Fallen stars, on-the-rise programs make up middle of the pack

Originally Published: July 25, 2007
ESPN.com

What are the top programs of the last decade? That's the question ESPN.com has attempted to answer this week. Fifteen college football experts and analysts ranked all 119 Division I-A programs, taking into account record, traditions, recruiting, facilities, coaches, attendance and support, among other criteria.

Editor's note: Each day, one writer will attempt to explain why these teams were ranked in this order. The rankings reflect the average from the 15 ballots cast and are not the writer's individual ballot. Bruce Feldman breaks down Nos. 51 to 75 below.

Ladder 119: Nos. 51-75 (from 1997 to 2006)
RANK TEAM RECORD WIN % TITLES BOWL RECORD
51 Toledo 82-39 .678 2 conf. 2-2
Toledo's production alone is startling: an 82-39 record over the past decade, better than Auburn, Louisville and West Virginia, but it came in the watered-down MAC, so the Rockets don't get much as far as style points go. In the past five years, they are 2-7 against teams from BCS conferences, and three of those losses have come by at least 40 points. This past spring, they also found themselves in the middle of a sticky gambling investigation involving Scooter McDougle, a Toledo tailback, that has folks there losing sleep.
T-52 Minnesota 65-57 .529 0 3-4
In layman's terms, the Gophers don't stink, but they also haven't been all that good. They could do one thing really well, and that was run the football. Trouble was, that only got them so far. Under former coach Glen Mason, they went to seven bowl games in eight years, but none was in January. The worse news was that in the past seven seasons, they were just 24-32 in conference play.
T-52 Pittsburgh 63-56 .529 1 conf. 2-4
The Panthers, who have lost six straight against ranked teams after beating Notre Dame and West Virginia in a row in 2004, still haven't gotten close to where they were a generation ago. They had a few false starts under Walt Harris before he fizzled out, and now Dave Wannstedt is trying to get some momentum but hasn't broken through yet. He does seem to be doing OK on the recruiting front, but this is a program that really needs a signature win to maneuver up to the level of West Virginia and Louisville while not getting overtaken by Rutgers and South Florida, something that might have happened already.
T-52 Washington 61-58 .513 1 conf. 2-4
U-Dub used to be terrific and was a powerhouse at the start of the new millennium, but then Rick Neuheisel got in trouble and replacement Keith Gilbertson floundered, and when Ty Willingham took over the program, it was arguably the worst in the BCS conferences. The Huskies appear to be getting back to respectability, but there's a very long road ahead.
55 Michigan State 61-58 .513 0 2-2
Perennially the Big Ten's most underachieving program, MSU constantly shot itself in the foot in the John L. Smith era. Penalties and late-season collapses became MSU trademarks. There was a lot of talent but little productivity to show for it in the standings. The past 10 years, MSU was 19-37 against the rest of the Big Ten. On the positive side, the Spartans did rank No. 21 in the nation last season in attendance. That said, coach Mark Dantonio's discipline figures to be a welcome addition.
T-56 Air Force 71-49 .592 1 conf. 2-2
The Falcons were a very solid 71-49 the past 10 years under Fisher DeBerry, and they were always among the leaders in graduation rate. It is worth noting the Falcons played only five ranked teams in the past four years and lost all five games. Under DeBerry, they had been sliding the past five or six years while Navy continued to surge. It'll be interesting to see whether new coach Troy Calhoun and his West Coast-based offense can get the Falcons going again.
T-56 Oklahoma State 60-58 .508 0 2-3
The Cowboys are barely above .500 in the past decade (60-58). They've gone from decent to mediocre to pretty good and back to decent. OSU seems to be on the rise again, but it can't be easy knowing Bob Stoops and archrival Oklahoma have outshone the Cowboys in this 10-year stretch.
58 South Florida 43-26 .623 0 1-1
The upstart Bulls don't have as long a track record, but their win percentage in this time frame is 62 percent, good enough to rank them at No. 29 in winning percentage. This is one of those surging programs in terms of national respect, and it has been that way since South Florida lit up No. 9 Louisville 45-14 two years ago. If we do this ranking again in another two years, USF probably will be 20 places higher.
59 Hawaii 67-61 .523 1 conf. 3-1
June Jones has elevated this program into a perennial offensive powerhouse. The Warriors are only 67-61 the past 10 years, but they are 49-26 in the past six years. The schedule hasn't been great, but part of that is because UH hasn't exactly been the easiest team to schedule. On the negative side, the academic progress rating for Hawaii has been dangerously low.
T-60 Navy 53-64 .453 0 2-2
Paul Johnson has quietly done a terrific job with this program. The Midshipmen have won 33 games in the past four seasons. They are also 8-0 against the other service academies over that same stretch. The one thing Johnson hasn't done, however, is end that losing streak to Notre Dame.
T-60 Wake Forest 54-63 .462 1 conf. 2-1
This program is not a laughingstock anymore. Jim Grobe has patiently built the Demon Deacons into one of the better-coached teams in the country. Last year's 11-3 mark was a storybook season, but don't expect Wake to go back to 4-8. The program also deserves a lot of credit for doing things the right way.
62 Missouri 59-59 .500 0 2-3
The Tigers are 59-59 in the past 10 years. And it has taken awhile, but it seems as if coach Gary Pinkel finally has some traction in Columbia. Still, it'd be nice if Mizzou beat someone very good. Aside from a 2003 upset of Nebraska, MU basically has lived off beating mediocre opponents and no one else.
63 Syracuse 61-59 .508 3 conf. 2-3
Man, has this program gone downhill. People might not have loved Paul Pasqualoni and his droll manner, but the Orange won big and graduated a lot of their players. The program is still very well-represented in the NFL, where the Pro Bowl usually has a bunch of high-profile SU guys (Donovan McNabb, Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney). But now Syracuse stinks, having gone 1-13 in the Big East over the past two seasons, and it doesn't look as though things are going to perk up much in the near future.
64 Bowling Green 62-54 .534 0 2-0
This was one of the worst teams in Division I-A until Urban Meyer took over six years ago and resurrected the program. Sadly, BGSU appears to be sinking again, having gone from 8-4 to 6-5 to 4-8. For the decade, the Falcons have a solid 62-54 mark. They were 101st in attendance last season.
65 Northern Illinois 60-56 .517 0 1-1
Joe Novak has been at NIU for 12 years, and after just three W's in his first three seasons, he consistently has fielded solid teams. The Huskies' 39-16 conference mark is eye-catching, but maybe more impressive is the respectable manner in which they have played whenever they've faced bigger-name teams from out of conference. In the past five years, Northern Illinois is 4-7 against teams from automatic BCS-bid conferences, and it's worth noting that five of those games were against ranked teams, not just the Dukes and Baylors of their leagues.
66 Iowa State 52-67 .437 0 2-3
Under Dan McCarney, the Cyclones crept toward respectability after years of ineptitude. Still, Iowa State's sub-44 percent winning percentage the past 10 years probably merits an even lower spot on this list. When the Cyclones did make it to bowl games, they were among the programs with the lowest graduation rates. To Iowa State's credit, the program does have a very loyal following. Last season, the Cyclones were one of about 15 programs in the country to average an attendance mark that was more than 100 percent of stadium capacity. (Iowa State's attendance for the season was 323,197. Its cumulative stadium capacity for the seven home dates was 320,698.)
67 North Carolina 54-64 .458 0 2-1
Most of the positives here come from the Mack Brown days, when the school really upgraded its facilities to first-class status. Unfortunately, in the aftermath, UNC -- aside from producing Julius Peppers -- hasn't been anything special. The program did produce Steelers standout Willie Parker, but then again, he barely played there. Expect new coach Butch Davis to boost this ranking a lot in the next few years.
68 Northwestern 49-70 .411 1 conf. 0-3
The 49-70 record is hardly impressive, and almost as bad, Northwestern really struggles to draw fans in a league that packs them in. Last season, the Wildcats were last in attendance in the Big Ten, averaging only 59 percent capacity at their games. The good news: They are almost always among the tops in graduation rate.
69 Cincinnati 58-62 .483 1 conf. 2-1
This might be a surprise, but Cincy has had winning seasons in five of the past seven years. Despite that, the program annually ranks near the bottom of all of Division I-A. This is a program desperate for an identity. Keeping coach Mark Dantonio from bolting for Michigan State would have been a big step.
70 Rutgers 39-76 .339 0 1-1
No program has jumped any higher over the past two years than Greg Schiano's bunch. The Scarlet Knights' win percentage in this 10-year span isn't even at 34 percent, but Rutgers' 17-6 mark in the past two seasons is reason to get excited. Schiano's plan of targeting southern Florida talent with four annual recruiting camps (that are no longer allowed by the NCAA) made Rutgers a viable option for many prime prospects, and it paid off big-time. Now, fans are excited and RU is able to keep an even better caliber recruit from the New Jersey area. (Rutgers beat everyone, including Ohio State, for one of the state's top recruits last year: mammoth OT Anthony Davis.) Rutgers also is reaping the benefit of Syracuse's decline. Witness the case of Heisman hopeful Ray Rice and a few other Orange-bound kids who have rerouted to Jersey.
71 Arizona 53-64 .453 0 2-0
The John Mackovic era wasn't kind to a program that had been very strong in the mid-'90s. Mike Stoops has people fired up down there, and the Wildcats seem poised to turn the corner in 2007. It's worth noting that they have four wins over ranked teams in Stoops' three seasons in Tucson, Ariz. Also worth noting: The Cats are 10-31 the past five years in conference, and they had the lowest academic progress rate among BCS schools.
72 New Mexico 61-61 .500 0 0-5
The Lobos are 61-61 in the past 10 years. They are best known for producing Brian Urlacher, who was a great player, hammering ball carriers and catching TDs in the red zone for New Mexico. Rocky Long's team also acquitted itself well with wins at Mizzou and against Texas Tech in the past three seasons. One trend worth watching: Last season, attendance for UNM was down almost 10,000 fans per game.
73 Kentucky 46-70 .397 0 2-1
Hal Mumme got folks excited with his Air-Raid system. He brought Mike Leach with him, and the Wildcats fired the ball all over the place. Mumme and Tim Couch made Kentucky respectable and a threat in the SEC. Of course, Mumme's recruiting coordinator, Claude Bassett, caused Kentucky to become a hot spot for NCAA investigators too. The program seemed to be running in place under 60-something Rich Brooks, but then the Wildcats stunned everyone and went 7-5 last season. Still, 12-44 the past seven years in the SEC is hard to get past.
T-74 East Carolina 53-64 .453 0 1-3
Some folks in the Carolinas are probably still mad that the school canned former coach Steve Logan, although Skip Holtz has done a nice job getting ECU back above .500. The Pirates are 3-3 against BCS foes the past two seasons.
T-74 Mississippi State 50-67 .427 0 2-1
Sly Croom had a huge mess to clean up. The Bulldogs had quite a few run-ins with the NCAA under Jackie Sherrill, who did bring in some gifted JC talent but ultimately caused the MSU brass a lot of headaches. The road back has been very rocky thus far. Over the past six seasons, MSU has not won more than three games in a season, although it's fair to say the program is in much better shape under Croom than before he took over.