Middling major conference teams, top mid-majors among Nos. 26-50

Originally Published: July 25, 2007

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. Mark Schlabach breaks down Nos. 26 to 50 below.

Ladder 119: Nos. 26-50 (from 1997 to 2006)
26 Georgia Tech 79-46 .632 1 conf. 5-5
The Yellow Jackets have only one 10-victory season since sharing the 1990 national championship with Colorado. Georgia Tech went 10-2 in 1998 and shared the ACC title under former coach George O'Leary. Coach Chan Gailey has a 37-27 record in five seasons, but has been dogged by his team's inability to beat its biggest rivals. Last season's 7-1 mark in ACC games was a breakthrough -- but the Jackets still finished 9-5.
27 UCLA 74-47 .612 2 conf. 3-4
The Bruins came within one victory of playing for the national championship in 1998 -- UCLA lost to Miami 49-45 in the regular-season finale and then lost to Wisconsin 38-31 in the Rose Bowl. UCLA has struggled to find that level of excellence ever since, with only one 10-win campaign in the ensuing eight seasons. The Bruins' biggest obstacle has been crosstown rival USC, which has a 7-1 record against UCLA since 1999.
28 Utah 76-41 .650 3 conf. 6-0
The Utes were the first team from a non-BCS conference to play in a BCS bowl game, finishing 12-0 and beating Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl during the 2004 season. Former coach Urban Meyer parlayed that dream season into a job at Florida. The Utes haven't had the same success under successor Kyle Whittingham, who is 15-10 in two seasons, but they might be poised for another big season in 2007.
29 Texas A&M 73-50 .594 1 conf. 1-5
The Aggies finally ended a dubious trifecta of unsightly droughts last season, finishing with a winning record, beating Texas and playing in an upper-tier bowl game for the first time since 1999. But coach Dennis Franchione still hasn't produced the types of campaigns the Aggies enjoyed under former coach R.C. Slocum, who went 42-5-1 from 1991 to 1994. Franchione is 25-22 in four years in College Station and still might not be off the hot seat.
30 Arkansas 71-51 .582 0 2-6
Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt has guided his teams to two appearances in the SEC championship game, losing badly each time, and has won 67 games in nine seasons. That hasn't been enough for starved Hogs fans, who have watched their program struggle to achieve the same success it found in the former Southwest Conference.
31 Clemson 70-51 .579 0 3-5
ACC expansion has largely turned the Tigers into conference also-rans, as they haven't won a league title in 16 years. Coach Tommy Bowden has won 60 games in eight seasons at Clemson, leading the Tigers to a bowl game in all but one year. But the Tigers notoriously have fallen short of lofty expectations during his tenure, including last season's disappointing 8-5 record.
32 Texas Tech 75-48 .610 0 4-4
Coach Mike Leach has transformed the Red Raiders into a high-scoring, entertaining juggernaut with his pass-happy offense. Texas Tech has won 56 games since 2000 -- only Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska have won more games among Big 12 Conference teams. Leach has led his teams to seven straight bowl games -- the longest streak by a Texas Tech coach -- and won four of the last five postseason games. But Texas Tech's inability to play defense has prevented it from being a serious Big 12 contender during Leach's tenure.
33 Purdue 75-49 .605 1 conf. 3-6
After Joe Tiller led the Boilermakers to a Big Ten Conference championship in 2000, his program seemed to level off. Purdue has won seven games or fewer in three of the last five seasons, but had an 8-6 record last season. Since quarterback Drew Brees helped guide the Boilermakers to their first Rose Bowl in 34 years in 2001, they've largely become a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big Ten without him.
34 Alabama 67-55 .549 1 conf. 3-4
One of college football's most storied programs has been besieged by NCAA probation, scandal and controversy during much of the 21st century. The Crimson Tide were saddled by scholarship reductions for rules violations committed under former coach Mike Dubose, then lost a pair of coaches within a few months when Dennis Franchione left for Texas A&M and Mike Price was fired for off-field transgressions. Former quarterback Mike Shula was fired after a 6-7 finish in 2006, then the school gave Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban a $4 million salary to resurrect the program.
35 California 55-63 .466 1 conf. 3-1
One of the fastest-rising programs in the country, California hopes to stay on the fast track by giving coach Jeff Tedford a contract extension through 2013. The Bears went 1-10 the season before Tedford arrived in Berkeley, and they've won 43 games during his five seasons on the sideline.
36 Maryland 65-53 .551 1 conf. 3-1
Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen has stabilized his alma mater, winning more games in his first six seasons (50) than the Terrapins won during the 10 seasons prior to his arrival (37). In 2001, he guided the Terps to their first ACC title since 1985 and won 21 games in his first two seasons. After a two-year hiatus from the postseason, Maryland was back on track with a 9-4 finish in 2006.
37 Oregon State 69-51 .575 1 conf. 4-2
The Beavers have a very mediocre history -- only the 2000 team, which finished 11-1 and beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, has won more than 10 games in a season. Oregon State has won only a share of one conference title since the Pac-10 expanded to 10 teams in 1978. But coach Mike Riley seems close to producing a more stable program in his second stint at the school. He guided the Beavers to a 10-4 finish in 2006, including an upset of USC and win over Missouri in the Sun Bowl.
38 Fresno State 76-51 .598 1 conf. 3-4
During much of coach Pat Hill's tenure at Fresno State, the Bulldogs haven't been afraid to take on big-name opponents. But after narrowly losing to USC during the 2005 season, Fresno State has struggled mightily since. The Bulldogs won only 12 games in the last two seasons combined, losing eight of their last 12 games. But Hill set the standard for mid-major teams trying to break through, winning 38 games in four seasons until the recent struggles.
39 Southern Miss 78-45 .634 3 conf. 6-3
The Golden Eagles might be the blueprint for any non-BCS school that wants to build a successful football program. Under coach Jeff Bower, Southern Miss had a winning record in each of the last 13 seasons and played in bowl games in nine of the last 10. The Eagles have won at least a share of a conference title five times since 1996 and have never finished lower than fifth place in the Conference USA standings.
40 North Carolina State 68-53 .562 0 4-2
The Wolfpack had nearly two dozen NFL draft picks during former coach Chuck Amato's tenure, but won only 23 games in his last four seasons combined. After losing quarterback Phillip Rivers to the NFL draft, the Wolfpack endured losing seasons in two of Amato's last three seasons. Former Boston College coach Tom O'Brien was hired to bring stability and discipline to the program.
41 Arizona State 67-54 .553 0 3-4
The Sun Devils might be considered one of the most underachieving programs in the country given its desirable location and proximity to the fertile recruiting grounds of California. But since quarterback Jake Plummer led Arizona State to the Rose Bowl, the Sun Devils are just 13 games over .500. They had only two seasons with more than eight victories during that stretch. Dennis Erickson, who won a pair of national titles at Miami, tries find the same magic in the desert.
42 Marshall 88-37 .704 5 conf. 5-2
The Thundering Herd were college football's little engine that could during the 1990s with the highest winning percentage of any Division I-A program. Marshall played in bowl games in seven of its first nine seasons in Division I-A and had 21 straight winning seasons. But the Thundering Herd finished 4-7 in coach Mark Snyder's first season in 2005 and went 5-7 last year.
43 Virginia 71-51 .582 0 3-4
There's no question coach Al Groh has upgraded the talent level and interest in Virginia football during his six seasons as coach of his alma mater. But the former New York Jets coach has failed to elevate the Cavaliers to the upper echelon of the ACC, with a 25-23 mark in conference play. The Cavaliers had 20 players drafted by NFL teams since 2002, but have failed to play in a New Year's Day bowl game under Groh.
44 BYU 72-51 .585 3 conf. 1-4
The Cougars fell on hard times following the retirement of legendary coach LaVell Edwards, who led BYU to 20 conference titles and a national championship. After enduring three straight losing seasons under former coach Gary Crowton -- the program's worst streak of futility since six losing seasons in a row from 1959-64 -- the Cougars have found success under Bronco Mendenhall. BYU went 6-6 in his first season in 2005, then won the Mountain West and went 11-2 in 2006.
45 Washington State 65-53 .551 2 conf. 2-1
From 2001-03, the Cougars became the first Pac-10 team in 70 years to win 10 games or more in three straight seasons. But after Mike Price left for Alabama, Washington State struggled mightily. Coach Bill Doba has a 25-22 record in four seasons, winning only 15 games the past three seasons combined.
T-46 Ole Miss 65-54 .546 0 5-1
The Rebels fired former coach David Cutcliffe after he produced winning seasons in five of six years on the job. His replacement, Ed Orgeron, has gone 7-16 in two seasons. After former quarterback Eli Manning led the Rebels to a 10-3 record and share of the SEC West title in 2003, they've gone 11-23 without him.
T-46 South Carolina 54-63 .462 0 3-1
Getting the Gamecocks to the top of the rugged SEC East might be a tougher challenge for Steve Spurrier than winning at Duke. The Gamecocks have won eight games in a season only nine times in more than 100 years of playing football. Spurrier went 8-5 in his second season at South Carolina and the team's 44-36 win over Houston in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl was only the program's fourth victory in a bowl game.
48 Colorado State 76-47 .618 3 conf. 3-4
Coach Sonny Lubick put the Rams on college football's map, winning 91 games in his first 11 seasons at the school. Colorado State had won only 47 games in the 11 seasons combined before Lubick arrived. He guided Colorado State to six conference titles and nine bowl games from 1994 to 2003. But the Rams have leveled off in each of the past three seasons, winning six games or fewer each year.
49 Colorado 59-64 .480 1 conf. 3-1
The Buffaloes still are recovering from the scandals that drove former coach Gary Barnett out of town. Coach Dan Hawkins went 2-10 in his first season in Boulder, after going 53-11 in five seasons at Boise State. It might be a few more seasons before the Buffaloes are really competitive in the Big 12 again.
50 Miami (Ohio) 75-43 .636 1 1-1
The RedHawks quietly amassed one of the best winning percentages in college football during the late 1990s before enduring a 9-14 mark the past two seasons combined. Miami produced one of the best seasons in recent memory in 2002, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the RedHawks to a 13-1 record and its first MAC title since 1986.