl games for as long as they have had any impact on the national championship. Claiming that Notre Dame doesn't deserve credit for seasons that they didn't participate in bowl games is like claiming that Benjamin Harrison lost the 1892 election because he lost the popular vote. It's just wrong.

"But [Michigan, Southern Cal, Alabama, Ohio State, Tennessee] has won more championships than that! Their website says so!" or "Notre Dame's website says you've only won 11 championships, and you're claiming 12!"
The numbers used in the chart above are the recognized championships according to the College Football Data Warehouse. Michigan "claims" 4 more championships than the recognized number. Ohio State and Tennessee claim 2 more, and USC and Alabama claim one more.
Notre Dame claims one less, as they only claim AP national championships after 1936. Therefore, they do not claim the 1953 championship - Maryland won the AP and UP poll that year. Notre Dame was 9-0-1, while Maryland was 10-1-0. Notre Dame was selected by the National Championship Foundation and the Helms Athletic Foundation. The College Football Data Warehouse has decided to recognize Notre Dame as co-champions for that year (due in part to their unbeaten record).
I chose the recognized championships from the College Football Data Warehouse because I felt that it would be less biased (and less confusing) than any other method.
For the record, Notre Dame has won more AP national championships than any other team. If you count all of the major selectors, Notre Dame has been selected as the champion in 21 different seasons.

But my team is really better than your team because of [number of draft picks, all-americans, hall of famers, etc.]
Notre Dame has had 30 unanimous first team All-Americans, more than any other school. They have have 78 different consensus All-Americans as designated by the NCAA, more than any other school. Overall, Notre Dame has had 177 selections on All-America first teams, more than any other school.
Notre Dame has had 41 players elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, more than any other school. We've also had 5 coaches (surprise - more than anyone) elected to the Hall of Fame as well.
Notre Dame has had 9 players elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (although if the person you are talking to is basing their argument on what players did AFTER they left school, they've already devolved into a completely different topic).
Notre Dame has had 132 players drafted into the NFL. I'm not sure if this is more than anyone else, but it is more than Southern Cal (120), Michigan (107), and Alabama (94).I got tired of counting. If you want to go count your school's draft picks, go here.

But my school [graduates players, has better academics, higher GPAs/SATs, more Nobel Prize Winners/Astronauts/Actors, etc.]
Again, this argument is about college football history, not which school is best academically. However, I'd be happy to compare our graduation rates with anyone in the country.

We have a bigger stadium/fanbase!
We have a broadcast deal with NBC to broadcast our home games nationally every week. And we have had 148 consecutive games televised. Now tell me again about your fan base? Notre Dame could sell out a stadium much larger than our current 80,795 capacity, but we don't want a stadium any bigger than we've got. We sell out our stadium every week (179 consecutive home sellouts) and don't need to build a monstrosity to prove our fan base is bigger. Notre Dame developed a national fan base during the Rockne area, and has the largest, broadest fan base of any university. (We also have the largest, broadest group of Notre Dame haters in the country for the same reasons)

In short, when it comes to any argument about the most storied program in college football history, Notre Dame is now, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, the greatest college football program in history.

End of discussion.


David Crowe said...


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David Crowe
Write On Sports LLC

Anonymous said...

Hahaha. Look at your ND team now. 1-8. pathetic

Anonymous said...

You'r Website rocks, people make fun of me all the time for supporting the irish, from reading all your info now, I have some snippy History comebacks!!! nice work!

Herd said...

I'm an SC fan and few would argue ND's case of being the "most" storied football program of all time. They are certainly the most hyped program of all time (SC can't complain, the media seems to like us too).

But I think the question is how long will ND have to feed off its past to stay with the current field? SC knows all about feeding off the past (e.g. Ted Tollner, Larry Smith and Paul Hackett) and the reality is ND is not even close to being a top tier team. So again, the question is when will it return?

I still feel SC vs ND is the greatest college football rivalry ever and CFB is best when both teams are competing for NC's.

Overall good body of work. I enjoyed reading.

Fight On!

Anonymous said...

Good website, but clearly biased. Also Michigan is going to run over Notre Dame (again) like the last few years.

Now it is clear in your defense that ND is America's national team if there is such a thing, given their ability historically to recruit not just from the Catholic nation but from across the country when other schools were more limited. But a good long term program nonetheless, and generally, played by most of the rules.

Nathan said...

Sure, Notre Dame is pretty good, but let's not forget the Sea of Red that Nebraska turned the House that Rockne built into in 2000. Also, don't forget that Nebraska leads the nation in Academic All-Americans. It's not even close. And your sellout streak? Without even mentioning how 30,000 Husker fans showed up in South Bend in 2000 (again), the Huskers will be celebrating their 300th consecutive sellout in 2009.
I like your page and everything, but it is so biased. Maybe Notre Dame will make a comeback this year, but they have been off the national radar for far too long.