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Monday, September 2, 2002
Updated: September 7, 11:00 AM ET
Best college football teams of all time

Page 2 staff

Two weeks ago, we offered our picks for the 10 greatest NFL teams of all time, so now we turn our attention to college football.

We compiled our list of the 10 greatest college football teams below, and also had our users send us their choices for the best college football team along with the reasons for their selections.

1. Nebraska (1971)
Nebraska Cornhuskers
 
Many consider the 1971 version of the Cornhuskers the best college football team ever, and we can't find any reason to disagree. The team averaged more than 39 points a game on offense, and surrendered only 8.2 points a game. Led by kick and punt returner par excellence Johnny Rodgers (who won the 1972 Heisman), the top-ranked Cornhuskers defeated No. 2 Oklahoma 35-31 on Thanksgiving Day, in what some have called the "Game of the Century." They rounded out their 13-0 season with a 38-6 drubbing of Alabama in the Orange Bowl.

2. USC (1972)
Southern California Trojans
 
USC, coached by John McKay, finished the season 12-0 after blowing out Ohio State 42-17 in the Rose Bowl. In the process, the Trojans became the first team to be named No. 1 on every ballot of both the coaches and media polls. Keith Jackson, who's forgotten more about college football than we'll ever know, said the '72 Trojans were the best ever. He might be right, but we're giving Nebraska just a slight edge.

3. Nebraska (1995)
Nebraska Cornhuskers
 
Combine a great offense -- 50-plus points per game -- with a great defense. Add a tough schedule, including four Top 10 teams, which the Cornhuskers trounced by no fewer than 23 points. Stir in Ahman Green and Lawrence Phillips for an incredible running attack. Presto. You've got a second straight national championship, topped by a 62-24 humiliation of second-ranked Florida in the Fiesta Bowl, and one of the best teams ever, in any sport.

4. Army (1945)
Army
 
It was a very good year for Army. After teaming up with the other branches of the armed services (and the Allies) to win World War II, they then went on to a glorious fall campaign starring Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, fullback Felix "Doc" Blanchard and tailback Glenn Davis. Blanchard, who ran for 718 yards and 19 TDs, won the Heisman in '45; Davis won it in '46. Army went 9-0, and was overwhelmingly dominant. In one game, they trounced Notre Dame, 48-0, in front of 75,000 at Yankee Stadium, then came back the next week to blow out the Pennsylvania Quakers, 61-0. In a game that decided the national title, Army beat its service rival, Navy, in their annual Philadelphia classic, 32-13, before 102,000 fans.

5. Miami (2001)
Miami Hurricanes
 
Miami went 12-0, with an average margin of victory of 34. A couple of reasons: All-American QB Ken Dorsey and running back Clinton Portis (who racked up 1,200 yards on the ground). A few more: offensive tackle Bryant "Mount" McKinnie, wide receiver Jeremy Shockey, cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Mike Rumph, and safety Edward Reed, all first-round selections in the 2002 NFL draft. "Offense, defense, special teams, this team is loaded," said 'Canes assistant coach Art Kehoe. "It's the best one I've ever seen, and I think we could line up and play with any college team that's ever been."

6. Michigan (1947)
Michigan Wolverines
 
Head coach Fritz Crisler let loose his "Mad Magicians" with one of the trickiest offenses in college football history. "For sheer deception, there had been nothing like the Magicians before," wrote Ivan Kaye in Michigan Today. "And there has been nothing like them since -- three men handling the ball was just an ordinary play. The plays that really gave them a kick were the ones where four or even five men handled the ball. It would wear out the spectators and drive defenses crazy."

As a result, Michigan, led by tailback Bob Chappius, wingback Chalmers "Bump" Elliott, QB Howard Yerges and fullback Jack Weisenburger, went 10-0 in 1947. While the Irish (see below) were named No. 1 by the AP at the end of the regular season, Michigan forced the voters to reconsider after crushing USC 49-0 in the Rose Bowl, and were ranked No. 1 in an unofficial postseason AP poll.

7. Notre Dame (1947)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
 
The Irish won a disputed national title in '47 (see above), but what's not disputed is that the Irish were one of the best teams ever. They were led by three players who would eventually be named among the 100 best in college football history by College Football News: lineman Leon Hart, tackle George Connor and QB Johnny Lujack. Lujack won the '47 Heisman trophy, and in '49 Hart became one of only two lineman ever to win the Heisman. Notre Dame finished its undefeated season by trouncing USC 38-7 in front of 105,000 fans in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and 41 of the Irish went on to play pro ball.

8. Oklahoma (1956)
Oklahoma Sooners
 
At the end of the 20th century, this website named the '56 Sooners the eighth best team, of any sport, pro or college, ever. Here's why: Bud Wilkinson's 1956 squad was in the middle of a 47-game winning streak. They went 10-0, averaging about 47 points a game. The defense held six opponents scoreless. Running back Tommy McDonald finished third in the Heisman Trophy race, but even more impressive was the showing by Jerry Tubbs, who, as a lineman, finished fourth in the voting.

9. Oklahoma (1974)
Oklahoma Sooners
 
The Sooners dominated college football in 1973 and 1974, going 21-0-1, so it wasn't easy to pick between the two squads. But we give the '74 squad the nod because it won its first national title under legendary coach Barry Switzer. Led by defensive end Lee Roy Selmon (the NFL's No. 1 pick in 1976), Dewey Selmon (an All-American noseguard), linebacker Rod Shoate (AP and UPI Defensive Player of the Year) and halfback Joe Washington (AP and UPI Offensive Player of the Year), the ground-based Sooners (they averaged 74 rushes a game, the most in Oklahoma history) twice won games by scores of 63-0, and also drubbed Utah State, 72-3.

10. Alabama (1961)
Alabama Crimson Tide
 
Bear Bryant was on his way to becoming an Alabama institution, and the Tide won their first national title under his leadership. They'd go on to win five more with Bear at the helm, but the first is always the sweetest. Alabama went 11-0 in 1961, racking up 297 points and allowing only 25. They were ranked first in the nation, and concluded their season with a 10-3 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

Also receiving votes:
  • Notre Dame (1919, 1924, 1930, 1949, 1988)
  • Michigan (1941, 1948)
  • Oklahoma (1955, 2000)
  • USC (1932, 1962)
  • Army (1944)
  • Florida State (1999)
  • Florida (1996)
  • Minnesota (1940)
  • Ohio State (1968)
  • Pittsburgh (1976)
  • TCU (1938)
  • Texas (1969)